Archive for the 'transboundary water' Category

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

 

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

 

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

 

Water supply key to outcome of conflicts in Iraq and Syria

Photo retrieved from: www.grist.org

“Rivers, canals, dams, sewage, and desalination plants are now all military targets in the semi-arid region that regularly experiences extreme water shortages, says Michael Stephen, deputy director of the Royal United Services Institute think tank in Qatar, speaking from Baghdad.

“Control of water supplies gives strategic control over both cities and countryside. We are seeing a battle for control of water. Water is now the major strategic objective of all groups in Iraq. It’s life or death. If you control water in Iraq, you have a grip on Baghdad, and you can cause major problems. Water is essential in this conflict,” he said.

ISIS Islamic rebels now control most of the key upper reaches of the Tigris and Euphrates, the two great rivers that flow from Turkey in the north to the Gulf in the south and on which all Iraq and much of Syria depends for food, water, and industry.

“Rebel forces are targeting water installations to cut off supplies to the largely Shia south of Iraq,” says Matthew Machowski, a Middle East security researcher at the U.K. houses of parliament and Queen Mary University of London.

In April, ISIS fighters in Fallujah captured the smaller Nuaimiyah Dam on the Euphrates and deliberately diverted its water to “drown” government forces in the surrounding area. Millions of people in the cities of Karbala, Najaf, Babylon, and Nasiriyah had their water cut off but the town of Abu Ghraib was catastrophically flooded along with farms and villages over 200 square miles. According to the U.N., around 12,000 families lost their homes.

Earlier this year, Kurdish forces reportedly diverted water supplies from the Mosul Dam. Equally, Turkey has been accused of reducing flows to the giant Lake Assad, Syria’s largest body of fresh water, to cut off supplies to Aleppo, and ISIS forces have reportedly targeted water supplies in the refugee camps set up for internally displaced people.”

Read more: Grist

 

 

Historic “Pulse Flow” Brings Water to Parched Colorado River Delta

 

Photo retrieved from: www.nationalgeographic.com

“Water for the pulse flow is being released from Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam at an unspecified time. It will take a few days to travel some 320 river miles (515 kilometers) to the Morelos Dam. On March 23, the gates of Morelos Dam will be opened by the International Boundary and Water Commission, which operates the structure. That will allow the pulse flow to enter the last 70 miles (113 kilometers) of the Colorado River. Peak flow through the gates is expected around March 27, and then the flow will taper to a lower volume for about eight weeks.

As agreed upon by the U.S. and Mexico, the total amount of flow over the period will be 105,392 acre-feet of water (130 million cubic meters). That represent less than one percent of the pre-dam annual flow through the Colorado, “but in terms of recent flows it is very significant,” says Postel.

The outcome of the pulse flow remains somewhat unpredictable. Groundwater “sinks” along the route will trap an unknown amount of the water, and debris could block part of the flow or cause it to reroute. “There’s a lot of uncertainty because this is an experiment that hasn’t been done before,” says Postel. (See “The American Nile.”)”

Read more: National Geographic

 

Beyond Pumps and Turbines- Elaborating the Social Nexus

Retrieved from the CPUC

Beyond Pumps and Turbines- Elaborating the Social Nexus

by Miles Ten Brinke

Miles, Peak Water columnist and avowed Hydrophilic energy-head, has found his way to Britain where he’s lost his California perma-tan and is now a 1st year PhD candidate at the University of Manchester Business School  after studying an Energy Policy MSc at the University of Exeter in Cornwall.  He’s now trapped in the Nexus, researching the transition to sustainability of the global water-energy system.

The state of nexus studies today is one of healthy growth, in need of a new direction. Google water-energy nexus or do a search in an academic search engine and you’ll be inundated with results. The concept has been taken up by all kinds of different people, all around the world. Search Energy for Water or Water for Energy and you’ll get an even bigger haul. In the concept of impending climate change (and the need to prepare for adaptation around those new conditions) and rising resource scarcity concentrated in key regions around the world even policymakers are starting to take up the call. It’s part of the larger movement to think more cross-sectionally, to stop considering policy arenas like climate, environment, energy, water, food and land in isolation. There are material and synergistic interconnections all over the place, and elaborating those dynamics is an essential first step to understand what a nexus is and (hopefully) managing it sustainably. All this is promising, but when you dig a bit deeper the terms you can uncover what people are actually meaning in any discussion of a “water-energy nexus”.

There are some very progressive projects out there, but they are unfortunately limited in a very fundamental way. In some places, the powers that be actually do get it. They understand that seemingly disconnected issue areas like climate, water and energy need to be managed together. In California the cross-jurisdictional and multi-agency Climate Action Team has an entire work and research block devoted to the state water energy nexus. I won’t go into any depth yet about whether just being on the agenda has had any impact (but don’t worry it is one of the main things to evaluate about California) but there is a related metric: how the state water-energy nexus is being defined. A recent White Paper from the California Public Utilities Commission is exemplary at this:

The Water Energy Nexus (“Nexus”) is the interaction between water services and energy services where energy services rely on reliable access to water and water delivery services depend on access to energy. This co-dependency is referred to as the Water Energy Nexus.

A very good operational definition, clear delineation and with embedded epistemic/ontological/methodological assumptions you could tease apart throughout the rest of the paper in how its used. The only problem is, this is an extremely limiting definition. It is an exclusively instrumental, functional definition. The ideational, social and even wider environmental-ecological dimensions are completely obfuscated. Though I’ll wait to explicate this in depth for another column, this covers only one small part of the full empirical reality of a “water-energy nexus”, of the operational material flows. It covers only the input of water to produce and consume energy and the input of energy in the same delivery of services. There’s nothing about other flows of resources, especially the full commodity chain impacts on socio-technical systems and ecological cycles. There’s nothing there about the involved institutions or people, not even the major market players.

To get a bit of perspective I’d like here to direct any of you reading through this (here’s to hoping people actually do read the column) to an alternative understanding of what constitutes a nexus. This particular and status quo construction of nexus is all about the operational point of use impacts, links defined by the physical infrastructure involved- how much water is used in cooling systems for electricity generation or to produce biofuels, how much energy gets consumed pumping water from one place to another or to treat wastewater for reuse, etc. Think of this as the ‘Pumps and turbines’ view on water-energy nexuses, and if like me you reject that definition as partial and reductive go check out the work of Professor Christopher A. Scott at the University of Arizona Udall Center and especially his 2011 paper on the policy and institutional nexus dimensions. You’ll find a clear delineation of where the conventional approach breaks down, with an expanded view to include the systemic environmental impacts often and foolishly ignored as externalities and the essential consideration of social forces embedded within energy and water service delivery.

The funny thing is, the work being done by the CPUC, WETCAT and others in California illustrates exactly what Scott and his colleagues have begun to study. It’s a bit ironic that by setting out their definition and excluding the social side of a nexus the CPUC manifests it. To truly understand the water-energy nexus of California you need an empirical search for its socio-institutional system boundaries and trace through all the actors and institutions which determine those boundaries. When the CPUC employs its definition that creates a precise institutional logic its civil servants will follow, recursively reinterpreted and developed in application. But how can you expect to sustainably manage a nexus if you don’t understand the role that you and your organisation play in its development over time, let alone the full breadth of the relevant actors, organisations and institutions involved?

So next when you think of a water-energy nexus don’t forget the people and the environment that shape it. Don’t limit yourself to just Pumps and Turbines,

~Miles On Water

Down the theory rabbit hole- thoughts on Nexus scholarship

Retrieved from PhD Comics

Down the theory rabbit hole-  thoughts on Nexus scholarship

by Miles Ten Brinke

Miles, Peak Water columnist and avowed Hydrophilic energy-head, has found his way to Britain where he’s lost his California perma-tan and is now a 1st year PhD candidate at the University of Manchester Business School  after studying an Energy Policy MSc at the University of Exeter in Cornwall.  He’s now trapped in the Nexus, researching the transition to sustainability of the global water-energy system.

There seem to be times in one’s PhD when you just knuckle down and dive deep into the mess of a theoretical landscape of which your project will be a tiny part. January 2014 goes down as my first time. For the better part of the past month I’ve slogged my way through what seemed an endless march of epistemologies, ontologies, methodologies, methods, conceptual frameworks and models, theories and applications revolving around three tragically simple questions. All this fancy academic work boils down to:

What the hell is a nexus anyway?  How has the idea (and real world examples) of a nexus been understood previously and how can that be improved? All that complicated analysis and theorising’s nice but what does any of it mean practically?

These are basic, torturous queries. I suppose you could even say that the entirety of this 3+ year slog will be in the exclusive service of answering them. I’ve spent several weeks now working through weekends, determined to follow the most interesting threads through my literature review to their full extent. I learned loads of really interesting and really useful material, identifying the gaps my work will help fill and building up nascent conceptual models to better understand the actual nexus phenomena. I wrote a paper on the philosophical underpinnings of nexus work explicit and implicit to different possible methodological approaches, wrote theoretical literature reviews…a whole lot to inch forward in my fundamental understanding of the complexities that compose each and every example of a nexus.

For all that hard slog I ended up in a much more clearly defined but much more complex theoretical landscape. For the fist time I’ve got a fully developed idea of how everything is connecting together (at least in broad sweeps) and where I fit, the points of contention between the different schools of thought and arenas of debate I’ll inevitably be dragged in to (or leaping with relish, who knows) and most important of all I’ve got a prognosis on the state of water-energy nexus studies. Brilliant work of vital policy research, but with a surprisingly limited conceptual frame only a handful of folks have broken out of. The human and environmental dimensions of the global water-energy nexus are all ontologically irrelevant or treated as exogenous by almost every single nexus study whether academic or practical.  That is problematic not just in terms of a research agenda. The bounds of a concept in its scholarship don’t only shape the resulting analysis, they have material impact. It’s much the same as the essentially contended definition of Peak Water, what you emphasise or leave out will then shape how you and the people who are influenced by your conceptualisation act. Ideas matter. So part of my recovery from all this anti-social research will be to shed light on the social Nexus.

The beauty and torture of PhD research is that it is an endless, iterative process with as only as much direction as you can cobble together. Today, the past month seems like fruitful progress, and at the end of it I’ve found and fashioned a new shape to the global Nexus. It’s one of the perks of the job. To be a funded PhD candidate is a privileged condition. You get paid to learn about something you’re passionate about, and contribute to the world’s understanding of it- maybe even be part of using that new knowledge in the real world. You’ve got your supervisors, all these seasoned academics and your fellow doctoral students to help, but ultimately it all goes back to you and you alone. Starting out you’re told that if you followup the path, you’ll never again have the intellectual freedom of your PhD research (bosses, grant hunting, etc.). So when I want to go all stereotypically antisocial academic and work through night and day, I can end up where I am here today.

Come back to me a few months from now though and we’ll see how much everything still makes sense. Rabbit hole or false start its one hell of a ride,

~Miles On Water

 

 

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell Honors U.S.-Mexico Colorado River Agreement

Photo retrieved from: www.nationalgeographic.com

“Sally Jewell, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Interior, took time today to recognize the heroic efforts of U.S. and Mexican citizens who spent years together negotiating a new Colorado River agreement between the two nations.  Jewell noted that “ecosystems know no borders” and acknowledged the importance of cooperation when addressing the challenge of caring for natural resources.

The Colorado River agreement, known as Minute 319, is groundbreaking in its approach, moving away from a focus on “who gets what” to a more modern, flexible framework that allows the U.S. and Mexico to share surplus when water is plentiful and share shortage when water is scarce. The agreement also commits the two nations to work together on water conservation and restoration of the Colorado’s long-desiccated delta by committing water to sustain it.

This cooperative framework to water management creates benefits for water users on both sides of the border, demonstrating that with a broad approach to river and water management, there is room to negotiate a win for multiple stakeholders – a model that water leaders might use to solve problems elsewhere in the Colorado River basin.  Moreover, it stands as what is likely the first agreement between nations to jointly commit water to sustain a river’s natural values.”

Read more: National Geographic

 

World Rivers Review – Dec. 2013: Focus on Arts and Activism

Protecting rivers and communities from the ravages of large dams tends to involve brainy pursuits: there’s often a heavy focus on policy and political issues, and on designing strategic campaigns to stop destructive river projects and promote better options. While these efforts play a very important role in countering the powerful forces that threaten our rivers, the global river protection movement is also working to change hearts as well as minds. Around the world, groups are using the arts to reach people’s hearts and to promote a vision of water and energy for everyone, and a respect for rivers and the life, livelihoods and traditions tied to them. As one artist told us, “Art is a megaphone to project our side of the story.”

In this issue we hear from a wide range of groups who are using creativity to educate and build community for healthy rivers. This special issue ofWorld Rivers Review includes interviews, art works and essays by artist-activists using art, music, poetry and film to create social change.

To Learn More and Download the December Issue Click Here: International Rivers

 

Breaking The Ice

Dear Readers of Peak Water,

I begin my first column in the form of an open letter, intended to explain my motivations, and underlying passions for the topics I shall discuss. I hope that the reasoning behind subsequent posts will be made apparent by what is to follow.

As predicated by the title of this column, the central themes are to be cryospheric in nature. My personal perspectives and the root of my passion were predominantly shaped by an experience many years ago, a journey that inspired everything that I am, and hope to be.

Photo taken by Peter Inglis

When I was twelve, I was fortunate enough to embark upon a life-changing expedition to the far northern reaches of India. For a month, I trekked alongside my father, Peter, and mentor-to-be, Tilak. For weeks we marched through the vast wildernesses of Ladakh and Zanskar, trudging along valleys that once lay at the bottom of the Tethys Sea. Prior to being corrected, I remember struggling to conceptualise how the ocean had flooded so much of the Himalayas, without drowning the rest of the world…alas for the loss of youth! My next corrective lesson was the realisation of the tremendous might and morphological powers of the alpine rivers. Crossing a rickety two-plank bridge, common to the region, I spotted a relict plunge pool. Naturally, I leapt forth. Whilst within the cocoon-like hollow, I remember Tilak standing above me and, ever the geologist and teacher, explaining the genesis behind its existence. Of all the incredible sights on that trip, it was this that inspired awe and respect for the massive, transformative might of the glacial Himalayan rivers.

But there was yet one more surprise in store, a sight without which no Himalayan adventure can truly be completed – a glacier. Towards the end of our trip, travelling west and then south, we passed by the gargantuan ice-mass known as Drang Drung. As a quick Google-ing will confirm, Drang Drung is the largest glacier in Ladakh, its flow route tracing roughly 22km from Zanskar. Unsurprisingly, standing on the roadside peering out at the Brobdingnagian (see Gulliver’s Travels) beast, I was struck dumb. The phenomenal orogeny, immense presence of the ice, topped by a superbly blue sky, all culminated in an exquisite crescendo of geography. I think I could safely state, that at that moment my fate was sealed, and the cryosphere became a life-defining passion

Drang Drung Glacier, photo by Peter Inglis.

Beaming forwards six years, we arrive in 2010 – my second year of university. It was whilst engaged in my academic pursuits, that the all-too familiar *bing* of Facebook curtailed my studious exertions… Lo and behold, the social network finally drew my attention to something of note; a fellow mountaineer and friend had recently traversed the Suru Valley and snapped an evolved face of Drang Drung. I imagine the majority of you are presently picturing the vast, widely publicised retreats in North America’s Cascade Range, or the Glacier National Park, perhaps the severe degradations of Swiss glaciers, or even the collapse of Antarctica’s Larsen B ice-shelf. Thankfully, the extent of retreat was not quite as detrimental. However, the glacier’s snout had withdrawn several hundred metres, and a startling change was apparent in its depth and breadth. The former subglacial (ice-covered) sides of the valley were now laid bare, with the glacier appearing to have thinned by over 20 metres, and laterally shrunk by over 300m on both sides. In itself, this change was terrifying, but it was accompanied by a new formation, hitherto unbeknown to me; a proglacial lake. The affect that this scene had was quite profound. To see the gigantic glacier, which had appeared so impermeable, so permanent, so inviolable, become so diminished, drove home the catastrophic impacts that climatic changes were triggering like nothing else could. From then on, glacier degradation, and its deleterious effects, intrigued me.

In the aftermath, as my interest was guided by various lecturers, I zeroed in on glacial hazards, becoming aware of the devastating events known as ‘outburst floods’. These have killed hundreds of thousands, and severely compromised the livelihoods and infrastructures of nations that can ill-afford developmental setbacks. Seeking regions that had hitherto been unstudied, I stumbled across the North Patagonian Icefield, conducting an investigation of the region’s several hundred lakes, endeavouring to determine the potential threats to the hydropower dams being emplaced. More recently, I undertook a Himalayan study, exploring the glacial hazards and attempting to glean the current cryospheric context for the Indo-Tibetan catchment of the Sutlej Basin. The targeted area covered over 40,000km2, and will no doubt be a region to which my focus will return again and again.

 

Indo-Tibetan Sutlej Catchment

Alas, we have reached the end of my tale. My intent has been to establish the foundations for my subsequent writings, and to convey the root of my passion in the field. From hereon in, I hope to carve a path through a broad range of topics revolving around the cryosphere and its integral links with the hydrosphere. Furthermore, I shall endeavour to concisely report on topics of mutual interest without being quite so heavy-handed in my use of synonyms, alliteration, archaic phraseology or flagging attempts at humour…though I can’t promise anything!

Your sincerely,

 

Sam Inglis, Breaking Ice