The West’s Water Shortage Is Fueled by Human Error — Outside Magazine

Click through and read the whole article: From Outside Online (Philip Kiefer):

Water shortages are a two-part equation: undersupply and overuse. A study from the World Resource Institute early this summer pointed out that places in the American West are on par with Israel and Qatar for water stress—the gap between the amount a region has available versus the amount it consumes—and as snowpack declines with climate change, the shortage will only get worse. Despite a wet winter in 2018–19, Lake Powell is almost half empty, and the states that depend on that reservoir will be subject to dramatic cuts in water usage if levels fall much lower.

But right now, five of the seven water-stressed western states along the Colorado River—Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wyoming—don’t yet track how they use their limited water in any kind of systematic, accessible way, teeing up potential shortages as the region dries. (Colorado’s Divison of Water Resources, which publishes both water rights and availability data online, is ahead of the pack.) [ed. emphasis mine]

A Nature Conservancy report from last year found that 86 percent of California’s streams are undermonitored. Kathleen Miller, a Wheeler Water Institute research fellow at UC Berkeley’s Center for Law, Energy, and the Environment, says that means water managers must make decisions in a drought based on snowpack estimates from high in the mountains rather than from water that’s actually in the stream. It’s akin to “driving with gauze pulled over our eyes,” she wrote in an editorial this spring.

It matters whether or not a state’s water data is accessible, says Michael Kiparsky, director of the Wheeler Water Institute, because it can be used by states to help adapt to a drier future. “We don’t actually care generally about the amount of water we have,” he says. “What we care about, ultimately, is what we do with that water.”

It might seem like an obvious point, but it has big implications for water development and conservation. “You can’t develop creative solutions without understanding all the moving parts—rural, urban, and agricultural,” Kiparsky says.

Graphic via wamda

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