Water scarcity in the western U.S. has long been an issue of concern. Now, a team of researchers studying freshwater sustainability in the U.S. has found that the Southeast, with the exception of Florida, does not have enough water capacity to meet its own needs.
Twenty-five years ago, environmentalist Marc Reisner published Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water, which predicted that water resources in the West would be unable to support the growing demand of cities, agriculture and industry. A paper co-authored by a UGA researcher and published in a special issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences offers new support for most of Reisner’s conclusions, using data and methods unavailable to him in 1986.
Although the paper focuses on freshwater sustainability in the Southwest, the findings have important implications for the Southeast as well, according to co-authors Tushar Sinha, a postdoctoral scientist at North Carolina State University; John Kominoski, a postdoctoral associate at UGA’s Odum School of Ecology; and William Graf, a professor of geography at the University of South Carolina.
“It turns out that the Southeast has a relatively low capacity for water storage,” said Graf.
The researchers found that neither the Southwest nor the Southeast have enough water capacity to meet all their own needs; both these regions virtually import water from other parts of the country.
Study lead author John Sabo, an associate professor at Arizona State University, said that the Southeast’s municipal and industrial water demands are higher than supported by locally generated streamflow.
Reisner also predicted the loss of reservoir capacity.
Loss of storage capacity and lack of enough water to support human needs is not the only freshwater sustainability issue in the Southeast.