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Water Management: Too Much or Too Little

Water Management: Too Much or Too Little

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Water: Too Much or Too Little

Water — its excess, or lack thereof, has been in the news quite frequently over the past several months. Some areas are receiving too much water, resulting in severe and record setting rainfalls and flooding. Other areas of the nation are enduring an ongoing drought, triggering record low water levels, excessive groundwater pumping, and the implementation of water restrictions.

A brief look at recent events depicts complete opposite situations in various locations across the nation: Floods and droughts.

Historic Rains and Severe Flooding

May 2015:
October 2015:
November 2015:
December 2015:
  • Unprecedented storms over a six-day stretch cause heavy rainfall, tornadoes, and severe flooding in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas.  Record setting rainfalls also caused mudslides in North Carolina and flash flooding in northern Georgia.

For an even better idea of what happened during the torrential rains in South Carolina and the existing and potential issues with levees and failures, read these in depth features by my colleagues, Matt Mills and Randall Cuthbert:

Historic West Coast Droughts

June 2015:
July 2015:
September 2015:
  • Snowpack in the Sierra Nevadas, which has everything to do with ongoing drought conditions, hits an all time low of just 5% of normal depths, a number scientists say is much worse than previously thought.
November 2015:
October 2015:

Water Use and Management Issues Resulting from the Ongoing Drought

Another report indicates that in drought-devastated California, groundwater use has risen nearly 20 percent, from 40 to 60 percent since the drought began.  In addition, the High Plains and California’s Central Valley account for nearly fifty percent of groundwater depletion due to its use for crop irrigation.

The recent drought in the Midwest and High Plains had a negative impact on the nation's largest aquifer, the Ogallala, dropping it 2.1 feet in just two years.  It does not sound like much, but that represents 13.6% of the total drop over the last 60 years.

Other statistics indicate that a 25% of all water loss has occurred from 2000 to 2008, meaning depletion rates are increasing.

California, a state that has been in a severe drought, just received nearly 3 inches of rain in December.  Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, nothing was in place to capture the rain water, so majority of it flowed right back into the ocean. Thus the rains likely had little impact on the state’s drought conditions.

What Needs to Change?

Current water management practices need to be adjusted now to ensure this resource is available in the future.  Some cities have already taken steps to change water management practices, such as San Diego and Los Angeles.  Both cities captured 3.2 and 3.3 billion gallons of water, respectively, into holding ponds and fields.

It is just not enough.  Although nearly ten percent of San Diego’s water comes from captured rainwater, when compared to agriculture in California that uses in an average year over 13.4 trillion gallons, current capturing practices fall far short of present and increasing demands.

Future Consequences

Poor water management choices (usually financially-driven), contamination by runoff (fertilizers, pesticides, chemicals), depletion, and excess waste, are likely to increase the stress on the nation’s water supplies leading to future crises.

So what does this mean to citizens and ultimately, emergency managers?  

Natural resource scarcity has implications that extend beyond just not having enough to drink, or eat, something my colleague Randall Cuthbert discusses in his blog.  It often creates conflicts, both locally and with neighboring countries, causes migration for survival, and will likely have a significant impact on the nation’s global economy ~ and many of these situations are going to impact emergency managers on some level.  

Individuals, industry, agriculture, and governing agencies need to begin addressing the issue now before it is too late.  Preventing these issues begins with water conservation and efficiency measures and everyone can take part. Click here to learn more.

Moving Forward ~ Thinking Ahead

Many creative options exist to move forward and manage water more safely and effectively, although it is likely going to require politicians, emergency managers, private companies, and citizens to challenge the status quo, think a bit differently, then imagine and consider some seemingly (or not) far-fetched ideas.  Several examples exist of what can happen when people are truly committed to doing just that:

Each of the above communities broke down barriers between government agencies, private companies, and stakeholders, involved citizens, and used creative, innovative, and forward-thinking ideas to make their cities more resilient.  What will you do today to make your community more resilient for tomorrow?

Photo Credit: Photo by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers / Public Domain (CC0)


American Military University
Kimberly Arsenault Kimberly Arsenault serves as an intern at the Cleveland/Bradley County Emergency Management Agency where she works on plan revisions and special projects. Previously, Kimberly spent 15 years in commercial ... learn more

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