Water Security is National Security

Water resources and how they are managed impact almost all aspects of society and the economy, in particular health, food production and security, domestic water supply and sanitation, energy, industry, and the functioning of ecosystems. Under present climate variability, water stress is already high, particularly in many developing countries, and climate change adds even more urgency for action. Without improved water resources management, the progress towards poverty reduction targets, the Millennium Development Goals, and sustainable development in all its economic, social and environ- mental dimensions, will be jeopardized. UN Water.Org

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Billions of People Depend on Water From Shrinking Snowpacks

Snowpacks are a vital source of water for humans, but they may shrink in some regions as the climate warms. A new study estimates how changes in showfall will affect water supplies.

Justin S. Mankin, an earth scientist at Columbia University, and his colleagues analyzed 421 drainage basins in the Northern Hemisphere that depend on rainfall and snowmelt, and then combined the data with several different climate models.

They found that 97 basins, currently serving two billion people, depend heavily on snowmelt. The scientists calculated that the likelihood the basins would receive less snow in the coming century was 67 percent.

The most sensitive basins in the United States include those in Northern and Central California, and those of the Colorado and Rio Grande rivers. Internationally, the Atlas basin of Morocco and the Ebro-Duero basin, which feeds water to Portugal, Spain and southern France, are also particularly sensitive to change.

Dr. Mankin and his colleagues reported their findings in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

The study provides important information for city water managers as they make decisions about where to draw water from and how much to use. The loss of snow may also require cities and farmers to find more efficient irrigation methods, to recycle water and to grow fewer water-intensive crops.

“Water managers need to prepare themselves for the worst outcome,” Dr. Mankin said. The public can help mitigate threats to snowpacks by limiting contributions of greenhouse gas emissions, he added. More


Saturday, August 8, 2015

How Singapore is leading a water revolution

Fifty years ago Singapore had to ration water, and its smelly rivers were devoid of fish and choked with waste from shipbuilding, pig farms and toilets that emptied directly into streams.

But it’s a very different story today. The world’s most densely populated country now collects rainwater from two-thirds of its land, recycles wastewater and is even developing technology that mimics human kidneys to desalinate seawater.

“In about a lifetime, we have transformed Singapore,” said George Madhavan, an engineer who has worked for the national PUB water agency for 30 years and is now communications director.

“It’s not rocket science – it is more political will … The key success factor is really government – the leadership to pull different agencies together to come up with a plan.”

As governments around the world wrestle with water crises from droughts to floods, many are looking to the tiny Asian city-state of Singapore for solutions.

In many countries, a flood prevention agency focuses on quickly draining away storm water, while another manages drinking water.

In Singapore, PUB “manages the entire water loop”, Madhavan told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Its aim is to capture every drop of rain it can and recycle as much used water as possible.

“That means that ideally, we don’t sell you water. We rent you water. We take it back, we clean it. We’re like a laundry service. Then you can multiply your supply of water many, many times,” Madhavan said.

“The water that you drink today is the same water that dinosaurs drank. We don’t create or destroy water. It just goes around. So we are using engineering to shorten the loop.”

Beware of crocodiles

Following independence on August 9, 1965, the new 700 sq km country relied on three reservoirs and water imported from neighbouring Malaysia.

Today, it collects rainwater through an 8,000-km drain network that empties into 17 reservoirs, and reclaims used water from a deep tunnel sewerage system up to 60 metres below ground.

Singapore, which is recognised as a global leader in water technology, set up a water planning unit in 1972. Unlike Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Tokyo, it does not have land outside the city to act as huge catchment areas.

Eleven government agencies joined up from 1977 to 1987 to clean the heavily polluted Singapore River and Kallang Basin in the main commercial area.

The city relocated 610 pig farms and 500 duck farms (later barring such farms), transferred 5,000 street hawkers to food centres, and moved boats east to the Pasir Panjang area.

Madhavan said the biggest challenge was relocating 46,000 squatters living in squalid conditions without sewers into housing blocks.

More than 260 tonnes of rubbish were removed, the area was landscaped, and in 1987, fish returned to the waters.

Worried about pollution, authorities initially kept people away from the waterways.

“We even had warning signs about crocodiles (which had been spotted in the reservoirs) to keep people away,” Madhavan said.

Singapore has since shifted its stance, opening waterfront areas such as Marina Reservoir, where people kayak, bike and fly kites against a backdrop of the city’s highrise skyline.

Holy grail of desalination

Singapore’s “four national taps” supply 400 million gallons each day for 5.4 million people.

The island’s two natural sources are rain and, through an agreement that expires in 2061, up to 250 million gallons per day from Malaysia’s Johor River.

As climate change makes nature’s sources less reliable, Singapore is focusing on its reclaimed and desalinated water taps.

NEWater, introduced in 2003, is the name for used water from the sewerage system, treated and further purified through microfiltration, reverse osmosis and ultraviolet disinfection.

Meeting 30 percent of demand, NEWater is potable but mainly used by industries and during the dry season to top up reservoirs. Singapore aims for NEWater to meet 55 percent of demand by 2060.

The island’s first desalination plant opened in 2005, and desalinated water meets a quarter of demand.

Desalinated water and NEWater are fairly independent of the weather but on the downside, require more energy to produce, Madhavan said.

Conventional reverse osmosis requires 3.5 to 4 kilowatt-hours (kWh) to squeeze seawater through a membrane to make 1,000 litres of freshwater.

Singapore is now building a demonstration plant to scale up tests on electrochemical desalting, which uses an electric field to pull salt out of seawater. Madhavan said PUB hopes to halve energy use.

University researchers are also developing “the holy grail of desalination” – technology that imitates the kidneys, he said.

“This will take some years … They more or less understand how the kidney works to do desalting. But it’s now how to engineer it, how to build it, the enzymes that are key to this process.” More


Sunday, July 5, 2015

New NASA data show how the world is running out of water

The world’s largest underground aquifers – a source of fresh water for hundreds of millions of people — are being depleted at alarming rates, according to new NASA satellite data that provides the most detailed picture yet of vital water reserves hidden under the Earth’s surface.

Twenty-one of the world’s 37 largest aquifers — in locations from India and China to the United States and France — have passed their sustainability tipping points, meaning more water was removed than replaced during the decade-long study period, researchers announced Tuesday. Thirteen aquifers declined at rates that put them into the most troubled category. The researchers said this indicated a long-term problem that’s likely to worsen as reliance on aquifers grows.

Scientists had long suspected that humans were taxing the world’s underground water supply, but the NASA data was the first detailed assessment to demonstrate that major aquifers were indeed struggling to keep pace with demands from agriculture, growing populations, and industries such as mining.

“The situation is quite critical,” said Jay Famiglietti, senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California and principal investigator of the University of California Irvine-led studies.

Underground aquifers supply 35 percent of the water used by humans worldwide. Demand is even greater in times of drought. Rain-starved California is currently tapping aquifers for 60 percent of its water use as its rivers and above-ground reservoirs dry up, a steep increase from the usual 40 percent. Some expect water from aquifers will account for virtually every drop of the state’s fresh water supply by year end

The aquifers under the most stress are in poor, densely populated regions, such as northwest India, Pakistan and North Africa, where alternatives are limited and water shortages could quickly lead to instability.

The researchers used NASA’s GRACE satellites to take precise measurements of the world’s groundwater aquifers. The satellites detected subtle changes in the Earth’s gravitational pull, noting where the heavier weight of water exerted a greater pull on the orbiting spacecraft. Slight changes in aquifer water levels were charted over a decade, from 2003 to 2013.

“This has really been our first chance to see how these large reservoirs change over time,” said Gordon Grant, a research hydrologist at Oregon State University, who was not involved in the studies.

But the NASA satellites could not measure the total capacity of the aquifers. The size of these tucked-away water supplies remains something of a mystery. Still, the satellite data indicated that some aquifers may be much smaller than previously believed, and most estimates of aquifer reserves have “uncertainty ranges across orders of magnitude,” according to the research.

Aquifers can take thousands of years to fill up and only slowly recharge with water from snowmelt and rains. Now, as drilling for water has taken off across the globe, the hidden water reservoirs are being stressed.

“The water table is dropping all over the world,” Famiglietti said. “There’s not an infinite supply of water.”

The health of the world’s aquifers varied widely, mostly dependent on how they were used. In Australia, for example, the Canning Basin in the country’s western end had the third-highest rate of depletion in the world. But the Great Artesian Basin to the east was among the healthiest.

The difference, the studies found, is likely attributable to heavy gold and iron ore mining and oil and gas exploration near the Canning Basin. Those are water-intensive activities.

The world’s most stressed aquifer — defined as suffering rapid depletion with little or no sign of recharging — was the Arabian Aquifer, a water source used by more than 60 million people. That was followed by the Indus Basin in India and Pakistan, then the Murzuk-Djado Basin in Libya and Niger.

California’s Central Valley Aquifer was the most troubled in the United States. It is being drained to irrigate farm fields, where drought has led to an explosion in the number of water wells being drilled. California only last year passed its first extensive groundwater regulations. But the new law could take two decades to take full effect.

Also running a negative balance was the Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plains Aquifer, which stretches across the southeast coast and Florida. But three other aquifers in the middle of the country appeared to be in relatively good shape.

Some groundwater filters back down to aquifers, such as with field irrigation. But most of it is lost to evaporation or ends up being deposited in oceans, making it harder to use. A 2012 study by Japanese researchers attributed up to 40 percent of the observed sea-level rise in recent decades to groundwater that had been pumped out, used by humans and ended up in the ocean.

Famiglietti said problems with groundwater are exacerbated by global warming, which has caused the regions closest to the equator to get drier and more extreme latitudes to experience wetter and heavier rains. A self-reinforcing cycle begins. People living in mid-range latitudes not only pump more water from aquifers to contend with drier conditions, but that water — once removed from the ground — also then evaporates and gets recirculated to areas far north and south.

The studies were published Tuesday in the Water Resources Research journal.

Famiglietti said he hoped the findings would spur discussion and further research into how much groundwater is left.

“We need to get our heads together on how we manage groundwater,” he said, “because we’re running out of it.” More



Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Groundwater from aquifers important factor in food security

Thirsty cities, fields and livestock drink deeply from aquifers, natural sources of groundwater. But a study of three of the most-tapped aquifers in the United States shows that overdrawing from these resources could lead to difficult choices affecting not only domestic food security but also international markets.

University of Illinois professors of civil and environmental engineering Ximing Cai and Megan Konar, along with graduate student Landon Marston and Lehigh University professor Tara Troy, studied groundwater consumption from three main systems. Reliance on these aquifers intensified so much from 2000 to 2008 that it accounted for 93 percent of groundwater depletion in the U.S. They published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The U.S. Geological Survey identifies the Central Valley aquifer in California, the High Plains aquifer in the Great Plains states, and the Mississippi Embayment aquifer in the lower Midwest as being managed unsustainably, which means that is being extracted from the aquifer faster than it is replenishing.

"Deep groundwater is like natural gas. If you use it, it takes a while to recharge," Cai said. "Unsustainable usage means the water table is lowered, which makes it more difficult and more expensive to pump water since we have to keep going deeper. It also affects ecosystems associated with the water table, such as streams and wetlands."

The researchers tracked water consumption from the aquifers to see where the water was going, both in terms of geography and usage. For example, when water was used to irrigate a crop, the researchers tracked where those crops were shipped.

"When we think of water, we think of direct water, the water that comes out of our faucets. But we actually use a lot of embodied water in our everyday lives – the water footprint to produce a product," Konar said. "We looked at the water implicitly being transferred between states and countries in the products."

The researchers found that the vast majority – 91 percent – of embodied groundwater from these three aquifers stayed within the U.S. The remaining 9 percent was exported internationally. They identified the states most heavily reliant on each aquifer, and the breakdown of what was produced using water from each aquifer. For example, the largest percentage of water from the High Plains aquifer irrigated grains, while the largest contribution from the Central Valley aquifer in California went to producing meat. See the infographic for the detailed findings.

The researchers hope that having detailed information on how aquifer water is used, and the complex economic and environmental implications of that use, can help policy makers in their decisions about water resource management.

"The issue here is the tradeoffs. That's the difficulty for the decision makers," Cai said. "There is a tradeoff between the environment and economic profit, and there is a trade-off between the current use and future use. The environment is affected, the food markets are affected, the resources for fisheries are affected. That helps the decision makers understand the issue. I think this information is also important for the public to understand the issue."

The researchers feel that the study is also important for international leaders, as any decisions will affect global food production and prices. Although the international exports represented a small percent of the overall water consumption, the exported goods account for a large market share in the countries that import them, the study found.

Next, the researchers plan to study major watersheds in the U.S. to gain a more comprehensive picture of natural water resources in the United States. They are interested in detailing water use under variable conditions, both in terms of economic and environmental impact.

"Managing water resources for the future is especially important because future rainfall patterns are going to be more variable, with more droughts predicted," Konar said. "As we're seeing in California, they were really lucky to have aquifers to rely on during a drought. We don't want to deplete these aquifer supplies, so that when we get into these drought situations, we have some emergency backup." More

More information: "Virtual groundwater transfers from overexploited aquifers in the United States" PNAS 2015 ; published ahead of print June 29, 2015, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1500457112


Thursday, June 25, 2015

The World’s Most Hostile International Water Basins

At the launch of A New Climate for Peace, a new report on climate-fragility risks produced for the G7 by a consortium of international partners including the Wilson Center, USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator Christian Holmes called water a common denominator for climate risk.

“How you manage your water programs…has a huge amount to do with how you mitigate the prospect for increased fragility,” he said. “Sometimes it’s the obvious that’s so easy to miss, and I think that the obvious on water as it relates to economic development is, essentially, the question of sustainable water supply.”

One of the most striking infographics from A New Climate for Peace touches on that question of supply. Using data from Oregon State University’s Transboundary Freshwater Dispute Database and adapted from a graphic that originally appeared in Popular Sciencelast year, the map shows the world’s most active – and tension-filled – international water basins.

Water is a common denominator for climate risk

The Transboundary Freshwater Dispute Database measures not only the frequency of hostile events in a basin, but cooperative ones as well, each on a sliding scale. Hostile events range from declarations of war (zero recorded from 1990 to 2008, the period of time encompassed by the graphic) to leaders using “language of discord.” Cooperative events range from “mild verbal support” to “voluntary unification into a single country.”

The total number of events is indicated by shades of blue – the darker the blue, the more transboundary events, both positive and negative. This is essentially the “hot list” of international water basins – which regions have the most official and unofficial chatter over water.

Circles superimposed on the basins represent the total number of hostile events. As the description text points out, however, “circle size does not automatically translate into conflict danger.” In some places, transboundary institutions and diplomatic frameworks allow different actors to work through their differences. Cooperative hostility, if you will. In the Danube River Basin, for example, the high number of “hostile” events is mitigated by strong cooperative incentives associated with European integration. Likewise in North America, where Canada, the United States, and Mexico share several basins with a high number of hostile events, there is little chance of violent conflict.

Water basins in South Asia, the Middle East, and East Africa are major hotspots with a high number of hostile events and weaker institutional frameworks to mitigate them. The Indus, Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna, Salween, Tigris-Euphrates, and Jordan basins witness a very high number of interactions, suggesting at least that continued dialogue could be a way forward to mitigate the risk of violent conflict or fragility. The Nile Basin has less activity reflecting the stalled negotiations between the basin’s 10 member states to replace colonial-era water agreements. The Mekong Basin, where the largest member, China, does not participate as a full member of the Mekong River Commission, shows less activity as well.

The map does a great job illustrating why it can be difficult to answer the question, where is the highest risk of water-related violence? Tensions between states and other freshwater basin actors isn’t necessarily a sign of impending violence if there’s a framework to resolve them. Likewise, lack of communication over a major natural resource can be a bad sign for cooperation when the resource in question is the Nile. More

More infographics from ‘A New Climate for Peace: Taking Action on Climate and Fragility Risks’ are available on NewClimateforPeace.org.


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Century of Water Shortage Ahead? Lake Mead Drops Below Rationing Line For First Time in Its History.

Lake Mead Drops Below Rationing Line For First Time in Its History.

1075 feet. That’s the water level Lake Mead must stay above before mandatory multi-state water rationing goes into effect. A level just 25 feet above the highest intake pipe used to supply cities across the Desert Southwest. Last night water levels at the key national water storage facility fell below that hard line to 1074.99 feet — a record low never before seen in all of its history.

If water levels remain below the 1075 foot mark through January of 2016, then a multi-state rationing will go into effect (with most acute impacts for Arizona and Nevada). A rationing that will have serious consequences for desert cities across the Southwest, cities like Las Vegas which rely on Lake Mead for so much of their water.

Despite Lake Mead hitting the 1075 hard line, it appears that rationing may be forestalled through 2016. It’s a silver lining of all the severe summer storms that have rolled through the Colorado River Basin this spring and summer — pumping up water flows to Lake Mead and Lake Powell. A flush of much needed moisture that will, hopefully, prevent water rationing from going into effect during 2016. But prospects for the future, despite this temporary respite, are starting to look a bit grim.

Risk of Future Megadrought

The trend set in place by a human-forced warming of the Desert Southwest has resulted in an increasing number of dry years. The added heat forces water to evaporate more rapidly. So even when it does rain an average amount, moisture levels still fall. The result is not only an increase in single year droughts, but an increased risk of decadal droughts (called megadroughts).

As the years progress and more of the impacts of human-forced global warming become apparent, the drought impacts and severe drought risks are only expected to rise. For according to a recent Cornell University report (2014) the chance of a 10 year drought for the US Southwest under a moderate warming scenario (RCP 4.5) is 50% this century (greater for states like Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada — see graphic below). The chances of a 30 year drought range from 20-50 percent depending on the severity of the human greenhouse gas emission. More


Parched Caribbean faces widespread drought, water shortages

The worst drought in five years is creeping across the Caribbean, prompting officials around the region to brace for a bone dry summer.

From Puerto Rico to Cuba to the eastern Caribbean island of St. Lucia, crops are withering, reservoirs are drying up and cattle are dying while forecasters worry that the situation could only grow worse in the coming months.

Thanks to El Nino, a warming of the tropical Pacific that affects global weather, and a quieter-than-normal hurricane season that began in June, forecasters expect a shorter wet season. That means less rain to help refill Puerto Rico's thirsty Carraizo and La Plata reservoirs as well as the La Plata river in the central island community of Naranjito. A tropical disturbance that hit the U.S. territory on Monday did not fill up those reservoirs as officials had anticipated.

Puerto Rico is among the Caribbean islands worst-hit by the , with more than 1.5 million people affected by the drought so far, according to the U.S. National Drought Mitigation Center.

Tens of thousands of people receive water only every third day under strict rationing recently imposed by the island government. Puerto Rico last week also activated National Guard troops to help distribute water and approved a resolution to impose fines on people and businesses for improper water use.

The Caribbean's last severe drought was in 2010. The current one could grow worse if the hurricane season ending in November produces scant rainfall and the region enters the dry season with parched reservoirs, said Cedric Van Meerbeeck, a climatologist with the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology.

"We might have serious water shortages ... for irrigation of crops, firefighting, domestic consumption or consumption by the hotel sector," he said.

The Caribbean isn't the only area in the Western Hemisphere dealing with extreme water shortages. Brazil has been struggling with its own severe drought that has drained reservoirs serving the metropolis of Sao Paulo.

In the Caribbean, the farm sector has lost more than $1 million in crops as well as tens of thousands of dollars in livestock, said Norman Gibson, scientific officer at the Trinidad-based Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute.

On St. Lucia, which has been especially hard hit, farmers say crops including coconuts, cashews and oranges are withering.

"The outlook is very, very bad," said Anthony Herman, who oversees a local farm cooperative. "The trees are dying, the plants are dying ... It's stripping the very life of rivers."

Officials in Cuba say 75 percent of the island is enduring a drought that has killed cattle and destroyed thousands of hectares (acres) of crops including plantains, citrus, rice and beans. Recent heavy rains in some areas have alleviated the problem some, but all 200 government-run reservoirs are far below capacity.

In the nearby Dominican Republic, water shortages have been reported in hundreds of communities, said Martin Melendez, a civil engineer and hydrology expert who has worked as a government consultant. "We were 30 days away from the entire water system collapsing," he said.

The tourism sector has also been affected.

Most large hotels in Puerto Rico have big water tanks and some recycle wastewater to irrigate green areas, but many have curtailed water use, said Frank Comito, CEO of the Florida-based Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association.

Other hotels have cut back on sprinkler time by up to 50 percent, said Carlos Martinez of Puerto Rico's Association of Hotels. "Everybody here is worried," he said. "They are selling water tanks like hot cakes ... and begging God for rain."

Guests at Puerto Rico's El Canario by the Lagoon hotel get a note with their room keys asking them to keep their showers short amid the water shortage. "We need your cooperation to avoid waste," says the message distributed at the front desk of the hotel in the popular Condado district.

At the Casa del Vega guesthouse in St. Lucia, tourists sometimes find the in their rooms turned off for the day, preventing them from taking a shower. "Even though we have a drought guests are not sympathetic to that," hotel manager Merlyn Compton said. More