USGS - science for a changing world

The USGS Water Science School

Opinion SurveyHandling your water crisis:
Finding new supplies of water

Your town is running out of water! Your growing population and new industries demand more water, which you don't happen to have. You're thinking "If we need more water, lets go and get it!" If you find more water then you definitely increase the supply, but might a larger supply of water also encourage more people to use more water, too? And ... how could you supply more water?

You could:

Let's look at some Ups and Downs of these options:

1. If you create a reservoir it will hold huge amounts of water and the water just sits there ready for use. If you put a power plant in the dam you can produce power. Also, the reservoir provides acres and acres of recreation area and lakefront property.

2. Drilling more wells to find more ground water is certainly cheaper than building a reservoir. The ground under our feet is full of water and your new wells might yield sizable amounts of water. You won't irritate too many voters by building a few wells, either. Plus, you can try to locate the wells near to where you need the water, cutting down on distribution costs.

3. You could build more water towers to store water for an unrainy day. They don't cost too much to build and they provide water when needed.

4. Building a wastewater-treatment plant would be a roundabout way to increase your water supply. It could clean up water that you'd normally just dump back into rivers and make it available for use. You may not want to drink this treated water, but it does have its uses. Think about it this way: if you currently use clean water to water golf courses, maybe you could use your newly treated water to water the golf courses, thus freeing up the clean water you used to use for other purposes, such as drinking water.

1. Building a reservoir? Have you ever checked into the cost of buying 1,000 acres of land and bringing in a zillion truckloads of cement to build a dam? It can't be done on a mayor's salary. Yes, creating a reservoir is expensive. Plus, maybe the people living there don't want to have their land flooded -- you may lose their votes. Plus, you'd still need to build a distribution system to get the water from the reservoir to your city -- that's more money.

2. "If you build it, they will come" -- does this saying apply to well water the same as it does to baseball fields in Iowa? Maybe not. If your plan your wells correctly you might find plenty of groundwater, but you could end up with a dry well. Also, is the groundwater clean enough to drink? It might need expensive water treatment to be usable. Even worse, the ground will only give up so much water before it starts to dry out. Underground aquifers need to be recharged by precipitation. If you withdraw water too fast you might lower the underground water levels so much that your well and other wells around you might either yield less water or run dry.

3. For a water tower to hold water you have to put water in it! So, this method doesn't really increase water supply -- it just stores your currently-available water for use at a later date.

4. Thinking about building a fancy new wastewater-treatment plant? First, check the cost of buying the land and equipment to run such a facility. Again, this is an expensive way to increase your water supply. You won't get reelected if it costs you $5,000 to provide a few gallons of treated water to the golf course. No, the main reason we build treatment plants is because our dirty water has to be cleaned before returning it to the environment -- if you can increase your water supply a bit because of this, then that is an extra bonus.

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