Water Resources

According to Steven Chu, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, water resources could be one of the first of the major, devastating impacts for life on Earth due to global warming. Chu reinforces his prediction with several cases already evident: The Yellow River in China, which is fed by glacier and snowmelt from the Himalayas, is getting noticeably lower as the glaciers melt away, for example. This presents a serious problem because a huge portion of the world's population gets its drinking water supply from these glaciers. Another example is in the United States. The snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains in Nevada and California are expected to decline by 30 to 70 percent by the year 2100. Chu puts this percentage loss into realistic terms, as follows:

• If snowpack declines by 20 percent, the public will be told to cut back on watering their lawns and flushing the toilet.

• If snowpack declines by 50 percent, people in California will be forced to move from drier locations to wetter locations.

• If snowpack declines more than 50 percent, the agricultural industry (fruits, vegetables, nuts, etc.) could be destroyed, and people would be forced to move out of California.

In addition, Chu says that snowfall may actually increase in some mountain areas in parts of the world as a result of global warming. Also, dry regions may become drier, while wet regions may receive more rain. He warns, however, that the extra moisture will not necessarily be advantageous. Instead, warming will prevent the extra rain and snow from being stored in the mountainous areas; most of it will run off before it can be captured, stored, and used.

Because of these dire predictions, some countries have begun to turn to the technology of seawater desalinization. In fact, General Electric has begun research into systems that can purify seawater and wastewater for human consumption. To date, however, this process is extremely expensive.

In the United States, temperatures are expected to rise everywhere, causing earlier snowmelt and more evaporation. More frequent and intense floods and droughts are possible. Because of this, some regions could benefit from increased supplies of water but could also face risks of increased flooding. Simultaneously, others could experience droughts and then floods.

Another issue that could be a problem is the current adaptation toward water resources in the United States and the distribution of dams and other water supply and irrigation infrastructure. The system

As the planet continues to warm, water resources will become scarcer and more valuable.

(Nature's Images)

As the planet continues to warm, water resources will become scarcer and more valuable.

(Nature's Images)

in place today is geared toward what has always been—such as the Northwest's rainy climate and the Southwest's dry climate. If climate regimes change and regions experience different climates with different water resource needs, the country may not be prepared to deal with these changes. There may not be reservoirs where they are needed to store precious water resources.

In addition, there may also be civil dissension as rivers run low and people fight for water to drink, grow crops, feed livestock, generate electricity, run industry, and complete other vital tasks. The area of the United States that has been projected to have potentially the largest negative impact is the already-dry Southwest.

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