Skip to Content

The U.S. Is Going to See Water Shortages Within the 21st Century, Study Says

Government-backed research on watersheds in the U.S. provide a dire outlook for the future: population growth and climate change are likely to cause “serious water shortages” within the next 55 years, says the study.

As both demand and water evaporation increase, up to 96 of the 204 water basins that provide fresh water to Americans are projected to have monthly shortages by 2071, researchers reported in their study, published Thursday in Earth’s Future.

Moreover, past methods of adaption, including expanding reservoir storage, show “little promise” in avoiding the shortages.

“Other major adaptations commonly used in the past, especially instream flow removals and groundwater mining, can substantially lower shortages but have serious external costs,” wrote the researchers. “If those costs are to be avoided, transfers from irrigated agriculture probably will be needed and could be substantial.”

Irrigated agriculture is responsible for over 75% of annual consumption in most water basins, according to the researchers. If farmers were to reduce irrigation for their crops, particularly crops grown for animal feed or biofuel, the researchers’ computer models show some hope for fewer shortages.

According to the study, “a mere reduction of 2% of irrigation consumption” could on average remove shortages in about one-third of 90 basins expected to see shortfalls by 2071. Other basins, however, would need at least a 30% reduction in irrigation consumption to see benefits.

“In reality, irrigated agriculture is unlikely to bear the full burden of accommodating future water shortages,” the study states. “Nevertheless, given the large quantities of water used in agriculture and the fact that most of that water is used to grow relatively low‐value crops… the agriculture sector is likely to face serious challenges.”

The World Economic Forum reports this study was conducted to aid in the production of the Resources Planning Act Assessment, a status report of the nation’s renewable resources that is published every 10 years.

This is at least the second government-backed study to warn of the threats climate change poses to the country. President Donald Trump, however, continues to fight the scientific consensus that climate change is real.