Water efficiency in rural areas is getting worse, even as it improves in urban centers

IMAGE: This map shows spatio-temporal patterns of waterClimate change is expected to exacerbate current stresses on water resources from population growth and economic and land-use change, including urbanisation. On a regional scale, mountain snow pack, glaciers and small ice caps play a crucial role in freshwater availability. Widespread mass ...-use efficiencyUsing less energy/electricity to perform the same function. Programs designed to use electricity more efficiently - doing the same with less. (per-capita consumption) across the continental United States. Colors indicate the change in per-capita consumption, in gallons per day per person, computed as… view more 

A nationwide analysis of water use over the past 30 years finds that there is a disconnect between rural and urban areas, with most urban areas becoming more water efficient and most rural areas becoming less and less efficient over time.

“Understanding water use is becoming increasingly important, given that climate changeClimate change is a lasting change in weather patterns over long periods of time. It can be a natural phenomena and and has occurred on Earth even before people inhabited it. Quite different is a current situation that is also referred to as climate change, anthropogenic climate change, or ... is likely to have a profound impact on the availability of water supplies,” says Sankar Arumugam, lead author of a paper on the work. “This research helps us identify those areas that need the most help, and highlights the types of action that may be best suited to helping those areas.” Arumugam is a University Faculty Scholar and professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering at North Carolina State University.

The new paper stems from a National Science Foundation-funded, interuniversity research project which focuses on understanding how water sustainabilityIn order to survive, all life, including human life, depends either directly or indirectly on the natural environment. Sustainability is a principle where current requirements are met while the livelihoods of future generations are not threatened. in the United States has changed over the past 30 years as a result of climate change and population growth.

For this paper, researchers evaluated water use data at the state and county level for the 48 contiguous states. Specifically, the researchers looked at water-use efficiency, measured as per capita consumption, in 5-year increments, from 1985 to 2010.

“This is the first systematic evaluationProgram evaluation is the rigorous, scientifically-based collection of information about program/intervention activities, characteristics, and outcomes that determine the merit or worth of the program/intervention. Evaluation studies provide credible information for use in improving ... of water use across the continental U.S.,” Arumugam says. “And we found that some states – including Washington, Pennsylvania and Wyoming – were becoming more efficient every five years. Meanwhile, other states – such as South Carolina, Oklahoma and Mississippi – have gotten worse every five years.”

But a look at the county-level data reveals what may be the most important finding: most rural counties are getting less efficient, while most urban counties are getting more efficient.

“In other words, as we are facing a more uncertain future regarding water resourcesClimate change is expected to exacerbate current stresses on water resources from population growth and economic and land-use change, including urbanisation. On a regional scale, mountain snow pack, glaciers and small ice caps play a crucial role in freshwater availability. Widespread mass ..., rural counties are being left behind,” Arumugam says.

The researchers found that investment in new water-efficiency technologies, and retrofitting existing water infrastructure, are big reasons for the improvement in urban areas.

“Rural counties appear to lack the resources, the political will, or both, to keep pace,” Arumugam says.

Another important finding is that technologies and strategies focused on efficiency – as opposed to large-scale projectsProject is an intervention designed to achieve specific objectives within specified resources and implementation schedules, often within the framework of a broader program. (Glossary Monitoring and Evaluation Terms; MERG Monitoring & Evaluation Reference Group and UNAIDS), such as building new reservoirs – have been extremely successful. These efforts have allowed urban areas to avoid sharp increases in water use, even as their populations have grown significantly.

“There may be a role for huge infrastructure projects at some point, but these findings underscore the value of focusing on efficiency measures – and the need to pursue those measures in rural counties,” Arumugam says.

###

The paper, “Synthesis of Public Water SupplyWater supply is the provision of water by public utilities, commercial organisations, community endeavors or by individuals, usually via a system of pumps and pipes. Use in the U.S.: Spatio-temporal Patterns and Socio-Economic Controls,” is published in the American Geophysical Union open-access journal Earth’s Future. The paper was co-authored by S.B. Seo, R. Bhowmik, G. Mahinthakumar, and E.Z. Berglund of NC State; K. Kunkel of the Cooperative Institute of Satellites and Climate at NC State; J.L. Sabo, K.L. Larson and A. Ruhi Vidal of Arizona State University; T. Sinha of Texas A&M University; and J. Kominoski of Florida International University. The work was done with funding from NSF’s Water Sustainability and Climate program under grant number 1204368.

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.

Powered by WPeMatico

Leave a Reply

Be the First to Comment!

Notify of
avatar
wpDiscuz
Translate »
Support