Climate Change Could Wreak Havoc on Drought-Plagued California

Photo retrieved from: www.alternet.org

“Michael Goulden, associate professor of earth system science at the  University of California Irvine, and Roger Bales, director of the  Sierra Nevada Research Institute at the University of California Merced, publish their alarming findings in the  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Their research looked not at the long-term projections for precipitation in the US south-west, but simply at the  effect of higher average temperatures on plant growth.

Mountains in many ways mimic hemispheres: just as trees become more stunted at higher latitudes, so they get smaller and less frequent at higher altitudes. Temperature ultimately controls plant growth.

But a projected warming of 4.1°C by 2100 would make a big difference to plant growth in the Arctic tundra and around the present alpine treeline everywhere in the world.

The scientists contemplated snow and rain conditions in the King’s River Basin in the Sierra Nevada range. They looked at how much flows downstream to local communities, and how much goes back into the atmosphere as water vapour. Then they did their sums.

They calculated that the 4.1°C temperature rise in the region would increase the density of vegetation at high elevations, with a 28% increase in evapotranspiration − the process that draws water up through the roots to the leaves, and then releases it as vapour through the pores. And what was true for one river basin, they thought, should be true for the whole area. River run-off could drop by 26%.”

Read more: AlterNet

 

 

Struggling to Find Water in the Vast Pacific

Photo retrieved from: www.ipsnews.net

“Pacific Island states are surrounded by the largest ocean in the world, but inadequate fresh water sources, poor infrastructure and climate change are leaving some communities without enough water to meet basic needs.

Laisene Nafatali lives in Lotofaga village, home to 5,000 people on the south coast of Upolu, the main island of Samoa, a Polynesian island state located northeast of Fiji in the central South Pacific region.

Like many on the island, she is dependent on rainfall and surface water for household needs. But without a nearby water source, such as a stream or waterfall, or a rainwater tank, she struggles with sanitation, washing, cooking and drinking.

“We only have one-gallon buckets, so if it is going to rain the whole week most of the water is lost,” Nafatali told IPS, adding that many people are unable to collect a sufficient amount of rainwater in such small containers.

 

“We have one bucket to store the water for the toilet, but that’s not enough for the whole family,” she added.

The wet season finished in March and now, in the dry season, it rains just two to four times per month.

Water for drinking and cooking is a priority. “If there is no rain the whole week, we pay for a truck. We put all our containers on the truck and we go to find families that have pipes and then we ask for some water. But that only [lasts] for two to three days, then we have to go again,” she said.

For washing, Nafatali and her family of six walk to the beach, which takes half an hour, and when the tide is low, they dig into the sand to find fresh water.”

Read more: IPS

 

 

The Water Wars: Conflicts Over Water Sources Continue To Grow

Photo retrieved from: www.ca.news.yahoo.com

“Water wars are definitely more likely. Even on a weak definition – one country upsetting another country with its water policies – we can say that there are more water wars (many) than nuclear wars (none). Mexico is upset with the way the United States drains the Colorado River, and Americans are upset with the way Mexico drains the Rio Grande. Chinese and Laotian dams on the Mekong threaten food security in Cambodia and Vietnam. The Palestinians suffer from Israeli control of their water resources and infrastructure. In each example, we see one country upset and frustrated with another’s behavior.

But wait. Don’t people die in wars? Oh yes, but they do not have to die of bullets and bombs. It’s fairly certain that dead ecosystems have harmed Mexicans, that Mekong dams will leave Cambodians and Vietnamese hungry, and that Israeli irrigation has left Palestinian children thirsty. It doesn’t take too much hunger, thirst and ecological stress before one starts to see bodies. Water wars are out there, but not in the hot-lead-in-the-belly sense that reporters with flak jackets love. Water wars come, slow as molasses, to suffocate us.

Most of you will not experience these wars directly. You live in a place where water bills represent a good value because they cover the cost of delivering abundant, clean water. The same is not true elsewhere. The United Nations says that less than one billion people “lack access to an improved water source” but this number – mostly in cities – includes people who can “access” a source that may or may not deliver drinkable water. Non-UN sources say about 3 billion people lack access to safe drinking water. Nearly half the world’s population labors under this burden and the attendant threats to their life, liberty and happiness. Should we assume that matters will improve for these people? Not necessarily for them or us. The recent loss of drinking water in Toledo, Ohio, remind us that nobody is safe when the system fails.”

Read more: Yahoo News

 

‘Worse Than Anything Seen in 2,000 Years’ as Megadrought Threatens Western States

Photo retrieved from: www.commondreams.org

“A new study warns that the chances of western states in the U.S. experiencing a multi-decade ‘megadrought’—not seen in historical climate records in over 2,000 years—has a much higher chance of occurring in the decades ahead than previously realized. In fact, scientists are warning, the drought now being experienced in California and elsewhere could be just the beginning of an unprecedented water crisis across the west and southwest regions of the country.

The research—a project between scientists at Cornell University, the University of Arizona, and the U.S. Geological Survey—shows that chances for a decade-long drought this century is now at fifty-fifty, and that a drought lasting as long as 35 years—defined as a “megadrought”—has a twenty- to fifty-percent chance of occurring.

“For the southwestern U.S., I’m not optimistic about avoiding real megadroughts,” Toby Ault, Cornell assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences and lead author of the paper, told the Cornell Chronicle. “As we add greenhouse gases into the atmosphere – and we haven’t put the brakes on stopping this – we are weighting the dice for megadrought.”

And if such a megadrought does occur, warned Ault, “This will be worse than anything seen during the last 2,000 years.”

And as USA Today notes, “The difference now, of course, is the Western USA is home to more than 70 million people who weren’t here for previous megadroughts. The implications are far more daunting.”

The study—entitled Assessing the Risk of Persistent Drought Using Climate Model Simulations and Paleoclimate Data—used both “climate model projections as well as observational (paleoclimate) information” as it looked back over the historic records of drought in the region while also looking forward by using advanced predictive techniques used to measure the possible impacts of current and future global warming.”

Read more: Common Dreams

 

Preventing crises over shared water resources requires stronger foreign policy engagement

Photo retrieved from: www.trust.org

“Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, Gaza. With such crises in the headlines, it is easy to forget about the structural challenges that threaten to become the foreign policy crises of the future. Among these, access to fresh water stands out. It is already contributing to many conflicts around the world, and demand is growing fast while supplies are limited (and, in the case of groundwater, being exhausted at unsustainable rates). Simultaneously, about 60 percent of the volume of global river flow is shared by two or more states.

Many shared basins – among them the Nile, the Indus, the Ganges, the Euphrates-Tigris, the Orontes, the Jordan, the Amu Darya and Syr Darya, and the Mekong – overlap with regions characterised by substantial interstate and intrastate tensions. Population and economic growth increase demand for water. Climate change is concurrently leading to changes in regional and seasonal water variability. The resulting scarcity and extreme weather events, both floods and droughts, threaten long-term regional stability.

Yet shared waters do not have to be flashpoints of conflict, and can even build bridges in the midst of conflicts. For example, the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty has survived three wars between India and Pakistan. Water has also served as a crucial means for strengthening cooperation in Southern Africa. And the negotiations over shared waters between Israel and its neighbours have not only come much further than negotiations over other issues, but have also helped to establish informal means of cooperation in an otherwise highly conflictive region.”

Read more: Reuters

 

Water rights of Ireland and Jordan

Photo retrieved from: www.greenprophet.com

“Parts of this country receive up to 4 meters of rain each year. But Ireland was running out of water so its government recently brought in water charges. Here is why.

Jordan is one of the world’s driest countries, with desert comprising 75 percent of its land area. The entire country averages only about 160mm of annual rainfall and 41 percent of its land receives fewer than 50mm of rain each year.

Ireland receives an average of 1000mm of annual rainfall and parts of its Atlantic coastline receive nearly 4000mm (4 meters) of rain each year. Ireland’s driest recorded year was 1887 when only 356.6 mm of rain fell, more than twice Jordan’s average rainfall. With such a plentiful source of freshwater, Ireland never had to pay for huge reservoirsdesalinization plants, waste-water reclamation systems or Red to Dead sea projects.

In fact, in 1997, the government of Ireland decided that water should be a basic human right. So domestic water charges were abolished. Ireland did this thirteen years before the United Nations General Assembly passed resolution 64/292 in July 2010 which also “Recognizes the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.”

Water, they argued, shouldn’t be a commodity. Water should be a human right.

Irish residents took full advantage of this basic right. They washed their cars, dishes, clothes, bathed, showered and drank the free water. They could even water their golf courses and gardens during rainstorms and let their faucets drip 24 hours per day, 365 days per year– all for free because there was no such thing as a water meter!”

Read more: Green Prophet

 

 

‘State of the World’s Rivers’ Project Documents Decline in Rivers From Dams

Photo retrieved from: www.internationalrivers.org

“Many of the world’s great river basins have been dammed to the point of serious decline, including the Mississippi, Yangtze, Paraná and Danube.

“The evidence we’ve compiled of planetary-scale impacts from river change is strong enough to warrant a major international focus on understanding the thresholds for ‘river change’ in the world’s major basins, and for the planet as a whole system,” said Jason Rainey, Executive Director of International Rivers.

For example, in the Middle East, decades of dam building in the Tigris-Euphrates basin have made it one of the most fragmented basins in the world. As a result, the basin’s flooded grassland marshes have significantly decreased, leading to the disappearance of salt-tolerant vegetation that helped protect coastal areas, and a reduction in the plankton-rich waters that fertilize surrounding soils. Habitat has decreased for 52 native fish species, migratory bird species, and mammals such as the water buffalo, antelopes and gazelles, and the jerboa.

Meanwhile, some of the lesser-dammed basins, which are still relatively healthy at this point, are being targeted for major damming. For example, the most biodiverse basin in the world, the Amazon, still provides habitat for roughly 14,000 species of mammals, 2,200 fish species, 1,500 bird species, and more than 1,000 amphibian species, like the Amazon River Dolphin, the Amazonian Manatee, and the Giant Otter.

When all dam sizes are counted, an astonishing 412 dams are planned or under construction in the Paraná basin, and 254 in the Amazon basin. In Asia, China plans to continue to dam the Yangtze basin with at least another 94 planned large dams, while an additional 73 are under construction. At least 153 more dams are planned or already being built in the Mekong basin.”

Read more: International Rivers

 

California drought: San Jose declares water shortage, but won’t fine wasters

Photo retrieved from: www.californiareport.org

“More than seven months into the California drought, San Jose has officially declared a citywide water shortage, asking the city’s 1 million residents to cut their water use by 20 percent — but there will be no new consequences for those who don’t.

The drought declaration, which the San Jose City Council unanimously approved Tuesday, makes it illegal for property owners to use potable water to irrigate their lawns or landscaping between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. through April 2015. It comes on top of several state and regional rules already in effect, such as bans on cleaning vehicles without a hose shut-off nozzle and filling non-recirculating decorative fountains with potable water.

In addition, the council moved to work with regional water officials to explore a new recycled water facility, create a new program to reward water savers and hire teens for a new campaign to aid property owners.

With California enduring its worst drought in four decades, state rules passed last month require water agencies to limit water use and allow them to punish offenders with fines up to $500.

But San Jose will not be enforcing its new rules independently. Instead, it will rely on the Santa Clara Valley Water District, which is already hiring 10 “water cops” to crack down on those who abuse drought restrictions starting next month.

San Jose is not ready to fine water wasters, unlike a small number of California cities, such as Sacramento, Pleasanton and Santa Cruz. Instead, San Jose is focusing on education, hoping residents voluntarily follow the new rules after a fresh round of outreach on what they can do to cut water use. “A lot of times the community is just unaware,” said Kerrie Romanow, the city’s environmental services director.

San Jose residents have reduced water use by about 14 percent this year. The state, the water district — and now, the city — are asking for a 20 percent reduction.”

Read more: San Jose Mercury News

13 Things You Probably Don’t Know About the U.S. Water System (But Should)

Photo retrieved from: www.nationalgeographic.com

“Two U.S. cities (Charleston, West Virginia, and Toledo, Ohio) have gone for days with no safe water service. The nation’s largest reservoir is lower than it’s ever been. The nation’s largest state is in the worst drought ever recorded.

Here are some statistics that sum up the condition of the U.S. water system, which in a word are not good.

• The U.S. has 1.2 million miles of water supply mains — 26 miles of water mains for every mile of interstate highway.

• The U.S. water system has become so old that, on average, every mile of water pipe suffers a break every six years.

• U.S. water pipes leak one full day’s water for every seven days. That is, U.S. water utilities lose one out of seven gallons of drinking water they supply before it arrives at a customer.

• Many cities have centuries-long replacement cycles for their water pipes. Los Angeles and Philadelphia both have a 300-year replacement cycle. Washington, D.C. has a 200-year water pipe replacement cycle.

• The water system is often out-of-date in surprising ways. In Sacramento, California’s capital, half the water customers have no water meters, so in the midst of the state’s worst drought in history, they pay a flat fee no matter how much water they use. In New York, the city’s largest apartment complex, Peter Cooper Village/Stuyvesant Town, has 11,232 units — and no water meters.”

Read more: National Geographic

 

Young Farmers in the Western U. S. Adapt to a Water-Scarce Future

Photo retrieve from: www.nationalgeographic.com

“The Colorado Basin alone irrigates some 15% of US produce overall and 80% of winter vegetables.  So we all, to some degree, “eat” the Colorado – and thus have a stake in how well farmers can adapt to the drought-prone, water-stressed world now upon us.

Though the farmers profiled differ in their approaches to building resilience on their land and in their operations, and they represent a small, non-random sample, a few important themes jump out.

First, restoring health to soils is key.  Heavily compacted, nutrient poor, exposed soils do not store water well.  So enhancing the capacity of soils to hold moisture is crucial for every western farmer interested in weathering dry spells and reduced water allocations.

For Brendon Rockey, a 36-year-old farmer in southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley, a groundwater-dependent region in the headwaters of the Rio Grande, the solution came in the form of an age-old practice: planting “green manure” cover crops.  Instead of rotating in barley after potatoes, Rockey eliminated the barley in favor of a strategic mix of ten different cover crops that kept the soil protected from wind and evaporation losses, fixed nitrogen and thus naturally fertilized the soil, and produced flowers that brought predatory insects that kept the non-beneficial bugs at bay.

The cover crops not only reduced Rockey’s groundwater use (and pumping costs), they helped improve the quality of his potato harvest and lowered fertilizer and pesticide costs.

“Farmers need to become biologists again,” Rockey told the NYFC.

Second, farmers just starting out often do not have the capital to purchase water-saving equipment or implement conservation methods, so support for irrigation technology upgrades can be a big help.”

Read more: National Geographic