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Sierra Club Water Sentinels

Water Quantity

The Earth has a finite quantity of fresh water, stored in surface waters, aquifers, and the atmosphere. Only 2.5 percent of the Earth's water is fresh, and most of it is locked up in polar icecaps. Water scarcities already afflict many parts of the globe, particularly in the developing world. Over-pumping of groundwater, prolonged droughts exacerbated by climate disruption, and too many people competing for too little water all contribute to the problem.

Here in the U.S., the Great Lakes are shrinking, and reservoirs and aquifers from coast to coast are falling. The Eastern Seaboard and New England are forecasting localized water shortages, the Southeast has experienced recent severe droughts, and Florida faces shortfalls due to increased demand and draining of wetlands. The seven states that draw water from the Colorado River are all feeling the pinch as annual flows steadily decline and usage continues to rise.

Variable weather patterns are causing more rain in some regions and droughts in others. There have been nine major floods in the Midwest since 2008, yet prolonged droughts have afflicted the Great Plains and Northern Rockies. In California, the Sierra Nevada snowpack is melting faster each year, while in the Pacific Northwest a string of years with below-average snowpack have led to water shortages and economic stress. Alaska and Hawaii also anticipate regional shortfalls. The federal government projects that at least 36 states will face water shortages within the next five years.

There are many ways to address water-quantity issues in the face of climate disruption, such as adopting water conservation measures, promoting green infrastructure solutions to storm-water management, protecting and restoring our wetlands, protecting and restoring riparian buffers, and promoting more effective management of flood plains.

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