How can we have water supply problems in the lush Ozarks? It’s hard to understand intuitively given the abundance of lakes, rivers and streams in our region. But our sources of water supply for use by communities, farmers, businesses and industries are limited as compared to all the water we see out our car window when we drive around.
Only five communities in southwest Missouri have access to surface water supplies – Lamar, Joplin, Neosho, Branson and Springfield. The rest of our communities depend completely on ground water and the more wells we drill down into the aquifer the more “straws” we have withdrawing our common resource.
Factors Driving Concern
Large metropolitan areas in the arid west face overwhelming challenges when providing their communities with adequate supplies of water. Our area is relatively water rich compared to the arid west, but there are several factors driving the concern about current water supplies being inadequate for future needs, and they are going to continue to stress our water supplies.
- Population growth. According to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, the corridor of counties from Joplin and Neosho down to the Missouri/Arkansas border, grew at a rate of 16.7% from 1990-2000. The corridor of counties from Springfield to Branson grew at a rate of 27.1% during that same decade. The 2010 U.S. Census found southwest Missouri counties again growing at a significant rate. According to the Missouri Office of Administration, Budget & Planning, southwest Missouri counties are projected to grow rapidly in the next two decades.
- Drought cycles. We only have to think back to 2006 or 2012 to remember how drought lowers the ground water table and surface water – and raises concerns (DNR Drought 2012 Response). Wells were drying up and well drillers were working overtime. Cities were being told they might not be able to continue drawing as much surface water from rivers as they needed – and historically the 2006 and 2012 droughts were short droughts (Annual Precip 1895-2016). We need to be ready when the next drought hits, which requires planning ahead to meet the future need. Proactive planning is the key to effective leadership on this issue. If we wait until a big drought hits it will be too late.
- Population densities in cities -As cities and towns grow, water demand increases in a concentrated area - especially for municipalities with industries that use high volumes of water. Ground water supplies are stressed when they are more heavily used. As demand increases the water table is lowered, making water less accessible and more expensive to pump to the surface. Surface water sources are flow limited and also become stressed if over-used rather than sustainably used.
- Aquifer sustainability – Cities in the western U.S. have struggled with water supply issues for years. Our region is relatively water rich, but to protect our long-term growth and success we must use the aquifer – our shared water resource – in a sustainable manner (Groundwater Decline Predevelopment).
- Water is necessary for communities to thrive – Jobs are sustained through many factors, not the least of which is available, affordable water. Communities that can offer reasonably priced water, electric, sewer, etc. have a huge advantage. Communities that don’t invest in infrastructure will fall farther and farther behind.
Tri-State Leading the Way
Tri-State Water Resource Coalition (Tri-State Water) was founded out of concern that our current water supplies will not be adequate to meet future needs, especially during times of drought. Led by a dedicated group of engineers and community leaders, Tri-State Water has investigated and analyzed the challenges and is working to implement potential solutions.