Category Archives: Sustainability

Mapping the World’s Most Water-Stressed Countries

Image: thaibiodiversity.org

Image: thaibiodiversity.org

Playing with maps can be fun — except when it’s totally depressing.

In adding China Water Risk, an interesting information source, to this blog’s Water Resources page, I was reminded of another one I had already added: World Resources Institute (WRI), which provides a home for Aqueduct’s mapping surveys of water-stressed places. China Water Risk provides a version of WRI’s helpful breakdown of the data and list of 36 most water-stressed countries. So, rather than jumping straight into the mapping tool’s various menus to generate visualizations of data, you can get a bit of an overview of how the tool works and some of its findings.

Aqueduct’s mapping tool, the Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas, uses 12 indicators to value amounts of water stress, and assigns each country a score of up to 5 points, the high end of the scale for potential water stress. Sixteen countries representing a handful of world regions, such as the Caribbean, the Middle East, and parts of Africa and Asia, achieve a perfect(ly dire) score of 5.0. All 36 countries on the list of the most at risk of water stress rank 4.01 or higher, suffering “extremely high risk.” See the list.

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Filed under Africa, Asia, Caribbean, Conflicts, Middle East, Research, Sustainability, Water Resources, Water Shortage

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

EC Awards 50 Million Euros to 11 Innovative Water Projects

Image: European Commission

Image: European Commission

In Brussels on Thursday, the European Commission unveiled 11 projects slated to receive €50 million to support their innovative responses to “water-related challenges” (to put a lot of different fish in one tank, so to speak).

The projects involve 179 partners representing research organizations and private companies across 19 European countries. There’s a lot of variety in the types of work, as well. Three examples: smarter management of water distribution networks; biotech treatment of heavy metal pollution in wastewater; and new “aquaponic” systems combining aquaculture and hydroponics in agricultural production.  You can see the project names and acronyms listed in the tags accompanying this post, and more description of each project can be found here.

The funds come from the 2013 “Environment call” for projects of the European Union’s s Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7). This brings total FP7 funding for water-related projects, 2007 – 2013, to more than €1 billion. A new funding initiative rolled out this month, the Horizon 2020 program, is expected to bring another €165 million to water projects in its first round of calls.

Read more:

UPDATE: Event presentations now uploaded

European Commission press release

A summary of each of the 11 projects

European Union water policy overview

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Filed under Agriculture, Awards and Honors, Conservation, Environment, Europe, Events, Industry, Pollution, Research, Sustainability, Technology, Wastewater Treatment, Water Resources, Water Shortage

The News From Davos: Big Business Now ‘Cares’ About Climate Change

Image: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty

Image: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty

A chill runs through me whenever I hear a sample of the gaffe from Mitt Romney’s 2011 presidential campaign speech in Iowa: “Corporations are people, my friend.” He was responding to a heckler. What he said was accurate in the eyes of the law in the United States; a corporation has the legal status and rights of a person. But it’s not hard to imagine that Romney was cheerfully referring to psychopathic friends who would blithely step over your body to reach profit.

Corporations as psychopaths is not a new idea, of course. The 2003  Canadian documentary film “The Corporation” makes the case, in a clinical sense, that if corporations are people, they’re psychos. Put simply, they lack empathy for others. They focus on profit alone. The free market rewards such self-interested ruthlessness.

Judging by news from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, public opinion and, more importantly, harsh economic reality, are pushing the corporate world to see that self-preservation now actually requires reactions to climate change. Many of today’s meetings of politicians, business leaders and reps from aid organizations in Davos, and a record number for the event overall, are about climate change and sustainable business practices. That’s a lot of talk from some influential people, and now that it’s about money as much as it is about doing good (or appearing to do so), maybe it will make a difference.

And, of course, as the mainstream media has well-recorded, the actor Matt Damon received an award in Davos for his work as co-founder, with Gary White, of Water.org, which works on access to freshwater for the world’s 800+ million who lack it. Damon is one of four recipients of the WEF’s Crystal Award, for artists who have contributed to a better world. The others are Peruvian opera star Juan Diego Flórez, American violinist and conductor Lorin Maazel, and the Iranian-born artist Shirin Neshat.

Read more:

Industry awakens to the threat of climate change – The New York Times

Davos 2014: live and archived blog coverageGuardian Sustainable Business

2014 World Economic Forum: live updates from Davos – The Huffington Post

World Economic Forum 2014 Meeting – WEF

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Filed under Awards and Honors, Climate Change, Conservation, Environment, Europe, Events, Industry, NGOs, Sustainability, Water Resources, Water Shortage

Civilization Lost? California’s 500-Year Drought Potential

Image: NOAA

Image: NOAA

As a California resident for 18 years after college, I got to know dry weather pretty well. Right from the start, having arrived in the San Francisco Bay Area in the middle of the 1987  – 1992 drought, I came to see cloudless skies, brown grass and the occasional dryness-induced nosebleed as normal — so much so that the the incessant winter rains that returned years later seemed, briefly, to be freakish.

Now the state is in an even worse dry period — 2013 was the driest year since record-keeping began in the 1840s — and predictable doom-saying has ensued. It’s pretty hard to resist. After all, we know from the geological record that droughts in the area hundreds and thousands of years ago sometimes lasted decades, or even a century. Droughts of that magnitude have ended civilizations. See the Anasazi, wiped out in the Southwest about 800 years ago.

“Driest year since the 1840s” doesn’t sound good, but the reality is, indeed, probably worse. UC Berkeley paleoclimatologist B. Lynn Graham says old tree rings indicate the area hasn’t been so desiccated since 1580, 434 years ago. She points out that the past 150 years of modern development have been comparatively wetter years than some previous, longer, drier, and, arguably, “normal” periods, as noted above. Those long, dry periods could return.

An interesting characteristic of the drought is the proximate cause pointed out by meteorologists: a ridge of high pressure off the coast is “feeding off itself,” refusing to move or dissipate as it blocks wet weather from reaching land.  The timing is especially bad because California needs winter storms to replace its freshwater, in the form of rains and especially snow melt from the mountains. Sounds like an effect of climate change, something that’s easy to believe but hard to prove.

In addition to Herculean conservation efforts, what could be next for California if the drought persists? Greater Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area are already projected to run out of water by 2050. Perhaps the state will pursue expensive seawater desalination projects on a massive scale, follow China’s lead on sea ice desalination, or go after fresh and brackish water recently found to be in aquifers under oceans.

Read more:

UPDATE: California drought prompts first-ever “zero water allocation” – Los Angeles Times

Why California’s water woes could be just beginning – University of California, Berkeley

California drought: Scientists puzzled by persistence of weather-blocking “ridge” – Christian Science Monitor

The worst drought in the history of California is happening right now – Right Side News

California drought: Water officials look to rules of the ’70s – SFGate

Gov. Brown declares California drought emergencySan Jose Mercury News

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

WFES News: WorldBank Launches Initiative at Water and Energy Summits in Abu Dhabi

Image: World Bank Water

Image: World Bank Water

The World Bank has announced the launch of its “Thirsty Energy” initiative, aimed at helping governments tackle growing water-energy challenges, at the 7th annual World Future Energy Summit (WFES) and the 2nd annual International Water Summit (IWS). The two meetings are running concurrently, Jan. 20 – Jan. 22, at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre in the United Arab Emirates.

It takes a lot of water to generate power through various processes, and it takes a lot of power to extract, treat and deliver water. Yet, according to the World Bank, energy planning and development decisions are often made without regard to current and future water shortages. Its plan is to offer proactive, cross-sector advice on energy and water resource management planning, tailored according to a given country’s resources, modeling experience, and political and institutional realities.

Why go to all that trouble? Because near-future projections paint a disturbing picture. Today more than 780 million people don’t have enough access to potable drinking water, and about 1.3 billion lack electricity, according to estimates. In a world with a fixed and finite amount of freshwater but a surging population, global energy consumption is expected to swell 50% by 2035, while the energy sector’s use of water may increase by 85%. That means worsening water shortages, and, as noted in a previous post, climate change will make the situation even more dire in certain areas.

UPDATE: Thirsty energy: the conflict between demands for water and energyThe Guardian

More from WFES and IWS:

World Bank launches “Thirsty Energy” initiative – The World Bank / WFES

Will water contrain our energy future? (Thirsty Energy initiative, with extensive info graphics) – The World Bank

Four ways water shortages are harming energy production – The Water Blog (blogs.worldbank.org)

Denmark and Abu Dhabi sign clean-energy deal – The National

Related posts:

On tap Monday: Annual UN Water conference in Spain (Jan. 12, 2014)

Study: Freshwater shortage will double climate change’s impact on agriculture (Dec. 17, 2013)

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Filed under Climate Change, Conservation, Desalination, Environment, Events, Industry, Middle East, Research, Sustainability, Technology, Water Resources, Water Shortage

On Tap Monday: Annual UN Water Conference in Spain

Image: UN Water

Image: UN Water

UN Water’s annual conference in Zaragoza, Spain, runs Monday, Jan. 13 through Thursday, Jan 16. This edition plumbs the depths of the relationship of water and energy as a run-up to World Water Day. The small city of Zaragoza is roughly midway between Madrid and Barcelona. I can’t make it to there myself, but I will be on the lookout for interesting news trickling out of the meetings.

As with a lot of UN endeavors, the full name and description of the event are a mouthful (and you can read much, much more fairly dry stuff at the website): 2014 UN-Water Annual International Zaragoza Conference. Preparing for World Water Day 2014: Partnerships for improving water and energy access, efficiency and sustainability.

Or, because it’s easier to navigate and gives a sense of the topics, you can just read the agenda.

World Water Day is March 22. Of course it has its own website, too.  The main “celebrations” — which include the release of a report and the bestowing of an award — will take place in Japan.

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Filed under Conservation, Environment, Europe, Events, Human rights, Industry, Research, Sustainability, Technology, United Nations, Wastewater Treatment, Water Resources, Water Shortage

Groups Slap Nestle’s Human Rights Assessment as ‘PR Stunt’

Image: Nestle S.A.

Image: Nestle S.A.

Several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are criticizing Nestlé’s recently released human rights impact report as a PR stunt that overlooks the human right to water, among other allegations, reports Caroline Scott-Thomas of FoodNavigator.com.

Vevey, Switzerland-based Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, had trumpeted that its report, released just before International Human Rights Day, was the first of its kind from a multinational corporation. It’s called “Talking the Human Rights Walk: Nestlé’s Experience Assessing Human Rights Impacts in its Business Activities.” The company’s partner in the research, the Danish Institute for Human Rights, referred to the report as a “breakthrough.”

According to Nestle, the paper “focuses on actions Nestlé has taken to improve its human rights performance at both country operations and corporate level,” and assesses data from Angola, Colombia, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Russia, Sri Lanka, and Uzbekistan.

Certain NGOs see it as little more than window dressing on the company’s reputation. Among charges surfaced in the FoodNavigator.com article: The report is selective, with a limited scope and significant omissions, and that it looks at corporate policy rather than practice. The NGOs concerned are Blue Planet Project,  FIVAS, Food and Water Watch, and Public Services International. Nestlé says it rejects the NGOs’ criticisms.

This is far from the first time Nestlé has come under fire from NGOs and other organizations. Frequently cited as the world’s largest producer of bottled water, it has been criticized for wanting to privatize water (which it denies). The company has gone to court in several places, opposed by groups trying to defend regional groundwater from being taken and sold elsewhere at a profit to others.

To those who see water a human right in a world where hundreds of millions of human don’t have enough of it, the idea of water as a commodity sold for profit by corporations seems wrong.  Several documentary films have tackled the subject, including Tapped,  Bottled Life: The Truth About Nestle’s Business With Water, and Blue Gold: World Water Wars. For the record,  Nestlé Chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe has said that he believes water is a human right. But in the recent past, he struck a different tone.

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Filed under Africa, Asia, Human rights, Research, South America, Sustainability, Uncategorized, Water Resources, Water Shortage

Water, Water Everywhere: New Resources Updates

At the Waterline is still a new blog, with fresh information pages still being added. The Water Resources page doesn’t say “coming soon” anymore — it has actual resources! It’s a list, in alphabetical order, of agencies and media sources concerned with water issues. It’s a work in progress, so be sure to check on it from time to time.  Go there.

A Water Facts page is still, ahem, “coming soon.”

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Filed under Agriculture, Blog Changes and Updates, Climate Change, Environment, Groundwater, NGOs, Oceans, Research, Rivers and Watersheds, Sustainability, United Nations, Water Resources