Water availability has become a high priority in the United States, in large part because competition for water is becoming more intense across the Nation. Population growth in many areas competes with demands for water to support irrigation and power production. Cities, farms, and power plants compete for water needed by aquatic ecosystems to support their minimum flow requirements. At the same time, naturally occurring and human-related contaminants from chemical use, land use, and wastewater and industrial discharge are introduced into our waters and diminish its quality.
The fact that degraded quality limits the availability and suitability of water for critical uses is a well-known reality in many communities. What may be less understood, but equally true, is that our everyday use of water can significantly affect water quality, and thus its availability. Landscape features (such as geology, soils, and vegetation) along with water-use practices (such as ground-water withdrawals and irrigation) govern water availability because, together, they affect the movement of chemical compounds over the land and in the subsurface. Understanding the interactions of human activities with natural sources and the landscape is critical to effectively managing water and sustaining water availability in the future.