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 and water supply demand. According to the 1990-2000 decennial U.S. Census, 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 2000-2010 decennial U.S. Census again found southwest Missouri counties growing. (The 2010-2020 decennial Census is in the works.)
- According to the Missouri Water Resources Plan Update 2020 (MDNR) population is projected along the I-70 and I-44 highway corridors.
- Counties within the SWMO Water footprint are projected to continue strong growth out to 2060.
- Strong population growth will inevitably increase water demands. Estimates to 2060 from the SWMO Water Demand Study 2012 projected low, medium and high rates of growth in population and water demand.
- Population growth and increased water demand will create supply gaps in southwest Missouri, especially under drought conditions.
- 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 water as they needed – and historically the 2006 and 2012 droughts were merely short “dry summer” droughts. 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 the next 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 – To protect our public health and economic vitality we must use the Ozark Aquifer – our shared water resource – in a sustainable manner (USGS Groundwater Availability in the Ozark Plateaus Aquifer System).
- Water is necessary for communities to thrive – Jobs are sustained through many factors, not the least of which is available and sustainable water supply. Communities that don’t invest in infrastructure will fall farther and farther behind. Southwest Missouri employment is projected to grow significantly to 2060. Proactive planning for additional water supply to meet projected gaps will support the economic growth and vitality of our region.
Tri-State Water Leading the Way
Tri-State Water Resource Coalition, and its sister organization the Southwest Missouri Joint Municipal Water Utility Commission, was founded by community volunteers 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 leaders from communities and utilities in southwest Missouri, Tri-State Water has analyzed the water supply challenges facing the region and is working to implement potential solutions.