Category Archives: Water Resources

Dubious: The Donald’s Claims About the Calif. Drought

Donald_Trump

Photo by Gage Skimore, via Wiki Commons

Trump’s Dubious Drought Claims

The candidate said California has “no drought” and that water farmers need is being used to protect a “three-inch fish”  

At a recent campaign rally in Fresno, “Trump suggested ‘there is no drought’ in California because the state has ‘plenty of water.’ But California is in its fifth year of a severe ‘hot’ drought, the kind that’s expected to become more frequent with global warming. He also said water is being shoved ‘out to sea’ to protect a ‘three-inch fish’ at the expense of farmers. But officials release fresh water from reservoirs primarily to prevent salt water from contaminating agricultural and urban water supplies.”

– Vanessa Schipani, FactCheck.org via Scientific American. Read the whole article.

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Filed under Drought, North America, Politics, Water Resources

As Flint Lawsuits Pour in, Leaded Tap Water Found Far Afield

Flint River

Flint River in the 1970s. Image courtesy of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

I worked recently for a United Nations-affiliated international non-governmental organization in Geneva, Switzerland, named WaterLex. It specializes in finding sustainable solutions based on human rights to improve water governance worldwide. Much of its work involves educating parliamentarians and others about the human rights to water and sanitation, established in 2010, and how they can be mixed into practices such as integrated water resources management.

In that context, I was accustomed to hearing about water crises in African and South American countries where municipalities often lacked adequate infrastructure for water provision. So I started to think I knew a thing or two about a government’s obligation to realize the human right to water for its population. Then, while I was still living in Switzerland, came news of Detroit, Mich., shutting off water to customers who hadn’t paid their bills. A similar situation came to light in Baltimore, Md. In those places, a cry rose up for aggressive action to uphold the human right to water, with a focus on the issue of affordability.

In the U.S., a country where infrastructure has been in place to provide freshwater to most homes in most municipalities for more than a century, invocation of the human right to water was a surprising and unsettling thing to hear.

But the water crisis in Flint, Mich., cranks up the volume to a whole new decibel level, and rightly so. The allegations are appalling: Officials knowingly allowed households in a city of 100,000 to drink, cook and bathe in water fouled by lead and other contaminants from lead pipes corroded by polluted Flint River water, following a money-saving switch to that water source from Lake Huron and the Detroit River. Documentary filmmaker and Flint native Michael Moore, among others, is calling for criminal prosecution of Mich. Gov. Rick Snyder. With young children at risk of brain damage and other health problems, it’s not difficult to picture an approaching flood of lawsuits. Fixing Flint’s water is expected to take many years and cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Worse, too much lead in municipal water is not limited to Flint. News reports point out city after city in several states where aging infrastructure and improper maintenance have been creating similar problems.

Note to cities and towns: Before that water infrastructure gets to be about a century old, you have to increase the amounts of money and effort put into its upkeep or replacement. If not, you’re likely to soon be taking away your people’s human right to water, and that will always end up being a bigger bill to pay in the end. Oh, and … though it used to go without saying … don’t poison everyone.

Learn more:

Possible lead exposure-miscarriage link probed in Flint water crisis – MLive.com

Mich. Gov. Rick Snyder proposed $360 million for Flint water fixChristian Science Monitor

Unsafe Lead Levels in Tap Water Not Limited to FlintThe New York Times

Amid Flint water crisis, the lawsuits are piling up – CBS/The Associated Press

How scientists failed the public in Flint water crisisLos Angeles Times

10 Things They Won’t Tell You About the Flint Water Crisis. But I Will. – MichaelMoore.com

Flint Water Crisis – Wikipedia

Related posts:

Study Finds We Vastly Underestimate Water Management’s Depletion of Freshwater

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Filed under Human Right(s) to Water and Sanitation, Human rights, Law, NGOs, North America, Pollution, Rivers and Watersheds, Water Resources

California Drought: Overcoming History to Reduce SoCal Water Waste

LAimages

The great news for California in the winter of 2015-2016 is that El Nino-generated storms are on the increase, right? Well , that’s good news for easing the California drought, but with caveats. It’s much greater news if even more rain (and snow) fall in Northern California than in Southern California. The north has more catchment systems than the south. In other words, the north catches, saves and provides more water than the south can.

Why? Northern areas have river systems and reservoirs that redirect water to the south (mainly) via aqueducts. Moisture falling in the south and running off land is more readily fed to the Pacific Ocean, because much of the system there, especially in Los Angeles itself, is allowed and even intended to drain into the Pacific to avoid catastrophic flooding and landslides, like those seen from major storms in the 1930s and later. In other words, the massive waste of freshwater was actually a safety measure. Law was adjusted by climate. Until recently, in fact, it was illegal to capture rain on your own roof in LA. The California Water Capture Act of 2012 eased that outdated policy.

And, fortunately, on Jan. 6 the California State Water Resources Control Board approved a broad plan to capture more rain, The Associated Press reported. About $200 million will fund projects to collect rain, as part of a $7.5 billion water bond voters approved in November 2014. Los Angeles expects to collect an additional 3.3 billion gallons a year from new projects, over the roughly 10 billion it says it collects now. But even that’s a drop in the bucket compared to what SoCal could do in wet years if rainwater collection were made a genuine priority.

Related posts:

Study Finds We Vastly Underestimate Water Management’ s Depletion of Groundwater

It’s Long Past Time to Police Big Agriculture’s Water Waste

Learn more:

Much of the torrential that fell on Southern California this week flowed right into the ocean – Associated Press

Rainwater harvesting regulations state by state – Enlight Inc. blog

Building Sponge City: Redesigning LA for Long-Term Drought – Cities Project, NPR

Report: Feeding Ourselves Thirsty: How the Food Sector Is Managing Global Water Risks – Ceres (full report)

The Untapped Potential of California’s Water SupplyPacific Institute and NRDC

 

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Filed under Climate Change, Conservation, Drought, Groundwater, Law, Natural Disasters, North America, Rivers and Watersheds, Sustainability, Water, Water Resources, Water Shortage

Study Finds We Vastly Underestimate Water Management’s Depletion of Freshwater

dam-reservoir

Here’s a frightening word of the day: “evapotranspiration.” It simply refers to water lost to the atmosphere by evaporation, or after being consumed and released into the air by plant life. It wasn’t so ominous last week, but it is this week because a new study in the journal Science puts it in a new context: unsustainable human use of freshwater.

Essentially, the study finds human have used 18 percent more of the planet’s freshwater than we previously thought, because we’ve underestimated the impact of our water-management systems, such as irrigation, dams and reservoirs. They cause more water to be lost to the atmosphere than would occur naturally, effecting precipitation patterns. Gather a lot of water in one place, like a reservoir, for instance, and more of it evaporates across the greater surface area exposed to air. The researchers studied the ratio of evapotranspiration to precipitation between 1901 and 2008, finding a significant increase in the latter half of the time period.

The additional 18 percent tips our water use into the unsustainable category given the increasing human population, the researchers warn. As Chelsea Harvey writes in her article about the study in The Washington Post, “The study highlights a critical need for better monitoring of our freshwater use and the ways our management techniques can affect the water cycle, as [study co-author Fernando] Jaramillo noted that the current effects of human water management ‘are even larger and more recognizable than the effects of atmospheric climate change.’”

Read more:

Alarming research finds humans are using up far more of Earth’s water than previously thought – The Washington Post

Local flow regulation and irrigation raise global human water consumption and footprint – Science

Related posts:

World Water Day: UN World Water Development Report Warns of Global Crisis by 2030

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

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 Agriculture, Climate Change, Conservation, Dams and Hydropower, Drought, Environment, Groundwater, Rivers and Watersheds, Science, Sustainability, Water Resources, Water Shortage

Understanding Water Crises: New Resources Added

 

The At the Waterline blog’s Water Resources page has been updated with 12 new additions in the past few weeks, for a total of 83 links to sources of information and action on issues related to freshwater scarcity.

Check out the new additions:

aquaNOW.info: the World’s Water Data Engine

The CEO Water Mandate

Ceres: Mobilising Business Leadership or a Sustainable World (Issues: Water Issues)

>>> Ceres: Feeding Ourselves Thirsty: How the Food Sector Is Managing Global Water Risks (full report)

FAN: Freshwater Action Network

The Guardian: Access to clean water and sanitation around the world – mapped

LLoyd’s 360 Risk Insight: Global Water Scarcity, Risks and Challenges for Business

Water Defense

The Solutions Project (U.S. state plans for 100% clean, renewable energy)

WaterLex: Publications*

World Health Organisation (WHO): Health Topics: Water

WHO Programmes: Water Sanitation Health

(*Note: The international public-interest development organization WaterLex employs me as its head of communications. )

 

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Filed under Blog Changes and Updates, Climate Change, Conservation, Human rights, Law, NGOs, Research, Science, Sustainability, Technology, United Nations, Water Resources

War Is Hell, Part 941: The Environment

burning oil fields

In case you missed it, the United Nations’ (UN) International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict was Thursday, Nov. 6. Its point is to educate people about the damaging effects of armed conflict on the environment. Natural resources are often military targets — poisoned wells, torched crops and oil reserves, tainted soil —  and often remain ruined long after the battle is over, compromising ecosystems. The UN General Assembly first declared the day on Nov. 5, 2001, and it has remained not-exactly-famous ever since.

“We must use all of the tools at our disposal, from dialogue and mediation to preventive diplomacy, to keep the unsustainable exploitation of natural resources from fueling and financing armed conflict and destabilizing the fragile foundations of peace,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. So true.

Read more:

International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict – timeanddate.com

Event Page – United Nations

What’s the Environmental Impact of Modern War? – The Guardian

 

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Filed under Conflicts, Environment, Europe, Events, Human rights, Industry, United Nations, Water Resources

It’s Long Past Time to Police Big Agriculture’s Water Waste

furrow_irrigation (1)

When you observe water-stressed and drought-stricken areas around the world, you hear the same question being asked again and again: Who uses the most water? A common assumption leads people to blame the general population for its wasteful ways, heedlessly watering their lawns and washing their cars despite a water shortage. But the real answer, in most cases, is agriculture — and not by a small measure. It often accounts for 70% to 80% of total water use, and sometimes more.

Irrigation and other water uses in agriculture, especially where it is a major industry for domestic and export food production, such as California’s Central Valley, make other water uses look like drops in a bucket. According to a 2012 study by the Pacific Institute, the Golden State’s 38 million people use just 4% of its water, while agriculture, including the raising of both crops and livestock, uses 93%.

The reason this matters so much is that Big Agriculture wastes epic amounts of water and often fights efficiency measures on the basis of cost. California, to stick with that example, uses much less drip irrigation than other arid farming regions of the world. Generally, efficiency standards and enforcement are not in place, which allows massive amounts of water to leak out of systems. And much of the water used simply evaporates because it is not recaptured. This goes on while agricultural users pump out deep aquifers’ groundwater far faster than it can be restored naturally, especially in times of drought.

The types of agriculture matter for the scale of water usage, as well. California rice growers flood the fields, whereas another crop might need only sips of water, relatively speaking. Beef producers use about 2,500 gallons of water per pound (as opposed to 100 gallons of water per pound of grain).  Although costly, relocating water-intensive agriculture from water-stressed regions to places where water is most abundant would make sense. In the U.S., that might mean moving some practices from the Southwest to the Southeast. In China, it would mean moving farms  from the arid north to the wet south. But in many countries, business and political interests would keep it from happening as long as possible, and in the end, severe water shortage and escalating costs would force the issue.

Where you have a massive industry, you have a wealthy lobby with a lot of political power to influence government spending. Critics of California’s $7.5 billion drought bond known as Proposition 1, to be voted on in statewide elections on Tuesday (4 November; update — it passed by a two-to-one margin), note that it provides for new dams and water-storage measures that will benefit agriculture. But it’s not yet clear what might be asked in return. About $50 million of the $7.5 billion appears to be earmarked for agricultural efficiency. Will future measures mandate adequate technology and standards of efficiency? Ultimately, the nine-member California Water Commission will decide how funds from the Prop. 1  bond measure, if passed, will be spent.  They should know that the industries using nine-tenths of the state’s water should be doing a lot more to help ease the region’s water crisis.

Read more:

UPDATE: California Propositions 1 and 2 Sail to Resounding VictoriesSan Jose Mercury News

Prop 1: Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014 – Ballotpedia

Prop. 1, a False Framing of California’s Water CrisisSanta Barbara Independent

New Report Provides Insight to California’s Proposition 1 – Pacific Institute

Prop. 1 Aims to Relieve Drought — But Not This One – Los Angeles Times

Cows, Rice Fields and Big Agriculture Consumes Well Over 90% of California’s Water – AlterNet

Report Targets Waste, Inefficiency in Agricultural Water UseLos Angeles Times

 

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Filed under Agriculture, Conservation, Dams and Hydropower, Drought, Groundwater, Law, North America, Sustainability, Water Resources, Water Shortage

The Water in Our Bodies Makes Us All Part Alien, Sort of

Image: Jonathan Knowles, Getty Images

Image: Jonathan Knowles, Getty Images

“A new study published today (Sept. 25) in the journal Science suggests that between 10 to 30 percent of the Earth’s water is older than the sun, and likely hails from comets born outside our solar system. That means that the human body, which is 60 percent water, contains a significant percentage of extraterrestrial aqua; in that sense, we are all part alien.”  – Douglas Main, Newsweek

And if it’s true of us, it’s probably true of others. Life elsewhere may take similar forms because water may form its basis, as it does ours.

Read more:

Much of Earth’s Water Is Older Than the Sun, and Came From Deep SpaceNewsweek

Up to Half of Earth’s Water Is Older Than the SunNew Scientist

Half of Earth’s Water Formed Before the Sun Was BornScience

Related posts:

Water Found in Stardust Could Mean a Universe Seeded With Life

 

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Filed under Groundwater, Oceans, Science, Space, Water Resources

Set Heading for World Water Week in Stockholm

4951481766_c8dced02ba_z

In a couple of days I’ll join colleagues from WaterLex at one of the most prominent events in the world of water-related agencies, NGOs, services, and the like — World Water Week in Stockholm, which runs Aug. 31 – Sept. 5 in the Swedish capital, under the auspices of the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI). The theme this year, for this and other events around the world, is “energy and water,” two vital forces that are always interconnected.

WaterLex will exhibit in a booth shared with other organizations in the Swiss Water Partnership, and we’ll also put on a lunchtime side event on Monday, Sept. 1: Water & Energy Nexus: Smart Investments to Help Realize Human Rights. Co-convened with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the event’s panel discussion will explore how wastewater reuse for energy production can serve populations’ rights to adequate sanitation and a safe and healthy environment, while also making for a valuable investment in sustainability. Check out the speakers and topics. I’ll be the guy “moderating” (more like trying to keep up) or running around with a camera, taking photos for the press materials.

It will be my first time in Stockholm, so I hope to get around town a bit. A colleague recommended the Vasa Museum, the only preserved 17th century ship in the world. It heeled over and sank only minutes into its maiden voyage in 1628, and was raised in 1961. And of course there’s a museum dedicated to Abba.

Related posts:

WaterLex: A New Role for Me, Working on Water Law and Human Rights

If You Could Advise the UN on Water, What Would You Say?

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

Water’s Place Among Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals

The Intersection of Environmental Issues and Human Rights

 

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Filed under Environment, Europe, Events, Human rights, Law, NGOs, Rivers and Watersheds, Sustainability, Technology, United Nations, Wastewater Treatment, Water Resources

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