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Insights Why is there a water crisis in the US and can it be solved?

Without water, humanity and ecosystems would not survive. Water sustains life and is, therefore, the single most important resource that we rely on. With growing populations, demand for resources far outweighs supply, and in the US, we are seeing a strain on critical resources like water and the infrastructure that supports it. As a society, we must therefore adapt to preserve the natural environment for future generations.

At AtkinsRéalis , and our brands Atkins and Faithful+Gould, we work on global projects that take on today’s most pressing challenges. From population growth to increasing transportation needs, and climate change, we combine innovation, knowledge, skills, and technology to strengthen communities and enable a safer, better future. With our Net Zero Carbon Routemap, we can limit our impact on the environment, and prepare for events such as climate change, the growing population, and water shortages.

image of a US river

Water shortage declared in the US Southwest

Often, when climate change is discussed, the effects are anticipated to be so far in the future that the implications are hard to imagine. However, some parts of the US are now seeing the effects of climate change in the form of water shortages.

In August 2021, the first water shortage was declared on the Colorado River by the Government. Lake Mead reservoir, the river’s main basin, has been draining at an alarming rate, leading to supply cuts to parts of the Southwest, including Arizona, Nevada, California, and Mexico. Although we have always experienced natural disasters on Earth, the frequency and intensity have certainly increased.

Why is there a water crisis?

At the time the government declared the shortage, the Southwest region, which relies on the Colorado River for essential resources, was already experiencing drought, and officials indicated that the cause was likely to be the result of climate change. When water supply cuts were put in place, Lake Mead was said to be at the lowest level since it was first formed after the building of the Hoover Dam in the 1930s.

Decisions and actions taken by humans over several decades to disrupt natural ecosystems have led to the circumstances we face today. As the planet warms as a result of carbon emissions becoming trapped in the atmosphere, droughts are becoming more common and intense as moisture is drawn from the earth. At the recent COP26 summit in the UK, world leaders pledged to make drastic changes so that the earth’s rising temperature does not exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius, but is this enough?

Can we solve the water crisis in the US?

It is becoming ever more apparent that traditional methods, such as expanding reservoirs, to prevent water shortages are not as effective as they once were. Harvard University estimate that by the year 2071, almost half of the 204 freshwater basins in the US might not be able to meet the monthly demand for water.

Whilst we may not be able to completely solve the water crisis, we can put systems in place to reduce the strain on resources. By many people taking small actions, such as installing water meters and encouraging less use of water, in conjunction with authorities improving ageing infrastructure, we may stand a chance in solving or lessening the water crisis. It's therefore a great time to consider taking your sustainability career to North America and making a real difference. 

Improving infrastructure in the US

In the US, innovative structural and civil engineers are increasingly in demand to help provide new solutions for ageing infrastructure. Engineers are required to introduce and implement a new wave of sustainable thinking using limited resources effectively and planning for resiliency in the changing climate, to ensure pressure on vital infrastructure is reduced.

At AtkinsRéalis , we have been providing infrastructure planning, engineering, construction, and program management services to public and private clients across the United States for more than 50 years, and we’re accustomed to building infrastructure that stands up to natural disasters.

Engineer your career at AtkinsRéalis

At AtkinsRéalis , careful management of natural resources is an important priority, not only for our clients but for the wider world, to ensure generations to come have a safe future. We work on some of the most complex projects globally, restoring vital ecosystems, incorporating environmentally responsible features and processes, and promoting sustainability wherever possible.

If you would like to join us in driving change throughout the water industry, we’d like to hear from you. Browse our available water jobs today or find out more about what a water engineer does and why we need them.