California drought pits farmers vs. cities. But neither is the biggest water victim.
When the last of the water from the Colorado River is pumped out of the Grand Canyon, ranchers and farmers will have little to drink. There will be no fresh water springing beneath their farms.
But water is scarce in many parts of the Southwestern United States, according to a new United Nations report. And, if the report is borne out, it will put the region at risk for the worst drought in its history, with the state’s water supply reduced to about 30 percent of its capacity.
The U.N. report, done at the behest of the state of Arizona, says that the ongoing drought “has resulted in significant social, environmental, health and economic impacts.” This includes reduced quality of life, social unrest, lower economic opportunities and a possible loss of life.
The report’s authors wrote that drought was responsible for “about 15 percent of all deaths and 5 percent of all violent incidents in 2013, and more than 30 percent of deaths in the last decade, according to the Global Health Observatory, a non-profit organization based in Barcelona, Spain.” It concludes with a statement that water scarcity is part of the reason for the rising popularity of water sports like surfing.
As a result of the drought, Arizona experienced its worst wildfire season in more than 40 years, with more than 600 reported blazes throughout the state, according to data gathered by the Arizona Department of Emergency Services. The state also is dealing with its worst drought in seven decades.
“All of this is happening simultaneously, and they are in a desperate time for water in the middle of a drought,” said Amy Vetter, an Arizona Department of Water Resources spokeswoman.
Water supply in the desert Southwest is at its lowest level since the 1940s due to a lack of rainfall for the past three years. Experts say the region will likely experience its second or third-worst drought on record, depending on what happens with the spring runoff.
The U.N. report, which was completed by a team of scientists from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the International Water Management Institute, is the first large-scale study of the impact of severe water shortages on a region. The study was a