On February 10, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published new maps showing drought conditions across the southeastern US. States that are experiencing particular drought include Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Georgia and Florida. In all of these states except Arkansas, drought is expected to persist or worsen over the spring of 2011 and possibly beyond.Combined with the drought and possible effects of climate change are demographic and regulatory challenges facing water supplies, including population growth in the Texaplex cities (Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio) and litigation in federal court that is limiting access by metropolitan Atlanta to Lake Lanier.
These challenges collectively mean that the southeastern states, which only recently emerged from a multi-year drought, will need to continue developing their physical, institutional and legal infrastructure for water supplies. There is likely to be appropriate emphasis on water use efficiency, recycling, desalination, conjunctive use and interbasin transfers. Texas, Georgia and Florida are likely to be the most active. Texas has the clearest path, while both Georgia and Florida are tied up in interstate stream litigation with Alabama. Water resource managers and strategic advisors certainly are living in interesting times.
In my last post I promised a report on water in Australia, and now that I have returned from the trip (OK, a couple weeks ago, but I had work to do!), this is the first of hopefully several posts. It was a great tour; I met many wonderful people and learned much.
There has been no drought of studies, articles and blog posts about the connection between water and energy in the past 2-3 years (e.g., see recent Special Report on Water vs. Energy by IEEE Spectrum), but I would like to add a few thoughts to what is still an emerging area. It is perhaps fitting that I am posting this from the Washington Dulles airport, in town for a water policy conference, since it was from right here in the airport last December that I launched the PrivateWaterLaw Blog.
As a water resources professional who regularly handles issues related to climate change and water planning, I have noted in past that one of the key missing data points in scientific studies related to climate change is a reliable projection of sea levels. This is important because sea level is a key input for determining the potential impact of climate change on coastal groundwater basins. Such basins frequently have both on-shore and off-shore areas, and intrusion of seawater into the on-shore portion is affected by the relative head of groundwater in the two areas. The head of groundwater in the off-shore portion is directly related to sea level, such that a rising sea level would increase the head in off-shore basins and tend to push seawater toward or into the on-shore portion. Seawater intrusion can be a significant problem for management of coastal basins and the water utilities, industries and individuals that rely on those basins for water supply.
As has become understood over the past several years, water resources are likely to be dramatically affected by climate change, and water projects themselves often contribute to climate change through emission of greenhouse gases, especially based on their energy demands. Water managers have become interested in climate change from both sides of the issue and have legitimately asked for a seat at the discussion table.