Category Archives: Drought

Mapping the Spread of Drought Across the U.S.

Image: ClimateWizard.org

Image: ClimateWizard.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Slightly more than a third of the United States suffered moderate or worse drought as of July 22, and about 40% of the country has been abnormally dry in recent months, according to research cited in The New York Times. Climate change is intensifying drought and changing patterns. While the West dries out, especially California and southwestern states, more rain than usual has been falling east of the Mississippi River. Look at the mapping on NYT Interactive’s The UpShot.

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Filed under Climate Change, Drought, Environment, North America, Research, Water Resources

China’s Virtual Water Flows: The Rich Get Richer, the Poor Get Thirstier

Virtual water flows in China. Copyright 2014 American Chemical Society.

New research shows that China’s wealthier and wetter southern provinces are draining already-scare water supplies from arid northern provinces, exacerbating shortages and increasing risk of crisis conditions.

The study, conducted by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) with the University of Maryland and published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, uses the economic concept of “virtual water.” That refers to water tracked through trade of goods that require water to produce, as most do. The researchers say it is the first study to take water scarcity into account rather than treating all water as equal in the analysis.

The researchers say the study helps lay the groundwork for better water-resource management. One upshot is the idea that it might be smarter on the whole not to import water-intensive goods from the dry north to the wet south, even as the country gears up massive efforts to divert water in the other direction because of the shortages.

Read more:

The study: Virtual Scarce Water in ChinaEnvironmental Science & Technology

China’s arid north feeds water-rich south – Reuters

Following China’s water: a threat of scarcity – Nature World News

China’s hidden water footprint – Phys.org

Virtual water highlights China’s hidden water footprint – Science 2.0

Related posts:

 China Plans to Desalinate Vast Amounts of Sea Ice

China Raises Water Prices for Top Users

Mapping the World’s Most Water-Stressed Countries

Serious Water Conservation Demands Layered Approach and Emotional Commitment

Study: Freshwater Shortage Will Double Climate Change’s Impact on Agriculture

 

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Filed under Agriculture, Asia, Climate Change, Drought, Industry, Research, Rivers and Watersheds, Sustainability, Water Shortage

California Dreaming: New Study Pushes Massive Water-Conservation Effort

Image courtesy of Calif. Dept. of Water Resources

Image courtesy of Calif. Dept. of Water Resources

If California really tried, it could keep a reserve amounting to as much water all of its cities use in a year — about 14 million acre feet. That’s according to a new analysis conducted by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Pacific Institute. It’s the “trying” that could prove difficult for the drought-ridden state, because it would take an aggressive, across-the-board effort to save water, reuse water, and capture lost stormwater. Widespread use of available but underused efficiency methods would have to be implemented in the state’s massive agricultural industry, which uses about 80% of allocated water, and throughout urban areas, which use about 20%. That will take strong political will, a lot of cooperation, and financial investment. But it’s worth it, because it will make a huge difference, and you can’t just keep throwing new plans for billion-dollar desalination plants at the problem.

Read more:

Issue Brief: The Untapped Potential of California’s Water Supply: Efficiency, Reuse, and Stormwater – NRDC and Pacific Institute

California Water Security Attainable, Study SuggestsThe Desert Sun

Related posts:

Past, Present and Future: California’s Epic Struggle With Water

Serious Water Conservation Requires Layered Approach and Emotional Commitment

California’s State-of-the-State Address: Brown’s Drought Plan in Broad Strokes

Civilization Lost? California’s 500-Year Drought Potential

To the Rescue in California? Solar-Powered Desalination

Over-Salted: The Trouble(s) With Desalination

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Filed under Climate Change, Conservation, Desalination, Drought, North America, Technology, Water Resources, Water Shortage

A Grim Climate-Change Forecast for the U.S.

Image: ClimateWizard.org

Image: ClimateWizard.org

Before too long, much of South Florida could be underwater. Alaskan forests could die at increasing rates as melting permafrost releases methane into the atmosphere. Rising oceans could make storm surges even more devastating to East Coast cities, even as drought and wildfires torment the Southwest. Those are just a handful of examples among many. The new National Climate Assessment came out on Tuesday in the U.S., bringing alarming news of how climate change, unless curbed by  drastic changes in human behavior — if that’s even possible at this point — will wreak havoc on different regions in different ways. About 300 scientists from academia, government and the private sector contributed to the report.

Read more:

Climate Disruptions, Close to HomeThe New York Times Editorial Board

Obama Administration Releases Third National Climate Assessment for the United States – NOAA

U.S. National Climate Assessment – U.S. Global Change Research Program (GlobalChange.gov)

Related posts: 

Environmentalists See Coming Collapse, Push ‘Uncivilisation’ in an ‘Age of Ecocide’

Water’s Place Among Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals

At the Point of Peak Water, Our Foreseeable Future Grows Shorter

Civilization Lost? California’s 500-Year Drought Potential

Study: Freshwater Shortage Will Double Climate Change’s Impact on Agriculture

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Filed under Climate Change, Drought, Environment, Industry, Natural Disasters, North America, Pollution, Research, Water Resources

At the Point of ‘Peak Water,’ Our Foreseeable Future Grows Shorter

Watercyclesummary

The world has a finite supply of accessible freshwater. By some estimates, less than 1% of the naturally occurring freshwater on earth is accessible to humans; the rest is locked up in ice or too deep and dispersed in the ground for us to get. The phrase “peak water” refers to the point at which we’re consuming available freshwater faster than it can be replenished by nature through the hydrologic water cycle to the usual sources, such as lakes, rivers, and shallow underground aquifers, many of which are already dangerously depleted.

Whether we’re nearing the point of peak water, already there, or well past it is a question under ongoing discussion. One point of confusion is that water volume and use vary widely by region. Some areas are nearing or past peak water, others aren’t. Another factor is that climate change is throwing the status quo of water abundance or scarcity by region into flux. Look at the 2013 research showing that heavy pollution from the U.S. and Europe from the 1960s into the 1980s effectively changed weather patterns, becoming a primary cause of Africa’s long, widespread, and deadly Sahel Drought. What will happen because of today’s pollution from the world’s most prolific sources? (e.g., China).

And those who don’t see water and climate change as parts of the same series of problems should note: “The hydrologic cycle is the climate cycle,” says hydro-climatologist Dr. Peter Gleick, co-founder of the Pacific Institute, in a video interview that lays out overlapping problems. Water, climate change, and energy production are all inextricably linked. In fact, links between water and energy make up the theme of this year’s World Water Day, coming up on March 22.

It’s worth noting that water scarcity is a crucial element of the resource crises cited in the upcoming NASA-funded study predicting a “perfect storm” within a few decades that could end global civilization. The study looked closely at the fall of previous complex societies, such as the Mayans and Romans, and found parallels with our unsustainable overuse of resources — particularly the massively unequal use by wealthy versus poor.

However close to “peak” we may be, no sustained sense of urgency over water scarcity is apparent in mainstream media. In part this is because water supplies are local or regional, not global, and in part it’s because these problems take a long time — and a much longer attention span than a 24-hour news cycle has — to address. So you see localized articles about regional droughts and potential conflicts over resources, though rarely anything that puts the worldwide water crisis in perspective and looks ahead to cross-cutting solutions (e.g., large-scale renewable-energy power production that requires much less water than nuclear or fossil-fuel-based power, combined with modern and far-reaching conservation measures addressing agricultural, industrial, and residential water use and re-use).

Compared to today’s world, our near-future planet will have double the human population, even more-severe climate change, and yet the same old freshwater, redistributed. Perhaps it’s too easy to push off the worry, as we think we’ll get serious about conservation before it’s too late. Or that governments and industry will join together to provide desalinated water wherever necessary — somehow without the troubling environmental costs of today’s practices — before vast human populations must migrate or die.  Or that those fresh and brackish aquifers recently discovered under the oceans will push the point-of-no-return a few decades further into the future. Well, someday, after the fights over the rights, maybe somebody will throw billions at drilling into those aquifers. Because someday they’ll have no choice. And then those reserves will be sucked dry, too.

You might say we have no choice other than to better manage our freshwater.

Read more:

UPDATE: CHARTS: How power generation threatens water supplies, and climate change threatens both – ClimateProgress

UPDATE: NASA-funded study: Industrial civilisation headed for “irreversible collapse”? Natural and social scientists develop new model of how “perfect storm” of crises could unravel global systemThe Guardian

Are we on the path to peak water? – Climate Central (with infographic)

Peak water is here – Daily Kos (links to video interview with Dr. Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute)

Peak water (background) – Wikipedia

Pollution in Northern Hemisphere helped cause 1980s African drought – Washington University

Related posts:

Mapping the World’s Most Water-Stressed Countries

Serious Water Conservation Demands Layered Approach and Emotional Commitment

Over-Salted: The Trouble(s) With Desalination

Study: Freshwater Shortage Will Double Climate Change’s Impact on Agriculture

Unchecked Emissions Will Drain Water Resources, Warns Leaked U.N. Report

Study Describes Vast Reserves of Water Under Ocean Floors

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Filed under Africa, Agriculture, Climate Change, Conservation, Desalination, Drought, Europe, Groundwater, Industry, North America, Pollution, Research, Rivers and Watersheds, Sustainability, Technology, United Nations, Wastewater Treatment, Water Resources, Water Shortage

Water Shortages and the Threats of War and Terror

Image: cawater-info.net

Image: cawater-info.net

The prediction that water will outstrip oil — and every other scarce natural resource — as a factor in global conflict has been around for a long time. After all, without water, everybody and everything dies.  There is no substitute for it. Among water-stressed regions, where is conflict likely to strike, and when? In many places, it’s already happening.

Conflict is widespread and ongoing because it can take many forms besides all-out war. In some areas, competition over water may be at the root of tensions between warring factions, though not the only cause. In certain conflicts, water resources may be military or terrorist targets, either to capture or to destroy as a way of hurting the enemy. Elsewhere, protests over water shortages resulting from perceived mismanagement can erupt in violence. The Pacific Institute studies these issues; the conflict chronology at the link below is especially interesting because it shows the whole gamut of water-related struggles.

A useful backgrounder on water-related conflict can be found in Suzanne Goldenberg’s recent piece for The Guardian, also linked below. It identifies six “regions at risk,” due to extreme drought and/or tension over shared resources: California, Brazil, Middle East (Iran, United Arab Emirates, Jordan), North Africa (Egypt and Ethiopia), South Asia (eastern Pakistan, northern India), and China. Stephen Leahy’s IPS article and Giulio Boccaletti’s op-ed for The Nature Conservancy further fill in the picture and scope of global water (in)security.

Read more:

Why global water shortages pose threat of terror and war – The Guardian

In an increasingly unpredictable world, we must secure nature to secure our water – The Nature Conservancy

Water crisis hitting food, energy — and everything else – IPS

Pacific Institute: water and conflict

Pacific Institute: water conflict chronology

Related posts:

Past, Present and Future: California’s Epic Struggle With Water

Water War? Dam Talks Between Egypt and Ethiopia Falter

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Filed under Africa, Asia, Conflicts, Drought, Middle East, North America, Research, South America, Water Shortage

Past, Present and Future: California’s Epic Struggle With Water

Image courtesy of Ca.gov

Image courtesy of Ca.gov

Alexis C. Madrigal’s new piece in The Atlantic, which he tweeted is his most ambitious yet, is a good read. It has great descriptions of California’s ongoing, larger-than-life efforts to stay hydrated in a place where nature simply won’t cooperate. The article centers on Gov. Jerry Brown’s $25 billion Bay Delta Conservation Plan, which proposes to dig two tunnels under the entire Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. If built, they’ll be longer than the Chunnel connecting England and France under the English Channel.

Read more:

American Aqueduct: The Great California Water Saga
A $25 billion plan, a small town, and a half-century of wrangling over the most important resource in the biggest state
Alexis C. Madrigal, The Atlantic

Recent related posts:

Serious Water Conservation Requires Layered Approach and Emotional Commitment

California’s State-of-the-State Address: Brown’s Drought Plan in Broad Strokes

Civilization Lost? California’s 500-Year Drought Potential

To the Rescue in California? Solar-Powered Desalination

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Filed under Agriculture, Conflicts, Conservation, Dams and Hydropower, Drought, Environment, Groundwater, Industry, North America, Rivers and Watersheds, Technology, Water Shortage

WaterLex Helps Put the Human Right to Water Into New Legal Frameworks

Image: WaterLex

Image courtesy of WaterLex

One of the benefits of living in Geneva, Switzerland, is that I have access to the United Nations and international organizations that work with it. WaterLex, for example, is an international NGO that partners with UN Water. It takes an interesting, forward-looking, “lawyerly” approach to working on issues related to freshwater scarcity. The group, with a staff of seven based here, helps water-governance stakeholders in various countries establish policies and standards that comply with the human right to water and sanitation (HRWS). To do its work, the staff consults with more than 100 international experts in water management, development and law.

Many water NGOs work on access to water, helping people in water-stressed communities survive by delivering clean water, digging wells, installing pumps, and so forth. WaterLex attacks the problem close to its root and in a way that helps enable water security for future generations: It trains lawmakers and others with influence over water resources in a community, or a country, on how to implement new legal frameworks in which the human right to water is central.

WaterLex Executive Director Jean-Benoit Charrin co-founded the organization in 2010, the same year the human right to water and sanitation became fully recognized. I spoke with him on Tuesday at the WaterLex offices down the street from the Palace of Nations (UN). The rest of the staff, a mix of lawyers and operations experts, were away on missions. Although I would have liked to meet them, I’m glad they were off doing their work.

“There are four things we never want to hear people say again,” Charrin said. “That they didn’t know there was a problem. That they know there is a problem, but they don’t know how to deal with it. That they know there is a problem and how to deal with it, but they don’t know how to get the money. And finally, that they know there is a problem but they don’t care.” He paralleled the four statements succinctly with four WaterLex work areas:  providing assistance with information, capacity-building, budgeting, and accountability. Learn more about the group’s work below.

WaterLex tools (naturally, these are also on the Water Resources page):

WaterLex Legal Database on the Human Right to Water and Sanitation

WaterLex Toolkit: Integrating the Human Right to Water and Sanitation in Development Practice

Examples of WaterLex activities:

  • Worked with 10 universities to develop its online Legal Database (link above), a reference tool for policy makers that enables them to harmonize their legal frameworks with HRWS.
  • Trained more than 40 members of the Pan African Parliament on the integration of national legal frameworks with HRWS.
  • Partnered with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) to advise the government of Niger on designing a decentralized cooperation strategy that complies with human rights obligations.
  • Drafted a resolution adopted by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights clarifying legal responsibilities of states in the management of water as a result of human rights commitments.
  • Worked with the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation (SDC) to develop a toolkit and field training for water program managers in Nicaragua, Moldova and Mozambique.
  • Assisted the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) in the design of an Equity Score Card to help governments assess their population’s relative access to safe and affordable drinking water.

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Filed under Africa, Conservation, Drought, Europe, Groundwater, Human rights, Law, NGOs, Pollution, Research, Rivers and Watersheds, South America, United Nations, Water Resources, Water Shortage

Fracking Compounds Worries Over Water Shortages

Fracking sites in Colorado. Image: Susan Heller/Getty Images

Fracking sites in Colorado. Image: Susan Heller/Getty Images

A new report by the nonprofit group Ceres, which advises on green investment, indicates that 55% of hydraulic fracturing in the United States since 2011 has taken place in drought-stricken areas, such as California, Colorado and Texas.

And 47% of the wells are in regions with high or extremely high water stress. “High” water stress means that between 40% and 80% of a region’s surface and groundwater are already allocated for other uses (residential, agricultural, industrial); “extremely high” water stress means that more than 80% is spoken for.

The report’s findings are significant because fracking uses a lot of water. Each well can require up to 10 million gallons of water in the drilling process, which pumps chemicals and water into shale deposits thousands of feet underground to break up the rock and release natural gas or oil. According to the report, 97 billion gallons of water went into the ground at 39,300 sites between January 2011 and May 2013.

The oil and gas industry points out that its use of water is comparatively small. In many states, fracking draws well under 1% of all water used, according to sources. The industry also says it will increase the amount of recycled water used (from none or next to none in most places to … some, presumably). Finally, there is some evidence from a University of Texas study that fracking reduces water use overall because it decreases reliance on water-intensive coal production, as it pushes utilities to use more natural gas power.

Read more:

Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Stress: Water Demand by the Numbers” – Ceres

Report: Fracking raising water supply worriesUSA Today

California drought sets up fracking face-offSan Francisco Chronicle

Fracking depleting water supplies in America’s driest areas The Guardian

Fracking for natural gas may help us save waterTime

Related posts:

U.S. Shale Map: Could Be a Lot of Fracking Drilling in the Lower 48

Serious Water Conservation Requires Layered Approach and Emotional Commitment

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Filed under Drought, Fracking, Groundwater, Industry, North America, Research

Serious Water Conservation Demands Layered Approach and Emotional Commitment

Image: Vizimac

Image: Vizimac.com

Drought-ridden California is no stranger to water shortages, but it might be able to learn something about making every drop count from an even drier place: Melbourne, Australia.

Threatened by a severe drought, the Melbourne area used 40% less water per person between 2000 and 2010 than it had in the previous decade, contributing more than 200 billion liters per year to supplies,  former state Labor minister John Thwaites recently wrote. Thwaites, currently chairman of the Monash Sustainability Institute, warned against slackening conservation after restrictions were lifted and water-use began to rise.

Thwaites credits a successful “behaviour-change campaign” for the exceptional water-saving that Melbourne sustained for a decade.  “The campaign was backed by rebates on water-saving products, water restrictions and permanent water-saving rules, tiered pricing to reward water-saving, rules requiring major industry to carry out water audits, and a public social marketing campaign,” Thwaites wrote.

All of those layers across the general population and businesses are important, but the “public social marketing” may deserve special mention when it comes to changing behavior. By flooding media with information about the water shortage, Melbourne nurtured an emotional commitment in people to change habits and save water as a normal part of their daily lives. Even a competitive element was added, when water authorities started showing households how much water they used compared with their neighbors. Manipulative? Sure, but it works. As Thwaites wrote, “How many parents had their children criticising them for letting the water run while they brushed their teeth or washed the potatoes?”

Read more:

Melbourne water supplies: Don’t flush successful conservation efforts down the drainSydney Morning Herald

California drought: San Francisco leads state in water conservationSan Francisco Chronicle

100+ ways to conserve water – Water Use It Wisely

35 conservation techniques for agriculture, farming and gardening – Big Picture Agriculture

Related posts:

California’s State-of-the-State Address: Brown’s Drought Plan in Broad Strokes

Civilization Lost? California’s 500-Year Drought Potential

To the Rescue in California? Solar-Powered Desalination

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Filed under Climate Change, Conservation, Drought, Environment, North America, Oceania, Sustainability, Water Shortage