Archive for the 'uncategorized' Category

No, California won’t run out of water in a year

Cattle ranch

Retrieved from LA Times

“State water managers and other experts said Thursday that California is in no danger of running out of water in the next two years, even after an extremely dry January and paltry snowpack. Reservoirs will be replenished by additional snow and rainfall between now and the next rainy season, they said. The state can also draw from other sources, including groundwater supplies, while imposing tougher conservation measures.

“We have been in multiyear droughts and extended dry periods a number of times in the past, and we will be in the future,” said Ted Thomas, a spokesman for the California Department of Water Resources. “In periods like this there will be shortages, of course, but the state as a whole is not going to run dry in a year or two years.”

Read more: LA Times

Stanford historian unearths greed-drenched origins of Mexico’s groundwater crisis

Photo retrieved from Stanford News

“A historic three-year drought has left California bone dry. But the state, along with much of the Southwest, is not alone in its water crisis. Mexico, too, is facing a severe water shortage, and Stanford scholar Mikael Wolfe says the Mexican version was decades in the making, and probably preventable.

Wolfe, an assistant professor of Latin American and environmental history, has brought to light the shady story of groundwater pumping in 20th-century Mexico. As Mexico’s water problem is now described as a matter of national security, Wolfe’s research is especially timely. He found that today’s groundwater crisis can be traced back to the 1920s, in the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution (1910-20), much earlier than most water scholars and policymakers have assumed. His research draws heavily from the Historical Water Archive in Mexico City. The only collection of its kind in Latin America, the archive contains tens of thousands of documents produced by hydraulic engineers, landowners and peasants, from the 19th century to the present.

“Although the Revolution happened a century ago,” Wolfe says, “decisions about groundwater extraction continue to impact water quality and supply issues in Mexico today.”

Even more surprising, Wolfe found evidence that the Mexican government was warned about the overuse of groundwater resources in the 1930s. Mexican agriculturalists – by far the biggest groundwater users – were paving the way toward environmental disaster.

Within a decade after the Revolution, Mexico already showed signs of groundwater shortage. As Wolfe’s research demonstrates, the engineering elite was responsible for building canal networks, dam projects and groundwater pumps to distribute and maximize access to water. Wolfe found a confidential 1944 U.S. consular report predicting that ecological “disaster lies ahead” for Mexico – despite, or perhaps because of, the burgeoning water infrastructure.

Unfortunately, the insatiable demand for water, fueled by developmental imperatives, “persistently trumped concerns for conservation,” Wolfe said, adding, “it’s a pattern that persists to this day.”"

Read more at: Stanford News

Moving Mountains

“When it comes to mining for copper and gold, prospectors will move mountains to make it happen. As in, physically dig up the rock, extract the precious metals and move the debris elsewhere.

In the chilly high altitudes of the Andes Mountains, however, what may look like part of a mountain can in fact be a huge, frozen block of rock fragments and ice. When some of that ice melts in the spring, these so-called “rock glaciers” become a valuable source of water for local populations.

Rock Glacier in the Argentinian Andes, retrieved from UDaily

A scientific team including researchers from the University of Delaware trekked to the Andes in Argentina this month to learn more about rock glacier dynamics. They are estimating how much ice is locked inside rock glaciers where several new mines are being developed and how far the formations move each year.

The effort will aid the mining industry and government officials in determining the potential environmental impacts of disrupting the geological features.

“Mining companies are very concerned about altering or damaging any natural icy landscapes because there is so little water coming out of the high, dry Andes,” said Michael O’Neal, associate professor of geological sciences in UD’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment.

O’Neal and two graduate students, Renato Kane and Erika Schreiber, spent two weeks collecting field data in the San Juan Province, situated just east of the Chilean border at altitudes between 10,000 and 15,000 feet. Kane’s thesis work will evaluate year-to-year movements of rock glaciers, which measure roughly one-third of a square mile, using a terrestrial laser scanner.

Rock glaciers form gradually as mountains erode and pieces of rock crumble downwards. Snow blankets the rocks and then melts when temperatures rise, causing water to seep in between crevices before refreezing. Like regular glaciers, rock glaciers move slowly under their own weight and seasonal melt. The scientists will compare data from year to year to track that movement.

“If they truly are active and flowing, we’ll see it when we measure their position,” O’Neal said.

If not, the rock glaciers may be inactive relics of a glacial advance thousands of years ago and no longer contribute to annual water flow.”

Read more: University of Delaware’s UDaily


DWR Drops State Water Project Allocation to Zero, Seeks to Preserve Remaining Supplies

Retrieved from: CADWR

SACRAMENTO – To protect Californians’ health and safety from more severe water shortages in the months ahead, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) today took actions to conserve the state’s precious resources. As a result, everyone – farmers, fish, and people in our cities and towns – will get less water. DWR’s actions are in direct response to Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr.’s drought State of Emergency. In the declaration, the Governor directed DWR and the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) to act to modify requirements that hinder conservation of currently stored water and allow flexibility within the state’s water system to maintain operations and meet environmental needs.

“The harsh weather leaves us little choice,” said DWR Director Mark Cowin. “If we are to have any hope of coping with continued dry weather and balancing multiple needs, we must act now to preserve what water remains in our reservoirs.”

“Except for a small amount of carryover water from 2013, customers of the State Water Project (SWP) will get no deliveries in 2014 if current dry conditions persist and deliveries to agricultural districts with long-standing water rights in the Sacramento Valley may be cut 50 percent – the maximum permitted by contract – depending upon future snow survey results. It is important to note that almost all areas served by the SWP have other sources of water, such as groundwater, local reservoirs, and other supplies.

“It is our duty to give State Water Project customers a realistic understanding of how much water they will receive from the Project,” said Director Cowin. “Simply put, there’s not enough water in the system right now for customers to expect any water this season from the project.”

Read more: California Department of Water Resources

California snowpack hits record low

Frank Gehrke

Retrieved from:

“Even with the first significant storm in nearly two months dropping snow on the Sierra Nevada, Thursday’s mountain snowpack measurements were the lowest for the date in more than a half-century of record keeping.

“At 12% of average for this time of year, the dismal statewide snowpack underscored the severity of a drought that is threatening community water supplies and leaving farm fields in many parts of California barren.

“As snow survey crews worked, Gov. Jerry Brown met with Southern California water leaders as part of a series of drought meetings he is holding around the state.

“Every day this drought goes on, we’re going to have to tighten the screws on what people are doing,” Brown said in brief remarks before the private meeting with regional water managers at the downtown Los Angeles headquarters of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.”

Read more: Los Angeles Times


Rain and snow comes to dry Northern California, but not enough to ease drought


Retrieved from:

“Northern California is finally getting wet weather after some areas have gone without measurable rain for weeks. But the precipitation won’t help much to ease the drought that plagued the region.

“The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s website predicted just 0.1 inch of rain in San Francisco on Wednesday and Thursday. But more than 2 inches were expected in parts of Sacramento and as much as 2 feet of snow at higher elevations in the northern Sierra, where snow was falling on Thursday morning and drivers were required to have chains on their vehicles.

“The San Francisco Bay Area has had only about 10-20 percent of the precipitation that it usually gets this time of year, said National Weather Service forecaster Diana Henderson.”

Read more: Foxnews


Piled Higher and Deeper into the Nexus


Retrieved from PhD Comics

Piled Higher and Deeper into the 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 life of a 1st year PhD candidate at Manchester Business School is a study in contradictions. The environment you suddenly find yourself in seems to tear in opposite directions, demanding of you a level of knowledge and expertise you never expected to possess and yet ever humbling with just how little you actually know. On the one hand you’re a semi-accomplished student engaged in intensive research training and analysis (everywhere from the most obscure specialist papers only you and a half dozen other people have read to the fundamental epistemology of social science) and on the other you’ve generally no idea what you’re on about and just make it up as you go.
Then there’s the time you spend with your supervisors. The you in that office stumbling over the simplest of analytic details couldn’t be a further contrast from the confident bombast of the Friday intellectual pub talk. Yet you’ve probably said exactly the same thing, only your supervisor knows just how nonsensical it is. Getting to be a PhD candidate tends to mean you do actually know about your subject, can talk up a bit of the arcane and esoteric. Soon as you enter supervisor zone though, at least in my case and with nearly everyone I know, you’re back down to a 1st year undergrad in competency. Every little victory, i.e. saying something moderately inciteful, is hard won and celebrated.
Doesn’t stop there though, MBS adds another layer- oscillating between exhausting frustration and excitement.  The wrenching tug of war between the demands of your own research development and research training, having a life and working hard enough to not be a charade of an academic. An MBS PhD is very uncommon for Britain, a three year PhD where you still have considerable course work. In roughly the first year you work through three assessed core modules, eight research methodology seminars of which three are assessed, and a doctoral conference. Its a hell of a lot of work, and a challenge to balance just right. You’re told at induction to expect spending at least half your time on the work, its often far more time-consuming. Hours go by staring at screen trying to grasp positivism or paradigm shifts, or rational choice theory. Hours you wish you’d spent reading more about your subject because after all you tell yourself that’s the whole reason you’ve come in to slave away for three or four years on an epic work no one will ever read. There’s something you’re curious about, something you think you can shine a little light on. That alchemy of transformation from clueless student to proper academic you think you’ve set yourself up for did not include knowing the difference between epistemological and ontological relativism…
Annoying as it can get though, taking classes like Epistemology forces you to think much more broadly and deeply than you would otherwise. It gives you perspective about where you and your own tiny contribution to knowledge fit in the history of social scientific endeavour, brings to the surface your epistemic assumptions and the under-examined intellectual baggage of your previous training. It means, well who knows if it’ll really happen but its supposed to, we can go into our theses well aware of how we fit into the academic literature and exactly why we make the choices we do on our underlying choice of theories and the methods we’ll use to gather and analyse our data. Might even make that viva somewhere down the line just a little bit less scary, who knows.
For the especially foolhardy among us, its even worse.  RTP and suddenly diving into the deep end of the academic pool not enough for ya, why not take on a part-time job too. Soon enough a fair number of us are obliged or volunteer for teaching positions, often confirming in a few short weeks every little pearl of wisdom Jorge Cham has for current and prospective TAs. Everything from the expectations of spoon-fed answers to the exceedingly creative deadline extension excuses to the lazy obstinacy have been on offer.  Marking seems especially haunted. Something to look forward to for us all.
I haven’t yet taken up the privilege, instead convincing myself that continuing to work a day a week as a policy analyst (at least for a little while, ya know just to see how it goes) will be a brilliant way to keep sharp on that ever more worshiped totem of research excellence- impact. Here we’ve the final contradiction. Academics now must engage with the material effects of their research, the end-product valued as much for its benefit to society or commercial potential as its scholarship. Yet to aim for this you spend years with one tiny slice of social phenomena under the microscope, all to fill a minute theoretical gap in the literature. The more interdisciplinary and practical your aims the more incomprehensible you get as you cross-specialise. Holistic policy research can be especially maddening for this, and its all pervasive.
Anyone who’s applied for research funding or done teaching these days will know what I mean, but I’d like to think in my pursuit of comprehending the Nexus I’ve gone beyond the box-ticking. I’m obsessed with praxis in academic work, so giving up a day a week now to continue honing those skills and get a chance to apply my ideas (I’m even getting in more practice on using scenario methodology in a practical policy setting) seems a fair trade. Hopefully the sum total of what I produce in my PhD is read by more than just me, my supervisors, my evaluators and any poor sap I get to help me think through my ideas.  We’ll see. It’s a struggle, constantly being challenged in new and ever uncertain terms , but no pain no gain.
I love what I’m doing. Let the learning flow, I’ll slog my way through to the end.
~Miles On Water



Challenges of Transition- German Solar & European Markets’ Merit Order

Retrieved from

Challenges of Transition- German Solar & European Markets’ Merit Order

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.

Transitions to sustainability such as the on-going developments in the German electricity sector must be understood not only for their internal dynamics but also for the dynamic interactions across sectors and borders. This will likely prove vital to successful transition management, such as in the cross-sectoral work of the climate-water-energy nexus or the integration and decarbonisation of the European electricity markets. The recent success of German solar exemplifies this.

During times of peak generation, oversupply of the German transmission system leads to drastic drops in price (at times even going negative, effectively paying to consume). The impacts of such a process go far beyond the domestic market; central European hydroelectricity suppliers just can’t compete. In the past hydro has been able to provide a balancing role, able to flex up or down its production with some plants even storing up potential energy in an upper reservoir before being pumped back down to provide electricity at times of peak prices. This combined with its mature (though geographically limited) commercial status, relatively stable generation capacity and low costs has made hydro one of the most competitive renewable sources for decades. As German solar comes closer and closer to grid parity, it is beginning to displace hydro in the European merit order of electricity supply. In Switzerland change is already underway, with the big producers starting to pull out from this technology- Repower in particular will be cutting 35% in its hydroelectric investments over the next 10-15 years. Germany’s success has cost Swiss industry.

All the while the German solar industry continues to expand, reaching 5.01 TWh in July 2013, and in doing so creates new opportunity for innovation. Though both the viability and green credentials are being fiercely debated, pumped-storage hydro power plants may provide an answer. Pumped hydro could develop a more symbiotic link with solar. The intermittency that produces such low cost electricity is also of course one of solar’s greatest obstacles in expansion. The infrastructure is not yet in place across Europe to allow for a high proportion of electricity from intermittent renewables, but therein lays the opportunity. The ambition of some Swiss firms to turn their country into Europe’s battery- they want to combine their increasing national capacity for pumped hydro (at 1400 MW for 2012, projected to reach 3500 MW by 2017) with Switzerland’s role in European electricity flows (11% of the total comes directly through this central European state). One of the arguments goes that the pairing of increased intermittent generation with pumped hydro, via a multitude of possible policy routes, strengthens both decarbonisation and security of supply. Limited in the long term, this could be a useful bridging strategy.

Under present conditions, this is unlikely to be viable. In the absence of a capacity market Solar PV and pumped hydro are competing technologies. That is not to say whether expansion of hydroelectricity is a preferable option, or whether this merit order effect counts against solar- these and many other factors need to be weighed very carefully in consideration of their potential for the future and across multiple scales. Much rests on how European capacity markets are developed, and the overall changes to electricity infrastructure policy to accelerate the transition to sustainability.

The management of these transitions needs to run a parallel course of governance through the EU, individual states and localities. High rates of renewable generation in Europe are already possible – Denmark for instance hit 40.7% renewable source power in 2012. Energy storage will likely be key across a number of applications, softening the transition’s sharp edges. Should coupling with solar be taken up as the future of pumped storage, a much stronger energy policy coordination between Germany, Switzerland and across the region will be necessary.

The unexpected connection may precipitate both new hurdles and the means to overcome them.

~Miles On Water

This piece was originally published as part of the University of Exeter Energy Policy Blog. Founder Jenna Cavelle to Panel “Hollywood and the American Indian Blacklist” at the 10th Red Nation Film Festival Nov 5th @ 9:15pm in Los Angeles

10th Red Nation Film Festival & Awards Show Event Title presents: “HOLLYWOOD AND THE AMERICAN INDIAN BLACKLIST”

November 5, 2013 @ 9:15pm-10:30pm, Laemmle Theatre, 5240 Lankershim Blvd. NoHo Arts District
Produced by Red Nation Films
Open to public. Admission Event $5.00 per ticket
RSVP: > Capacity is limited!

MODERATOR: Joanelle Romero – (Actress, Award-winning Director, Founder of RNFF)
Saginaw Grant – (Actor – The Lone Ranger)
Michelle Thrush – (Actress – Jimmy P. | Blackstone)
Jenna Cavelle – (Journalist, Filmmaker, Research Scholar at UC Berkeley, and Graduate Student in Film at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts)
Shauna Baker – (Actress, Model – Robert Redfords DrunkTown)
Shannon Baker – (Actress, Model)
For more information visit: Red Nation Film Festival

Knee Deep in 1st Year PhD Reading- Spain’s Desal Gone Bust, at a Glance

Retrieved from the NY Times

Knee Deep in 1st Year PhD Reading- Spain’s Desal Gone Bust, at a Glance

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 student at the University of Manchester  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.

In this early part of my PhD I have been and will continue to spend the majority of my time leafing through the academic literature, getting the lay of the land and hunting out my little niche. All the while I’m trying to connect all the new bits back to what most interests me practically and empirically about my subject. What’s most satisfying is the moment you come across a paper which chimes with an interesting news story or policy wonkiness you recently found, both helping to clarify and flesh out the other.

That’s why I’m so keen right now to give my take on a recent story from Spain- the bubble’s burst for its desal. The short of it is that Spain (supported by a tranche of EU funds) has already spent €1.8 billion (of a projected €2.5 billion total cost) constructing a fleet of desalination plants (51 approved plants) to provide a more climate secure national source of water, but with the recent implosion of public funds and rising energy prices the whole enterprise has stopped dead in its tracks. Desalination is a subject I’ve brushed with previously, and one I plan to revisit frequently.  Spain too, has come up a lot in my recent desk research and I have a feeling it may even up providing a case study or two. It combines a few essential ingredients to pique my interest- a lot going politically and economically (federalist with lots of regionalism and nationalism, forefront of the austerity battles and the EU sovereign debt crisis, a significant asymmetry between electricity and water markets, etc.), a set of environmental conditions lending itself to my research (water resource scarcity, likely increasing aridity, etc.) and ample Nexus examples (from municipal utility management to desalination).

There are a number of really intriguing points to this story. Thus far this is the biggest single push for desalination I’ve yet come across, by a wide margin. The plant in the NY Times coverage (in Torrevieja) alone has the capacity to produce 220 million cubic metres a day, largest in the world. All that has come through an industry under public ownership and management in stark contrast to a liberalised electricity market, with prices for the former kept low and the latter rapidly rising. Then there’s the fact that 80% of of Spain’s water goes to agriculture, and that both farmers and consumers are deeply opposed to any rise in their water costs. Several of the commentators from the piece argue that this is much a more political set of challenges than economic (i.e. toxic for politicians for consumer costs to rise in a terrible economic climate and go up against a powerful agricultural coalition).

Whether or not due to the original planning or the execution this seems text book disastrous policymaking. Desalination has a whole hell of a lot to do with relative water and electricity prices, to go down that road you generally want a rise in the first and fall in the second. Desal water just generally isn’t economic against more conventional sources yet, and more importantly if you have both wholesale and retail electricity prices dramatically rising without any significant water parallel the case for desal all but falls apart. At this early stage energy inputs are likely to play a significant part in operation and maintenance , especially in otherwise depressed economic circumstances. The state-run element of the water industry could potentially have unto itself hampered all the efforts- when budgets got tight and the overspend fell away the incumbent inertia just may have and may continue to slow or even limit the innovation and change  needed (this isn’t just the potential case for public owned natural monopolies, as likely in a liberalised utility market which tend toward consolidation of a few large incumbent firms and high costs to market entry).

That said, it is true that if this was the socio-technical pathway chosen by its government Spain still should have been able to avoid much of the difficulties of its current state. They could have taken on the agricultural interests and made their case to the people that this was a necessary sacrifice, that accelerating the rate of passing on the cost was the price for transition. At the very least there could have been more of a re-evaluation and trajectory shift post 2008 crash (though to be fair I wouldn’t argue that strongly yet without more evidence), the original assumption in the boom years after all being that there’d be a real need for more water. Demand and prices have not risen as expected and the cost living has gotten a lot more difficult for the average Spaniard in recent years, just look at the employment statistics.

So at a glance, looks like Spain went all in all wrong on its desalination bet.

~Miles On Water