Someday, the country will come for Minnesota's gold mine of fresh water

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"As the population grows, and as climate continues to change, we probably will have to move water from where it is to where it is not."

Jesse Schomberg remembers the conversations.

They took place at an academic forum in St. Louis. As a staffer at Minnesota Sea Grant, a science program in Duluth that advocates for "Lake Superior and inland lakes," Schomberg paid close mind to his peers' vexation over freshwater.

"What my colleagues were saying was it's a huge issue," says Schomberg. "California had a drought for many, many years. I don't think anybody really believes it's solved because they had one wet winter. In Florida, [there are] salt water intrusions encroaching on where their [drinking water] wells used to be dug because sea levels are rising. Where there used to be freshwater, they're now pulling up salt water.

"And it's getting worse. It's very clearly getting worse. We don't hear about these kind of water issues here in Minnesota." 

Perhaps it's only a matter of time before we do.

Jay Farmigletti thinks so. He's a hydrologist and the chief water scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. In an interview with ideastream.org earlier this month, Farmigletti warned the day is coming when parched sections of the U.S. will look to piping in water from the Great Lakes. 

"You might imagine that there’s a giant bullseye that can be seen from space that’s sitting above the Great Lakes, meaning: It’s a target area in a sense for the rest of the country," he said. "Because there’s so much fresh water, you can imagine that 50 years from now there might actually be a pipeline that brings water from the Great Lakes to Phoenix. I think that’s part of our future.”

Lake Superior, the largest lake in the world, contains an eighth of the world's fresh water. Residents of Duluth and many North Shore communities rely on it for their water needs. But population and demand on fresh water are increasing while supply remains constant. As a result, many regions are starting to feel the pressure. A recent government report found that 40 of 50 states expect water shortages in some portion in the next 10 years.  

According to Farmigletti, it's getting critical.

"We do have water in some places — the northern half of the country has a lot more water than the southern half — and so as the population grows, and as climate continues to change, we probably will have to move water from where it is to where it is not.”

 


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