We Still Need To Deal With Drought

| 12/20/2013 8:53:00 AM

harvesting rainwater

This is the time of year when drought drops from the headlines in all but the warmest parts of North America. Crops aren't withering in the sun; few homeowners worry about lawn-watering restrictions. Until the weather heats up in the spring, the weather headlines will be mostly about winter storms. But that doesn't mean moisture deficits have been resolved. National drought maps reveal that persistent drought is plaguing California, the central Plains states, and, to a lesser extent, the East Coast.

Looking more widely, the past eighteen months have seen a global outbreak of emergency water rationing in the face of sudden, extraordinary scarcity. In a diverse group of countries, including the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Australia, Kenya, Ghana, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, South Africa, India, Pakistan, China, Taiwan, Malaysia and the Philippines, a wide variety of rationing plans have had to be put into practice. Rationing has even become necessary in normally moist, green places, most prominently the United Kingdom, Ireland and New Zealand. In many situations, the causes of water shortages have been much more complex than routine drought or high population density. Thanks to greenhouse emissions, local climates are becoming increasingly fickle.

A whopping 86 percent of the world's total fresh water consumption is accounted for by production of food, fiber and other agricultural products, and 9 percent is attributable to industrial production. Farms dominate water use in the United States as well. But even though a scant 5 percent of the global footprint is residential water use, it is in the domestic supply where shortages are felt most immediately and most intensely by the majority of people.

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