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Last updated 3:27AM ET
February 25, 2021
Southeast's Water Access At Risk
(APR - Alabama Public Radio ) - A new study says global warming and population growth threaten the Southeast's already precarious water supplies by fueling more extreme weather and degrading water quality.

The report's summary says the changes will probably end the region's traditionally inexpensive access to water.

The study was commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund and conducted by scientists from the U.S. Forest Service. It looked at four major river basins that run through Alabama, the Carolinas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee.

The river systems the Cumberland, Mobile, Tennessee and Alabama are among the most biologically diverse in North America, with hundreds of unique marine species at risk, it said.

Models show that anticipated higher temperatures will generate more volatile weather, with more extreme storms, flooding and erosion. Between those storms, hotter conditions could help dry up river flows and contribute to more severe droughts.

Adding to the strain is the Southeast's population growth, which has led the nation in recent years. Vast tracts of forest land currently cover more than half the region's land, playing a critical role in filtering and cleaning its water.

But new development is expected to displace some 12 million acres of forest by 2020, creating more erosion and sediment that will clog rivers and foul the water, the report said.

"Over the last century, high quality water has been supplied at relatively low cost in this region," said Forest Service scientist Steve McNulty, who conducted the study. "That is poised to change."

The WWF circulated a summary of the report on Capitol Hill this week. The full study is not yet completed.

Parts of the Southeast suffered one of the worst droughts on record last year, and conditions have only slightly improved, with much of the region still under the government's worst drought ratings.

"The science is now confirming that climate change is altering the frequency and severity of many extreme weather events," said Ginette Hemley, WWF's senior vice president for conservation strategy and science.

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