Study Paints Brighter Picture of U.S. Water Availability

2/19/2013

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Although reports of drought conditions, water wars and restrictions have often painted a bleak picture of the nation's water availability, a new University of Florida study (http://news.ufl.edu/2013/01/30/water-supply/) finds that conditions aren't quite so bad as believed.

Jim Jawitz, a UF soil and water science professor, and Julie Padowski, a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University, looked at the problem from a fresh perspective.

Past assessments of urban water supplies typically used what is known as a "runoff-based approach," which takes into account factors such as river flows and rainfall amounts. These assessments do not consider the infrastructure used to maintain urban water supplies, such as water stored in aquifers, lakes, reservoirs or water that's pumped into an area and stored.

So Jawitz and Padowski looked at 225 U.S. metropolitan areas with populations of more than 100,000 from an infrastructure point of view.

The difference was dramatic. The older runoff-based studies found 47 percent of the U.S, population was vulnerable to water scarcity. The new infrastructure-based study found that only 17% of the population was vulnerable.

The researchers expected Atlanta - where legal battles over water rights with neighboring states initially prompted the researchers to tackle the survey - to be fairly vulnerable to water scarcity. But in fact Atlanta falls near the middle of the range - not nearly as vulnerable as they thought.

Another unusual finding: Miami, with its lush, tropical landscape, landing in the top 10 most vulnerable cities. Jawitz, a South Florida native, said although the Miami area generally enjoys an abundance of rain, it's not stored anywhere. That means during periods of drought, the area becomes quite vulnerable.

Here's a website that ranks the 225 largest U.S. urban areas based on water availability and vulnerability: http://soils.ifas.ufl.edu/hydrology/cities/