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

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Monsoon Disrupted By El Nino + Climate Change as India Suffers Deaths, Crop Losses from Extreme Heat.

May is the month when the massive rainstorm that is the Asian Monsoon begins to gather and advance. This year, as in many other years, the monsoon gradually formed along the coast of Myanmar early in the month. It sprang forward with gusto reaching the Bay of Bengal by last week.

And there it has stalled ever since.

On May 25-27, an outburst of moisture from this stalled monsoonal flow splashed over the coasts of India. But by the 29th and 30th, these coastal storms and even the ones gathering over the Bengali waters had all been snuffed out. The most prominent feature in the MODIS shot of India today isn’t the rainfall that should be now arriving along the southeast coast, but the thick and steely-gray pallor of coal-ash smog trapped under a persistent and oppressive dome of intense heat.

(MODIS shot of India on May 30th. See the open stretch of blue water in the lower right frame? That’s the Bay of Bengal which borders coastal India. During a normal year at this time, that entire ocean zone should be filled with the storm clouds of a building monsoon that is already encroaching on coastal India. Today, there is nothing but a smattering of small and dispersed cloud through a mostly clear sky. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

Monsoon Described as Feeble

Official forecasts had already announced as of May 27th that the annual monsoon was likely to be delayed by at least a week for southeast regions of India. Meanwhile, expected monsoonal rainfall for western and northern sections of India for 2014 fell increasingly into doubt.

From The Times of India:

The monsoon is likely to be delayed by 10 days, according to scientists at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) here. The IITM’s third experimental real-time forecast says that a feeble monsoon will reach central India after June 20 as against the usual June 15. Last year, the monsoon had covered the entire country by June 15.

The annual monsoon is key to India’s agriculture. The substantial rains nurture crops even as they tamp down a powerful heating that typically builds throughout the sub-continent into early summer. Without these rains, both heat and drought tend to run rampant, bringing down crop yields and resulting in severe human losses due to excessive heat.

But, this year, heat and drought are already at extreme levels.

Major Heatwave Already Results in Loss of Life for 2014

As early as late March, the heatwave began to build over the Indian subcontinent. The heat surged throughout the state, setting off fires, resulting in a growing list of heat casualties, shutting down the power grid and spurring unrest. Meanwhile, impacts to India’s agriculture were already growing as the Lychee fruit crop was reported to have suffered a 40% loss.

By late May, temperatures across a broad region had surged above 105 degrees shattering records as the oppressive and deadly heat continued to tighten its grip.

In a country surrounded on three sides by oceans, it is a combination of heat, humidity and persistently high night-time temperatures that can be a killer. Wet bulb temperatures surge into a high-risk range for human mortality during the day even as night-time provides little respite for already stressed human bodies. Such extreme and long-duration heat doesn’t come without a sad toll. As of today, early reports indicated a loss of more than 56 lives due to heat stroke (In 2012 and 2013, total Indian heat deaths were near 1,000 each year). That said, final figures on heat losses are still pending awaiting complete reports from all of India’s provinces.

"Climatologically, we know that heatwaves are increasing in frequency and the number of days exceeding 45ºC temperatures is increasing. The frequency will increase further with global warming, hence this is a good example of a situation where science and disaster management can come together and avert damage," a spokesman for India’s National Disaster Management Authority noted on Friday.

(Hot Dust. A dust storm rolls through New Delhi on Friday amidst furnace-like 113 degree heat snarling traffic and resulting in the tragic loss of 9 more lives. Image source: Gaurav Karoliwal/YouTube Screenshot.)

Today the heatwave continued to gain ground, with Kota and Rajasthan reaching an all-time record of 116 degree F (46.5 C) as New Delhi’s mercury hit 113 degrees F in the midst of a drought-induced dust storm. Dust shrouding the city spurred traffic chaos and in the heat, darkness, and confusion nine more souls were lost.

After two months of growing disruption due to heat and drought, the lands and peoples of India cry out for a Monsoon that is running later and later with each new weather report.

Climate Change + El Nino: Adding Heat and Beating Back the Monsoon

As systems approach tipping points, they are more likely to tilt toward the extremes.

For India this year, its seasonally warmest period from April to May found severe heat amplification from a number of global factors. First, climate change seeded the ground for the current Indian heatwave by adding general heat and evaporation to already hot conditions. With global average heating of +0.8 C above 1880s levels amplifying in the hot zones, early moisture loss due to higher-than-normal temperatures produces a kind of snowball effect for still more warming. Essentially, the cooling effect of water evaporation is baked out early allowing for heat to hit harder just as typical seasonal maximums are reached. More

Originally published by robertscribbler.wordpress.com/


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Challenge in Sao Paulo: Overcoming Water Scarcity in South America’s Largest City

Last March, one of Brazil’s most important newspapers, O Estado de S. Paulo, published a version of the article below, which summarizes the Conservancy’s efforts to help secure Sao Paulo’s water supply. It is translated and reprinted here with permission.

By João Campari and Samuel Barrêto, The Nature Conservancy

The inhabitants of Sao Paulo have been dealing with discouraging images of cracked riverbeds where they used to see flowing water, making this temperate part of Brazil look more like the country’s semi-arid region. Unfortunately, these stark images show the worsening struggles of the Cantareira system, one of the greatest water supply systems in the world.

Right now, the Cantareira’s reservoirs — responsible for providing water for more than 12 million inhabitants of the Sao Paulo Metropolitan Region (RMSP) and Campinas — are operating at less than 15% capacity*, the lowest level recorded since the Cantareira’s creation in the early 1970s.

The images, the symbol of the current crisis, show that water doesn’t really come from the taps in our houses. It comes from nature, and in Sao Paulo much of that nature is the Atlantic Forest. While water rationing gets peoples’ attention and is one of the necessary responses to water scarcity, rationing alone is not enough to solve the long-term problem of securing lasting access to fresh water.

We must look beyond the tap and work to take care of our water supplies at their sources. We need a systemic response for the management of watersheds to restore the sources of our water that have been degraded, polluted and deforested. Forests are very important for healthy fresh water supplies. Unfortunately, the Cantareira system alone has lost 70% of its original forest cover, aggravating the sedimentation of rivers and dams, and decreasing their ability to supply water.The degradation of native vegetation also worsens the effects of erosion and drought.

The interaction of all these factors — deforestation, sedimentation, erosion and drought — leads to a situation of extreme risk and represents an environmental, social and economic threat not just to Sao Paulo, but to the entire country of Brazil. The Sao Paulo Metropolitan Region and Campinas together are responsible for more then 22% of the country’s GDP. Therefore, it is a priority to create a strong and strategic response to the increasing and urgent problems of water quantity, quality, access and supply for urban centers.

Protecting Water Supplies at their Sources

We must go beyond conventional interventions, such as engineering works — more dams or aqueducts are not the answer. Wider, systemic responses are necessary, and the responsibility to act is not limited to the government. We all need water and it is the shared responsibility of businesses, communities and civil society as a whole to search for solutions together. The government’s role is to foster and implement multiple solutions that reach multiple stakeholders at once.

The Conservancy’s work shows that one of the highest priorities for securing Sao Paulo’s water supplies is strengthening the Cantareira system’s “green infrastructure” by restoring the degraded forests of the Atlantic Forest, as well as conserving existing forest remnants. Such initiatives ensure the health of a watershed. This type of solution, when well managed, minimizes the risk of extreme events and reduces the vulnerability of populations to floods and prolonged droughts. Healthy forests also store water and reduce erosion and provide environmental services of water regulation and security to the population.

New York City illustrates this equation quite clearly. Decades ago, the city’s administration compared the costs of both natural and built infrastructure for protecting and providing water. Preserving the forests that were source of the city’s drinking water cost US $1 to 1.5 billion over 10 years. That amount was seven times lessthan the estimated US $6 to 8 billion needed to build a traditional, engineered water treatment and distribution network. (That amount doesn’t include the additional and ongoing operational and maintenance costs of $300 to $500 million a year that would have been necessary.) Obviously, nature was the better buy for the people of New York.

It is something for Sao Paulo to consider. A recent study by the Conservancy showed that restoring about 35,000 acres of deforested areas and preventing erosion on 5000 acres within the basins of the Piracicaba, Capivari, Jundiaí and Alto Tietê rivers would decrease the level of sediments that clog the rivers by 50%. Reducing erosion would increase the capacity of water reservoirs and simultaneously decrease the cost of treatment for the removal of sediments.

What the Conservancy is doing in Sao Paulo

To help accomplish restoration goals in the lands around Sao Paulo’s Cantareira system, the Conservancy-led Water Producers Project provides payments to farmers and ranchers who conserve forests on properties that are part of the watershed that feeds the Cantareira reservoirs. This payment-for-environmental-services program recognizes and compensates landowners for the water-producing value their lands provide.

The Conservancy also leads the Water for Sao Paulo Movement. This initiative fosters conversation and working relationships between different stakeholders and focuses on the importance of both water conservation and nature-based solutions for securing the water supply of the region. Because healthy forests are so important for healthy rivers and water supplies, Water for Sao Paulo seeks to restore degraded forests near the urban area.

Finally, Sao Paulo must strengthen the existing Watersheds Committees. Created by the Brazilian Legislature, Watersheds Committees discuss and make decisions about the use of water from specific river basins and are some of the most important collaborations for achieving a balance between water supply and demand.Committees include representatives of local governments, water supply companies and civil society, who are responsible for tasks such as approving water management plans, defining actions for conservation of biodiversity and mediating conflicts about the use of water resources. There are more than 200 of these groups in Brazil.

The current crisis in the Cantareira system is both a challenge and an opportunity to learn from the past and make better decisions for the future. If we have the discernment to act in a systemic way and the political and institutional capacity for change, we will be able to reduce the risks of a permanent cycle of water shortage. In addition to this, we have the opportunity to show how healthy watersheds contribute to water security, which is indispensable for Sao Paulo’s social and economic stability into the future.

To learn more about how the Conservancy is helping to secure Brazil’s water supplies, please visit Where Does Your Water Come From?

*Since this article was published in March, the need for concerted action in Sao Paulo has become even more urgent. The level of water in the Cantareira system has now dropped – to about 8% of its overall capacity. As an emergency stopgap to provide water to the city, the government of Sao Paulo spent US$36 million on emergency constructions to allow access to water stored below the level of the pumps. Known to water managers as “dead volume,” this water was never intended to be part of the water supply, and the reservoirs are now, essentially, operating at a deficit. More


Monday, May 19, 2014

The California Drought Is Far From Over, And The Entire State Is Suffering

For a few days last month, it rained in San Francisco. Residents across the city cheered a welcomed respite from a drought that has crippled California for more than two years -- but the celebration turned out to be premature.

On Thursday, for the first time this century, the U.S. Drought Monitor declared that all of California is in a “severe” drought, with many areas of the state in an even worse condition, from "extreme" to "exceptional," the poorest possible rating.

“This is a once-in-a-generation conversation,” Mark Svoboda, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center, told The Huffington Post. He added that the last time California experienced comparable conditions was in the mid-1970s.

“The state has doubled its population between then and now,” Svoboda said. “You’ve got a lot more people using a relatively finite amount of water.”

The map below, courtesy of the U.S. Drought Monitor, shows the varying levels of drought throughout California. The orange represents “severe,” the red is “extreme,” and the maroon is “exceptional” -- the agency’s highest level (Story continues below):

No area of the state is feeling the effects of the drought more harshly than San Diego, where wildfires have ripped through more than 10,000 acres of land and tens of thousands of residents have been forced to evacuate. “In a drought, the biggest threat to health and human safety is wildfire,” Doug Carlson, an information officer at the California Department of Water Resources, told HuffPost.

And there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight. “The drought has set the stage for a very busy, very long, potentially very dangerous fire season,” Daniel Berlant, a spokesperson for CAL FIRE, said to HuffPost. “As we move into the more traditional summer months, the days are only going to get longer, and the temperatures are only going to get higher.”

California’s wildfire season usually peaks during summer and fall months and then tapers during the typically rainy winter. But the drought has turned wildfires into a year-round issue. “With that lack of rain, the grass, brush and trees really have been tinder-dry all year long,” Berlant explained, noting such conditions help flames flourish.

Svoboda added that the state’s hot, dry surface leads to a hot, dry, atmosphere, which creates a prime environment for wildfires to spread. “You also typically see windier conditions,” he added. “These are all things that fires feed on.”

The damage in Southern California has ravaged hills, homes and businesses. Beloved craft brewery Stone Brewing Company evacuated its premises on Thursday. On Wednesday, KTLA senior producer Marcus Smith tweeted a widely-recirculated photo of a “firenado,” a dangerous phenomenon caused by strong winds whipping spirals of fire into the air. More