Water Supply for Urban Areas:

Problems in Meeting Future Demand

CED-79-56: Published: Jun 15, 1979. Publicly Released: Jun 15, 1979.

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About 85 percent of the nation's people will live in urban areas by the year 2000. Water use already approaches or exceeds the dependable supply in some cities. Much urban growth is projected for areas already short of water, and there is a potential for shortages in areas assumed to have abundant water, as in the northeast. The 14 urban areas which were visited varied considerably in terms of how much additional water they need by 2000, how they plan to provide these additional supplies, and the obstacles they face in doing so. Cities will have to use water more efficiently and find new sources, but there are many problems which hinder attempts to ensure an adequate water supply in the near future. Water distribution systems in many cities are structurally unsound due to age, and rehabilitation would be costly, while in other cities increased demand due to population growth has created a need for significant expansion of the systems. Water pollution, which is caused by such things as increased population, salt water intrusion, and improper disposal of wastes on land, makes sources of water unusable and treatment more expensive. Environmental concerns can result in disapproval or delay of projects needed to assure an adequate water supply. Also, the amount of water that can be withdrawn from surface water for supply is limited by requirements to maintain flows at certain levels for other purposes, such as water quality or fish and wildlife protection. There are many alternative ways to increase water supplies, reduce demand, and manage existing supplies more effectively. However, because developing municipal and industrial water supplies are the responsibility of state and local governments, Congress has not initiated any comprehensive federal programs to develop, treat, or distribute urban water supplies. The President, in 1978, directed that an intergovernmental water policy task force be formed to examine key issues, and it has identified urban water supply as a priority concern.

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