Preview: America's Water Crisis

Mark Strassmann is a CBS News correspondent based in Atlanta.

"Whiskey's for drinking, water's for fighting about." — Mark Twain

As we enter a new decade, water is the new oil: the scarce resource worth fighting over. In arid parts of the world, the fight for water has always been a fight for survival. One-third of the world's population lives where their water supply is either a stress or a crisis.

Water Crisis Preview Clip

But that fight now hits closer to home, to Main St. U.S.A. In various parts of America, a combination of growth and drought, waste and mismanagement, has put shrunk our water resources and put competing interests at each other's throats. In the southeast, Georgia, Florida and Alabama are slugging it out in federal court over access to the waters of Lake Lanier outside Atlanta. In the Midwest, states around the Great Lakes have signed an alliance, telling everyone else to keep their hands off Great Lakes water. But the deepest crisis is where water is scarcest, in the arid southwest. Las Vegas has two-million thirsty residents. 90 percent of its drinking water comes from nearby Lake Mead. The lake's water levels are plunging, and one study estimated that there's a fifty-fifty chance the lake could go dry by 2021.

CBS Reports: Where America Stands

Pat Mulroy is general manager of the Southern Nevada Water District, and one of Nevada's most powerful and controversial public officials. She has aggressively sought out new sources of water to help fuel the record growth of Las Vegas. But she also preaches conservation, curbing waste, breaking people's bad water habits.

But it's a struggle. Mulroy says people by nature are "selfish when it comes to water." Nobody will begin on this journey until they absolutely have to change. It's just human nature. People hate change."

But often in a crisis, people do finally change. Las Vegas is at the crisis point. And some sweeping conservation measures there have been surprisingly effective. More surprising is the number of other areas in America that could face the same water worry. And in many of those areas, the use and waste of water goes on as though the taps will never run dry.

On tonight's CBS Evening News, our special series "Where America Stands"will look at the growing gap between our demand and supply of water. We'll give you a sense of what's at stake for you. And we'll tell you whether there's room for hope, or whether Mark Twain's observation about whisky and water will be more true than ever in the decade ahead.

  • Mark Strassmann
    Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001 and is based in the Atlanta bureau.