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Pumped Dry: Global Water Crisis Widespread And Worsening With Continued Depletion Of Groundwater

In Uncategorized on December 11, 2015 at 8:11 pm
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Kansas Farmer Jay Garetson said: “Thinking about Jared and the challenges that his generation faces, that’s what leaves you gasping for air. It kind of leaves you at a loss for what to do next,” he said, wiping a tear.

 

Oldspeak: “Expect this existential crisis to intensify as temperatures rise and conditions worsen. Sustainability tipping points have been passed for 21 of 37 of Earth’s largest aquifers.  I would imagine these figures are not taking into account the incalculable and permanent damage being done to our water supplies by our extractive energy and mineral mining practices. This story focuses on the U.S. but this story is being told worldwide, be sure to click on the link to the original story &  check out the stories documenting the carnage in India, Peru and Morocco at the bottom of the article. Hmm, Less water for what’s expected to be 9 billion humans, what’s the worst that could happen!?” -OSJ

 

Written By Ian James and Steve Reilly @ The Desert Sun:

SUBLETTE, Kansas – Just before 3 a.m., Jay Garetson’s phone buzzed on the bedside table. He picked it up and read the text: “Low Pressure Alert.”

He felt a jolt of stress and his chest tightened. He dreaded what that automated message probably meant: With the water table dropping, another well on his family’s farm was starting to suck air.

The Garetson family has been farming in the plains of southwestern Kansas for four generations, since 1902. Now they face a hard reality. The groundwater they depend on is disappearing. Their fields could wither. Their farm might not survive for the next generation.

At dawn, Jay was out among the cornfields at the well, trying to diagnose the problem. The pump was humming as it lifted water from nearly 600 feet underground. He turned a valve and let the cool water run into his cupped hands. Just as he had feared, he saw fine bubbles in the water.

“It’s showing signs of weakening,” he said sadly, standing in the shoulder-high corn.

“This’ll last another five or 10 years, but not even at the production rate that we’re at here today,” he said. “It’s just a question of how much time is left.”

Time is running out for portions of the High Plains Aquifer, which lies beneath eight states from South Dakota to Texas and is the lifeblood of one of the world’s most productive farming economies. The aquifer, also known as the Ogallala, makes possible about one-fifth of the country’s output of corn, wheat and cattle. But its levels have been rapidly declining, and with each passing year more wells are going dry.

As less water pours from wells, some farmers are adapting by switching to different crops. Others are shutting down their drained wells and trying to scratch out a living as dryland farmers, relying only on the rains.

In parts of western Kansas, the groundwater has already been exhausted and very little can be extracted for irrigation. In other areas, the remaining water could be mostly used up within a decade.

The severe depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer is symptomatic of a larger crisis in the United States and many parts of the world. Much more water is being pumped from the ground than can be naturally replenished, and groundwater levels are plummeting. It’s happening not only in the High Plains and drought-ravaged California but also in places from the Gulf Coastal Plain to the farmland of the Mississippi River Valley, and from the dry Southwest to the green Southeast.

In a nationwide examination of the problem, USA TODAY and The Desert Sun analyzed two decades of measurements from more than 32,000 wells and found water levels falling in nearly two-thirds of those wells, with heavy pumping causing major declines in many areas. The analysis of U.S. Geological Survey data revealed that:

  • Nationwide, water levels have declined in 64 percent of the wells included in the government database during the past two decades.
  • The average decline among decreasing wells has been more than 10 feet, and in some areas the water table has dropped more than 100 feet during that period – more than 5 feet per year.
  • For 13 counties in Texas, New Mexico, Mississippi, Kansas and Iowa, average water levels have decreased more than 40 feet since 1995.
  • Nationally, the average declines have been larger from 2011-2014 as drought has intensified in the West. But water tables have been falling consistently over the years through both wet and dry periods, and also in relatively wet states such as Florida and Maryland.
  • Across the High Plains, one of the country’s largest depletion zones, the average water levels in more than 4,000 wells are 13.2 feet lower today than they were in 1995. In the southern High Plains, water levels have plunged significantly more – in places over 100 feet in just 20 years.

Average water level decrease in US counties

In many counties across the United States, groundwater levels have been dropping.

The problem is especially severe in the region that relies on the Ogallala Aquifer.

Aquifers are being drawn down in many areas by pumping for agriculture, which accounts for nearly two-thirds of the nation’s use of fresh groundwater. Water is also being drained for cities, expanding development and industries. Across much of the country, overpumping has become a widespread habit. And while the symptoms have long remained largely invisible to most people, the problem is analogous to gradually squandering the balance of a collective bank account. As the balance drops, there’s less of that resource to draw on when it’s needed.

At the same time, falling groundwater levels are bringing increasing costs for well owners, water utilities and society as a whole. As water levels drop, more energy is required to lift water from wells, and those pumping bills are rising. In areas where aquifers are being severely depleted, new wells are being drilled hundreds of feet into the earth at enormous cost. That trend of going deeper and deeper can only go on so long. When groundwater levels fall to precarious lows and wells are exhausted, farming businesses can suffer. And in particularly hard-hit communities, such as parts of California, homeowners have been left relying on tanker trucks to deliver their water.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, the United States is estimated to have lost more than 1,000 cubic kilometers of water from the nation’s aquifers – about 28 times the amount of water that can be held in Lake Mead, the country’s largest reservoir.

That estimate of water losses from 1900 through 2008, calculated by USGS scientist Leonard Konikow, shows the High Plains has accounted for 35 percent of the country’s total depletion. California’s Central Valley accounted for more than 14 percent, and other parts of the country have depleted the remainder, about half of the total.

In places, water that seeped underground over tens of thousands of years is being pumped out before many fully appreciate the value of what’s lost. The declines in groundwater in the United States mirror similar decreases in many parts of the world.

NASA satellites have allowed scientists to map the changes underground on a global scale for the first time, putting into stark relief a drawdown that has long remained largely out of sight. The latest satellite data, together with measurements of water levels in wells, reveal widespread declines in places from Europe to India, and from the Middle East to China.

“Groundwater depletion is this incredible global phenomenon,” said Jay Famiglietti, a professor of earth system science at the University of California, Irvine, and the senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “We never really understood it the way we understand it now. It’s pervasive and it’s happening at a rapid clip.”

Famiglietti and his colleagues have found that more than half of the world’s largest aquifers are declining. Those large-scale losses of groundwater are being monitored from space by two satellites as part of the GRACE mission, which stands for Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment.

Since 2002, the orbiting satellites have been taking detailed measurements of Earth’s gravity field and recording changes in the total amounts of water, both aboveground and underground. Using that data, the researchers have created a global map showing areas of disappearing water as patches of yellow, orange and red. Those “hotspots” mark regions where there is overpumping of water or where drought has taken a toll.

The map shows that, just as scientists have been predicting due to climate change, some areas in the tropics and the higher latitudes have been growing wetter, Famiglietti said, while many dry and semi-arid regions in the mid-latitudes have been growing drier. In those same dry regions, intensive agriculture is drawing heavily on groundwater. And with little rain to recharge the aquifers, their levels are dropping.

“Many of these resources are finite,” Famiglietti said. “It took tens of thousands of years to accumulate this water, and we’re burning through it in a matter of decades.”

In many regions, government agencies and water districts have studied the problem but haven’t taken sufficient steps to manage aquifers or prevent declines.

Alongside climate change, groundwater depletion has become another human-caused crisis that could bring devastating consequences. As aquifers are pushed far beyond their natural limits, water scarcity is battering farms, undermining economies and intensifying disputes over water.

In parts of the southern High Plains, farmers are feeling the effects. Some counties have seen small decreases in population as people have moved away. Local leaders have been expressing concerns about what sorts of businesses can help sustain their economies as water supplies dwindle.

The Kansas Geological Survey has mapped out how much longer the aquifer can support large-scale pumping. It projects that some places still probably have more than a century of water left, but that large patches of western Kansas will go dry in less than 25 years. Some areas will likely run out faster, within a matter of years.

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The green circles of center-pivot irrigation systems stand out in areas where farms rely on water from the High Plains Aquifer. (Photo: Ian James, The Desert Sun)

The Ogallala Aquifer’s decline shows what the world can expect in other areas where groundwater is being quickly depleted, Famiglietti said. “The fact that they’re running out of water means that we will no longer be growing food there, and so where will that food come from?”

In Haskell County, Kansas, windswept fields of sorghum and corn stretch to the flat horizon in a swaying sea. The huge farms, many of them in the thousands of acres, still appear lush and productive. But driving along the arrow-straight country roads, Jay Garetson can point out spots where wells have gone dry – both on his family’s land and other farms.

All that’s left at one of his decommissioned wells is a round metal cover on a concrete slab, with a rusty Frigidaire lying on its side next to it. His grandfather once used the refrigerator to store oil for the pump.

Opening the well’s metal lid, Jay dropped in a rock. It pinged off the steel casing. More than five seconds later, there was faint splash.

“Now the only water it finds is a couple three feet at the very bottom of the well that the pumps can’t effectively access anymore,” Jay said, his voice echoing in the empty well.

He and his brother, Jarvis, drilled this well in the early 2000s when a shallower well failed. It lasted less than a decade, and then it went dry in 2012, forcing them to drill again – this time 600 feet deep, down to the bedrock at the bottom of the aquifer. It’s hard to say how long that well might last.

If the water keeps dropping about 5 feet per year, he said, it might be finished in as few as 10 years.

“Very simply, we’re running out, and it’s happening far faster than anybody anticipated,” he said. “And as optimistic as I’d like to be about the future, the window for that optimism is closing very quickly.”

He put the cover back on the old well, pointing out a tag that was placed on it by a state regulatory agency.

“We’re documenting very well the demise of the aquifer, but we’re not making the real-world changes in the way we manage the aquifer to really do the serious things that need to happen,” Jay said. “We seem to be unwilling to take the necessary steps to actually reduce water usage.”

Jay is an influential farmer and a longstanding member of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture who has been appointed by both Democratic and Republican governors. He has many ideas about how to extend the life of the aquifer, including mandatory water cutbacks that would be shared by farmers. But he has faced resistance from those who oppose mandatory limits.

Over the past five years, the pumping capacity of the Garetsons’ wells has decreased by about 30 percent as the water table has fallen. They’ve been forced to plant less corn and instead more wheat and sorghum, which use less water and bring in smaller earnings.

When Jay’s grandparents drilled wells in the mid-20th century, they were told the water supply was inexhaustible. They had clung to their land through the hardships of the Dust Bowl, when blowing drifts of soil and grit decimated crops and sent many others packing. In the decades that followed, they built a successful business on the water they pumped from the ground.

Since then, numerous studies have shown that the status quo is far from sustainable. Starting in 1986, Congress directed the USGS to monitor and report on changes in the levels of the Ogallala Aquifer, recognizing its economic importance. An estimated 30 percent of the groundwater used for irrigation in the country is pumped from the aquifer. Researchers have projected that without action to slow the losses, the portion of the aquifer in Kansas will be nearly 70 percent depleted within 50 years.

“What frustrates me is with all this knowledge and all this information, we still collectively refuse to act,” Jay said. “I don’t understand how we can all be so lacking in courage when we all can clearly see this is a train wreck happening in slow motion.”

The costs of inaction are visible just down the road, at a farmhouse where Jay lived as a young boy. Today the white house is abandoned. Weeds have grown around the front steps. Scraps of wood lie in a pile on the porch like logs on a campfire.

When the well went dry two years ago, a farm employee was forced to move out. The Garetsons drilled test holes but found no more water to tap.

In the yard, Jay pointed out the spot beneath a dying elm tree where he used to play on the swings. “It’s probably seen its last swing set in the yard,” he said wistfully.

“It’s something I used to read about and study, you know, the Dust Bowl. And you would see these abandoned farmsteads, and now I’m actually seeing it in my own lifetime,” he said. “Now we’re kind of at the end of the tracks here, and the only thing left to do is decide whether we should go ahead and push the house in and burn it, or probably the most painful option in my mind is to stand back and watch time just slowly melt it down.”

The worst-case scenario, he said, is that within a decade many more homes in the area could look just like this one – dry and deserted.

Jay Garetson checks on a well that is starting to weaken as the Ogallala Aquifer declines. Steve Elfers, Ian James

The United States, along with India and China, is one of the largest users of groundwater in the world.

The federal government has estimated that in 2010, the country used 76 billion gallons of fresh groundwater per day. That’s 117,000 cubic feet per second, roughly comparable to Niagara Falls. Wells across the country are pumping out as much water – even slightly more – than the average flow of approximately 100,000 cubic feet per second that tourists see plunging from the top of Niagara Falls.

When groundwater is pumped from wells, some of it is soaked up by plants, some evaporates, some courses through pipes to cities, and some soaks back into the ground. Part of it ends up flowing into the oceans, adding to the global problem of rising seas as glaciers and ice sheets melt.

Most of the planet’s available freshwater lies underground. Aquifers store water like sponges, holding it in the spaces between rocks, sand, gravel and clay. So much water is now being sucked from some aquifers that those underground spaces are collapsing and the surface of the Earth has been permanently altered.

The ground has sunk in parts of California, Texas, Arizona and Nevada, cracking the foundations of houses, leaving fissures in the ground, and damaging roads, canals and bridges. As layers of aquifers gradually subside, their water-storing capacity is irreversibly decreasing.

Groundwater levels have changed relatively little in some of the country’s wetter areas, as rainfall and snowmelt have offset the amounts pumped out. But even in pockets of the Northeast and upper Midwest, there have been significant declines. Average water levels in Cumberland County, N.J., for instance, decreased nearly 6 feet over the past two decades. In Outagamie County, Wis., there was a decline of 6.1 feet.

Elsewhere, there has been significant depletion across entire regions, largely driven by agriculture. Average water levels fell by 5.7 feet across the Mississippi River Valley aquifer system, by 12.6 feet in the Columbia Plateau basaltic rock aquifers of the Pacific Northwest, and by 17.8 feet in some of the Snake River Plain’s aquifers of southern Idaho.

As the nation’s population grows, expanding cities and suburban development are also having an effect. Total U.S. water use has decreased in recent years due to improvements in efficiency and conservation, but the cumulative strains on groundwater have continued to build.

Big drops in water tables have occurred in many parts the country. The U.S. Geological Survey’s data show that individual monitoring wells with water level decreases of more than 100 feet in the past two decades are located in a long list of states: California, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Maryland, Washington, Oregon, Kansas, Iowa, Arkansas, Idaho, Arizona, Louisiana, Colorado, Wyoming and Mississippi.

Saltwater has been seeping into declining aquifers along portions of the Atlantic coast in places such as Hilton Head, S.C. and Savannah, Ga., and beneath coastal cities in Florida such as Jacksonville, Miami and Tampa. When saltwater intrusion taints supplies of drinking water, it can force water districts to use different wells or invest in other costly solutions.

In parts of the desert Southwest and the Great Plains, natural springs that used to gush from the ground have dried up.

There have also been long-term declines in groundwater levels around urban areas including Chicago, Milwaukee, Wis., Long Island, N.Y., Baton Rouge, La., Memphis, Tenn., and Houston.

In each state, the use of groundwater falls under different laws. In many areas, though, the agencies charged with managing water supplies have allowed aquifers to fall into a state of perpetual overdraft, with water levels receding deeper by the year. Even where groundwater regulations exist, pumping often remains largely unchecked.

“Like your bank account, you can’t keep depleting it forever. That’s a non-sustainable condition,” the USGS scientist Konikow said. “Society will have to do something about it. Some areas, they are doing things about it. Other areas, it’s going to kind of slap them in the face at some point as a wake-up call.”

In the farm country of Grant County, Kansas, where grain silos tower over fields that stretch out to a flat horizon, the chamber of commerce hosts an annual dinner that has been a tradition for 53 years. Hundreds of people line up while volunteers dish out local food: barbecued beef, sweet corn, candied squash and prized doughnuts made with milo, another name for sorghum.

The dinner consistently attracts top state politicians. This September, when Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer gave a speech to a packed auditorium, he emphasized the importance of water.

“We all know here that the lifeblood of our land is that Ogallala Aquifer below us,” Colyer said. “We’ve got to rely on that water.”

He said that’s why Gov. Sam Brownback recently launched an effort to develop a “50-year water vision” for the state. Colyer said southwestern Kansas is working to preserve its water, and he pointed to the large cattle industry and the fast-growing dairy business as signs of a bright economic future.

Those applauding at the long tables included Jay Garetson, his wife, Jill, and two teenage sons. But while Jay credits the state government with doing more than ever to focus on water, he’s concerned the consensus-building approach and the voluntary measures being promoted aren’t enough.

In his office, he rolled out a map to explain why. The map is marked with patches of orange and red denoting areas that have relatively little water left. In one of those spots, “right in the bull’s eye,” he pointed to the family’s hometown of Sublette.

The biggest problem, he said, is that no one can slow down the decline alone. And those who try to use less water will have the aquifer pumped out from beneath them by neighbors.

“Everybody’s got a straw in the same soda,” Jay said. “When you have a common resource, and the individual motivations are to accelerate the use rather than to stretch it out over a period of time, the net result is everybody loses.”

The economics of the profit-driven status quo are driving the depletion, he said, and that points to a need for the state and the regional groundwater district to intervene – like a referee in a sporting event that has deteriorated into a free-for-all. He said the referee should “call a timeout.”

Then, he said, “we need to sit down and think about changing the rules.”

Wells have been drawing out less water and going dry in places from eastern Colorado and the Texas Panhandle. Northern portions of the aquifer in Nebraska still have more water remaining, but parts of the southern High Plains have been left with parched fields.

In areas where little water remains, people have been turning to dryland farming, relying on the rains to grow wheat and other crops. That switch leads to sharply reduced earnings per acre. It requires farmers to use much bigger acreages to turn a profit. It means the land will support far fewer farms, and that could bring hard economic times.

Jay’s brother Jarvis explained how profound those changes could be, pausing from his work after changing a flat tire on a center-pivot irrigation system.

“It’s tough to think about what’s been in my family for well over a hundred years not being here in 20. It may mean that my kids or my nephews don’t come back, may not even have a chance if that’s their desire,” he said, his voice quavering. “It’s just tough to think about it not being there. I mean, it’s a way of life.”

Trying to make the aquifer last longer, some farmers have been adopting water-saving irrigation systems. A sign on one highway reads: “Make Every Drop of Water Count.”

Marieta Hauser, a dryland farmer who is director of the Grant County Chamber of Commerce, said she’s concerned about what sorts of businesses could take the place of irrigated farming, which drives the economy.

“Ideally we all want the aquifer to last forever. It’s not going to. We realize that. So what’s the best way to go forward and maintain the viability of our communities and our businesses?” Hauser said. “Those are the discussions that I hear more than anything, is ‘What’s going to happen to our communities when irrigation is not viable?’”

Some towns, such as Ulysses and Johnson City, have been buying water rights from farmers to secure enough drinking water supplies to keep the taps flowing.

One experiment aimed at slashing water use on farms is underway in Sheridan County, in northwestern Kansas, where the state’s first “Local Enhanced Management Area,” or LEMA, was established in 2013. Through that five-year plan, farmers are trying to keep within a “budget” that calls for a 20 percent reduction in water use.

Even as that strategy is showing signs of working, water managers acknowledge it’s not coming close to halting declines in the aquifer. It’s simply buying a bit more time.

Mark Rude, executive director of the Southwest Kansas Groundwater Management District No. 3, can put a specific number on the gap between the amounts of water pumped and the quantities of rainfall that recharge the aquifer in an average year: “We’re only about 9 percent sustainable.”

In other words, the people of southwestern Kansas are pumping out 11 times more than the aquifer’s natural recharge. People are barred from adding new wells in the area. If a new well is drilled, it needs to replace another well that is shut down.

In practice, the water rights system doesn’t limit pumping at all. In fact, farmers are using much less than they would be permitted under the system of appropriated groundwater rights, which was established decades ago when water seemed plentiful and flood irrigation was the norm.

“Ultimately, I think, budgeting the aquifer is where any area has to start. How much do you have and how much are you willing to see consumed? That’s always a difficult step,” Rude said. When the water district has held meetings and asked farmers whether they’re in favor of developing a water budget, some have been apprehensive about restrictions or mandates.

While some keep pumping, others are leaving. Within the traditional Mennonite community, elders have begun sending away young couples to settle in other areas such as the Snake River Plain in Idaho, where even though aquifer levels are declining, more water remains. They’re leaving, Rude said, “because as the water supply leaves, the intensity of agriculture leaves, and the job opportunities also leave.”

For every acre that runs out of irrigation water and starts being dry-farmed, the state estimates the economy loses nearly $4,000 a year.

The difference between irrigated fields and dryland farms appears starkly on a large satellite photo on the wall of the water district’s office in Garden City. Patches of brown border the green circles of center-pivot irrigation systems.

Moving a hand across the map, Rude pointed out spots where springs and streams have dried up. One spring was a popular swimming hole half a century ago, he said, and it doesn’t flow anymore.

Decades ago, the Arkansas River used to flow between Garden City and Dodge City. Now all that’s left are scattered patches of reeds in the dry riverbed.

Jay Garetson’s wife Jill, who is a teacher, lived near the flowing river as a child. She has watched it disappear, drained by diversions upstream and the declining water table. As a girl, she used to follow her father into cornfields while he fixed sprinklers. Now he’s out of water and relying on several oil wells for income.

“I don’t think we can continue to do things the way we’re doing them,” she said. “Some serious action has to be taken quickly.”

The Garetsons’ 17-year-old son, Jared, is cautiously assessing the future and thinks it may be difficult to return home to farm after college.

Every year he helps out during the corn harvest, and as a hobby he flies a drone to film the harvester mowing down golden rows. But he said the aquifer now seems like a gas tank with its gauge approaching “E.”

“If we lose the aquifer, we lose probably 80 percent of our crops out here,” Jared said. “If our water supply is shut off, that’s a huge amount of food that we’re going to have to find elsewhere.”

They are a close-knit family, and stories of their farming history are woven into conversations around the kitchen table. It’s a legacy that may be slipping away for Jared.

“I’ve thought, why don’t we just pack up, sell the farm and leave? And we’ll find somewhere else that’s got water and that’s going to continue to have water, where we can build?” Jared said. But that’s a difficult idea for his parents and grandparents to accept. “It’s been our home for 113 years now, and for all that to go away and just stop that, that hundred-year-old investment, and that’d be really hard to just pack up and say goodbye to everything.”

As for Jared’s future, he said in order to make long-term investments in farming, it would be crucial to secure enough water for the next 40 years.

“Until we’ve got our water issue taken care of, then I basically have no future here,” Jared said. “It’s kind of sad, but it’s the harsh reality.”

Large rice farms in the Mississippi River Valley depend heavily on water pumped from wells. So do fields of cotton, soybeans and corn across portions of Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and Missouri. The farms are drawing out significantly more than is naturally replenished, and the valley’s alluvial aquifer system has been declining.

“Here, we actually get a lot of rain so you tend to not think of it as being in danger of running low on water,” said Brian Clark, a USGS hydrologist in Little Rock, Arkansas. “But just the sheer amount of use kind of poses that issue.”

Officials in Arkansas, which is the country’s top rice-producing state, are updating the state’s water plan with proposals for coping with a growing “groundwater gap” in the eastern portion of the state. They’ve recommended building infrastructure to make surface water the primary irrigation source for areas that now depend on a declining supply of groundwater.

Other proposed regulatory changes aimed at addressing strains on groundwater are being debated elsewhere, in wet regions as well as dry regions of the country.

In Arizona, state lawmakers have been under increasing pressure to consider groundwater regulations for some of the same rural areas that fought off restrictions about 35 years ago. Some farmers and residents in southeastern Arizona are concerned that unregulated pumping is drawing down groundwater levels, and have been pushing the legislature for action to limit the expansion of irrigated farmlands and begin charging fees for groundwater use.

In Wisconsin, where some people are concerned about farms’ wells drawing down streams and lakes, a bill pending in the legislature would allow state regulators to establish “groundwater protection areas” where there would be tighter permitting rules for new high-capacity wells in order to prevent environmental impacts. The proposed measures would also ease the permitting process for redrilling or repairing existing wells.

In Iowa, growing demands are being placed on the Jordan Aquifer as water is pumped for cities, farms, and industries such as ethanol plants. In June, the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission approved a new rule aimed at limiting pumping. The measures divide wells into tiers based on how much water levels have declined, and lay out procedures for reductions in water use in areas where the aquifer has dropped significantly.

Florida has also faced problems with groundwater declines as expanding development has strained water supplies. As the vast Floridan Aquifer has been drawn down, the amounts of water flowing from some of the state’s natural springs have decreased significantly, altering the sensitive environments where fish, turtles and other wildlife have long flourished.

“We have springs that are going silent because they’re not bubbling with the artesian pressure that they did in the past,” said Robert Knight, president of the Gainesville-based Florida Springs Institute, which advocates reducing the extraction of groundwater to safeguard the natural springs. He pointed out that much of the water pumped from wells is being sprayed on lawns.

As freshwater is pumped out, more seawater has been moving inland underground. And water managers across Florida have been tracking the problem and investing in remedies, including more desalination plants.

The Tampa Bay area built a seawater desalination plant that can churn out 25 million gallons of drinking water a day. The Tampa Bay Water plant, which has been operating since 2008, has helped reduce the stresses on the area’s groundwater supplies. But that has come at a price, with cost of construction alone totaling $158 million.

As the Ogallala Aquifer has declined beneath their land, Jay and Jarvis Garetson have been locked in a bitter dispute with a neighboring landowner over water.

They’re suing the company American Warrior, which owns adjacent farmland, in a case that could set a legal precedent in Kansas.

The case revolves around one of the Garetsons’ wells. They own a vested water right that is one of the oldest in the area, and they have priority under the state’s “first-in-time, first-in-right” system. They’ve claimed “impairment” of that well by two of the company’s nearby wells.

American Warrior holds junior water rights, and a judge issued an injunction temporarily barring the company from using the wells while the case proceeds.

Mike O’Brate, vice president of the family-owned American Warrior, accused the Garetsons of suing out of “greed” and said a lawsuit isn’t the right way to settle the dispute. He said if the Garetsons win, it will set a bad precedent and more suits will follow.

“Everybody will want to file these to shut off their neighbors,” O’Brate said. “Attorneys are going to get filthy rich in a fight over water. It’s not a good thing.”

The Garetson brothers said the 2012 lawsuit was necessary to defend their family’s livelihood.

“The fact of the matter is, we have a vested right to their junior rights, and Kansas water law is very clear,” Jarvis said. “And the sad thing is we had to get the courts involved to make it happen.”

Jay said that in addition to pressing the state to enforce its laws, they hope to call attention to the urgent need for action to preserve the aquifer.

“I guess our family’s decided we’d rather call a question and force everybody to make an informed decision one way or the other than to be complicit in the death of something that didn’t have to go out this way,” he said.

After the lawsuit was filed, the Garetsons faced hostility – even death threats.

As aquifers decline, more legal conflicts are likely to flare up in places across the country. Many disputes have already ended up in the courts.

Mississippi, for instance, is in a long-running legal battle with Tennessee and the city of Memphis, claiming the neighboring state is taking groundwater that belongs to Mississippi. In California, where many aquifers have been divvied up by courts, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians is suing two Coachella Valley water districts in a fight over rights to groundwater.

In Kansas, the state Water Office and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have studied a proposal to build an aqueduct that would carry water from the Missouri River to the High Plains, and have estimated the cost at $18 billion.

When Jay and his family start talking about water, the conversation touches on mega-fixes, such as the idea of building a wind-powered pipeline from the Mississippi River.

In the meantime, Jay holds out hope there is still time to save what’s left and extend the use of the aquifer. “But it’s going to take immediate action and it’s going to take mandatory action, and that’s something that is hard for most of us out here, who are pretty individualistic and self-reliant, to contemplate.”

Any imposed cutbacks would be painful for everyone, though the pain could be spread around, he said. And water credits could be traded, creating a market that would help deal with scarcity and put the limited water toward high-value uses.

Jay sometimes wonders if roadside billboards would help increase the sense of urgency. He envisions signs with cross-section drawings of the aquifer “that show the reservoir declining and force people to admit at least, if we’re not going to act, that it was an informed decision not to act.”

Driving down a dirt road through farmland, Jay talked about what losing the aquifer would mean for his family.

“Thinking about Jared and the challenges that his generation faces, that’s what leaves you gasping for air. It kind of leaves you at a loss for what to do next,” he said, wiping a tear.

Jay said he and his brother keep trying to gain five or 10 years by using a new crop or new irrigation technologies. He said their father, Jesse, encourages them to “keep pushing” and keep praying.

“We’ll succeed somewhere. I just always thought it would be here,” he said as he pulled into his gravel driveway next to a cornfield.

He stood beside the mud-splattered pickup, petting his dog.

“In spite of everything I do and we do, it’s still not enough,” he said, sniffling softly. “My boys and my nephews will never have the … they won’t have the same opportunity.”

He paused, keeping his composure.

“If they stay here, it’ll be a salvage operation. It won’t be an expansion or a growth or an improvement. It’ll be a salvage operation,” he said. “That’s the mentality they’ll have to have – unless everybody can come together. The problem is everybody won’t come together, in my experience, until it’s too late.”

As he began to cry, he walked away.

Ian James reported from Kansas and Steve Reilly reported from McLean, Virginia.

Steve Elfers of USA TODAY, Caitlin McGlade of The Arizona Republic and Chad Gillis of The News-Press in Fort Myers, Fla., contributed to this report.

This special report was produced with a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. 

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Alarming Research Finds Humans Are Using Up Far More Of Earth’s Water Than Previously Thought

In Uncategorized on December 11, 2015 at 7:17 pm

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Oldspeak: “How bout that. Our unsustainable, infinite growth and resource incinerating “civilization” is not only depleting Earth’s largest sources of freshwater at ever more unsustainable rates worldwide, its doing it 2o PERCENT FASTER THAN PREVIOUSLY THOUGHT. And to add insult to injury, human activity with all its “innovation”, “progress”, “technological advancement” and “development” is literally fucking up Earth’s water cycle. Oh those pesky little unintended consequences, they always come back to bite us in the ass one way or the other… Anywho, everyone paid to bloviate on infotainment streams is paying attention to what Trump said…” -OSJ

 

Written By Chelsea Harvey @ The Washington Post:

Freshwater is one of the planet’s most precious resources — and as the global population grows and our demand for water rises, so does the need to carefully monitor its use and availability. Numerous studies have attempted to calculate the amount of freshwater humans consume globally from year to year. But in a worrying new study in the journal Science, scientists argue that we’ve been significantly underestimating our water footprint — in fact, their research raises the estimate of our global water consumption by nearly 20 percent and suggests that we may have crossed an unsustainable threshold in our water use.

Authors Fernando Jaramillo and Georgia Destouni of Stockholm University focused their research on the effects of flow regulation and irrigation — essentially, building dams and reservoirs for human use — on the water cycle, and found that previous studies have significantly underestimated their influence. Notably, they found a significant increase in water consumption — thousands of cubic kilometers worth — in the latter half of the twentieth century due to human water management.

These practices can have an important influence on what scientists call “evapotranspiration,” which is water that is lost to the atmosphere by either evaporating from the Earth’s surface or being taken up by plants and later released into the air through their leaves. Such factors can add up to a very significant percentage of global water consumption.

While most people think about “water consumption” as referring to the amount of water humans drink or use for industry, water that evaporates into the atmosphere is actually a major component too, said Jaramillo. This handy blog from the World Resources Institute helps explain the concept: Essentially, water consumption refers to any water that is withdrawn and not immediately returned to its original source.

So when water vaporizes and goes into the atmosphere as a result of human actions, such as irrigation or dam-building, it counts as being consumed by humans — even if it comes back down to the Earth at a later point as rain. It’s important to think about consumption in this way: Water that goes into the atmosphere in one place doesn’t necessarily come back down in the same location or in the same amount . And by engaging in practices that cause more water to be lost into the atmosphere than naturally would, humans are interfering with the natural ratio of evapotranspiration to precipitation — in other words, water out versus water in — and that could lead to increases in water shortages down the road.

“A  scientific motivation for this [study] is that we want to understand what is it that drives changes in the freshwater system on land,” said Destouni, the senior author and a professor of hydrology and water resources at Stockholm University. And as the research was conducted, she said, “we started to see that the landscape drivers of change [including human water management] were actually important nearly everywhere.”

There are a variety of ways that human water management techniques can affect how much water is lost to the atmosphere as water vapor, not all of them well understood. Creating reservoirs means there’s a larger surface area of standing water, which can increase evaporation rates. Additionally, irrigation can increase the number of plants in an area, which then draw in more water and release it into the air through their leaves, the process known as transpiration.

The authors decided to determine the global impact of flow regulation and irrigation on the water cycle in order to figure out how much water is being consumed, or lost to the atmosphere, just as a result of these practices. They selected 100 large water basins from around the world to use as a sample, choosing basins “that were more representative and had long-term consistent data on climate and water change and long-term data on water use and land use,” Jaramillo said.

They then used these data to figure out the ratio of evapotranspiration to precipitation — essentially, water out versus water in — between 1901 and 2008. In the past, studies examining the influence of flow regulation and irrigation on the water footprint have used global-scale models, which the authors argue have underestimated the effects on the water cycle. Their study is the first to take a global look at these practices using observed historical data.

“What is really novel and exciting about what Dr. Jaramillo and Destouni did was they took observational data, so measured flow data, on major watersheds, and they were able to detect a signal of a specific human impact,” said Shannon Sterling, an associate professor in the Department of Earth Sciences at Dalhousie University, who was not involved with this paper. “And that’s remarkable.”

After conducting their analysis, the researchers found that between the period from 1901 to 1954 and the period from 1955 to 2008, there was an increase in the average loss of freshwater to the atmosphere of more than 3,500 cubic kilometers, or about 850 cubic miles, of water. Altogether, they estimate that the current level of human freshwater consumption is about 4,370 cubic kilometers, or close to 1,050 cubic miles, per year.

These calculations raise the estimated total human water footprint — that’s all water consumed, freshwater or otherwise — by a whopping 18 percent, bringing it up to about 10,688 cubic kilometers per year.

The authors note that previous papers have proposed a “planetary boundary” of 4,000 cubic kilometers of freshwater consumption per year. Beyond that point, some scientists say that water consumption becomes unsustainable for the Earth’s growing population. Notably, this new study brings the total estimated freshwater consumption above the proposed planetary boundary.

“Whether this actually is a real boundary, of course there’s huge uncertainty related to that,” Destouni said, but added that the study’s results are concerning either way.

“It’s very serious that with such a relatively straightforward thing as water, freshwater — all of us use it all the time — we don’t keep track of what changes we have made and how these changes actually relate to what the planet can withstand,” she said.

Sterling also pointed out that the paper suggests human activities have a particular influence in already water-stressed regions.

“Another important implication of what they found [is that] the biggest reductions in available water from these human activities of dam building and irrigation are in areas that are already arid,” she said. “In these areas, they probably built dams and irrigation to address an existing water stress in the first place.”

The study highlights a critical need for better monitoring of our freshwater use and the ways our management techniques can affect the water cycle, as Jaramillo noted that the current effects of human water management “are even larger and more recognizable than the effects of atmospheric climate change.”

As climate change is predicted to become an increasing threat to water security worldwide, the persistent impacts of human activity on the water cycle will only be compounded by the effects of global warming in the future — making the need for better management techniques an even higher priority.

“That’s another future direction our society needs to take — to go towards greater resource efficiency,” Destouni said. “And if we don’t keep track of how we use water, we cannot reach that efficiency, or even understand what that efficiency means for the future.”

—————————————————————————————————————————————-

Chelsea Harvey is a freelance journalist covering science. She specializes in environmental health and policy.

 

Global Drought: Why Is No One Discussing Fresh Water At COP 21?

In Uncategorized on September 18, 2015 at 1:50 am

Oldspeak: “Leaving aside the fact that these “Conference Of Parties” meetings are grandiosely farcical, ‘policy-based, evidence making’ circle jerks of bloviation where no truly meaningful policy is ever implemented on the scale necessary to make a difference in the rapidly deteriorating conditions of our global ecology, this is an important question. Why is the global drought not up for discussion? How exactly will it be possible to realize this wondrous wind, solar, and other “green technology” fueled future, without adequate supplies of water to dig for the also rapidly depleting natural capital in the form of minerals and ore needed to build the shit to begin with?!?!? Given the fact that “Twenty-one of the world’s 37 largest aquifers — in locations from India and China to the United States and France — have passed their sustainability tipping points“, I don’t see this future happening. Especially when water scarcity is not topic up for discussion. With more are more stress being placed on these unsustainably depleted aquifers by every new human born, all the stuff you’ll read below about “mitigation”, “adaption” and “opportunities to do better” seem to me like nothing more than fantasy. COP 21 = COP OUT 21. Enjoy the Kabuki Theater.” -OSJ

Written By Katherine Purvis @ The Guardian U.K.:

Around the world, fresh water supplies are drying up: California in the US and São Paulo in Brazil are enduring historic droughts, groundwater sources have been plundered in south Asia, and globally more than 750 million people lack access to safe drinking water. The global fresh water shortage is one of the world’s most pressing challenges, yet the issue is not scheduled to be discussed at Cop21 – the UN’s climate change conference – in Paris this December.

Those working to deliver water to communities or conserve fresh water sources have a duty to demonstrate ways to adapt to climate change and help policymakers understand the importance of water in a warming world. NGOs, businesses and others working in the sector must build alliances to show how to improve the world’s water problems, such as making the transition to solar energy or planting drought-resistant crops.

This was the central message of a panel discussion, organised by the Guardian and the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), and sponsored by Fundación Femsa, which creates programmes focused on conservation and the sustainable use of water. The panel discussion was held at SIWI’s annual World Water Week conference.

Although Cop discussions have been held for the past 20 years, the issue of fresh water has not been part of the official agenda, even though it is so closely linked to climate change.

Water projects that help communities adapt to climate change

The panellists suggested that the most effective way for water to be incorporated into climate policy would be through an action agenda where those working in the sector could show governments the types of water projects that could help communities mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change.

“It’s important to demonstrate initiatives and good examples to drive the process – don’t depend on the decisions being made in Paris,” said Karin Lexén, director of World Water Week, International Process and Prizes. Benedito Braga, president of the World Water Council, agreed: “We need to have interesting proposals of projects on the ground, which means involving not only national governments, but also the private sector and the academic community.”

However, there was some debate around whether or not water needs to be included in the resulting climate change agreement from Cop21. “One of the things I’ve seen throughout all these years of Cop talks is that even if the topic is not present [in the text], the water still creeps in,” said Vidal Garza Cantu, director of Fundación Femsa.

The language used to talk about climate change was a key theme throughout the discussion. David Tickner, WWF’s head of fresh water programmes, said that while some people do not understand climate change, they do understand floods and droughts. “If we communicated on floods and droughts and their connection to climate change in some areas, that could help our politics.”

Encouraging governments and policymakers to look at how water is essential to their biggest priorities, such as energy supply, could also help, said Dominic Waughray, head of public-private partnerships at the World Economic Forum.

India’s reliance on coal

Waughray cited India’s pursuit of energy access through coal as an example. While coal may be the cheapest and most reliable source of energy for India, it is crucial to demonstrate that in the long run, it is not the most sustainable option because of the amount of water needed. “How secure is your coal plan when you’ll need an awful lot of water to cool all those power stations?” said Waughray, demonstrating how to present the issue to officials. “In the US, 26% of installed capacity for coal is in water-stressed areas, and look what’s happening to them right now – they are close to blackouts in some states. Is that where you want to be?”

This highlighting of the risks of using water so recklessly has encouraged action in the private sector. “We have looked at our business risk and understood how climate change and water issues are going to change how we do business in 10 or 20 years’ time, and impact on our profitability” said Ellen Silva, senior manager of applied sustainability at General Mills.

“I would call out to corporations to be transparent about your risks. Face them and you’ll find partners lining up to work with you and solve those problems.”

Tickner, however, urged caution around using risk terminology, saying that while it resonates with the private sector and governments, opportunities must also be talked about. “What are the opportunities here for governments and business to do things better? Opportunity terminology can also be very powerful,” he said. Waughray agreed: “The risk issue has sunk in. The next stage is opportunity and that’s where this momentum, the alliance-building and the positive engagement about solutions, comes into play.”

Collaboration was frequently proposed as a way to see water included in climate change discussions, with many recognising that, in the past, some of the most effective alliances were formed on the sidelines. Waughray cited the New York declaration on forests, a commitment by world leaders to end natural forest loss by 2030 that grew out of the secretary general’s Climate Summit in 2014, as a successful example in the forestry sector.

Lexén explained that during the various climate conferences and diplomatic processes over the years, SIWI has tried to stay on the sidelines, talking to people about how they can assist the organisation’s work. “What we’ve seen when we’ve been in the corridors of conferences, is that we get more and more requests from the secretariat to feed into their programmes.” Sometimes, Lexén told the audience, it is more important to be there and be ready to respond to the cause than to ask decision makers: “Please could you put a bit about water in [the Cop21] text?”

One alliance the water community could build upon, said Cantu, is with science. “When you get the basics of scientific knowledge and technology in to the discourse on water, you get all the allies that you want,” he said. “It’s important that we pursue knowledge on water to the edge, to share it with other communities and make it available so we can allow other allies to join in a very clear effort.”

The issue of finance, and how to obtain funding for climate change adaptation and mitigation projects, was raised by several of the expert panellists. The water sector must reach out to governments that can make changes, support ideas around adaptation, and put the financial resources in place, said Braga: “You have a beautiful declaration, you commit to this and that, but where is the money going to come from?” The goal, he said, is to motivate governments to contribute to a fund that will support poor countries already facing the effects of climate change to become more resilient.

Green Climate Fund

The chair of the debate, Karl Mathiesen, however, questioned whether or not such a financial mechanism already existed in the form of the Green Climate Fund – a framework established by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change – to redistribute money from developed to developing countries, to fund adaptation and mitigation initiatives.

Braga said yes, that is the purpose of the fund, but that until now it has focused on reducing carbon emissions and not measures such as building water infrastructure and supporting water governance.

Lexén added that throughout the World Water Week conference, she had listened to talks by Héla Cheikhrouhou, executive director of the Green Climate Fund: “I think the message she is conveying is that there’s a decision for the fund to give 50% to adaptation projects and 50% to mitigation projects. But so far, they haven’t received high-quality projects on water so we need to deliver on that.”

Tickner stressed the importance of water professionals being involved in the planning and design of any financial mechanisms geared towards funding climate change adaption and mitigation measures.

As for the types of initiatives water professionals show to decision makers, Tickner had a range of ideas: “We could show how you can conserve areas such as peatlands or wetlands, which are important carbon sinks.

“We could help to show how you can zone river basins to get the maximum sustainable hydropower out of them, without screwing up ecosystems.

“We could work on demand management for water. We can show urban spatial planning and its win-wins for water, climate, biodiversity and health. There are 101 things we can do that would be positive, full of great opportunities and will produce mutual benefits.

“If bad mitigation or adaptation projects get funded, they can have really negative trade-off effects,” he said. “So we need to get in there and ask how can you design a project where: those trade-offs are transparent; there is an equitable process for making decisions about what gets approved and what doesn’t; and as many win-win projects are funded as possible.”

On one viewpoint the panel was unanimous: that Cop21 is not the end of efforts to get water included in climate change talks. “This is just part of a process,” said Braga. “We should not think only of one single event – it’s a process that moves forward.”

Apocalypse Now: A Thirsty, Violent World

In Uncategorized on March 2, 2015 at 9:41 pm

Photograph by Mauricio Lima/The New York Times/Redux

 

Oldspeak: “The various physical calamities that confront the world are hard to separate, but growing hunger and the struggle to find clean water for billions of people are clearly connected. Each problem fuels others, particularly in the developing world—where the harshest impact of natural catastrophes has always been felt. Yet the water crisis challenges even the richest among us… “Unfortunately, the world has not really woken up to the reality of what we are going to face, in terms of the crises, as far as water is concerned,” Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the International Panel on Climate Change, said at a conference on water security earlier this month. “If you look at agricultural products, if you look at animal protein, the demand for which is growing—that’s highly water intensive. At the same time, on the supply side, there are going to be several constraints. Firstly because there are going to be profound changes in the water cycle due to climate change.” -Michael Specter

“Things are going to shit much faster than most realize. We’re running out of the only natural resource that matters. Water. Omnicidally, We’re actively poisoning it in many places, for environment-destroying, dirty energy and agriculture. Actual shooting resource wars have already begun in other parts of the world, we have legally fought resource wars here in the U.S. As conditions deteriorate, and people get more thirsty, will they get more violent? Time will tell.” -OSJ

By Michael Specter @ The New Yorker:

Angry protesters filled the streets of Karachi last week, clogging traffic lanes and public squares until police and paratroopers were forced to intervene. That’s not rare in Pakistan, which is often a site of political and religious violence.

But last week’s protests had nothing to do with freedom of expression, drone wars, or Americans. They were about access to water. When Khawaja Muhammad Asif, the Minister of Defense, Power, and Water (yes, that is one ministry), warned that the country’s chronic water shortages could soon become uncontrollable, he was looking on the bright side. The meagre allotment of water available to each Pakistani is a third of what it was in 1950. As the country’s population rises, that amount is falling fast.

Dozens of other countries face similar situations—not someday, or soon, but now. Rapid climate change, population growth, and a growing demand for meat (and, thus, for the water required to grow feed for livestock) have propelled them into a state of emergency. Millions of words have been written, and scores of urgent meetings have been held, since I last wrote about this issue for the magazine, nearly a decade ago; in that time, things have only grown worse.

The various physical calamities that confront the world are hard to separate, but growing hunger and the struggle to find clean water for billions of people are clearly connected. Each problem fuels others, particularly in the developing world—where the harshest impact of natural catastrophes has always been felt. Yet the water crisis challenges even the richest among us.

California is now in its fourth year of drought, staggering through its worst dry spell in twelve hundred years; farmers have sold their herds, and some have abandoned crops. Cities have begun rationing water. According to the London-based organization Wateraid, water shortages are responsible for more deaths in Nigeria than Boko Haram; there are places in India where hospitals have trouble finding the water required to sterilize surgical tools.

Nowhere, however, is the situation more acute than in Brazil, particularly for the twenty million residents of São Paulo. “You have all the elements for a perfect storm, except that we don’t have water,” a former environmental minister told Lizzie O’Leary, in a recent interview for the syndicated radio show “Marketplace.” The country is bracing for riots. “There is a real risk of social convulsion,” José Galizia Tundisi, a hydrologist with the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, warned in a press conference last week. He said that officials have failed to act with appropriate urgency. “Authorities need to act immediately to avoid the worst.” But people rarely act until the crisis is directly affecting them, and at that point it will be too late.

It is not that we are actually running out of water, because water never technically disappears. When it leaves one place, it goes somewhere else, and the amount of freshwater on earth has not changed significantly for millions of years. But the number of people on the planet has grown exponentially; in just the past century, the population has tripled, and water use has grown sixfold. More than that, we have polluted much of what remains readily available—and climate change has made it significantly more difficult to plan for floods and droughts.

Success is part of the problem, just as it is with the pollution caused by our industrial growth. The standard of living has improved for hundreds of millions of people, and the pace of improvement will quicken. As populations grow more prosperous, vegetarian life styles often yield to a Western diet, with all the disasters that implies. The new middle classes, particularly in India and China, eat more protein than they once did, and that, again, requires more water use. (On average, hundreds of gallons of water are required to produce a single hamburger.)

Feeding a planet with nine billion residents will require at least fifty per cent more water in 2050 than we use today. It is hard to see where that water will come from. Half of the planet already lives in urban areas, and that number will increase along with the pressure to supply clean water.

“Unfortunately, the world has not really woken up to the reality of what we are going to face, in terms of the crises, as far as water is concerned,” Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the International Panel on Climate Change, said at a conference on water security earlier this month. “If you look at agricultural products, if you look at animal protein, the demand for which is growing—that’s highly water intensive. At the same time, on the supply side, there are going to be several constraints. Firstly because there are going to be profound changes in the water cycle due to climate change.”

Floods will become more common, and so will droughts, according to most assessments of the warming earth. “The twenty-first-century projections make the [previous] mega-droughts seem like quaint walks through the garden of Eden,” Jason Smerdon, a climate scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said recently. At the same time, demands for economic growth in India and other developing nations will necessarily increase pollution of rivers and lakes. That will force people to dig deeper than ever before into the earth for water.

There are ways to replace oil, gas, and coal, though we won’t do that unless economic necessity demands it. But there isn’t a tidy and synthetic invention to replace water. Conservation would help immensely, as would a more rational use of agricultural land—irrigation today consumes seventy per cent of all freshwater.

The result of continued inaction is clear. Development experts, who rarely agree on much, all agree that water wars are on the horizon. That would be nothing new for humanity. After all, the word “rivals” has its roots in battles over water—coming from the Latin, rivalis, for “one taking from the same stream as another.” It would be nice to think that, with our complete knowledge of the physical world, we have moved beyond the limitations our ancestors faced two thousand years ago. But the truth is otherwise; rivals we remain, and the evidence suggests that, until we start dying of thirst, we will stay that way.

 

 

Nestlé Chairman Calls World’s Water Scarcity ‘more urgent’ Than Climate Change– As It Sells Bottled Water From Drought-Ridden California

In Uncategorized on July 17, 2014 at 9:23 pm

A discarded tire is seen stuck in the exposed lake bed of the Almaden Reservoir which is experiencing extremely low water levels due to the ongoing drought, in San Jose. Photo: Michael Short, The Chronicle

Oldspeak: “Only after the last tree has been cut down. Only after the last river has been poisoned. Only after the last fish has been caught. Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten-Cree Proverb

Peter Brabeck-Letmanthe, the chairman and former chief executive of Nestlé, told the Financial Times that the world is “running out of water” and that it needs to become a bigger priority to world leaders.

“Today, you cannot have a political discussion anywhere without talking about climate change,” he said. “Nobody talks about the water situation in this sense. And this water problem is much more urgent.”

Climate change is still an important issue, he argued, but even without it “we are running out of water and I think this has to become the first priority,” he said.

Nestlé’s 383,000 square-foot water bottling plant is located on the Morongo Band of Mission Indians’ reservation in California.

The state declared a drought state of emergency in January this year, in preparation for coming water shortages – especially during the summer months, but Nestlé is reportedly not required to comply with the emergency measures as its plant sits on a Native American reservation.” –Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith

“Woah. Breathtaking Orwellian irony and hypocrisy here. These gems are coming from the same man, who said less than a year ago that basic human rights to water is “an extreme solution”, and “The biggest social responsibility of any CEO, is to maintain and ensure the successful and profitable future of his enterprise. ” How else could one explain how in his mind, the water scarcity that his corporation is helping to create is more important than the ecology upon which his business depends? Once again the land of Native Americans is being raped and pillaged for its most precious lifeblood so this man can maintain the profitable future of his enterprise. He cares nothing about water scarcity. if he did his company would get out of the water selling business, because bottling and selling water requires staggering amounts of water to be wasted and poisoned to be profitable. This is why industrial civilization will inevitably collapse. People like this are running things.  Sociopath, Pathological anthropocentrists. Profit trumps extinction.” -OSJ

By Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith @ The Independent:

But his comments come as his company is slammed for drawing water from drought-ridden areas in California to sell under its Arrowhead and Pure Life bottled water brands.

Peter Brabeck-Letmanthe, the chairman and former chief executive of Nestlé, told the Financial Times that the world is “running out of water” and that it needs to become a bigger priority to world leaders.

“Today, you cannot have a political discussion anywhere without talking about climate change,” he said. “Nobody talks about the water situation in this sense. And this water problem is much more urgent.”

Climate change is still an important issue, he argued, but even without it “we are running out of water and I think this has to become the first priority,” he said.

Mr Brabeck-Lemanthe’s comments may appear confusing to his company’s critics, as Nestlé, one of the world’s largest food companies, faces harsh criticism for its water bottling activities in California as the area suffers one of its toughest droughts on record.

Nestlé’s 383,000 square-foot water bottling plant is located on the Morongo Band of Mission Indians’ reservation in California.

The state declared a drought state of emergency in January this year, in preparation for coming water shortages – especially during the summer months, but Nestlé is reportedly not required to comply with the emergency measures as its plant sits on a Native American reservation.

But local residents are concerned about the amount of water Nestlé is drawing from the area to bottle and export for profit, and how ethical this action is during a drought.

“Why is it possible to take water from a drought area, bottle it and sell it? Linda Ivey, a Palm Desert real estate appraiser, asked The Desert Sun. “It’s hard to know how much water is being taken – we’ve got to protect what little water supply we have.”

The Desert Sun reported that up until 2009 Nestlé’s Water business, Nestlé Waters, submitted annual reports to a group of local water districts showing how much ground water was being extracted from a spring in Millard Canyon, which is where the plant’s wells have been located for more than a decade.

There have been no reports since then, making it difficult to record how much water is being extracted from the area, but reports estimate it could be 244 million gallons a year. The Desert Sun has repeatedly asked for a tour of Nestlé Waters’ plant over the past year, which has not been granted.

Nestlé Waters said in a statement: “We proudly conduct our business in an environmentally responsible manner that focuses on water and energy conservation. Our sustainable operations are specifically designed and managed to prevent adverse impacts to local area groundwater resources, particularly in light of California’s drought conditions over the past three years.”

Never Again Enough: Goodbye To All That Water; Confronting The New Normal In A Drying American West

In Uncategorized on July 31, 2013 at 5:45 pm

https://i0.wp.com/azbex.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Colrado-River.jpgOldspeak: “The bottom line… is that there simply isn’t enough water to go around. If you want to put your money on one surefire bet in the Southwest, it’s this: one way or another, however these or any other onrushing disputes turn out, large numbers of farmers are going to go out of business.” –William deBuys

“The resource shock that trumps all other resource shocks is already happening. People are right now in a America fighting via litigation for rapidly dwindling water resources. There’s not enough water for everybody. When farmers go out of business as a result of water shortages, there won’t be enough food for everyone. Coupled with the incomprehensible and probably vastly underestimated predicted costs of climate change (60 TRILLION, 10 trillion short of Global GDP), we can expect there won’t be enough food for significantly more than the 1 in 7 of humans who are currently (and needlessly) going without food. At some point, litigation will give way to actual physical violence over vanishing resources in the supposed “greatest country in the world”  Then what? You can’t beat physics.”  –OSJ

“Martha and the Vandellas would have loved it.  Metaphorically speaking, the New York Times practically swooned over it.  (“An unforgiving heat wave held much of the West in a sweltering embrace over the weekend, tying or breaking temperature records in several cities, grounding flights, sparking forest fires, and contributing to deaths.”) It was a “deadly” heat wave, a “record” one that, in headlines everywhere, left the West and later the rest of the country “sweltering,” and that was, again in multiple headlines, “scary.”  The fire season that accompanied the “blasting,” “blazing” heat had its own set of “record” headlines — and all of this was increasingly seen, in another set of headlines, as the “new normal” in the West. Given that 2012 had already set a heat record for the continental U.S., that the 10 hottest years on record in this country have all occurred since 1997, and that the East had its own sweltering version of heat that wouldn’t leave town, this should have been beyond arresting.

In response, the nightly primetime news came up with its own convenient set of new terms to describe all this: “extreme” or “severe” heat.  Like “extreme” or “severe” weather, these captured the eyeball-gluing sensationalism of our weather moment without having to mention climate change or global warming.  Weather, after all, shouldn’t be “politicized.”  But if you’re out in the middle of the parching West like TomDispatch regular William deBuys, who recently headed down the Colorado River, certain grim realities about the planet we’re planning to hand over to our children and grandchildren can’t help but come to mind — along with a feeling, increasingly shared by those in the sweltering cities, that our particular way of life is in the long run unsustainable.” –Tom

By William deBuys @ Tomsdispatch

Several miles from Phantom Ranch, Grand Canyon, Arizona, April 2013 — Down here, at the bottom of the continent’s most spectacular canyon, the Colorado River growls past our sandy beach in a wet monotone. Our group of 24 is one week into a 225-mile, 18-day voyage on inflatable rafts from Lees Ferry to Diamond Creek. We settle in for the night. Above us, the canyon walls part like a pair of maloccluded jaws, and moonlight streams between them, bright enough to read by.

One remarkable feature of the modern Colorado, the great whitewater rollercoaster that carved the Grand Canyon, is that it is a tidal river. Before heading for our sleeping bags, we need to retie our six boats to allow for the ebb.

These days, the tides of the Colorado are not lunar but Phoenician. Yes, I’m talking about Phoenix, Arizona.  On this April night, when the air conditioners in America’s least sustainable city merely hum, Glen Canyon Dam, immediately upstream from the canyon, will run about 6,500 cubic feet of water through its turbines every second.

Tomorrow, as the sun begins its daily broiling of Phoenix, Scottsdale, Mesa, Tempe, and the rest of central Arizona, the engineers at Glen Canyon will crank the dam’s maw wider until it sucks down 11,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). That boost in flow will enable its hydroelectric generators to deliver “peaking power” to several million air conditioners and cooling plants in Phoenix’s Valley of the Sun. And the flow of the river will therefore nearly double.

It takes time for these dam-controlled tidal pulses to travel downstream. Where we are now, just above Zoroaster Rapid, the river is roughly in phase with the dam: low at night, high in the daytime. Head a few days down the river and it will be the reverse.

By mid-summer, temperatures in Phoenix will routinely soar above 110°F, and power demands will rise to monstrous heights, day and night. The dam will respond: 10,000 cfs will gush through the generators by the light of the moon, 18,000 while an implacable sun rules the sky.

Such are the cycles — driven by heat, comfort, and human necessity — of the river at the bottom of the continent’s grandest canyon.

The crucial question for Phoenix, for the Colorado, and for the greater part of the American West is this: How long will the water hold out?

Major Powell’s Main Point

Every trip down the river — and there are more than 1,000 like ours yearly — partly reenacts the legendary descent of the Colorado by the one-armed explorer and Civil War veteran John Wesley Powell. The Major, as he preferred to be known, plunged into the Great Unknown with 10 companions in 1869. They started out in four boats from Green River, Wyoming, but one of the men walked out early after nearly drowning in the stretch of whitewater that Powell named Disaster Falls, and three died in the desert after the expedition fractured in its final miles. That left Powell and six others to reach the Mormon settlements on the Virgin River in the vicinity of present-day Las Vegas, Nevada.

Powell’s exploits on the Colorado brought him fame and celebrity, which he parlayed into a career that turned out to be controversial and illustrious in equal measure. As geologist, geographer, and ethnologist, Powell became one of the nation’s most influential scientists. He also excelled as an institution-builder, bureaucrat, political in-fighter, and national scold.

Most famously, and in bold opposition to the boomers and boosters then cheerleading America’s westward migration, he warned that the defining characteristic of western lands was their aridity. Settlement of the West, he wrote, would have to respect the limits aridity imposed.

He was half right.

The subsequent story of the West can indeed be read as an unending duel between society’s thirst and the dryness of the land, but in downtown Phoenix, Las Vegas, or Los Angeles you’d hardly know it.

By the middle years of the twentieth century, western Americans had created a kind of miracle in the desert, successfully conjuring abundance from Powell’s aridity. Thanks to reservoirs large and small, and scores of dams including colossi like Hoover and Glen Canyon, as well as more than 1,000 miles of aqueducts and countless pumps, siphons, tunnels, and diversions, the West has by now been thoroughly re-rivered and re-engineered. It has been given the plumbing system of a giant water-delivery machine, and in the process, its liquid resources have been stretched far beyond anything the Major might have imagined.

Today the Colorado River, the most fully harnessed of the West’s great waterways, provides water to some 40 million people and irrigates nearly 5.5 million acres of farmland. It also touches 22 Indian reservations, seven National Wildlife Reservations, and at least 15 units of the National Park System, including the Grand Canyon.

These achievements come at a cost. The Colorado River no longer flows to the sea, and down here in the bowels of the canyon, its diminishment is everywhere in evidence. In many places, the riverbanks wear a tutu of tamarisk trees along their edge. They have been able to dress up, now that the river, constrained from major flooding, no longer rips their clothes off.

The daily hydroelectric tides gradually wash away the sandbars and beaches that natural floods used to build with the river’s silt and bed load (the sands and gravels that roll along its bottom). Nowadays, nearly all that cargo is trapped in Lake Powell, the enormous reservoir behind Glen Canyon Dam. The water the dam releases is clear and cold (drawn from the depths of the lake), which is just the thing for nonnative trout, but bad news for homegrown chubs and suckers, which evolved, quite literally, in the murk of ages past. Some of the canyon’s native fish species have been extirpated from the canyon; others cling to life by a thread, helped by the protection of the Endangered Species Act. In the last few days, we’ve seen more fisheries biologists along the river and its side-streams than we have tourists.

The Shrinking Cornucopia

In the arid lands of the American West, abundance has a troublesome way of leading back again to scarcity. If you have a lot of something, you find a way to use it up — at least, that’s the history of the “development” of the Colorado Basin.

Until now, the ever-more-complex water delivery systems of that basin have managed to meet the escalating needs of their users. This is true in part because the states of the Upper Basin (Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico) were slower to develop than their downstream cousins. Under the Colorado River Compact of 1922, the Upper and Lower Basins divided the river with the Upper Basin assuring the Lower of an average of 7.5 million acre-feet (maf) of water per year delivered to Lees Ferry Arizona, the dividing point between the two. The Upper Basin would use the rest. Until recently, however, it left a large share of its water in the river, which California, and secondarily Arizona and Nevada, happily put to use.

Those days are gone.  The Lower Basin states now get only their annual entitlement and no more. Unfortunately for them, it’s not enough, and never will be.

Currently, the Lower Basin lives beyond its means — to the tune of about 1.3 maf per year, essentially consuming 117% of its allocation.

That 1.3 maf overage consists of evaporation, system losses, and the Lower Basin’s share of the annual U.S. obligation to Mexico of 1.5 maf. As it happens, the region budgets for none of these “costs” of doing business, and if pressed, some of its leaders will argue that the Mexican treaty is actually a federal responsibility, toward which the Lower Basin need not contribute water.

The Lower Basin funds its deficit by drawing on the accumulated water surplus held in the nation’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead, which backs up behind Hoover Dam. Unfortunately, with the Lower Basin using more water than it receives, the surplus there can’t last forever, and maybe not for long. In November 2010, the water level of the lake fell to its lowest elevation ever — 1,082 feet above sea level, a foot lower than its previous nadir during the fierce drought of the 1950s.

Had the dry weather held — and increasing doses of such weather are predicted for the region in the future — the reservoir would have soon fallen another seven feet and triggered the threshold for mandatory (but inadequate) cutbacks in water delivery to the Lower Basin states. Instead, heavy snowfall in the northern Rockies bailed out the system by producing a mighty runoff, lifting the reservoir a whopping 52 feet.

Since then, however, weather throughout the Colorado Basin has been relentlessly dry, and the lake has resumed its precipitous fall. It now stands at 1,106 feet, which translates to roughly 47% of capacity.  Lake Powell, Mead’s alter ego, is in about the same condition.

Another dry year or two, and the Colorado system will be back where it was in 2010, staring down a crisis.  There is, however, a consolation — of sorts.  The Colorado is nowhere near as badly off as New Mexico and the Rio Grande.

How Dry I Am This Side of the Pecos

In May, New Mexico marked the close of the driest two-year period in the 120 years since records began to be kept. Its largest reservoir, Elephant Butte, which stores water from the Rio Grande, is effectively dry.

Meanwhile, parched Texas has filed suit against New Mexico in multiple jurisdictions, including the Supreme Court, to force the state to send more water downstream — water it doesn’t have. Texas has already appropriated $5 million to litigate the matter.  If it wins, the hit taken by agriculture in south-central New Mexico could be disastrous.

In eastern New Mexico, the woes of the Pecos River mirror those of the Rio Grande and pit the Pecos basin’s two largest cities, Carlsbad and Roswell, directly against each other. These days, the only thing moving in the irrigation canals of the Carlsbad Irrigation District is dust. The canals are bone dry because upstream groundwater pumping in the Roswell area has deprived the Pecos River of its flow. By pumping heavily from wells that tap the aquifer under the Pecos River, Roswell’s farmers have drawn off water that might otherwise find its way to the surface and flow downstream.

Carlsbad’s water rights are senior to (that is, older than) Roswell’s, so in theory — under the doctrine of Prior Appropriation — Carlsbad is entitled to the water Roswell is using. The dispute pits Carlsbad’s substantial agricultural economy against Roswell’s, which is twice as big. The bottom line, as with Texas’s lawsuit over the Rio Grande, is that there simply isn’t enough water to go around.

If you want to put your money on one surefire bet in the Southwest, it’s this: one way or another, however these or any other onrushing disputes turn out, large numbers of farmers are going to go out of business.

Put on Your Rain-Dancing Shoes

New Mexico’s present struggles, difficult as they may be, will look small-scale indeed when compared to what will eventually befall the Colorado. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation expects the river’s 40 million water-users to grow to between 49.3 and 76.5 million by 2060. This translates into a thirst for Colorado River water of 18.1 to 20.4 maf — oceans more than its historical yield of 16.4 maf.

And that’s not even the bad news, which is that, compared to the long-term paleo-record, the historical average, compiled since the late nineteenth century, is aberrantly high. Moreover, climate change will undoubtedly take its toll, and perhaps has already begun to do so. One recent study forecasts that the yield of the Colorado will decline 10% by about 2030, and it will keep falling after that.

None of the available remedies inspires much confidence. “Augmentation” — diverting water from another basin into the Colorado system — is politically, if not economically, infeasible. Desalination, which can be effective in specific, local situations, is too expensive and energy-consuming to slake much of the Southwest’s thirst. Weather modification, aka rain-making, isn’t much more effective today than it was in 1956 when Burt Lancaster starred as a water-witching con man in The Rainmaker, and vegetation management (so that trees and brush will consume less water) is a non-starter when climate change and epidemic fires are already reworking the landscape.

Undoubtedly, there will be small successes squeezing water from unlikely sources here and there, but the surest prospect for the West?  That a bumper harvest of lawsuits is approaching. Water lawyers in the region can look forward to full employment for decades to come. Their clients will include irrigation farmers, thirsty cities, and power companies that need water to cool their thermal generators and to drive their hydroelectric generators.

Count on it: the recreation industry, which demands water for boating and other sports, will be filing its briefs, too, as will environmental groups struggling to prevent endangered species and whole ecosystems from blinking out. The people of the West will not only watch them; they — or rather, we — will all in one way or another be among them as they gather before various courts in the legal equivalent of circular firing squads.

Hey, Mister, What’s that Sound?

Here at the bottom of Grand Canyon, with the river rushing by, we listen for the boom of the downstream rapids toward which we are headed. Sometimes they sound like a far-off naval bombardment, sometimes more like the roar of an oncoming freight train, which is entirely appropriate. After all, the river, like a railroad, is a delivery system with a valuable cargo. Think of it as a stream of liquid property, every pint within it already spoken for, every drop owned by someone and obligated somewhere, according to a labyrinth of potentially conflicting contracts.

The owners of those contracts know now that the river can’t supply enough gallons, pints, and drops to satisfy everybody, and so they are bound to live the truth of the old western saying: “Whiskey’s for drinkin’, and water’s for fightin’.”

In the end, Powell was right about at least one thing: aridity bats last.

William deBuys, a TomDispatch regular, irrigates a small farm in northern New Mexico and is the author of seven books including, most recently, A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest.

USGS Study: Drop In U.S. Underground Water Levels Has Accelerated; 3 Times Greater Than At Any Time In 20th Century

In Uncategorized on May 24, 2013 at 7:00 pm

U.S. Drought Monitor map from March 19, 2013Oldspeak: “Tell your crew use the H2 in wise amounts since/it’s the New World Water; and every drop counts/You can laugh and take it as a joke if you wanna/But it don’t rain for four weeks some summers/And it’s about to get real wild in the half/You be buying Evian just to take a fuckin bathYasiin Bey, “New World Water”
“With the U.S. currently embroiled in historic drought with no end in sight and nearly 80 percent of farmland experiencing drought, this is definitely not good. No surprise, petrochemical/”natural” gas extraction and petrochemical based factory farming are the largest users of water from aquifers. Coincidentally, the process of  extracting of petrochemicals that serve as fertilizer and energy to produce food, has the wonderful side effect of poisoning these same rapidly depleting aquifers with hundreds of secret proprietary “fracking” chemicals that sicken and or kill all life that comes into prolonged contact with them. The burning of these petrochemicals, pollutes the air, and continuously pumps dangerous amounts of  greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which has the nifty side effect of warming the planet to prehistoric levels, causing “less rain and snow filtering underground to replenish what was being pumped out“. Mix it all together and you have a completely avoidable, undeniably man-made slow motion shitshow of a global ecological catastrophe. Human activity is significantly disrupting the water cycle. We are using/poisoning more water than can be replenished naturally. We need to abandon energy and food production that is destroying our water supply.  There’s only so much left. We can’t continue to use water as if it’s supply is infinite. Over 1 Billion have no access to clean drinking water. Count on that number to rise. With that rise will come a rise in disease, as around 80% of all disease in the world stems from unclean water, poor sanitation, or crude living conditions (hygiene). We must put the safety our most vital and indispensable resource ahead of profit.  Water is the Eco-currency we can’t afford to run out of.”

By Deborah Zabarenko @ Reuters:

Water levels in U.S. aquifers, the vast underground storage areas tapped for agriculture, energy and human consumption, between 2000 and 2008 dropped at a rate that was almost three times as great as any time during the 20th century, U.S. officials said on Monday.

The accelerated decline in the subterranean reservoirs is due to a combination of factors, most of them linked to rising population in the United States, according to Leonard Konikow, a research hydrologist at the U.S. Geological Survey.

The big rise in water use started in 1950, at the time of an economic boom and the spread of U.S. suburbs. However, the steep increase in water use and the drop in groundwater levels that followed World War 2 were eclipsed by the changes during the first years of the 21st century, the study showed.

As consumers, farms and industry used more water starting in 2000, aquifers were also affected by climate changes, with less rain and snow filtering underground to replenish what was being pumped out, Konikow said in a telephone interview from Reston, Virginia.

Depletion of groundwater can cause land to subside, cut yields from existing wells, and diminish the flow of water from springs and streams.

Agricultural irrigation is the biggest user of water from aquifers in the United States, though the energy industry, including oil and coal extraction, is also a big user.

The USGS study looked at 40 different aquifers from 1900 through 2008 and found that the historical average of groundwater depletion – the amount the underground reservoirs lost each year – was 7.5 million acre-feet (9.2 cubic kilometers).

From 2000 to 2008, the average was 20.2 million acre-feet (25 cubic kilometers) a year. (An acre-foot is the volume of water needed to cover an acre to the depth of one foot.)

One of the best-known aquifers, the High Plains Aquifer, also known as the Oglala, had the highest levels of groundwater depletion starting in the 1960s. It lies beneath parts of South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico, where water demand from agriculture is high and where recent drought has hit hard.

Because it costs more to pump water from lower levels in an aquifer, some farmers may give up, or irrigate fewer fields, Konikow said. Another problem with low water levels underground is that water quality can deteriorate, ultimately becoming too salty to use for irrigation.

“That’s a real limit on water,” Konikow said. “You could always say that if we have enough money, you build a desalization plant and solve the problem, but that really is expensive.”

(Reporting by Deborah Zabarenko; Editing by Leslie Adler)

“Human Beings Have No Right to Water” & Other Words Of Wisdom From Your Friendly Neighborhood Global Oligarch

In Uncategorized on May 12, 2013 at 7:20 pm
http://andrewgavinmarshall.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/1521546_orig.jpg

Peter Brabeck, Chairman of Nestlé

Oldspeak: “Water, is of course the most important raw material we have today in the world, it’s a question of whether we should privatize the normal water supply for the population. And there are two different opinions on the matter. The one opinion, which I think is extreme, is represented by the NGOs, who bang on about declaring water a public right. That means that as a human being you should have a right to water. That’s an extreme solution. The other view says that water is a foodstuff like any other, and like any other foodstuff it should have a market value. Personally I believe it’s better to give a foodstuff a value so that we’re all aware that it has its price, and then that one should take specific measures for the part of the population that has no access to this water, and there are many different possibilities there. The biggest social responsibility of any CEO, is to maintain and ensure the successful and profitable future of his enterprise. For only if we can ensure our continued, long term existence will we be in the position to actively participate in the solution of the problems that exist in the world. We’re in the position of being able to create jobs… If you want to create work, you have to work yourself, not as it was in the past where existing work was distributed. If you remember the main argument for the 35-hour week was that there was a certain amount of work and it would be better if we worked less and distributed the work amongst more people. That has proved quite clearly to be wrong. If you want to create more work you have to work more yourself. And with that we’ve got to create a positive image of the world for people, and I see absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t be positive about the future. We’ve never had it so good, we’ve never had so much money, we’ve never been so healthy, we’ve never lived as long as we do today. We have everything we want and we still go around as if we were in mourning for something.” –Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, CEO, Nestle

“It’s important to note that this is not simply the personal view of some random corporate executive, but rather, that it reflects an institutional reality of corporations: the primary objective of a corporation – above all else – is to maximize short-term profits for shareholders. By definition, then, workers should work more and be paid less, the environment is only a concern so much as corporations have unhindered access to control and exploit the resources of the environmentWith this institutional – and ideological – structure (which was legally constructed by the state), concern for the environment, for water, for the world and for humanity can only be promoted if it can be used to advance corporate profits, or if it can be used for public relations purposes. Ultimately, it has to be hypocritical. A corporate executive cannot take an earnest concern in promoting the general welfare of the world, the environment, or humanity, because that it not the institutional function of a corporation, and no CEO that did such would be allowed to remain as CEO. This is why it matters what Peter Brabeck thinks: he represents the type of individual – and the type of thinking – that is a product of and a requirement for running a successful multinational corporation, of the corporate culture itself.” –Andrew Gavin Marshall


Behold! The convoluted sociopathic logic of the corporation! Only by privatizing all water, setting a ‘market value’ for it and selling it for profit can we “actively participate in the solution of the problems that exist in the world“. Never mind that water has been a universal bounty of the earth given freely for millions of years. Never mind that 1 in 10 people on earth lack access to clean water. Never mind that the active participation in solutions of most corporations is to poison water, and render it undrinkable to create products that are generally toxic to humans and the environment.  Never mind that only 2.53 percent of earth’s water is fresh, and some two-thirds of that is locked up in glaciers and permanent snow cover, which are coincidentally being destroyed and melted away, useless; as a result of the global warming and climate change that stems from activities like infinite growth and resource extraction required to maintain a”successful and profitable future” for corporations.  And how repugnantly reality detached is the  000.1% thought  to believe that “We’ve never had it so good, we’ve never had so much money, we’ve never been so healthy, we’ve never lived as long as we do today. We have everything we want. ” Ask the 80% of the world’s population living on less than 10 dollars a day how healthy, free of wants, long lived, & how good they have it.  This man embodies the ethos and worldview of the dominant institution of human civilization on our planet. If this remains so, despite his desire to create a positive image of the world and its future, the times to come will be very bleak indeed. Think Feudalism on steroids and cocaine. Not a good scene. ”

By Andrew Gavin Marshall @ Andrew Gavin Marshall:

In the 2005 documentary, We Feed the World, then-CEO of Nestlé, the world’s largest foodstuff corporation, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, shared some of his own views and ‘wisdom’ about the world and humanity. Brabeck believes that nature is not “good,” that there is nothing to worry about with GMO foods, that profits matter above all else, that people should work more, and that human beings do not have a right to water.

Today, he explained, “people believe that everything that comes from Nature is good,” marking a large change in perception, as previously, “we always learnt that Nature could be pitiless.” Humanity, Brabeck stated, “is now in the position of being able to provide some balance to Nature, but in spite of this we have something approaching a shibboleth that everything that comes from Nature is good.” He then referenced the “organic movement” as an example of this thinking, premising that “organic is best.” But rest assured, he corrected, “organic is not best.” In 15 years of GMO food consumption in the United States, “not one single case of illness has occurred.” In spite of this, he noted, “we’re all so uneasy about it in Europe, that something might happen to us.” This view, according to Brabeck, is “hypocrisy more than anything else.”

Water, Brabeck correctly pointed out, “is of course the most important raw material we have today in the world,” but added: “It’s a question of whether we should privatize the normal water supply for the population. And there are two different opinions on the matter. The one opinion, which I think is extreme, is represented by the NGOs, who bang on about declaring water a public right.” Brabeck elaborated on this “extreme” view: “That means that as a human being you should have a right to water. That’s an extreme solution.” The other view, and thus, the “less extreme” view, he explained, “says that water is a foodstuff like any other, and like any other foodstuff it should have a market value. Personally I believe it’s better to give a foodstuff a value so that we’re all aware that it has its price, and then that one should take specific measures for the part of the population that has no access to this water, and there are many different possibilities there.” The biggest social responsibility of any CEO, Brabeck explained:

is to maintain and ensure the successful and profitable future of his enterprise. For only if we can ensure our continued, long term existence will we be in the position to actively participate in the solution of the problems that exist in the world. We’re in the position of being able to create jobs… If you want to create work, you have to work yourself, not as it was in the past where existing work was distributed. If you remember the main argument for the 35-hour week was that there was a certain amount of work and it would be better if we worked less and distributed the work amongst more people. That has proved quite clearly to be wrong. If you want to create more work you have to work more yourself. And with that we’ve got to create a positive image of the world for people, and I see absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t be positive about the future. We’ve never had it so good, we’ve never had so much money, we’ve never been so healthy, we’ve never lived as long as we do today. We have everything we want and we still go around as if we were in mourning for something.

While watching a promotional video of a Nestlé factory in Japan, Brabeck commented, “You can see how modern these factories are; highly robotized, almost no people.” And of course, for someone claiming to be interested in creating jobs, there appears to be no glaring hypocrisy in praising factories with “almost no people.”

It’s important to note that this is not simply the personal view of some random corporate executive, but rather, that it reflects an institutional reality of corporations: the primary objective of a corporation – above all else – is to maximize short-term profits for shareholders. By definition, then, workers should work more and be paid less, the environment is only a concern so much as corporations have unhindered access to control and exploit the resources of the environment, and ultimately, it’s ‘good’ to replace workers with automation and robotics so that you don’t have to pay fewer or any workers, and thus, maximize profits. With this institutional – and ideological – structure (which was legally constructed by the state), concern for the environment, for water, for the world and for humanity can only be promoted if it can be used to advance corporate profits, or if it can be used for public relations purposes. Ultimately, it has to be hypocritical. A corporate executive cannot take an earnest concern in promoting the general welfare of the world, the environment, or humanity, because that it not the institutional function of a corporation, and no CEO that did such would be allowed to remain as CEO.

This is why it matters what Peter Brabeck thinks: he represents the type of individual – and the type of thinking – that is a product of and a requirement for running a successful multinational corporation, of the corporate culture itself. To the average person viewing his interview, it might come across as some sort of absurd tirade you’d expect from a Nightline interview with some infamous serial killer, if that killer had been put in charge of a multinational corporation:

People have a ‘right’ to water? What an absurd notion! Next thing you’ll say is that child labour is bad, polluting the environment is bad, or that people have some sort of ‘right’ to… life! Imagine the audacity! All that matters is ‘profits,’ and what a wonderful thing it would be to have less people and more profits! Water isn’t a right, it’s only a necessity, so naturally, it makes sense to privatize it so that large multinational corporations like Nestlé can own the world’s water and ensure that only those who can pay can drink. Problem solved!

Sadly, though intentionally satirical, this is the essential view of Brabeck and others like him. And disturbingly, Brabeck’s influence is not confined to the board of Nestlé. Brabeck became the CEO of Nestlé in 1997, a position he served until 2008, at which time he resigned as CEO but remained as chairman of the board of directors of Nestlé. Apart from Nestlé, Brabeck serves as vice chairman of the board of directors of L’Oréal, the world’s largest cosmetics and ‘beauty’ company; vice chairman of the board of Credit Suisse Group, one of the world’s largest banks; and is a member of the board of directors of Exxon Mobil, one of the world’s largest oil and energy conglomerates.

He was also a former board member of one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical conglomerates, Roche. Brabeck also serves as a member of the Foundation Board for the World Economic Forum (WEF), “the guardian of [the WEF’s] mission, values and brand… responsible for inspiring business and public confidence through an exemplary standard of governance.” Brabeck is also a member of the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT), a group of European corporate CEOs which directly advise and help steer policy for the European Union and its member countries. He has also attended meetings of the Bilderberg group, an annual forum of 130 corporate, banking, media, political and military elites from Western Europe and North America.

Thus, through his multiple board memberships on some of the largest corporations on earth, as well as his leadership and participation in some of the leading international think tanks, forums and business associations, Brabeck has unhindered access to political and other elites around the world. When he speaks, powerful people listen.

Brabeck’s Brain

Brabeck has become an influential voice on issues of food and water, and not surprisingly so, considering he is chairman of the largest food service corporation on earth. Brabeck’s career goes back to when he was working for Nestlé in Chile in the early 1970s, when the left-leaning democratically-elected president Salvador Allende was “threatening to nationalize milk production, and Nestlé’s Chilean operations along with it.” A 1973 Chilean military coup – with the support of the CIA – put an end to that “threat” by bringing in the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, who murdered thousands of Chileans and established a ‘national security state’, imposing harsh economic measures to promote the interests of elite corporate and financial interests (what later became known as ‘neoliberalism’).

In a 2009 article for Foreign Policy magazine, Brabeck declared: “Water is the new gold, and a few savvy countries and companies are already banking on it.” In a 2010 article for the Guardian, Brabeck wrote that, “[w]hile our collective attention has been focused on depleting supplies of fossil fuels, we have been largely ignoring the simple fact that, unless radical changes are made, we will run out of water first, and soon.” What the world needs, according to Brabeck, is “to set a price that more accurately values our most precious commodity,” and that, [t]he era of water at throwaway prices is coming to an end.” In other words, water should become increasingly expensive, according to Brabeck. Countries, he wrote, should recognize “that not all water use should be regarded as equal.”

In a discussion with the Wall Street Journal in 2011, Brabeck spoke against the use of biofuels – converting food into fuel – and suggested that this was the primary cause of increased food prices (though in reality, food price increases are primarily the result of speculation by major banks like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase). Brabeck noted the relationship between his business – food – and major geopolitical issues, stating: “What we call today the Arab Spring… really started as a protest against ever-increasing food prices.” One “solution,” he suggested, was to provide a “market” for water as “the best guidance that you can have.” If water was a ‘market’ product, it wouldn’t be wasted on growing food for fuel, but focus on food for consumption – and preferably (in his view), genetically modified foods. After all, he said, “if the market forces are there the investments are going to be made.” Brabeck suggested that the world could “feed nine billion people,” providing them with water and fuel, but only on the condition that “we let the market do its thing.”

Brabeck co-authored a 2011 article for the Wall Street Journal in which he stated that in order to provide “universal access to clean water, there is simply no other choice but to price water at a reasonable rate,” and that roughly 1.8 billion people on earth lack access to clean drinking water “because of poor water management and governance practices, and the lack of political will.” Brabeck’s job then, as chairman of Nestlé, is to help create the “political will” to make water into a modern “market” product.

Now before praising Brabeck for his ‘enlightened’ activism on the issue of water scarcity and providing the world’s poor with access to clean drinking water (which are very real and urgent issues needing attention), Brabeck himself has stressed that his interest in the issue of water has nothing to do with actually addressing these issues in a meaningful way, or for the benefit of the earth and humanity. No, his motivation is much more simple than this.

In a 2010 interview for BigThink, Brabeck noted: “If Nestlé and myself have become very vocal in the area of water, it was not because of any philanthropic idea, it was very simple: by analyzing… what is the single most important factor for the sustainability of Nestlé, water came as [the] number one subject.” This is what led Brabeck and Nestlé into the issue of water “sustainability,” he explained. “I think this is part of a company’s responsibility,” and added: “Now, if I was in a different industry, I would have a different subject, certainly, that I would be focusing on.”

Brabeck was asked if industries should “have a role in finding solutions to environmental issues that affect their business,” to which he replied: “Yes, because it is in the interest of our shareholders… If I want to convince my shareholders that this industry is a long-term sustainable industry, I have to ensure that all aspects that are vital for this company are sustainable… When I see, like in our case, that one of the aspects – which is water, which is needed in order to produce the raw materials for our company – if this is not sustainable, then my enterprise is not sustainable. So therefore I have to do something about it. So shareholder interest and societal interest are common.”

Thus, when Brabeck and Nestlé promote “water sustainability,” what they are really promoting is the sustainability of Nestlé’s access to and control over water resources. How is that best achieved? Well, since Nestlé is a large multinational corporation, the natural solution is to promote ‘market’ control of water, which means privatization and monopolization of the world’s water supply into a few corporate hands.

In a 2011 conversation with the editor of Time Magazine at the Council on Foreign Relations, Brabeck referred to a recent World Economic Forum meeting where the issue of “corporate social responsibility” was the main subject of discussion, when corporate executives “started to talk about [how] we have to give back to society,” Brabeck spoke up and stated: “I don’t feel that we have to give back to society, because we have not been stealing from society.” Brabeck explained to the Council on Foreign Relations that he felt such a concept was the purview of philanthropy, and “this was a problem for the CEO of any public company, because I personally believe that no CEO of a public company should be allowed to make philanthropy… I think anybody who does philanthropy should do it with his own money and not the money of the shareholders.” Engaging in corporate social responsibility, Brabeck explained, “was an additional cost.”

At the 2008 World Economic Forum, a consortium of corporations and international organizations formed the 2030 Water Resources Group, chaired by Peter Brabeck. It was established in order to “shape the agenda” for the discussion of water resources, and to create “new models for collaboration” between public and private enterprises. The governing council of the 2030 WRG is chaired by Brabeck and includes the executive vice president and CEO of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the investment arm of the World Bank, the administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the chief business officer and managing director of the World Economic Forum, the president of the African Development Bank, the chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company, the president of the Asian Development Bank, the director-general of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the president of the Inter-American Development Bank, and the chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, among others.

At the World Water Forum in 2012 – an event largely attended by the global proponents of water privatization, Nestlé among their most enthusiastic supporters – Brabeck suggested that the 2030 Water Resources Group represents a “global public-private initiative” which could help in “providing tools and information on best practice” as well as “guidance and new policy ideas on water resource scarcity.”

Brabeck and Nestlé had been in talks with the Canadian provincial government of Alberta in planning for a potential “water exchange,” to – in the words of Maclean’s magazine – “turn water into money.” In 2012, the University of Alberta bestowed an honorary degree upon Peter Brabeck “for his work as a responsible steward for water around the world.” Protests were organized at the university to oppose the ‘honor,’ with a representative from the public interest group, the Council of Canadians, noting: “I’m afraid that the university is positioning themselves on the side of the commodifiers, the people who want to say that water is not a human right that everyone has the right to, but is just a product that can be bought and sold.” A professor at the university stated: “I’m ashamed at this point, about what the university is doing and I’m also very concerned about the way the president of the university has been demonizing people who oppose this.” As another U of A professor stated: “What Nestlé does is take what clean water there is in which poor people are relying on, bottle it and then sell it to wealthier people at an exorbitant profit.”

The Global Water Privatization Agenda

Water privatization is an extremely vicious operation, where the quality of – and access to – water resources diminishes or even vanishes, while the costs explode. When it comes to the privatization of water, there is no such thing as “competition” in how the word is generally interpreted: there are only a handful of global corporations that undertake massive water privatizations. The two most prominent are the French-based Suez Environment and Veolia Environment, but also include Thames Water, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, among others. For a world in which food has already been turned into a “market commodity” and has been “financialized,” leading to massive food price increases, hunger riots, and immense profits for a few corporations and banks, the prospect of water privatization is even more disturbing.

The agenda of water privatization is organized at the international level, largely promoted through the World Water Forum and the World Water Council. The World Water Council (WWC) was established in 1996 as a French-based non-profit organization with over 400 members from intergovernmental organizations, government agencies, corporations, corporate-dominated NGOs and environmental organizations, water companies, international organizations and academic institutions.

Every three years, the WWC hosts a World Water Forum, the first of which took place in 1997, and the 6th conference in 2012 was attended by thousands of participants from countries and institutions all over the world get together to decide the future of water, and of course, promote the privatization of this essential resource to human life. The 6th World Water Forum, hosted in Marseilles, France, was primarily sponsored by the French government and the World Water Council, but included a number of other contributors, including: the African Development Bank, African Union Commission, Arab Water Council, Asian Development Bank, the Council of Europe, the European Commission, the European Investment Bank, the European Parliament, the European Water Association, the Food and Agricultural Organization, the Global Environment Facility, Inter-American Development Bank, Nature Conservancy, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Organization of American States (OAS), Oxfam, the World Bank, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, the World Health Organization, the World Wildlife Fund; and a number of corporate sponsors, including: RioTinto Alcan, EDF, Suez Environment, Veolia, and HSBC. Clearly, they have human and environmental interests at heart.

The World Bank is a major promoter of water privatization, as much of its aid to ‘developing’ countries was earmarked for water privatization schemes which inevitably benefit major corporations, in co-operation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the U.S. Treasury. One of the first major water privatization schemed funded by the World Bank was in Argentina, for which the Bank “advised” the government of Argentina in 1991 on the bidding and contracting of the water concession, setting a model for what would be promoted around the world. The World Bank’s investment arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), loaned roughly $1 billion to the Argentine government for three water and sewage projects in the country, and even bought a 5% stake in the concession, thus becoming a part owner. When the concession for Buenos Aires was opened up, the French sent representatives from Veolia and Suez, which formed the consortium Aguas Argentinas, and of course, the costs for water services went up. Between 1993, when the contract with the French companies was signed, and 1997, the Aguas Argentinas consortium gained more influence with Argentine President Carlos Menem and his Economy Minister Domingo Cavallo, who would hold meetings with the president of Suez as well as the President of France, Jacques Chirac. By 2002, the water rates (cost of water) in Buenos Aires had increased by 177% since the beginning of the concession.

In the 1990s, the amount of World Bank water privatization projects increased ten-fold, with 31% of World Bank water supply and sanitation projects between 1990 and 2001 including conditions of private-sector involvement, despite the fact that the projects consistently failed in terms of providing cheaper and better water to larger areas. But of course, they were highly profitable for large corporations, so naturally, they continued to be promoted and supported (and subsidized).

One of the most notable examples of water privatization schemes was in Bolivia, the poorest country in South America. In 1998, an IMF loan to Bolivia demanded conditions of “structural reform,” the selling off of “all remaining public enterprises,” including water. In 1999, the World Bank told the Bolivian government to end its subsidies for water services, and that same year, the government leased the Cochabamba Water System to a consortium of multinational corporations, Aguas del Tunari, which included the American corporation Bechtel. After granting the consortium a 40-year lease, the government passed a law which would make residents pay the full cost of water services. In January of 2000, protests in Cochabamba shut down the city for four days, striking and establishing roadblocks, mobilizing against the water price increases which doubled or tripled their water bills. Protests continued in February, met with riot police and tear gas, injuring 175 people.

By April, the protests began to spread to other Bolivian cities and rural communities, and during a “state of siege” (essentially martial law) declared by Bolivian president Hugo Banzer, a 17-year old boy, Victor Hugo Daza, was shot and killed by a Bolivian Army captain, who was trained as the U.S. military academy, the School of the Americas. As riot police continued to meet protesters with tear gas and live ammunition, more people were killed, and dozens more injured. On April 10, the government conceded to the people, ending the contract with the corporate consortium and granting the people to control their water system through a grassroots coalition led by the protest organizers.

Two days later, World Bank President James Wolfensohn stated that the people of Bolivia should pay for their water services. On August 6, 2001, the president of Bolivia resigned, and the Vice President Jorge Quiroga, a former IBM executive, was sworn in as the new president to serve the remainder of the term until August of 2002. Meanwhile, the water consortium, deeply offended at the prospect of people taking control of their own resources, attempted to take legal action against the government of Bolivia for violating the contract. Bechtel was seeking $25 million in compensation for its “losses,” while recording a yearly profit of $14 billion, whereas the national budget of Bolivia was a mere $2.7 billion. The situation ultimately led to a type of social revolution which brought to power the first indigenous Bolivian leader in the country’s history, Evo Morales.

This, of course, has not stopped the World Bank and IMF – and the imperial governments which finance them – from promoting water privatization around the world for the exclusive benefit of a handful of multinational corporations. The World Bank promotes water privatization across Africa in order to “ease the continent’s water crisis,” by making water more expensive and less accessible.

As the communications director of the World Bank in 2003, Paul Mitchell, explained, “Water is crucial to life – we have to get water to poor people,” adding: “There are a lot of myths about privatization.” I would agree. Though the myth that it ‘works’ is what I would propose, but Mitchell instead suggested that, “[p]rivate sector participation is simply to manage the asset to make it function for the people in the country.” Except that it doesn’t. But don’t worry, decreasing water standards, dismantling water distribution, and rapidly increasing the costs of water to the poorest regions on earth is good, according to Mitchell and the World Bank. He told the BBC that what the World Bank is most interested in is the “best way to get water to poor people.” Perhaps he misspoke and meant to say, “the best way to take water from poor people,” because that’s what actually happens.

In 2003, the World Bank funded a water privatization scheme in the country of Tanzania, supported by the British government, and granting the concession to a consortium called City Water, owned by the British company Biwater, which worked with a German engineering firm, Gauff, to provide water to the city of Dar es Salaam and the surrounding region. It was one of the most ambitious water privatization schemes in Africa, with $140 million in World Bank funding, and, wrote John Vidal in the Guardian, it “was intended to be a model for how the world’s poorest communities could be lifted out of poverty.”

The agreement included conditions for the consortium to install new pipelines for water distribution. The British government’s Department for International Development gave a 440,000-pound contract to the British neoliberal think tank, Adam Smith International, “to do public-relations work for the project.” Tanzania’s best-known gospel singer was hired to perform a pop song about the benefits of privatization, mentioning electricity, telephones, the ports, railways, and of course, water. Both the IMF and World Bank made the water scheme a condition for “aid” they gave to the country. Less than one year into the ten-year contract, the private consortium, City Water, stopped paying its monthly fee for leasing the government’s pipes and infrastructure provided by the public water company, Dawasa, while simultaneously insisting that its own fees be raised. An unpublished World Bank report even noted: “The primary assumption on the part of almost all involved, particularly on the donor side, was that it would be very hard, if not impossible, for the private operator [City Water] to perform worse than Dawasa. But that is what happened.” The World Bank as a whole, however, endorsed the program as “highly satisfactory,” and rightly so, because it was doing what it was intended to do: provide profits for private corporations at the expense of poor people.

By 2005, the company had not built any new pipes, it had not spent the meager investments it promised, and the water quality declined. As British government “aid” money was poured into privatization propaganda, a video was produced which included the phrase: “Our old industries are dry like crops and privatization brings the rain.” Actually, privatization attaches a price-tag to rain. Thus, in 2005, the government of Tanzania ended the contract with City Water, and arrested the three company executives, deporting them back to Britain. As is typical, the British company, Biwater, then began to file a lawsuit against the Tanzanian government for breach of contract, wanting to collect $20-25 million. A press release from Biwater at the time wrote: “We have been left with no choice… If a signal goes out that governments are free to expropriate foreign investments with impunity,” investors would flee, and this would, of course, “deal a massive blow to the development goals of Tanzania and other countries in Africa.”

The sixth World Water Forum in Marseilles in 2012 brought together some 19,000 participants, where the French Development Minister Henri de Raincourt proposed a “global water and environment management scheme,” adding: “The French government is not alone in its conviction that a global environment agency is needed more than ever.” A parallel conference was held – the Alternative World Water Forum – which featured critics of water privatization. Gustave Massiah, a representative of the anti-globalization group Attac, stated, “Should a global water fund be in control, giving concessions to multinational companies, then that’s not a solution for us. On the contrary, that would only add to the problems of the current system.”

Another member of Attac, Jacques Cambon, used to be the head of SAFEGE’s Africa branch, a subsidiary of the water conglomerate Suez. Cambon was critical of the idea of a global water fund, warning against centralization, and further explained that the World Bank “has almost always financed large-scale projects that were not in tune with local conditions.” Maria Theresa Lauron, a Philippine activist, shared the story of water privatization in the Philippines, saying, “Since 1997, prices went up by 450 to 800 percent… At the same time, the water quality has gone down. Many people get ill because of bad water; a year ago some 600 people died as a result of bacteria in the water because the private company didn’t do proper water checks.” But then, why would the company do such a thing? It’s not like it’s particularly profitable to be concerned with human welfare.

In Europe, the European Commission had been pushing water privatization as a condition for development funds between 2002 and 2010, specifically in several central and eastern European countries which were dependent upon EU grants. Since the European debt crisis, the European Commission had made water privatization a condition for Greece, Portugal, and Italy. Greece is privatizing its water companies, Portugal is being pressured to sell its national water company, Aguas do Portugal, and in Italy, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the Commission were pushing water privatization, even though a national referendum in July of 2011 saw the people of Italy reject such a scheme by 95%.

In this context, among the global institutions and corporations of power and influence, it is perhaps less surprising to imagine the chairman of Nestlé suggesting that human beings having a “right” to water is rather “extreme.” And for a very simple reason: that’s not profitable for Nestlé, even though it might be good for humanity and the earth. It’s about priorities, and in our world, priorities are set by multinational corporations, banks, and global oligarchs. As Nestlé would have us think, corporate and social interests are not opposed, as corporations – through their ‘enlightened’ self-interest and profit-seeking motives – will almost accidentally make the world a better place. Now, while neoliberal orthodoxy functions on the basis of people simply accepting this premise without investigation (like any religious belief), perhaps it would be worth looking at Nestlé as an example for corporate benefaction for the world and humanity.

Nestlé’s Corporate Social Responsibility: Making the World Safe for Nestlé… and Incidentally Destroying the World

As a major multinational corporation, Nestlé has a proven track record of exploiting labour, destroying the environment, engaging in human rights violations, but of course – and most importantly – it makes big profits. In 2012, Nestlé was taking in major profits from ‘emerging markets’ in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. However, some emerging market profits began to slow down in 2013. This was partly the result of a horsemeat scandal which required companies like Nestlé to intensify the screening of their food products.

Less than a year prior, Nestlé was complaining that “over-regulation” of the food industry was “undermining individual responsibility,” which is another way of saying that responsibility for products and their safety should be passed from the producer to the consumer. In other words, if you’re stupid enough to buy Nestlé products, it’s your fault if you get diabetes or eat horsemeat, and therefore, it’s your responsibility, not the responsibility of Nestlé. Fair enough! We’re stupid enough to accept corporations ruling over us, therefore, what right do we have to complain about all the horrendous crimes and destruction they cause? A cynic could perhaps argue such a point.

One of Nestlé’s most famous PR problems was that of marketing artificial baby milk, which sprung to headlines in the 1970s following the publication of “The Baby Killer,” accusing the company of getting Third World mothers hooked on formula. As research was proving that breastfeeding was healthier, Nestlé marketed its baby formula as a way for women to ‘Westernize’ and join the modern world, handing out pamphlets and promotional samples, with companies hiring “sales girls in nurses’ uniforms (sometimes qualified, sometimes not)” in order to drop by homes and sell formula. Women tried to save money on the formula by diluting it, often times with contaminated water. As the London-based organization War on Want noted: “The results can be seen in the clinics and hospitals, the slums and graveyards of the Third World… Children whose bodies have wasted away until all that is left is a big head on top of the shriveled body of an old man.” An official with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) blamed baby formula for “a million infant deaths every year through malnutrition and diarrheal diseases.”

Mike Muller, the author of “The Baby Killer” back in 1974, wrote an article for the Guardian in 2013 in which he mentioned that he gave Peter Brabeck a “present” at the World Economic Forum, a signed copy of the report. The report had sparked a global boycott of Nestlé and the company responded with lawsuits.

Nestlé has also been implicated for its support of palm-oil plantations, which have led to increased deforestation and the destruction of orangutan habitats in Indonesia. A Greenpeace publication noted that, “at least 1500 orangutans died in 2006 as a result of deliberate attacks by plantation workers and loss of habitat due to the expansion of oil palm plantations.” A social media campaign was launched against Nestlé for its role in supporting palm oil plantations, deforestation, and the destruction of orangutan habitats and lives. The campaign pressured Nestlé to decrease its “deforestation footprint.”

As Nestlé has been expanding its presence in Africa, it has also aroused more controversy in its operations on the continent. Nestlé purchases one-tenth of the world’s cocoa, most of which comes from the Ivory Coast, where the company has been implicated in the use of child labour. In 2001, U.S. legislation required companies to engage in “self-regulation” which called for “slave free” labeling on all cocoa products. This “self regulation,” however, “failed to deliver” – imagine that! – as one study carried out by Tulane University with funding from the U.S. government revealed that roughly 2 million children were working on cocoa-related activities in both Ghana and the Ivory Coast. Even an internal audit carried out by the company found that Nestlé was guilty of “numerous” violations of child labour laws. Nestlé’s head of operations stated, “The use of child labor in our cocoa supply goes against everything we stand for.” So naturally, they will continue to use child labour.

Peter Brabeck stated that it’s “nearly impossible” to end the practice, and he compared the practice to that of farming in Switzerland: “You go to Switzerland… still today, in the month of September, schools have one week holiday so students can help in the wine harvesting… In those developing countries, this also happens,” he told the Council on Foreign Relations. While acknowledging that this “is basically child labor and slave labor in some African markets,” it is “a challenge which is not very easy to tackle,” noting that there is “a very fine edge” of what is acceptable regarding “child labor in [the] agricultural environment.” He added: “It’s almost natural.” Thus, Brabeck explained, “you have to look at it differently,” and that it was not the job of Nestlé to tell parents that their children can’t work on cocoa plantations/farms, “which is ridiculous,” he suggested: “But what we are saying is we will help you that your child has access for schooling.” So clearly there is no problem with using child slavery, just so long as the children get some schooling… presumably, in their ‘off-hours’ from slavery. Problem solved!

While Brabeck and Nestlé have made a big issue of water scarcity, which again, is an incredibly important issue, their solutions revolve around “pricing” water at a market value, and thus encouraging privatization. Indeed, a global water grab has been a defining feature of the past several years (coupled with a great global land grab), in which investors, countries, banks and corporations have been buying up vast tracts of land (primarily in sub-Saharan Africa) for virtually nothing, pushing off the populations which live off the land, taking all the resources, water, and clearing the land of towns and villages, to convert them into industrial agricultural plantations to develop food and other crops for export, while domestic populations are pushed deeper into poverty, hunger, and are deprived of access to water. Peter Brabeck has referred to the land grabs as really being about water: “For with the land comes the right to withdraw the water linked to it, in most countries essentially a freebie that increasingly could be seen as the most valuable part of the deal.” This, noted Brabeck, is “the great water grab.”

And of course, Nestlé would know something about water grabs, as it has become very good at implementing them. In past years, the company has been increasingly buying land where it is taking the fresh water resources, bottling them in plastic bottles and selling them to the public at exorbitant prices. In 2008, as Nestlé was planning to build a bottling water plant in McCloud, California, the Attorney General opposed the plan, noting: “It takes massive quantities of oil to produce plastic water bottles and to ship them in diesel trucks across the United States… Nestlé will face swift legal challenge if it does not fully evaluate the environmental impact of diverting millions of gallons of spring water from the McCloud River into billions of plastic water bottles.” Nestlé already operated roughly 50 springs across the country, and was acquiring more, such as a plan to draw roughly 65 million gallons of water from a spring in Colorado, despite fierce opposition to the deal.

Years of opposition to the plans of Nestlé in McCloud finally resulted in the company giving up on its efforts there. However, the company quickly moved on to finding new locations to take water and make a profit while destroying the environment (just an added bonus, of course). The corporation controls one-third of the U.S. market in bottled water, selling it as 70 different brand names, including Perrier, Arrowhead, Deer Park and Poland Spring. The two other large bottled water companies are Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, though Nestlé had earned a reputation “in targeting rural communities for spring water, a move that has earned it fierce opposition across the U.S. from towns worried about losing their precious water resources.” And water grabs by Nestlé as well as opposition continue to engulf towns and states and cities across the country, with one more recent case in Oregon.

Nestlé has aroused controversy for its relations with labour, exploiting farmers, pollution, and human rights violations, among many other things. Nestlé has been implicated in the kidnapping and murder of a union activist and employee of the company’s subsidiary in Colombia, with a judge demanding the prosecutor to “investigate leading managers of Nestle-Cicolac to clarify their likely involvement and/or planning of the murder of union leader Luciano Enrique Romero Molina.” In 2012, a Colombian trade union and a human rights group filed charges against Nestlé for negligence over the murder of their former employee Romero.

More recently, Nestlé has been found liable over spying on NGOs, with the company hiring a private security company to infiltrate an anti-globalization group, and while a judge ordered the company to pay compensation, a Nestlé spokesperson stated that, “incitement to infiltration is against Nestlé’s corporate business principles.” Just like child slavery, presumably. But not to worry, the spokesman said, “we will take appropriate action.”

Peter Brabeck, who it should be noted, also sits on the boards of Exxon, L’Oréal, and the banking giant Credit Suisse, warned in 2009 that the global economic crisis would be “very deep” and that, “this crisis will go on for a long period.” On top of that, the food crisis would be “getting worse” over time, hitting poor people the hardest. However, propping up the financial sector through massive bailouts was, in his view, “absolutely essential.” But not to worry, as banks are bailed out by governments, who hand the bill to the population, which pays for the crisis through reduced standards of living and exploitation (which we call “austerity” and “structural reform” measures), Nestlé has been able to adapt to a new market of impoverished people, selling cheaper products to more people who now have less money. And better yet, it’s been making massive profits. And remember, according to Brabeck, isn’t that all that really matters?

This is the world according to corporations. Unfortunately, while it creates enormous wealth, it is also leading to the inevitable extinction of our species, and possibly all life on earth. But that’s not a concern of corporations, so it doesn’t concern those who run corporations, who make the important decisions, and pressure and purchase our politicians.

I wonder… what would the world be like if people were able to make decisions?

There’s only one way to know.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, with a focus on studying the ideas, institutions, and individuals of power and resistance across a wide spectrum of social, political, economic, and historical spheres. He has been published in AlterNet, CounterPunch, Occupy.com, Truth-Out, RoarMag, and a number of other alternative media groups, and regularly does radio, Internet, and television interviews with both alternative and mainstream news outlets. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, Research Director of Occupy.com’s Global Power Project, and has a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.

Message from Mexico: U.S. Is Polluting Water Reservoirs It May Someday Need to Drink From

In Uncategorized on January 29, 2013 at 5:29 pm

Oldspeak:”U.S. environmental regulators have long assumed that reservoirs located thousands of feet underground will be too expensive to tap. So even as population increases, temperatures rise, and traditional water supplies dry up, American scientists and policy-makers often exempt these deep aquifers from clean water protections and allow energy and mining companies to inject pollutants directly into them. the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued more than 1,500 permits for companies to pollute such aquifers in some of the driest regions. Frequently, the reason was that the water lies too deep to be worth protecting. –Abrahm Lustgarten. From the Department of Galatically Stupid Policy Planning. The U.S. government has allowed ancient, unspoiled sources of an essential building block of life crucial to our survival;  water,  to be poisoned by short-sighted, profit-polluted energy corporations.  These industries ironically use untold trillions of gallons of water, to extract refine death energy. This despite devastating droughts through the summer of 2012 that rendered half of U.S. counties “natural” disaster areas. Despite reports of perpetual drought becoming an increasingly intractable problem in the coming decades, with scientists predicting the devastating conditions of “The Dust Bowl” in the 1950 becoming the new normal. The U.S. President takes every oppurtunity he gets to tout 100 years of energy independence to be gained from drilling for “natural” gas, but never mentions how much precious and irreplaceable water is lost to secure this “independence”. What will it take for policy makers to understand that they’re lining their pockets with riches begotten of  devolution, death, destruction? What will it take to make them understand that there is no prosperity, no power, no prestige, on a dead planet? “Ignorance Is Strength”, “Profit Is Paramount”

By Abrahm Lustgarten @ Pro Publica:

Mexico City plans to draw drinking water from a mile-deep aquifer, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times. The Mexican effort challenges a key tenet of U.S. clean water policy: that water far underground can be intentionally polluted because it will never be used.

U.S. environmental regulators have long assumed that reservoirs located thousands of feet underground will be too expensive to tap. So even as population increases, temperatures rise, and traditional water supplies dry up, American scientists and policy-makers often exempt these deep aquifers from clean water protections and allow energy and mining companies to inject pollutants directly into them.

As ProPublica has reported in an ongoing investigation about America’s management of its underground water, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued more than 1,500 permits for companies to pollute such aquifers in some of the driest regions. Frequently, the reason was that the water lies too deep to be worth protecting.

But Mexico City’s plans to tap its newly discovered aquifer suggest that America is poisoning wells it might need in the future.

Indeed, by the standard often applied in the U.S., American regulators could have allowed companies to pump pollutants into the aquifer beneath Mexico City.

For example, in eastern Wyoming, an analysis showed that it would cost half a million dollars to construct a water well into deep, but high-quality aquifer reserves. That, plus an untested assumption that all the deep layers below it could only contain poor-quality water, led regulators to allow a uranium mine to inject more than 200,000 gallons of toxic and radioactive waste every day into the underground reservoirs.

But south of the border, worsening water shortages have forced authorities to look ever deeper for drinking water.

Today in Mexico City, the world’s third-largest metropolis, the depletion of shallow reservoirs is causing the ground to sink in, iconic buildings to teeter, and underground infrastructure to crumble. The discovery of the previously unmapped deep reservoir could mean that water won’t have to be rationed or piped into Mexico City from hundreds of miles away.

According to the Times report, Mexican authorities have already drilled an exploratory well into the aquifer and are working to determine the exact size of the reservoir. They are prepared to spend as much as $40 million to pump and treat the deeper water, which they say could supply some of Mexico City’s 20 million people for as long as a century.

Scientists point to what’s happening in Mexico City as a harbinger of a world in which people will pay more and dig deeper to tap reserves of the one natural resource human beings simply cannot survive without.

“Around the world people are increasingly doing things that 50 years ago nobody would have said they’d do,” said Mike Wireman, a hydrogeologist with the EPA who also works with the World Bank on global water supply issues.

Wireman points to new research in Europe finding water reservoirs several miles beneath the surface — far deeper than even the aquifer beneath Mexico City — and says U.S. policy has been slow to adapt to this new understanding.

“Depth in and of itself does not guarantee anything — it does not guarantee you won’t use it in the future, and it does not guarantee that that it is not” a source of drinking water, he said.

If Mexico City’s search for water seems extreme, it is not unusual. In aquifers Denver relies on, drinking water levels have dropped more than 300 feet. Texas rationed some water use last summer in the midst of a record-breaking drought. And Nevada — realizing that the water levels in one of the nation’s largest reservoirs may soon drop below the intake pipes — is building a drain hole to sap every last drop from the bottom.

“Water is limited, so they are really hustling to find other types of water,” said Mark Williams, a hydrologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “It’s kind of a grim future, there’s no two ways about it.”

In a parched world, Mexico City is sending a message: Deep, unknown potential sources of drinking water matter, and the U.S. pollutes them at its peril.

 

 

EPA Links Tainted Water In Wyoming To Hydraulic Fracturing For Natural Gas

In Uncategorized on December 10, 2011 at 3:17 pm

Oldspeak:”‘Chemicals used to hydraulically fracture rocks in drilling for natural gas in a remote valley in central Wyoming are the likely cause of contaminated local water supplies, federal regulators said Thursday. The energy industry has long stressed that fracking and water contamination have never been definitively linked,’ despite mountains of evidence to the contrary. Thanks to a recent report, all those bullshit Exxon and Chevron commercials espousing the virtues of natural gas drilling can be exposed for what they are. Bright, shining lies. Hopefully this new information will help the Obama administration decide to put the kibosh on energy industry plans to drill in the fragile Marcellus Shale which if approved, will in all probability contaminate the drinking water of 15 million people from Delaware , New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Recent history suggests he’ll vote yes. God help us all.

Related Stories:

Fracking With Food: How The Natural Gas Industry Poisons Cows And Crops

Two Big Decisions Loom On The Fate Of Drinking Water For 15,800,000 People Living Near The Marcellus Shale In Northeast U.S.

By Kirk Johnson @ The New York Times:

Chemicals used to hydraulically fracture rocks in drilling for natural gas in a remote valley in central Wyoming are the likely cause of contaminated local water supplies, federal regulators said Thursday.

The draft report, after a three-year study by the Environmental Protection Agency, represents a new scientific and political skirmish line over whether fracking, as it is more commonly known, poses a threat in the dozens of places around the nation where it is now being used to extract previously unreachable energy resources locked within rock.

The study, which was prompted by complaints from local residents about the smell and taste of their water, stressed that local conditions were unusual at the site, called the Pavillion field, in that the gas wells were far shallower than in many other drilling areas around the country. The shallow depth means that natural gas itself can seep upward naturally through the rock, and perhaps into aquifers.

But the suite of chemicals found in two test wells drilled at the site, the report said, could not be explained entirely by natural processes. The agency’s analysis of samples taken from deep monitoring wells in the aquifer indicated the presence of synthetic chemicals, like glycols and alcohols consistent with gas production and hydraulic fracturing fluids, benzene concentrations well above standards in the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act standards, and high methane levels.

Also complicating the inquiry is the Pavillion field’s long history. The oldest wells there were drilled 40 years ago or more, and chemicals that might have been used were not required to be listed or reported to anyone.

The energy industry has long stressed that fracking and water contamination have never been definitively linked.

“When considered together with other lines of evidence, the data indicates likely impact to ground water that can be explained by hydraulic fracturing,” the draft study said. And perhaps just as crucially, the evidence also suggested that seepage of natural gas itself had increased around the drilling sites. Natural gas is often mixed with other elements, including methane, which can taint water supplies.

“Data suggest that enhanced migration of gas has occurred within ground water at depths used for domestic water supply,” said the draft study, which will now be sent for scientific peer review and public comment.

A spokesman for Encana Oil & Gas (USA), which bought the Pavillion field in 2004 and drilled some of the approximately 169 wells there, said the E.P.A.’s science was inconclusive. Encana’s parent company is based in Calgary.

“What we have here is not a conclusion, but a probability — and based on the facts, not a good probability,” said Doug Hock, the company’s spokesman. He said that enhanced migration of gas as a result of drilling was unlikely in the Pavillion field, since drilling had reduced pressure in the underlying rock, thus reducing forces that can lead to gas seepage. And finding methane and benzene in two deep test wells drilled for the study, he said, is what you would expect in a gas-rich zone.

“Encana didn’t put those there, nature did,” he said.

The governor of Wyoming, Matt Mead, also said in a statement that the E.P.A.’s conclusions were “scientifically questionable” and not based on enough data. Mr. Mead, a Republican, called for more testing by the E.P.A., in conjunction with a state group of residents, state and federal agencies, and Indian tribes already at work looking into questions about Pavillion’s water supply.

Wyoming, which is dependent on oil and gas drilling, along withcoal mining, as anchors of its economy, will also be among the peer reviewers of the E.P.A.’s draft, the governor’s statement said. The chairman of a local Pavillion residents’ group — about 200 people, mostly involved in farming and ranching, who live in proximity to the drilling sites — expressed gratitude to the E.P.A., and perhaps a bit of veiled doubt about the zeal of local and state regulators.

“This investigation proves the importance of having a federal agency that can protect people and the environment,” said John Fenton, the chairman of Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens. “Those of us who suffer the impacts from the unchecked development in our community are extremely happy the contamination source is being identified.”

Gas drilling, using both hydraulic fracturing to release gas and horizontal drilling techniques that can snake underground far from the actual bore holes, is now moving into closer proximity to American population centers than in the past.

From the suburbs of Denver to Pennsylvania and Oklahoma, natural gas reserves, known about but previously unreachable for economic and technological reasons, are being tapped, and anxieties about the hydraulic injection process and its consequences are growing. Wyoming, in 2010, became one of the first states to require petroleum companies or their contractors to disclose the ingredients in their specially formulated fracking fluids. The E.P.A. has also begun a national study on the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources.