Archive for the 'desertification' Category

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


Jordan, the PA and Israel trade water from the Red and Sea of Galilee

Some good news out of the Middle East region for a change: It was announced at the Israel Business Forum that Israel has signed an historic water-sharing agreement with Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. But not all parties are happy with political manoeuvrings around the announcement.

The new project will include a new desalination plant in Aqaba, Jordan, at the northern tip of the Red Sea in order to provide Jordan and Israel with a new source of drinking water. As per the agreement, Israel would release some of its water from Lake Tiberias (the Sea of Galilee), further north, to flow to Jordan, and at the same time provide desalinated water to the Palestinians to use in the West Bank.

In a later phase of the project a 180km pipeline system might transport brine produced in the desalination plant form the Red Sea north to the Dead Sea, but officials on the ground say they don’t have information that it would be part of Monday’s agreement.

Read More: Green Prophet


Between the glacier and the dam: life on the Tibetan plateau

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“The Tibetan Plateau covers approximately a quarter of China’s land area, spreading out over 2.5 million square kilometres in the west of the country. Home to the largest store of freshwater outside of the poles, it feeds water into Asia’s major rivers which supply water to over a billion people. As a result of anthropogenic climate change, temperatures are rising on the Tibetan Plateau faster than anywhere else in Asia. The effects of these changes are becoming more evident in the form of melting glaciers, intensified weather events, increasing desertification and degraded grasslands.

In the town of Heishui, in northern Sichuan province, the effects of climate change are being felt firsthand by the people who reside in this south-eastern corner of the plateau. The Dagu glacier which sits above the town lies at over 5,000 metres. But it’s quickly retreating due to rising temperatures in the region. Just 50 kilometres downstream, the water run-off from the glacier slows and stagnates behind one of the country’s largest and newest hydropower constructions, the 147-metre high Maoergai Dam.”

Read more: China Dialogue

A 12 Step Program to Stopping Drought and Desertification

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“Soaring temperatures and low precipitation could not occur at a worse time for many farmers in the United States, and around the world. Intensifying drought conditions are affecting corn and soybean crops throughout the Midwest, raising grain prices as well as concerns about future food prices.

The US Drought Monitor reports that 88 percent of this year’s corn crop and 77 percent of the soybean crop are now affected by the most severe drought since 1988. In response the Worldwatch Institutelaunched a 12 step guide to combatting drought and desertification. These tips can be used by policy makers around the world and in dry climates in the Middle East. Read on for the list.

1. Agroforestry: Planting trees in and around farms reduces soil erosion by providing a natural barrier against strong winds and rainfall. Tree roots also stabilize and nourish soils. The 1990 Farm Bill established the USDA National Agroforestry Center with the expressed aim of encouraging farmers to grow trees as windbreaks or as part of combined forage and livestock production, among other uses. See Green Prophet’s feature on the Nabateans to see how this idea can be applied in the Middle East.

2. Soil management: Alternating crop species allows soil periods of rest, restores nutrients, and also controls pests. Soil amendments, such as biochar, help soils retain moisture near the surface by providing a direct source of water and nutrients to plant roots, even in times of drought.”

Read more: Green Prophet


Iraq’s PM warns Arab states may face ‘water war’

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“At a conference in Baghdad, he urged countries to work together in order to prevent conflict in the arid region.

Issues include desertification, poor water management, and the need for most Arab countries to rely on the goodwill of upstream states for river water.

Arab countries are seeking to address the water crisis with a unified plan.

The BBC’s Rami Ruhayem in Baghdad says Arab leaders have in the past failed to tackle common crises because of infighting and inefficiency.

And with popular uprisings tearing through the region, their differences seem to be getting even worse, our correspondent adds.

At the conference, the head of the Palestinian Water Authority accused Yemen of wasting a substantial amount of its water on irrigating qat plants, whose leaves are a popular stimulant.”

Read more: BBC


Encroaching Deserts Threaten Life Along Tibet’s Longest River

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“Rising temperatures, reduced rainfall and excessive numbers of grazing animals are worsening desertification and drying up grasslands in western Tibet, says a Chinese geologist who has explored one of the region’s uncharted rivers.

Yang Yong said he had observed desertification in parts of the upper reaches of the Yarlung Zangbo River, and believes this could be caused by climate change as well as human activity.

The Yarlung Zangbo (also called the Yarlung Tsangpo) is Tibet’s largest river, originating in the west of the region. Along its 2,057 km (1,286 mile) length, it passes through India, where it is known as the Dihang and the Brahmaputra, and Bangladesh, where it is called the Jamuna.”

Read more: AlertNet


Africa’s great ‘water grab’

The banks of the Niger river, in southern Mali, have been flooded by a steady stream of foreigners. Coveted by foreign investors eager to snap up large tracts of fertile farmland, the river basin has been at the centre of a race to get hold of African land at rock-bottom prices. Meanwhile, last week, hundreds of smallholder farmers and civil society activists flocked to the same river basin for the first international conference to tackle the global rush for land.

West Africa‘s largest river, the Niger is thought to sustain over 100 million people as it snakes 4,180km through Guinea, Mali and Niger before emptying into Nigeria’s colossal Niger Delta. In Mali, the Office du Niger is home to the vast majority of the country’s largescale land deals, seen by campaigners as emblematic of the “land grabs” taking place in developing countries. Recent estimates suggest that foreign investment in Mali’s limited arable land jumped by 60% between 2009 and 2010. But the potential knock-on effects of these land deals on local communities’ access to water has rarely made it centre-stage.

Ongoing research from the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development seeks to redress this blindspot, honing in on how such land deals might affect water access for fishing, farming and pastoralist communities. In a policy paper out on Thursday, the IIED’s Jamie Skinner and Lorenzo Cotula warn that an alarming number of African governments seem to be signing away water rights for decades, with major implications for local communities.

Read More: The Guardian


Holy Water: A precious commodity in a region of conflict

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“IN ISRAEL, not far from the place where Jesus is said to have walked on water and fed thousands with just five loaves of bread and two fish, government engineers have performed a miracle of their own—they’ve made a river disappear. The Jordan River leaves the Sea of Galilee on its way to the Dead Sea in a slow laze past a series of campsites to a concrete complex, beside which white-robed pilgrims submerge themselves in its waters. From there, it pushes onward, winding through olive groves, farmers’ fields, and patches of brushwoods. Then, suddenly, it stops. At a pumping station less than three kilometers from the river’s source, five broad green pipes dip like elephant trunks to suck the water out. Beyond this point, the river has been reduced to less than 2 percent of its original flow.

The disappearance of the Jordan River, much like the area’s dropping aquifers, is a symptom of the struggle for water that has shaped the modern Middle East. The flow of a river that once irrigated the fields of the West Bank has been channeled through pipes, pumps, and canals to gush from the taps in Tel Aviv, and to “make the desert bloom” in the Negev. This diversion of water may be a technical marvel, but it’s emptying rivers and leaving critical aquifers dangerously susceptible to the intrusion of salt water and raw sewage.”

Read more: Orion Magazine


Vegas tries to kick its water addiction

“At first glance, it’s pretty easy to say Las Vegas has an unhealthy water fetish. There’s the 22-million-gallon Bellagio fountain, which rockets dancing cylinders of well water 500 feet into the air to the tune of “God Bless the USA.” There’s the liquid volcano at The Mirage, where water seems to bubble like lava. And, finally, the blue canals inside (inside!) the Venetian hotel, where water buoys gondolas for the amusement of gamblers and tourists.

“Keep in mind that this city is in the middle of the Mojave Desert, one of the hottest and driest places in the world.

“Step off reality-defiant Las Vegas Boulevard with its neon-soaked casinos and lavish “water features” and you’ll find a place that gets only 4 inches of rain in an average year — where the air is so dry that tourists keep lip balm and eye drops close at hand to avoid getting “lizard lips” and, generally, having all life-giving moisture vacuum-sucked right out of them. It’s a place where workers plant rocks instead of vegetation beside the roads, because you don’t have to water rocks, and water is one resource this manufactured oasis certainly doesn’t have in spades.

“Throw in a population boom, record drought, and climate change that scientists say will make such droughts more common in the future, and you’ve got the recipe for a water obsession that threatens Vegas’ very existence.”

Read more: CNN

Police Beat, Tie-Up, and Fire On Citizens Protesting Dying Ramsar Protected Lake in Iran

Lake Urmia protests. Retrieved from:

“Like a chain of dominos, citizen protests are erupting everywhere: following the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions catalyzed in part by skyrocketing food prices, political protests have swept throughout the Arab world. But it hasn’t stopped there, and not all battles are political.

In Jordan, ordinary people are protesting government plans to include nuclear power in its arsenal of energy sources, while in the United States, Bill McKibben and other well-respected community members, including Jim Hansen from NASA, have been arrested for marching against the Keystone XL Pipeline –  a carbon bomb that climatologists say would officially end the battle against climate change (humanity 0 vs. climate change 7 billion). But none of these latter environmental events has garnered such an extreme response as the Lake Orumiyeh protests in Iran, where bloggers report that people are being arrested, beaten, and in some cases tied to trees for protesting the slow death of the world’s second largest salt lake.

Dried up Mecca

In part because of drought and in part because of poorly managed dam construction and irrigation projects, Lake Orumiyeh or Urmia in Northwestern Iran has shrunk to roughly 60% of its original size. Once a mecca for flamingos and other wildlife, the dying lake now more closely resembles a dusty moonscape.

Residents in Azerbaijan that rely on the Ramsar protected site for their sustenance claim that Revolutionary Guards are responsible for shrinking lake levels and the subsequent rise in salinity and decrease in biodiversity. Global Voices claims that if Lake Urmia dries up completely, millions of people will have to settle elsewhere.”

Read more: Green Prophet