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New county-by-county study shows future water shortages

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By Mark Scohier

Levy County may have only a moderate risk of future water shortages, according to a new study by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The results of the study, released on July 20, show a county-by-county analysis of water shortages throughout the U.S. by the year 2050 due to climate change.

 In Florida, 21 counties, most in Central Florida, were rated as having the potential for extreme water shortages where demand would outstrip supply.  Twenty-five counties, including nearby Alachua, Marion, Suwannee and Columbia, were rated as having the potential for high-risk water shortages.  Eighteen counties, including Levy, Gilchrist and Dixie, fall into the moderate category.

“One out of three counties (in the U.S.) faces water shortages because of climate change,” Dan Lashof, director of the climate center at NRDC, said at a news conference held for the report's release.  “Four hundred counties are at extremely high risk, which is a 14-fold increase due to climate change.”  Climate change has the potential to affect rainfall.

Sujoy Roy, principal engineer for the project, said that Florida, though just one of 14 states to show significant risks, is definitely a concern.  The state will need to make water conservation and better management techniques a priority, Roy said.

Lashof said, “Certainly, some of the impacts can be mitigated through management … but they’re gonna’ be expensive.”  There may be whole regions that end up migrating to areas where water is available.

Besides management of water resources, Lashof said, the U.S.needs to concentrate on reducing greenhouse emissions. The U.S. could be a global leader in that effort, he said.

So far, Lashof said, California has been the leader in trying to anticipate these kinds of problems.

In 2006, California passed Bill 32 that aims to reduce carbon emissions in the state by 25 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050.  

“I think there are some positive lessons there,” Lashof said.

Critics of the bill say it is hurting the state’s economy by reducing employment.    

The NRDC study shows California with 36 counties having extreme and high risk of water shortages by 2050, most in the southern half of the state.  Texas has the highest percentage of extreme risk, with more than half of its 264 counties painted red on the study’s map.

“We need to anticipate that climate change will occur,” Lashof said.  “We need to plan for a planet in this situation.”

Lashof said it’s imperative that agencies that manage water take into account climate change when planning for the future.

Locally, the Suwannee River Water Management District, which manages part of Levy County, is working on a water-supply assessment of the Upper Santa Fe Basin, an area SRWMD said would have a demand that outstrips supply if nothing is done.

“Right now, we’re doing a plan so it doesn’t happen,” said Steve Minnis, director of governmental affairs with SRWMD.

Four counties under SRWMD’s jurisdiction are shown on the NRDC’s study as being high risks.  Three of those counties, Union, Columbia and Alachua, are part of the Upper Santa Fe River Basin.

But Minnis said he’s not sure how SRWMD could possibly go about taking climate change into account.

“You don’t discount it,” he said.  “But how do you go about it? Maybe you just keep a cautionary watch on it.”

Carlos Herd, a senior hydrogeologist with SRWMD, agreed.  When asked if SRWMD considered climate change in its assessments, he said, “That’s a great question.  I wish we could, but it’s hard.  You can’t predict it.”

Climate change has the potential to have an impact, he said.  But there are too many variables to know to what extent.  Herd explained that much of SRWMD’s assessments are based on projected population estimates.  And even those are unpredictable, he said.

A few years ago, “We were gearing up for a tremendous population,” he said.  But now, not as many people are moving to the state.

Whether or not climate change can be factored into management plans, Minnis said, people should be conservative in their use of water.  Running faucets and inefficient or poorly planned irrigation systems need to be addressed, he said.

“It’s all about being a good steward and just being prudent with the resource.”

The Upper Santa Fe River Basin assessment, which projects water supply 20 years into the future, should be out by the end of the year, according to Minnis. An assessment of the Suwannee River Basin is soon to follow.

To see the NRDC’s study and map of U.S. counties, go to www.nrdc.org/globalwarming/watersustainability.

    Levy County may have only a moderate risk of future water shortages, according to a new study by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The results of the study, released on July 20, show a county-by-county analysis of water shortages throughout the U.S. by the year 2050 due to climate change.

 In Florida, 21 counties, most in Central Florida, were rated as having the potential for extreme water shortages where demand would outstrip supply.  Twenty-five counties, including nearby Alachua, Marion, Suwannee and Columbia, were rated as having the potential for high-risk water shortages.  Eighteen counties, including Levy, Gilchrist and Dixie, fall into the moderate category.

“One out of three counties (in the U.S.) faces water shortages because of climate change,” Dan Lashof, director of the climate center at NRDC, said at a news conference held for the report's release.  “Four hundred counties are at extremely high risk, which is a 14-fold increase due to climate change.”

Sujoy Roy, principal engineer for the project, said that Florida, though just one of 14 states to show significant risks, is definitely a concern.  The state will need to make water conservation and better management techniques a priority, Roy said.

Lashof said, “Certainly, some of the impacts can be mitigated through management … but they’re gonna’ be expensive.”  There may be whole regions that end up migrating to areas where water is available.

Besides management of water resources, Lashof said, the U.S.needs to concentrate on reducing greenhouse emissions. The U.S. could be a global leader in that effort, he said.

So far, Lashof said, California has been the leader in trying to anticipate these kinds of problems.

In 2006, California passed Bill 32 that aims to reduce carbon emissions in the state by 25 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050.  

“I think there are some positive lessons there,” Lashof said.

Critics of the bill say it is hurting the state’s economy by reducing employment.    

The NRDC study shows California with 36 counties having extreme and high risk of water shortages by 2050, most in the southern half of the state.  Texas has the highest percentage of extreme risk, with more than half of its 264 counties painted red on the study’s map.

“We need to anticipate that climate change will occur,” Lashof said.  “We need to plan for a planet in this situation.”

Lashof said it’s imperative that agencies that manage water take into account climate change when planning for the future.

Locally, the Suwannee River Water Management District, which manages part of Levy County, is working on a water-supply assessment of the Upper Santa Fe Basin, an area SRWMD said would have a demand that outstrips supply if nothing is done.

“Right now, we’re doing a plan so it doesn’t happen,” said Steve Minnis, director of governmental affairs with SRWMD.

Four counties under SRWMD’s jurisdiction are shown on the NRDC’s study as being high risks.  Three of those counties, Union, Columbia and Alachua, are part of the Upper Santa Fe River Basin.

But Minnis said he’s not sure how SRWMD could possibly go about taking climate change into account.

“You don’t discount it,” he said.  “But how do you go about it? Maybe you just keep a cautionary watch on it.”

Carlos Herd, a senior hydrogeologist with SRWMD, agreed.  When asked if SRWMD considered climate change in its assessments, he said, “That’s a great question.  I wish we could, but it’s hard.  You can’t predict it.”

Climate change has the potential to have an impact, he said.  But there are too many variables to know to what extent.  Herd explained that much of SRWMD’s assessments are based on projected population estimates.  And even those are unpredictable, he said.

A few years ago, “We were gearing up for a tremendous population,” he said.  But now, not as many people are moving to the state.

Whether or not climate change can be factored into management plans, Minnis said, people should be conservative in their use of water.  Running faucets and inefficient or poorly planned irrigation systems need to be addressed, he said.

“It’s all about being a good steward and just being prudent with the resource.”

The Upper Santa Fe River Basin assessment, which projects water supply 20 years into the future, should be out by the end of the year, according to Minnis. An assessment of the Suwannee River Basin is soon to follow.

To see the NRDC’s study and map of U.S. counties, go to www.nrdc.org/globalwarming/watersustainability.