Archive for the 'agriculture' Category

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American Aqueduct: The Great California Water Saga


Photo retrieved from: The Atlantic

“Hood, California, is a farming town of 200 souls, crammed up against a levee that protects it from the Sacramento River. The eastern approach from I-5 and the Sacramento suburb of Elk Grove is bucolic. Cows graze. An abandoned railroad track sits atop a narrow embankment. Cross it, and the town comes into view: a fire station, five streets, a tiny park. The last three utility poles on Hood-Franklin Road before it dead-ends into town bear American flags.

“I’ve come here because this little patch of land is the key location in Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed $25 billion plan to fix California’s troubled water transport system. Hood sits at the northern tip of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, a network of manmade islands and channels constructed on the ruins of the largest estuary from Patagonia to Alaska. Since the 1950s, the Delta has served as the great hydraulic tie between northern and southern California: a network of rivers, tributaries, and canals deliver runoff from the Sierra Mountain Range’s snowpack to massive pumps at the southern end of the Delta. From there, the water travels through aqueducts to the great farms of the San Joaquin Valley and to the massive coastal cities. The Delta, then, is not only a 700,000-acre place where people live and work, but some of the most important plumbing in the world. Without this crucial nexus point, the current level of agricultural production in the southern San Joaquin Valley could not be sustained, and many cities, including the three largest on the West Coast—Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Jose—would have to come up with radical new water-supply solutions.”

Ream more: The Atlantic

 

California drought: Feds say farmers won’t get any Central Valley Project water this year

President Barack Obama speaks to the media on California’s drought situation Friday, Feb. 14, 2014 in Los Banos, Calif. Farmers in California’s

Photo retrieved from: SJ Mercury News

“In a crushing reminder of the state’s parched plight, federal officials announced Friday that the Central Valley Project — California’s largest water delivery system — will provide no water this year to Central Valley farmers and only 50 percent of the contracted amount to urban areas such as Santa Clara and Contra Costa counties.

“Farmers had been bracing for the bad news because California received less rain in 2013 than any year since it became a state in 1850. Despite some storms this month, the state is still grappling with low reservoirs and a Sierra Nevada snowpack that’s 25 percent of normal.

“Friday’s announcement will particularly affect San Joaquin Valley farmers who are last in line to get federal water. Many will have to either heavily pump already overburdened wells, or let fields go unplanted this summer.

“California produces almost half of the nation’s fresh fruits and vegetables. And without adequate water in California, food supplies from other states or other countries may be the only option to fill the gap,” said Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition.”

Read more: San Jose Mercury News

 

Omo River, Lake Turkana at Risk from Dams and Plantations

Photo retrieved from: www.internationalrivers.org

“Dams and irrigated plantations being built in Ethiopia will bring major changes to the flow of the Lower Omo River, which in turn will harm ecosystem functions and local livelihoods all the way to the river’s terminus at Lake Turkana in Kenya. More dams are planned for the basin that would compound the damages.

Here we outline some of the basic changes that can be expected as a result of these developments, and include resources on where to get more information.

Fast Facts

  • The Gibe III reservoir is expected to start filling at the beginning of the next Kiremt rainy season (approximately May 2014); filling the reservoir will take up to three years. During this time, the river’s yearly flow will drop as much as 70%.
  • The Gibe III will provide stable flows year-round that will enable the growth of large commercial agricultural plantations in the Lower Omo. The Kuraz sugar plantation and additional areas identified for cultivation could eventually take almost half of the Omo River inflow to Lake Turkana.
  • These projects will cause a decrease in river flow and the size, length, and number of floods, which will be disastrous for downstream users. This is the first year in which runoff from the Kiremt season, which is vital for flood-recession agriculture, restoration of grazing areas, and fisheries production, will be almost completely blocked.”

Read more: International Rivers


 

Why global water shortages pose threat of terror and war

Photo retrieved from: www.newsecuritybeat.org

“Already a billion people, or one in seven people on the planet, lack access to safe drinking water. Britain, of course, is currently at the other extreme. Great swaths of the country are drowning in misery, after a series of Atlantic storms off the cough-western coast. But that too is part of the picture that has been coming into sharper focus over 12 years of the Grace satellite record. Countries at northern latitudes and in the tropics are getting wetter. But those countries at mid-latitude are running increasingly low on water.

“What we see is very much a picture of the wet areas of the Earth getting wetter,” Famiglietti said. “Those would be the high latitudes like the Arctic and the lower latitudes like the tropics. The middle latitudes in between, those are already the arid and semi-arid parts of the world and they are getting drier.”

On the satellite images the biggest losses were denoted by red hotspots, he said. And those red spots largely matched the locations of groundwater reserves.

“Almost all of those red hotspots correspond to major aquifers of the world. What Grace shows us is that groundwater depletion is happening at a very rapid rate in almost all of the major aquifers in the arid and semi-arid parts of the world.”

The Middle East, north Africa and south Asia are all projected to experience water shortages over the coming years because of decades of bad management and overuse.”

Read more: The Guardian

 

Egypt’s Generals Face a Watery Battle

Photo retrieved from: www.ipsnews.net

“Heavy reliance on water intensive crops, a major upstream dam project for the Nile basin, and rising groundwater levels pushing at pharaoh-era monuments will be pressing issues for the next Egyptian president – whether military or civilian.

As criticism continues over the military’s heavy-handedness to quell protests, little attention is being given to the late January announcement by Egypt’s minister of irrigation and water resources on the growing severity of the country’s water shortage: share of water per citizen stands at 640 cubic metres, compared with an international standard of 1,000.

The minister said he expected this amount to decrease to 370 cubic metres by 2050 due to a rapidly growing population.

A scientist working in the water resources sector expressed cautious hope to IPS that “the military is one of the few institutions that can actually get things done.” But he added: “That said, they were in power for a long time and didn’t do anything.”

Improving irrigation practices and countering the demographic explosion are some of the most commonly cited actions to be considered, as well as reducing the use of pesticides and improving sewage and waste disposal systems to prevent contaminating the limited water supplies available.”

Read more: IPS

 

California Dries Up as Brown Pushes $15 Billion Tunnel

Photo retrieved from: www.bloomberg.com

California’s worsening drought is raising the stakes for a $15 billion plan endorsed by Governor Jerry Brown to build two 30-mile (48-kilometer) water tunnels under an ecologically sensitive river delta east of San Francisco Bay.

The tunnels, each as wide as a two-lane interstate highway, would ship water more reliably from northern California to thirsty farms and cities in the south. They would also bolster the ecosystem of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, which is on the verge of collapse from feeding water to 25 million people and 750,000 acres (304,000 hectares) of farmland.

The drought, which officials say could be one of the worst in California’s history, is forcing farmers in the fertile central valley region to fallow thousands of acres of fields and has left 17 rural towns so low on drinking water that the state may need to start trucking in supplies. The tunnels are the biggest part of a $25 billion Bay Delta Conservation Plan.

Reservoirs are at about 60 percent of average, according to state water data, and falling as rainfall remains at record low levels. Mountain snowpack is about 12 percent of normal for this time of year. Brown is urging the state’s 38 million residents to conserve and warning that mandatory restrictions are possible.”

Read more: Bloomberg

 

Nile Delta Disappearing Beneath the Sea

Photo retrieved from: www.ipsnews.net

“It only takes a light covering of seawater to render land infertile, so Mohamed Saeed keeps a close watch on the sea as it advances year after year towards his two-hectare plot of land. The young farmer, whose clover field lies just 400 metres from Egypt’s northern coast, reckons he has less than a decade before his field – and livelihood – submerges beneath the sea.

But even before that, his crops will wither and die as seawater infiltrates the local aquifer. The process has already begun, he says, clutching a handful of white-caked soil.

“The land has become sick,” says Saeed. “The soil is saline, the irrigation water is saline, and we have to use a lot of fertilisers to grow anything on it.”

Spread over 25,000 kilometres, the densely populated Nile Delta is the breadbasket of Egypt, accounting for two-thirds of the country’s agricultural production and home to 40 million people. Its northern flank, running 240 kilometres from Alexandria to Port Said, is one of the most vulnerable coastlines in the world, facing the triple threat of coastal erosion, saltwater infiltration, and rising sea levels.

According to Khaled Ouda, a geologist at Assiut University, a 30 centimetres rise in sea level would inundate 6,000 square kilometres of the Nile Delta. The flooding would create islands out of an additional 2,000 square kilometres of elevated land, isolating towns, roads, fields, and industrial facilities.”

Read more: IPS News

 

California drought: Farmers, ranchers face uncertain future

Photo retrieved from: www.sfgate.com

“On Friday, amid California’s driest year on record, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency in the state. As days pass without snow or rain, dairymen, farmers and other livestock producers are finding themselves in the same predicament as Imhof. Without water to irrigate, produce growers fear they will have to leave some fields fallow.

Ranchers and farmers say that as long as the drought continues, the nation’s largest agricultural state will remain in turmoil, with repercussions stretching to consumer pocketbooks in the form of higher prices for such basic staples as meat, milk, fruit and vegetables.

“If it doesn’t rain in another month there will be ranchers and farmers going out of business,” Imhof said.

For most, there is little to no financial relief or government aid to bail them out. Only 35 of California’s 400 crops are eligible for farm insurance, said Karen Ross, secretary of the state Department of Food and Agriculture. Almonds, corn, cotton, citrus and avocados are a few of those crops. Livestock operations are not.

No farm bill

And without the passage of a farm bill, most federal disaster relief programs are not available. Federal lawmakers, still wrangling over a dairy price program, are more than a year overdue passing the bill. The 2008 bill, which included everything from farm subsidies to food stamps, expired in autumn 2012, but was extended until Sept. 30, 2013. The legislation typically carries provisions, offering cash remedies to livestock producers – especially cattle – devastated by natural disasters.”

Read more: SF Gate

 

Major California Drought Could Spell ‘Catastrophe’ for Nation’s Food Supply

Photo retrieved from: www.commondreams.org

“A major and unyielding drought in California is causing concern in the nation’s “food basket,” as farmers there say the U.S. food supply could be hit hard if the conditions in their state don’t rapidly improve, Al Jazeera America reports Tuesday.

“This is the driest year in 100 years,” grower Joe Del Bosque told Al Jazeera, expressing concern that the hundreds of workers he employs for each year’s harvest could be without a job this season.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 2013 was the driest on record for most areas of California, “smashing previous record dry years” across the state, including regions where approximately half the fruits, vegetables and nuts in the U.S. are grown.

Those conditions have not relented as 2014 begins with most of the state experiencing official ‘severe’ or ‘extreme drought’ conditions.

And as Al Jazeera reports, reservoirs, which store water that flows from the snow pack in the Sierra Nevada mountains, are at less than 50 percent capacity—20 percent below average for this time of year.

“That’s rather dismal,” said Nancy Vogel, spokeswoman for the California Department of Water Resources. “If we don’t get big storms to build up that snow pack, we can’t expect much in reservoirs.”

Additionally, earlier this month firefighters were forced to Northern California to battle wildfires that were unprecedented for the time of year, and officials are concerned more fires could be on the way.”

Read more: Common Dreams

 

Growing a Glacier

This year has been a fascinating one for glaciology.  Dozens, if not hundreds, of important discoveries have been made, and are rampant within academic literature. However, the bulk of glaciological developments are often too complex for wider dissemination. Consequently, I relish glaciological tales that manage to permeate more mainstream channels. My favourite exposé this year was The Economist’s article ‘Do-it-yourself glaciers: The iceman cometh’, a re-emergence of National Geographic’s 2001 article ‘”Artificial Glaciers” aid farmers in Himalayas.

In the high Himalaya, glacial and snowmelt are essential to the continued survival of montane peoples. Thus regional ice is critical to sustaining high altitude communities. Well over a billion people, more than 20% of Earth’s population, living in the shadows of the Himalayas are reliant on such meltwater. Bafflingly, little action has been taken to prevent their total disappearance, which is speculated to be imminent unless rising temperatures and other changing climatic variables are abated. Already, 600 glaciers are known to have disappeared throughout the world.

Dr Walter Immerzeel, of the Dutch Utrecht University, led a research team looking into the stability and security of the ‘Asian Water Towers’. They determined that the major Asian river basins, comprising the Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra, Yangtze and Yellow Rivers, are experiencing a generalised trend of ice wastage. Meltwater is a significant contributor to all these rivers, especially for the Indus and Ganges, with 40% directly feeding in from glaciers. This pattern is expected to persist, with these rivers facing extreme, consistent reductions in peak discharges, during the height of seasonal meltwater influx, by 2046-2065. Resultantly, it is reckoned that the diminishing meltwater supplies will threaten the food security of 4.5% of the peoples within these Asian basins within 50 years. Potentially, 70.3 million face a bleak future of malnourishment and starvation, over and above the present figures of 563 million. This additional 70 million is up to four times the number exterminated by famine during Mao’s ‘Great Leap Forwards’, between 1958-1960, acknowledged as ‘the worst in world history’…so far.

Chewang "The Ice Man" Norphel, retrieved from the Times of India

Despite these utterly demoralising statistics, there are, thankfully, truly inspirational innovators leading a sortie from the mountains. Engineer Chewang “The Ice Man” Norphel of Ladakh has pioneered an incredible and novel method for replacing glaciers; the ‘Do-it-yourself’ approach to glacier growth. Mr Norphel has led the charge to install glaciers throughout his home-province since 1987, seeking to replace many that have already disappeared. As of summer 2013, he had emplaced twelve.

His largest glacier thus far is 300 metres long, 45m wide, and averages 1m deep. This amounts to potentially 13.5 million litres (~3.6 million gallons). This ice-mass sustains 700 people in the village Phuktsey. Per person, the allotment allows an estimated annual stipend of 19,285 litres, sourced from the home-grown glaciers, and is utilised in agriculture, drinking, sanitation, and other essential practices. In comparison, the USGS estimates that the average American utilises 300-380 litres per day. The Ladakhi survive on 13-17% of that, using it sparingly for far more than daily ablutions. To bring this further into perspective, the entire annual allotment of Phuktsey equals 29%, less than a third, of that utilised by The Bellagio’s dancing fountains, in Las Vegas.

Retrieved from Freefever.com and Flickr.com

High-altitude Himalayan agriculturalists have historically been reliant upon small (approximately 1km2) cirque glaciers, which form as precipitation gathers in depressions on shaded, north-facing mountain slopes. Based upon these prerequisite conditions, Mr Norphel formulated his DIY plan. Small streams were diverted towards a series of tiered ponds and channels, where the water is slowed, desilted and then pools in the shade. During the winter months, November to December, the water freezes. Come April, it begins to thaw, and release the stored resource. This cycle is critical to local farming, as the regional agricultural systems evolved to periodically rely upon meltwater, with seed-sowing beginning in April. It is estimated that 80% of Ladakh’s villagers are dependant on glacial meltwaters.

Retrieved from National Geographic

However, the water shortages faced by the villages of Stokmo, Changla, Phuktsey, and other settlements rescued by the Messianic “Ice Man”, are destined to further permeate the Himalayas. In 2010, Croat Valentina Radić and German Regine Hock, of the Universities of British Columbia and Alaska respectively, published findings on the potential of small glaciers to contribute 12cm to sea level rise. They estimated that half of Earth’s smaller ice glaciers (under 5km2) are fated to disappear by 2100, with obviously far-reaching consequences. As a whole ‘High Mountain Asia’, including the Himalayas, is projected to face volumetric reductions of approximately 10%. Between 1975 and 2008, Ladakhi glaciers were found to have variably retreated by 60m (1975-1992), 89m (1992-2002), and 52m (2002-2006).

Ladakh is an area of ~117,000km2, supporting 274,289 (c. 2011). To meet the demands of this population, should all source glaciers waste away, potentially 5.3 billion litres of water would have to be transferred to the region (assuming consumption to be broadly homogenous throughout the region). To address this need locally, more than 390 of the largest artificial glaciers would need to be created. At US$2,000 (~£1,228) per scheme, deployment costs for all of Ladakh could be as little as $780,000 (~£478,000).

In light of this, it is blatant that growing a glacier is a clever stopgap. However, it is by no means the solution to glacier retreat, and the subsequent, seemingly inevitable disappearance. Nor can it prevent the imminent water shortages, and subsequent widespread ripple effect. I applaud Mr Norphel’s efforts, for he is among a handful to successfully implement effective adaptive glaciological schemes. Nevertheless, the slow rate of deployment, relatively limited scale of their impacts, and limited acceptance of the severity of the situation, are likely to prevent their proliferation.

~Breaking Ice