"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Fresh Water’

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

In Uncategorized on December 11, 2015 at 8:11 pm
https://i0.wp.com/www.gannett-cdn.com/-mm-/c254a5ba5545053fc653683fe88e8fc3d98860de/c=0-79-3176-1873&r=x1523&c=2160x1520/local/-/media/2015/12/02/PalmSprings/PalmSprings/635846506206475077-Kansas-IJ-6.JPG

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.

https://i0.wp.com/www.gannett-cdn.com/-mm-/cdb587673cc9291d9c345a7acae6fc0c2f6d6d78/c=0-302-3264-2146&r=x1523&c=2160x1520/local/-/media/2015/11/26/USATODAY/USATODAY/635841437477040124-Kansas-IJ-10.JPG

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. 

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.

 

Investors Are Mining For The Next Hot Commodity: Water. Wall Street Smells Profit As California Endures Devastating Drought

In Uncategorized on September 25, 2015 at 7:38 pm

Drip-irrigated lemon orchards at the Cadiz water project in the Mojave Desert.

Oldspeak: “Investing in the water industry is one of the great opportunities for the coming decades, Water is the scarce resource that will define the 21st century, much like plentiful oil defined the last century.” –Matthew J. Diserio ,Water Asset Management

Water has been taken for granted, but reliable access is no longer guaranteed, It will be seen as an asset class that will be allocated in portfolios like health care stocks or energy or real estate. -Disque D. Deane Jr., Water Asset Management

“Business as usual is in effect for Wall St. employed Inverted Corptalitarian Kleptocrats in the water starved and drought-striken American west. Understand how these people think. At least one major Watermongerer, Chairman of Nestle, thinks “human beings have no right to water…. The biggest social responsibility of any CEO, is to maintain and ensure the successful and profitable future of his enterprise.Similarly, observe the deranged and terrifying logic of these Wall St. veterans, uttered quite casually. Their objective is to invest in and profit from water assets to which reliable access is no longer guaranteed. The “asset class” will be added to profitable portfolios established to further enrich their clients. And be sold to others at a premium. No mention of the madness of continuing to drill for water and grow water intensive crops in a fucking desert. No mentions of  the environmental impacts of desalination plants or the pipelines to be built to transport the product and where to store waste. These are nothing more than externalities in the demented calculus of “people” who see the world as something from which to extract market value. An expected view in corporate media outlet like NYT. But the most telling quote from this piece for me was this one  by a long time market analyst Steve Maxwell :”It doesn’t make any difference whether it’s a public agency or a private company that manages your water, the prices are going up, It’s not because of municipal inefficiency or corporate greed. It’s because we’re running out of water.” That’s the bottom-line. The market won’t matter when the water runs out.” –OSJ

Written By  Nelson D. Schwartz @ The New York Times:

Gazing out of a turboprop high above his company’s main asset — 34,000 acres in the Mojave Desert with billions of gallons of fresh water locked deep below the sagebrush-dotted land — Scott Slater paints a lush picture that has enticed a hardy band of investors for a quarter-century.

Yes, Mr. Slater admits, his company, Cadiz, has never earned a dime from water. And he freely concedes it will take at least another $200 million to dig dozens of wells, filter the water and then move it 43 miles across the desert through a new pipeline before thirsty Southern Californians can drink a drop.

But tapping cash, as opposed to actual water, has never been a problem for Cadiz. “I think there’s plenty of money out there,” Mr. Slater said.

Real profits may be nearly as scarce as snow in the High Sierra, but Wall Street, as it is wont to do, smells profit as California endures its worst drought in decades.

“Investing in the water industry is one of the great opportunities for the coming decades,” said Matthew J. Diserio of Water Asset Management, a New York firm that is a major backer of Cadiz. “Water is the scarce resource that will define the 21st century, much like plentiful oil defined the last century.”

So far, though, this veritable Gold Rush has mostly turned up fool’s gold.

Over the last decade, Cadiz has accrued $185 million in losses, and revenue from the lemon groves and vineyards it owns in the Mojave has added up to only a trickle: $7.1 million total since 2005.

To develop the project, the company burns through $10 million to $20 million annually, paying for a never-ending battle in courthouses and conference rooms across California to win make-or-break government permits and to cover the salaries of its 10 full-time employees.

Cadiz has generated that money by borrowing and regularly issuing more shares, prompting skeptics to wonder if it will ever actually deliver any water, much less any profits.

“It’s a tough game,” said John Dickerson, chief executive of Summit Global Management, a 20-year-old San Diego firm that invests in water infrastructure companies, local water suppliers and water rights, both in the United States and overseas.

Scott S. Slater, the chief executive of Cadiz. Monica Almeida/The New York Times

“Cadiz has promoted the dream and for years Wall Street has pumped optimistic paper water for Cadiz,” he added. “But now the hard question for them is, Where is your real water and when can we drink it?”

Other water ventures have also promised more than they have been able to deliver, at least so far. Obstacles abound in the forms of skeptical regulators, wary customers and implacably opposed environmental groups.

But some projects are finally nearing fruition. Near San Diego, the privately held Poseidon Water is getting ready to flip the switch on a new desalination plant that it built after 15 years of battling lawsuits filed by environmental groups and waiting for go-aheads from cautious regulators.

The drought, however, hasn’t softened local opposition to private players like Cadiz or Poseidon entering California’s water market. A main reason is money.

After Poseidon’s new plant begins producing desalinated water late this year, the monthly water bill for a typical consumer in the San Diego area will rise by about $5, to $80, according to the San Diego County Water Authority.

Drip-irrigated lemon trees and vineyards are so far producing the project’s only revenue. Monica Almeida/The New York Times

Located on the grounds of a power plant in Carlsbad facing the Pacific Ocean, the facility should produce as much as 50 million gallons of drinking water a day, if not more, expanding the region’s water supply nearly 10 percent.

Nonetheless, for Adam Scow, California director of Food and Water Watch, a nonprofit environmental group that opposes the desalination project, any private control over the water supply is too much.

“Water is a public trust, and it shouldn’t be privatized,” Mr. Scow said. “It can’t be managed for the benefit of a few people like Poseidon’s investors. The rates are unjustified.”

Poseidon officials reject arguments from critics like Mr. Scow that they are taking advantage of consumers.

“The Carlsbad desalination project is a true public-private partnership,” said Andrew Kingman, executive vice president at Poseidon Water. “Poseidon’s role in the project is that of a service provider. The Water Authority doesn’t have any payment obligations for the water until it is converted and delivered, and thereafter has full control over its use.”

Cadiz plans to construct a 43-mile pipeline along the railroad tracks to carry water from the eastern edge of San Bernardino County to thirsty cities to the west. Monica Almeida/The New York Times

Indeed, despite fears that Wall Street is making money off the drought, so far it has mainly been Poseidon’s investors who have been on the losing end. The company’s first return on its investment is not expected until next year, after years on the drawing board. A similar Poseidon project up the coast in Huntington Beach is still mired in the permitting process.

“It took more than a decade of struggle to get the Poseidon project permitted, not the kind of experience to make for happy investors,” Mr. Dickerson said. “This may well discourage potential investors in future desalination projects in California.”

But for those with a long enough time horizon, water may ultimately prove to be a good investment.

“Water has been taken for granted, but reliable access is no longer guaranteed,” said Disque D. Deane Jr., a Wall Street veteran who runs Water Asset Management with Mr. Diserio. “It will be seen as an asset class that will be allocated in portfolios like health care stocks or energy or real estate.”

Their firm now oversees more than $500 million for pension plans, sovereign funds and wealthy families, and their flagship fund has generally outperformed global stock market benchmarks since inception in 2006. Assets at Impax Asset Management, a London-based firm that also focuses on water, have doubled to $1.8 billion over the last two years.

While some projects may be more far-fetched than others, experts involved in the business insist there’s nothing wrong with making a profit selling water.

“It takes money to process, treat and move water, but now water itself is becoming increasingly valuable in the West,” said Steve Maxwell, a veteran industry consultant who is based in Boulder, Colo.

“It doesn’t make any difference whether it’s a public agency or a private company that manages your water, the prices are going up,” he added. “It’s not because of municipal inefficiency or corporate greed. It’s because we’re running out of water.”

Many investors are looking for less risky ways to make money in the water business. Rather than wade into bruising battles over water rights or developing new supplies only to face accusations of trying to profit off the drought, investors like Simon Gottelier of Impax are focusing on companies that supply infrastructure to water utilities and industrial users, not the water itself.

“As long-term investors focused on managing a ‘sleep at night’ fund, we are reticent about water rights companies because of how emotive the issue can be,” Mr. Gottelier said. “We don’t want to make investments in companies that become a subject of ire from farmers or generate headlines.”

Disque Deane Jr., sitting, and Matthew J. Diserio are major backers of Cadiz. Sasha Maslov for The New York Times

For Impax, that means there is appeal in stocks like Xylem, a maker of pumps, filtration equipment, and water treatment and testing supplies. Other Impax holdings might include makers of reverse osmosis membranes, like those at the heart of Poseidon’s new desalination plant, which Mr. Gottelier visited in June.

He sees California’s water shortage not just as a driver of demand for the individual companies in his portfolio, but also as a spur to individuals and institutions wanting in on the water trade but not ready for moonshots like Cadiz.

“There has been a dramatic increase in real and potential investor appetite,” Mr. Gottelier said. Much of the cash flowing into Impax is from institutional clients in Europe, where for-profit water systems have a long history, in contrast to the United States.

Back in the Mojave, in a trailer alongside a sun-baked airstrip built by Cadiz, Mr. Slater likes to show visitors a video of what appears to be an underground river 400 feet below the sand and sagebrush. As the temperature hovers at 95 degrees outside, the sight of all that crystalline, cool water conjures up visions of an imaginary oasis shimmering in the distance, drawing wanderers ever deeper into the desert.

But Mr. Slater insists it is within reach.

“Our expectation is that we’re going to turn dirt next year,” he promised. “We’ve never said before that this is the year. We’re saying it now.”

Correction: September 24, 2015 Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misspelled the surname of an executive at Water Asset Management. He is Disque D. Deane Jr., not Dean. The error was repeated in an earlier version of a picture caption.

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.”

Thirsty Yet? Global Urban Water Crisis Growing: These Eight Major World Cities Are Running Out Of Water

In Uncategorized on July 9, 2015 at 4:10 pm
water pipe mumbai

A woman in India walks atop a water main on her way to collect water. (Photo: Meena Kadri/Flickr)

Oldspeak: “Behold! The fruits of Industrial Civilization! It’s just physics really. When a system of infinite growth and consumption is operated on a planet with finite biocapacity, irreplaceably essential resources will eventually run out. Once mighty rivers are drying up and or terminally polluted. Reservoirs are at critical levels. Aquifers are drying up. What are we doing? Popping out babies. Curating our artificially flavored “lives”.  Being bombarded with messages to consume more and more food, alcohol and stuff. Driven by insatiable sense-pleasures. Self  medicating at unprecedented levels in an ever-growing variety of ways, to avoid feeling the base level pain and grief and sadness of existing in our well-appointed thought prisons; of bearing witness to the Great Dying we’re a part of and experiencing whether we choose to recognize it or not. Ignoring the reality of our dying world with an insidious a seductive strain of pathological anthropocentricity. Yes. Humans are running out of water.  Ecological overshoot is getting harder to ignore. The water wars have already begun, but, ultimately, fruitless uses of energy.  Before long, as population increases, and techno-fixes fail, there will be no more water to sustain us. Only Love remains.” -OSJ

Written By Marc Herman @ Take Part:

The amount of rainfall a place gets isn’t the only factor in how much water is available to it. These major urban areas show how dire the coming global freshwater shortage could get.

Earlier this year, an obscure United Nations document, the World Water Development Report, unexpectedly made headlines around the world. The report made the startling claim that the world would face a 40 percent shortfall in freshwater in as soon as 15 years. Crops would fail. Businesses dependent on water would fail. Illness would spread. A financial crash was likely, as was deepening poverty for those just getting by.

The U.N. also concluded that the forces destroying the world’s freshwater supply were not strictly meteorological, but largely the result of human activity. That means that with some changes in how water is managed, there is still time—very little, but enough—for children born this year to graduate from high school with the same access to clean water their parents enjoyed.

Though the U.N. looked at the issue across the globe, the solutions it recommended—capturing rainwater, recycling wastewater, improving sewage and plumbing, and more—need to be implemented locally. Some of the greatest challenges will come in cities, where bursting populations strain systems designed to supply far fewer people and much of the clean water available is lost to waste and shoddy, centuries-old infrastructure.

We’ve looked at eight cities facing different though representative challenges. The amount of water in the earth’s atmosphere is more or less fixed, meaning that as populations and economies grow, what we have needs to be clean, available, and conserved. Economies, infrastructure, river systems, and climates vary from place to place, and the solutions will have to as well. Here is how eight of the world’s major cities are running out of water, and trying to save it.

TOKYO

The roof of Ryogoku Kokugikan arena in Tokyo collects rainwater to be used in the building’s toilets. The inset shows a similar system for residential use. (Photo: Facebook)

Tokyo shouldn’t have a water problem: Japan’s capital enjoys average precipitation similar to that of Seattle or London. But all that rainfall is compressed into just four months of the year, in two short seasons of monsoon and typhoon. Capturing and storing so much water in such a short period in an area four times as dense as California would be a challenge anywhere. One weak rainy season means droughts—and those are now coming about once every decade.

Betting on the rain will be a precarious strategy for the world’s most populous city and its suburbs, home to more than 30 million people. When the four rivers feeding Tokyo run low, crisis conditions arrive fast. Though efficient, 70 percent of Tokyo’s 16,000-mile-long plumbing system depends on surface water (rivers, lakes, and distant snowpack). With only 30 percent of the city’s water coming from underground aquifers and wells, there are not enough alternative sources to tap during these new cyclical droughts.

The Japanese government has so far proved forward-thinking, developing one of the world’s most aggressive programs for capturing rainwater. In Sumida, a Tokyo district that often faces water shortages, the 90,000-square-foot roof of Ryogoku Kokugikan arena is designed to channel rainfall to a tank, where it’s pumped inside the stadium for nonpotable use.

Somewhat more desperate-seeming is a plan to seed clouds, prodding the environment to do what it isn’t doing naturally. Though tested in 2013 with success, the geo-engineering hack is a source of controversy; scientists debate whether the technique could produce enough rain to make much of a difference for such a large population.

MIAMI

As a result of a 20th-century project to drain nearby swamps, water from the Atlantic Ocean began seeping in to the Biscayne Aquifer, Miami’s main source of freshwater. (Infographic: YouTube)

Though most Americans’ concern with water shortage in the U.S. is firmly focused on California at the moment, a crisis is brewing in the last place you’d figure: South Florida, which annually gets four times as much rain, on average, as Los Angeles and about three times as much as San Francisco.

But according to the U.S. Geological Survey, the essential Biscayne Aquifer, which provides water to the Miami–Dade County area, is falling victim to saltwater intrusion from the Atlantic Ocean. Despite the heavy rains replenishing the aquifer year-round, if enough saltwater enters, all of it will become unusable.

The problem arose in the early 20th century, after swamps surrounding the city were drained. Osmosis essentially created a giant sucking effect, drawing the Atlantic into the coastal soils. Measures to hold the ocean back began as early as the 1930s, but seawater is now bypassing the control structures that were installed and leaking into the aquifer. The USGS has made progress mapping the sea water intrusion, but ameliorating it seems a ways off. “As sea level continues to rise and the demand for freshwater increases, the measures required to prevent this intrusion may become more difficult [to implement],” the USGS noted in a press release.

LONDON

A view of the River Thames in London. In just a decade from now, the city’s water infrastructure will be unable to provide for its growing population. (Photo: IDS Photos/Flickr)

London faces a rapidly growing population wringing every last drop out of centuries-old plumbing. Water managers estimate they can meet the city’s needs for the next decade but must find new sources by 2025—even sooner than the rest of the world, by the U.N.’s measure. London’s utility, Thames Water, looked into recycled water—aka “toilet-to-tap”—but, being English, found it necessary first to politely ask people if they’d mind.

At least four urban districts in California use recycled water, which is treated, re-treated, and treated again to be cleaner than conventional supplies before being pumped into groundwater or other supply sources. The so-called “yuck factor” could be an impediment to this solution spreading to London and elsewhere.

CAIRO

The Nile Delta. Ninety-seven percent of Egypt’s water comes from the Nile; 85 percent goes to agriculture, and towns upwater from Cairo dump untreated agriculture and municipal waste into the river. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Five thousand years ago, an ample water supply and a fertile delta at the mouth of the Nile supported the growth of one of the world’s great civilizations. Today, while 97 percent of Egypt’s water comes from the great river, Cairo finds itself downstream from at least 50 poorly regulated factories, agricultural waste, and municipal sewage systems that drain into it.

Though Cairo gets most of the attention, a UNICEF–World Health Organization study released earlier this year found that rural areas to the city’s south, where more than half of Egyptians live, depend on the river not just for irrigation and drinking water but also for waste disposal. Engineer Ayman Ramadan Mohamed Ayad has noted that while most wastewater discharged into the Nile upriver from Cairo is untreated, the river’s enormous size has historically been sufficient to dilute the waste to safe levels (and Cairo’s municipal system treats the water it draws from the river). Ayad argues, however, that as the load increases—with 20 million people now discharging their wastes to the Nile—this will no longer be possible. The African Development Bank recently funded programs to chlorinate wastewater before it’s dumped in the river, but more will need to be done.

On the demand side, more than 80 percent of the water taken from the Nile each year is used for irrigation, mostly the inefficient method of just flooding fields, which loses significant amounts to evaporation. Two years ago, initial steps were taken to modernize irrigation techniques upriver. Those programs have yet to show much progress, however.

SÃO PAOLO

The Cantareira reservoir is one of the main water reservoirs that supplies the state of São Paulo, Brazil. The water level of the whole Cantareira System has recently fallen to 6 percent of total capacity. (Photo: Victor Moriyama/Getty Images)

When it rains in Brazil, it pours. In São Paolo, where in an average year it rains more than it does in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, drains can’t handle the onslaught, and what could be the resource of desperately needed drinking water becomes instead the menace of urban floodwater.

With the worst drought in a century now in its second year, São Paolo’s reservoirs are at barely a quarter of capacity, down from 40 percent a year ago. Yet the city still sees heavy rainstorms. But reservoirs outside the city are often polluted and are too small even at capacity to supply the metropolitan area of 20 million. Asphalt covering the city and poor drainage lead to heavy floods on city streets after as little as a quarter-inch of rain. It’s hard to believe a drought is under way if your house is ankle-deep in water, so consumers haven’t been strident about conservation. The apparent paradox of flooded streets and empty reservoirs will likely fuel an ongoing debate over proposed rationing.

BEIJING

The Jingmi diversion canal, shown here under maintenance, transports freshwater from Miyun reservoir, Beijing’s main water source, 127 kilometers to the city. (Photo: Xiao Lu Chu/Getty Images)

Poor air quality isn’t the only thing impinging Beijing citizens’ ability to enjoy a safe environment. The city’s second-largest reservoir, shut down in 1997 because of pollution from factories and agriculture, has not been returned to use.

Ensuring the cleanliness of its water is even more crucial in China than elsewhere, as there is little it can afford to lose: With 21 percent of the world’s population, China has only 6 percent of its freshwater—a situation that’s only going to get worse, as it’s raining less in northern China than it was a century ago, and glaciers in Tibet, once the largest system outside the Antarctic and Greenland and a key source of drinking water in the country’s south and west, are receding even faster than predicted. The U.N. Environment Programme estimates that nationally, Chinese citizens can rely on getting just one-quarter to one-third of the amount of clean water the rest of the world uses daily.

Add context and dimension to the issues you care about with personal stories and gripping long form narratives reported from the inside of where news is happening.

Hope emerged, however, from a 2013 study from Montreal’s McGill University, which found that an experimental program targeting farmers outside the capital showed promising results over nearly two decades. The vast Miyun reservoir, 100 miles outside Beijing, had seen its reserves reduced by nearly two-thirds because of increasing irrigation demands—while becoming polluted by agricultural runoff. Revenue from a tax on major water users in Beijing was spent paying farmers upstream from Miyun to grow corn instead of rice, which requires more water and creates more runoff.

Over the following 15 years, the study authors wrote, “fertilizer runoff declined sharply while the quantity of water available to downstream users in Beijing and surrounding areas increased.” Farmer income was not significantly affected, and cleaner water downstream led to higher earnings for consumers in the city despite the tax.

BANGALORE, India

Rendition of an apartment complex under development in Bangalore, India, and (inset) its construction. New housing is going up in the city faster than the utility can expand and repair the decaying water system. (Photos: Courtesy PrestigeConstructions.com)

Earlier this year, a report by India’s comptroller and auditor general found that the southern city was losing more than half its drinking water to waste through antiquated plumbing systems. Big losses from leaks aren’t uncommon—Los Angeles loses between 15 and 20 percent—but the situation in Bangalore is more complicated. A technology boom has attracted new residents, leading to new housing construction. Entire apartment blocks are going up faster than local officials can update the plumbing to handle additional strain on the water and sewage systems.

Bangalore’s clean-water challenges illustrate a dynamic that’s repeating itself across the world’s second-largest nation. India’s urban population will grow from 340 million to 590 million by 2030, according to a 2010 McKinsey study. To meet the clean-water needs of all the new city dwellers, the global consulting firm found, the government will have to spend $196 billion—more than 10 percent of the nation’s annual GDP. (McKinsey has a potential financial interest in India’s infrastructure, so its numbers may be inflated.)

In Bangalore, they’re already behind schedule. The newspaper The Hindu reported in March that a 2002 plan to repair the existing system and recover the missing half of Bangalore’s freshwater had yet to be implemented.

MEXICO CITY

A worker fills tanks from a water truck in a poor neighborhood in Mexico City. The city’s water utility estimates that it loses 260 gallons—enough to provide a family of four for a day—per second to leaky pipes in the system. (Photo: Reuters/Eliana Aponte)

Gravity always wins. At more than 7,000 feet above sea level, Mexico City gets nearly all its drinking water by pumping it laboriously uphill from aquifers as far as 150 miles away. The engineering challenge of hauling that much water into the sky adds to the difficulty of supplying more than 20 million residents through an aging system. Mexico City’s public works loses enough water every second—an estimated 260 gallons—to supply a family of four for a day, according to CONAGUA, Mexico’s national water commission. CONAGUA estimates that between 30 and 40 percent of the capital’s potable water is lost to leaks and spills. The good news is that leaks can be fixed.

Water quality remains a worry, however. Unsurprisingly, companies selling bottled water have done very well in Mexico. The economy growing around the lack of potable water has attracted companies such as Coca-Cola and France’s Danone, whose Bonafont (“good spring”) brand is advertised in Mexico as a weight-loss aid. (Toting a bottle will help you “feel thinner anywhere,” according to a popular television ad.)

Meanwhile, disputes over who will get access to underground supplies have turned violent: In February 2014, residents of the town of San Bartolo Atepehuacan, on Mexico City’s outskirts, clashed with police over a waterworks project they feared would divert local springs to the city’s business district. At least 100 people were injured and five arrested as the disturbances continued for more than three months.

The Global Water Crisis Is Getting Harder To Ignore: California’s Water Crisis Is Coming Soon To The Rest Of America

In Uncategorized on May 18, 2015 at 2:37 pm
Trinity Lake drought California

Trinity Lake, a (former) major water reservoir.

Oldspeak: “Vice TV recently did a great piece on India’s Water Crisis, that’s worth a watch. India is most definitely in a fucked up situation that’s due in to part to cultural norms, poor resource management and overpopulation. The story gets really interesting around the 7 minute mark, when they start talking to scientists and the U.N. Deputy Secretary General, and they extrapolate the Indian problem to the global level. A couple interesting quotes: “Irrespective of countries, if water is polluted, if water is not pure, then nobody can survive on earth” –Dr. B.D. Tripathi. “In 10 years, 2 billion people will be in regions with absolute water scarcity. 2/3s of the world will live under water-stress conditions” –Jan Eliasson, U.N. Deputy Secretary General. And what was spoken about in that Vice report is echoed in the article to follow. “While the rest of the US hasn’t been ordered to reduce water use, that doesn’t mean we have a free pass to use as much water as we want. Many states — 4o out of 50 according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office — have at least one region that’s expected to face some kind of water shortage in the next 10 years.” I have a strong suspicion that these estimates are significantly underestimated. Distinguished scientists are observing that climate change is rapidly accelerating. Major cities worldwide are in the throes of drought right now. It’s only logical to expect that this accelerating change will only become more rapid as temperatures increase and business as usual industrial civilization plunders on. Add to that the deliberate and widespread poisoning of fresh water supplies by humans via energy and agricultural production, and the water scarcity situation is very dire indeed. It will only be possible to ignore this life-altering reality for so much longer.” –OSJ

By Ellie Kinkaid @ Business Insider:

Americans tend to take it for granted that when we open a tap, water will come out.

Western states have been dealing with water problems for a while, but they won’t be alone for long.

As drought, flooding, and climate change restrict America’s water supply, demands from population growth and energy production look set to increase, according to a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

These two changes squeeze our natural water reserves from both directions. The stress is becoming clear and will soon manifest as water scarcity problems all over our country.

The California problem

Over the last four years, Californians have gotten a big wake-up call, as drought forces them to reconsider water as a scarce commodity.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the region’s water supplier, will deliver 15% less water to cities in the greater Los Angeles area starting in July. The supplier won’t cut off delivering water if demand is more than the quota, but it’ll charge local utility companies that sell residents water up to four times more than the normal rate for the excess. And naturally, the utility companies will pass the cost on to their customers.

The water companies’ cuts are a reaction to California Governor Jerry Brown’s executive order that cities throughout the state reduce the amount of water they use by 25% — a groundbreaking mandate from the Governor’s office to limit water use for the first time ever.

A looming national issue

While the rest of the US hasn’t been ordered to reduce water use, that doesn’t mean we have a free pass to use as much water as we want. Many states — 4o out of 50 according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office — have at least one region that’s expected to face some kind of water shortage in the next 10 years.

Here’s what that looks like:

GAO estimate of water shortages

Government Accountability Office Water managers in 40 our of 50 states expect shortages in some part of their state within the next 10 years.

In some cases, shortages happen when there’s not enough fresh water suitable for human use in the lakes, rivers, reservoirs, and aquifers we can access. Rain and snowfall does replace the water we take from these sources, but that refill takes time and depends on actually getting precipitation. Drought-stricken California, for example, has a much reduced snowpack this year compared to 2010, its last near-normal year. Less snowpack means less snow to melt and refill the state’s reservoirs with fresh water people can use.

According to Tim Davis, the Montana Water Resources Division administrator, a water shortage could strike any part of the state in any given year, Elaine S. Povich reports for the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Water demand in Montana just keeps increasing, the state’s 2015 State Water Plan says, while the amount of water available changes from year to year, and even within a year, depending on precipitation. The discrepancy between demand and availability means the state is likely going to encounter a water crisis in the next few years. The state is already making contingency plans for potential drought conditions in the future, Davis told Povich.

In coastal areas of the US, rising sea levels taint fresh water coastal aquifers with salt water, which means that water can’t be consumed anymore without expensive desalination treatment. This is a looming threat for eastern and southern Maryland, according to the Government Accountability Office report.

Those worries are compounded by population growth in central and southern Maryland, which is putting pressure on the water supplies there. Though water managers in Maryland don’t anticipate statewide shortages, they told the GAO some areas may struggle to find enough water for everyone moving in, because there isn’t a feasible way to dramatically increase the amount of water available. So even those of us who live in parts of the country not experiencing drought could stand to put less stress on our water supplies.

In Colorado, officials told the Government Accountability Office they’re keeping an eye on the effects of fracking on the state’s water supply. Using water for fracking could contribute to local shortages in the drought-prone state, which only gets 12-16 inches of precipitation every year. Plus, a previous GAO report highlighted the risk that fracking can contaminate the water supply so people can’t use even the water they normally could.

Also out West, the U.S. Census Bureau projects the populations of Nevada and Arizona will more than double between 2000 and 2030. But those two states get some of the nation’s lowest amounts of precipitation, so more people will be vying to use water resources that already aren’t plentiful.

Everybody’s problem

While any given person may not be directly causing these water issues, everyone plays a role in how much drinkable water there is in the US. The U.S. Geological Survey estimated that the average American used 88 gallons of water per day in 2010, the latest year it surveyed water use.

The entirety of humanity in America uses 27,400 million gallons per day around the house, for stuff like preparing food, washing clothes, flushing toilets, and watering lawns.

The map below from the U.S. Geological Survey shows how that breaks down by state on a daily basis, which doesn’t even include the water that goes into producing the energy, food, and products we use. (For example, it takes over a gallon of water to grow a single almond.)

total domestic water use 2010 USGS

U.S. Geological Survey A map of domestic water use by state, 2010.

This isn’t just a US problem, either. The water crisis is even worse in many other countries, especially those without good infrastructure to get water from rivers and aquifers. The UN estimates a fifth of the world’s population lives in an area where water is scarce, and another fourth of the world’s people don’t have access to water because countries lack the infrastructure to distribute it.

By 2030, nearly half of everyone in the world will be living in countries highly stressed for water, according to UN predictions. Bank of America Merrill Lynch reports that water scarcity is our biggest problem worldwide, and projects that climate change will only make it worse.

Ready access to water is not something everyone in the world can take for granted, and Americans may not be able to much longer.