Waterless World

A Global Water Crisis Forum

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The Drought in China Falls Mainly on the (Manchurian) Plain

Not enough that a key North American agricultural region (Imperial Valley) is threatened by the continuing drought in the West. China, with three times the population, is suffering a historic drought in crucial agricultural regions as well.

From Marketwatch:

China’s worst drought in half a century is sweeping across crucial agricultural regions, devastating harvests in its wake and threatening food security.

Part of the area hit by unusually dry weather — the northeastern Manchurian Plain — is known as China’s bread-basket, supplying much of the country’s corn, wheat and soybean production.

In a portion of the plain, in Jilin province, 10 major grain producing counties are facing the lowest rainfall since 1951, and many corn fields are facing “zero harvest,” according to report by the state-run Xinhua New Agency, citing Jilin’s provincial weather bureau.

Next door in Liaoning province, there has been no rain at all since late July.

And with Jilin government meteorologist Yang Xueyan warning that the situation will likely getworse in the near future, concern over the drought has sent local corn futures rising more than 4% in less than two week, First Financial Daily reported Friday.

But the crisis isn’t confined to the Manchurian Plain alone — according to state broadcaster CCTV, the drought is impacting more than one-third of China.

This includes the central Chinese province of Henan, another agriculturally important area, which has seen the weakest flood season in 53 years, leaving some rural communities with no viable drinking water, let alone water needed for irrigation, for as long as three months, CCTV said.

In what may be a sign of things to come, the state-owned SDIC Zhonggu Futures brokerage is predicting a 40-million-ton corn deficit this summer.

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Groundwater Loss Adds to Pain in Western U.S.

Beyond shrinking lakes, reservoirs, and rivers, the western U.S. is experiencing a rapid and significant depletion in its groundwater resource.  According to a recent story at Common Dreams, NASA satellites are showing that the groundwater supply is at greater risk than previously thought.

The drought-stricken Colorado River Basin has experienced rapid and significant groundwater depletion since late 2004, posing a greater threat to the water supply of the western United States than previously thought, according to a new study by NASA and University of California, Irvine.

The research team used data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite mission to track changes in the mass of the Colorado River Basin, which is the water source for more than 30 million people and 4 million acres of farmland. The satellites showed the basin lost nearly 53 million acre feet (about 17 trillion gallons) of freshwater between 2004-2013 — almost double the volume of the nation’s largest reservoir, Nevada’s Lake Mead, which itself recently fell to its lowest level since the 1930s. More than three-quarters of the total water loss in the Colorado River Basin was from groundwater. The basin has been experiencing the driest 14-year period in the last 100 years.

“We don’t know exactly how much groundwater we have left, so we don’t know when we’re going to run out,” said Stephanie Castle, a water resources specialist at the UC-Irvine and lead author of the study. “This is a lot of water to lose. We thought that the picture could be pretty bad, but this was shocking.”

Because pumping from underground aquifers is regulated by individual states and is often not well documented, it is difficult to quantify how groundwater reserves are affected by drought. But the NASA/Irvine study, which measured gravitational attraction as a way to assess rising and falling water levels, reveals that a crucial water source for seven basin states and Mexico has been compromised. The study also indicates that declines in the snowpack that feeds the river and population growth could further compound the problem.

“The Colorado River Basin is the water lifeline of the western United States,” said senior author Jay Famiglietti. “With Lake Mead at its lowest level ever, we wanted to explore whether the basin, like most other regions around the world, was relying on groundwater to make up for the limited surface-water supply. We found a surprisingly high and long-term reliance on groundwater to bridge the gap between supply and demand.”

Last year, the Pacific Institute found that about 70 percent of the Colorado River Basin water supply goes toward irrigated agriculture.

In a blog for Science, Eric Hand writes:

The groundwater losses, which take thousands of years to be recharged naturally, point to the unsustainability of exploding population centers and water-intensive agriculture in the basin, which includes most of Arizona and parts of Colorado, California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, and Wyoming.

To that end, several Western states are implementing or considering groundwater management plans. And earlier this month, the Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates joined with American Rivers in releasing a new report that identified municipal conservation, grey water treatment and reuse, and irrigation efficiency as ways to mitigate “Western water shortages stemming from the over-taxed and stressed Colorado River.”

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The Rain in Spain, Apparently, Doesn’t Fall on the Plain At All

From The Olive Press

The worst drought in 150 years is threatening eastern and southern Spain. Huge storms have been buffeting the Atlantic coast, but the last eight months have been brutally dry inland, ruining harvests and putting farmers out of business.

Valencia and Alicante are among the worst hit areas, where rainfall has been down to just 25% of average levels, according to meteorological agency Aemet.

Ana Casals, a spokesperson for Aemet, said that rainfall has not been this low since records began 150 years ago.

TV meteorologist Jose Antonio Maldonado added: “We have never seen such a long and intense drought. Even during the second worst period of drought on record, there was twice as much rain as there is now.”

The average capacity of reservoirs in Andalucia is between 74 and 90%, but current levels are significantly lower – in Juzcar, in Malaga, it was down to just 54%.

Other areas badly affected include Murcia, Albacete, Cuenca, Teruel, Jaen, Almeria, Cadiz and Malaga.

But the future of Spain’s rainfall could be even worse. According to a study by the Spanish National Research Centre, the country’s droughts are more intense and more regular than ever before.

The real world implications of the extreme drought is that the olive crop could be severely impacted in the world biggest producer of olive oil.

From Marketwatch

A drought in the world’s number one producer of olive oil has prompted fears of widespread shortages that could send the market spiraling upward.

This year’s crop from some Spanish farms could be down 40% from 2013, according to oilseeds forecasting agency Oil World. Very dry weather in the key olive-producing region of Andalusia in May and June ravaged the olive trees during their flowering period, when they need moisture for the fruit to ripen correctly.

“The drought in Spain and its impact on the olive market is potentially very significant,” said Lamine Lahouasnia, head of packaged food at Euromonitor International. “If the drought does end up adversely affecting Spanish yields, it is very likely that we’ll see rising consumer prices in 2014.”

The drought has raised memories of 2012, when a heat wave wiped out 80% of the Spanish crop and pushed up the price of olives at the farm gate level by as much as 30%. That led the price of olive oil in shops in Spain to rise by as much as 13% in the last quarter of 2012, according to data from the Andalusia government. In the U.S. the price of olive oil imported from Europe rose 8% between October and December 2012, according to U.S. customs data.

It is unclear how the drought might feed through to the price of olive oil on store shelves. Spain-based retailing giant Deoleo–which sells brands including Bertolli–says supermarkets will be able to absorb higher prices this year. David Turner, global food and drink analyst at consumer research firm Mintel, said retail prices in the U.S. and U.K. could rise by around 3% to 5% by early next year.

More frequent extreme weather shocks such as drought are making life harder for farmers, who are seeing their earnings swing sharply from year to year, according to Vito Martielli, senior grains and oilseeds analyst at Rabobank B.A. Even if higher prices mean farmers get more money per pound of olives, lower output of the fruit means they’re ultimately worse off.

Spain is the world’s largest producer of olives, accounting for 50% of total global output followed by Italy at 15%, Greece 13% and Turkey 5%, IOC data show. Harvests in other major producers are expected to come in at average levels this year, but they’re unlikely to be able to fill in for the Spanish shortages as dismal harvests in previous years mean stockpiles are low.


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Craft Beer Feels the Heat

A recent LA Times article has highlighted an impact of the severe drought that hits home to many who enjoy the output from the burgeoning craft beer industry in California.

When Lagunitas Brewing Co. fills its beer bottles, Northern California’s Russian River provides the main ingredient. Lagunitas has become one of the fastest-growing stars of California’s booming craft beer scene. But the Russian River is shrinking after three years of punishing drought.

“We are at the maximum growth threshold here in California because of water,” said Leon Sharyon, chief financial officer for Lagunitas, which uses nearly 2 million gallons of river water a year at its Petaluma brewery.

Breweries run through an average of four to seven gallons of water to end up with one gallon of beer. With California in the midst of a water crisis, breweries are scrambling.

California is home to more than 400 craft brewers — the most in the country. They sold $4.7 billion worth of beer in 2012, about 17% of the state’s total beer sales, according to the most recent statistics from the California Craft Brewers Assn.

Small brewers worry that they could have trouble meeting thriving demand with limited water. Prices could go up, they warn, if they have to spend for conservation measures or scrounge up new supplies.

“If this drought continues for two, three more years, that could greatly impact the production and growth of our breweries,” said Tom McCormick, the association’s executive director.

Lagunitas, for instance, just opened a major brewhouse in Chicago, where Lake Michigan stands ready to supply its water needs. The company is shifting some production there, Sharyon said, adding: “Our next plant will probably be out of state and next to a stable water supply.”

The drought could have an outsized effect on craft brewers because small operators on average use twice as much water per barrel of beer than do large, traditional breweries.

“Most won’t say it,” he explained, “but water is a major reason craft beer behemoths such as Sierra Nevada and New Belgium opened plants in Asheville,” on the western edge of North Carolina. “It’s no coincidence that big brewers are congregating around the Smoky Mountains’ substantial water supply.”

Beer maker Evan Weinberg, cofounder of Cismontane Brewing Co. in Rancho Santa Margarita, said that if the state doesn’t get “a big influx of water soon,” he and other microbrewers are going to have “some serious issues.”

“Small brewers waste more water than the big guys because our equipment is less efficient,” Weinberg said.

The microbrewer produces 3,000 barrels of beer a year and gets its water delivered by the Santa Margarita Water District from Northern California sources and the Colorado River. The district enacted a voluntary 20% water reduction, but Weinberg is anxious that the district might make that mandatory.

Like Lagunitas, Cloverdale’s Bear Republic gets its water from the Russian River, but strict regulations in its water district forced it to limit production, said Master Brewer Peter Kruger.

“We have a water cap of 8 million gallons a year, and that’s really affected our growth,” Kruger said.

Bear Republic is installing a waste water-filtration system and helped bankroll the construction of two wells. Plans to grow 35% this year were cut to 15%. Kruger said there are discussions about opening a brewery elsewhere with a “more stable water supply,” but that could alter the taste.

“Our river’s mineral content creates really excellent beer, and we are afraid of losing that,” Kruger said. “We are praying it rains next winter.”

In the past two years, Lagunitas cut water use 10%, Sharyon said.

Recently, Lagunitas has had to blend in some well water, and executives are concerned that water officials might require the brewer to switch completely. Well water is heavy with minerals that could change the color and taste of some products, Sharyon said.

“Grainy and hoppy styles could taste more astringent,” he said. Lagunitas invested in a new filtration system, which might eliminate odd groundwater tastes, he said.

Some of the smallest brewers can’t afford such expensive changes, said Kruger of Bear Republic.

“We took water for granted before this,” Kruger said, “and we have learned a valuable lesson.”

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Desperate Times, Desperate Measures

After having already attempted to make it rain with cloud-seeding and, failing there, gaining approval to recycle waste water into drinking water, Wichita Falls Texas has entered a new realm in innovative methods for dealing with the persistent drought in northwest Texas.

To slow the pace of evaporation at Lake Arrowhead, the primary water resource used by the city, a biodegradable palm oil-and-lime-based product is being added to the surface of the lack to, in effect, put a lid on the lake.  The current rate of evaporation is running at 40 million gallons a day and the process is expected to reduce that by at least 10%.

It is yet another effort by the city, which provides water to 150,000 people just south of the Oklahoma border, to address the current drought.  Wichita Falls is more than 40 inches behind on rainfall over the past 46 months, in an area that doesn’t get much precipitation annually, and hasn’t begun to recover from the severe drought of 2011.  Beyond the cloud-seeding and waster water reuse, the city has also banded all outside watering.

The 75-day pilot project is costing the city #375,000 and the “lid” must be redone every three days.

Lake Arrowhead covers 17,000 acres when full but now covers only 6,000 acres and is 22% full.


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Exploding Pipes in the City of Angels

The infrastructure of the U.S. has been in severe need of investment for more than 30 years and the estimated cost of finally doing something about it continues to grow. American cities have a huge challenge directly ahead of them to continue to reliably deliver clean water to their constituents. This story from Bloomberg on Los Angeles is but one example.

Los Angeles is showing its age, and city officials don’t have plans for financing the facelift.

From buckling sidewalks to potholed thoroughfares to storm drains that can’t handle a little rain, the infrastructure that holds the second-largest U.S. city together is suffering from years of deferred maintenance. Bringing pipes that deliver water to 3.9 million people up to snuff could cost $4 billion — more than half the city’s annual operating budget. The bill for repaving streets will be almost that much, according to estimates from a city consultant, and patching or replacing cracked sidewalks will require $640 million.

“We’re in trouble,” said Jack Humphreville, the budget advocate for L.A.’s advisory neighborhood councils. His estimate, based on figures provided by the city, is that getting public works into good shape will take $10 billion to $15 billion. “This is no different from debt.”

A 30-foot geyser that spewed some 20 million gallons of water from a ruptured trunk line under Sunset Boulevard on July 29 brought renewed attention to the decay. The council called on the Department of Water and Power to scrutinize pipelines and other parts of the system, but didn’t discuss ways of finding money to fix what might be broken.

The riveted-steel line that burst under Sunset is 90 years old. To replace every line by the time it hits 100 — as many engineers recommend — would require a 4 percent boost in water rates every year, according to City Councilman Paul Koretz.

Many cities and states are in the same rusty boat, having put off investing in bridges, wastewater systems, dams and other public works that need regular maintenance and upgrades. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates the country would have to spend $3.6 trillion to get the nation’s infrastructure in decent working order by 2020.

The systems that treat and distribute drinking water in the U.S. need $384 billion in upgrades over the next 20 years, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, while the National Association of Water Companies says the bill for California is $74 billion.

New York City has 6,800 miles of water mains and is spending about $716 million on capital improvements this year, while L.A. has 7,225 miles and spends $766 million annually, according to statistics from the two cities.

About 240 miles of L.A.’s pipes are more than a century old. The utility replaces only about 18 miles of pipe per year rather than the 34 miles officials called for in 2012.

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20 Signs That the Drought in the U.S. West is Becoming Epic

With a tip of the hat to Michael Snyder, at the Economic Collapse Blog, here are the 20 signs that the epic drought in the western half of the United States is starting to become something more than a very bad stretch of dry weather.

  1. According to the Los Angeles Times, downtown Los Angeles is now the driest that it has been since records began being kept all the way back in 1877.
  2. The California State Water Resources Control Board says that nearly 50 communities are already on the verge of running out of water.
  3. In a desperate attempt to conserve water, the state of California is considering banning watering lawns and washing cars.  Once implemented, violators will be slapped with a $500 fine for each offense.
  4. It has been reported that a new social media phenomenon known as “drought shaming” has begun in California.  People are taking videos and photos of their neighbors wasting water and posting them to Facebook and Twitter.
  5. Climate scientist Tim Barnett says that the water situation in Las Vegas “is as bad as you can imagine“, and he believes that unless the city “can find a way to get more water from somewhere” it will soon be “out of business”.
  6. The water level in Lake Mead has now fallen to the lowest level since 1937, and it continues to drop at a frightening pace.  You can see some incredible photos of what has happened to Lake Mead right here.
  7. Rob Mrowka of the Center for Biological Diversity believes that the city of Las Vegas is going to be forced to downsize because of the lack of water…

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).

  1. In some areas of southern Nevada, officials are actually paying people to remove their lawns in a desperate attempt to conserve water.
  2. According to Accuweather, “more than a decade of drought” along the Colorado River has set up an “impending Southwest water shortage” which could ultimately affect tens of millions of people.
  3. Most people don’t realize this, but the once mighty Colorado River has become so depleted that it no longer runs all the way to the ocean.
  4. Lake Powell is less than half full at this point.
  5. It is being projected that the current drought in California will end up costing the state more than 2 billion dollars this year alone.
  6. Farmers in California are allowing nearly half a million acres to lie fallow this year due to the extreme lack of water.
  7. The lack of produce coming from the state of California will ultimately affect food prices in the entire nation.  Just consider the following statistics from a recent Business Insider article..

    California is one of the U.S.’s biggest food producers — responsible for almost half the country’s produce and nuts and 25% of our milk and cream. Eighty percent of the world’s almonds come from the state, and they take an extraordinary amount of water to produce — 1.1 gallons per almond

  8. As underground aquifers are being relentlessly drained in California, some areas of the San Joaquin Valley are sinking by 11 inches a year
  9. It is being projected that the Kansas wheat harvest will be the worst that we have seen since 1989.
  10. The extended drought has created ideal conditions for massive dust storms to form.  You can see video of one female reporter bravely reporting from the middle of a massive dust storm in Phoenix right here.
  11. Things are so dry in California right now that people are actually starting to steal water.  For example, one Mendocino County couple recently had 3,000 gallons of water stolen from them.  It was the second time this year that they had been hit.
  12. At the moment, close to 80 percent of the state of California is experiencing either “extreme” or “exceptional” drought.
  13. National Weather Service meteorologist Eric Boldt says that this is “the worst drought we probably have seen in our lifetime“.