ERIE, Pa (Reuters) - Climate change and population growth in the United States will make having enough fresh water more challenging in the coming years, an expert on water shortages said on Wednesday.
“In 1985-1986 there were historical (water level) highs and now in less than 25 years we are at historical lows. Those sorts of swings are very scary,” said Robert Glennon, speaking at the State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conference in Erie, Pennsylvania.
Glennon, a professor at Arizona State University and the author of “Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What To Do About It,” said that that according to climate experts, shorter, warmer winters mean less ice and greater exposure to the air, leading eventually to more water evaporation.
“We think about water like the air — infinite and inexhaustible but it is very finite and very exhaustible,” Glennon said.
“When you have a shorter ice season you have great exposure to the air and more evaporation. As temperatures go up it is very troubling,” Glennon said. “The cycles are going to become more acute which is very troubling.”
This past summer, Ohio Governor John Kasich vetoed a bill that would have allowed unrestricted removal of five million gallons of water from Ohio’s lakes and rivers every 90 days.
Kasich, a Republican who has criticized government regulations, surprised some political observers by following the advice of organizations that felt the bill would allow lake levels to become dangerously low.
Glennon agrees the bill would have set the stage for diversion in other lakes. “It would have been open season on the Great Lakes.”
Glennon doesn’t believe that water diversion whether by pipeline, desalinization or more drilling are long-term answers. He thinks conservation, water reuse, and better agriculture practices bolstered by higher, seasonally-adjusted water costs will bring things in line.
“We pay less for water than we pay for cell phone service or cable television,” he said. “All of our incentives are wrong.”
The problem isn’t just getting water to obviously needy areas like the desert city of Las Vegas, Glennon said. Areas with high rainfall and seemingly abundant freshwater sources also are increasingly exceeding capacity.
“The population of the U.S. is supposed to be 420 million by 2050,” said Glennon, “Where are we going to get the water to support another 120 million Americans?”
Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Jerry Norton