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

Posts Tagged ‘Water Reservoirs’

Massive, Abrupt Acrtic Ice Shelf Collapses Happening Faster Than Ever Seen; West Antarctic Ice Sheet Irreversibly Unstable

In Uncategorized on January 23, 2014 at 3:41 pm

https://i1.wp.com/pigiceshelf.nasa.gov/img/poster-lg.jpg

Oldspeak:” Pine Island Glacier (two-thirds the size of the UK), 1.2 miles thick, represents 10% of the West Antarctica Ice Sheet… Scientists have an especially keen eye on Pine Island Glacier because it has a greater net contribution of ice to the sea of any other ice drainage basin in the world. Alone, the loss of Pine Island might raise sea levels by less than half an inch, but if the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet retreated, this would raise sea levels by more than 10 feet… Here’s the problem: Scientists fear a cascading Pine Island Glacier could lead to eventual destabilization of the entire West Antarctic Sheet… On the other hand, the massive Antarctic Ice Sheet, which covers an area bigger than the continental U.S. contains 85%-90% of the world’s ice and could raise sea levels by over 200 feet, which (fortunately) would likely take centuries to collapse….According to the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), Pine Island has “…reached a point of no return….all models suggest Pine Island Glacier has become unstable and even irreversible. The unstable condition is driven, not by higher air temperatures, but rather by a warming ocean at the bottom-waters, eroding the ice shelf.” –Robert Hunziker

Things that normally happen in geologic time are happening during the span of a human lifetime… From the Arctic to Peru, from Switzerland to the equatorial glaciers of Man Jaya in Indonesia, massive ice fields, monstrous glaciers, and sea ice are disappearing, fast.” -Daniel Fagre, U.S. Geological Survey Global Change Research Program

“Short version = WE’RE SOOO  FUCKED.  The thing i don’t get about this piece, is how the author could write something saying an enormous glacier in Antarctica is melting, has reached the point of no return, is irreversibly unstable, that it is feared it will lead to the disintegration of the ENTiRE west antarctic ice sheet which will raise sea level by 1o feet globally; and then spend the last part of the piece talking about “realistic and practical solutions to stopping climate change.”  “Hopeful signs on the horizon worldwide, principally because of human ingenuity combined with science and technology…” There are NO realistic nor practical solutions! They needed to be implemented 30 to 40 years ago.  Irreversible means IRREVERSIBLE! Human ingenuity, science and technology (and I would add sociopathy) are what brought us to Earths 6th mass extinction!!! This shit is happening whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. 10 feet of sea level rise, in addition to the already predicted 3 feet of sea level rise from already emitted human fossil fuel expenditure and another 23 FEET of sea level rise expected from our EVER INCREASING global carbon emmissions means all present day coastlines will be under will be underwater.  Human activity has caused  Multiple, IRREVERSIBLE non-linear positive feedback loops to begin and human activity will no longer mitigate them. Geoengineering is only making things worse. Earth will become uninhabitable by humans and most other forms of life. This is a certainty. There is no fixing this. Our mother is melting, and there is nothing we can do about it.” -OSJ

By Robert Hunziker @ Dissident Voice:

Imagine a 1,160 square mile ice sheet (equivalent in size to Los Angeles, Dallas plus Chicago), which had been stable for thousands of years, suddenly collapsing and crumbling into thousands of icebergs within weeks.

It happened in Antarctica, and the message therein challenges humankind to beware of its own devices, i.e., burning fossil fuels for energy.

A team of researchers from the University of Chicago and Princeton lead by Alison Banwell,1 may have cracked the code to what happened over a decade ago.

It was “like the smashing of glasses at the throw of a stone,” said University of Chicago geophysicist Douglas MacAyeal, co-researcher of the project, at an International Glaciological Society meeting in Beijing.2

What happened at Larsen B Ice Shelf is the warming atmosphere formed thousands of lakes on the surface, and as a result, here’s what the Banwell/MacAyeal’s study found: The disappearance (drainage) of one lake (only one lake) resulted in fractures under all the others: “An effect that can spread rapidly throughout the ice shelf.” Boom! Collapse! All of a Sudden! Abrupt climate change.

Their study begs numerous serious, daunting questions about abrupt climate change as a threat to major coastal cities of the world, if only because 85%+ of the world’s ice resides at the South Pole in Antarctica. And, as for starters: Is the Larsen B Ice Shelf collapse a renegade circumstance, or is it a nasty, threatening harbinger of more to come?

According to NASA, Earth Observatory, World of Change/larsenb: “The collapse of the Larsen appears to have been due to a series of warm summers on the Antarctic Peninsula… nor was the Larsen B the last Antarctic ice shelf to disappear. Farther down the peninsula to the southwest, the Wilkins Ice Shelf disintegrated in a series of break up events that began in February 2008 (late summer) and continued throughout Southern Hemisphere winter… It was the tenth major ice shelf to collapse in recent tines.”

So, it does not appear Larsen B was a renegade at all. It was just stupendously large, as “scientists monitoring daily satellite images… watched in amazement as almost the entire Larsen B Ice Shelf splintered and collapsed in just over one month. They had never witnessed such a large area… disintegrate so rapidly,” Ibid.

Pine Island Glacier

There’s a new kid on the block.

Pine Island Glacier (two-thirds the size of the UK), 1.2 miles thick, represents 10% of the West Antarctica Ice Sheet. It is the most closely watched glacier in the world and also the most treacherous with crevasses underfoot throughout.

Scientists have an especially keen eye on Pine Island Glacier because it has a greater net contribution of ice to the sea of any other ice drainage basin in the world. Alone, the loss of Pine Island might raise sea levels by less than half an inch, but if the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet retreated, this would raise sea levels by more than 10 feet.

Here’s the problem: Scientists fear a cascading Pine Island Glacier could lead to eventual destabilization of the entire West Antarctic Sheet.

On the other hand, the massive Antarctic Ice Sheet, which covers an area bigger than the continental U.S. contains 85%-90% of the world’s ice and could raise sea levels by over 200 feet, which (fortunately) would likely take centuries to collapse.

According to the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), Pine Island has “…reached a point of no return. The Pine Island Glacier, if it is unstable may have implications for the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet.”3

Dr. Gael Durand (glaciologist at Grenoble Alps University, Fr.) warns that all models suggest Pine Island Glacier has become unstable and even irreversible. The unstable condition is driven, not by higher air temperatures, but rather by a warming ocean at the bottom-waters, eroding the ice shelf.

As such, the ocean has been absorbing 90% of the planet’s heat.

By its very nature, it is important to digest the horrid consideration behind the unannounced crumbling of the Larsen B glacier within a few weeks, an abrupt climate change in real time. Nobody saw it coming!

Worldwide Glacier Melt

The glaciers of the world are under severe attack.

According to Daniel Fagre, U.S. Geological Survey Global Change Research Program, “Things that normally happen in geologic time are happening during the span of a human lifetime.”4

“From the Arctic to Peru, from Switzerland to the equatorial glaciers of Man Jaya in Indonesia, massive ice fields, monstrous glaciers, and sea ice are disappearing, fast.”4

Peru’s Quelccaya is the largest ice cap in the tropics, and if its current rate of melt continues, 600 feet per year, it will be gone by 2100. In turn, the Quelccaya provides large regions of South America with drinking water, irrigation for crops, and hydropower.

Speaking of large population centers with a dependence upon glaciers, the famed Garhwal Himalaya in India is retreating so fast that researchers are concerned about the disappearance of most of the central and eastern Himalayan glaciers.

Stopping Global Warming/Climate Change

The only realistic solutions to stopping climate change are practical solutions, meaning courses of action that can be initiated within the framework of society. Along these lines, Greenpeace has an initiative:

Greenpeace suggests people join local community organizations to shut down dirty coal plants all across the U.S., applying local pressure from coast-to-coast to switch to renewables. This is a practicable, yet challenging, solution, assuming enough community organizers can push enough hot buttons, and the Greenpeace initiative would include advocating strong laws to curb global warming as well as exposing climate deniers by holding them publicly accountable, and resulting in an Energy Revolution, advocating solar, wind power, and the full panoply of renewables.

But, hold on for one minute, the probability of gathering enough dedicated souls required for the Greenpeace initiative is about as probable as the U.S. Congress passing a bill requiring all coal-burning plants convert to solar power. No additional commentary necessary.

Hopeful Signs Abound Worldwide

Nevertheless, there are hopeful signs on the horizon, principally because of human ingenuity combined with science and technology. Here are a few examples from around the world:

In Seville, Spain, as of a few months ago, 27,000 homes started receiving electricity 24/7 from a remarkable new Concentrated Solar Power facility, Gemasolar, which utilizes molten salt to store heat to run the plant when the sun does not shine, whilst omitting 30,000 tons/year of CO2.

And, in green California, as of September 2013, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the Mojave Desert flipped the ‘on switch’, providing electricity from Concentrated Solar Power to 140,000 homes (mostly in San Francisco), omitting 400,000 tons/year of CO2 emissions.

New York announced (January 2014) a $1 billion plan to install enough solar-electric panels to power 465,000 homes. And, in Maine, a bill is under consideration to promote solar energy.

Regarding solar costs in general, since 2008, the price of photovoltaic modules fell 60%, which for the first time puts solar power on a Levelised Cost of Energy (LCOE) competitive basis with conventional energy.5 This remarkable achievement over such a short period of time brings solar to the forefront of an expanding list of locations around the world.

Solar Energizing the World

Solar produces electricity in latitudes as far north as British Columbia, Canada.  For example, ultra overcast, cloudy Germany (in the same latitude as British Columbia) currently produces more solar-powered electricity than 20 nuclear power plants, thanks to enlightened political leadership.

Also, in Germany the price of solar panels has fallen 66% in recent years, and its cost of solar-generated power is projected to be less than coal within the next few years. Already, twenty-two percent (22%) of Germany’s power is from renewables of which twenty-five percent (25%) comes from solar. By way of comparison, solar power accounts for less than one percent (1%) of total U.S. electricity.

As an aside, and as for one more sorry example of America’s embarrassing problem of naiveté of all-things-science, Fox News, in a February 2013 broadcast, discussed Germany’s solar success, when it occurred to host Gretchen Carlson to ask her expert guest, Fox business reporter Shibani Joshi, why Germany’s solar-power sector is doing so well.

Carlson asked, “What was Germany doing correct? Are they just a smaller country, and that made it more feasible?”

Expert Joshi replied, “They’re a smaller country, and they’ve got lots of sun. Right? They’ve got a lot more sun than we do… sure, California might get sun now and then…but here on the East Coast, it’s just not going to work.”

Fact: Germany’s direct solar energy is equal to Canada’s, which is far and away lower direct solar energy than the U.S. Furthermore, the New York/Boston/Washington, D.C. corridor is a sunny tropical isle compared to Germany, which is north of Newfoundland.

Henceforth, over time, solar will likely slam the door shut on the 150-year ordeal with fossil fuel, which has drained hundreds of millions of years of decomposed plant and animal ooze as feedstock for a revolution, the industrial revolution, which unleashed a massive capitalistic heist of every resource imaginable, as well as politically undermining socio/economic progression/development of rugged individualism by a throwback to the day of serfs, peasants, villeins, servants, and yeomen… with a smattering of nobles. Sound complicated? It is, but on second thought, it really isn’t.

  1. Alison Banwell, et al., Breakup of the Larsen B Ice Shelf Triggered by Chain Reaction Drainage of Supraglacial Lakes, Geophysics Research Letters, 40, 5872-5876, DOI: 10.1002/2013GLO57694. []
  2. “Chain Reaction Shattered Huge Antarctica Ice Shelf,” Nature, August 9, 2013. []
  3. G. Durand, et al., “Retreat of Pine Island Glacier Controlled by Marine Ice-Sheet Instability,” Nature Climate Change, doi: 10.1038/nclimagte2094, Jan. 12, 2014. []
  4. Daniel Glick, “Signs From Earth: The Big Thaw,” National Geographic, June 2007. [] []
  5. Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance. []

Robert Hunziker (MA in economic history at DePaul University, Chicago) is a former hedge fund manager and now a professional independent negotiator for worldwide commodity actual transactions and a freelance writer for progressive publications as well as business journals. He can be contacted at: rlhunziker@gmail.com. Read other articles by Robert.

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

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

https://i2.wp.com/azbex.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Colrado-River.jpgOldspeak: “The bottom line… is that there simply isn’t enough water to go around. If you want to put your money on one surefire bet in the Southwest, it’s this: one way or another, however these or any other onrushing disputes turn out, large numbers of farmers are going to go out of business.” –William deBuys

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

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

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

By William deBuys @ Tomsdispatch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Major Powell’s Main Point

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

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

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

He was half right.

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

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

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

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

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

The Shrinking Cornucopia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Dry I Am This Side of the Pecos

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

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

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

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

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

Put on Your Rain-Dancing Shoes

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

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

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

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

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

Hey, Mister, What’s that Sound?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Deborah Zabarenko @ Reuters:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Reporting by Deborah Zabarenko; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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

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

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

By Abrahm Lustgarten @ Pro Publica:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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