Author Topic: Water  (Read 54068 times)


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« on: April 28, 2007, 06:55:46 AM »
David Gordon has brought to my attention the simple but important observation that water scarcity increasingly is going to be a real problem around the world.  Here's an article on point which he just sent me from The Economist

Australia's water shortage

The big dry

From The Economist print edition

Australia is struggling to cope with the consequences of a devastating drought. As the world warms up, other countries should pay heed

THE mouth of the Murray-Darling river sets an idyllic scene. Anglers in wide-brimmed sunhats wade waist-deep into the azure water. Pleasure boats cruise languidly around the sandbanks that dot the narrow channel leading to the Southern Ocean. Pensioners stroll along the beach. But over the cries of the seagulls and the rush of the waves, there is another sound: the mechanical drone from a dredging vessel. It never stops and must run around the clock to prevent the river mouth from silting up. Although the Murray-Darling is Australia's longest river system, draining a basin the size of France and Spain combined, it no longer carries enough water to carve its own path to the sea.

John Howard, Australia's prime minister, arrived here in February and urged the four states through which the Murray-Darling flows to hand their authority over the river to the federal government. After seven years of drought, and many more years of over-exploitation and pollution, he argued that the only hope of restoring the river to health lies in a complete overhaul of how it is managed. As the states weigh the merits of Mr Howard's scheme, the river is degenerating further. Every month hydrologists announce that its flow has fallen to a new record low (see chart). In April Mr Howard warned that farmers would not be allowed to irrigate their crops at all next year without unexpectedly heavy rain in the next few months. A region that accounts for 40% of Australia's agriculture, and 85% of its irrigation, is on the verge of ruin.


The drought knocked one percentage point off Australia's growth rate last year, by the government's reckoning. It is paying out A$2m ($1.7m) a day in drought-relief to farmers. If mature vines and fruit trees die in the coming months through the lack of water, the economic fallout will be more serious and lasting. Most alarming of all, the Murray-Darling's troubles are likely to worsen. As Australia's population continues to grow so does demand for water in the cities and for the crops that grow in the river basin. Meanwhile, global warming appears to be heating the basin up and drying it out. Although few scientists are confident that they can ascribe any individual event—including today's drought—to global warming, most agree that droughts like the present one will become more common.

Many of the world's rivers, including the Colorado in America, China's Yellow river and the Tagus, which flows through Spain and Portugal, are suffering a similar plight. As the world warms up, hundreds of millions of people will face the same ecological crisis as the residents of the Murray-Darling basin. As water levels dwindle, rows about how supplies should be used are turning farmers against city-dwellers and pitching environmentalists against politicians. Australia has a strong economy, a well-funded bureaucracy and robust political institutions. If it is struggling to respond to this crisis, imagine how drought will tear apart other, less prepared parts of the world.

Droughts have long plagued the Murray-Darling. The region is afflicted by a periodic weather pattern known as El Niño. At irregular intervals of two to seven years, the waters of the central Pacific warm up, heralding inclement weather throughout the southern hemisphere. Torrential rains flood the coast of Peru, while south-eastern Australia wilts in drought. The duration of these episodes is as unpredictable as their arrival. They can range from a few months to several years. As a result, the flow of the Darling, the longest tributary of the Murray, varies wildly, from as little as 0.04% of the long-term average to as much as 911%. Although the most recent El Niño ended earlier this year, it has left the soils in the basin so dry and the groundwater so depleted that the Murray-Darling's flow continues to fall, despite normal levels of rainfall over the past few months.

Protracted droughts are a part of Australian folklore. Schoolchildren learn a hackneyed Victorian poem in praise of "a sunburnt country...of droughts and flooding rains". Dorothea Mackellar wrote those lines just after the "Federation drought" of the late 1890s and early 1900s. The recession that accompanied it was so severe that it helped nudge Australia's six states, at the time separate British colonies, into uniting as a federation, or commonwealth, as Australians tend to call it.

Water politics
Negotiations over the federal constitution almost foundered on the subject of the Murray-Darling. South Australia, at the mouth of the river, wanted it kept open for navigation to the hinterland, allowing the state to become a trading hub. Its capital, Adelaide, also depended on water piped from the Murray to keep its taps running—as it still does. Further upstream, Victoria and New South Wales wanted to build dams to encourage agriculture. Queensland played little part in the row, since its stretch of the Darling was sparsely populated at the time. In the end, Victoria and New South Wales agreed to ensure a minimum flow to South Australia and to divide the remaining water equally between themselves. Like their counterparts elsewhere in the world, Australian engineers gaily pockmarked the basin with dams, weirs and locks, with little thought for what that would do downstream.

By the 1990s the drawbacks were evident. For one thing, states were allowing irrigators to use too much water. By 1994 human activity was consuming 77% of the river's average annual flow, even though the actual flow falls far below the average in dry years. The mouth of the river was beginning to silt up—a powerful symbol of over-exploitation. Thanks to a combination of reduced flow and increased run-off from saline soils churned up by agriculture, the water was becoming unhealthily salty, especially in its lower reaches. The tap water in Adelaide, which draws 40% of its municipal supplies from the river and up to 90% when other reserves dry up, was beginning to taste saline. The number of indigenous fish was falling, since the floods that induce them to spawn were becoming rarer. Toxic algae flourished in the warmer, more sluggish waters. In 1991 a hideous bloom choked a 1,000km (625 mile) stretch of the Darling.

Such horrors stirred indignation among urban Australians. The bad publicity put tourists off river cruises, fishing trips and visits to the basin's various lakes and wetlands. Many small businesses got hurt in the process. The citizens of Adelaide, which contains several marginal parliamentary seats, began to worry that the taps would run dry. Farmers were also starting to fear for the security and quality of their water supplies.



So Australia embarked on a series of reforms that in many ways serve as a model for the management of big, heavily exploited rivers. New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia agreed to cap the amount of water they took from the river and to keep clear, public records of water-use rights. They also made plans to reduce salinity and increase "environmental flows". The commonwealth agreed to encourage this by allocating buckets of cash to compliant states. All these initiatives were to be managed by a body, called the Murray-Darling Basin Commission, in which the commonwealth and the various riparian states, including Queensland and the tiny Australian Capital Territory (ACT), had equal representation and where decisions were taken by consensus.

Moreover, Australia's politicians also agreed to a set of principles by which water should be managed throughout the country. There should be no more subsidies for irrigation. Farmers should pay for the maintenance of channels and dams. For each river and tributary, scientists would calculate the maximum sustainable allocations of water and states would make sure that extractions did not exceed that figure. To ensure that such a scarce resource was used as efficiently as possible, water should be tradable, both within and between states. And the minimum environmental flows necessary to keep the river in good health should be accorded just as high a status as water put to commercial uses.

Guided by these principles, the states and the commonwealth have made much progress. By 1999 the average salinity of the river in South Australia had fallen by over 20%. In the late 1990s salinity levels were falling within the prescribed limit over 90% of the time, compared with roughly 60% in the 1970s and 1980s. The construction of fish ladders around dams and weirs, and the release of extra water into important breeding grounds, has spawned a recovery in native species. The commission is spending A$650m to boost environmental flows, mainly by stemming losses from irrigation, and hence leaving more water in the river.

The trade in water has taken off. There are two basic sorts of transaction: sales of part of a farmer's water allocation for the year or a permanent transfer. Temporary exchanges between farmers in the same state topped 1,000 gigalitres (220 billion gallons) in 2003, or around a tenth of all water used for agriculture. That roughly matches the cumulative amount of water that has changed hands permanently within the same state.

Meanwhile, the commission has codified rules for trading water between users in different states. The volumes are much smaller, but the system is working as economists had hoped. In general, water is flowing from regions with salty soil to more fertile ones; from farms that are profligate with water to ones that are more efficient; and from low-value crops to more profitable ones. In particular, struggling dairy and rice farmers in New South Wales and Victoria have sold water to the booming orchards and vineyards of South Australia. A government assessment of a pilot scheme for interstate trade determined that such shifts prompted A$767m of extra investment in irrigation and food-processing between 1997 and 2001. Another study found that water trading helped to reduce the damage wrought by droughts.

But there are lots of problems. For one thing, the reforms concern only water that has already reached the river. Farmers in certain states can still drill wells to suck up groundwater, and tree plantations absorb a lot of rainwater that would otherwise find its way into the river. Little dams on farms, which block small streams or trap run-off from rain or flooding, are an even bigger worry. Little is known about how many there are or how fast their numbers are growing. In theory, most states are trying to regulate them, but the rules are full of loopholes and enforcement is difficult. Hydrologists fear that the severity of the drought has encouraged farmers to build more dams.

Some states are keener on the reforms than others. In 1995, when New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria agreed to cap the amount of water they took from the river, Queensland refused to join them on the grounds that it uses only a tiny share of the basin's water. The state government felt it had a right to promote irrigation along its stretch of the Darling to bring Queensland to the same level of agricultural development as the other states. It has since agreed to negotiate a cap. But earlier this year, despite the ongoing drought, it awarded new water-use rights to farmers on the Warrego, one of the tributaries of the Darling.

New South Wales, meanwhile, frequently exceeds its cap. Its farmers plant mainly annual crops, such as rice and wheat, instead of perennials like fruit trees or grape vines. If there is not enough water to go round, its farmers may suffer for a season, but their earnings are not permanently diminished. So the state tends to be less cautious in its allocation of water than Victoria or South Australia. However, the commission has no power to ensure that states stick to their caps. It can only denounce offenders publicly, in the forlorn hope that the shame will induce them to behave better.

Climate change is likely to exacerbate all these disputes. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), a government agency, estimates that it could reduce the Murray's flow by as much as 5% in 20 years and 15% in 50 years. But other projections are much more cataclysmic. CSIRO cites a worst case of 20% less water in 20 years and 50% in 50 years. Peter Cullen, an academic and member of the government's National Water Commission, points out that inflows to the Murray have fallen to less than half of their long-term average over the past six years. He thinks it would be prudent to manage water on the assumption that low flows are here to stay.

Mr Howard argues that the Murray-Darling Basin Commission moves too slowly to cope with all the upheaval. He wants the states to surrender their powers over the basin to the commonwealth. That will allow his government, he says, to work out exactly how much water is being siphoned off through wells and dams, and to use that information to set a new, sustainable cap on water use.

The government would also help farmers meet the new restrictions by investing in more efficient irrigation or by buying up their water rights—all without any of the typical bickering and foot-dragging that have held up collective action in the past. To entice the states to agree, he is offering to spend A$10 billion of the commonwealth's money on the various schemes. But the advantage of adopting policies by consensus, presumably, is that they may prove more durable than anything imposed from Canberra. National governments, even in Australia, are not immune to inefficiency and bias. They are often at loggerheads with the states.

Moreover, not all Australians want to move as quickly as Mr Howard does. He faces an election later this year in which his environmental record—and particularly his lack of action on global warming—will be a big issue. Nor does the federal government have any experience of managing rivers. In a recent book, "Water Politics in the Murray-Darling Basin", Daniel Connell argues that any institutional arrangement that fails to give enough weight to regional concerns will not last.

Running a river
Several state governments have their doubts about Mr Howard's plan. South Australia wants the administration of the river put in the hands of a panel of independent experts. Victoria, the only state to reject the prime minister's scheme outright, says that he could achieve the same goals without any extra powers by simply withholding money from recalcitrant states. Its government has also complained that the scheme would reward the most wasteful irrigators for their inefficiency, by helping to pay for improvements to their infrastructure and then allowing them to use much of the water saved. So the extravagant irrigators of New South Wales will end up with extra water, while their parsimonious counterparts in Victoria will benefit less.

Moreover, many Australians are uncomfortable with the idea of water trading, says Blair Nancarrow, the head of the Australian Research Centre for Water in Society, a division of CSIRO. People living in less fertile areas fear that local farmers will gradually sell all their water rights, eroding employment and commerce and killing off the area's towns. Concerned politicians have insisted on limits to the amount of water that can be traded out of regions and states each year and have refused to allow the commission to buy water directly from farmers for environmental flows. The National Party, the junior partner in Australia's coalition government, draws much of its support from the countryside and is particularly reluctant to give free rein to the water market.

In the eyes of Mr Cullen, however, many of the changes Australians fear are inevitable. As it is, he notes, the amount of money farms make for every million litres of water they use varies dramatically between states, from roughly A$300 in New South Wales to A$600 in Victoria and A$1,000 in South Australia. He believes that investment and water will continue to gravitate towards the bigger, more professionally managed farms. In the long run, the irrigation of pasture for livestock, which currently consumes about half of the basin's agricultural water, will not make sense. The number of small, family-owned farms will shrink.

Ian Zadow owns just such a farm, near Murray Bridge in South Australia, which has been in the family since 1905. He is also head of the local irrigators' association. His son used to work on the farm with him. But farming cannot support two families, so the younger man has taken a job tending graveyards instead. "If you can pay all your bills and get three meals on the table," says Mr Zadow, "that's about as good as it is going to get."

At the moment however, things are nowhere near that good. Last year, he saw his allocation of water slashed first by 20%, then by 30% and finally by 40%. Next season, unless much more rain falls, he stands to get no allocation at all. He feels that city-dwellers should do their bit to help farmers by conserving more water. When push comes to shove, he says, politicians will always give priority to the cities over the countryside, since they are home to more voters. He also thinks irrigators in New South Wales and Victoria should be trying harder to save water. Before too long Mr Zadow's complaints may be echoed by millions of farmers around the world.

If the Australian drought continues, the thousands who depend on irrigation water for a living will be in deep trouble. Many are already in debt and struggling to make ends meet. When asked what will happen if there is no water for them this year, Mr Zadow hesitates for a moment before replying, "Christ knows."


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Re: Water
« Reply #1 on: March 11, 2008, 09:43:42 AM »
Amid Water Shortage,
Australia Looks to the Sea
March 11, 2008; Page A1

PERTH, Australia -- As global water shortages loom, this remote city on Australia's parched western coast is giving desalination -- the arduous process of removing salt from sea water -- new clout.

Opened in late 2006, Perth's $360 million desalination plant sucks in roughly 50,000 gallons of the Indian Ocean every minute. It then runs that water through special filters that separate out the salt, yielding some 25,000 gallons of drinkable water -- enough to meet nearly a fifth of Perth's current demand.

Patrick Barta 
Perth is pushing desalination as a way to feed the city's water needs and keep parks -- including Kings Park, above -- green.
For decades, critics dismissed desalination as a costly boondoggle that burns colossal amounts of energy, including dirty fuels like coal. Technologically complex, it's also far more expensive than tapping other water sources. The few major desalination plants that did make it to fruition went up mainly in the Middle East, which had energy -- and money -- to burn.

Perth's facility squarely tackles both environmental and financial concerns. It gets around the issue of noxious emissions by harnessing power from a wind farm. By relying primarily on renewable energy -- a recent trend in desalination -- the plant releases fewer dangerous greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Upgraded systems remove salt more efficiently than past processes, making operating costs less daunting.

Despite higher water bills for consumers, officials here deem the project so successful that they plan to build a second, $875 million desalination plant. Once online, it will allow Perth to source as much as a third of its water from the ocean and significantly cut its dependence on rain-fed reserves.

Not long ago, "desalination was something you'd do only when you didn't have any other choice," says Jim Gill, chief executive of Water Corp., Perth's state-owned water supplier. Now, "there just aren't that many sources left."

Patrick Barta visits Perth for a look at how the city aims to cope with a growing water shortage through desalination of sea water.
Perth's plunge into desalination comes at a critical time, when water is emerging as the world's next major natural-resources challenge. Water use, like oil, is surging as economic growth takes off in China, India and elsewhere. According to the International Water Management Institute in Sri Lanka, about a fifth of the world's population, or more than 1.2 billion people, already lives in areas with insufficient supply.

Due to changing rainfall patterns linked to climate change, many places -- including parts of Australia, the American Southwest, India and Western Europe -- are getting as much as 10% less rain than they used to. There's also a global push to expand agriculture, the world's biggest guzzler of water, to meet growing food and alternative energy demand.

As many as 75 major desalination projects are in various stages of development world-wide, including a $300 million facility north of San Diego. Although large-scale desalination is still unpopular in the U.S., local officials and private investors are pressing to build plants in other states such as Texas and Massachusetts.

Several Australian cities are adding massive desalination plants. The largest, near Melbourne, carries a price tag of more than $2.5 billion. Similar facilities are envisioned in Spain and India. And London is planning a $400 million plant along the River Thames.

Combined Impact

Environmentalists worry that the combined impact of these plants will be devastating, especially if they run on power generated by cheap coal. Big desalination plants can burn through enough electricity annually to power more than 35,000 homes a year.

Last June, WWF, the international conservation organization, released a major report challenging the desalination boom. It cited a potentially "major misdirection of public attention, policy and funds."

Yet WWF staffers acknowledge there could be a place for some desalination plants -- so long as certain criteria are met. First, however, they want cities to exhaust other options, such as water recycling. If plants are eventually called for, the WFF wants to see them built like the one in Perth.

"Perth is going to be the model for desalination in the developed world," says Tom Pankratz, an industry consultant in Houston. Although other facilities might not employ the same renewable sources for power, most of the newer ones are trying to address the issue of greenhouse gas emissions, says Mr. Pankratz, including the latest plants in London and Sydney. "Everyone is thinking that's going to be the way of the future."

Surrounded by desert, this remote Western Australia city is booming as a center for mining iron ore and other valuable commodities. By some estimates, Perth is attracting as many as 750 families a week, and now has a population in excess of 1.3 million.

But in recent years, water supplies have shrunk as rainfall levels declined -- possibly due to factors related to global warming. In the 1980s, annual inflows into reservoirs fell to less than 300 billion liters a year; by the late 1990s, the figure was down to fewer than 150 billion liters.

Leading the charge for desalination was Mr. Gill, 61 years old, a self-taught expert on climate change. A native Australian, he received a master's degree in public administration from Harvard and worked for many years at Western Australia's railway system before joining the Water Corp., the state-owned company, in the mid-1990s. His hobbies include trekking deep into the Australian Outback to see aboriginal rock paintings in their original setting.

He says he noticed the sharp drop-off in available water after studying historical charts at Water Corp. Then, in 2001, Perth had one of its worst droughts ever. Reservoirs were less than 25% full and officials worried the city would run out of water completely.

Water Corp. executives ordered residents to restrict garden sprinkler use to two days a week. One scuttled idea involved towing, and melting down, an iceberg from Antarctica.

Officials also mulled the case for desalination. Mr. Gill's engineers had studied it before as part of a long-term planning process, and had concluded the method was viable. But they didn't think it would be needed until 2020 at the earliest.

At first analysis, the cost seemed "horrifying," Mr. Gill recalls. According to David Lloyd Owen, a water expert at United Kingdom-based consulting firm Envisager, even the cheapest desalinated water can cost eight times more than traditional groundwater sources, which can be tapped for as little as five cents per cubic meter.

Mr. Gill changed his mind after desalination experts in Germany and elsewhere acquainted him with the latest technological improvements. He also saw that other water sources were becoming more expensive to exploit -- making desalination look more attractive.

Most modern facilities use a process known as reverse osmosis. This involves pushing water under high pressure through porous membranes that filter out the salt. Energy is needed to raise the pressure and then force the water through the membranes.

In recent years, engineers have developed better membranes that capture salt more effectively than before, and they've improved "pre-treatment" methods to remove large particles from water before it goes through the process. Newer facilities also use "energy recovery devices" that allow them to recycle as much as 90% of the energy that's expended.

Working to Convert

By 2003, Mr. Gill was working to convert a dubious public. Homeowners fretted over potentially higher water bills, which stood to rise by as much as 12%. Environmentalists warned that saline discharge would turn a nearby bay into a giant salt lake.

Perth's newspapers blasted the project in editorials and cartoons. Critics insisted the idea didn't address Perth's long-term water problems, which they say require more efforts to promote conservation.

Desalination "is exactly like taking an aspirin for a tumor," says Jorg Imberger, director of the Centre for Water Research at the University of Western Australia in Perth. He believes people are simply using too much water. While the Perth plant was under consideration, he says, he phoned the state premier directly to voice his complaints.

Mr. Gill, meanwhile, responded to naysayers by warning that Water Corp. might impose a total sprinkler ban if water supplies didn't improve.

To counter environmental opposition, his team considered planting thousands of trees to offset greenhouse gas emissions.

But the real breakthrough came with a plan to use renewable power from a $165 million wind farm. The project's developers, which include private investors and a government-owned power company, had wanted to build the facility for years, but needed a big customer.

Making sure the desalination plant didn't burn fossil fuels was necessary to "defuse one of the key arguments against" it, Mr. Gill says. The eco-friendly design "also suited our values."

Mr. Gill cultivated unusual allies, including members of Perth's gardening industry. He also circulated charts and diagrams to the public showing the huge drop in water supply -- an effort that won over Geoff Gallop, then the state premier. Government officials approved the plant in late 2004.

"I wanted to make sure we had water security," says Mr. Gallop, now a professor at the University of Sydney.

The plant was up and running by late 2006. Situated in a bland industrial park 45 minutes south of the city, it includes a first-stage facility that removes silt and other impurities from water that's piped in from the adjacent, azure-blue sea. The water is then moved into a giant building the length of a football field where it is pressurized and sent through membranes in high-tech vessels.

The resulting water is treated with chlorine to meet health standards and piped into a reservoir that feeds into the local water supply. Leftover salt is flushed back into the ocean, where it disperses.

The facility even includes a tap where visitors can take a quick slurp. "Tastes better with whiskey," says project manager John Stansfield. When the process is finished, the water has a salt-free taste.

The Facility's Value

Some Perth residents still question the facility's value. Advocates for the poor say that lower-income citizens, including many Aboriginals, can't afford to pay more for water.

"Why are we building desalination plants to help wealthy people have gardens?" asks Irina Cattalini, director of social policy at the Western Australian Council of Social Service, an advocacy group.

Other desalination foes worry that Perth's success may be inspiring other cities to follow suit, but with lesser regard for any environmental toll.

At the Garden Affair, a small garden center in one of Perth's wealthier neighborhoods, some patrons indicated they have no intention of cutting back their water use -- even if the additional supply comes at a higher price.

"In the long run, we have to have the water, don't we?" said Lorraine Cook, a 65-year-old retiree who was shopping there one recent afternoon.

"I'd rather have a garden that uses more water" than have to give up azaleas, roses and other such plants, said Joanna Gage, a 45-year-old compliance manager at a financial-services company.

Even some of the country's biggest critics of desalination have warmed up to the Perth facility -- including, to a degree, Mr. Imberger of the University of Western Australia. Desalination "gives you security," he acknowledges. And he's pleased about the use of renewable energy.

Mr. Gill and others agree that desalination isn't perfect. "The price of water will probably go up over time, but it's scarce -- I think people realize that," says Mr. Gallop, the former state premier. "We're in a new world now."

Write to Patrick Barta at


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Re: Water
« Reply #2 on: June 03, 2008, 07:37:02 PM »
June 3, 2008
In Spain, Water Is a New Battleground
FORTUNA, Spain — Lush fields of lettuce and hothouses of tomatoes line the roads.
Verdant new developments of plush pastel vacation homes beckon buyers from Britain
and Germany. Golf courses — dozens of them, all recently built — give way to the
beach. At last, this hardscrabble corner of southeast Spain is thriving.

There is only one problem with the picture of bounty: this province, Murcia, is
running out of water. Swaths of southeast Spain are steadily turning into desert, a
process spurred on by global warming and poorly planned development.

Murcia, traditionally a poor farming region, has undergone a resort-building boom in
recent years, even as many of its farmers have switched to more thirsty crops,
encouraged by water transfer plans, which have become increasingly untenable. The
combination has put new pressures on the land and its dwindling supply of water.

This year, farmers are fighting developers over water rights. They are fighting one
another over who gets to water their crops. And in a sign of their mounting
desperation, they are buying and selling water like gold on a rapidly growing black
market, mostly from illegal wells.

Southern Spain has long been plagued by cyclical droughts, but the current crisis,
scientists say, probably reflects a more permanent climate change brought on by
global warming. And it is a harbinger of a new kind of conflict.

The battles of yesterday were fought over land, they warn. Those of the present
center on oil. But those of the future — a future made hotter and drier by climate
change in much of the world — seem likely to focus on water, they say.

“Water will be the environmental issue this year — the problem is urgent and
immediate,” said Barbara Helferrich, a spokeswoman for the European Union’s
Environment Directorate. “If you already have water shortages in spring, you know
it’s going to be a really bad summer.”

Dozens of world leaders will be meeting at the United Nations Food and Agriculture
Organization headquarters in Rome starting Tuesday to address a global food crisis
caused in part by water shortages in Africa, Australia and here in southern Spain.

Climate change means that creeping deserts may eventually drive 135 million people
off their land, the United Nations estimates. Most of them are in the developing
world. But Southern Europe is experiencing the problem now, its climate drying to
the point that it is becoming more like Africa’s, scientists say.

For Murcia, the arrival of the water crisis has been accelerated by developers and
farmers who have hewed to water-hungry ventures highly unsuited to a drier, warmer
climate: crops like lettuce that need ample irrigation, resorts that promise a
swimming pool in the yard, acres of freshly sodded golf courses that sop up millions
of gallons a day.

“I come under a lot of pressure to release water from farmers and also from
developers,” said Antonio Pérez Gracia, the water manager here in Fortuna, sipping
coffee with farmers in a bar in the town’s dusty square. He rued the fact that he
could provide each property owner with only 30 percent of its government-determined
water allotment.

“I’m not sure what we’ll do this summer,” he added, noting that the local aquifer
was sinking so quickly that the pumps would not reach it soon. “I come under a lot
of pressure to release water, from farmers and also from developers. They can
complain as much as they want, but if there’s no more water, there’s no more water.”

Rubén Vives, a farmer who relies on Mr. Pérez Gracia’s largess, said he could not
afford the black market water prices. “This year, my livelihood is in danger,” said
Mr. Vives, who has farmed low-water crops like lemons here for nearly two decades.

The hundreds of thousands of wells — most of them illegal — that have in the past
provided a temporary reprieve from thirst have depleted underground water to the
point of no return. Water from northern Spain that was once transferred here has
also slowed to a trickle, as wetter northern provinces are drying up, too.

The scramble for water has set off scandals. Local officials are in prison for
taking payoffs to grant building permits in places where there is not adequate
water. Chema Gil, a journalist who exposed one such scheme, has been subject to
death threats, carries pepper spray and is guarded day and night by the Guardia
Civil, a police force with military and civilian functions.

“The model of Murcia is completely unsustainable,” Mr. Gil said. “We consume two and
a half times more water than the system can recover. So where do you get it? Import
it from elsewhere? Dry up the aquifer? With climate change we’re heading into a
cul-de-sac. All the water we’re using to water lettuce and golf courses will be
needed just to drink.”

Facing a national crisis, Spain has become something of an unwitting laboratory,
sponsoring a European conference on water issues this summer and announcing a
national action plan this year to fight desertification. That plan includes a shift
to more efficient methods of irrigation, as well as an extensive program of
desalinization plants to provide the fresh water that nature does not.

The Spanish Environment Ministry estimates that one-third of the county is at risk
of turning into desert from a combination of climate change and poor land use.

Still, national officials visibly stiffen when asked about the “Africanization” of
Spain’s climate — a term now common among scientists.

“We are in much better shape than Africa, but within the E.U. our situation is
serious,” said Antonio Serrano Rodríguez, the secretary general for land and
biodiversity at Spain’s Environment Ministry.

Still, Mr. Serrano and others acknowledge the broad outlines of the problem. “There
will be places that can’t be farmed any more, that were marginal and are now
useless,” Mr. Serrano said. “We have parts of the country that are close to the

While southern Spain has always been dry and plagued by cyclical droughts, the
average surface temperature in Spain has risen 2.7 degrees compared with about 1.4
degrees globally since 1880, records show.

Rainfall here is predicted to fall 20 percent from this year to 2020, and 40 percent
by 2070, according to United Nations projections.

The changes on the Almarcha family farm in Albanilla over the past three decades are
a testament to that hotter, drier climate here. Until two decades ago, the farm grew
wheat and barley, watered only by rain. As rainfall dropped, Carlo Almarcha, 51,
switched to growing almonds.

About 10 years ago, he quit almonds and changed to organic peaches and pears, “since
they need less water,” he explained. Recently he took up olives and figs, “which
resist drought and are less sensitive to weather.”

Mr. Almarcha participates in a government water trading system, started last year,
in which farmers pay three times the normal price — 33 cents instead of 12 per cubic
meter — to get extra water. The black market rate is even higher. Still, his outlook
is bleak.

“You used to know that this week in spring there will be rain,” he said, standing in
his work boots on parched soil of an olive grove that was once a wheat field. “Now
you never know when or if it will come. Also, there’s no winter any more and plants
need cold to rest. So there’s less growth. Sometimes none. Even plants all seem

While Mr. Almarcha has gradually moved toward less thirsty crops, the government’s
previous water transfer plans have moved many farmers in the opposite direction. The
farmers have shifted to producing a wide range of water-hungry fruits and vegetables
that had never been grown in the south. Murcia is traditionally known for figs and
date palms.

“You can’t grow strawberries naturally in Huelva — it’s too hot,” said Raquel
Montón, a climate specialist at Greenpeace in Madrid, referring to the nearby
strawberry capital of Spain. “In Sarragosa, which is a desert, we grow corn, the
most water-thirsty crop. It’s insane. The only thing that would be more insane is
putting up casinos and golf courses.” Which, of course, Murcia has.

In 2001, a new land use law in Murcia made it far easier for residents to sell land
for resort development. Though southern Spain has long had elaborate systems for
managing its relatively scarce water, today everyone, it seems, has found ways to
get around them.

Grass on golf courses or surrounding villas is sometimes labeled a “crop,” making
owners eligible for water that would not be allocated to keep leisure space green.
Foreign investors plant a few trees and call their vacation homes “farms” so they
are eligible for irrigation water, Mr. Pérez Gracia said.

“Once a property owner’s got a water allotment, he asks for a change of land use,”
he explained. “Then he’s got his property and he’s got his water. It’s supposed to
be for irrigation, but people use it for what they want. No one knows if it goes to
a swimming pool.”

While he said his “heart goes out to the real farmers,” he did not have the
personnel to monitor how people use their allotments.

With so much money to be made, officials set aside laws and policies that might
encourage sustainable development, Mr. Gil, the journalist, said. At first, he was
vilified in the community when he wrote articles critical of the developments.
Recently, as people are discovering that the water is running out, the attitude is

But even so, people and politicians tend to regard water as a limitless resource.
“Politicians think in four-year blocks, so it’s O.K. as long as it doesn’t run out
on their watch,” said Ms. Montón of Greenpeace. “People think about it, but they
don’t really think about what happens tomorrow. They don’t worry until they turn on
the tap and nothing flows.”


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WSJ: Global drying
« Reply #3 on: June 12, 2008, 06:50:32 PM »
Global Drying
June 13, 2008

The world's agriculture and water crisis is only going to get worse. As China and India grow, their populations are demanding more and wider varieties of food stuffs, competition for arable land is intensifying and freshwater withdrawals of agriculture are soaring. Food prices are rising, in large part because agriculture suppliers can barely keep up with today's demand. So what is the world doing? Reorienting land away from food production and toward plants cultivated for energy needs.

This could be the single most destructive set of policy mistakes made in a generation. From time immemorial, mankind has struggled to produce enough food. Wars have been fought over arable land. Whole populations have been forced to migrate, and untold millions of human beings have died because circumstances, climate, war or political ineptitude have deprived them of what the German language describes as "Lebensmittel," or a "means for survival." This problem hasn't disappeared; our world today needs to feed some six billion people. According to some projections, that number will rise to nine billion by 2050.

So why introduce a new competitor for this scarce resource? The blame falls squarely on global warming advocates. Politicians, business, academia are all struggling to come to grips with it. But why? The impact of global warming will be felt in decades at worst, and no one at this stage can predict with any degree of reliability what its consequences might be. Does it make sense to reduce the use of fossil energy? Yes, for many reasons. Are we right in dealing carefully and responsibly with what is left of the oil? And will biofuels really solve our problems?

If there's one certainty, it is this: The production of biofuels has stimulated a massive, and destructive, reorientation of the world's agriculture markets. The U.S. Department of Energy calculates that every 10,000 liters of water produces as little as five liters of ethanol, or one to two liters of biodiesel. Biofuels are economical nonsense, ecologically useless and ethically indefensible. This year, the U.S. will use around 130 million tons of corn for biofuels. This corn was not available as human food, nor as fodder to animals. Is this the right strategy, for a product that won't satisfy even a small percentage of our energy needs?

The biofuel madness is contributing to water shortages that are already endemic. Stretches of the Rio Grande, which partly separates the U.S. from Mexico, have dried up in regular intervals since 2001. China's Yellow River ran dry in 1972, in 1996 and in 1997. Worse yet, we are overusing ground water in large parts of the world. Water levels are sinking rapidly both in China as well as in India's Punjab state. Great aquifers, whether in the Sahara or in the southwestern U.S., are being depleted rapidly. This is water that dates from thousands of years ago. Like oil, once gone, it is lost forever.

Increasing agricultural productivity is only part of the solution. The real juggernaut is to encourage the responsible use of water. And the only way to do that is to introduce competitive pricing. Water is being wasted and misused because few people are even aware of its worth. Today, 94% of available water is used by agriculture – and because there are no cost consequences for the farmer, almost all of that water is underused or misused. The same is true for water used in industry and for household purposes. If the cost of infrastructure is not covered, the degradation of municipal water distribution will continue. Water for basic needs should of course remain free. But there is no need whatsoever to subsidize water to wash a car, fill a swimming pool or maintain a golf course.

The biofuel craze, egged on by global warming activists, has helped fuel a huge agricultural crisis. But this crisis can at least be partially mitigated through better and more efficient use of the resources that we already have. Right now, the urgent issue is water, not global warming, and we cannot afford to ignore it any longer.

Mr. Brabeck-Letmathe is chairman of Nestlé.

See all of today's editorials and op-eds, plus video


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Calls Rise for Public Control of Water Supply
« Reply #4 on: June 19, 2008, 04:28:48 PM »
Calls Rise for Public Control of Water Supply

FELTON, Calif. -- The faucets in one of six U.S. homes pour water provided by a private company. Now, some of these communities are revolting against their corporate water systems, attempting to put their water under government control because of concerns over rising rates and service disruptions.

Residents of Felton, Calif., fought to bring back local control of the town's water, part of a backlash against a wave of privatization deals.
Cheers broke out in a packed senior center near the mountain village of Felton on June 5, when the local water district officially wrested control of the town's water from a unit of American Water Works Co. Residents of Felton, 70 miles south of San Francisco, had been unhappy ever since the Voorhees, N.J., company bought their water system from another corporation in 2002 and proposed a 74% rate increase. Germany's RWE AG bought American Water in 2003.  (Is this AWR?  If so, I have a moderate position in it-- Marc)

Felton residents waged a years-long battle to bring their water back to local control. American Water finally agreed in May to sell the system to the local public water district, which Felton recently joined, for $10.5 million in cash and assumption of $2.9 million in debt.

Similar conflicts have flared up around the U.S. over the past few years -- part of a backlash against a wave of water-works-privatization deals in the U.S. that began in the 1990s as cash-strapped municipalities sought to defray the costs of upgrading old water plants and other infrastructure.

RWE earlier this year spun off American Water -- the nation's largest privately held water company -- in part because of the uprisings that have spread throughout the U.S. "Public resistance to privatization schemes of companies was growing" in the U.S., according to a Sept. 16, 2005, summary of the minutes from an RWE board meeting at which officials discussed why they potentially needed to divest American Water and another British unit.

In all, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates about 16% of Americans get their water from nongovernment sources, a number that has remained little changed over the past decade.

In some cities, "There's an aversion to getting involved with a private company," says Peter Cook, executive director of the National Association of Water Companies, an industry trade group based in Washington. Mr. Cook said more growth is likely to occur, though, as cities face having to rebuild expensive water infrastructure.

One common tactic that communities are using in this water fight is eminent domain, the power that cities and other local agencies have to seize a corporate water system in the public's interest. Earlier this year, the cities of Fort Wayne, Ind., and Cave Creek, Ariz., condemned all or parts of water systems owned by private companies because of issues including user complaints over service and maintenance. Scottsdale, Ariz.; Tiffin, Ohio; and Homer Glen, Ill.; have all this year initiated steps that could result in takeovers of local water systems.

Water-industry officials say they don't see any widespread customer backlash against private ownership. The take-back efforts in some communities represent only isolated resistance, says Dan Kelleher, an outside adviser and spokesman for American Water, which reports a continued increase in business. "I would argue that a mayor in Tiffin who wants to look into government ownership is not indicative of a problem," he says.

Mr. Kelleher says the vast majority of the company's 15.6 million customers in 32 states and the Canadian province of Ontario are "very satisfied with our service," and that some other efforts to take over private water utilities, such as in Lexington, Ky., have failed. He and other industry executives say rate increases are needed to help underwrite the cost of major upgrades to water systems.

In the case of Felton, Mr. Kelleher says the company's proposal in 2002 to raise rates 74% over three years was driven by the fact the town hadn't had a rate increase since 1998, while American Water needed to invest $1.1 million between 2002 and 2005 to replace old facilities. The California Public Utilities Commission approved a 44% jump in the water rate. But many customers in the town of about 1,000 were still so incensed they formed a group called Friends of Locally Owned Water, or FLOW, and embarked on a campaign to force out American Water.

They gained support in the community as customers also began complaining of slower response times to broken water mains and other service glitches, as American Water routed accident reports to a national call center in Illinois. American Water officials have said the call center was designed to improve service.

One tactic by the opposition group was to persuade local Santa Cruz County officials to expand the boundaries of the adjoining San Lorenzo district to include Felton, so it would have condemnation powers over the water system there. Another was to get voters to pass a local ballot initiative -- Measure W -- in 2005, which allocated up to $11 million in bonds to buy the water system and offset legal fees.

After American Water officials said the system wasn't for sale, the San Lorenzo district initiated eminent-domain proceedings. In May, the company agreed to the Felton purchase. "I think a handful of people [in Felton] felt government ownership was a better choice," says Mr. Kelleher, the American Water adviser.

Felton residents will see an almost immediate benefit. Over the past decade, their water rates have more than tripled to about $180 a month. Now rates will drop to about $80 -- what customers of the San Lorenzo district pay. "We're happy," says Jim Mosher, an attorney who helped lead the fight for FLOW.


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This is only the trickle before the "great flood"
« Reply #5 on: June 20, 2008, 05:55:29 AM »

I'm afraid this is an example of which we will see a major trend towards governmental control over so many more areas of our society to a level we have never seen in this country.

I would think that tax rates will go up as does the government dole and millions more on the government dole all voting Democrat for their jobs.  As a doctor I am already indirectly beholden to the government with all its regulation and Medicare setting rates that much of the private payer industry follows.  From what is ahead of us I might as well join a teachers union.  Like I said my sister a teacher siad the reason most teachers are die hard crats is the "union" mentality.  Just go to work and get your paycheck.  And demand everything in the way of "entitlements".  Now though people around the world are entitled to US benefits as well.

I don't want to think what this country will turn into if BO is President along with a Dem House and Senate and resulting further liberalization of the Supreme Court.  There will be no stopping this.

Our country is weaker thanks to them.  Of course corruption in the Republican ranks from Daschle on down allowed this to happen.
The religious right including Rush Limbaugh better start getting behind McCain and stop whining or it will be far worse IMHO.
(Doug I don't disagree with you but look at the alternative)


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Re: Water
« Reply #6 on: June 23, 2008, 12:03:37 PM »

Cal Am agrees to sell Felton water system for $10.5M
By J.M. BROWN - Sentinel Staff Writer
Article Launched: 05/30/2008 02:54:07 PM PDT

FELTON - California American Water has tentatively agreed to sell the Felton water system to the San Lorenzo Valley Water District for $10.5 million, signalling the likely end of a six-year David-and-Goliath fight between a grass-roots citizens group and the former multinational corporation over local control.

On the eve of what was expected to be a two-week jury trial beginning Monday to set a price for the system serving 1,330 customers, Cal Am and the water district made the deal public in Santa Cruz County Superior Court on Friday after a private mediation hearing this week. Cal Am had chosen months ago to forgo a preliminary trial to determine if there was public interest in the water district buying the system.

"I'm elated," said Jim Graham, spokesman for Felton Friends of Locally Owned Water, adding that he had long hoped that the combined efforts of FLOW and the water district to gain control of the waterworks would pay off. "We were going to keep at them until something happened."

According to terms of the deal, the water district will pay cash for Cal Am's operating assets in Felton, and assume responsibility for a $2.9 million debt for the Kirby Street water treatment plant for which Cal Am secured state loans that taxpayers must repay. As part of the deal, Cal Am donated 250 acres of forested watershed land with the agreement it would not be developed - a move that Cal Am said may mean a tax break for the company.

The district will draw on what's left from an $11 million bond Felton voters approved in 2005 to buy the waterworks, the balance having been spent on legal fees and other costs to get control of the system and fight rate hikes. Jim Mueller, the district's director, said the latest estimate of the bond balance is about $9 million.

"Overall, I would say the water district considers this settlement a victory for the community of Felton," said Mueller, who helped negotiate the deal.

The district's board must approve the purchase, which will involve dipping into the district's reserves as deeply as $1.5 million to come up with the rest of the money necessary to make the transfer. The board is set to vote Thursday, and if the deal is OK'd, the transfer is slated to occur within 60 days.

Mueller said it's unclear whether there would be a rate hike to pay back the reserves. But if the board approved a measure to have customers pay back the reserves, it would increase the average district customer's bill about $2 per month for about 20 years. The district provides service to about 5,900 metered connections in the valley.

Cal Am, which became a publicly traded company last month after Germany-based RWE Aqua Holdings off-loaded it, had long argued that the district could not afford the waterworks. Cal Am mostly recently said the Felton water system was valued around $20 million, which is far short of the most recent offer the district made for the operational assets before this week, which Mueller said was $7.6 million.

Cal Am spokesman Kevin Tilden said, "The settlement package was very substantial and comes at a very high cost to Felton customers." But, he added, the company agreed to accept the district's latest offer because "we had an expectation of where we might end up in court.

"We've fought this for five or six years," he said, adding that FLOW represented "a vocal minority" who "wanted government ownership at any cost."

FLOW began trying to wrest control from Cal Am after the company bought it in 2001.

FLOW has long claimed the district could provide cheaper rates than Cal Am, which this spring was asking for a 57 percent increase for residential customers, to about $200 every two months. The average bimonthly bill for district customers is about $85, Mueller said.

Connie Barr, a longtime FLOW member, said Friday's announcement was gratifying, though she wishes the battle hadn't gone on so long. "Wouldn't it have been nice if it happened the first time we said, 'We would really like to do this ourselves, thank you.'"

Contact J.M. Brown at 429-2410 or

Cal Am employees sometimes bear brunt of water acrimony
Gwen Mickelson - Sentinel staff writer
Article Launched: 11/05/2006 3:00:00 AM PST
FELTON — Speaking above the soft rush of Fall Creek, Mark Sawran gazed down into a crystal-clear eddy and said, "We're lucky."

Lucky because Fall Creek and the Felton water system's other main sources — three local springs — are of such high quality that water drawn from them needs relatively little treatment before being sent to customers' taps.

But beyond Felton's redwood-shaded creeks and cold, clear artesian springs, a David-and-Goliath showdown over water has been developing over the past four years. Between the clashing factions, California American Water Co.'s local employees, many of whom have served San Lorenzo Valley residents for years, say they sometimes feel caught in the middle.

Unhappy over rate hikes and service, Felton residents have been pushing to buy their water system from the corporate owner, Cal Am. They passed an $11 million bond by a nearly 75 percent margin to purchase it and asked to be operated by neighboring San Lorenzo Valley Water District. Cal Am, however, has maintained throughout the heated debate that the system is not for sale.

"People ask if I'm going to buy a new Mercedes-Benz with the rate increase, and I've been called a Nazi," said Sawran, 50, a systems operator who lives in Scotts Valley.

On a typical day, Sawran, a two-year Cal Am employee, performs tasks including system rounds, meter checks and leak repairs. He likes his job and says he's learned "a tremendous amount" about water treatment and distribution.

The Nazi references come with some frequency, said Sawran, because Cal Am's parent company, American Water, is owned by German conglomerate RWE. RWE is in the process of spinning off its American holdings.

Emotions run high in Felton over the issue. The water treatment plant has had feces and dead animals left in its mailbox, and one employee was shot with a BB gun while reading a meter last year, according to Cal Am spokesman Evan Jacobs.  Complaints about poor service sting for the five employees of the water treatment plant, who are on call 24 hours a day. The employees are Tom Raffaelli, network operations supervisor; system operators Sawran, John Chapin and Brenda Chargin; and office manager Joyce Malone. The employees receive positive comments and treatment, as well, said Sawran. And while he lets most of the sour remarks roll off his back, one thing that is difficult for him to hear is that residents want a condemnation of the system because of bad service.

"I know that's not the truth," said Sawran, who said employees arrive at service calls within a half hour.

He's right, said Felton Friends of Locally Owned Water member Jim Graham. Felton FLOW is leading the charge to get the water system into private hands.

"The service issue in large part wasn't the stuff being done by the local employees," said Graham. "It's the outside contracting firm that Cal Am brings in that doesn't know the area. We're very happy with the local employees."

Also, said Graham, FLOW does not condone actions such as depositing dead animals in the plant's mailbox. "God, no," he said.

But with a number of ratepayers on edge about the water system issue, Sawran wishes some people would give the employees the benefit of the doubt.

"We're just the workers," he said. "We do no decision-making whatsoever, especially on rate increases. But we're the visible public face."

The tension doesn't make him want to leave the job, though.

"I know it's not personal," he said, "so I don't let it bother me."

Contact Gwen Mickelson at


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Aptos residents
« Reply #7 on: July 04, 2008, 12:51:08 PM »
Aptos residents pay $500,000 for their water supply
Shanna McCord - Sentinel staff writer
Article Launched: 07/04/2008 01:32:41 AM PDT

Nearly 200 Aptos homeowners paid a total of $500,000 this week for purchase and repairs of the water supply and to prevent the possible takeover of the system by California American Water Co., a corporation eyeing the community's waterworks.

The Mar Vista Water District, previously owned by area resident Jimmy Smith , is now called Trout Gulch Mutual Water Co.

Initiated in early 2007, the deal became final this week.

"This is exciting," Skyward Drive resident Jim Brownson said. "All of the customers are equal share owners. It's like a club."

Brownson and others say owning their water means having more say over improvements, better customer service and more control over costs.

Under Smith's ownership, the system had fallen into disarray and is in need of repairs.

The homeowners have a 20-year loan for $500,000 from Santa Cruz Community Credit Union that includes the $290,000 purchase price, money for improvements and a cushion of cash for unexpected expenses. Customers will pay an initial $350 each -- a sort of membership fee.

Monthly water rates are expected to go up 26 percent to help pay off the loan, Brownson said. For him, that means paying $162 every two months instead of $120.

Brownson helped lead the way for the community to buy the water after he learned in 2006 that the system was up for sale and Cal Am had considered adding it to its multitude of connections statewide.

Brownson had called the California Public Utility Commission to inquire about the excessive levels of manganese -- a metal that leaves beige silt in toilets and bathtubs -- in the Mar Vista water supply.

The commissioner told Brownson that Smith had been quietly discussing a sale to Cal Am since at least 2006.

"That was the flag," Brownson said. "It was total luck we bumped into this information."

The residents worked with county Supervisor Ellen Pirie and the Soquel Creek Water District to make the deal a reality.

The Aptos residents are the second in Santa Cruz County to gain control of their own water supply. In May, Felton residents struck a deal with Cal Am to buy their waterworks for $10.5 million -- the conclusion of a six-year-long battle between the company and the local community.

"Owning our water is more affordable in the long run," said Jim Graham, a member of Felton's Friends of Locally Owned Water. "We don't have to pay profits for executive management. In smaller communities, it can be a more effective way of doing business."

Contact Shanna McCord at 429-2401 or


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Water in Israel
« Reply #8 on: August 10, 2008, 05:30:32 AM »
Roni Kedar works with an irrigation system.
A SOUVENIR in the corner of Doron Ovits’s office attests to the challenges of farming in Israel.

It’s a mangled piece of metal, and Mr. Ovits says it came from a rocket that landed in a field recently, lobbed from the nearby Gaza Strip.  But Mr. Ovits may have a bigger long-term problem than rockets. 

Israel is running short of water. A growing population and rising incomes have increased demand for fresh water, while a four-year drought has created what Shalom Simhon, the agriculture minister, calls “a deep water crisis.”

The problem isn’t only in Israel. Many arid regions of the globe, including the American West, are dealing with growing populations and shrinking water supplies. Global warming could make matters even worse.  In a speech earlier this year, the secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, said the shortage of water could lead to violence.

“Our experiences tell us that environmental stress, due to lack of water, may lead to conflict and would be greater in poor nations,” he said. “Population growth will make the problem worse. So will climate change. As the global economy grows, so will its thirst. Many more conflicts lie just over the horizon.” Some economists suggest that arid countries should focus on growing only those crops that give them a competitive advantage, like water-sipping grapes and vegetables, and buy everything else on the world market.

But the recent volatility and high prices in commodity markets have made many world leaders reluctant to rely on global markets. Some oil-rich countries like Saudi Arabia are now shopping for farmland in more fertile countries like Sudan and Pakistan.  Others are now more determined than ever to increase their own food production, Israel among them. The question now becomes, at what cost?

“The greatest challenge we face is to try and reduce the dependence on the import of grains, whether by increasing local production or whether by making more efficient use of raw materials in feeding livestock,” Mr. Simhon said in an e-mail exchange. “This must be done, despite all limitations, mainly the lack of water.”

Israel has always been considered to be at the forefront of water efficiency in agriculture. Modern drip irrigation was invented in Israel, and Israeli companies like Netafim now ship drip-irrigation systems all over the world.  Israel has also aggressively pursued the use of treated sewer water for irrigation. Mr. Ovits’s tomatoes and peppers, for instance, are irrigated with recycled sewer water that he says is “even cleaner than the drinking water.”

For all the country’s efforts though, it can’t control the weather. But Israeli officials say they believe they have a solution.

Agriculture in Israel now consumes 500 million cubic meters of potable water and an equal amount of other types of water, primarily treated sewer water. The country plans to provide a further 200 million cubic meters of recycled sewer water and build more desalination plants to supply even more water.

“If the desalination and recycling projects are implemented, a lack of water is not expected in 2013,” Mr. Simhon said.

But is such an investment wise for a sector that contributes just 2 percent to the gross domestic product? Some critics suggest that Israel would be better off focusing on conservation.

Others have predicted a dire future. The chief scientist in the environment ministry, Yeshayahu Bar-Or, was quoted in The Economist in June as predicting that global warming would cause 35 percent less rainfall, contamination of underground water sources and pollution of the Sea of Galilee, this nation’s largest source of fresh water.

In the Golan Heights, Roni Kedar, 46, hopes his farm can survive long enough for a solution.  As a farmer for Kibbutz Ein Zivan, which abuts the Syrian border, he has spent the last 30 years trying to conserve water while growing grapes, apples, flowers and berries. 
HIS crops are irrigated with treated sewer water and rain runoff that is captured in a nearby reservoir, which is now severely depleted. He grows plants that do not require much water and feeds them with irrigation lines that drip water directly onto a plant’s roots, minimizing waste. And he is now experimenting in his apple orchards with mesh nets that may further prevent evaporation.

But because of the drought, Israeli officials have cut the kibbutz’s annual quota of water. This year’s cuts were particularly harsh, to 1 million cubic meters from 1.8 million, forcing Mr. Kedar to tear out some of his orchards and rip the fruit off of some of his apple trees, to keep the trees alive but preserve water.

“I don’t even like to go there. It’s a disaster,” he said, motioning toward an apple orchard where the fruit covers the ground. “We just threw everything to the floor and hope that next year is better.”

He estimated that he would not harvest a third of his fields because of the water restrictions. “The decision is really simple. You choose the part of your fields that are hardest to get water to and you destroy them. We just don’t have enough water,” he said later. “It’s frustrating because you work hard to make it grow. The point is to be big and efficient enough to survive. But right now it’s hard.”


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WSJ: Desalinization plants in CA.
« Reply #10 on: July 09, 2009, 07:59:28 AM »
Early next year, the Southern California town of Carlsbad will break ground on a plant that each day will turn 50 million gallons of seawater into fresh drinking water.

The $320 million project, which would be the largest desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere, was held up in the planning stages for years. But a protracted drought helped propel the project to its approval in May -- a sign of how worried local authorities are about water supplies.

Carlsbad Mayor Claude Lewis and other elected officials have dodged environmentalists' objections to city plans to build a desalination plant.

"Water is going to be very short until you have a new source," said Carlsbad Mayor Claude Lewis. "And the only new source is desalination, I don't care what anybody says."

The desalination plant would use water that flows by gravity from the ocean across a manmade lagoon and into the facility through 10 large pumps. The plant would then blast it through a filter, extracting fresh water and leaving behind highly pressurized salty water. The process would provide enough water for 300,000 people each day.

Government agencies have opposed desalination because of the process's energy consumption. The desalination plant would use nearly twice as much energy as a wastewater-treatment plant available in Orange County. Environmental groups also object because fish and other organisms are likely to be sucked into the facility.

Parched State Seeks to Expand Water Supply "Eventually, people will have to realize, it's either fish or children," Mr. Lewis said.

Desalination is most commonly used in such places as Saudi Arabia and northern Africa, where fresh water is scarce.  But in Southern California, authorities are increasingly desperate. Huntington Beach, in Orange County, is planning to break ground on its own desalination plant in 2010. Another plant is in the works at Camp Pendleton, just north of Carlsbad, in San Diego County.

Since January 2008, Orange County has been using a $487 million groundwater-replenishment plant to recycle 70 million gallons of water each day. The city of Los Angeles is flirting with a plan to do the same.  Even at a time when budgets are strained, authorities are willing to push ahead on costly projects. The Camp Pendleton plant is expected to cost between $1.7 billion and $1.9 billion; the Carlsbad plant will cost less because it is using a pre-existing power plant.

Half of the water in Southern California is imported from two sources: the State Water Project, which draws from the Sacramento River Delta in Northern California, and the Colorado River, which runs along the state's southeast border. Local authorities need to cobble together the rest from groundwater, recycled or surface water, and imports from elsewhere in the state.  But exports from the Colorado River were cut by half -- to nearly 180 billion gallons -- in 2003 because of drought. The levels have risen since then, but now come with a 20% higher price tag. Pumping from the State Water Project has been cut by 40% from 2006 levels.  Scientists and water authorities are pushing for more water recycling, conservation and water-use restrictions, as well as cleaning up the groundwater supply.  But increasingly they are also considering desalination.

"We don't encourage people to put in a desalination plant unless they need one -- unless they don't have any other options," said Lisa Henthorne, president of the International Desalination Association.

Officials in Carlsbad began discussing desalination in 1998 and planned to open the plant this year. But opposition was fierce.  The Surfrider Foundation and San Diego Coastkeeper -- two local environmental groups -- argue the plant would be disastrous for marine life, "killing everything that floats" near the plant's intake, said Surfrider's Joe Geever.

The permitting process continued for six years, and included 14 public hearings that ran a total of 170 hours and included five revisions to the plan.  Throughout the process, Scott Maloni, vice president for Poseidon Resources, which is developing the Carlsbad and Huntington Beach desalination plants, said he kept an eye on the situation. "No doubt that the drought played a role in the approval," he said.

"Hopefully Poseidon will be extremely successful," said Mr. Lewis, the Carlsbad mayor. "If they are, we'll see lots of these kinds of plants popping up all along the coast. If they're not, it's going to be a long road."

Write to Sabrina Shankman at


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Re: Water
« Reply #11 on: July 15, 2009, 04:54:08 AM »
This seems like a good idea to me:


WASHINGTON—A bipartisan group of lawmakers is proposing to raise about $10 billion a year to fix aging water and sewer systems by taxing the biggest users.

The legislation, which has sparked significant opposition from industry, is expected to be unveiled Wednesday at a news conference on Capitol Hill.

The bill calls for a 0.15% tax on any corporation earning a profit of more than $4 million a year. Manufacturers of any water-based beverages, excluding alcohol, would see a four-cent tax per container. Soaps, detergents, toiletries, toilet tissue, water softeners and cooking oils would face a 3% tax on wholesale prices. Pharmaceuticals would be taxed at 0.5% of the wholesale price.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D., Ore.), the main sponsor of the Water Protection and Reinvestment Act, said he believed the bill was necessary to repair an aging system used by all Americans. The taxes, he said, would target some of the biggest users of water and companies that have the biggest stake in the efficiency of the system. He called the fees modest and fair.

The federal government has paid an average of $2.3 billion each year since 2000 to help maintain the water system. A spokeswoman for Mr. Blumenauer said the trust fund created under the bill would bring in about $10 billion a year.

Concerns about the safety and integrity of water systems is a perennial concern, particularly in older cities. Recent water-main breaks in New York City have disrupted traffic and transit.

A U.S. Chamber of Commerce representative, Janet Kavinoky, said: "Anytime there's a broad base of general taxes being used to fund infrastructure, the chamber is going to take a close look at how that affects our members."

The chamber also has concerns that a federal subsidy for infrastructure repair could send a signal to local municipalities that they don't need to charge the real cost of providing water.

Representatives of the industries that would be hardest hit by the proposed fees said they feel unfairly targeted.

Joe Doss, president and chief executive of the International Bottled Water Association, said the proposal singled out one product category, while other water users wouldn't see tax increases.

Kevin Keane, senior vice president of the American Beverage Association, said beverage companies would almost certainly raise their prices to help compensate for the tax. This is just another example of "raising taxes on the middle class," Mr. Keane said. [It] would just add to the burden of taxpayers at a time they are already facing economic struggles," he said.

A representative from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America said they have not yet developed an opinion on the legislation.

Mr. Blumenauer is set to testify on the legislation Wednesday in front of a panel of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Write to Jake Sherman at

« Last Edit: July 15, 2009, 05:55:28 AM by Crafty_Dog »


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Re: Water
« Reply #12 on: July 26, 2009, 09:21:50 AM »
Getting back to a couple posts on water I offer my observations:

Remember that during the hurricane 'debates' we were told that the destruction level kept increasing over time.  In fact, more and more people were locating and building in hurricane zones - which is fine except it comes at a risk and a cost.  To some degree the same goes for water.

Where I live (MN) we are up to our neck in water but have other quality of life challenges - this thing called winter. 10,000 lakes is an understatement, more like 12k.  There is the 'city of lakes', the headwater for the Mississippi River, aquifirs aplenty and an untapped source of Lake Superior where each inch of surface dept is over a half Trillion gallons. Not to mention consistent rains ans snows throughout all the seasons, no one has hardly even thought of routing their gutter system through their shower or toilet supply.  Like everywhere it costs money to treat and purify water, but the resource is available.

Quote from 2 posts back: "Water is going to be very short until you have a new source," said Carlsbad Mayor Claude Lewis. "And the only new source is desalination, I don't care what anybody says."

We have evolved past traditional instincts of locating near basic sustaining resources.  The reason I think is that we believe we can solve that need by throwing money at it.

I remember criticizing the late Sen. Paul Wellstone for lobbying the federal government to increase 'cold weather' assistance for the prosperous state of MN.  Good grief, who could have seen a cold winter coming???  My point is that my heat and your water are not federal issues.  They are just natural consequences and costs associated with the choices we made when we located our families and our communities. 


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Re: Water, here's some...
« Reply #13 on: August 17, 2009, 10:13:50 AM »
As more and more people choose to live further and further from fresh water, a few trivia facts about a largely unnoticed American-Canadian water asset the size of New England and up to 1300 feet deep.
Lake Superior is, by surface area, the world's largest freshwater lake.  The surface area of Lake Superior (31,700 square miles) is greater than the combined areas of Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire.  Lake Superior contains as much water as all the other Great Lakes combined, even throwing in two extra Lake Eries.  Lake Superior contains 10% of all the earth's fresh surface water.  There is enough water in Lake Superior (3,000,000,000,000,000--or 3 quadrillion-- gallons) to flood all of North and South America to a depth of one foot.  The deepest point in Lake Superior (about 40 miles north of Munising, Michigan) is 1,300 feet (400 meters) below the surface.

The average underwater visibility of Lake Superior is 27 feet, making it easily the cleanest and clearest of the Great Lakes.  Underwater visibility in places reaches 100 feet. 

Migrating birds of prey funnel down Lake Superior's north shore in great numbers each fall.  On a single day at Duluth's Hawk Ridge as many as 100,000 birds of prey might pass by.

(Meanwhile, human population in the port city of Duluth MN peaked with the mining, shipping and industrial boom about 50 years ago and is still slightly declining.)


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The End of Welfare Water and the Drying of the West
« Reply #14 on: October 04, 2009, 08:14:14 AM »
13 September 2009

All of us have been watching drought in action this summer. When it hits the TV news, though, it usually goes by the moniker of "fire." As we've seen, California, in the third year of a major drought, has been experiencing "a seemingly endless fire that has burned more than 250 square miles of Los Angeles County" (and that may turn out to be just the beginning of another fire season from hell).

Southern California has hardly been the only drought story, though. For those with an eye out, the southern parts of Texas, the hottest state in the union this year, have been in the grips of a monster drought. Seven hundred thousand acres of the state have already burned in 2009, with a high risk of more to come.

Jump a few thousand miles and along with neighboring Syria, Iraq has been going through analmost biblical drought which has turned parts of that country into a dustbowl, sweeping the former soil of the former Fertile Crescent via vast dust storms into the lungs of city dwellers.

In Africa, formerly prosperous Kenya is withering in the face of another fearsome drought that has left people desperate and livestock, crops and children, as well as elephants, dying.

And, if you happen to be on the lookout, you can read about drought in India, where rice andsugar cane farmers as well as government finances are suffering. Or consider Mexico, where the 2009 wet season never arrived and crops are wilting in a parched countryside from the U.S. border to the Yucatan Peninsula.

Everywhere water problems threaten to lead to water wars, while "drought refugees" flee the land and food crises escalate. It's a nasty brew. But here's the strange thing -- one I'vecommented on before: there has been some fine reporting on each of these drought situations, but you can hunt high and low in the mainstream and not find any set of these droughts in the same piece. There's little indication that drought might, in fact, be an increasing global problem, nor can you find anyone exploring whether the fierceness of recent droughts and their spread might, in part, be connected to climate change. The grim "little" picture is now regularly with us. Whatever the big picture may be, it escapes notice, which is why I'm particularly glad that environmentalist and TomDispatch regular Chip Ward has written a drought piece in which, from his perch in Utah, he takes in the whole weather-perturbed American West. Tom

Red Snow Warning
The End of Welfare Water and the Drying of the West
By Chip Ward

Pink snow is turning red in Colorado. Here on the Great American Desert -- specifically Utah's slickrock portion of it where I live -- hot n' dry means dust. When frequent high winds sweep across our increasingly arid landscape, redrock powder is lifted up and carried hundreds of miles eastward until it settles on the broad shoulders of Colorado's majestic mountains, giving the snowpack there a pink hue.

Some call it watermelon snow. Friends who ski into the backcountry of the San Juan and La Plata mountain ranges in western Colorado tell me that the pink-snow phenomenon has lately been giving way to redder hues, so thick and frequent are the dust storms that roll in these days. A cross-section of a typical Colorado snowbank last winter revealed alternating dirt and snow layers that looked like a weird wilderness version of our flag, red and white stripes alternating against the sky's blue field.

The Forecast: Dust Followed by Mud

Here in the lowlands, we, too, are experiencing the drying of the West in new dusty ways. Our landscapes are often covered with what we jokingly refer to as "adobe rain" -- when rain falls through dust, spattering windows or laundry hung out to dry with brown stains. After a dust "event" this past spring, I wandered through the lot of a car dealership in Grand Junction, Colorado, where the only color seemingly available was light tan. All those previously shiny, brightly painted cars had turned drab. I had to squint to read price stickers under opaque windows.

All of this is more than a mere smudge on our postcard-pretty scenery: Colorado's red snow is a warning that the climatological dynamic in the arid West is changing dramatically. Think of it as a harbinger -- and of more than simply a continuing version of the epic drought we've been experiencing these past several years.

The West is as dry as the East is wet, a vast and arid landscape of high plains and deserts broken by abrupt mountain ranges and deep canyons. Unlike eastern and midwestern America, where there are myriad rivers, streams, lakes, and giant underground lakes, or aquifers, to draw on, we depend on snowpack for about 90% of our fresh water. The Colorado River, running from its headwaters in the snow-loaded mountains of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming, is the principal water source for those states, and downstream for Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and southern California as well.

While being developed into a crucial water resource, the Colorado became the most dammed, piped, legislated, and litigated river in America. Its development spawned a major federal bureaucracy, the Bureau of Reclamation, as well as a hundred state agencies, water districts, and private contractors to keep it plumbed and distributed. Taken altogether, this complex infrastructure of dams, pipelines, and reservoirs proved to be the most expensive and ambitious public works project in the nation's history, but it enabled the Southwest states and southern California to boom and bloom.

The downside is that we are now dangerously close to the limits of what the Colorado River can provide, even in the very best of weather scenarios, and the weather is being neither so friendly nor cooperative these days. If Portland soon becomes as warm as Los Angeles and Seattle as warm as Sacramento, as some forecasters now predict, expect Las Vegas and Phoenix to be more like Death Valley.

If the Colorado River shut down tomorrow, there might be two, at most three, years of stored water in its massive reservoirs to keep Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Las Vegas, and dozens of other cities that depend on it alive. That margin for survival gets thinner with each passing year and with each rise in the average temperature. Imagine a day in the not so distant future when the water finally runs out in one of those cities -- a kind of slow-motion Katrina in reverse, a city not flooded but parched, baked, blistered, and abandoned. If the Colorado River system failed to deliver, the impact on the nation's agriculture and economy would be comparable to an asteroid strike.

Too Much Too Soon, Then Too Little Too Late

Hot and dry is bad enough; chaotic weather only adds to our problems. As we practice it today, agriculture depends on cheap energy, a stable climate, and abundant water. Those last two are intimately mixed. Water has to be not just abundant, but predictable and reliable in its flow. And the words "predictable," "reliable," and "water" go together ever less comfortably in our neck of the woods.

Here's the problem. Despite the existence of the Colorado River's famous monster-dams like Hoover in Nevada and Glen Canyon in Utah and the mega-reservoirs -- Lake Mead and Lake Powell -- that gather behind them, we really count on the vast snowfields that store fresh water in our mountains to melt and trickle down to us slowly enough that our water lasts from the first spring runoff until the end of the fall growing season. Dust-covered snowpack, however, absorbs more heat, melts sooner, and often runs down into streams and rivers before our farmers can use it. In addition, as the temperature rises, spring storms that once brought storable snow are now more likely to come to us as rain, which only makes the situation worse.

This shift in the way our water reaches us is crucial in the West. Not only is snowpack shrinking as much as 25% in the Cascades of the Northwest and 15% in the snowfields of the Rocky Mountains, but it's arriving in the lowlands as much as a month earlier than usual. Farmers can't just tell their crops to adjust to the new pattern. Even California's rich food basket, the Central Valley, fed by one of the most complex and effective irrigation infrastructures in the country, is ultimately dependent on Sierra snowpack and predictable runoff.

We need a new term for what's happening -- perhaps "perturbulence" would describe the new helter-skelter weather pattern. In my Utah backyard, for example, this past May was unusually hot and unusually cold. At one point, we went from freezing to 80 degrees and back again in three short days. Not so long ago, seasonal changes came on here as if controlled by a dimmer switch, the shift from one season to the next being gradual. Now it's more like a toggle switch being abruptly shut on and off.

To add to the confusion, our summer monsoon season arrived six weeks early this year. A surprisingly wet spring seemed like good news amid the bigger picture of drought, but it turned out to mean that farmers had a hard time getting into their muddy fields to plant. Then when spring showers were so quickly followed by summer storms, some crops were actually suppressed, according to local gardeners and farmers.

The West at Your Doorstep?

Our soggy spring and summer, however, masked an epic drought that has touched almost every corner of the nation west of the Mississippi at one time or another over the past decade. Southern Texas right now is blazingly bone-dry. Seattle had a turn with record-breaking temperatures earlier this summer. In New Mexico, the drought has been less dramatic -- more like a steady drumbeat year after year.

A trip to the edge of Lake Powell in the canyon country of southern Utah in June revealed the bigger picture. A ten-story-high "bathtub ring" -- the band of white mineral deposits left behind on the reservoir's walls as the waterline dropped -- stretches the almost 200-mile length of the reservoir.

Recreational boat users, hoping against hope that the reservoir will refill, have regularly been issuing predictions about a return to "normal" levels, but it just hasn't happened. Side canyons, once submerged under 100 feet of water, have now been under the sun long enough to have turned into lush, mature habitats filled with willows and brush, birds and pack rats. A view from a cliff high above the once bustling, now ghostlike Hite Marina on the receding eastern side of Lake Powell shows the futility of chasing the retreating shoreline with cement: the water's edge and a much-extended boat-launching ramp now have 100 acres of dried mud, grass, and fresh shrubs between them.

After decades of frantic urban development and suburban sprawl across the states that draw water from the Colorado, demand has simply outstripped supply and it's only getting worse as the heat builds. Not surprisingly, a debate is building over what to do if there isn't enough water to fill both Lakes Powell and Mead, the principal reservoirs along the Colorado. Should the seven states that depend on the river live with two half-full reservoirs or a single full one, and if only one, which one? River managers have now realized that both massive "lakes" were always giant evaporation ponds in the middle of a desert and only more so as average temperatures climb. There is no sense in having twice as much water surface as necessary, which means twice as much evaporation, too.

Given the stakes, the debate over what to do if there isn't enough water is playing out like the preview to the all-out water war to come when the reality actually hits. Westerners are well aware that, as always, there will be winners and losers. The constituency for Lake Mead will no doubt prevail because of its proximity to Las Vegas and Phoenix, two cities that grew bloated on cheap but, as it has turned out, temporary water from the dammed Colorado. Already desperate to make up for their lost liquid, they will surely muster all their power and influence to keep the water flowing.

Las Vegas is now aiming to tap into an aquifer under the Snake Valley that straddles eastern Nevada and western Utah. Recently, a rancher friend who ekes out a precarious living there mentioned the obvious to me: the dusty surface of that arid high desert is barely held in place by a thin covering of brush, sage, and grass. Drop the water table even a few more inches and it all dies. The dust storms that would be generated by a future parched landscape like that might make it all the way to the Midwest or even farther. After decades in which Easterners ritualistically visited the American West, the West may be traveling east.

Those we pay to look ahead are now jockeying like mad for position in a future water-short West. A new era of ever more pipelines, wells, and dams is being dreamed up by the private contractors and bureaucrats swelling up like so many ticks on the construction and maintenance budgets of the West's heavily subsidized water-delivery infrastructure. It is unlikely, however, that their dreams will be fully realized. The low-hanging fruit -- the river canyons that could easily be dammed -- were picked decades ago and, unlike in the good ol' days when water simply ran towards money, citizens of our western states are now far more aware of the ecological costs of big dams and ever more awake to the unfolding consequences of dependence on unreliable water sources.

Making more water available never led to prudent use. Instead, cheap and easy water led to such foolishness as putting a golf course with expanses of irrigated green in every desert community, not to speak of rice and cotton farming in the Arizona desert.


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part two
« Reply #15 on: October 04, 2009, 08:15:55 AM »
Rip Your Strip

All of this is now changing. Fast. The airways across the Southwest are loaded these days with public service announcements urging us to conserve our water. "Rip your strip" may be a phrase unknown in much of the country, but everyone here knows exactly what it means: tear out the lawn between your front yard and the street and put in drought-resistant native plants instead.

Everyone is increasingly expected to do his or her part. In my little town of Torrey, Utah, we voluntarily ration our domestic water on weekends when the tourists are in town, taking long showers and spraying the dust and mud off their tires. Xeriscaping -- landscaping with drought-resistant native plants instead of thirsty grasses and ornamental shrubs -- is now fashionable as well as necessary, even required, in some western towns, a clear sign that at long last we get it. Yes, we live in a desert.

Unfortunately, it's unlikely that this sort of thing, useful as it is, will be nearly enough. Our challenge is only marginally to take shorter showers. After all, 80% of Utah's water goes into agriculture, mostly to grow alfalfa to feed beef cows raised by ranchers heavily subsidized by federal grants and tax write-offs. They graze their cows almost for free on public lands and have successfully resisted even modest increases in fees to cover the costs of maintaining the allotments they use.

Utah legislators passed a law last session that gives agriculture precedence when there's not enough water to go around. Consider that a clear signal that the agricultural interests in the state don't have any intention of changing their water-profligate ways without a fight.

Sure, everyone agrees that we have to change, but we in the West are fond of focusing blame on personal bad habits that waste water -- and they couldn't be more real -- rather than corporate habits that waste so much more. The fact is that we Westerners have never paid anything like what our water truly costs and we lack disincentives to waste water and incentives to conserve it. Behind all that fuss you hear from us about the damn government and how independent-minded we Westerners are, is a long history of massive dam and pipeline projects financed by the American taxpayer, featuring artificially low prices and not a few crony-run boondoggles. Call it welfare water.

The Ruins in Our Future

A visit this summer to the most famous ruins in the West, the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde National Park and hollowed out palaces at Chaco Culture National Historic Park, proved a striking, if grim, reminder that we weren't the first to pass this way -- or to face possibly civilization-challenging aridity problems. The pre-Colombian Anasazi culture flourished between 900 and 1150 A.D., culminating in a city in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, that until the nineteenth century contained the largest buildings in the Americas, now uncovered from centuries of drifting sands. Mesa Verde with its "skyscraper" cliffside dwellings, also flourished in the twelfth century and was similarly abandoned and forgotten for hundreds of years.

The mysteries of these deserted cities -- their purpose and the reasons they were abandoned -- may never be fully plumbed. This much is undeniable though, as one walks through cobbled plazas and toppled towers, and past sun-blasted walls: cities, dazzling in their day, arose suddenly in the desert, prospered, and then collapsed. Tree-ring data confirm that an epic drought, one lasting at least 50 years, coincided with their demise. Broken and battle-scarred bones unearthed in the charred ruins indicate that warfare followed drought. What the Anasazi experienced -- scarcity, the need to leave homes, and a struggle for whatever remained -- is getting easier to imagine in a water-short West. Only this time at stake will be Las Vegas and Phoenix.

Archaeologists at Chaco recently uncovered a sophisticated cistern system under the city. Anasazi builders, they now believe, learned how to harvest the runoff from the summer rains that poured down and spilled over the sandstone cliffs behind the ruins. Think of these as the Lake Meads and Powells of their time, capturing the torrential monsoon rains just as those reservoirs do the Colorado River's flash floods.

The cistern system provided temporary water security, but eventually it clearly proved inadequate. In the long run, Chaco couldn't be sustained because turbulent, unreliable flows of water are hard to tame. The descendants of those who left it behind settled the mesa-top villages of the Hopis in Arizona and of the Pueblo tribes of New Mexico. They learned to live on a smaller scale, with scant rain, and after many hundreds of years, they (unlike their once living and magnificent cities) remain. There is hope in that. It is no less possible now to understand limits, to practice precaution, and to build resilient communities.

Smoke Season

When it comes to the perturbed weather regime we are now entering, it's not just our agriculture and our sprawling cities that are having trouble adapting. The vitality of whole ecosystems is at stake. Native vegetation suffers, too. When critical moisture arrives before temperatures are warm enough for seeds to germinate, they don't. The native grasses on my land didn't thrive despite our cold, wet spring. Invasive cheat grass, however, blooms early, grows quickly, then dies and dries. It ignites easily and burns hot.

When higher temperatures evaporate the moisture in soils, they become drier in late summer and fall. Plants wither and are vulnerable to insect infestations. The vast expanse of mountain I can see out my window may seem like a classic alpine vista to the tourists who flock here every summer. A closer look, however, reveals expanding patches of gray and brown as beetle infestations kill off entire dried-out mountainsides. More than 2.5 million acres of Rocky Mountain woodlands have been destroyed by bark beetles so far. The once deep-green top of Grand Mesa in western Colorado is becoming a gray, grim dead zone, a ghostly forest waiting for lightning or some careless human to ignite it.

Dead forests, of course, are fuel for the dramatic, massive wildfires you now see so regularly on the TV news. We had quite a few of those wildfires this summer in Utah, but -- what with southern California burning -- they didn't make the evening news anywhere but here. That statement can be made all over the West. Both the frequency and size of fires are on the rise in our region. Early in the summer of 2008, while more than 2,000 separate wildfires raged across his state, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger made a point that many Western governors might soon be making. He claimed that California's fire season is now 365 days long. The infernos that licked the edges of the Los Angeles basin this August were at once catastrophic and routine.

Smoke is dust's inevitable twin in a West beset by climate chaos, and the lousy air quality we suffer when fires are raging is part of the new normal. A few years ago we could check the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website to see when winds might shift and bring relief. This summer, like last, there were so many fires and they were so widely distributed that it hardly mattered which way the wind blew: smoke was in our lungs and eyes one way or the other.

All of this adds up to a kind of habitat holocaust for wild species, from the tiniest micro-organisms in the soil to the largest mammals at the top of the food chain like elk and bears. Nobody makes it in a dead zone, whether it's a dust bowl or a desiccated forest.

Changes start at the bottom, as is usually true in ecosystems. When soil dries and the microbial dynamic changes, native plants either die or move uphill towards cooler temperatures and more moisture. The creatures that depend on their seeds, nuts, leaves, shade, and shelter follow the plants -- if they can. Animals normally adapt to slow change, but an avalanche of challenges is another matter. When species begin living at the precarious edge of their ability to tolerate the stress of it all, you have to expect wildlife populations to shift and dwindle. Then invasive species move in and a far different and diminished landscape emerges.

Human populations in the West will also shift and dwindle, with jarring consequences for all of America, if we do not learn quickly that watersheds have limits, especially within arid and unpredictable climates. The land also needs water. And such problems aren't just "Western." Dust storms and smoke won't just stay here.

There are, of course, enlightened and engaged citizens who are doing their best to address the growing challenge of a heated-up, chaotic climate. Conservation groups like the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance are working hard to protect critical habitat for stressed species and urging government land management agencies to include global warming in their plans and projections. The Glen Canyon Institute has raised the specter of a diminished Colorado River and is challenging water managers to get innovative and adopt policies that reward water conservation and punish waste. Across the West, people are waking up and learning about their own watersheds -- where their water comes from and where it goes. This, too, is hopeful. Time, unfortunately, is not on their side.

So, come see the beautiful West, our shining mountains, blue skies, and fabled canyons. It's all still here right now. Take pictures. Enjoy. But hurry...

Chip Ward told of his adventures as a grassroots organizer of campaigns to make polluters accountable in Canaries on the Rim: Living Downwind in the West. In Hope's Horizon: Three Visions for Healing the American Land, he described the visionary conservation projects that are the focus of his current activism. He is a regular and a former library administrator who now lives next to Capitol Reef National Park. His on-line essays are collected at his website.

Copyright 2009 Chip Ward


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« Reply #16 on: November 23, 2009, 04:35:14 AM »
It was drizzling lightly in late October when the midnight shift started at the Owls Head Water Pollution Control Plant, where much of Brooklyn’s sewage is treated.

A few miles away, people were walking home without umbrellas from late dinners. But at Owls Head, a swimming pool’s worth of sewage and wastewater was soon rushing in every second. Warning horns began to blare. A little after 1 a.m., with a harder rain falling, Owls Head reached its capacity and workers started shutting the intake gates.

That caused a rising tide throughout Brooklyn’s sewers, and untreated feces and industrial waste started spilling from emergency relief valves into the Upper New York Bay and Gowanus Canal.

“It happens anytime you get a hard rainfall,” said Bob Connaughton, one the plant’s engineers. “Sometimes all it takes is 20 minutes of rain, and you’ve got overflows across Brooklyn.”

One goal of the Clean Water Act of 1972 was to upgrade the nation’s sewer systems, many of them built more than a century ago, to handle growing populations and increasing runoff of rainwater and waste. During the 1970s and 1980s, Congress distributed more than $60 billion to cities to make sure that what goes into toilets, industrial drains and street grates would not endanger human health.

But despite those upgrades, many sewer systems are still frequently overwhelmed, according to a New York Times analysis of environmental data. As a result, sewage is spilling into waterways.

In the last three years alone, more than 9,400 of the nation’s 25,000 sewage systems — including those in major cities — have reported violating the law by dumping untreated or partly treated human waste, chemicals and other hazardous materials into rivers and lakes and elsewhere, according to data from state environmental agencies and the Environmental Protection Agency.

But fewer than one in five sewage systems that broke the law were ever fined or otherwise sanctioned by state or federal regulators, the Times analysis shows.

It is not clear whether the sewage systems that have not reported such dumping are doing any better, because data on overflows and spillage are often incomplete.

As cities have grown rapidly across the nation, many have neglected infrastructure projects and paved over green spaces that once absorbed rainwater. That has contributed to sewage backups into more than 400,000 basements and spills into thousands of streets, according to data collected by state and federal officials. Sometimes, waste has overflowed just upstream from drinking water intake points or near public beaches.

There is no national record-keeping of how many illnesses are caused by sewage spills. But academic research suggests that as many as 20 million people each year become ill from drinking water containing bacteria and other pathogens that are often spread by untreated waste.

A 2007 study published in the journal Pediatrics, focusing on one Milwaukee hospital, indicated that the number of children suffering from serious diarrhea rose whenever local sewers overflowed. Another study, published in 2008 in the Archives of Environmental and Occupational Health, estimated that as many as four million people become sick each year in California from swimming in waters containing the kind of pollution often linked to untreated sewage.

Around New York City, samples collected at dozens of beaches or piers have detected the types of bacteria and other pollutants tied to sewage overflows. Though the city’s drinking water comes from upstate reservoirs, environmentalists say untreated excrement and other waste in the city’s waterways pose serious health risks.

A Deluge of Sewage

“After the storm, the sewage flowed down the street faster than we could move out of the way and filled my house with over a foot of muck,” said Laura Serrano, whose Bay Shore, N.Y., home was damaged in 2005 by a sewer overflow.

Ms. Serrano, who says she contracted viral meningitis because of exposure to the sewage, has filed suit against Suffolk County, which operates the sewer system. The county’s lawyer disputes responsibility for the damage and injuries.

“I had to move out, and no one will buy my house because the sewage was absorbed into the walls,” Ms. Serrano said. “I can still smell it sometimes.”

When a sewage system overflows or a treatment plant dumps untreated waste, it is often breaking the law. Today, sewage systems are the nation’s most frequent violators of the Clean Water Act. More than a third of all sewer systems — including those in San Diego, Houston, Phoenix, San Antonio, Philadelphia, San Jose and San Francisco — have violated environmental laws since 2006, according to a Times analysis of E.P.A. data.

Thousands of other sewage systems operated by smaller cities, colleges, mobile home parks and companies have also broken the law. But few of the violators are ever punished.


The E.P.A., in a statement, said that officials agreed that overflows posed a “significant environmental and human health problem, and significantly reducing or eliminating such overflows has been a priority for E.P.A. enforcement since the mid-1990s.”

In the last year, E.P.A. settlements with sewer systems in Hampton Roads, Va., and the east San Francisco Bay have led to more than $200 million spent on new systems to reduce pollution, the agency said. In October, the E.P.A. administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, said she was overhauling how the Clean Water Act is enforced.
But widespread problems still remain.

“The E.P.A. would rather look the other way than crack down on cities, since punishing municipalities can cause political problems,” said Craig Michaels of Riverkeeper, an environmental advocacy group. “But without enforcement and fines, this problem will never end.”

Plant operators and regulators, for their part, say that fines would simply divert money from stretched budgets and that they are doing the best they can with aging systems and overwhelmed pipes.

New York, for example, was one of the first major cities to build a large sewer system, starting construction in 1849. Many of those pipes — constructed of hand-laid brick and ceramic tiles — are still used. Today, the city’s 7,400 miles of sewer pipes operate almost entirely by gravity, unlike in other cities that use large pumps.

New York City’s 14 wastewater treatment plants, which handle 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater a day, have been flooded with thousands of pickles (after a factory dumped its stock), vast flows of discarded chicken heads and large pieces of lumber.

When a toilet flushes in the West Village in Manhattan, the waste runs north six miles through gradually descending pipes to a plant at 137th Street, where it is mixed with so-called biological digesters that consume dangerous pathogens. The wastewater is then mixed with chlorine and sent into the Hudson River.

Fragile System

But New York’s system — like those in hundreds of others cities — combines rainwater runoff with sewage. Over the last three decades, as thousands of acres of trees, bushes and other vegetation in New York have been paved over, the land’s ability to absorb rain has declined significantly. When treatment plants are swamped, the excess spills from 490 overflow pipes throughout the city’s five boroughs.

When the sky is clear, Owls Head can handle the sewage from more than 750,000 people. But the balance is so delicate that Mr. Connaughton and his colleagues must be constantly ready for rain.

They choose cable television packages for their homes based on which company offers the best local weather forecasts. They know meteorologists by the sound of their voices. When the leaves begin to fall each autumn, clogging sewer grates and pipes, Mr. Connaughton sometimes has trouble sleeping.

“I went to Hawaii with my wife, and the whole time I was flipping to the Weather Channel, seeing if it was raining in New York,” he said.

New York’s sewage system overflows essentially every other time it rains.

Reducing such overflows is a priority, city officials say. But eradicating the problem would cost billions.

Officials have spent approximately $35 billion over three decades improving the quality of the waters surrounding the city and have improved systems to capture and store rainwater and sewage, bringing down the frequency and volume of overflows, the city’s Department of Environmental Protection wrote in a statement.

“Water quality in New York City has improved dramatically in the last century, and particularly in the last two decades,” officials wrote.

Several years ago, city officials estimated that it would cost at least $58 billion to prevent all overflows. “Even an expenditure of that magnitude would not result in every part of a river or bay surrounding the city achieving water quality that is suitable for swimming,” the department wrote. “It would, however, increase the average N.Y.C. water and sewer bill by 80 percent.”

The E.P.A., concerned about the risks of overflowing sewers, issued a national framework in 1994 to control overflows, including making sure that pipes are designed so they do not easily become plugged by debris and warning the public when overflows occur. In 2000, Congress amended the Clean Water Act to crack down on overflows.


Page 3 of 3)

But in hundreds of places, sewer systems remain out of compliance with that framework or the Clean Water Act, which regulates most pollution discharges to waterways. And the burdens on sewer systems are growing as cities become larger and, in some areas, rainstorms become more frequent and fierce.

New York’s system, for instance, was designed to accommodate a so-called five-year storm — a rainfall so extreme that it is expected to occur, on average, only twice a decade. But in 2007 alone, the city experienced three 25-year storms, according to city officials — storms so strong they would be expected only four times each century.

“When you get five inches of rain in 30 minutes, it’s like Thanksgiving Day traffic on a two-lane bridge in the sewer pipes,” said James Roberts, deputy commissioner of the city’s Department of Environmental Protection.

Government’s Response

To combat these shifts, some cities are encouraging sewer-friendly development. New York, for instance, has instituted zoning laws requiring new parking lots to include landscaped areas to absorb rainwater, established a tax credit for roofs with absorbent vegetation and begun to use millions of dollars for environmentally friendly infrastructure projects.

Philadelphia has announced it will spend $1.6 billion over 20 years to build rain gardens and sidewalks of porous pavement and to plant thousands of trees.

But unless cities require private developers to build in ways that minimize runoff, the volume of rain flowing into sewers is likely to grow, environmentalists say.

The only real solution, say many lawmakers and water advocates, is extensive new spending on sewer systems largely ignored for decades. As much as $400 billion in extra spending is needed over the next decade to fix the nation’s sewer infrastructure, according to estimates by the E.P.A. and the Government Accountability Office.

Legislation under consideration on Capitol Hill contains millions in water infrastructure grants, and the stimulus bill passed this year set aside $6 billion to improve sewers and other water systems.

But that money is only a small fraction of what is needed, officials say. And over the last two decades, federal money for such programs has fallen by 70 percent, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which estimates that a quarter of the state’s sewage and wastewater treatment plants are “using outmoded, inadequate technology.”

“The public has no clue how important these sewage plants are,” said Mr. Connaughton of the Brooklyn site. “Waterborne disease was the scourge of mankind for centuries. These plants stopped that. We’re doing everything we can to clean as much sewage as possible, but sometimes, that isn’t enough.”


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NYT: Millions drink contaminated water
« Reply #17 on: December 09, 2009, 04:54:45 AM »
Millions in U.S. Drink Dirty Water, Records Show

Published: December 7, 2009
More than 20 percent of the nation’s water treatment systems have violated key provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act over the last five years, according to a New York Times analysis of federal data.

The water system in Ramsey, N.J., has illegal concentrations of arsenic and the solvent tetrachloroethylene, both linked to cancer.

That law requires communities to deliver safe tap water to local residents. But since 2004, the water provided to more than 49 million people has contained illegal concentrations of chemicals like arsenic or radioactive substances like uranium, as well as dangerous bacteria often found in sewage.

Regulators were informed of each of those violations as they occurred. But regulatory records show that fewer than 6 percent of the water systems that broke the law were ever fined or punished by state or federal officials, including those at the Environmental Protection Agency, which has ultimate responsibility for enforcing standards.

Studies indicate that drinking water contaminants are linked to millions of instances of illness within the United States each year.

In some instances, drinking water violations were one-time events, and probably posed little risk. But for hundreds of other systems, illegal contamination persisted for years, records show.

On Tuesday, the Senate Environment and Public Works committee will question a high-ranking E.P.A. official about the agency’s enforcement of drinking-water safety laws. The E.P.A. is expected to announce a new policy for how it polices the nation’s 54,700 water systems.

“This administration has made it clear that clean water is a top priority,” said an E.P.A. spokeswoman, Adora Andy, in response to questions regarding the agency’s drinking water enforcement. The E.P.A. administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, this year announced a wide-ranging overhaul of enforcement of the Clean Water Act, which regulates pollution into waterways.

“The previous eight years provide a perfect example of what happens when political leadership fails to act to protect our health and the environment,” Ms. Andy added.

Water pollution has become a growing concern for some lawmakers as government oversight of polluters has waned. Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, in 2007 asked the E.P.A. for data on Americans’ exposure to some contaminants in drinking water.

The New York Times has compiled and analyzed millions of records from water systems and regulators around the nation, as part of a series of articles about worsening pollution in American waters, and regulators’ response.

An analysis of E.P.A. data shows that Safe Drinking Water Act violations have occurred in parts of every state. In the prosperous town of Ramsey, N.J., for instance, drinking water tests since 2004 have detected illegal concentrations of arsenic, a carcinogen, and the dry cleaning solvent tetrachloroethylene, which has also been linked to cancer.

In New York state, 205 water systems have broken the law by delivering tap water that contained illegal amounts of bacteria since 2004.

However, almost none of those systems were ever punished. Ramsey was not fined for its water violations, for example, though a Ramsey official said that filtration systems have been installed since then. In New York, only three water systems were penalized for bacteria violations, according to federal data.

The problem, say current and former government officials, is that enforcing the Safe Drinking Water Act has not been a federal priority.

“There is significant reluctance within the E.P.A. and Justice Department to bring actions against municipalities, because there’s a view that they are often cash-strapped, and fines would ultimately be paid by local taxpayers,” said David Uhlmann, who headed the environmental crimes division at the Justice Department until 2007.

“But some systems won’t come into compliance unless they are forced to,” added Mr. Uhlmann, who now teaches at the University of Michigan law school. “And sometimes a court order is the only way to get local governments to spend what is needed.”

A half-dozen current and former E.P.A. officials said in interviews that they tried to prod the agency to enforce the drinking-water law, but found little support.

“I proposed drinking water cases, but they got shut down so fast that I’ve pretty much stopped even looking at the violations,” said one longtime E.P.A. enforcement official who, like others, requested anonymity for fear of reprisals. “The top people want big headlines and million-dollar settlements. That’s not drinking-water cases.”

The majority of drinking water violations since 2004 have occurred at water systems serving fewer than 20,000 residents, where resources and managerial expertise are often in short supply.

It is unclear precisely how many American illnesses are linked to contaminated drinking water. Many of the most dangerous contaminants regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act have been tied to diseases like cancer that can take years to develop.


Millions in U.S. Drink Dirty Water, Records Show

Published: December 7, 2009
(Page 2 of 2)

But scientific research indicates that as many as 19 million Americans may become ill each year due to just the parasites, viruses and bacteria in drinking water. Certain types of cancer — such as breast and prostate cancer — have risen over the past 30 years, and research indicates they are likely tied to pollutants like those found in drinking water.

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Times Topics: Water Pollution
Series: Toxic Waters »
 Takeaway With Charles Duhigg
A blog about energy, the environment and the bottom line.

The violations counted by the Times analysis include only situations where residents were exposed to dangerous contaminants, and exclude violations that involved paperwork or other minor problems.
In response to inquiries submitted by Senator Boxer, the E.P.A. has reported that more than three million Americans have been exposed since 2005 to drinking water with illegal concentrations of arsenic and radioactive elements, both of which have been linked to cancer at small doses.

In some areas, the amount of radium detected in drinking water was 2,000 percent higher than the legal limit, according to E.P.A. data.

But federal regulators fined or punished fewer than 8 percent of water systems that violated the arsenic and radioactive standards. The E.P.A., in a statement, said that in a majority of situations, state regulators used informal methods — like providing technical assistance — to help systems that had violated the rules.

But many systems remained out of compliance, even after aid was offered, according to E.P.A. data. And for over a quarter of systems that violated the arsenic or radioactivity standards, there is no record that they were ever contacted by a regulator, even after they sent in paperwork revealing their violations.

Those figures are particularly worrisome, say researchers, because the Safe Drinking Water Act’s limits on arsenic are so weak to begin with. A system could deliver tap water that puts residents at a 1-in-600 risk of developing bladder cancer from arsenic, and still comply with the law.

Despite the expected announcement of reforms, some mid-level E.P.A. regulators say they are skeptical that any change will occur.

“The same people who told us to ignore Safe Drinking Water Act violations are still running the divisions,” said one mid-level E.P.A. official. “There’s no accountability, and so nothing’s going to change.”


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CA issues
« Reply #18 on: April 11, 2010, 04:20:34 PM »

FRESNO, Calif. – They grew their fortune in the California sun, turning pedestrian fruits and nuts into a vast and varied empire that secured their place in Hollywood.

Stewart and Lynda Resnick's flashy bottles of Fiji Water and POM Wonderful are now coveted across the globe. Their donations keep the lights on in art museums across the country. And Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Arianna Huffington count them among their dearest friends.

But as their marketshare rises worldwide, one of the billionaires' competitors is fighting back, accusing the Western power couple of profiting at the public's expense, court records and interviews show.

Now, as drought-stricken California weighs whether to give private companies more control in managing its scarce water supplies, a new lawsuit claiming the Resnicks violated utilities law by making money from a vast, taxpayer-funded underground reservoir is causing a stir in the state Capitol.

"Water is a public resource, owned by the people," said Democratic Assemblyman Jared Huffman of San Rafael. "We shouldn't be giving away public funds to private sector interests, let alone choosing winners and losers in the business world."

The Resnicks, who live in a Beverly Hills mansion and have a second home in Aspen, Colo., are among the nation's largest corporate farmers and are generous philanthropists and political donors, giving $536,000 to Democratic and Republican California governors in the last decade.

The Los Angeles Business Journal estimates the couple's empire is worth $1.5 billion. It includes about 120,000 acres in California's Central Valley — where they say they own more fresh citrus, almond and pistachio trees than anyone else in the country — and a facility akin to the Fort Knox of water.

That kind of success, Lynda Resnick said in a telephone interview, can inspire jealousy, and likely motivated this most recent "nuisance" lawsuit. Her husband declined to be interviewed.

After growing up working class in Highland Park, N.J., Stewart Resnick started a business waxing floors while in law school at the University of California, Los Angeles. The couple bought farmland in the 1980s as a hedge against inflation, gaining access to water contracts attached to those parcels.

As drought has hammered the region, leading farmers to abandon their dry fields, the Resnicks' 48 percent stake in the Kern Water Bank, an underground pool that stores billions of gallons of freshwater, has become increasingly valuable.

Court records show that in early 2007, the Resnicks' companies' combined water holdings reached 755,868 acre feet — more than twice the size of San Francisco's Hetch Hetchy reservoir. In 2007, that volume would have qualified as California's 11th largest reservoir, but the firms' water holdings have diminished significantly since, company officials said.

That cache provided enough to nourish the Resnicks' orchards, but it also offered another benefit. From 2000 to 2007, records show the state paid the Resnicks an additional $30.6 million for water previously stored there as part of a program to protect fish native to the ecologically fragile Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Lynda Resnick's marketing savvy helped build cachet around her otherwise obscure brands, such as POM Wonderful pomegranate juice, Cuties mandarins and Teleflora floral bouquets.

Revered among advertisers as the "Pom Queen," she has hired medical scientists to bear out health claims that their fruits and nuts help fight disease and extend life expectancy. Last year, following a nationwide recall of pistachios over salmonella fears, she hired Levi Johnston, the teen father of Sarah Palin's grandson, to promote the snack nuts. The domestic business grew by 40 percent over the last crop year.

"We've done more for the pistachio than anyone ever since it was planted in the Garden of Eden," she said in the phone interview. "My husband should be canonized for all the work he's done."

Others in agribusiness see it differently.

Ali Amin, a Persian immigrant who owns a competing processing plant, filed a lawsuit in late March in Fresno County Superior Court claiming the Resnicks violated California public utilities laws because they turned a profit by selling water to farmers who weren't members of their Bakersfield-based water company, Westside Mutual Water Co.

"You feel like David fighting Goliath," Amin said. "If they're allowed to keep doing this, the rest of the independents and small growers won't be able to compete."

Amin's lawsuit alleges he lost $5.5 million in revenue when growers lured by water supplies sold their nuts to the Resnicks' plant, which processes almost two-thirds of the nation's pistachios. Amin controls about 5 percent of the market.

Resnick and other water users in agricultural Kern County gained control of the Kern bank — the largest underground water storage facility in the nation — in the mid 1990s, following a round of negotiations with the state Department of Water Resources. Their position was that the state had shorted rural areas in allotting water in a previous drought.

To avoid potential litigation from unhappy water users, state officials ceded ownership of the Kern Water Bank — developed with $74 million from the department and $23 million in taxpayer-approved bonds — to a local water agency. In return, water users gave back 45,000 acre feet from the amount they contracted to receive each year.

The deal was a pivotal moment in the rise of the Resnicks' business interests. Ownership of the bank ultimately was transferred to a joint powers authority including the local water agency, the Resnicks' Westside Mutual Water Co. and four water districts.

Westside distributes water stored there to its members, the operations that grow Resnick's fruits and nuts, according to court records.

To prevent price-gouging, the California Public Utilities Commission requires most mutual water companies to register as public utilities and subject their rates to state regulation if they sell water to nonmembers for profit. There are some exceptions, such as a "water emergency," but the PUC rules require those sales to nonmembers to be at cost.

PUC staff attorney Fred Harris said Westside had not registered with the PUC. If the company skirted the law, by selling water to nonmembers at a profit — as the Amin suit alleges — Harris said Westside could be required to register and set up rates with the commission.

Assemblyman Huffman and Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, said those allegations in the Amin lawsuit touch on a broader debate about whether companies should be able to profit from taxpayer-funded waterworks amid a drought.

An $11.1 billion water bond signed last year by Schwarzenegger would allow private companies to partially own, operate and profit from dams, reservoirs and water banks built with billions in public funds. It won't become law unless voters approve it on the November ballot, and it's unclear how the bond proposal would interact with current laws on public-private partnerships.

"I don't think anyone wants to see this become a gift of public funds to private corporations," said Huffman, who is considering introducing a bond amendment to remove or clarify the language.

Bill Phillimore, who directs Resnick's water company, said the company has managed scarce water supplies responsibly, and he and his bosses have spent "a considerable amount of time to make sure we get value out of the last drop."

Rob Six, a spokesman for the couple's private holding company, Roll International Corp., said the Amin suit was "frivolous," and said the company would seek sanctions against Amin's processing business.

Both sides claim victory in a previous suit in which many of the same claims were raised. A jury awarded Amin $3.46 million late last month after deciding a pistachio grower who had supplied his plant breached his contract by later sending his nuts to the Resnicks. A Fresno County Superior Court judge granted the Resnicks' request to be dismissed from the suit.

After Amin's first suit was filed, two of Resnick's companies filed a federal suit in Los Angeles against Amin, his processing plant and his agricultural consultant, alleging Amin's plant engaged in false advertising that Resnick's companies to suffer up to $15 million in damages.

"There are very jealous people out there," Lynda Resnick said. "But we usually win because we have such good in-house counsel."

The Resnicks, who have had legal tangles with everyone from Tiger Woods to the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, have a good track record at winning.

Their suit to kill the California Pistachio Commission, a board farmers paid to do generic marketing for the snack nut, proved so expensive that after spending more than $2 million in legal fees, farmers gave up and voted to disband the commission three years ago.

"Here you had one man who had the money and thought he knew what was best, and didn't want to take part in a democratic organization," said Brian Blackwell, president of the Western Pistachio Association, which now represents smaller growers. "Whatever he's doing, he's going to try to run the show."


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POTH: Desalinization in Australia
« Reply #19 on: July 11, 2010, 05:26:01 AM »
It is POTH (the NY Times) some some wooly-headedness is to be expected.

BRISBANE, Australia — In Australia, the world’s driest inhabited continent, early British explorers searching for a source of drinking water scoured the bone-dry interior for a fabled inland sea. One overeager believer even carted a whaleboat hundreds of miles from the coast, but found mostly desert inside. Today, Australians are turning in the opposite direction: the sea.

In one of the country’s biggest infrastructure projects in its history, Australia’s five largest cities are spending $13.2 billion on desalination plants capable of sucking millions of gallons of seawater from the surrounding oceans every day, removing the salt and yielding potable water. In two years, when the last plant is scheduled to be up and running, Australia’s major cities will draw up to 30 percent of their water from the sea.

The country is still recovering from its worst drought ever, a decade-long parching that the government says was deepened by climate change. With water shortages looming, other countries, including the United States and China, are also looking to the sea.

“We consider ourselves the canary in the coal mine for climate change-induced changes to water supply systems,” said Ross Young, executive director of the Water Services Association of Australia, an umbrella group of the country’s urban water utilities. He described the $13.2 billion as “the cost of adapting to climate change.”

But desalination is also drawing fierce criticism and civic protests. Many homeowners, angry about rising water bills, and environmentalists, wary of the plants’ effect on the climate, call the projects energy-hungry white elephants. Stricter conservation measures, like mandating more efficient washing machines, would easily wring more water from existing supplies, critics say.

Desalination has also helped dampen the enthusiasm for a “big Australia,” the previous, immigration-friendly government’s projection that the country’s population will rise to 36 million in 2050, from 22 million now.

“Big waste of money,” said Helen Meyer, 65, a retired midwife in Tugun, the town where the northeastern state of Queensland opened a $1 billion desalination plant last year. “It cost a lot of money to build, and it uses a lot of power. Australia is a dry country. I think we just have enough water for 22 million people. What are we going to do when we’re up to 36 million?”

The plant, sprawling across 15 acres next to an airport and near residential neighborhoods, provides water to Brisbane, the capital of Queensland, and other areas of southeastern Queensland, the nation’s fastest-growing region. Despite technical problems that temporarily shut down the plant recently, it has been supplying 6 percent of the region’s water needs and has the capacity to deliver 20 percent, said Barry Dennien, chief executive of the SEQ Water Grid Manager, the utility that oversees this region’s water supply.

The drought in this region lasted from 2000 to 2009, as the reservoir behind the largest dam, Wivenhoe, dropped to only 16 percent of capacity at one point. (On a recent visit, it was at 98 percent.) While it took the state authorities until 2005 to grasp the magnitude of the crisis, Mr. Dennien said, they moved quickly after that.

Besides restricting water use and subsidizing the purchase of home water tanks to capture rainwater, the state spent nearly $8 billion to create the country’s most sophisticated water supply network. It fashioned dams and a web of pipelines to connect 18 independent water utilities in a single grid. To “drought proof” the region, it built facilities for manufacturing water, by recycling wastewater, to use for industrial purposes, and by desalinating seawater. Production of desalinated water can be adjusted according to rain levels.

“When the last of the assets were coming online, it rained, as it always does,” Mr. Dennien said, adding that the region now has enough water for the next 20 years.

“We’ve got a method of operating the grid that the next time any sign of drought occurs, we can just,” he snapped his fingers, “build something else or turn something else on, and we’ve got enough water supply.”

Other cities are making the same bet. Perth, which opened the nation’s first desalination plant in 2006, is building a second one. Sydney’s plant started operating early this year, and plants near Melbourne and Adelaide are under construction.

Until a few years ago, most of the world’s large-scale desalination plants were in the Middle East, particularly in Saudi Arabia, though water scarcity is changing that. In the United States, where only one major plant is running, in Tampa Bay, officials are moving forward on proposed facilities in California and Texas, said Tom Pankratz, a director of the International Desalination Association, based in Topsfield, Mass. China, which recently opened its biggest desalination plant, in Tianjin, could eventually overtake Saudi Arabia as the world leader, he said.

Many environmentalists and economists oppose any further expansion of desalination because of its price and contribution to global warming. The power needed to remove the salt from seawater accounts for up to 50 percent of the cost of desalination, and Australia relies on coal, a major emitter of greenhouse gases, to generate most of its electricity.

Critics say desalination will add to the very climate change that is aggravating the country’s water shortage. To make desalination politically palatable, Australia’s plants are using power from newly built wind farms or higher-priced energy classified as clean. For households in cities with the new plants, water bills are expected to double over the next four years, according to the Water Services Association.

But critics say there are cheaper alternatives. They advocate conservation measures, as well as better management of groundwater reserves and water catchments. “Almost every city which has implemented a desalination plant has nowhere near maxed out or used up their conservation potential,” said Stuart White, director of the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology, Sydney. Even without restrictions, cities could easily save 20 percent of their water, Mr. White said.

He said cities should practice “desalination readiness” by drawing plans to build a plant, but should carry them out only as a last resort in the event of a severe drought.

Mr. Young of the Water Services Association said desalination in Australia costs $1.75 to $2 per cubic meter, including the costs of construction, clean energy and production. The prices are probably the world’s highest, said Mr. Pankratz of the International Desalination Association, adding that desalination was cheaper in countries with less strict environmental standards. He said the cost at a typical new plant in the world today would be about $1 per cubic meter.

Opponents of desalination say that a cheaper and environmentally friendlier alternative is recycling wastewater, though persuading people to drink it remains difficult and politically delicate. The SEQ Water Grid Manager, for instance, retreated from its initial plan to introduce recycled wastewater into its drinking reservoirs after it began raining.

“There’s a stigma against recycled water,” said David Mason, 40, a resident of Tugun.

“But since there’s only so much water in the world, and it’s been through somebody’s body or some other place over the past 250 million years, maybe it’s not that bad. At least, it might be better than desalination.”


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POTH: Hydrofracking for Natural Gas a threat to water
« Reply #22 on: February 27, 2011, 07:20:14 AM »

A long piece, seems serious, but its POTH so caveat lector.


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POTH: Water Depletion
« Reply #23 on: May 31, 2011, 04:34:29 AM »

Ann Johansson for The New York Times
MONITOR Jay S. Famiglietti of the University of California Center for Hydrologic Modeling found that from October 2003 to March 2010, aquifers under the state's Central Valley were drawn down by 25 million acre-feet.


They found problems in places as disparate as North Africa, northern India, northeastern China and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley in California, heartland of that state’s $30 billion agricultural industry.

Jay S. Famiglietti, director of the University of California’s Center for Hydrologic Modeling here, said the center’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, known as Grace, relies on the interplay of two nine-year-old twin satellites that monitor each other while orbiting the Earth, thereby producing some of the most precise data ever on the planet’s gravitational variations. The results are redefining the field of hydrology, which itself has grown more critical as climate change and population growth draw down the world’s fresh water supplies.

Grace sees “all of the change in ice, all of the change in snow and water storage, all of the surface water, all of the soil moisture, all of the groundwater,” Dr. Famiglietti explained.

Yet even as the data signal looming shortages, policy makers have been relatively wary of embracing the findings. California water managers, for example, have been somewhat skeptical of a recent finding by Dr. Famiglietti that from October 2003 to March 2010, aquifers under the state’s Central Valley were drawn down by 25 million acre-feet — almost enough to fill Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir.

Greg Zlotnick, a board member of the Association of California Water Agencies, said that the managers feared that the data could be marshaled to someone else’s advantage in California’s tug of war over scarce water supplies.

“There’s a lot of paranoia about policy wonks saying, ‘We’ve got to regulate the heck out of you,’ ” he said.

There are other sensitivities in arid regions around the world where groundwater basins are often shared by unfriendly neighbors — India and Pakistan, Tunisia and Libya or Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian territories — that are prone to suspecting one another of excessive use of this shared resource.

Water politics was hardly on Dr. Famiglietti’s mind when he first heard about Grace. In 1992, applying for a job at the University of Texas, he was interviewed by Clark R. Wilson, a geophysicist there who described a planned experiment to measure variations in Earth’s gravitational field.

“I walked into his office and he pulled out a piece of paper saying: I’m trying to figure out how distribution of water makes the Earth wobble,” said Dr. Famiglietti. “This was 1992. I was blown away. I instantly fell in love with the guy. I said, ‘This is unbelievable, this is amazing, it opens up this whole area.’ ”

Back then the Grace experiment was still waiting in a queue of NASA projects. But he and Matt Rodell, a Ph.D. candidate under his supervision, threw themselves into investigating whether Grace would work, a so-called “proof of concept” exercise which turned out to show that Grace data were reliable and could support groundwater studies.

“It was a wide-open field we came into,” said Dr. Rodell, now a researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “We were like kids in a candy store. There was so much to be done.”

When Grace was conceived by a group of scientists led by Byron D. Tapley, the director of the Center for Space Research at the University of Texas, it was the darling of geodesists, who study variations in the Earth’s size, shape and rotational axis. Climate scientists also were keenly interested in using it to study melting of ice sheets, but hydrologists paid scant attention at first.

But, Dr. Wilson recalled, “Jay jumped on the problem.”

Ten years later, the two satellites were launched from the Russian space facility at Plesetsk on the back of a used intercontinental ballistic missile in a collaboration between NASA and the German Aerospace Center and began streaming the gravity data back to Earth.

Acquiring the data for general research purposes would have been impossible before the end of the cold war because maps indicating the normal wiggles in Earth’s gravitational field were used for targeting long-range missiles and were therefore classified.

For decades, groundwater measurements in the United States had been made from points on the Earth’s surface — by taking real-time soundings at 1,383 of the United States Geological Survey’s observation wells and daily readings at 5,908 others. Those readings are supplemented by measuring water levels in hundreds of thousands of other wells, trenches and excavations.

The two satellites, each the size of a small car, travel in polar orbits about 135 miles apart. Each bombards the other with microwaves calibrating the distance between them down to intervals of less than the width of a human hair.

If the mass below the path of the leading satellite increases — because, say, the lower Mississippi basin is waterlogged — that satellite speeds up, and the distance between the two grows. Then the mass tugs on both, and the distance shortens. It increases again as the forward satellite moves out of range while the trailing satellite is held back.


The measurements of the distance between the craft translate to a measurement of surface mass in any given region. The data is beautifully simple, Dr. Famiglietti said. From one moment to the next, “it gives you just one number,” he said. “It’s like getting on a scale.”

Separating groundwater from other kinds of moisture affecting gravity requires a little calculation and the inclusion of information on precipitation and surface runoff obtained from surface studies or computer models.
Grace data, like the information in a corresponding visual image, has its limits. Gravitational data gets sparser as the area examined gets smaller, and in areas smaller than 75,000 square miles it gets more difficult to reach conclusions about groundwater supplies. Most aquifers are far smaller than that — California’s 22,000-square-mile Central Valley overlies several different groundwater basins, for example.

Dr. Famiglietti was able to calculate the overall drawdown of groundwater and to indicate that the problem was most severe in the southern region around the city of Tulare, for example, but the data was far too sparse to make statements about, say, the Kings River Water Conservation District, which measures about 1,875 square miles.

Grace “gives a large picture,” said Felix Landerer, a hydrologist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, whereas a water manager has a couple of wells to monitor in a given district. “It’s difficult and not intuitive and not straightforward to bring these things together.”

In other areas of the world, like northern India, the novelty of the gravitational measurements — and perhaps the story they tell — has led to pushback, scientists say.

“It is odd, if you’re a hydrologist, especially a traditional hydrologist, to imagine a satellite up in the air that determines groundwater” supply levels, said John Wahr, a geophysicist at the University of Colorado.

Like Dr. Famiglietti and Dr. Rodell, Dr. Wahr and his colleague Sean Swenson faced opposition for a study on aquifer depletion in northern India. As Dr. Swenson explained, “When in a place like India you say, ‘We’re doing something that is unsustainable and needs to change,’ well, people resist change. Change is expensive.”

While Dr. Famiglietti says he wants no part of water politics, he acknowledged that this might be hard to avoid, given that his role is to make sure the best data about groundwater is available, harvesting and disseminating all of the information he can about the Earth’s water supply as aquifers dry up and shortages loom.

“Look, water has been a resource that has been plentiful,” he said. “But now we’ve got climate change, we’ve got population growth, we’ve got widespread groundwater contamination, we’ve got satellites showing us we are depleting some of this stuff.

“I think we’ve taken it for granted, and we are probably not able to do that any more.”


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Re: Water scarcity?
« Reply #24 on: September 01, 2011, 11:47:37 AM »
Regional differences I'm sure, but I'm not a big believer in water scarcity.  I think the NYT had one story on this but has anyone else heard about the US Army Corps of Engineers caused floods along the Missouri River where 'spring' floods still have freeways closed and homes evacuated along its path:


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NYT/POTH: Chinese desalinization
« Reply #25 on: October 26, 2011, 08:05:59 AM »
IMHO scarcity of potable water is destined to become a major problem, perhaps a crisis.  Towards that end I have a rather sizable holding in PHO for the long term. 


TIANJIN, China — Towering over the Bohai Sea shoreline on this city’s outskirts, the Beijiang Power and Desalination Plant is a 26-billion-renminbi technical marvel: an ultrahigh-temperature, coal-fired generator with state-of-the-art pollution controls, mated to advanced Israeli equipment that uses its leftover heat to distill seawater into fresh water.
There is but one wrinkle in the $4 billion plant: The desalted water costs twice as much to produce as it sells for. Nevertheless, the owner of the complex, a government-run conglomerate called S.D.I.C., is moving to quadruple the plant’s desalinating capacity, making it China’s largest.
“Someone has to lose money,” Guo Qigang, the plant’s general manager, said in a recent interview. “We’re a state-owned corporation, and it’s our social responsibility.”
In some places, this would be economic lunacy. In China, it is economic strategy.
As it did with solar panels and wind turbines, the government has set its mind on becoming a force in yet another budding environment-related industry: supplying the world with fresh water.
The Beijiang project, southeast of Beijing, will strengthen Chinese expertise in desalination, fine-tune the economics, help build an industrial base and, along the way, lessen a chronic water shortage in Tianjin. That money also leaks away like water — at least for now — is not a prime concern.
“The policy drivers are more important than the economic drivers,” said Olivia Jensen, an expert on Chinese water policy and a director at Infrastructure Economics, a Singapore-based consultancy. “If the central government says desalination is going to be a focus area and money should go into desalination technology, then it will.”
The government has, and it is. At the government’s order, China is rapidly becoming one of the world’s biggest growth markets for desalted water. The latest goal is to quadruple production by 2020, from the current 680,000 cubic meters, or 180 million gallons, a day to as many as three million cubic meters, about 800 million gallons, equivalent to nearly a dozen more 200,000-ton-a-day plants like the one being expanded in Beijiang.
China’s latest five-year plan for the sector is expected to order the establishment of a national desalination industry, according to Guo Yozhi, who heads the China Desalination Association. Institutes in at least six Chinese cities are researching developments in membranes, the technology at the core of the most sophisticated and cost-effective desalination techniques.
The National Development and Reform Commission, China’s top-level state planning agency, is drafting plans to give preferential treatment to domestic companies that build desalting equipment or patent desalting technologies. There is talk of tax breaks and low-interest loans to encourage domestic production.
In an interview, Mr. Guo called the government role in desalination “symbolic,” saying that direct government investment in seawater projects does not exceed 10 percent of their cost. By comparison, he said, big water ventures like the massive South-North Water Diversion Project, which will divert water from the Yangtze River in the south to the thirsty north, are completely government-financed.
Still, the government’s plans could mean an investment of as much as 200 billion renminbi, or about $31 billion, by state-owned companies, government agencies and private partners.
Beijiang’s desalination complex, built by S.D.I.C. at the behest of the Development and Reform Commission as a concept project, was almost wholly made in Israel, shipped to Tianjin and bolted together. Nationally, less than 60 percent of desalination equipment and technology is domestic.
China’s goal is to raise that to 90 percent by 2020, said Jennie Peng, an analyst and water industry specialist at the Beijing office of Frost & Sullivan, a consulting company based in San Antonio.
There are plenty of reasons for China to want a homegrown desalination industry, not the least of which is homegrown fresh water. Demand for water here is expected to grow 63 percent by 2030 — gallon for gallon, more than anywhere else on earth, according to the Asia Water Project, a business information organization.
Northern China has long been short of water, and fast-expanding cities like Beijing and Tianjin already have turned to extensive recycling and conservation programs to meet the need.

In Tianjin, deemed a model city for water conservation, 90 percent of water used in industry is recycled; 60 percent of farm irrigation systems use water-saving technologies; 148 miles of water-recycling pipes snake beneath the city. Apartments in one 10-square-mile area of town feature two taps, one for drinking water and one for recycled water suitable for other uses.
The Beijiang plant, one of two, supplies an expanding suburb with 10,000 tons of desalted water daily, with plans to someday pump 180,000 tons. A second 100,000-ton facility supplies a vast ethylene production plant outside of town.
The Beijiang plant has faced some hiccups. The mineral-free distilled water scrubs rust from city pipes en route to taps, turning the water brown. Some residents are suspicious of the water, saying its purity means it lacks nutrients. The plant is addressing both complaints by adding minerals to the water.
But some say slaking China’s thirst may be a beneficial sideline to larger aims. The global market for desalination technology will more than quadruple by 2020 to about $50 billion a year, the research firm SBI Energy predicted last month, and growing water shortages worldwide appear to ensure further growth.
Beyond that, the increasingly sophisticated membrane technologies that filter salt from seawater can be applied to sewage treatment, pollution control and a legion of other cutting-edge uses. Far outpaced now by foreign membrane producers, which command at least 85 percent of the market, China is set on developing its own advanced technologies.
Some experts say that is where the government’s interest mostly lies. “What this is about is developing China’s membrane industry, more than it is local use,” said Ms. Jensen, the Singapore analyst. “This is an export industry fundamentally, not one to make a green China.”
Whatever the motivation, China is already racing toward meeting its targets.
Just as foreign companies rushed to China to secure a place in its budding wind-energy market, the list of foreign companies that have plunged into China’s desalination industry is long: Hyflux of Singapore, Toray of Japan, Befesa of Spain, Brack of Israel and ERI of the United States, among others.
And just as foreigners shifted solar-energy research and production to China, desalination companies are leaving their home bases as well. The Norwegian company Aqualyng is a partner with the Beijing city government on a desalination plant in Tangshan, a coastal city about 135 miles east of Beijing, and is studying moving its manufacturing facilities from Europe to China.
ERI, which is based in San Francisco and claims to have the desalination industry’s most advanced technology, is moving research facilities to China and is considering moving manufacturing as well at some later date.
Most of the foreign companies have partnered with state-owned corporations, for help in securing business and for political protection in a country where the rule of law and protection of intellectual property are in a state of flux. And although some foreign investors in technology-laden projects like wind energy and high-speed rail later claimed their Chinese partners appropriated their technologies, the heads of ERI and Aqualyng say they can become researchers and manufacturers in China without losing control of their products.
The chairman of Aqualyng’s board, Bernt Osthus, said in an interview that the company’s partnership with the Beijing government had been “close to an ideal partner,” with the Norwegians controlling the technology and the Chinese providing money and local know-how.
He added, however, that the company was considering a joint research venture with a Chinese partner.
“By reducing our ownership in our equipment and taking on a state-owned Chinese partner and moving production from Europe to China, the technology effectively becomes Chinese,” he said. “I’m still the owner. I’m still owning my piece of the pie. I’m just increasing the size of the pie.”
And a big pie it is.
“There are large-scale desalination projects centralized all up and down the east coast of China,” ERI’s chief executive officer, Thomas S. Rooney Jr., said in an interview. “Our company has the most advanced technology in the entire desalination industry. And one of the beautiful things about China is that they like to adopt the most advanced technologies.”
“You can either fight them or join them, and our philosophy is that China likely is going to be the next big desalination market,” he added. “I would rather develop technology for China in China and take a more open approach than play the secrets game.”

« Last Edit: October 26, 2011, 08:09:24 AM by Crafty_Dog »


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World Water Day; The Business of Water
« Reply #27 on: June 30, 2012, 01:16:55 PM »
1) World Water Day


Why GE, Coca-Cola and IBM Are Getting Into The Water Business
In the rangeland of Australia, sheep get frightfully dirty. They roam the outback among all manner of plants, trees, and scrub; they loll in the dirt; they sleep on the ground; they roll in their own poop. They shower only if it happens to rain.
So when these sheep get sheared — and Australia is still the largest producer of wool in the world — the fresh wool is grubby. Raw wool is called “greasy wool,” because in addition to dirt, the wool is coated with the sheep’s natural protection, lanolin. A specialized industry exists to clean it. The big Michell Wool scouring plant in Salisbury, a suburb north of Adelaide, uses almost a megaliter of water (264,000 gallons) a day — about what 750 families use.
The inside of the Michell Wool scouring factory smells like a farm, a rich odor of sheep, dirt, the outdoors, and wet wool. The machine that cleans the wool, called a scour, is a long line of connected stainless-steel tanks and conveyors that stretches more than half a football field. It is possible to know exactly how dirty the wool is: Weigh it before it’s scoured; weigh it after. On average, the yield is 55% — 100 pounds of greasy wool yields 55 pounds of usable wool and 45 pounds of dirt, debris, poop, and lanolin. Each pound of wool requires 5 gallons of water to get clean, more than twice what your home washing machine uses for a load.
Salisbury gets just 18 inches of rain a year, less than Flagstaff, Arizona, and sits in South Australia, Australia’s driest state. But until just a few years ago, Michell Wool was washing all its wool in the same water Salisburians were using to shower and make coffee — tap water.
“Back in the 1980s, we were using in excess of a gigaliter of mains water a year,” says David Michell, co-managing director of Michell Wool and a fifth-generation member of the founding family. The company, which supplies wool for a range of uses, including Armani couture, had begun to worry about what might happen if wool washing had to compete with residential water use in terms of price, adequate supply, or both. “If there is no water,” says Michell, “there is no business for us.”
Michell and his colleagues were feeling the first tickles of something most of us are utterly unfamiliar with: water insecurity. Just because the big supply pipe from statewide water utility SA Water was coming into the plant and Michell had been buying $1 million (AUD) worth of water a year, that didn’t mean that in a serious drought, the price wouldn’t rise, the supply wouldn’t be sharply limited, or both.
At Michell Wool, the solution to the company’s water anxiety came not from SA Water — “They said, ‘Just keep buying water,’ ” Michell recalls — but from the city of Salisbury. Town leaders were discussing how to dispose of storm-water runoff more effectively, storm water that Salisbury collected in drains and culverts and piped untreated into the ocean 6 miles west. The town started a new kind of water utility, and Michell Wool became its biggest customer. Salisbury started routing some of its storm water into wetlands and reed beds for filtration and created an underground reservoir of reasonably clean water that’s good for all kinds of purposes: watering ball fields, irrigating commercial nurseries, even piping into toilets, and, of course, washing wool.
Salisbury now pumps 2 gigaliters of water (528 million gallons) a year back out in “purple pipes” to customers who can use it instead of mains water from SA Water. (Purple pipes have become the global standard for water that is not potable but clean enough for other routine uses.) Michell Wool alone takes 15% of Salisbury’s purple-pipe water. And it pays two-thirds less per gallon for purple-pipe water than what it paid for tap water from SA Water.
Upon reflection, it is absurd for routinely drought-ravaged Australia to wash wool in drinking water. In fact, almost regardless of resources, it’s crazy to use drinking water for things like watering soccer fields or flushing toilets. It’s just what we’ve gotten used to.
If there is one truly arresting sign that our relationship to water is about to shift in fundamental ways, it comes not from the world of science or climatology, not from United Nations officials or aid workers desperately trying to get water to people in developing countries. It comes from businesses like Michell Wool — and other corporations with water-intensive businesses, such as Coca-Cola — but also those whose water dependence is less obvious, like GE and IBM. They all have that same tickle of anxiety about water security. For business, water management is fast becoming a key strategic tool. Companies are starting to gather the kind of information that lets them measure not just their water use and their water costs but also their water efficiency, their water productivity, how much work they get from a gallon of water, how much revenue, how much profit.
In the past decade, businesses have discovered water as both a startling vulnerability and an untapped opportunity. Monsanto is developing a new line of seeds and crops that require less water. Robert Fraley, Monsanto’s CTO, says, “We believe that by 2030 we can double the yield for many crops, compared to the year 2000.” In the hospitality industry, Celebrity Cruises has replaced ice with chilled river rock for cold food on the main buffet line at breakfast, lunch, and dinner on all nine of its megaships. That saves 2.7 million pounds of ice-making a year for each ship, ice that requires 330,000 gallons of water to be frozen, treated, and then pumped back overboard. In Las Vegas, the folks at MGM Resorts have worked with Delta faucets to prototype new water-saving showerheads. No less a sage than Warren Buffett has quietly realized how the water landscape is changing. In 2009, his company, Berkshire Hathaway, became the largest shareholder in Nalco, a water-services, treatment, and equipment company that has no public profile but 12,000 employees and nearly $4 billion in revenue.
GE Water is an ambitious new division of the global conglomerate, with 8,000 employees at 50 manufacturing facilities worldwide and revenue of about $2.5 billion. GE Water cleans water for a West Virginia coal mine to reuse; GE Water has built the largest desalination plant in Africa, in Algiers; GE Water has created a wastewater-purification plant that produces 172,000 gallons a day of reuse water to keep the fairways and greens lush at Pennant Hills Golf Club in Sydney.
The new business is busy, but it hasn’t grown as fast as GE would like. It turns out that many companies are skeptical about spending money on water when there is no urgent pressure — be it financial, governmental, or scarcity — to do so. “Customers aren’t feeling a cost for their water,” says Jeff Fulgham, chief marketing officer for GE Water, “so they’re reluctant to spend money to improve their situation.”
Every gallon of water we use has an economic value — the value of whatever we can actually do with that water, whether it’s brew our morning coffee, grow an acre of wheat, or make a microchip.
Yet in our homes, our schools, our companies and organizations, we typically behave as if the opposite were true. We act as if clean, on-demand water has zero economic value. Especially in the developed world, the value inherent in water is hidden under a cloak of invisibility. Although the water has indispensable usefulness, it rarely has a price.
What’s often oddly missing from the conversation about the business of water is the price of the water itself. The companies that are taking water seriously today have something at risk — their inability to function without reliable water, or their reputation if they squander or damage local supplies. Some see an opportunity in persuading other businesses to try to understand their water risk.
What is so striking is that businesses that start to take the economic value of water seriously immediately start to use it and think about it differently.
One revealing sign that business has entered a new age of water is water’s sudden appearance in the financial reporting of companies as diverse as Intel and Coca-Cola. Intel’s website now lists the company’s total water use, broken down by each manufacturing plant around the world, including the names of the rivers and aquifers each factory taps. Coca-Cola seems to have just discovered water’s importance. In its 2002 annual filing with the SEC, under the heading “Raw Materials,” the word water does not appear. But in the 10-K filing submitted in February 2010, the “Raw Materials” section begins this way: “Water is a main ingredient in substantially all our products… . our Company recognizes water availability, quality, and sustainability … as one of the key challenges facing our business.”
Coca-Cola, whose reputation has been doubly stung by controversy over its withdrawals of groundwater in India and by a backlash against its surging Dasani and Vitaminwater businesses, has vowed that by 2020, in the words of president and CEO Muhtar Kent, Coke will become “the first major global corporation where we will be water neutral.” Since almost all of Coke’s products end up as pee — Coke’s customers don’t need more than a few hours to close the loop in the water cycle on the soft drinks and water they consume — it’s not quite clear what a “water neutral” Coca-Cola will look like. But the company is gathering, analyzing, and revealing cascades of water data.
Viewed from a certain perspective, Coke’s business is really a water-processing operation. The company needs 333 ounces of water to generate $1 of revenue. Coke says that every liter of beverage it manufactures and sells requires 2.43 liters of water. That represents a 9% improvement over 2004, which translates into 8 billion gallons of water saved a year.
That’s 8 billion gallons Coke didn’t have to buy or pump out of rivers or aquifers, clean to food-manufacturing standards, and then dispose of. Reduce water use 9%, and you reduce a flood of costs. Companies are realizing that the water bill includes the electric, natural-gas, heating-oil, chemical-treatment, and filtration bills. This water focus isn’t trendy green consciousness or corporate altruism, although in the case of Coke, it is vitally important PR. It’s also business.
Coke and Intel aren’t metering their water use with such precision to satisfy their curiosity or to amuse us. They’re doing it because they want to use less water, because they think they may soon have no choice, and because they’ve discovered that simply measuring water use quickly leads to managing it better.
IBM is one of the companies that has discovered something else about water — that measuring and managing water use is becoming a huge business in itself. At the IBM microchip plant in Burlington, Vermont, a factory where the company makes the kind of ultrapure water necessary to produce semiconductors, the staff knows a lot about its water.
For ultrapure water — a liquid so clean it isn’t safe to drink, so clean it requires its own separate factory inside the microchip plant — IBM’s water staff measures 80 characteristics all the time, in real time, including temperature, flow rate, pH level, and clarity. IBM Burlington has wired the plant’s pumps, tanks, and pipes with 5,000 electronic sensors, each of which gathers about one data point a second. That’s a stream of 300,000 data points a minute. (For comparison, the double-deck stock ticker streaming along the bottom of CNBC provides 52 data points a minute.)
Eric Berliner, water and environmental manager at IBM Burlington, is giving a tour of the utilities plant, where water is heated, chilled, pumped, and cleaned to the point at which only microchips can drink it. The plant hums 24 hours a day with the sound of pumps moving water through fat pipes. It has the musty smell that comes from water and metal pipes being in contact for years. Berliner stops in an alleyway deep inside the plant and nods toward the ceiling: an array of six distinct layers of pipe, each crossing over the other, some as big as a person’s waist, some no bigger than a wrist. Many have labels — hot water, chilled water — with arrows pointing in the direction the water is flowing.
“When you start to think like we think,” Berliner says, his eyes tracing the pipes, “you don’t see water in the pipes. You see dollar signs.”
The water bill at IBM Burlington — just to get 3.2 million gallons a day into the plant — is $100,000 a month. The water staff turns plain municipal water into a portfolio of products, depending on whether someone is mixing high-tech chemicals or running air-conditioning chillers. IBM’s utility plant creates nine custom varieties of water. Each brand of water costs 4, 5, or 10 times more than the cost of the raw water itself.
A few years ago, Janette Bombardier, site operations manager in Burlington, and her staff had a revelation: Water is so important that although it seems far removed from the final product, the computer chips, it could actually be a competitive advantage. “We’ve moved from being a facility that makes chips for IBM products to a facility that makes chips directly for the consumer market. We make chips for cell phones, printers, TVs, cameras, and GPS systems. We go head-to-head with other fabricators in the Far East.”
From Bombardier’s perspective, if she and her staff can find ways to use less water, and to make water more smartly, she is directly reducing the cost of IBM’s chips. Wringing expensive water out of the process helps the giant stay nimble.
“All the issues with water, with energy, with the increasing cost to produce water and move water,” says Bombardier, “that’s always inches from my nose.”
The daily water bill at IBM Burlington, including energy and chemicals, is $10,959. Most of the water used each day — 2.2 million gallons — becomes ultrapure water, the most expensive kind. Of the $10,959 bill, $9,300 a day goes to make ultrapure water. That’s the big target for the staff. Not much point in worrying about how much water the toilets use when 85% of each day’s cost is in ultrapure.
That, in fact, is the first lesson from IBM Burlington. It’s not about saving water, per se — it’s about understanding how you use water, where the costs are and reducing those, where the value is and preserving that.
In that sense, IBM Burlington’s water factory is just like the chilled rocks on a Celebrity cruise-ship buffet. You still need the qualities that water provides even as you reduce the amount of water required to produce them. But if Celebrity is working with an inspired idea, IBM Burlington is working from the analytics — the 400 million data points it gathers daily about water, sifting for patterns, trends, and bulges of wasted energy that aren’t being harnessed. That, in fact, is a part of IBM’s business: teaching people to sift huge quantities of data for important insight and then selling them the computers and the software so they can do it themselves.
In the ultrapure-water factory, it’s the mind flip about water that gets you started. You have to take a step back and look at the water cycle as a whole. “One of the most innovative things we’ve done,” says Bombardier, “is take the energy the water inherently has in it, and we use it for other purposes.”
Water comes into IBM Burlington cold from Lake Champlain and the Champlain Water District. It’s so cold that it has to be warmed up before the staff can turn it into ultrapure water. Meanwhile, the factory has 13 massive, two-story-tall chillers using huge quantities of electricity to produce cold water, even in winter.
If it seems stunningly obvious to connect these two problems, well, it’s really not. There’s coldness in the incoming water that for most of its 50 years IBM Burlington wasn’t quite smart enough to use. The coldness is undesirable; IBM spent money getting rid of it. In another part of the 750-acre campus, water had heat in it that was undesirable, and IBM spent money getting rid of it. In most companies, though, there wouldn’t be much of a pipeline connecting the specialty department that creates ultrapure water with the everyday engineering department that is running the air-conditioning systems.
In a plant that already had something like 18 water-plumbing systems, including ones for steam and segregated fire sprinklers, IBM Burlington has created three fresh loops of water to capture cold and heat where they are, and use them where they’re needed. The cold incoming water, for instance, is routed to areas that need chilling. It provides “free” cold, and in the process, it gets warmed up, also for free, so it’s ready to be ultrapurified.
IBM Burlington now also uses the cold air outdoors — abundant in Burlington, where the average high in December, January, and February is never above freezing — to make cold water during the winter, instead of relying on big chillers.
All of this saves water, and it saves all the things water requires to do its job. And the result? Between 2000 and 2009, IBM Burlington cut its water use 29%, saving the factory $740,000 a year in water bills. But here’s where the magic of water really kicks in. Cutting water use by $740,000 also saves $600,000 in chemical and filtration costs each year, plus an additional $2.3 million in electricity and energy costs. For every $1 that IBM Burlington cuts from its basic water bill, it saves $4 more. “We did 50 things to get there,” says Bombardier. “Angles of usage, treatment, energy capture, using less pump capacity, capturing internal pressure that comes with the water in the line — 50 different things.”
As IBM has discovered, the act of measuring alone creates an imperative for curiosity and innovation, for changing behavior. Just as when you keep track of every calorie you eat, you start cutting back. Just as when there’s a real-time miles-per-gallon number on a car’s dashboard, you can’t help but drive in such a way as to keep the number high.
The real inspiration for IBM has been far more dramatic than simply saving water and money. Burlington has helped IBM change the way it thinks about itself. IBM, the computing company, is creating a whole business around water. It wants to do for its customers — for companies, cities, utilities, whole natural ecosystems — what it has done at IBM Burlington.
In most places, in the United States and the rest of the world, water is not smart. Traffic signals have intelligence, as do cell-phone networks, cable-TV networks — heck, even Walmart’s long-haul trucks are connected on an intelligent network. A water network typically moves only water, not any information about it. Even at the simplest level, for instance, most water meters are still read manually, with someone striding along and popping open your water-meter cover.
“Water is not really measured and monitored in a way that allows you to manage it,” says Sharon Nunes, vice president of IBM’s Big Green Innovations effort. “Water is not disappearing. But as it becomes more scarce in more areas, it becomes critical to better manage it.”
What IBM can do is lay down a nervous system of water sensors that feed an array of computers loaded with analytical software, which lets you see and understand your water. This works whether you’re running a microchip factory, as IBM does — or a university or sewage-treatment plant — or trying to understand the hydrodynamics of a whole bay. IBM, in short, wants to usher in the era of “smart water.” In March 2009, the company formally announced the creation of a water-management-services business unit, along with a list of pilot customers and projects. These include a sensor system to monitor Ireland’s Galway Bay, a similar system to model and monitor New York’s Hudson River, and a contract to create an “end-to-end” smart-water utility for the island nation of Malta.
The conventional estimate is that around the world, water is a $400-billion-a-year business. That’s four times the size of IBM’s annual revenue, but that figure includes everything from digging up worn-out water pipes to building billion-dollar desalination plants. IBM says the smart-water market, the information-technology part of water, could be worth between $15 billion and $20 billion a year.
Water consciousness has a kind of infectious quality. In the spring of 2010, Nunes announced a partnership between IBM and a Saudi Arabian research center to develop an inexpensive desalination system that could be powered by solar energy. In the Middle East, of course, where the whole region needs to manage its freshwater with an eyedropper, finding ways to use the sun to make cheap drinking water is a near obsession. What was remarkable about the IBM announcement is that the project relies on combining two unrelated areas of the company’s technology portfolio, microprocessor technology (in a new kind of solar panel) and nanotechnology (in a new kind of desalination filter), in the service of a third: making clean water, a business that IBM wasn’t in just four years ago.
If water is going to get smart, or more pointedly, if we’re going to get smart about water, these are the kinds of cross-disciplinary leaps that are going to be required. Says IBM’s Bombardier: “We are never done. We are never out of ideas.”
Adapted from The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water, to be published in April by Free Press / Simon & Schuster. © 2011, Charles Fishman.
Watch this week for more from Charles Fishman and The Big Thirst.
A version of this article appears in the April 2011 issue of Fast Company.
A Sea of Dollars
Illustration by Brock Davis
Water is becoming a high-stakes business where there’s money to be made everywhere you look — from greasy wool to microchips.
Every gallon of water we use has an economic value — the value of whatever we can actually do with that water, whether it’s brew our morning coffee, grow an acre of wheat, or make a microchip.
Yet in our homes, our schools, our companies and organizations, we typically behave as if the opposite were true. We act as if clean, on-demand water has zero economic value. Especially in the developed world, the value inherent in water is hidden under a cloak of invisibility. Although the water has indispensable usefulness, it rarely has a price.
What’s often oddly missing from the conversation about the business of water is the price of the water itself. The companies that are taking water seriously today have something at risk — their inability to function without reliable water, or their reputation if they squander or damage local supplies. Some see an opportunity in persuading other businesses to try to understand their water risk.
What is so striking is that businesses that start to take the economic value of water seriously immediately start to use it and think about it differently.
One revealing sign that business has entered a new age of water is water’s sudden appearance in the financial reporting of companies as diverse as Intel and Coca-Cola. Intel’s website now lists the company’s total water use, broken down by each manufacturing plant around the world, including the names of the rivers and aquifers each factory taps. Coca-Cola seems to have just discovered water’s importance. In its 2002 annual filing with the SEC, under the heading “Raw Materials,” the word water does not appear. But in the 10-K filing submitted in February 2010, the “Raw Materials” section begins this way: “Water is a main ingredient in substantially all our products… . our Company recognizes water availability, quality, and sustainability … as one of the key challenges facing our business.”
Coca-Cola, whose reputation has been doubly stung by controversy over its withdrawals of groundwater in India and by a backlash against its surging Dasani and Vitaminwater businesses, has vowed that by 2020, in the words of president and CEO Muhtar Kent, Coke will become “the first major global corporation where we will be water neutral.” Since almost all of Coke’s products end up as pee — Coke’s customers don’t need more than a few hours to close the loop in the water cycle on the soft drinks and water they consume — it’s not quite clear what a “water neutral” Coca-Cola will look like. But the company is gathering, analyzing, and revealing cascades of water data.
Viewed from a certain perspective, Coke’s business is really a water-processing operation. The company needs 333 ounces of water to generate $1 of revenue. Coke says that every liter of beverage it manufactures and sells requires 2.43 liters of water. That represents a 9% improvement over 2004, which translates into 8 billion gallons of water saved a year.
That’s 8 billion gallons Coke didn’t have to buy or pump out of rivers or aquifers, clean to food-manufacturing standards, and then dispose of. Reduce water use 9%, and you reduce a flood of costs. Companies are realizing that the water bill includes the electric, natural-gas, heating-oil, chemical-treatment, and filtration bills. This water focus isn’t trendy green consciousness or corporate altruism, although in the case of Coke, it is vitally important PR. It’s also business.
Coke and Intel aren’t metering their water use with such precision to satisfy their curiosity or to amuse us. They’re doing it because they want to use less water, because they think they may soon have no choice, and because they’ve discovered that simply measuring water use quickly leads to managing it better.
IBM is one of the companies that has discovered something else about water — that measuring and managing water use is becoming a huge business in itself. At the IBM microchip plant in Burlington, Vermont, a factory where the company makes the kind of ultrapure water necessary to produce semiconductors, the staff knows a lot about its water.
For ultrapure water — a liquid so clean it isn’t safe to drink, so clean it requires its own separate factory inside the microchip plant — IBM’s water staff measures 80 characteristics all the time, in real time, including temperature, flow rate, pH level, and clarity. IBM Burlington has wired the plant’s pumps, tanks, and pipes with 5,000 electronic sensors, each of which gathers about one data point a second. That’s a stream of 300,000 data points a minute. (For comparison, the double-deck stock ticker streaming along the bottom of CNBC provides 52 data points a minute.)
« Last Edit: June 30, 2012, 01:19:23 PM by Crafty_Dog »


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WSJ: Water thrift in CA
« Reply #29 on: October 14, 2012, 02:56:59 PM »
Water, Water, Not Everywhere
So how do California farmers make do? With technology and ingenuity..

Few people in the world are more water-conscious than California farmers.

The state leads the nation in farm revenue and produces nearly half of the domestic supply of fruits, nuts and vegetables. It also boasts nine of the top 10 producing counties in the nation, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Yet California is one of the driest states in the U.S., getting an average of just 22 inches of precipitation annually compared with more than 40 inches for states like Missouri and New York. And, with nearly 40 million people, California is also the most populous state—meaning there's a lot of competition for that precious rain and snow.

How do the farmers make do with so little water? They use technology and the state's topography to stretch existing supplies as far as they can. "If you have limited water supplies, you have to be as careful and efficient as you can with it," says Larry Schwankl, an irrigation expert with the University of California Cooperative Extension.

Enlarge Image

See how irrigation and water conservation work in California's Central valley.
The efficiencies start at the northern end of the Central Valley, the 400-mile corridor that's home to most of the state's farmland. There, farmers along the Sacramento River use a system called flow-through, which means that the water they take but don't use flows back into the river by a network of valves and drains.

As water flows to the driest southern reaches of the valley via the California Aqueduct, many farmers use drip irrigation, microsprinklers and extensively plumbed groundwater caverns—filled with runoff from the Sierra Nevada—to maximize their water usage.

Daniel Errotabere, for instance, says his 5,200-acre farm's conversion to drip irrigation over the past five years has helped yield water savings as high as 50%—helping to cushion the blow during the most recent drought. "You can't deliver water much more efficiently than what we are doing today," Mr. Errotabere said on a recent tour of the farm near Riverdale, Calif.

The accompanying images outline how irrigation and water conservation work in California's Central valley.



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Re: WSJ: Water thrift in CA
« Reply #30 on: October 14, 2012, 02:59:56 PM »
*cough* Israeli technology and techniques *cough-cough*

Water, Water, Not Everywhere
So how do California farmers make do? With technology and ingenuity..

Few people in the world are more water-conscious than California farmers.

The state leads the nation in farm revenue and produces nearly half of the domestic supply of fruits, nuts and vegetables. It also boasts nine of the top 10 producing counties in the nation, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Yet California is one of the driest states in the U.S., getting an average of just 22 inches of precipitation annually compared with more than 40 inches for states like Missouri and New York. And, with nearly 40 million people, California is also the most populous state—meaning there's a lot of competition for that precious rain and snow.

How do the farmers make do with so little water? They use technology and the state's topography to stretch existing supplies as far as they can. "If you have limited water supplies, you have to be as careful and efficient as you can with it," says Larry Schwankl, an irrigation expert with the University of California Cooperative Extension.

Enlarge Image

See how irrigation and water conservation work in California's Central valley.
The efficiencies start at the northern end of the Central Valley, the 400-mile corridor that's home to most of the state's farmland. There, farmers along the Sacramento River use a system called flow-through, which means that the water they take but don't use flows back into the river by a network of valves and drains.

As water flows to the driest southern reaches of the valley via the California Aqueduct, many farmers use drip irrigation, microsprinklers and extensively plumbed groundwater caverns—filled with runoff from the Sierra Nevada—to maximize their water usage.

Daniel Errotabere, for instance, says his 5,200-acre farm's conversion to drip irrigation over the past five years has helped yield water savings as high as 50%—helping to cushion the blow during the most recent drought. "You can't deliver water much more efficiently than what we are doing today," Mr. Errotabere said on a recent tour of the farm near Riverdale, Calif.

The accompanying images outline how irrigation and water conservation work in California's Central valley.



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Stratfor: Water issues along the Missouri-Mississippi Rivers
« Reply #31 on: December 06, 2012, 05:46:25 AM »

What is good for the Missouri River is not always what is best for the Mississippi River, and the current drought affecting most of the U.S. Midwest is bringing that fact to the forefront. The water shortage has created tensions between water demand in the Missouri River basin and transport demand on the Mississippi River.
Mississippi River barge operators and shipping groups asked U.S. President Barack Obama and the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Nov. 27 to declare a state of emergency on the Mississippi River. The low river levels are thought to be caused by the drought and the congressionally directed project by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reduce the flow of the Missouri River. Numerous government representatives made similar requests throughout November. Representatives from Missouri River basin states have said increasing the flow of the Missouri is unlawful and have submitted an opposing request to deny the declaration of a state of emergency.
Several recent news reports have emphasized that the combination of drought and the reduction in the flow of the Missouri River, a tributary of the Mississippi, eventually could be a detriment to industries that use the Mississippi River for transport, such as the agriculture industry. The effects could reach international markets, influencing prices or delaying exports.

VIDEO: Drought Hampers Mississippi River Transportation
.The Missouri and Mississippi rivers are managed by different offices and separate plans. Water users in the Missouri River basin want to keep supplies available for drinking, irrigation, agriculture, industrial purposes and power production, while industries along the Mississippi would benefit from greater flow from the Missouri to help ensure that the trade and transport vital to the region's economy continue without incident. Transport demand is more elastic than water demand, since other modes of transportation such as road and rail are available, but typically, there are no alternatives to an area's water supply. Moreover, increasing the flow of the Missouri will not necessarily fix the Mississippi's shipping problem entirely, since drought continues along both rivers.
The United States' success as a nation is due in part to an inherent geographical advantage: a large network of navigable waterways at its core, combined with a large swath of farmland. Currently, this farmland -- along with much of the country -- is suffering its worst drought in more than 50 years. This drought has reduced corn production in the United States significantly and has been linked to higher global food prices.
The lack of rain is also affecting U.S. waterways; the Mississippi River level is falling at the key point of St. Louis, Missouri, and is expected to continue falling in coming weeks. Future restrictions and closures along the river are possible, since the regulation of the flow of the Missouri River into the Mississippi -- which began Nov. 23 -- is slated for completion by Dec. 11, at which time the flow will be reduced by more than two-thirds. Without intervention or significant rainfall, delays and closures for shipping along the Mississippi could continue for months, though snowmelt from the northern states could increase water levels.
Conditions Along the Mississippi
The current area of concern where navigation could become problematic if river levels continue falling as predicted is an approximately 310-kilometer (190-mile) stretch of the Mississippi between St. Louis, Missouri, and Cairo, Illinois. Although drought is affecting water levels along the Mississippi, the lower levels along this stretch could be exacerbated by the reduction of flow from the Missouri River.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Weather Service records river levels as stages that indicate the level of the water compared to a predetermined depth of a river, marked as 0 feet. At 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 5, the Mississippi River at St. Louis was at -1.45 feet. The Corps of Engineers, which manages the river, cites -3.5 feet as the low-water reference plane that aids in determining safe levels of navigation. A channel 9 feet deep and 300 feet wide is required for navigation between Saverton, Missouri, (north of St. Louis) and Cairo.
The low-water action plan in place, which outlines the response to low-water conditions states that when the St. Louis gauge reads -2 feet, navigation precautions should be taken because rock formations (or pinnacles) near Thebes will become hazardous for shipping. According to the plan, -5 feet is the lowest stage for minimum navigation. Possible restrictions at this point would include towing restrictions, limiting traffic to one-way and allowing operations only during daylight. The Corps of Engineers' extended forecast for December through February for this section of the Mississippi predicts a low water level of between -6.5 and -7 feet -- well below the level for minimum navigation. The National Weather Service predicts the river could reach -6 feet at St. Louis on Dec. 31.
Of particular concern along the stretch of the Mississippi between St. Louis and Cairo are the pinnacles between Thebes and Grand Tower, Illinois. These rocks can create problems for barge traffic up and down the Mississippi River and, coupled with drought and the reduced flow from the Missouri River, have become a larger obstacle to transportation. A number of these rock formations are due for removal in upcoming months, but government representatives met with top Corps of Engineers officials Nov. 29 to discuss speeding up the timeline because navigation through this area has become increasingly difficult.
The corps appears to be flexible with the project's timetable within the limits of the project's technical requirements, which include choosing a proposal that is safe, efficient and affects navigation as little as possible. Reportedly, some blasting will begin Jan. 3. Until the rock formations are removed, especially given the current drought conditions, they could still slow or altogether stall transport along that stretch of the river.
Northern portions of the Mississippi River close seasonally, since freezing conditions can prevent navigation. The navigation season for this year on the Upper Mississippi River ended Dec. 3. Although there have been instances of the river freezing at St. Louis, traffic at the nearest lock -- a device that aids in navigability by first sequestering and then raising or lowering a vessel as necessary -- continues year-round. There is a planned closure for Lock 27, the lock closest to St. Louis, for maintenance from Dec. 10 through March 1, 2013, which could add to short delays at this section of the river, but traffic will still be allowed to pass through the auxiliary chamber.
Because of the drought and reduced water flow, formal shipping restrictions beyond the seasonal closures could begin in December, although transporters have already begun reducing barge shipments to reduce drafts (the depths of vessels in water) for safety. Snowmelt could increase water levels, but probably not until March.
The Economic Effects of Reduced Transport
Goods from many sectors of the U.S. economy move along the Mississippi river and other inland waterways. But certain industries rely more heavily on water transport than others. Approximately 60 percent of U.S. grain exports travel on the Mississippi River system, as does 20 percent of the U.S. coal used domestically for electricity and 22 percent of domestic petroleum goods. In all, about $180 billion worth of goods move up and down the river on barges annually.
In the main section of concern along the Mississippi (between St. Louis and Cairo), grains and oilseeds dominate the southbound traffic, accounting for roughly half of the nearly 80 million metric tons of cargo (22 percent of which is coal) moving southward through this section of the river. Twenty percent of the northbound traffic is coal, 21 percent is from the fertilizer sector, 12 percent is chemicals and 7 percent is cargo from the iron and steel industry.
Possible extended closures and restrictions on transport on the Mississippi River in December and January could result in an estimated $7 billion in direct losses. This includes $2.3 billion worth of agricultural products as well as the need to import additional crude oil at the cost of $545 million.


While most of the grain produced in the United States is consumed domestically and transported over land, the United States is also a significant global exporter, and most U.S. grain exports travel by barge. The prevention or restriction of the movement of grain along the Mississippi could delay deliveries. Even without a delay, an increase in the price of grain is likely because the drought decreased the U.S. harvest below projected levels and many countries have already dipped into their reserves. This could hurt nations that import a significant amount of grain from the United States, including Japan, South Korea, China and Egypt.
The seasonality of grain transport is also a factor. The movement of grain through Lock 27 begins increasing in late September and does not begin to decrease until mid-December, eventually reaching a low point in late January. Given this, the greatest effects of restrictions on agriculture shipments between December and February would occur in the earlier portion of the timeframe.


Cost of Alternative Transportation
River closures or load restrictions would not necessarily have to halt all movement of goods that once traveled on the water to have an economic impact. Alternative methods of transportation, such as rail or truck, are available. But water transportation is the least expensive mode of long-distance transport for freight, with operating costs of roughly $0.02 per ton per mile compared to under $0.04 per ton per mile for rail and slightly less than $0.18 per ton per mile for truck.
While significant rainfall could alleviate the low water levels in the Mississippi, the uncertainty of the weather and the ongoing drought could force cargo to shift from waterway transport to other modes such as road or rail. This shift is already evident; rail traffic has increased 16 percent year on year for the week ending Nov. 14, while southbound barge traffic decreased 29 percent and northbound barge traffic dropped approximately 9 percent from the same time last year. The drought of 1988, similar to the one occurring now, is estimated to have cost barge transporters $1 billion due to various lane closures on the Mississippi (including extended closures, some of which lasted longer than three weeks).
Management of the Missouri River
A delay or alteration of the water management plan on the Missouri River could prevent water levels from falling further along the Mississippi between St. Louis and Cairo. However, the Corps of Engineers is managing the water flow of the Missouri according to a yearly master plan approved by Congress.
The management plan for the Missouri River is established for the benefit of the Missouri River basin and includes flood control measures and plans to maintain supplies for navigation, irrigation, power, water supply, water quality control, recreation, fish and wildlife. The Missouri is also a source of water for hydraulic fracturing operations at the Bakken play, an oil-rich shale play in the northern portion of the basin. The Missouri River basin passes through some of the United States' key agriculture states whose main products include corn, wheat and soybeans. While this year's corn and soybean harvests are nearly finished, wheat is still being planted and is only just now sprouting. Due to the drought, corn and soybean yields were lower than expected this year, and wheat crops in the region are sprouting behind schedule.  The ongoing drought also has led to an increased demand for irrigation water.
The restoration of the full flow of the Missouri into the Mississippi would require either approval from Congress or a state of emergency decree by Obama. This would help to begin raising the levels of the Mississippi River south of the confluence, although the actual effects would not be seen immediately.
In response to requests for a state of emergency declaration along the Mississippi, 15 government officials from Missouri River basin states sent a letter to Obama. The letter stated that the Corps of Engineers is responsible for managing aspects of the Missouri River and that the request to increase releases from the river is unlawful and would harm states already suffering from drought.
Likely Results Along the Mississippi
Lawmakers met with Jo-Ellen Darcy, the U.S. Army's assistant secretary to civil works, and appear optimistic about the possibility of expediting the process to increase water levels of the Mississippi. But the Corps of Engineers continues to manage the Missouri River as originally directed by Congress and will likely continue unless instructed differently.
Predicting the extent of closures and restrictions to the Mississippi River without government action would require predicting the weather, and enough rain could render the entire debate moot. However, extended forecasts indicate that water levels could remain low for the next few months, which means that increased restrictions and closures are likely.
Sectors including agriculture, mining and fertilizer will feel the greatest effects because of their greater dependence on river transport. Either governmental action or the use of alternative transportation can prevent or ameliorate some of the expected economic effects of a potential closure of the Mississippi, although a directive to restore the full flow of the Missouri could harm the economy in the Missouri River basin. At this point, it could be too late to avoid all the potential problems created by the dropping water levels in the Mississippi River.


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CSM: Global Water Crisis
« Reply #32 on: December 08, 2012, 04:57:47 PM »

Global water crisis: too little, too much, or lack of a plan?
The global water crisis – caused by drought, flood, and climate change – is less about supply than it is about recognizing water's true value, using it efficiently, and planning for a different future
By William Wheeler


For most of history, thirsty humans made do with what moisture fell from above: The sun warmed the salty seas, pure water evaporated into the air and then cooled and fell to the earth as precipitation. There it clung to glaciers, froze and thawed in lakes, was absorbed by plant roots, coursed through fractured bedrock, and seeped slowly through soil, into aquifers. Most of it returned to sea and sky all over again. There is as much of that water on the planet today as when the first amphibian flopped ashore; as much as when the ancient Greeks divined the future in the babble of brooks.
So why do experts in science, economics, and development warn that a "global water crisis" threatens the stability of nations and the health of billions?
From space, the idea of a global water crisis may seem perplexing: 75 percent of the planet's surface is blue. But usable fresh water is a tiny fraction of what we see – only 2.5 percent of the water on Earth. And two-thirds of that fresh water is locked away in glaciers, icecaps, and permanent snow. Of the stock of accessible fresh water, 99 percent is in underground aquifers – some are nonrenewable; and in some that are replenishable, ground water is slurped up faster by a growing population than it can be replaced.
But even so, say experts, the problem is perhaps more an issue of recognizing water's true value, using it efficiently and planning for the lean times, than it is a lack of overall supply.

The ongoing historic American drought, with its cascade effect on food and utility prices at home and food costs abroad, is an example of scarcity's effect.
But superstorm Sandy's deluge and flooding, says Geoff Dabelko, an environmental expert at Ohio University in Athens, is an example of how the term "global water crisis" can be misleading. It tends to imply that there's just one kind of crisis – a water shortage.

"The kind of dead-cow-carcass-in-the-desert image that global 'water crisis' evokes is very real for some people," Professor Dabelko says. "But there are so many dimensions." Too much water – whether from flooding, sea level rise, or more extreme storms – can be just as deadly as too little.

While the balance between water supplies and the demands of a burgeoning population are further complicated by the effect of climate change on delicate hydrological margins, there are those who say there is enough water, if nations learn to plan for a different future – one in which past abundance is no guide.

The growing thirst for water

Water is a part of everything we do: It feeds crops, powers cities, cools computer servers, and is key to the manufacturing of everything from clothes to cars. The billion more people expected on the planet by 2025 will increase water demand for all of those functions. And just to feed those people, water withdrawals for agriculture are expected to increase by about half.

But it's not only about the additional mouths to feed; it's also the growth of new appetites. Much of the growth in demand will emerge from the swelling sprawl of bustling, slum-pocked metropolises across the developing world. For the first time in history, the share of the global population living in cities recently surpassed 50 percent – on its way to 75 percent expected by 2050.

With each step up the economic ladder, people demand more water for sanitation, industry, hydroelectric power, and water-intensive diets – such as preferring beef to wheat, a shift that requires 10 times as much water per kilogram to produce. Urban-rural competition for water has already pushed countries to import grains – "virtual water" – or, in the case of wealthier countries like China, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia, to lease land in developing countries.

By 2030, the Water Resources Group forecasts, global water requirements may outstrip sustainable use by 40 percent. And almost half the world's people will be living under severe water stress, predicts the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Already, water stress – where the reliable water supply is being used up more quickly than it can be replenished – is widespread and is expected to increase significantly in the years ahead, particularly in North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. By 2050, according to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, 1 in 5 developing countries will face water shortages.

Too many straws in the glass

In 2009, twin NASA satellites – orbiting 300 miles above Earth, measuring changes in the mass of underground water in northern India – yielded disturbing data: Excessive irrigation practices were sucking the region dry. Even though rainfall had been slightly above average, millions of tube wells – like too many straws in the glass – were draining ground-water levels by as much as a foot per year, threatening farm output in the country's fertile breadbasket and raising the risk of a major water crisis. Over the past seven years, an amount equivalent to nearly three times the water in Lake Mead, America's largest water reservoir, had been lost.

"If measures are not taken to ensure sustainable groundwater usage," NASA scientists concluded, "the consequences for the 114 million residents of the region may include a collapse of agricultural output and severe shortages of potable water."

If renewable water supplies – rainfall in lakes, streams, and rivers – are like an annually replenished checking account, then ground water and deep aquifers are the savings. A few thousand years ago, when civilizations first branched out from rivers, they populated areas where they could draw from that savings in the form of ground water 20 to 30 feet below the surface. Globally, this was the norm until the 1950s, when fossil fuel energy became widely available to allow pumping water from ever-deeper depths. Ever since, humanity has increasingly lived beyond the margins of its renewable water supply.

In ancient fossil aquifers – in the Great Plains of the United States, the North China Plain, or Saudi Arabia – water levels are not recharged by rainfall. Elsewhere, as in northern India, ground water is used faster than it can be replenished. According to the United Nations, ground-water extraction globally has tripled in the past 50 years, during which time India and China's ground-water use has risen 10-fold.

As a result, half of the global population lives in countries where water tables are rapidly falling. These supply problems are compounded by new land use patterns, like deforestation and soil grading, as well as leakage from poorly maintained infrastructure in cities.

Climate complications

To make things worse, climate change is expected to cause water shortages in many parts of the world, making ground water all the more important as a buffer.
The spike in global grain prices caused by the US drought last summer, on the heels of an epic winter drought in Spain and summer heat waves in southern Europe, showed the cascade effect of the sort of droughts that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change expects will multiply in the decades ahead.

Not surprisingly, the greatest impact is on the poor. While American households spend, on average, 13 percent of their budgets on food, that expenditure is often 50 percent or more in the developing world. So a spike in food prices can trigger explosive riots like those that erupted there in the past five years.

According to Richard Seager, a drought specialist at Columbia University in New York, the recent US drought was mostly a result of naturally occurring weather patterns. But it's probably influenced by a background of unprecedented record-high temperatures that reflect an already warming environment. A significant recent development in climate research is that scientists have begun linking climate change to the probability of individual weather events. Professor Seager's own research predicts that, owing to climate change, the aridity levels experienced in parts of America during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s and again in the 1950s will be the new normal in the American Southwest by midcentury.

Seager says that climate change exacerbated the impact of superstorm Sandy, as well – contributing to higher sea levels: "We've known forever that hurricanes of this intensity can get up to New York City. Nothing there that couldn't be due to just natural variability. But it's happening with sea levels higher, and sea levels are still going up. So when these things happen, they can do extra damage because it's easier to breach the sea wall protections."

He says Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg have accurately gauged the threat climate change poses to the city. "The sea levels are going to continue to go up. So, boy, do we have a problem. There's no reason to believe this won't happen again in the next two decades."

Climate change increases variability, says Dabelko: "That's the challenge that we have to [face] as individuals, as societies, as governments, as businesses ... to understand that it's going to change. It's going to be bigger swings. And some people may benefit ... and many are not going to be well adapted..."

There's also another misconception about the global water crisis, he says, which is the assumption that "it's somebody else's problem, on the presumption that we're wealthy enough to just deal.

"o climate change, it's Bangladesh. Global water crisis, it's the Horn of Africa. It's somebody else's problem, and those [who] can't afford something are going to be the ones that suffer. Rather than understanding, 'Yes, it's global. Yes, it's a crisis. But it's also very meaningful for us even if we can insulate ourselves from the changes in food prices.' "

Consequences don't respect borders

"During the next 10 years, many countries important to the United States will almost certainly experience water problems – shortages, poor water quality, or floods – that will contribute to the risk of instability and state failure, and increased regional tensions," predicted the federal government's National Intelligence Council in an assessment of global water security earlier this year.

Annual river runoff and water availability in some high altitudes and in some wet tropical areas will actually increase 20 to 40 percent by midcentury, while it will decrease 10 to 30 percent in some already water-stressed dry regions in the mid-latitudes and in the dry tropics, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This may affect water resources in many arid and semiarid areas in the Mediterranean Basin, western US, Southern Africa, northeast Brazil, and much ofAustralia.

Over the next century, climate change will reduce the runoff from melting glaciers that feed major rivers, affecting water availability in important regions. More than one-sixth of the world's population relies on the meltwater from receding glaciers and snowpacks, including tens of millions of people in the Andes and hundreds of millions who depend on melt-water from the Hindu Kush and the Himalayas.

These supply problems will be exacerbated by bad water management, including the over-pumping of ground-water supplies, wasteful irrigation practices, deforestation, soil grading, leaking urban infrastructure, and faulty economic models that don't account for the true value of water, according to the National Intelligence Council.
In light of these changes, the OECD predicts that, by 2030, nearly half of the world's population will be living under severe water stress.

The problem is more than just water shortages. The risk of drought and flood would increase by the end of the century, according to the IPCC, and rising sea levels and deteriorating coastal buffers will increase vulnerability to coastal storms over the next few decades. While vulnerability will be greatest in urban areas of the developing world, where flood control structures are often poorly maintained, "at times water flows will be severe enough to overwhelm the water control infrastructures of even developed countries, including the United States," predicts the National Intelligence Council. Developing countries without the resources or ability to solve their water problems risk destabilizing social disruptions, even state failure, the report concludes, especially if the population believes the government is responsible.

While interstate conflict over water is unlikely within 10 years, beyond that time frame, water will increasingly be used as economic and political leverage between states and could even become a weapon, using dams to choke off water supplies to downstream neighbors or to flood them. Dams, desalinization facilities, canals, and pipelines may also make appealing targets for terrorist attacks.

If these problems are not managed, food supplies could decline, the risk of waterborne diseases could increase, and energy shortages might hamper growth. (More than 15 countries rely on hydropower to generate at least 80 percent of their electricity. And, in the US, nuclear, hydroelectric, coal-fired, and gas-fired power plants account for half of water withdrawals.)

Pessimistic scenarios may be averted

But the picture may not be as bad as it seems. While the projections about the growing global water crisis drastically underestimate how bad things really are, says Upmanu Lall, director of the Water Center at Columbia University, they also underestimate the scale of waste and the water efficiency improvements that could make adaptation easier.
"Things could actually be worse than what these guys are putting out," says Professor Lall. "They are too optimistic about the current situation compared to what it actually is. And they're too pessimistic about the situation for the future ... I do see a way to get there."

That's what he's learned from much of his work on water issues in India, which he calls "a basket case for water." He adds: "You could actually eliminate water stress in India if you were just a little bit smarter about which places you were procuring which crops from."

Science, he says, is part of the solution: Agricultural efficiency can be drastically improved with a better mix of what is grown where, accounting for geography, water constraints, and income; governments will have a role to play in setting economic signals to promote conservation and the right mix of crops, and regulation to ensure access in urban and rural areas; cheap soil-moisture sensors could improve agricultural water efficiency by 10 to 15 percent by reducing waste in irrigation systems; recycled waste water could save in the billions of dollars that the US spends purifying water up to drinking quality even though only 10 percent is used for drinking and cooking; flood-control systems can be repurposed to store water.

But most important, says Lall, "the economics of it has to be sorted out." Water allocations for personal consumption and ecological preservation should be protected, he said, but about 75 percent of water consumed globally should be subject to more competitive pricing. In a sense, he argues, water should be treated like oil, allowing developers a guaranteed allocation as an incentive to develop it. About a quarter of water supplies should be protected to ensure people have water for drinking and to preserve ecology, he says. But everyone – from the home-owner watering the lawn to big industry and agriculture – should pay more for water.

Instability, conflict, and economic stagnation may be the prod societies need before they adapt, says Lall.

He deems the US system for allocating water rights as "not too bad." Where those rights were not tradable, he says, "things are a mess."
Some states – Arizona, California, Idaho, and Texas – have water banks that facilitate leases between rights-holders and users. But since these water banks don't incorporate forecasting, they fail to make deals until a drought begins. What the US needs, says Lall, is a national water policy that incorporates forecasts, trading mechanisms, options, and the coordinated use of both surface and ground-water resources.

While the tools and strategies exist to cope with the impending pressures of a warmer and more populous planet, Lall says, "the question is, will we do it right?


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Water: the next great technological frontier
« Reply #33 on: February 13, 2013, 09:02:48 PM »
The Technology Investor
Water: The Next Great Technological Frontier
By Doug Hornig and Alex Daley

All day I've faced a barren waste
Without the taste of water
Cool water...
Cool Water by Bob Nolan (1936)

When [Bob] Nolan wrote that song - about a man and his mule in the desert - it's doubtful he knew that he was prefiguring a world to come. Despite the massive abundance of water on our planet (and throughout the known universe, in fact), access to potable water (or a lack thereof) may prove to be the defining social struggle of this century, much like oil in the last. But a plethora of new technologies aim to nip the problem in the bud. Will they be enough?

There Is a Lot of Water Out There

Water is not scarce. It is made up of the first and third most common elements in the universe, and the two readily react to form a highly stable compound that maintains its integrity even at temperature extremes. Hydrologist Dr. Vincent Kotwicki, in his paper Water in the Universe, writes:

"Water appears to be one of the most abundant molecules in the Universe. It dominates the environment of the Earth and is a main constituent of numerous planets, moons and comets. On a far greater scale, it possibly contributes to the so-called 'missing mass' [i.e., dark matter] of the Universe and may initiate the birth of stars inside the giant molecular clouds."

Oxygen has been found in the newly discovered "cooling flows" - heavy rains of gas that appear to be falling into galaxies from the space once thought empty surrounding them, giving rise to yet more water.

How much is out there? No one can even take a guess, since no one knows the composition of the dark matter that makes up as much as 90% of the mass of the universe. If comets, which are mostly ice, are a large constituent of dark matter, then, as Dr. Kotwicki writes, "the remote uncharted (albeit mostly frozen) oceans are truly unimaginably big."

Back home, Earth is often referred to as the "water planet," and it certainly looks that way from space. H2O covers about 70% of the surface of the globe. It makes all life as we know it possible.

The Blue Planet?

However it got here - theories abound from outgassing of volcanic eruptions to deposits by passing comets and ancient crossed orbits - water is what gives our planet its lovely, unique blue tint, and there appears to be quite a lot of it.

That old axiom that the earth is 75% water... Not quite. In reality, water constitutes only 0.07% of the earth by mass, or 0.4% by volume.

This is how much we have, depicted graphically...
Credit: Howard Perlman, USGS; globe illustration by Jack Cook, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (©); Adam Nieman.
What this shows is the relative size of our water supply if it were all gathered together into a ball and superimposed on the globe.

The large blob, centered over the western US, is all water (oceans, icecaps, glaciers, lakes, rivers, groundwater, and water in the atmosphere). It's a sphere about 860 miles in diameter, or roughly the distance from Salt Lake City to Topeka. The smaller sphere, over Kentucky, is the fresh water in the ground and in lakes, rivers, and swamps.

Now examine the image closely. See that last, tiny dot over Georgia? It's the fresh water in lakes and rivers.

Looked at another way, that ball of all the water in the world represents a total volume of about 332.5 million cubic miles. But of this, 321 million mi3, or 96.5%, is saline - great for fish, but undrinkable without the help of nature or some serious hardware. That still leaves a good bit of fresh water, some 11.6 million mi3, to play with. Unfortunately, the bulk of that is locked up in icecaps, glaciers, and permanent snow, or is too far underground to be accessible with today's technology. (The numbers come from the USGS; obviously, they are estimates and they change a bit every year, but they are accurate enough for our purposes.)

Accessible groundwater amounts to 5.614 million mi3, with 55% of that saline, leaving a little over 2.5 million mi3 of fresh groundwater. That translates to about 2.7 exa-gallons of fresh water, or about 2.7 billion billion gallons (yes billions of billions, or 1018 in scientific notation), which is about a third of a billion gallons of water per person. Enough to take a long shower every day for many lifetimes...

However, not all of that groundwater is easily or cheaply accessible. The truth is that the surface is the source for the vast majority - nearly 80% - of our water. Of surface waters, lakes hold 42,320 mi3, only a bit over half of which is fresh, and the world's rivers hold only 509 mi3 of fresh water, less than 2/10,000 of 1% of the planetary total.

And that's where the problem lies. In 2005 in the US alone, we humans used about 328 billion gallons of surface water per day, compared to about 83 billion gallons per day of water from the ground. Most of that surface water, by far, comes from rivers. Among these, one of the most important is the mighty Colorado.
Horseshoe Bend, in Page, AZ. (AP Photo)
Tapping Ol' Man River

Or perhaps we should say "the river formerly known as the mighty Colorado." That old Colorado - the one celebrated in centuries of American Western song and folklore; the one that exposed two billion years of geologic history in the awesome Grand Canyon - is gone. In its place is... well, Las Vegas - the world's gaudiest monument to hubristic human overreach, and a big neon sign advertising the predicament now faced by much of the world.

It's well to remember that most of the US west of the Mississippi ranges from relatively dry to very arid, to desert, to lifeless near-moonscapes. The number of people that could be supported by the land, especially in the Southwest, was always small and concentrated along the riverbanks. Tribal clusters died out with some regularity. And that's the way it would have remained, except for a bit of ingenuity that suddenly loosed two powerful forces on the area: electrical power, and an abundance of water that seemed as limitless as the sky.

In September of 1935, President Roosevelt dedicated the pinnacle of engineering technology up to that point: Hoover Dam. The dam did two things. It served as a massive hydroelectric generating plant, and it backed up the Colorado River behind it, creating Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the country.

Early visitors dubbed Hoover Dam the "Eighth Wonder of the World," and it's easy to see why. It was built on a scale unlike anything before it. It's 725 feet high and contains 6 million tons of concrete, which would pave a road from New York to Los Angeles. Its 19 generators produce 2,080 MW of electricity, enough to power 1.75 million average homes.

The artificially created Lake Mead is 112 miles long, with a maximum depth of 590 feet. It has a surface area of 250 square miles and an active capacity of 16 million acre-feet.

Hoover Dam was intended to generate sufficient power and impound an ample amount of water, to meet any conceivable need. But as things turned out, grand as the dam is, it wasn't conceived grandly enough... because it is 35 miles from Las Vegas, Nevada.

Vegas had a permanent population in 1935 of 8,400, a number that swelled to 25,000 during the dam construction as workers raced in to take jobs that were scarce in the early Depression years. Those workers, primarily single men, needed something to do with their spare time, so the Nevada state legislature legalized gambling in 1931. Modern Vegas was born.

The rise of Vegas is well chronicled, from a middle-of-nowhere town to the largest city founded in the 20th century and the fastest-growing in the nation - up until the 2008 housing bust. Somehow, those 8,400 souls turned into a present population of over 2 million that exists all but entirely to service the 40 million tourists who visit annually. And all this is happening in a desert that sees an average of 10 days of measurable rainfall per year, totaling about 4 inches.

In order to run all those lights, fountains, and revolving stages, Las Vegas requires 5,600 MW of electricity on a summer day. Did you notice that that's more than 2.5 times what the giant Hoover Dam can put out? Not to mention that those 42 million people need a lot of water to drink to stay properly hydrated in the 100+ degree heat. And it all comes from Lake Mead.

So what do you think is happening to the lake?

If your guess was, "it's shrinking," you're right. The combination of recent drought years in the West and rapidly escalating demand has been a dire double-whammy, reducing the lake to 40% full. Normally, the elevation of Lake Mead is 1,219 feet. Today, it's at 1,086 feet and dropping by ten feet a year (and accelerating). That's how much more water is being taken out than is being replenished.

This is science at its simplest. If your extraction of a renewable resource exceeds its ability to recharge itself, it will disappear - end of story. In the case of Lake Mead, that means going dry, an eventuality to which hydrologists assign a 50% probability in the next twelve years. That's by 2025.

Nevadans are not unaware of this. There is at the moment a frantic push to get approval for a massive pipeline project designed to bring in water from the more favored northern part of the state. Yet even if the pipeline were completed in time, and there is stiff opposition to it (and you thought only oil pipelines gave way to politics and protests), that would only resolve one issue. There's another. A big one.

Way before people run out of drinking water, something else happens: When Lake Mead falls below 1,050 feet, the Hoover Dam's turbines shut down - less than four years from now, if the current trend holds - and in Vegas the lights start going out.
What Doesn't Stay in Vegas
Ominously, these water woes are not confined to Las Vegas. Under contracts signed by President Obama in December 2011, Nevada gets only 23.37% of the electricity generated by the Hoover Dam. The other top recipients: Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (28.53%); state of Arizona (18.95%); city of Los Angeles (15.42%); and Southern California Edison (5.54%).
You can always build more power plants, but you can't build more rivers, and the mighty Colorado carries the lifeblood of the Southwest. It services the water needs of an area the size of France, in which live 40 million people. In its natural state, the river poured 15.7 million acre-feet of water into the Gulf of California each year. Today, twelve years of drought have reduced the flow to about 12 million acre-feet, and human demand siphons off every bit of it; at its mouth, the riverbed is nothing but dust.
Nor is the decline in the water supply important only to the citizens of Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Los Angeles. It's critical to the whole country. The Colorado is the sole source of water for southeastern California's Imperial Valley, which has been made into one of the most productive agricultural areas in the US despite receiving an average of three inches of rain per year.
The Valley is fed by an intricate system consisting of 1,400 miles of canals and 1,100 miles of pipeline. They are the only reason a bone-dry desert can look like this:
Intense conflicts over water will probably not be confined to the developing world. So far, Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado have been able to make and keep agreements defining who gets how much of the Colorado River's water. But if populations continue to grow while the snowcap recedes, it's likely that the first shots will be fired before long, in US courtrooms. If legal remedies fail... a war between Phoenix and LA might seem far-fetched, but at the minimum some serious upheaval will eventually ensue unless an alternative is found quickly.
A Litany of Crises
Water scarcity is, of course, not just a domestic issue. It is far more critical in other parts of the world than in the US. It will decide the fate of people and of nations.
Worldwide, we are using potable water way faster than it can be replaced. Just a few examples:
•   The Aral Sea was once the fourth-largest freshwater lake in the world; today, it has shrunk to 10% of its former size and is on track to disappear entirely by 2020. Watching what has happened just since the turn of the century is stunning.
•   The legendary Jordan River is flowing at only 2% of its historic rate.
•   In Africa, desertification is proceeding at an alarming rate. Much of the northern part of the continent is already desert, of course. But beyond that, a US Department of Agriculture study places about 2.5 million km2 of African land at low risk of desertification, 3.6 million km2 at moderate risk, 4.6 million km2 at high risk, and 2.9 million km2 at very high risk. "The region that has the highest propensity," the report says, "is locate d along the desert margins and occupies about 5% of the land mass. It is estimated that about 22 million people (2.9% of the total population) live in this area."
•   A 2009 study published in the American Meteorological Society's Journal of Climate analyzed 925 major rivers from 1948 to 2004 and found an overall decline in total discharge. The reduction in inflow to the Pacific Ocean alone was about equal to shutting off the Mississippi River. The list of rivers that serve large human populations and experienced a significant decline in flow includes the Amazon, Congo, Chang Jiang (Yangtze), Mekong, Ganges, Irrawaddy, Amur, Mackenzie, Xijiang, Columbia, and Niger.
Supply is not the only issue. There's also potability. Right now, 40% of the global population has little to no access to clean water, and despite somewhat tepid modernization efforts, that figure is actually expected to jump to 50% by 2025. When there's no clean water, people will drink dirty water - water contaminated with human and animal waste. And that breeds illness. It's estimated that fully half of the world's hospital beds today are occupied by people with water-borne diseases.
Food production is also a major contributor to water pollution. To take two examples:
•   The "green revolution" has proven to have an almost magical ability to provide food for an ever-increasing global population, but at a cost. Industrial cultivation is extremely water intensive, with 80% of most US states' water usage going to agriculture - and in some, it's as high as 90%. In addition, factory farming uses copious amounts of fertilizer, herbicides, and pesticides, creating serious problems for the water supply because of toxic runoff.
•   Modern livestock facilities - known as  concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) - create enormous quantities of animal waste that is pumped into holding ponds. From there, some of it inevitably seeps into the groundwater, and the rest eventually has to be dumped somewhere. Safe disposal practices are often not followed, and regulatory oversight is lax. As a result, adjacent communities' drinking water can come to contain dangerously high levels of E. coli bacteria and other harmful organisms.
Not long ago, scientists discovered a whole new category of pollutants that no one had previously thought to test for: drugs. We are a nation of pill poppers and needle freaks, and the drugs we introduce into our bodies are only partially absorbed. The remainder is excreted and finds its way into the water supply. Samples recently taken from Lake Mead revealed detectable levels of birth control medication, steroids, and narcotics... which people and wildlife are drinking.
Most lethal of all are industrial pollutants that continue to find their way into the water supply. The carcinogenic effects of these compounds have been well documented, as the movie-famed Erin Brockovich did with hexavalent chromium.
But the problem didn't go away with Brockovich's court victory. The sad fact is that little has changed for the better. In the US, our feeble attempt to deal with these threats was the passage in 1980 of the so-called Superfund Act. That law gave the federal government - and specifically the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) - the authority to respond to chemical emergencies and to clean up uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous-waste sites on both private and public lands. And it supposedly provided money to do so.
How's that worked out? According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), "After decades of spearheading restoration efforts in areas such as the Great Lakes and the Chesapeake Bay, improvements in these water bodies remain elusive ... EPA continues to face the challenges posed by an aging wastewater infrastructure that results in billions of gallons of untreated sewage entering our nation's water bodies ... Lack of rapid water-testing methods and development of current water quality standards continue to be issues that EPA needs to address."
Translation: the EPA hasn't produced. How much of this is due to the typical drag of a government bureaucracy and how much to lack of funding is debatable. Whether there might be a better way to attack the problem is debatable. But what is not debatable is the magnitude of the problem stacking up, mostly unaddressed.
Just consider that the EPA has a backlog of 1,305 highly toxic Superfund cleanup sites on its to-do list, in every state in the union (except apparently North Dakota, in case you want to try to escape - though the proliferation of hydraulic fracking in that area may quickly change the map, according to some of its detractors - it's a hotly debated assertion).
About 11 million people in the US, including 3-4 million children, live within one mile of a federal Superfund site. The health of all of them is at immediate risk, as is that of those living directly downstream.
We could go on about this for page after page. The situation is depressing, no question. And even more so is the fact that there's little we can do about it. There is no technological quick fix.
Peak oil we can handle. We find new sources, we develop alternatives, and/or prices rise. It's all but certain that by the time we actually run out of oil, we'll already have shifted to something else.
But "peak water" is a different story. There are no new sources; what we have is what we have. Absent a profound climate change that turns the evaporation/rainfall hydrologic cycle much more to our advantage, there likely isn't going to be enough to around.
As the biosphere continually adds more billions of humans (the UN projects there will be another 3.5 billion people on the planet, a greater than 50% increase, by 2050 before a natural plateau really starts to dampen growth), the demand for clean water has the potential to far outstrip dwindling supplies. If that comes to pass, the result will be catastrophic. People around the world are already suffering and dying en masse from lack of access to something drinkable... and the problems look poised to get worse long before they get better.
Searching for a Way Out
With a problem of this magnitude, there is no such thing as a comprehensive solution. Instead, it will have to be addressed by chipping away at the problem in a number of ways, which the world is starting to do.
With much water not located near population centers, transportation will have to be a major part of the solution. With oil, a complex system of pipelines, tankers, and trucking fleets has been erected, because it's been profitable to do so. The commodity has a high intrinsic value. Water doesn't - or at least hasn't in most of the modern era's developed economies - and thus delivery has been left almost entirely to gravity. Further, the construction of pipelines for water that doesn't flow naturally means taking a vital resource from someone and giving it to someone else, a highly charged political and social issue that's been known to lead to protest and even violence. But until we've piped all the snow down from Alaska to California, transportation will be high on the list of potential near term solutions, especially to individual supply crunches, just as it has been with energy.
Conservation measures may help too, at least in the developed world, though the typical lawn-watering restrictions will hardly make a dent. Real conservation will have to come from curtailing industrial uses like farming and fracking.
But these bandage solutions can only forestall the inevitable without other advances to address the problems. Thankfully, where there is a challenge, there are always technology innovators to help address it. It was wells and aqueducts that let civilization move from the riverbank inland, irrigation that made communal farming scale, and sewers and pipes that turned villages into cities, after all. And just as with the dawn of industrial water, entrepreneurs are developing some promising tech developments, too.
Given how much water we use today, there's little doubt that conservation's sibling, recycling, is going to be big. Microfiltration systems are very sophisticated and can produce recycled water that is near-distilled in quality. Large-scale production remains a challenge, as is the reluctance of people to drink something that was reclaimed from human waste or industrial runoff. But that might just require the right spokesperson. California believes so, in any case, as it forges ahead with its Porcelain Springs initiative. A company called APTwater has taken on the important task of purifying contaminated leachate water from landfills that would otherwise pollute the groundwater. This is simply using technology to accelerate the natural process of replenishment by using energy, but if it can be done at scale, we will eventually reach the point where trading oil or coal for clean drinking water makes economic sense. It's already starting to in many places.
Inventor Dean Kamen of Segway fame has created the Slingshot, a water-purification machine that could be a lifesaver for small villages in more remote areas. The size of a dorm-room refrigerator, it can produce 250 gallons of water a day, using the same amount of energy it takes to run a hair dryer, provided by an engine that can burn just about anything (it's been run on cow dung). The Slingshot is designed to be maintenance-free for at least five years.
Kamen says you can "stick the intake hose into anything wet - arsenic-laden water, salt water, the latrine, the holding tanks of a chemical waste treatment plant; really, anything wet - and the outflow is one hundred percent pure pharmaceutical-grade injectable water."
That naturally presupposes there is something wet to tap into. But Coca-Cola, for one, is a believer. This September, Coke entered into a partnership with Kamen's company, Deka Research, to distribute Slingshots in Africa and Latin America.
Ceramic filters are another, low-tech option for rural areas. Though clean water output is very modest, they're better than nothing. The ability to decontaminate stormwater runoff would be a boon for cities, and AbTech Industries is producing a product to do just that.
In really arid areas, the only water present may be what's held in the air. Is it possible to tap that source? "Yes," say a couple of cutting-edge tech startups. Eole Water proposes to extract atmospheric moisture using a wind turbine. Another company, NBD Nano, has come up with a self-filling water bottle that mimics the Namib Desert beetle. Whether the technology is scalable to any significant degree remains to be seen.
And finally, what about seawater? There's an abundance of that. If you ask a random sampling of folks in the street what we're going to do about water shortages on a larger scale, most of them will answer, "desalination." No problem. Well, yes problem.
Desalination (sometimes shortened to "desal") plants are already widespread, and their output is ramping up rapidly. According to the International Desalination Association, in 2009 there were 14,451 desalination plants operating worldwide, producing about 60 million cubic meters of water per day. That figure rose to 68 million m3/day in 2010 and is expected to double to 120 million m3/day by 2020. That sounds impressive, but the stark reality is that it amounts to only around a quarter of one percent of global water consumption.
Boiling seawater and collecting the condensate has been practiced by sailors for nearly two millennia. The same basic principle is employed today, although it has been refined into a procedure called "multistage flash distillation," in which the boiling is done at less than atmospheric pressure, thereby saving energy. This process accounts for 85% of all desalination worldwide. The remainder comes from "reverse osmosis," which uses semipermeable membranes and pressure to separate salts from water.
The primary drawbacks to desal are that a plant obviously has to be located near the sea, and that it is an expensive, highly energy-intensive process. That's why you find so many desal facilities where energy is cheap, in the oil-rich, water-poor nations of the Middle East. Making it work in California will be much more difficult without drastically raising the price of water. And Nevada? Out of luck. Improvements in the technology are bringing costs of production down, but the need for energy, and lots of it, isn't going away. By way of illustration, suppose the US would like to satisfy half of its water needs through desalination. All other factors aside, meeting that goal would require the construction of more than 100 new electric power plants, each dedicated solely to that purpose, and each with agigawatt of capacity.
Moving desalinated water from the ocean inland adds to the expense. The farther you have to transport it and the greater the elevation change, the less feasible it becomes. That makes desalination impractical for much of the world. Nevertheless, the biggest population centers tend to be clustered along coastlines, and demand is likely to drive water prices higher over time, making desal more cost-competitive. So it's a cinch that the procedure will play a steadily increasing role in supplying the world's coastal cities with water.
In other related developments, a small tech startup called NanOasis is working on a desalination process that employs carbon nanotubes. An innovative new project in Australia is demonstrating that food can be grown in the most arid of areas, with low energy input, using solar-desalinated seawater. It holds the promise of being very scalable at moderate cost.
The Future
This article barely scratches the surface of a very broad topic that has profound implications for the whole of humanity going forward. The World Bank's Ismail Serageldin puts it succinctly: "The wars of the 21st century will be fought over water."
There's no doubt that this is a looming crisis we cannot avoid. Everyone has an interest in water. How quickly we respond to the challenges ahead is going to be a matter, literally, of life and death. Where we have choices at all, we had better make some good ones.
From an investment perspective, there are few ways at present to acquire shares in the companies that are doing research and development in the field. But you can expect that to change as technologies from some of these startups begin to hit the market, and as the economics of water begin to shift in response to the changing global landscape.


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Where have all the rivers gone?
« Reply #36 on: March 30, 2013, 04:44:37 AM »

From the article:

How do you ‘lose’ a river? The answer is ‘quite easily’, apparently.  China has lost more than 25,000 of them in the last 30 years.

In a survey, released by the country’s Ministries of Water Resources and Statistics, the number of recorded rivers with catchment areas of over 100 square kilometres had fallen to just under 23,000 compared with a figure of 50,000 in the 1990s.


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POTH: Safe Drinking Water Elusive
« Reply #37 on: May 11, 2013, 01:08:12 PM »
 MONSON, Calif. — Laura Garcia was halfway through the breakfast dishes when the spigot went dry. The small white tank beneath the sink that purified her undrinkable water had run out. Still, as annoying as that was, it was an improvement over the days before Ms. Garcia got her water filter, when she had to do her dishes using water from five-gallon containers she bought at a local store.

Ms. Garcia lives in Monson, Calif. Not being a town, it lacks legal status to apply for federal aid for help with its water woes.

Ms. Garcia’s well water, like that of her neighbors, is laced with excessive nitrates, a pollutant associated with agriculture, septic systems and some soils. Five years ago, this small community of 49 homes near the southern end of the Central Valley took its place on California’s priority list of places in need of clean tap water.

Today the community is still stuck on that list, with no federal help in sight.

Monson’s situation has parallels in places around the country, large and small, seeking federal funds under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The Environmental Protection Agency distributes these funds to state agencies that are supposed to identify problems and underwrite solutions. By the E.P.A.’s calculations, no state has been as inept in distributing the money as California.

The state’s most recent priority list contained 4,925 applications. Some have been on the list for a dozen years. Some have been abandoned by the original applicants. Some are getting the federal funds quickly; others are in limbo. Of $1.5 billion in federal money sent to California and cycled through a revolving fund, $455 million lay fallow earlier this year while the priority list grew.

Monson, an unincorporated town in Tulare County, has a particular bureaucratic challenge. The community has no legal status, so it cannot apply on its own. Yet other entities, like Tulare County, which has offered to add pipelines to send clean water down the road to Monson from the town of Sultana’s water system, have only recently been empowered to apply on Monson’s behalf.

Local philanthropy, in the form of a Tulare County Rotary initiative, has tried to help, donating filters like the one under Ms. Garcia’s sink. These are welcome, Ms. Garcia said, speaking through an interpreter. But, she added, “That’s not a permanent solution.”

Since this cluster of 118 people does not qualify as a town, a water district or anything else that the California Department of Public Health recognizes as a valid applicant, another group must act on its behalf.

Monson is hardly alone. According to Jared Blumenfeld, the regional administrator of the E.P.A., nearly a quarter of all the small water systems in California are in the Central Valley. One-quarter of these dispense water that fails to meet all of the E.P.A’s health requirements.

To fix the problems, however, requires access to engineering and financial management resources beyond the reach of the needy communities, Mr. Blumenfeld said. “We require the state to be sure the people they fund have managerial, financial and administrative capacity to deal” with their water issues.

Though there is hope that Tulare County will be able to get the grant for Monson, he said, “some people, smart people, are trying to solve these problems and feeling frustrated.”

Mr. Blumenfeld himself was frustrated enough to issue a public rebuke to California last month. In a letter to Ron Chapman, the director of the state’s Public Health Department, he wrote, “Many of California’s critical drinking-water infrastructure needs remain unmet.”

He added: “California needs $39 billion in capital improvements through 2026 for water systems to continue to provide safe drinking water to the public. Given this tremendous need, it is crucial that California fully utilize” the revolving fund that is the repository for the federal aid, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars in loan repayments from local water systems. The state was given 60 days to report how it was going to fix the internal accounting problems and get money out.

Does Monson’s long wait reflect a larger pattern of undistributed funds in small communities? In a written response, the spokeswoman for the California Department of Public Health, Anita Gore, replied, “Small water systems often lack the technical expertise and funding to prepare funding applications, hire consultants to get their projects ‘shovel-ready’ and to make them happen.”

She added that the state “has found that these systems require greater assistance than larger water systems, and is working to simplify its procedures and provide more technical assistance.”

More than 800 of the applicants on the state priority list represent communities of fewer than 100 people.

Maria Herrera, who works for the Community Water Center, a local nonprofit, said “the process for Monson to secure funding to solve its drinking water challenges has had many false starts and roadblocks.” She added that the difficulty in satisfying the state “has delayed Monson’s ability to get clean drinking water and forced residents to live without safe drinking water.”

At the moment, Tulare County is planning on Monson’s behalf, and has suggested alternatives, including that pipeline from Sultana.

Britt Fussel, the public works director in Tulare County, said he also hoped to use grant money not just to study different options but also to have one ready to go. “It’s easy to find money for shovel-ready projects; it’s hard to find money for planning,” he said.

This approach, too, was rejected. “I’m in the process of modifying the scope of work,” Mr. Fussel said.

The public health spokeswoman, Ms. Gore, said the state was working closely with the county to expedite things. She wrote: “Tulare County submitted an application on behalf of the unincorporated community of Monson in early 2012. We anticipate the planning project will be completed in mid-2014. Typically, construction projects run about three years to completion, but that depends on what options are identified in the planning study.”


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The Decline of the Colorado River
« Reply #38 on: May 18, 2013, 09:19:23 AM »
 U.S., Mexico: The Decline of the Colorado River
May 13, 2013 | 0703 Print - Text Size +
U.S., Mexico: The Decline of the Colorado River
A ring of bleached sandstone caused by low water levels during a six-year drought surrounds Lake Powell, a Colorado River reservoir near Page, Arizona David McNew/Getty Images

An amendment to a standing water treaty between the United States and Mexico has received publicity over the past six months as an example of progress in water sharing agreements. But the amendment, called Minute 319, is simply a glimpse into ongoing mismanagement of the Colorado River on the U.S. side of the border. Over-allocation of the river's waters 90 years ago combined with increasing populations and economic growth in the river basin have created circumstances in which conservation efforts -- no matter how organized -- could be too little to overcome the projected water deficit that the Colorado River Basin will face in the next 20 years.

In 1922, the seven U.S. states in the Colorado River Basin established a compact to distribute the resources of the river. A border between the Upper and Lower basins was defined at Lees Ferry, Ariz. The Upper Basin (Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico) was allocated 9.25 billion cubic meters a year, and the Lower Basin (Arizona, California and Nevada) was allotted 10.45 billion cubic meters. Mexico was allowed an unspecified amount, which in 1944 was defined as 1.85 billion cubic meters a year. The Upper and Lower basins -- managed as separate organizations under the supervision of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation -- divided their allocated water among the states in their jurisdictions. Numerous disputes arose, especially in the Lower Basin, regarding proper division of the water resources. But the use of (and disputes over) the Colorado River began long before these treaties.
Map - Colorado River Basin

As the United States' territory expanded to the west, the Colorado River briefly was considered a portal to the isolated frontier of the southwestern United States, since it was often cheaper to take a longer path via water to transport goods and people in the early 19th century. There was a short-lived effort to develop the Colorado River as the "Mississippi of the West." While places like Yuma, Ariz., became military and trading outposts, the geography and erratic flow of the Colorado made the river ultimately unsuitable for mass transportation. Navigating the river often required maneuvering around exposed sand banks and through shallow waters. The advent of the railroad ended the need for river transport in the region. Shortly thereafter, large and ambitious management projects, including the Hoover Dam, became the river's main purpose.

Irrigation along the river started expanding in the second half of the 19th century, and agriculture still consumes more water from the Colorado than any other sector. Large-scale manipulation of the river began in the early 20th century, and now there are more than 20 major dams along the Colorado River, along with reservoirs such as Lake Powell and Lake Mead, and large canals that bring water to areas of the Imperial and Coachella valleys in southern California for irrigation and municipal supplies. User priority on the Colorado River is determined by the first "useful purposing" of the water. For example, the irrigated agriculture in California has priority over some municipal water supplies for Phoenix, Ariz.

Inadequate Supply and Increasing Demand

When the original total allocation of the river was set in the 1920s, it was far above regional consumption. But it was also more than the river could supply in the long term. The river was divided based on an estimated annual flow of roughly 21 billion cubic meters per year. More recent studies have indicated that the 20th century, and especially the 1920s, was a time of above-normal flows. These studies indicate that the long-term average of flow is closer to 18 billion cubic meters, with yearly flows ranging anywhere from roughly 6 billion cubic meters to nearly 25 billion cubic meters. As utilization has increased, the deficit between flow and allocation has become more apparent.

Total allocations of river resources for the Upper and Lower basins and Mexico plus water lost to evaporation adds up to more than 21 billion cubic meters per year. Currently, the Upper Basin does not use the full portion of its allocation, and large reservoirs along the river can help meet the demand of the Lower Basin. Populations in the region are expected to increase; in some states, the population could double by 2030. A study released at the end of 2012 by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation predicted a possible shortage of 3 billion cubic meters by 2035.

The Colorado River provides water for irrigation of roughly 15 percent of the crops in the United States, including vegetables, fruits, cotton, alfalfa and hay. It also provides municipal water supplies for large cities, such as Phoenix, Tucson, Los Angeles, San Diego and Las Vegas, accounting for more than half of the water supply in many of these areas. Minute 319, signed in November 2012, gives Mexico a small amount of additional water in an attempt to restore the delta region. However, the macroeconomic impact on Mexico is minimal, since agriculture accounts for the majority of the river's use in Mexico but only about 3 percent of the gross domestic product of the Baja Norte province.

There is an imbalance of power along the international border. The United States controls the headwaters of the Colorado River and also has a greater macroeconomic interest in maintaining the supply of water from the river. This can make individual amendments of the 1944 Treaty somewhat misleading. Because of the erratic nature of the river, the treaty effectively promises more water than the river can provide each year. Cooperation in conservation efforts and in finding alternative water sources on the U.S. side of the border, not treaty amendments, will become increasingly important as regional water use increases over the coming decades.
Conservation Efforts Along the Colorado

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation oversees the whole river, but the management of each basin is separate. Additionally, within each basin, there are separate state management agencies and, within each state, separate regional management agencies. Given the number of participants, reaching agreements on the best method of conservation or the best alternative source of water is difficult. There are ongoing efforts at conservation, including lining canals to reduce seepage and programs to limit municipal water use. However, there is no basin-wide coordination. In a 2012 report, the Bureau of Reclamation compiled a list of suggested projects but stopped short of recommending a course of action.

A similar report released in 2008 listed 12 general options including desalinization, vegetation management (elimination of water-intensive or invasive plants), water reuse, reduced use by power plants and joint management through water banking (water is stored either in reservoirs or in underground aquifers to use when needed). Various sources of water imports from other river basins or even icebergs are proposed as options, as is weather modification by seeding clouds in the Upper Basin. Implementation of all these options would result in an extra 5 billion cubic meters of water a year at most, which could erase the predicted deficit. However, this amount is unlikely, as it assumes maximum output from each technique and also assumes the implementation of all proposed methods, many of which are controversial either politically or environmentally and some of which are economically unviable. Additionally, many of the methods would take years to fully implement and produce their maximum capacity. Even then, a more reasonable estimate of conservation capacity would likely be closer to 1 billion-2 billion cubic meters, which would fall short of the projected deficit in 2035.
The Potential for New Disputes

Conflict over water can arise when there are competing interests for limited resources. This is seen throughout the world with rivers that traverse borders in places like Central Asia and North Africa. For the Colorado River, the U.S.-Mexico border is likely less relevant to the competition for the river's resources than the artificial border drawn at Lees Ferry.

Aside from growing populations, increased energy production from unconventional hydrocarbon sources in the Upper Basin has the potential to increase consumption. While this amount will likely be small compared to overall allocations, it emphasizes the value of water to the Upper Basin. Real or perceived threats to the Upper Basin's surplus of water could be seen as threats to economic growth in the region. At the same time, further water shortages could limit the potential for economic growth in the Lower Basin -- a situation that would only be exacerbated by growing populations.

While necessary, conservation efforts and the search for alternative sources likely will not be able to make up for the predicted shortage. Amendments to the original treaty typically have been issued to address symptomatic problems. However, the core problem remains: More water is promised to river users than is available on average. While this problem has not come to a head yet, there may come a time when regional growth overtakes conservation efforts. It is then that renegotiation of the treaty with a more realistic view of the river's volume will become necessary. Any renegotiation will be filled with conflict, but most of that likely will be contained in the United States.

Read more: U.S., Mexico: The Decline of the Colorado River | Stratfor


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Drought and overuse plague major aquifer
« Reply #40 on: August 12, 2013, 11:20:09 AM »


Groundwater depletion of the High Plains Aquifer in the central United States due to overuse, drought and mismanagement poses a major long-term threat to U.S. agricultural production and exports. Irrigation using water from the aquifer supports a significant portion of U.S. farming, and because many countries rely on food imports from the United States to maintain their own political stability, the implications for the rest of the world could also be profound.

While the 2012 drought certainly had a negative impact on agricultural output, at this point sustained groundwater shortages have not contributed to widespread declines in crop yields, and there is no consensus on when these groundwater reserves will completely disappear. In light of the ongoing depletion of the aquifer, governments at the federal, state and local level have made efforts to adopt a more sustainable groundwater management policy, and advancements in desalination technology in the future also could help alleviate water shortages in the Great Plains. Still, without major reforms to the existing groundwater extraction practices in the High Plains Aquifer, agricultural output remains at risk.


Stretching from South Dakota to the Texas Panhandle, the High Plains Aquifer covers much of the middle of the country, with parts of eight states relying on its groundwater reserves for agricultural, industrial and municipal purposes. Groundwater stored under the earth's surface in porous soil and rock can be accessed by drilling wells that pump the water to the surface. The aquifer recharges from rainfall as well as underground flows from streams and springs, a process that occurs at different rates depending on local geological features as well as the level of human use in the area.

The importance of water management and the vulnerability of regional agriculture became clear during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, when a sustained period of severe drought caused major topsoil erosion and devastated agricultural output, worsening the economic impact of the Great Depression. By the 1950s after agricultural production had resumed, large-scale irrigation using the High Plains Aquifer began, and it accelerated dramatically in the next few decades.

A Thirsty Breadbasket

Water-Level Change in High Plains Aquifer, 1950-2007

The eight states that have territory above the aquifer -- South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas -- are part of the traditional breadbasket of the U.S. interior, and water reserves from the High Plains Aquifer are vital to regional agriculture. In 2000, roughly 75 percent of total groundwater pumped in Kansas was used for irrigation. In 2010, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota combined for 20 percent of U.S. corn production, and these three states along with Oklahoma and Texas combined to produce 45 percent of the U.S. winter wheat crop. Kansas alone is responsible for 22 percent of the wheat crop and exported $1.1 billion worth of wheat in 2010 and an additional $850 million worth of feed grain exports, including corn. Given the volume of exports, changes in production of these staple grains in the United States impact the global market, particularly in countries such as China, Mexico and Nigeria -- all of which are large importers of U.S. grains and where a dramatic decline in available supplies could undermine political stability.

Despite recent efforts to create a more sustainable strategy for groundwater allocation, studies by the U.S. Geological Survey and NASA show that areas of the High Plains Aquifer are still being overdrawn. Measurements from these studies show that while the northern reaches of the aquifer are still relatively well supplied, heavy groundwater pumping for irrigation and industry in parts of Kansas and the Texas Panhandle has brought aquifer levels down by as much as 45 meters (nearly 150 feet) since the 1950s. The rate of depletion has accelerated since 2000, with roughly one-third of total aquifer depletion since 1900 occurring between 2000 and 2008.

While the volume of water being used for irrigation actually declined during this period, several consecutive decades of above-average population growth in the region, along with a sustained period of extreme drought from 2000 to 2004, contributed to accelerating depletion. Much of the region remains in what has been classified as an exceptional drought. Prolonged groundwater depletion has not yet caused widespread declines in agricultural production, but there is growing anecdotal evidence of localized water shortages harming agricultural operations, evidenced by wells going dry as the water level declines and reduced agricultural output. Further declines in the water level will make accessing remaining groundwater more expensive and energy-intensive as wells are dug deeper, requiring more energy to pump the water to the surface. Increased operational costs for agricultural production in the United States could have a significant impact on both domestic and international food prices.

Since the 1940s and 1950s, groundwater policy in this region has been legally based on the prior appropriation doctrine, meaning water rights are granted in the order they are requested and not necessarily to those owning land immediately adjacent to the water supply in question. The first party to claim the water for a beneficial use, which most states define as use for agricultural or municipal purposes, attains a senior right to that amount of water. During periods of drought, those holding senior water rights were given priority to use their allocated share of water before junior water rights holders. While originally meant to protect against water shortages by prioritizing water use during periods of drought, the prior appropriation doctrine has failed to stop the over-allocation of water resources, with holders of both senior and junior water rights continuing to pump from the aquifer at a faster rate than the rate of recharge. This has caused regional groundwater reserves to diminish more quickly than expected and has contributed to groundwater and surface water shortages throughout the Great Plains.

The situation in Kansas illustrates the problems states have had managing water rights. The Kansas Water Appropriation Act of 1945 resulted in an over-allocation of groundwater from the High Plains Aquifer by retroactively granting too many water rights to those already holding wells at the time the law was passed. This legislation also overestimated the recharge rate at which precipitation would replenish groundwater reserves and underestimated the discharge rate at which groundwater flows into nearby sources of surface water. According to 2007 measurements, Kansas withdrew 5.28 billion cubic meters from the High Plains Aquifer. About 2.88 billion cubic meters came from the Ogallala Aquifer, where the estimated annual recharge rate is 0.86 billion cubic meters, far less than the annual rate of withdrawal.

Recently, western states have begun to implement policies that better recognize the relationship between surface and groundwater resources. Kansas has implemented minimum streamflow requirements, where groundwater use will be restricted in areas where surface water levels have dropped below the level needed to maintain water quality and fish and wildlife populations. While this may partially correct original overestimates of available water resources, it may not reverse the significant depletion that has already taken place.
Conservation Efforts

Even though the pressures on the water supply are recognized, the uneven distribution of groundwater resources and the lack of coordination between state and local governments present a major challenge to comprehensive reform. Several states, including Kansas and Colorado, have adopted a localized approach to water management through the creation of local groundwater management districts whose jurisdiction is usually no larger than the county level and can be as small as a city or town. Within these districts, groundwater commissions may establish regulations specific to that area and its individual water use patterns and determine procedures for monitoring and enforcement. However, fully monitoring levels of groundwater use by individual wells and water users exceeds the institutional and financial capacities of most states. There is also significant competition for limited resources and overlap between these local bodies and other state and federal groups, and the structure of authority and decision-making is often unclear.

Because of this, developments in state water policy have often been ad hoc and responsive in nature, with most major policy changes resulting from specific conflicts rather than a more comprehensive reform process, similar to what we have seen in the Colorado River Basin. While most states have designated mechanisms for resolving low-level disputes, interstate water conflicts have reached the U.S. Supreme Court in the past.

Due to competition at the state and local level, federal involvement may be necessary for comprehensive reform, but there is little historical precedent for this type of federal intervention into state water policy. While federal departments such as the Environmental Protection Agency have passed numerous regulations specific to preventing water pollution, they have not traditionally had a role in governing the allocation of water resources. Attempts by the U.S. government to exert control over groundwater conservation could encounter major political resistance from individual states and communities reluctant to relinquish control of such a vital resource.

Given the challenges to meaningful improvement in policies for managing existing groundwater resources, the development of alternative sources of freshwater such as desalination, recycling of wastewater or imports from water-rich areas may offer a partial solution to the growing problem of water scarcity. Several other water-scarce countries, including Singapore and Saudi Arabia, have devoted significant financial resources to developing desalination technology and rely heavily on this alternative source of fresh water.

While some coastal areas in the United States have begun developing desalination capabilities, these efforts have been plagued with regulatory, environmental and economic disputes. However, desalination technology is continually improving, which may make the process more energy efficient and cost-effective in the future, increasing its appeal in regions like the High Plains Aquifer. Rapid pumping of fresh water from the aquifer for irrigation and industrial water use has increased the rate of salt infiltration of regional groundwater, and a significant portion of the aquifer's current reserves contain too much salt to be used for agricultural or municipal purposes. Desalination would not necessarily slow actual rates of depletion, but it could increase the overall volume of groundwater reserves available for use. Development of efficient desalination infrastructure on the coasts could also allow desalinated seawater to be transported to water-scarce landlocked regions if necessary.

The United States has the resources to pursue a number of technological remedies to mitigate the water shortage crises, which, while looming, are not imminent. However, without a coordinated approach to managing and allocating current groundwater reserves, overuse amid drought or near-drought conditions will continue to be a problem for the world's primary agricultural exporter.

Read more: Drought and Overuse Plague a Critical U.S. Aquifer | Stratfor
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Fracking running down the water table in Texas?
« Reply #41 on: August 15, 2013, 07:18:39 PM »
As the URL says, this is a tree hugger site  :-D  By itself that does not mean it is wrong however.  Fracking uses lots of water, and this thread has many articles about water tables declining dramatically, even without fracking, so upon first blush this sounds plausible.


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Dying of dehydration due to fracking. Good grief.
« Reply #42 on: August 18, 2013, 10:24:51 AM »
As the URL says, this is a tree hugger site  :-D  By itself that does not mean it is wrong however.  Fracking uses lots of water, and this thread has many articles about water tables declining dramatically, even without fracking, so upon first blush this sounds plausible.

I hope that ours is a tree hugger site as well. )  That said, this is their logic: fracking uses water, and a small, shallow well near fracking needs re-drilling, therefore A caused B.  Not to detract from their other agenda items they start with the disclaimer, "it is important to note that fracking is not the only problem here".

Unmentioned is that fracking is the reason CO2 emissions are down nationwide, alleviating droughts, if you subscribe to the theory.  In the upper midwest the 'environmentalists' oppose the use of sand in fracking and in Texas it is based on water.  All politics is local.  The author makes no effort to hide his disdain for urban sprawl and the greening of the desert.  Most telling is that they opposed fracking before pinpointing a reason.  I support studying and following all these developments - scientifically - but as I search water issues related to fracking, I keep getting pointed to the the same study in the same county in west Texas. 

So let's look at Crockett TX:

"Fracking accounts for 25% of water use" in Crockett County.  From there, on to it being a national problem.   Crockett county has a population density was 1.46 people per square mile.  How much water are we talking about?  The county has 3000 people and the "Texas town running out of water after using it for fracking" has a population of 160.  No problem for an alarmism site to drift its logic back and forth and back between "large urban centres sucking water out of west Texas", fracking, and a well issue in one small town.  FYI to, a small town having to re-drill its well is not unprecedented in west Texas or human history.   But the proximity to fracking makes this newsworthy because a cause-effect relationship is so easily implied, and supporting the agenda is the main determinant of news.

Where I live, we are up to our eyeballs in abundant clean water.  Natural gas and nuclear power are the cleanest, abundant forms of energy in current use here, both opposed by 'environmentalists'.  But people are still moving away - to climates warmer and drier.


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Reuters: Fracking water's dirty little secret - recycling
« Reply #43 on: August 18, 2013, 10:36:35 AM »

Analysis: Fracking water's dirty little secret - recycling

By Nichola Groom

LOS ANGELES | Mon Jul 15, 2013 12:53pm EDT

(Reuters) - The oil and gas industry is finding that less is more in the push to recycle water used in hydraulic fracturing. Slightly dirty water, it seems, does just as good a job as crystal clear when it comes to making an oil or gas well work.

Exploration and production companies are under pressure to reduce the amount of freshwater used in dry areas like Texas and to cut the high costs of hauling millions of barrels of water to oil and gas wells and later to underground disposal wells.

To attack those problems, oilfield service companies like Halliburton, Baker Hughes and FTS International, are treating water from "fracked" wells just enough so that it can be used again. Smaller companies like Ecosphere Technologies Inc have also deployed similar methods.


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Re: Water
« Reply #44 on: August 18, 2013, 11:02:46 AM »
I've some are looking into using CO2 as a vehicle to pump into the ground to wedge open the rocks to release hydrocarbons.   Capture the CO2 emission of nat gas or coal then pump this into the ground to avoid release into the atmosphere and at the same time save water and get our fuel.


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Re: Water
« Reply #45 on: August 18, 2013, 04:37:39 PM »
Good follow up work gents.

Let's continue to keep an eye out for the meme.


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Fracking without water
« Reply #46 on: August 23, 2013, 06:15:48 AM »
As cries of protest from environmental and farming groups are on the rise, a new technology developed by GasFrac of Canada has the potential to make such concerns obsolete.  Liquid propane gas fracking, or LPG fracking, completely eliminates the need for water in fracking processes, leading inventor Robert Lestz to believe that the technology could have “a substantially game-changing impact on industry”.


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Re: Water
« Reply #47 on: August 25, 2013, 02:02:33 PM »
Nice find Doug.


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« Reply #49 on: October 17, 2013, 07:27:46 PM »
In September, France-based Radar Technologies International, in collaboration with the Kenyan government and the U.N. and with funding from Japan, used satellite technology to pinpoint several aquifers. The discovery of the new aquifers in northern Kenya is welcome news for a region where much of the population does not have reliable access to drinking water and where resource scarcity has hampered economic growth. The most notable discovery during this survey was the Lotikipi Aquifer in the northwestern part of the Rift Valley. The aquifer holds an estimated 207 billion cubic meters of water and an annual recharge rate estimated at 1.2 bcm. In total, some 250 bcm were discovered, with an expected annual recharge rate of 3.4 bcm -- an amount roughly equal to 15 percent of the 21 bcm of water currently available to Kenya each year.

The Lotikipi Aquifer is located beneath the Turkana Desert, near the borders with Uganda and South Sudan. Among the poorest areas in Kenya and often plagued by drought, the region supports a primarily nomadic population. Many inhabitants lack regular access to drinking water and rely heavily on food aid. By comparison, the economic core of the country is located near the Lake Victoria and Athi basins, where roughly 60 percent of Kenya's previously known water resources sit. The sparse populations along the coast and in the north have historically been less important to the government. However, oil discoveries in Turkana in 2012 raise the prospect of some level of possible resource-based economic growth. The ready availability of significant water resources may now entice Nairobi to focus more on protecting and developing the region.

Still, initial claims that the aquifers could supply Kenya with water for the next 70 years do not take into account the constraints Nairobi will face in developing the resource. While the increased availability of groundwater could support local growth, Nairobi must use the resource in a controlled manner for it to be sustainable. Kenya will likely struggle to develop the physical infrastructure needed to efficiently utilize the aquifers, and effective resource management will prove difficult as multiple sectors compete for the new, but still limited, groundwater reserves.