Friday, November 21, 2008

More Variable and Uncertain Water Supply: Global Warming’s Wake-Up Call for the Southeastern U.S.

The second major drought of the last decade is a wake-up call for the Southeast United States, showing the region’s vulnerability due to its reliance on scarce supplies of fresh water.

The region has been operating under the best-case water availability for the last 50 years, during which drought conditions were relatively rare. But, the region has historically experienced regular droughts. Global warming is the future wildcard, potentially causing both more extremely dry periods and more heavy rainfall events. At the same time, warming-induced sea-level rise will increase the risk of saltwater intrusion into important groundwater aquifers.

A new report from National Wildlife Federation offers the latest scientific research on global warming and water supplies, competition for resources, demographic factors, and how to better prepare for managing the region’s water availability challenges.

“Since 1960, the region’s population doubled and water use for municipalities, irrigation, and thermoelectric power more than tripled. The Southeast is one of the fastest growing parts of the country,” said Amanda Staudt, Climate Scientist for National Wildlife Federation.

In fact, 58 of the 100 fastest growing counties in the nation are in the nine states of the Southeast. The report includes information about Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.

More Variable and Uncertain Water Supply: Global Warming’s Wake-Up Call for the Southeastern U.S. details how:

Water supplies in the Southeastern United States will be more variable and uncertain in the coming decades;
Rapidly expanding population, irrigation, and thermoelectric power use has increased water demand;
Recent droughts underscore the Southeast’s vulnerability;
The astonishing biodiversity of the Southeast is at risk; and
The Southeast should plan for increasing variability in water supplies.
Strategies for meeting the increasing demand for water in the Southeast have not typically accounted for the regular occurrence of drought, as illustrated by recent droughts. During 2007 alone, crop losses are estimated at more than $1.3 billion and wildfires ravaged 600,000 acres in Georgia and Florida.

Climate changes will affect water supplies to communities and put the amazing biodiversity of the Southeast at risk. The river basins of the Southeast are globally renowned for fish, mussels, salamanders and other freshwater species, many of which are already imperiled. Climate change—and the increasingly extreme weather patterns it brings—now poses new threats to these species.

“Global warming presents new challenges for managing America’s water resources, especially in our southeastern states,” added Dr. Staudt. “To prevent the worst impacts of climate change and limit the impacts on communities and wildlife, we must reduce global warming pollution.”

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