Sprawl, population growth, lack of planning are among factors in Southern drought
Despite the rain from recent hurricanes that has fallen across the Southeast, much of the region remains firmly in the grip of drought conditions rated as severe or worse by the U.S. Geological Survey. More rain alone will not solve the problem. In a white paper released today, SELC examines the many factors underlying the drought, and outlines a set of actions to help avoid serious drought in the future while ensuring that streams, wetlands, aquatic habitat and other natural resources are protected.
The South's population is growing fast, resulting in increasing demand for water for drinking, cleaning, landscaping and other uses – including more electricity, which requires massive amounts of water to produce. Moreover, the South is the fastest sprawling region in the country, using more land per capita for development than elsewhere. Sprawl development exacerbates the growing demand for clean, plentiful water by destroying and polluting wetlands and streams, and depleting groundwater, among other things. Climate change – with its predicted intensified weather events – is another factor.
Already, water shortages and potential shortages have resulted in fights around the region, including the ongoing “tri-state water wars” between Georgia, Alabama and Florida. Despite these troubling trends, states in the South have largely failed to plan sufficiently for long-term, comprehensive, sustainable use of our water resources. Some states have a water management plan, but they lack regulatory mechanisms for meaningful action, or favor engineered fixes like dams and pipelines that often wreak ecological havoc down the road. Others have no statewide water management plan at all.
“We can no longer count on having all the water we want, when we want it, where we want it,” says Amy Pickle, director of SELC's Clean Water Program. “These last several drought seasons have brought this issue into sharp focus. We need to seize this opportunity and make the right choices today.”
“We need to rethink how we think about water. It's not a commodity we can produce on demand. It's a natural resource that requires wise stewardship,” says Gil Rogers, staff attorney in SELC's Atlanta office. Among some of the solutions SELC outlines in the paper:
- Maintain natural stream flows to help protect water quality and quantity.
- Provide more incentives for water conservation and management efficiency for all users.
- Ensure that development is appropriately planned according to availability of water.
- Strengthen drought-related regulations.
- Develop and implement broad-scale management plans and policies that prioritize watershed health and sustainability.