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, May 15, 2012

A Tour of Drought as it Unfolds Across the U.S.

Last year at this time, all eyes were on Texas, where drought conditions were intensifying into what became that state’s worst single year drought on record, causing nearly $8 billion in economic losses. Recently, though, Texas has gone from famine to feast in the precipitation department, and drought concerns for the upcoming summer are focused farther to the west, as drought tightens its grip across a broad swath of the interior West and Southwest.

In addition to the West, drought conditions are also prevalent in the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, and parts of the Northeast as well, along with a small pocket in the Upper Midwest. In all, 56 percent of the Lower 48 states were experiencing drought conditions as of May 8, almost twice the area compared to last year at this time, according to data from the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Fortunately, much of the West had such bountiful winter precipitation last year that the risk of water supply disruptions are rather low in most areas, but that could change if the current weather pattern lasts much longer. Water officials in Colorado, for example, have begun urging residents to start conserving water in case the dry spell continues.

Take a look at the streamflow forecast for the West this summer compared to last year at this time. The orange and red hues this year indicate well below average streamflow conditions are likely, as unusually thin and dry snow cover yields less water than usual. Last year at this time, the same map showed above average streamflow conditions for most of the West. More


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

2 Facing water shortages, Indian farmers dig in

Kai Ryssdal: There are, plus or minus, 7 billion people now living on this planet. By the middle of the century, the United Nations tells us it's gonna to be 9 billion. Among the many, many questions that raises is how we're gonna feed them all. The answer is complicated -- a mix of politics, culture, science, and traditions all affecting the global food supply.

Here's part of the science. The average person drinks a couple of quarts of water every day, but it takes more than a thousand times that to produce a day's worth of food. That's a problem everywhere, but especially in India, where scientists say nearly a third of that country's underground aquifers are already in critical condition and worry that the country is headed for a full-blown water crisis.

Today on our series "Food for 9 Billion," Jon Miller went to India to meet a man who's trying to do something about it.

Jon Miller: Rajendra Singh lives in a patch of forest hours from anywhere in the dry hills of eastern Rajasthan. It's dark when I get there. We eat dinner on the ground by an open fire, then he leads me to his office, lights a candle, settles on a mattress and tells me how he came to be famous as the "water man."

Rajendra Singh: When I came here I don't know about the water management, I don't know the water engineering. My background is in the medical science.

This was the 1980s, and Singh had recently finished a degree in traditional Indian medicine. Inspired by Gandhi, he decided to move to the poorest, driest, most godforsaken place in his area and build a health clinic and a school.

Singh: After seven month, one old man told me, Rajendra, we not need medicine and education. We need water. Without water we can't survive. More


Sunday, May 6, 2012

Drinking Water Under Threat

A new study has raised fresh concerns about the safety of gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale, concluding that fracking chemicals injected into the ground could migrate toward drinking water supplies far more quickly than experts have previously predicted.

More than 5,000 wells were drilled in the Marcellus between mid-2009 and mid-2010, according to the study, which was published in the journal Ground Water two weeks ago. Operators inject up to 4 million gallons of fluid, under more than 10,000 pounds of pressure, to drill and frack each well.

Scientists have theorized that impermeable layers of rock would keep the fluid, which contains benzene and other dangerous chemicals, safely locked nearly a mile below water supplies. This view of the earth’s underground geology is a cornerstone of the industry’s argument that fracking poses minimal threats to the environment.

But the study, using computer modeling, concluded that natural faults and fractures in the Marcellus, exacerbated by the effects of fracking itself, could allow chemicals to reach the surface in as little as “just a few years.”

“Simply put, [the rock layers] are not impermeable,” said the study’s author, Tom Myers, an independent hydrogeologist whose clients include the federal government and environmental groups.

“The Marcellus shale is being fracked into a very high permeability,” he said. “Fluids could move from most any injection process.”

The research for the study was paid for by Catskill Mountainkeeper and the Park Foundation, two upstate New York organizations that have opposed gas drilling and fracking in the Marcellus.

Much of the debate about the environmental risks of gas drilling has centered on the risk that spills could pollute surface water or that structural failures would cause wells to leak. More


Saturday, May 5, 2012

China’s Looming Conflict Between Energy And Water

In its quest to find new sources of energy, China is increasingly looking to its western provinces. But the nation’s push to develop fossil fuel and alternative sources has so far ignored a basic fact — western China simply lacks the water resources needed to support major new energy development

If you were to fly over the great continental expanse of China at night, you would find clusters of bright lights hugging near the eastern coast — sprawling, populous cities such as Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen. But the farthest west you travel, the fewer such illuminated megalopolises you would encounter. To be sure, China also has large cities in its interior, but they are fewer and farther between. Rather like the United States, China’s major centers of population and industry are concentrated near its eastern seaboard. So, too, are its energy needs.

Yet ironically, China’s great and untapped opportunities for developing both traditional fossil fuels and alternative energy lie primarily in its western hinterlands. For instance, the sparsely populated, sun-drenched northwestern province of Gansu is fast becoming a hub of China’s efforts to develop domestic wind and solar energy. Likewise, as eastern coal reserves are gradually depleted, new mining operations are under development in the western provinces of Inner Mongolia, Qinghai, Ningxia, Xinjiang, Shanxi, Shaanxi, and Gansu. But they also lie far from where most of the energy will eventually be consumed — and that’s the rub.

Transporting coal from western mines over long distances – via railroad or truck, or by barges drifting down the Yangtze River — is a costly, troublesome undertaking; freight charges can add more than 50 percent to the cost of coal. In adverse weather conditions, shipment becomes a precarious obstacle. When a 2008 blizzard blanketed southeastern China in snow and shut down major rail lines, the lights went off in several southeastern cities to which coal shipments were delayed. When last summer’s severe drought grounded barge traffic on the lower Yangtze, the largest utility company in downstream Shanghai announced that nearby factories would face rotating blackouts (despite its sheen of modernity, even mainland China’s wealthiest city is not immune to power failure).

The country’s top leaders have made provisions for both increasing overall coal production and easing the coal-transportation bottleneck. The most recent Five-Year Plan, the central government’s primary planning document, calls for significantly increasing coal production, which will be achieved by developing and expanding 14 large "coal-industry bases" across western China; these bases will include facilities for coal mining, petrochemical processing, and coal-fired power plants. More