Fresh water is a precious resource for people in many parts of the world

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Not much snow has fallen across the Coeur d’Alene area over the last week. Since last Sunday, only 0.3 inches of the white stuff was measured at Cliff’s station. For the season, as of early Sunday, there has been a total of 48.6 inches of snow, compared to a normal of around 44 inches.

Cliff and I think that weather patterns are going to be more favorable for snow at the end of this month and into early February. Earlier this month, many of these storm systems have been more from a warmer southwesterly direction, giving us more rain than snow. However, the upcoming “full moon” lunar cycle that begins on Jan. 31, looks colder with moisture, as the flow is expected to come from the northwesterly direction.

After the first week of February, we should have an occasional rain and snow pattern. The “full moon” cycle of March 1 should bring our region at least one more round of snowfall.

Cliff and I also believe that we could see one or two strong storms that produce at least 6 inches of snow in the lower elevations during the late January and early February time-frame. When the snowfall seasons ends, we still believe that Coeur d’Alene will end up around 83 to 87 inches of the white stuff.

Despite some of the moisture falling as rain, water is not an immediate concern for our region. Fresh water is certainly a valuable commodity across our planet. Water covers about 70 percent of our planet, but only 3 percent of the world’s water is fresh water. And, two-thirds of that fresh water is in frozen glaciers and usually unavailable.

According to the World Wildlife Organization, there are approximately 1.1 billion people who lack access to water. By 2025, that figure could rise to 1.8 billion and two-thirds of the world will be living under water-stressed conditions. Many worldwide water systems today have either drying up or too polluted to use.

Agriculture, obviously a necessity for food, makes up more than 70 percent for the global demand for water. Fresh water used for irrigation seldom returns to its depleted underground basins. Most of this water is consumed by the crops in the field or lost through evaporation.

In addition with agricultural use, groundwater is also very valuable for drinking and other human needs. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, groundwater is the main source for drinking water for about half of the total population in the U.S. It also provides 50 billion gallons per day for agricultural needs.

Studies are showing that groundwater depletions are occurring across the country and the rest of the world. With continuous pumping of this resource and the inability of natural replenishment of precipitation to keep up, water tables are lowering at alarming rates.

A study from the United States Geological Survey points out that one of the most notable regions where water levels keep dropping is in the desert Southwest. Huge population growth in places like Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz., have seen the water tables drop as much as 300 to 500 feet since the 1940s. In Chicago, long-term groundwater pumping has dropped levels as much as 900 feet since the mid-1860s. Other major population areas along the Gulf Coast and East Coast have seen declines up to 200 to 400 feet over the last 50 to 100 years.

In the Northwest, the Columbia River Basalt aquifer, which supplies Washington and Oregon for irrigation and public use, has seen groundwater levels drop about 100 feet. A friend of mine who lives in eastern Washington had to drill for water on his land about 4 years ago. He thought he would have to go around 10 feet down to hit the water table. Instead, the water was more than 80 below his estimation.

It’s almost hard to believe, but the first time in modern history, a major city is on the verge of completely running out of water. In the South African city of Cape Town, a major 3-year drought combined with massive consumption of water, has led to this serious situation.

Cape Town officials say that unless residents drastically cut down on their daily use of water, the taps will run dry, perhaps as soon as April 22 of this year. That is the date that has been calculated when the reservoirs drop to about 13.5 percent of capacity. Only essential services like hospitals will have water access at that time. If the taps do get turned off, residents will have to go to “water points” in the city to receive over 6 gallons a day. There is still time, so we’ll see what happens.

Fortunately, for we residents of North Idaho, we’re in pretty good shape for water. For the 2017 calendar year, Cliff measured 39.41 inches of rain and melted snow, far above the normal of 26.77 inches. The all-time record was 43.27 inches set back in 2012. For 2018, precipitation totals for our region are forecast to be slightly above normal levels.

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Contact Randy Mann at randy@longrangeweather.com

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