Nine US cities may be facing water emergencies this year, according to data released earlier this month by the US Drought Monitor. Of the nine, five are in Texas and two are in Colorado – two of the most oil-rich and water-stressed states in the US.
Recent reports have highlighted the dangers these cities face in light of extensive fracking practices that compete for cities’ already strained fresh water supplies.
The nine urban areas are currently under “exceptional drought” conditions. According to the report, even if the cities have a significant rainfall event, the impact will not be substantial. Exceptional drought conditions refer to areas that have had persistent drought for months or even years, Environmental Leader reports. The cities under this category would need to experience multiple significant rainfalls in order to see any type of relief.
Most of the cities already have some voluntary and mandatory water restrictions in place. “The smaller communities are in the most serious predicament because they only have one water source,” Klaus Reichardt, CEO and founder of Waterless Co., told Environmental Leader. “If that lake or reservoir goes dry, which may happen in certain areas, that’s all they have.”
Sixty-four percent of the country was in drought last year, and, unfortunately, many of the most oil-rich states are also those most plagued with drought. A survey of fracking and water availability released in May found that 47 percent of oil and gas wells are located in “high to extremely high water-stressed areas.”
In Colorado, 92 percent of natural gas wells are located in areas designated as “extremely high water stressed,” meaning that 80 percent of their water supply is already being used for residential consumption or industrial and agricultural use.
In Texas, 51 percent of wells are found in high to extremely high water-stressed areas. Researchers for the Hydraulic Fracturing & Water Stress study found that “Prolonged drought conditions in many parts of Texas and Colorado last summer created increased competition and conflict between farmers, communities, and energy developers, which is only likely to continue.”
There are signs that conditions in New Mexico, where two of the cities are located, could improve; however, conditions in Colorado and Texas will persist and are likely to get increasingly worse, at least into the fall, Environmental Leader reports.
One Texas City has already experienced the frightening result of drought combined with industry competition for fresh water. Last month, the town of Barnhart, Texas ran out of water.
About two years ago, fracking came to the town of Barnhart. Due to water rationing and a large portion of the town’s water supply being overtaken by the natural gas industry, local ranchers and farmers were unable to care for their herds and crops.
Residents saw warning signs that their town’s water supply was being depleted: sand in the toilet, air coming out of the tap. Then, one day, residents turned on the tap and nothing came out.
Three years of drought, a warming climate, and the natural gas industry’s demand for massive amounts of fresh water, which are needed to conduct the fracking process, have taken a large toll on water supplies. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality estimates that as many as 30 Texas communities could run out of water by the end of this year.