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, December 31, 2013

Egypt to Cooperate With Nile Basin Countries for Water Security

Egypt is keen on cooperating with all Nile Basin countries in a manner that benefits all parties, Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy said on Tuesday.

Nabil Fahmy

"Egypt's water security is an indispensible part of the country's national security and it cannot be ignored," Fahmy said, adding that "there are historic and legal rights that cannot be overlooked by any country."

Ethiopia started diverting the course of the Blue Nile, the main tributary of the Nile River, in May as part of its plan to build a hydroelectric dam that generates electricity.

The "Renaissance Dam" is built along the river that provides Egypt with about 60 percent of its annual 55 million cubic metres of Nile water.

This move sparked extensive arguments considering how that would affect Egypt's share of the Nile water.

Egypt and Ethiopia are members of the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), a partnership among Nile states aimed at sharing the river's socio-economic benefits and promoting regional security.

Three of the Nile Basin countries - Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan - formed an expert committee to study the project.

The committee issued a report, unanimously approved by the three countries, on the potential damages of the dam and recommendations to avoid them in June.

The experts convened again in December and agreed to form another committee to look into the means of implementing their final recommendations.

Representatives of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan are scheduled to meet in January in order to discuss issues related to the Nile water security. More


The Red Sea - Dead Sea canal

The agreement for the two seas Canal connecting the Red and Dead Sea was summed up best by Israeli water minister Silvan Shalam who jubilantly described it following the December 9 signing ceremony at the World Bank headquarters as "a historic agreement that realises ... the dream of (founder of modern Zionism Theodore) Herzl."

The canal was another strategic triumph for Israel's conniving diplomacy even after the project was reduced to about one-tenth of its original size due to serious economic and environmental concerns raised by the World Bank.

The Zionist-envisioned project was repackaged and sponsored by Jordan as a must to save the Dead Sea, and building a large desalination plant providing each Israel and Jordan with eight billion to 13 billion gallons of fresh water annually.

According to Israeli and international environmentalists, Israeli government's policies of over pumping from the Sea of Galilee and Jordan River - serving Jewish only colonies - was the main cause for the loss of nearly 30 per cents of the Dead Sea's mass in the last 50 years.

Herzl's repackaged vision includes articles tacitly granting Israel exclusive water rights in the supposedly shared Sea of Galilee and Jordan River's water. For the tri-party agreement empowers Israel to transfer close to 13 billion gallons of fresh water from those bodies to Jordan and to sell the state of Palestine 8bn gallons of drinking water at preferential prices.

Even more cynical is for the state of Palestine to purchase water from Israel -mind you at a special discount - while Israel continues to expropriate West Bank's water aquifers for the benefit of illegal Jewish-only colonies for free.

In addition to political concerns, environmentalists have warned that introducing new water composition from the Red sea brings a host of new invasive photosynthetic organisms which could lead to drastic negative consequences affecting the unique natural system of the Dead Sea.

Unlikely to solve the Dead Sea environmental degradation, international and Israeli environmentalists have alternatively suggested that "the reestablishment of the Jordan River to its natural state was a better solution to the decline of the Dead Sea than the proposed canal."

While it would receive roughly half of the desalinated water from the project, the 100 miles brine pipeline will run exclusively through Jordanian territories to circumvent objections by Israeli environmental groups.

Lacking proper environmental oversight, a credible rupture in the high saline pipeline - running along known active earthquake fault - would cause irreparable damage for a main source of Jordan's fresh groundwater in Wadi Araba.

Being the only party with positive return and no potential risks, the agreement provides Israel a free safety net to escape responsibility for the Dead Sea's environmental calamity while realising an old Zionist strategic military vision adding a natural water course on Israel's eastern borders. Economically, this project places Israeli water companies in a unique position to gain the most in building the waterway, associated desalination and power generation plants.

Jordan, on the other hand, is taking the biggest long term risk since a probable structural failure in the Canal system would lead to an incurable disaster for both the agriculture and ecosystem in the Jordanian valley.

In purchasing Israeli water, Palestine is sanctioning Israel's theft of its water aquifers from occupied West Bank, while allowing Israel to continue syphoning the only lifeline for the Dead Sea. More


Monday, December 30, 2013

Could There Be Fresh Groundwater In Singapore?

Scientists have identified an unexpected source of freshwater – beneath the seabed on continental shelves around the world.

AsianScientist (Dec. 30, 2013) – We often take it for granted, but freshwater is a limited resource, further limited by the pressures that human activities are placing on the Earth’s reserves.

It now seems that freshwater can be found in an unexpected place – beneath the seabed on continental shelves around the world. A new study published in the journal Nature reports that an estimated half a million cubic kilometers of low-salinity water is buried below the seabed in various locations, including off the coasts of Australia, China and South Africa.

Groundwater scientists have known of freshwater under the seafloor, but it was thought to occur only under rare and particular conditions. In this latest study, however, lead author Dr. Vincent Post of the National Center for Groundwater Research and Training (NCGRT) and the School of the Environment at Flinders University reports that fresh and brackish aquifers below the seabed are actually a fairly common phenomenon.

Dr. Jacobus Groen of VU University Amsterdam in the Netherlands, a co-author on the study, spoke to Asian Scientist Magazine about the possibility of finding offshore groundwater in Southeast Asia.

“I visited Singapore in 2003 to explore the possibilities of finding offshore meteoric groundwater (OMG). OMG is most likely present everywhere on the Sunda Shelf – the seas between Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. As for Singapore, indications for OMG have been found on the Sumatra side of the Strait of Malacca,” Groen says.

“I also did a small groundwater survey in the Old Alluvium on the east side of Singapore. In that zone there is a well close to the coast with deep fresh groundwater, which – to my opinion – can only be explained as fossil water formed in glacial times when sea level was low and the entire Strait was exposed. This fossil groundwater is likely to extend into the offshore sediments.”

The volume of offshore water is finite, but the quantities are vast, the authors say. Even for megacities like Singapore the stored amount of OMG will last for hundreds or even thousands of years. But there are also some environmental effects that have to be taken into account, such as the lowering of the seafloor or land around the wells, which necessitate that recovery should take place some distance away from the coast.

“The volume of this water resource is a hundred times greater than the amount we’ve extracted from the Earth’s sub-surface in the past century since 1900,” says Post. “Knowing about these reserves is great news because this volume of water could sustain some regions for decades.”

Given the location of these resources, Post says that there are two ways to access this water: either build a platform out at sea and drill into the seabed, or drill from the mainland or islands close to the aquifers. While offshore drilling can be very costly, Post says this source of freshwater should be assessed and considered in terms of cost, sustainability and environmental impact against other water sources such as desalination, or even building large new dams on land.

If the extracted groundwater is not fresh but moderately brackish, desalination may be required, the authors say. This process results in a brine residue that has to be disposed of. However, brine production and energy requirements for OMG are much smaller than those for seawater desalination, which makes this resource environmentally more attractive, they say. More


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

We Still Need To Deal With Drought

This is the time of year when drought drops from the headlines in all but the warmest parts of North America. Crops aren't withering in the sun; few homeowners worry about lawn-watering restrictions. Until the weather heats up in the spring, the weather headlines will be mostly about winter storms. But that doesn't mean moisture deficits have been resolved. National drought maps reveal that persistent drought is plaguing California, the central Plains states, and, to a lesser extent, the East Coast.

Water Harvesting

Looking more widely, the past eighteen months have seen a global outbreak of emergency water rationing in the face of sudden, extraordinary scarcity. In a diverse group of countries, including the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Australia, Kenya, Ghana, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, South Africa, India, Pakistan, China, Taiwan, Malaysia and the Philippines, a wide variety of rationing plans have had to be put into practice. Rationing has even become necessary in normally moist, green places, most prominently the United Kingdom, Ireland and New Zealand. In many situations, the causes of water shortages have been much more complex than routine drought or high population density. Thanks to greenhouse emissions, local climates are becoming increasingly fickle.

A whopping 86 percent of the world's total fresh water consumption is accounted for by production of food, fiber and other agricultural products, and 9 percent is attributable to industrial production. Farms dominate water use in the United States as well. But even though a scant 5 percent of the global footprint is residential water use, it is in the domestic supply where shortages are felt most immediately and most intensely by the majority of people.

When municipal or county water supplies are tightened, lucky residents with wells are able to supply themselves (at least until the well also goes dry). And increasingly, people in drought-prone areas are planning ahead and capturing rain for future use. A dozen states and the US Virgin Islands now have laws regulating, and for the most part encouraging, rainwater harvesting. In this, Texas leads the nation. In 2009, Colorado partially lifted a longstanding law that had banned homeownersfrom collecting rainwater off their own roofs. Utah repealed a similar ban in 2010. The state of Oregon publishes a guide to rainwater rainwater collection (PDF). (Hysteria a couple of years ago over the conviction of an Oregon man for water harvesting was unwarranted; he had built a vast system of reservoirs with a capacity of 13 million gallons—a bit more than is needed for personal use.)

Meanwhile, most of us are still stuck with paying for our residential water supply. And any economist can show you how the most efficient method of allocating water is "marginal cost pricing", under which the first gallon per week or month is the most valuable and expensive, with the cost falling as consumption rises. That, however, penalizes low-income households and rewards heavy consumption. Therefore, many municipalities across North America and the world have turned marginal cost pricing on its head. Under what are called increasing block tariff systems, each household has a monthly right to an initial "block" of that is free or very cheap, with the price escalating sharply for subsequent blocks.

But there will always be a wide gap between what it costs to provide municipal water and what many residents can afford to pay for it. Treating water as a market commodity almost inevitably leads to conflict, and water-privatization schemes have repeatedly failed.

Talk of looming worldwide conflict over water resources has been going on for years. But it is often conflict itself - state versus state, class versus class, neighbor versus neighbor and, increasingly, humanity versus nature - that triggers water scarcity in the first place. The only long-term solution is to resolve such conflicts, to ensure that every community has an adequate water supply. But even then, resources may not be bountiful, and rationing by some means other than willingness (and ability) to pay will be necessary.

If we cannot manage to conserve and share water fairly, there is little chance that we will manage share other resources fairly. Enforcing the right to water is, or at least should be, less complex and contentious than ensuring rights to, say, energy, food, or medical care. As Maude Barlow concluded in her 2007 book Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water, "If ever there was a time for a plan of conservation and water justice to deal with the twin water crises of scarcity and inequity, now is that time. The world does not lack the knowledge about how to build a water-secure future; it lacks the political will."

Meanwhile, you might as well get a couple of rain barrels going. More

Photo by Wikimedia Commons/Sustainable Sanitation Alliance

Stan Cox is a senior scientist at The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, and author most recently of Any Way You Slice It: The Past, Present, and Future of Rationing(The New Press, 2013).