Waterless World

A Global Water Crisis Forum


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Viva…..Las Vegas?

“It’s just going to be screwed. And relatively quickly,” warns Tim Barnett, of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, telling The Telegraph, the situation in Las Vegas is “as bad as you can imagine”. After a devastating, 14-year drought drained the reservoir that supplies 90% of the city’s water, the apparently endless supply of water is an illusion as Las Vegas population has soared.

As The Telegraph reports,

America’s most decadent destination has been engaged in a potentially catastrophic gamble with nature and now, 14 years into a devastating drought, it is on the verge of losing it all.

“The situation is as bad as you can imagine,” said Tim Barnett, a climate scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “It’s just going to be screwed. And relatively quickly. Unless it can find a way to get more water from somewhere Las Vegas is out of business. Yet they’re still building, which is stupid.”

The city is generally very dry, but this year is looking to be extraordinarily dry.

Las Vegas gets just four inches of rain in a good year, and in the first four months of 2014 there was just 0.31 of an inch.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority, which has the task of keeping the city from running dry, has described the effects of the drought as “every bit as serious as a Hurricane Katrina or a Superstorm Sandy”.

However, Las Vegas still uses 219 gallons of water per person per day, one of the highest figures in the US. In San Francisco the figure is just 49 gallons.

And having sucked the Colorado River dry and with a good start on Lake Mead, they just can’t stop themselves.

 Lake Mead’s water level is currently at 1,087ft above sea level. There are two pipes, known as “straws”, that take water from it to Las Vegas.

The first extracts water at an elevation of 1,050ft and is likely to be sucking at air, rather than water, soon. The second straw is at 1,000ft.

Lake Mead is expected to fall another 20ft towards that critical point by the end of this year.

 

Beneath the ground a mammoth effort is already under way to complete a new, lower straw which will be able to draw the last of the water from the lake.

But it is a painfully slow process as a giant drill the size of two football pitches advances at a rate of one inch per day.

That rescue project is costing $817 million and is currently expected to be complete by late 2015, but it is not viewed as a long-term solution.

Las Vegas also wants to build a separate $15.5 billion pipeline that would pump 27 billion gallons of groundwater a year from an aquifer 260 miles away in rural Nevada.

But a judge has refused permission after environmentalists sued on the basis that it would adversely affect 5,500 acres of meadows, 33 miles of trout streams, and 130,000 acres of habitat used by sage grouse, mule deer, elk and pronghorn, an antelope-like creature that is endangered in the region. The court heard that 25 species of Great Basin springsnails would be pushed toward extinction.

Ultimately, the city and state need to entirely rethink their water situation, but that realization seems slow in coming.

 “It’s a really dumb-headed proposition. It would provide a false sense of security that there’s plenty of water and it would delay the inevitable decisions that have to be taken about water conservation and restricting growth.

“The drought is like a slow spreading cancer across the desert. It’s not like a tornado or a tsunami, bang. The effects are playing out over decades. And as the water situation becomes more dire we are going to start having to talk about the removal of people (from Las Vegas).”

But, perhaps, this isn’t the outside-the-box thinking that is needed.

One proposal is for landlocked Nevada to pay billions of dollars to build solar-powered desalination plants in the Pacific off Mexico, taking Mexico’s share of Colorado River water in exchange.

“The Colorado is essentially a dying river. Ultimately, Las Vegas and our civilisation in the American South West is going to disappear, like the Indians did before us.”


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The New Chinese Water Torture

China has 19% of the world’s population but only 7% of the water and lot of attention is being paid to the negative consequences of environmental pollution in the country. Due to the lack of water resources and the polluted state of many of those resources, a crisis is brewing of equally dangerous consequences for people’s health and for the country’s development: water scarcity.

The National Intelligence Council (NIC) report Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds states with regard to China, “climate change, urbanization trends and middle class lifestyles will create huge water demand and crop shortages by 2030.” Aside from its economic and public health costs, water scarcity also endangers economic growth and social stability.

Lack of water in China is compounded by the high levels of water pollution. The Ministry of Water Resources stated in 2012 that up to 40 percent of China’s rivers were seriously polluted after 75 billion tons of sewage and waste water were discharged into them. In addition, about two-thirds of Chinese cities are “water needy” and that nearly 300 million rural residents lack access to safe drinking water.

This is a paradoxical situation since China is one of the most water-rich countries in the world. However, its water resources are unevenly distributed since they are overwhelmingly concentrated in the south part of the country while the northern regions are prone to lack of water, a situation which is reaching crisis levels.

The Ministry of Water Resources announced in 2012 the results of a survey of the country’s waterways which revealed that 28,000 rivers had disappeared over the past 20 years, raising serious fears among environmentalists and government officials.

Chinas Thirst for Water


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10 Shocking Facts about the World’s Water

The Pacific Institute works to create a healthier planet and sustainable communities by finding real-world solutions to problems like water shortages, habitat destruction, global warming, and environmental injustice. The recently compiled a list of 10 shocking facts about the world’s water, which we reproduce here.

1.  3.4 million people—mainly children— die as a result of preventable water-related diseases every year.

2.  1.2 billion people—nearly 20 percent of the world’s population—live in areas of physical water scarcity. What does that mean? Water withdrawals for agriculture, industry, and domestic purposes exceed 75 percent of river flows.

3.  In developing countries, an estimated 90 percent of sewage and 70 percent of industrial waste is discharged into waterways without any treatment at all.

4.  Energy is a major user of water. In the US, thermoelectric power plants account for nearly 50% of all freshwater withdrawals.

5.  There have been 265 recorded incidences of water conflicts from 3000 BC to 2012. The past several years have seen an increase in the total number of reports of violent conflict over water.

6.  The last time the United States did an assessment of the water resources at the federal level was in the 1970s.

7.  It takes more than twice the amount of water to produce coffee than it does tea. Chicken and goat are the least water intensive meats to consume. More about how much water your diet consumes here.

8.    The amount of coal produced worldwide in 2009 required an estimated 1.3 to 4.5 billion cubic meters (m3) of water for extraction and processing. Global production of natural gas in 2009 required an estimated 840 million m3 of water.

9.    Because groundwater levels have dropped as much as 14 meters in the past half century in China, some sections of the Great Wall have been buried by sand. It’s estimated that some of the Great Wall will be gone in 10-20 years if action if not taken.

10.    Nearly 12 percent of Native Americans on reservations and 30 percent of Alaska Natives lack plumbing.


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Peak Water

Ensia is a magazine showcasing environmental solutions in action. Powered by the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, they connect people with ideas, information and inspiration they can use to change the world. They also create some fascinating infographics that challenge those that are cynical with regard to the global environmental issues we must join together to deal with.

There has been much discussion, debate, and demagoguery around the notion of “peak oil” over the past several decades. As the infographic below illustrates, we have another “peak” that is coming fast at us that would have far more serious ramifications were it to become manifest.

The overwhelming majority of global fresh water is locked up as ice or permanent snow cover, making it inaccessible and severely limiting our readily available supply. The average American uses 65 to 78 gallons of water per day, while the average person in the Republic of Gambia, Africa, uses just 1.17 gallons, barely above the minimum amount needed to survive.

Not only do we consume a lot of water per day, we also use huge amounts of “virtual water.” Virtual water is defined as water we consume indirectly from goods we use, food we eat, etc.

peak water


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Water Stress vs. Water Scarcity

Hydrologists typically assess scarcity by looking at the population-water equation. An area is experiencing water stress when annual water supplies drop below 1,700 m3 per person. When annual water supplies drop below 1,000 m3 per person, the population faces water scarcity, and below 500 cubic meters “absolute scarcity”.

Global Water Scarcity

Water scarcity is defined as the point at which the aggregate impact of all users impinges on the supply or quality of water under prevailing institutional arrangements to the extent that the demand by all sectors, including the environment, cannot be satisfied fully. Water scarcity is a relative concept and can occur at any level of supply or demand. Scarcity may be a social construct (a product of affluence, expectations and customary behavior) or the consequence of altered supply patterns – stemming from climate change for example.


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Maybe Don’t Go to Luckenbach Texas – Because it’s Really Dry There

Most of Texas is suffering through several years of significant, if not severe, drought.  While the northwest of the state historically has been the driest, the popular area know as the Hill Country has always been dry as well and is seeing some extreme conditions as reported recently by Houston TV station KHOU recently:

Joe Mooneyham no longer grows any flowers or plants in his backyard. Instead, the Pebble Beach resident in Bandera County is nursing a quiet optimism that it will all come back.

“I haven’t watered since September of last year,” Mooneyham said. “Everything was just emerald green.”

He misses the greenery, the deer and the water.

Medina Lake, which used to send gentle waves lapping at his backyard dock, has receded more than a mile and a quarter away.

“Every day I go on and check the level,” Mooneyham said.

Pebble Beach is a community whose name is borne out in the field of small stones that were once covered by several feet of lake water. It’s also a community reporting less than a three-month supply of water for its residents.

Neighbors a few miles down the road are having water brought in by the truckload, or face spending tens of thousands of dollars to dig for it.

“The well-service people have been lowering pumps. Some have had to have new wells drilled. It’s just a fact of nature,” said Bandera County Judge Richard Evans.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality keeps tabs on those places where the water is scarce enough to draw concern.

Pebble Beach is on the list, and so are 33-others which could be out of water within three months.

A dozen municipalities are reporting they could go dry in 45 days or less

And as San Antonio and other large water-users grow in population — and go shopping for more water resources — they’re dealing with smaller communities which are becoming more protective of their water rights.

Experts say this is the trend, even should the skies do open up.

Medina Lake