Waterless World

A Global Water Crisis Forum

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Wasting Away: Baltimore’s Leaky Water System

A recent report from CNBC on Baltimore’s crumbling infrastructure and its impact on the delivery of clean water highlighted one critical dynamic in the crisis facing cities and states across the U.S.

With many water systems operating well past their intended useful lives, the monumental challenge extant is repairing/replacing leaky water pipes, crumbling storm drains and outdated wastewater treatment facilities in an era of pressured municipal budgets.

Most of the pipes under Baltimore’s streets were put there before Elvis Presley recorded his first album. Since then, years of deferred maintenance have left behind a vast, leaky network—roughly 20 percent of the 225 million gallons of water flowing into the city from three huge reservoirs never makes it to a water customer.

As Baltimore struggles to stick to a 10-year, $3 billion plan of capital improvements, city officials estimate it would take twice that much money to get the job done.

It’s a colossal job. Baltimore has 4,000 miles of buried water pipes; until recently, the city had been replacing just 5 miles of it every year. Officials have set a goal of replacing 20 miles this year and hope to pick up the pace by 5 miles a year until they’re eventually installing 40 miles of new pipe annually.

While that plan includes allocations for new water meters and billing systems and enclosing the reservoirs that supply the city’s drinking water, it doesn’t include the cost of repairing flood damage, or the environmental damage from the uncontained runoff to local streams and Baltimore Harbor. Those overflows are coming from a 100-year-old wastewater system of more than 3,000 miles of sewer lines and 110 pumping stations.

Of all the categories of crumbling infrastructure, the cost of water projects falls most heavily on towns and cities. Since the Environmental Protection Agency established standards for clean water in the 1970s, the federal government has gradually phased out the ambitious spending required to achieve those goals. Meanwhile, the scope of federal regulations—and the cost of keeping water clean enough to meet them—continue to expand.

As the watersheds that supply cities have seen usage by commercial, industrial, agricultural and residential interests expand, more contaminants are now reaching drinking-water sources, according to the Congressional Research Service. Since 1986 the list of regulated drinking-water contaminants has more than tripled to more than 100 including heavy metals, disinfectants, organic and inorganic chemicals, pathogens and radionuclides linked to dozens of harmful health effects.

But the rising cost of cleaning up those contaminants has fallen almost entirely on local governments. It’s a costly mandate. Over the next 20 years, America’s local governments and water districts will need to spend some $380 billion to keep customers adequately supplied with fresh water, according to an EPA estimate updated earlier this year.

It will take another $300 billion to overhaul an estimated 700,000 to 800,000 miles of public sewer mains, much of it installed after the end of World War II, along with roughly 15,000 wastewater treatment plants, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

As federal grants have evaporated over the past 30 years, water costs for consumers, particularly in metropolitan areas, have risen in an ever-steepening curve.

A water price index covering the 20 largest U.S. cities and 10 others around the country has risen 25 percent since 2010, according to Circle of Blue, a global water watchdog group. The group found that the cost of infrastructure repair can have a huge impact on local rates. Some cities keep costs down by delaying needed infrastructure projects while others move forward by passing the cost along to their residents. Other cities are creating savings by stretching existing capacity through conservation efforts. Despite an increasing population, total water use in the U.S. peaked in the mid-1970s. According to the ASCE, per capita consumption has fallen to the lowest since the 1950s, thanks to advanced residential technologies and a decline in use related to a shrinking manufacturing base.


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You Can’t Make Great Beer without Clean Water

As a partaker and aficionado of the incredible craft beers produced in the U.S., this is a heartening moment, not just because it will help to preserve the sources of the clean water that goes into making great beer, but because clean water is a necessity for making much of what we consume on a daily basis. Thanks to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) for highlighting this.

When you run a business that depends on the availability and reliability of clean water, like brewers do, you need to know that your critical resource is protected.

That’s why 24 of America’s best craft brewers signed an ad in Tuesday’s POLITICO praising the Obama Administration for developing new rules to restore Clean Water Act protections to streams and wetlands. Read more: http://bit.ly/1px8hFv

Craft Beer Clean Water

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Forecasting Water Demand as the Climate Changes

The American Water Works Association (AWWA) will lead a two-year study on how municipalities can forecast water demand within the context of anticipated climate change.

The project, funded by a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration grant, will provide recommendations on how to improve current water demand forecasting and identify areas of essential future research.

The study will include an assessment of current computer models, workshops to identify knowledge gaps, development of research priorities, and recommendations for reducing risk through improved demand forecasting. Researchers will conduct model simulations at two drinking water utilities.

AWWA Executive Director David LaFrance said, “This project is historic in its focus. Most studies on climate change and drinking water have focused on the supply side, looking at water resources. The examination of water demand adds an important new perspective.”

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World Water Day is March 22nd

The United Nations World Water Day is on the 22nd of March this year.  International World Water Day is held every year on 22 March to focus global attention on the importance of water and advocating for the sustainable management of our water resources. The theme this year is “Water and Energy” and addresses the interdependence of the two resources particularly the inequities visited upon the “bottom billion” inhabitants across the globe who do not have access to much of either water or energy. As articulated on the website,

Water and energy are closely interlinked and interdependent. Energy generation and transmission requires utilization of water resources, particularly for hydroelectric, nuclear, and thermal energy sources. Conversely, about 8% of the global energy generation is used for pumping, treating and transporting water to various consumers.

The key messages the UN Water initiative is promoting for World Water Day concerns what each individual will do in 2014 and beyond to promote sustainable practices in the realm of water and energy.  Those messages include:

1. Water requires energy and energy requires water

Water is required to produce nearly all forms of energy. Energy is needed at all stages of water extraction, treatment and distribution.

2. Supplies are limited and demand is increasing

Demand for freshwater and energy will continue to increase significantly over the coming decades. This increase will present big challenges and strain resources in nearly all regions, especially in developing and emerging economies.

3. Saving energy is saving water. Saving water is saving energy

Choices concerning the supply, distribution, price, and use of water and energy impact one another.

4. The “bottom billion” urgently needs access to both water and sanitation services, and electricity

Worldwide, 1.3 billion people cannot access electricity, 768 million people lack access to improved water sources and 2.5 billion people have no improved sanitation. Water and energy have crucial impacts on poverty alleviation.

5. Improving water and energy efficiency is imperative as are coordinated, coherent and concerted policies

Better understanding between the two sectors of the connections and effects on each other will improve coordination in energy and water planning, leading to reducing inefficiencies. Policy-makers, planners and practitioners can take steps to overcome the barriers that exist between their respective domains. Innovative and pragmatic national policies can lead to more efficient and cost effective provision of water and energy services.

World Water Day 2014

UN Water also publishes an advocacy guide available here that provides guidance on becoming more involved in supporting the mission of World Water Day.

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Water Stress is a World Wide Phenomena

The past twenty years have witnessed an expansion in the quantity and severity of climate-related events globally that have driven an elevation in water-related risk in numerous countries.  In an attempt to measure the impacts that these events are having around the world, the World Resources Institute’s  (WRI) Aqueduct project recently evaluated, mapped, and scored water risks in 100 river basins, ranked by area and population, and 180 nations—the first such country-level water assessment of its kind.  The project found that 36 countries face “extremely high” levels of baseline water stress.  This means that more than 80 percent of the water available to agricultural, domestic, and industrial users is withdrawn annually—leaving businesses, farms, and communities vulnerable to scarcity.

Water Stress by Country

While the project suggests that 20% of the countries are faced with significant baseline water stress, the report also stresses that those conditions do not have to result in cataclysmic ends.

It’s also important for countries to understand the underlying natural factors that drive their water-related risks and respond accordingly. Extremely high levels of baseline water stress, for example, don’t necessarily mean that a country will fall victim to scarcity. Armed with the right information, countries facing extremely high stress can implement management and conservation strategies to secure their water supplies.

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California Resorts to Ancient Science

Creative thinking in the water crisis, per CNBC:

With California in the grips of drought, farmers throughout the state are using a mysterious and some say foolhardy tool for locating underground water: dowsers, or water witches.

Practitioners of dowsing use rudimentary tools — usually copper sticks or wooden “divining rods” that resemble large wishbones — and what they describe as a natural energy to find water hidden underground.

While government water scientists disapprove, California “witchers” are busy as farmers seek to drill more groundwater wells due to the state’s record drought.

The nation’s fourth largest wine maker says it uses dowsers on its 40,000 acres of California vineyards, and dozens of smaller farmers and homeowners also pay for dowsers.

Nationwide, the American Society of Dowsers, Inc. boasts dozens of local chapters, which meet annually at a conference.