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, July 30, 2013

Global Warming Endangers South American Water Supply

A reconstruction of past changes in the North and Central Patagonian Ice-field, which plays a vital role in the hydrology of the region, has revealed the ice field had suddenly contracted around 15,000 years ago after a southerly migration of westerly winds.

Central Patagonian Ice-field

This migration of westerly winds towards the south pole has been observed again in modern times and is expected to continue under a warming climate, likely leading to further ice declines in this area affecting seasonal water storage.

"We found that precipitation brought to this region by Southern Hemisphere westerlies played an important role in the glaciation of the North Patagonian Ice-Fields," said Dr Chris Fogwill from the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales.

"Our research has shown this ice-field significantly reduced in size when those winds moved southwards."

The North Patagonian Ice-field is vital to maintain seasonal water storage capacity for Argentina and Chile.

"Worryingly, this study suggests the region may well be on a trajectory of irreversible change, which will have profound impacts on agriculture and the increasing dependency on hydroelectric power in Chile and Argentina," Dr Fogwill said.

The team revealed the importance of the winds on the ice-sheets and consequent water supply by using rare isotopes to uncover changes in the ice-sheet thickness since the last major glaciation. This revealed the decline in the ice-sheet between 15,000 to 19,000 years ago.

Using a separate collection of ocean cores they were then able to determine that this decline coincided with the movement southwards of the westerlies.

The researchers found that a lack of precipitation caused by this movement, coupled with additional warming caused by rapid ice loss saw a sharp decline in glaciers with no seasonal recovery.

Interestingly, the southern part of the ice-field did not appear to be impacted by the movement of these winds. Instead it appeared that ocean currents and temperatures played a more important role in maintaining the ice in this section.

"The ice-field in the Northern and Central region of the Patagonian ice-field are highly sensitive to precipitation and need this to remain healthy," said Dr Fogwill. More


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

How Yemen Chewed Itself Dry

Farming Qat, Wasting Water

In a little over a decade, Sana’a, Yemen, may become the world’s first capital to run out of water. Failed governance and environmental mismanagement share some of the blame for drying up the city. But there is also a more surprising culprit: a national addiction to qat, a narcotic that is incredibly water-intensive to cultivate.

If current trends continue, by 2025 the city’s projected 4.2 million inhabitants will become water refugees, forced to flee their barren home for wetter lands. In preparation, some officials have already considered relocating the capital to the coast. Others have proposed focusing on desalination and conservation to buy time.

As policymakers butt heads over the best course for Yemen, the dwindling water supply is already leading to instability: according to Al-Thawra, one of the country's leading newspapers, 70 to 80 percent of conflicts in Yemen’s rural regions are water-related. And across the country, Yemen’s Interior Ministry estimates, water- and land-related disputes result in about 4,000 deaths each year -- 35 times the number of casualties in the deadliest al Qaeda attack in the county’s history.


The cultivation of qat, a mild narcotic plant that releases a stimulant when chewed, accounts for up to 40 percent of the water drawn from the Sana’a Basin each year, and that figure is rising. That is both because qat takes a lot of water to farm (much more than coffee, another plant that does well in Yemen’s fertile soil) and because cultivation of it increases by around 12 percent each year, according to Yemen’s Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources. Not only is the crop drying the Sana’a Basin, it has displaced over tens of thousands of hectares of vital crops -- fruits, vegetables, and coffee -- which has sent food prices soaring. According to the World Bank, rising food prices, in turn, pushed an additional six percent of the country into poverty in 2008 alone.

Why the increasing reliance on qat production? Farmers are willing to put up with the plant’s high demand for water because it has a more regular yield than other crops and because the market for it is virtually guaranteed. Every cubic meter of water used for qat cultivation returns a profit five times as great as that for the next most lucrative crop, grapes. No wonder: according to the World Health Organization, up to 90 percent of adult men in Yemen chew qat for three to four hours daily, and women literally sing its praises. (A popular song goes: “Long live qat, which … makes us stay peacefully at home with our friends.”) At weddings and special events, a family’s social standing is gauged by the value of qat served to guests. One might think that such a popular drug would have deep roots in a culture, but its widespread use is actually relatively new: in the 1970s, when Yemen had few paved roads, qat, which has a shelf life of only 24 to 48 hours, often could not reach its markets in time, so fewer people had access to it.

Yemen cannot continue using water this way. In 2011, the rate of water consumption from the Sana’a Basin exceeded the rate of natural recharge by a factor of five. And, even understanding this, Yemenis have placed little value on conservation: much of the country’s 68 billion cubic meters of annual rainwater is wasted due to mismanagement and inadequate damns.

Part of the problem is that farmers, for whom the physical labor exerted in agriculture is a source of pride, are attached to wasteful practices, such as flood irrigation (the uncontrolled distribution of water over soil). Drip irrigation -- a practice that is about 35 percent more efficient and widely available at low cost -- could easily increase returns on water. But when asked about drip irrigation, one farmer told me that “flood irrigation is more honorable … all [drip irrigation] requires is pumping water up into the tank.”

Making things worse, the country’s decaying dams seep water that could otherwise be used productively. May 2010 saw flooding -- the worst to hit Sana’a in decades -- but very little of the water was captured for later use. Moreover, the country’s well system is a disaster. By law, only the government is allowed to dig and maintain wells. But according to some interpretations of sharia, which Yemen’s constitution specifies as the sole legal framework, a well drilled on privately owned land is the property of the landlord, not of the state. So drilling continues. Today, Yemen’s National Water and Sanitation Authority, which is tasked with urban water administration, supplies water to only 36 percent of Sana’a’s households. The other two-thirds get their supplies from groundwater wells.

The wells are a public health nightmare -- the country’s groundwater is increasingly contaminated by sewage effluent. Beyond that, the wells prevent the National Water and Resource Authority, which is responsible for managing the country’s water resources in a sustainable way, from enforcing conservation measures, such as improving irrigation efficiency.


Of course, those officials know that Sana’a is facing an arid future. Moving the capital city, as some have proposed, would cost over $40 billion, according to some estimates. Securing the funds would be nearly impossible: approximately 75 percent of the government’s revenue is derived from rapidly depleting oil reserves, and the World Bank predicts that oil will stop generating income for the Yemeni government by 2017. Foreign aid is similarly scant.

Even if it were possible to raise the funds, moving an entire city of over two million people would surely lead to internal strife. The tribal concept of juwarah (rights of neighbors) often inhibits the sale of land to members of other tribes. The transfer of land to Sana’a’s two million displaced residents could thus lead to chaos.

Another idea, which the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources (MAWR) has discussed, is to transfer water to Sana’a from other sources. Unfortunately for Yemen, all the rest of the country’s fresh water is currently in use. Therefore, transferring water to Sana’a would essentially involve siphoning it away from others, also inviting conflict.

Policymakers have also toyed with the idea of alleviating the strain on the Sana’a Basin by decreasing agriculture in the region. But that would only kick the can down the road, because, even without agriculture, and given all of Yemen’s other poor water practices, the growing population would eventually dry out the basin anyway. In addition, decreasing agriculture would push up food prices even further.


Instead, the government should do three things to secure its water future: push farmers and the public away from qat, shore up Yemen’s existing water infrastructure, and manufacture new potable water through desalinization.

First, the government should encourage farmers to switch to less water-intensive crops, such as cactus fruits. For now, the government subsidizes diesel -- the main fuel used to extract groundwater -- which accounts for 80 percent of the cost of qat cultivation. The low cost of extraction gives farmers little reason to switch to other crops or use sustainable farming practices. Attempts to lift a portion of the subsidy several times between 1995 and the present raised the price of diesel and dragged water up closer to its true economic price. Those changes were not enough to discourage qat production altogether, but at least obliged farmers to start thinking about more efficient irrigation techniques. Should the government opt to decrease the subsidy again, the farmers could be pushed even further.

On the supply side of the equation, the government should also launch a public campaign against qat use. Although qat is not deadly, the health risks associated with it are many -- they include hyperactivity, increased blood pressure, liver complications, ulcers, and impotence -- and the societal costs are nothing to sneeze at. Across the country, around 30 percent of household income, on average, is used for buying qat, despite the fact that 45 percent of Yemenis live below the poverty line. Qat has also been linked to diminished productivity at work.

In its campaign against qat use, the Yemeni government has a good model to follow: its own water conservation campaign from 2007, for which it developed a character named Rowyan (meaning “to have quenched one’s thirst”). Rowyan’s face appeared on wheel covers and in storefronts throughout Sana’a, and the campaign managed to at least convince some Yemenis that water scarcity was a problem A similar campaign against qat could help gradually wean some chewers away from the habit.

Second, the government needs to encourage improved irrigation techniques in all agricultural areas -- ones that grow the narcotic as well as other crops. It should obligate more farmers to opt for rain irrigation instead of groundwater use, which wouldn’t run counter to their desire to do things by hand. More than one million acres of arable land that used to be irrigated by rainfall (as of the 1970s) are now doused with water drawn from nonrenewable sources. There is no reason that those acres can’t be reclaimed.

The National Water and Resource Authority also needs to cooperate with Yemen’s local leadership, which, because it makes money off private wells and other water sources, has a vested interest in inefficient use. The NWRA can do so by taking advantage of the political transition in Yemen that accompanied the Arab Spring. For one, the ongoing national dialogue conference, which brings together 565 Yemenis from all segments of society to collaborate on forming a new government, might ease distrust of state institutions. A relationship of cooperation, rather than antagonism, will help the NWRA gain legitimacy in the eyes of local leadership, which will aid with the implementation of conservation measures in places that are outside of the government’s reach.

The government should also take care of Yemen’s leaky water pipes, which waste up to 60 percent of the water they contain. Money for that, too, will be hard to find. But it could court more investment from countries such as Saudi Arabia, whose security interests are inseparable from its southern neighbor’s. Finally, the government must limit the drilling of wells for domestic purposes.

Conserving the water that Yemen has now will only go so far. The depletion of nonrenewable groundwater might leave Yemen with no real option other than to manufacture new water through desalinization. Pumping desalinated water from plants near the sea to Sana’a would be costly, but the fixed startup costs would be distributed across time and would be far less than moving the capital. In the beginning, the government will have to temporarily subsidize desalinated water so that it would be within reach for most consumers. The government would likely need foreign aid to implement this subsidy and to develop the desalination infrastructure. More

Monday, July 22, 2013

Peak Water: What Happens When the Wells Go Dry?

Peak oil has generated headlines in recent years, but the real threat to our future is peak water. There are substitutes for oil, but not for water. We can produce food without oil, but not without water.

We drink on average four liters of water per day, in one form or another, but the food we eat each day requires 2,000 liters of water to produce, or 500 times as much. Getting enough water to drink is relatively easy, but finding enough to produce the ever-growing quantities of grain the world consumes is another matter.

Grain consumed directly supplies nearly half of our calories. That consumed indirectly as meat, milk, and eggs supplies a large part of the remainder. Today roughly 40 percent of the world grain harvest comes from irrigated land. It thus comes as no surprise that irrigation expansion has played a central role in tripling the world grain harvest over the last six decades.

During the last half of the twentieth century, the world’s irrigated area expanded from close to 250 million acres (100 million hectares) in 1950 to roughly 700 million in 2000. This near tripling of world irrigation within 50 years was historically unique. But since then the growth in irrigation has come to a near standstill, expanding only 10 percent between 2000 and 2010.

In looking at water and our future, we face many questions and few answers. Could the world be facing peak water? Or has it already peaked?

Farmers get their irrigation water either from rivers or from underground aquifers. Historically, beginning with the Sumerians some 6,000 years ago, irrigation water came from building dams across rivers, creating reservoirs that then enabled them to divert the water onto the land through a network of gravity-fed canals. This method of irrigation prevailed until the second half of the twentieth century, where with few sites remaining for building dams, the prospects for expanding surface irrigation faded. Farmers then turned to drilling wells to tap underground water resources.

In doing so, they learned that there are two types of aquifers: those that are replenishable through rainfall, which are in the majority, and those that consist of water laid down eons ago, and thus do not recharge. The latter, known as fossil aquifers, include two strategically important ones, the deep aquifer under the North China Plain and the Ogallala aquifer under the U.S. Great Plains.

Tapping underground water resources helped expand world food production, but as the demand for grain continued climbing, so too did the amount of water pumped. Eventually the extraction of water began to exceed the recharge of aquifers from precipitation, and water tables began to fall. And then wells begin to go dry. In effect, overpumping creates a water-based food bubble, one that will burst when the aquifer is depleted and the rate of pumping is necessarily reduced to the rate of recharge.

Today some 18 countries, containing half the world’s people, are overpumping their aquifers. Among these are the big three grain producers—China, India, and the United States—and several other populous countries, including Iran, Pakistan and Mexico. More


Sunday, July 21, 2013

As drought spreads, firms could be up the creek

Water shortages are already stressing business in China, India, South Africa and parts of South America. Yet most companies aren't moving fast enough to stave off conflicts over the dwindling resource. Over 75 percent of the world's biggest companies see water risks as critical, but most of these companies lack long-term water strategies, a KPMG sustainability report concluded.

Some of the biggest water users among corporations—food and beverage, apparel and technology—are pioneering new ways to reduce their aqua footprint. In addition to Coca-Cola and Pepsi, these include companies like Nike and Anheuser-Busch. They're turning to cooling towers, using gray water—various forms of wastewater—and installing water meters to pinpoint high usage.

AT&T began conserving water in 2010. After doing a water audit, the company found that billions of gallons of water were being used, including water used to cool facilities such as data centers. So the company has implemented energy efficiency measures in water cooling towers and other upgrades to reduce water usage. Overall, AT&T has identified 125 facilities where water management changes can significantly reduce water usage—these facilities account for roughly half of the company's estimated 3.4 billion gallons in annual water usage. AT&T expects to save 150 million gallons of water by 2015. "We will be making water reduction investments for years to come," said John Schulz, director of sustainability operations at AT&T. "It's such an emotional issue when water is running short."

Google has been awarded a patent for a floating data center powered by waves and cooled by sea water.

Far from Texas, corporations with a global footprint are scrambling to address their water risk because shortages can quickly short-circuit business in developing regions. Water reliability is increasing seen as a competitive edge. In the future, businesses will need to factor water availability—and quality—when searching for new manufacturing sites or face possible shortages. The math is simple: One percent of GDP growth translates into 1 percent more water consumption, and water shortages are already dinging China's growth. Worldwide, shortages will be dire in coming years: By 2030, there will be a 40 percent global shortfall between water demand and water supply, according to the World Economic Forum.

Pepsi Bottling and Coca-Cola ran into these shortages early on. Nine years ago, they closed down plants in India after they were believed to be competing for limited water resource. Since then, Coca-Cola has faced protests about depleting water in other dry areas of India.

Those plant closures are still rare, said Giulio Boccaletti, managing director of global fresh water at Nature Conservancy. Instead, regulators in developing countries are putting pressure on companies by questioning licensing agreements. "The licensing process is slowing down," he said. Some companies that have gone into Africa and privatized the water there have had their plants shut down, said Eric Lowitt, managing director at Nexus Global Advisors.

The "water wars" are forcing corporations to conduct natural resource due diligence before expanding. Some big companies end up playing a key role in shoring up water infrastructure in developing countries, working with citizens and local governments, Lowitt said. In drought-stricken countries like Chile, a company has to bring water treatment to the area to win a license, he said.

"All water is local in developing countries, since it's usually a watershed or basin," said Bert Share, a senior global director at Anheuser-Busch InBev. "So our aim is to understand a community's water issues, such as watershed quality and quantity." The beverage company is also partnering with private landowners to offer them incentives for restoring water quality. "Water management has to be collaborative, because the local issues are so complex," Share said.

Ford, which has operations in 70 countries, is plotting future water scenarios, ranging from scarcity to abundance, to determine how the company will be affected. "India and China are the two countries most on everyone's radar," said Thomas Niemann, Ford's reporting manager for sustainability. The car company aims to reduce its global water use per vehicle 30 percent by 2015 through the installation of water meters and using recycled water, among other methods. More


Climate Change Could Deprive Volta Basin of Water Needed to Boost Energy and Food Production

Specifically, the researchers with the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and their partners concluded that the combined effects of higher temperatures and diminished rain could mean that by the year 2100, all of the current and planned hydroelectric projects in the basin would not even generate as much power as existing facilities do now. Meanwhile, there would only be enough water to meet about a third of irrigation demand.

IWMI and other centers involved with the CGIAR's Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) are drawing attention to the Volta study as leaders from across Africa gather in Ghana for Africa Agriculture Science Week 2013, under the theme "Africa Feeding Africa."

"An unreliable supply of water for irrigation will have serious consequences for a region where most people are farmers. Beyond that, there is an urgent need to shift more food production away from rain-fed systems that are subject to the vagaries of climate to irrigated agriculture. This study shows that this strategy is not as dependable as we once thought," said Matthew McCartney, PhD, a principal researcher and hydrologist at IWMI, which is part of CGIAR, an international consortium of agricultural research institutes. McCartney served as lead author for the study, The Water Resource Implications of Changing Climate in the Volta River Basin, along with colleagues from Ghana's Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and Germany's Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

Climate models show temperatures in the Volta Basin rising by up to 3.6 degrees Celsius over the next century -- which the scientists warn could significantly increase water lost to evaporation. They also indicate average annual rainfall could drop by about 20 percent. McCartney and his colleagues calculated that water flows in the Volta region could fall by 24 percent through 2050 and by 45 percent by 2100, depriving the basin of water that countries are counting on to drive turbines and feed farms.

"The smart development of water resources is a crucial part of Africa feeding Africa, and we need to understand how climate change might alter water availability in vulnerable regions like the Volta Basin," said Robert Zougmoré, who leads CCAFS research in West Africa. "This study highlights the need for more innovation and cooperation in the Volta to make sure farmers in the region can adapt to these very challenging conditions caused by global warming." CCAFS funded the study along with Germany's Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The Volta River Basin encompasses 402,000 square kilometers. Most of this area is in Ghana and Burkina Faso, with the remainder in Benin, Côte d'Ivoire, Mali and Togo. The basin's population is expected to reach 34 million people by 2015, up from 19 million in 2000. Agriculture accounts for 40 percent of the basin's economic activity. As rains become less and less reliable in a changing climate, researchers and policy-makers have been exploring a shift to groundwater or other types of irrigation. Meanwhile, hydroelectric power plants are seen as crucial to sustaining industrial development and expanding economic opportunities.

The Volta Basin is already home to the massive Akosombo Dam, which created Lake Volta, the world's largest human-made lake by surface area, and fourth largest reservoir by volume. Also coming on-line is the controversial Bui Dam project, which is expected to add 400 megawatts of power to Ghana's strained power grid, along with 30,000 hectares of irrigated farmland. But the study predicts these projects and many others planned for the basin could fall far short of their potential due to climate change.

For example, it finds that by 2050, there would only be enough water for hydroelectric facilities to perform at about 50 percent of capacity. By the end of the century, there would be only enough to sustain about 25 percent. Irrigation projects would fare better, at least initially. The study finds that if all planned projects are completed, they could double water available for irrigation through 2050. But by 2100, as water losses accumulate, the system would be delivering only slightly more water than irrigation projects provide now, and not nearly enough to meet demand.

The study shows the loss of water in the basin would be especially challenging for poor farmers in rural areas, where agriculture is the primary provider of food and income. In addition to problems for large-scale irrigation projects, the small-scale irrigation that is common throughout the region would also be affected. The IWMI study warns that groundwater could become harder to utilize, "especially the shallow groundwater" typically used in rural communities.

McCartney cautioned that the predictions for water resources in the Volta are not absolute. But he said there are enough warning signs in the data that decision-makers need to be thinking of a more resilient mix of options for energy and agriculture to stand up to the climate challenge. For example, the study suggests considering a broader mix of renewable energy sources, including wind and solar. Water storage options should not be confined to projects that employ large dams, the researchers said. Equal consideration should be given to alternative water storage systems.

For farmers, McCartney said the solutions could include improving groundwater supplies available to rural areas by "recharging" local aquifers with water taken from rivers or reservoirs. This is a practice that is becoming increasingly popular in the water-stressed regions of the world. The study also calls for pursuing relatively simple, small-scale approaches to water storage, such as building small ponds on rural farms and using water tanks with roofs that reduce evaporation. More


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Fracking 'could put gas and chemicals' in drinking water

Drinking water could be contaminated with methane gas and chemicals due to fracking, water companies have warned.

Water UK, which represents all major UK water suppliers, said the shale gas extraction method posed a threat if not "carefully planned and carried out".

It also warned fracking's "huge" use of water could cause shortages in areas of low supply, like South East England.

Shale gas company Cuadrilla said there were no proven cases of aquifers being contaminated by fracking.

Dr Jim Marshall, of Water UK, called on fracking firms to hold "upfront discussions" with water companies "before fracking becomes widespread in the UK".

He said the water industry was not "taking sides" in the fracking debate, but wanted to ensure "corners are not cut and standards compromised, leaving us all counting the cost for years to come".

'No contamination'

Fracking - short for "hydraulic fracturing" - involves drilling deep underground and releasing a high-pressure mix of water, sand and hundreds of chemicals to crack rocks and release gas stored inside.

Water companies are worried the process could contaminate drinking water aquifers that lie above shale gas reserves.

Water UK said this could happen by gases such as methane permeating into water sources from rocks where it was previously confined, chemicals getting in through cracks created by the fracking process, or by poor handling of waste water on the surface.

A spokesman for Cuadrilla, which is carrying out test drilling in Lancashire, said: "There have been over two million hydraulic fracture treatments carried out globally, the majority in the US, and from that activity we are not aware of one single verified case of fracturing fluid contaminating aquifers."

The spokesman said the firm, which also wants to drill at a site in West Sussex, was "committed to the highest standards of well integrity".

He added that Cuadrilla was in "regular contact" with water suppliers and its supply of water "will never be prioritised over peoples' houses or farming".

A joint report by the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering published last year said the risks could be managed effectively through "strong regulation".

Joseph Dutton, of Leicester University, told the BBC fracking presented "minimal danger" of water contamination if done properly, as the cracks it created were far deeper underground than aquifers.

He said leaks in well casings near the surface, caused by "poor workmanship" or the tremors associated with fracking, were the most likely cause of contamination.

Current EU and UK regulations "should ensure" no such incidents take place, Mr Dutton said - but he said the government "wants to speed up the process" and warned that loosening environmental controls, as happened in the US, would increase the risks.

Mr Dutton said the amount of water used in fracking varies, but each well uses at least a million gallons.

The Department for Energy and Climate Change said water companies "will assess the amount of water available before providing it to operators".

Speaking about the risk to water quality, a spokesman said there was "no evidence to date from the US of fracking causing groundwater contamination".

Fracking expansion

He said the Environment Agency would regulate use of chemicals in the UK on a "site-by-site basis and would order fracking to stop if a risk to groundwater was identified. More


Friday, July 19, 2013

The Water, Food and Energy nexus

Water, food and energy nexus: how are water and energy connected?

In the first of our live broadcasts exploring the water, food and energy nexus, the Guardian's Jo Confino speaks to Sir Gordon Conway from Imperial College London, Tim Fox from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and Andy Wales, senior vice president sustainable development, SABMiller about the connections between water and food

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Major U.S. Cities Are at Risk for Climate-Related Water Shortage: Report

Bloomberg BNA -- Washington, D.C., New York City, Los Angeles, and San Diego are among the cities most likely to face water scarcity as climate change increases drought potential, a study released May 15 found.

Along with the potentially 40 million Americans affected in these cities, several “breadbasket region” states such as Nebraska, Illinois, and Minnesota also made the list of vulnerable areas.

The report, America's Water Risk: Water Stress and Climate Variability, examined how climate could affect “vulnerability to short and long term droughts,” Upmanu Lall, director of the Columbia University Water Center, told BNA in an email.The study by Columbia University Water Center, Veolia Water, and Growing Blue highlighted the increased risk of water scarcity in cities and counties across the United States as climate change increases drought potential.


The study also noted that population growth and increased demand for water in the future will further decrease water availability, if precipitation and water use patterns remain largely unchanged.With increasing populations and the inability to regain the water lost in droughts, cities can be at risk of having more demand for water than supply, if droughts increase with climate change.

Not Enough Water

“Projecting current trends, if you continue business as usual without any innovation, eventually you're going to get to a point where you're not going to have enough water to cover population demands,” Veolia Water Chief Sustainability Officer Edwin Pinero told BNA.

The country's population has increased 99 percent since 1950, while public water withdrawal has increased 50 percent. Total water withdrawals have increased 127 percent in that same time frame, the study found.The university created the Normalized Deficit Cumulated (NDC) to identify the impact of drought over several years and the Normalized Deficit Index (NDI) to examine the impact on an annual basis, examining more than 60 years of precipitation data and current water-use patterns. These metrics highlight the difference between how much water is used during any given time frame and how much water is available.

The study does not predict when the water scarcity will occur specifically. The findings are based on past patterns of population growth and droughts and take into account climate change's impact on drought prevalence.The report comes on the heels of an Ernst & Young corporate sustainability study in which 76 percent of corporate representatives chose water as a top resource at risk. Global demand for freshwater is expected to outstrip supply by 40 percent by 2030 and companies in northern India and northern China are already shutting down due to lack of water in the region, Ernst & Young's Adam Carrel told BNA May 9 (90 DER A-8, 5/9/13).

The partnership of Columbia, Veolia, and Growing Blue is intended to be politically neutral, Pinero said, but it should inform decisionmakers and public officials and start a dialogue about water scarcity.Veolia Water North America is a water services provider. Growing Blue is a collaborative made up of nongovernmental organizations, water companies, industry groups, and international organizations to build awareness of water issues and solutions.“We hope that as we generate more and more targeted information on [risks] and then solutions we will see financing for water infrastructure, conservation and efficient high value use be properly directed,” Lall told BNA. More


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Iran’s Water Crisis: A Bigger Threat Than Israel?

A former agriculture minister has said Iran’s water shortage is a bigger threat to the country than either Israel or the United States, Al-Monitor reported this week citing local media.

According to Al-Monitor, Issa Kalantari, the minister of agricultural under president Hashemi Rafsanjani, told Ghanoon newspaper this week that the water crisis is the “main problem that threatens” Iran, adding that it is more dangerous “than Israel, America or political fighting” among the Iranian elite.

Kalatantari, who serves on president-elect Hassan Rouhani’s transition team and heads research on agricultural at the think tank Rouhani has headed since 1992, went on to say that if the water issue is not addressed, Iran could become “inhabitable.”

“If this situation is not reformed, in 30 years Iran will be a ghost town. Even if there is precipitation in the desert, there will be no yield, because the area for groundwater will be dried and water will remain at ground level and evaporate.”

Kalatantari is not the only Iranian official who is concerned about the water shortages in the country. Mohammad Hossein Shariatmadari, a former Iranian trade minister, said in April that he believes the water issue is reaching an alarming level. The following month a deputy energy minister similarly warned that the country would soon face a water crisis.

Even the U.S. intelligence community sees water shortages as one of Iran’s primary challenges in the coming decades. In its Global Trends 2030 report, the National Intelligence Council said Iran “has no notable watersheds and is therefore heavily dependent on fossil and imported water, including ‘virtual water’ imports— such as agricultural goods like meat, fruit, and vegetables using high levels of water to produce.”

And while the water crisis is set to worsen considerable in the coming years and decades, it has already resulted in notable unrest. After a drought earlier this year, hundreds of farmers in a town in Isfahan province clashed with police after destroying a pipeline that was carrying water from the Zayandeh Rood River in their town to the city of Yazd in a neighboring province. As a result, the city of Yazd reportedly began rationing water.

Iran has notorious tough terrain that has been both an enormous burden and huge asset to the country. On the one hand, it is difficult to govern let alone create prosperity in Iran given its immense size, semi-arid climate and defining topographical features—namely, its huge mountain ranges and two huge desert plateaus that already are largely inhabitable.

As Stratfor, a global intelligence firm, has observed:

“Iran’s population is concentrated in its mountains, not in its lowlands, as with other countries. That’s because its lowlands, with the exception of the southwest and the southeast (regions populated by non-Persians), are uninhabitable. Iran is a nation of 70 million mountain dwellers.”

This geography does not bode well for maintaining sufficient water supplies. Indeed, Iran’sannual precipitation rate is somewhere between one-third and one-fourth of the world’s average, and around two-thirds of the country receives less than the global norm.

Furthermore, around 71 percent of this precipitation evaporates, and this number is likely to rise in the future. 50 percent of Iran’s water comes from underground sources, but in many parts of the country underground water supplies are drying up. Mismanagement of water resources has exacerbated these issues, and climate change is likely to significantly worsen the problem in the future.

Although Iran’s topography is already not conducive to bountiful farming, water shortages are going to be hardest felt in the agricultural sector, which accounts for about 13 percent of Iran’s GDP, 23 percent of employment, and about 90 percent of the country’s water supplies. More


Monday, July 8, 2013

Global threat to food supply as water wells dry up, warns top environment expert

Lester Brown says grain harvests are already shrinking as US, India and China come close to 'peak water'

Iraq facing water shortages

Wells are drying up and underwater tables falling so fast in the Middle East and parts of India, China and the US that food supplies are seriously threatened, one of the world's leading resource analysts has warned.

In a major new essay Lester Brown, head of the Earth Policy Institute in Washington, claims that 18 countries, together containing half the world's people, are now overpumping their underground watertables to the point – known as "peak water" – where they are not replenishing and where harvests are getting smaller each year.

The situation is most serious in the Middle East. According to Brown: "Among the countries whose water supply has peaked and begun to decline are Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. By 2016 Saudi Arabia projects it will be importing some 15m tonnes of wheat, rice, corn and barley to feed its population of 30 million people. It is the first country to publicly project how aquifer depletion will shrink its grain harvest.

"The world is seeing the collision between population growth and water supply at the regional level. For the first time in history, grain production is dropping in a geographic region with nothing in sight to arrest the decline. Because of the failure of governments in the region to mesh population and water policies, each day now brings 10,000 more people to feed and less irrigation water with which to feed them."

Brown warns that Syria's grain production peaked in 2002 and since then has dropped 30%; Iraq has dropped its grain production 33% since 2004; and production in Iran dropped 10% between 2007 and 2012 as its irrigation wells started to go dry.

"Iran is already in deep trouble. It is feeling the effects of shrinking water supplies from overpumping. Yemen is fast becoming a hydrological basket case. Grain production has fallen there by half over the last 35 years. By 2015 irrigated fields will be a rarity and the country will be importing virtually all of its grain."

There is also concern about falling water tables in China, India and the US, the world's three largest food-producing countries. "In India, 175 million people are being fed with grain produced by overpumping, in China 130 million. In the United States the irrigated area is shrinking in leading farm states with rapid population growth, such as California and Texas, as aquifers are depleted and irrigation water is diverted to cities."

Falling water tables are already adversely affecting harvest prospects in China, which rivals the US as the world's largest grain producer, says Brown. "The water table under the North China Plain, an area that produces more than half of the country's wheat and a third of its maize is falling fast. Overpumping has largely depleted the shallow aquifer, forcing well drillers to turn to the region's deep aquifer, which is not replenishable."

The situation in India may be even worse, given that well drillers are now using modified oil-drilling technology to reach water half a mile or more deep. "The harvest has been expanding rapidly in recent years, but only because of massive overpumping from the water table. The margin between food consumption and survival is precarious in India, whose population is growing by 18 million per year and where irrigation depends almost entirely on underground water. Farmers have drilled some 21m irrigation wells and are pumping vast amounts of underground water, and water tables are declining at an accelerating rate in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu."

In the US, farmers are overpumping in the Western Great Plains, including in several leading grain-producing states such as Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. Irrigated agriculture has thrived in these states, but the water is drawn from the Ogallala aquifer, a huge underground water body that stretches from Nebraska southwards to the Texas Panhandle. "It is, unfortunately, a fossil aquifer, one that does not recharge. Once it is depleted, the wells go dry and farmers either go back to dryland farming or abandon farming altogether, depending on local conditions," says Brown.

"In Texas, located on the shallow end of the aquifer, the irrigated area peaked in 1975 and has dropped 37% since then. In Oklahoma irrigation peaked in 1982 and has dropped by 25%. In Kansas the peak did not come until 2009, but during the three years since then it has dropped precipitously, falling nearly 30%. Nebraska saw its irrigated area peak in 2007. Since then its grain harvest has shrunk by 15%."

Brown warned that many other countries may be on the verge of declining harvests. "With less water for irrigation, Mexico may be on the verge of a downturn in its grain harvest. Pakistan may also have reached peak water. If so, peak grain may not be far behind."