Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Today's worst watershed stresses may become the new normal

Date:
September 18, 2013
Source:
University of Colorado at Boulder
Summary:
Nearly one in 10 US watersheds is "stressed," with demand for water exceeding natural supply, according to a new analysis of surface water in the United States.

Nearly one in 10 U.S. watersheds is “stressed,” with demand for water exceeding natural supply, according to a new, CIRES-led analysis of surface water in the United States. This map shows all stressed watersheds in the continental United States (1999-2007), with color indicating increasing levels of stress, from light green to red. - See more at: http://www.colorado.edu/news/releases/2013/09/18/today%E2%80%99s-worst-watershed-stresses-may-become-new-normal-study-finds#sthash.qNH57C2M.dpuf
Credit: Map courtesy CIRES

Nearly one in 10 U.S. watersheds is "stressed," with demand for water exceeding natural supply, according to a new analysis of surface water in the United States. What's more, the lowest water flow seasons of recent years -- times of great stress on rivers, streams, and sectors that use their waters -- are likely to become typical as climates continue to warm.

"By midcentury, we expect to see less reliable surface water supplies in several regions of the United States," said the study's lead author, Kristen Averyt, associate director for science at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder. "This is likely to create growing challenges for agriculture, electrical suppliers and municipalities, as there may be more demand for water and less to go around."

Averyt and her colleagues evaluated supplies and demands on freshwater resources for each of the 2,103 watersheds in the continental United States, using a large suite of existing data sets.

They identified times of extreme water stress between 1999 and 2007, and they estimated future surface water stress -- using existing climate projections -- for every watershed. In the paper, published online in Environmental Research Letters on Sept. 17, the authors also diagnosed the reasons contributing to stress.

Across the United States, the team found that water supplies are already stressed (i.e., demands for water outstrip natural supplies) in 193 of the 2,103 watersheds examined. In addition, the researchers reported:

  • The U.S. West is particularly vulnerable to water stress, for two reasons: 1) the differences between average demand and average supply are relatively small, so slight shifts in either supplies or demands can trigger stress, and 2) Western water users have long relied on imported and stored water to supplement natural supplies, in order to meet demands.
  • In most parts of the country, agriculture requires the most water, and contributes most to water stress.
  • In Southern California, thirsty cities are the greatest stress on the surface water system.
  • In scattered locations, the cooling water needs of electric power plants represent the biggest demand on water.

"A single power plant has the potential to stress surface supplies in a local area," said co-author James Meldrum, a researcher in the Western Water Assessment, a program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and CIRES. It's critical to understand how various sectors contribute to the stress on a water system, Meldrum said, because effective remedies depend on accurate diagnosis.

Agricultural and municipal demands are spread among many users, for example, allowing flexible changes in water use and efficiency of use. "But because power plant decisions are so capital intensive, they tend to be locked in for a long time," Meldrum said. "With the potential for increasing water stress in the next few decades across parts of the United States, power plants -- and our access to electricity -- may be put at risk when water is not adequately considered in planning."

The authors deliberately didn't account for future changes in demand for freshwater. Rather, this analysis was designed to identify the sensitivity of U.S. watersheds to changes in surface water availability.

The researchers hope that the analysis will provide useful information for people reliant on surface waters. "We hope research like this helps us understand challenges we might face in building a more resilient future," Meldrum said.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Colorado at Boulder. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. K Averyt, J Meldrum, P Caldwell, G Sun, S McNulty, A Huber-Lee, N Madden. Sectoral contributions to surface water stress in the coterminous United States. Environmental Research Letters, 2013; 8 (3): 035046 DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/8/3/035046

Cite This Page:

University of Colorado at Boulder. "Today's worst watershed stresses may become the new normal." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 September 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130918130854.htm>.
University of Colorado at Boulder. (2013, September 18). Today's worst watershed stresses may become the new normal. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130918130854.htm
University of Colorado at Boulder. "Today's worst watershed stresses may become the new normal." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130918130854.htm (accessed July 25, 2014).

Share This




More Earth & Climate News

Friday, July 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Goma Cheese Brings Whiff of New Hope to DRC

Goma Cheese Brings Whiff of New Hope to DRC

Reuters - Business Video Online (July 24, 2014) The eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, mainly known for conflict and instability, is an unlikely place for the production of fine cheese. But a farm in the village of Masisi, in North Kivu is slowly transforming perceptions of the area. Known simply as Goma cheese, the Congolese version of Dutch gouda has gained popularity through out the region. Ciara Sutton reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Bill Gates: Health, Agriculture Key to Africa's Development

Bill Gates: Health, Agriculture Key to Africa's Development

AFP (July 24, 2014) Health and agriculture development are key if African countries are to overcome poverty and grow, US software billionaire Bill Gates said Thursday, as he received an honourary degree in Ethiopia. Duration: 00:36 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Higgins Breaks Record at Mt. Washington

Higgins Breaks Record at Mt. Washington

Driving Sports (July 24, 2014) Subaru Rally Team USA drivers David Higgins and Travis Pastrana face off against a global contingent of racers at the annual Mt. Washington Hillclimb in New Hampshire. Includes exclusive in-car footage from Higgins' record attempt. Video provided by Driving Sports
Powered by NewsLook.com
Storm Kills Three, Injures 20 at Virginia Campground

Storm Kills Three, Injures 20 at Virginia Campground

Reuters - US Online Video (July 24, 2014) A likely tornado tears through an eastern Virginia campground, killing three and injuring at least 20. Linda So reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

    Health News

      Environment News

        Technology News



          Save/Print:
          Share:

          Free Subscriptions


          Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

          Get Social & Mobile


          Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

          Have Feedback?


          Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
          Mobile: iPhone Android Web
          Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
          Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
          Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins