Waterless World

A Global Water Crisis Forum


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Global Drought Update – April 2015

While we post much on the domestic U.S. drought conditions, there are dozens of locations globally that are experiencing significant or severe instances of water crisis.  This is an update for April 2015, care of UNICEF.

Country-by-country overview

Ethiopia: An estimated 8 million of Ethiopia’s 60 million people are at immediate risk due to drought. UNICEF estimates that 1.4 million of those at risk are children under five.

Eritrea: Successive years of drought, combined with the border war with Ethiopia, has created major food shortages. Nearly 1.3 million people are at risk, including an estimated 1 million who have been displaced by the war.

Somalia: Due to seven consecutive poor harvests coupled with chronic insecurity in some regions, food stability is deteriorating, affecting as many as one million people, including 300,000 children aged under 5 years. The drought has been made worse by sudden torrential rains and flash flooding. Sudan: An estimated 2.8 million people in the south face food insecurity in the coming months.

Uganda: About 550,000 people face food insecurity.

Afghanistan: Large parts of the south are severely affected, where 60 to 80 percent of livestock have died. Almost 2.5 million people, or 10 percent of the population, are at risk and many of them will need assistance for at least the next 12 months.

China: In the northern Shanxi province, nearly 3 million people don’t have enough water. About one-third of the province’s wheat crop has been hit by the drought and more than 60 percent of its soil lacks water.

India: The government has mobilized massive relief efforts in several regions. Madhya Pradesh, along with the western states of Rajasthan and Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh in the south, are in the grip of a severe drought following the failure of last year’s monsoon rains. Nearly 130 million people living in 12 States have been seriously affected by what some officials call the worst drought in 100 years.

Iran: The government has informed the United Nations office in Tehran that it is ready to accept international aid to help meet losses estimated at $1.7 billion from the drought. Iran needs about $200 million to provide water tankers and water purifying units for drought-hit areas.

Morocco: The government has launched a $633 million contingency plan to combat the worst drought for a decade. About 70 percent of the country’s arable land has been affected.

Pakistan: Government officials estimate that nearly 3 million people – mostly villagers – face possible starvation. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled Pakistan’s southern Thar desert. The drought has devastated crops and livestock in the desert, home to 1 million people, sparking fears of a massive humanitarian crisis.


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California Drinks to It: Toilet-to-Tap Becomes a “Thing”

We have posted about “toilet-to-tap”  initiatives in several cities in Texas in the past.  Now, California, is expanding their embrace of the technology.  From CNBC:

As the California drought worsens, some communities such as Orange County, San Diego and the Silicon Valley are expanding water recycling programs, and support for “toilet to tap” programs appears to be growing from a once-squeamish public.

 The Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center, located in San Jose, began operations last year and produces up to 8 million gallons per day of purified water from wastewater. The facility was built at a cost of $72 million in a partnership between the Santa Clara Valley Water District (SCVWD) and the city of San Jose. The facility treats wastewater that would otherwise go into the San Francisco Bay for use as reclaimed water in irrigation, construction and industrial uses. They eventually hope to use some of the purified water to refill groundwater sources.

The Santa Clara County facility gets wastewater from the cities of San Jose and Santa Clara, and the goal had been to expand the recycled water to make up at least 10 percent of total county water demand by 2025. But due to the 4-year-old drought, the water agency is pushing its goals further: It’s pursuing plans to expedite that goal by three years—to reach the 10 percent number by 2022—and partnering with other cities in the county to purity their water.

Meanwhile, the Orange County Water District (OCWD) is undergoing an expansion of its own at the water agency’s high-tech Groundwater Replenishment System in Fountain Valley, California. The $481 million plant has been operational since 2008 and currently processes about 70 million gallons of treated sewage wastewater each day into drinking-quality water that goes into groundwater basins for later reuse as potable water. OCWD, which serves more than 2.4 million people, is spending $142 million to increase capacity at the facility to approximately 100 million gallons per day, or enough water for 850,000 residents.

“Recycled water is a huge benefit,” said OCWD General Manager Michael Markus. “We can produce the water for about half the energy it takes to import water from Northern California and about a third of the energy it takes to desalinate sea water.”

Orange County’s plant, for example, can produce recycled water for about $480 an acre-foot—well below the estimated $2,000 per acre-foot a new desalination plant in nearby San Diego County will be paying for new water. Similarly, the recycled water runs about half the roughly $1,000 per acre-foot price of water from the Metropolitan Water District, the giant water wholesaler for Southern California, which on Tuesday announced a 15 percent reduction in the amount of water it will supply to its 26 member agencies.

Purified wastewater could provide enough potable water to supply all municipal needs for more than 8 million people, or roughly one-fifth of California’s projected population for 2020, according to a report released last year and sponsored by the WateReuse Association, an organization supported by water utilities and companies that promote water reuse. The report also pointed out that NASA and the International Space Station already use a technology that produces potable water for six crew members from a combination of condensation and collected urine.

In 2014, two Texas towns launched the nation’s first direct-to-potable reuse water programs. Wichita Falls and Big Spring, about 230 miles apart, treat wastewater with a multistep cleaning process and then send the purified water directly to homes. The last U.S. Drought Monitor data shows 49 percent of Texas suffering from some level of drought.

San Diego is targeting an initial 15 million gallon per day water purification facility to be in operation by 2023—and there’s a longer-term goal of producing up to 83 million gallons of purified water by 2035, or enough to supply one-third of the city’s future drinking water supply. San Diego conducted a four-year demonstration project starting in 2009 and found it could produce water that met all federal and state drinking water standards.


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The Carlsbad Desalination Project

Desalination, like other major industrial processes, has environmental impacts that must be understood and mitigated, particularly the effects on the marine environment associated with the construction and long-term operation of seawater desalination plants, including withdrawing water from the ocean and discharging the highly concentrated brine.  Still, with California mired in a multi-year drought, the creation of desalination facilities continues.

The Carlsbad Desalination Project consists of a 50 million gallon per day (56,000 acre-feet per year (AFY)) seawater desalination plant and the associated 10-mile water delivery pipeline. The project is located at the Encina Power Station in the City of Carlsbad. Desalination has evolved into a desirable water supply alternative by tapping the largest reservoir in the world – the Pacific Ocean. The technology, available for decades, is at work in many arid areas of the world including the Middle East, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. A 30-year Water Purchase Agreement is in place between the San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA) and Poseidon for the entire output of the plant. Construction on the plant and pipeline is under way and the Project will be delivering water to the businesses and resident in San Diego County by late 2015.

carlsbad-desalination-plant


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Lake Mead Has Resumed Shrinking

We have highlighted in the past the frightening reality of Las Vegas’ dependence on water from Lake Mead, not to mention the reliance of much of Arizona and the city of Los Angeles.  As the lake lost volume during the Summer of 2014, alarm bells started going off regarding the epic decline in the elevation of the lake.

While the lake gained approximately 7 feet of elevation from mid-November to  mid-January, that has all been given back as of this week.  For context, the lake went from 1082 feet in elevation to 1089 feet.  A “full pool”, meaning the optimal elevation, is 1220 feet.  The all-time highest elevation was 1226 feet and the all-time lowest was 1080 feet.

So, as we near the beginning of Summer 2015, Lake Mead is only two feet above the all-time low reading.

Bathing may become just one more extravagance for those visiting Vegas.

Lake Mead Water Levels


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California Water’s Untapped Potential

With most of the state suffering through an exceptional level of drought, dismal snowpack data and tugs-of-war among all the needy constituencies, there is some pragmatism floating around.  From a recent story in Mother Jones:

The chart below, part of a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Pacific Institute, sums up some of the options for saving water. California could reduce its water use by 17 to 22 percent with more efficient agricultural water use, including fixes like scheduling irrigation when plants need it and expanding drip and sprinkler irrigation. Urban water use could be reduced by 40 to 60 percent if residents replaced lawns with drought-tolerant plants, fixed water leaks, and replaced old toilets and showerheads with more water-efficient technology. And instead of channeling used water into the ocean, the state could treat it and reuse it—a practice that tends to gross some people out (because of the “drinking pee” factor) but has long been used in Orange County and is becoming more popular as the drought continues.

untapped-savings-infographic


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Experts’ Dismal Views on California Snowpack

CAlifornia Snowpack

Two Stanford experts have been widely quoted on issues related to the ongoing California drought this Spring: Noah Diffenbaugh, an associate professor of Earth system science and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, and Leon Szeptycki, executive director of Stanford’s Water in the West program and a Woods professor of the practice specializing in water law.

Stanford News Service recently interviewed Diffenbaugh and Szeptycki about why California’s snowpack is in decline, and what it means for water management in the state.  Some of their thoughts on the situation does not make happy reading.

Noah Diffenbaugh

This is the kind of extreme event that falls outside our historical experience. This is not only a low April 1 snowpack, but it is muchlower than the previous record low. California’s water infrastructure and management system relies on natural water storage from snowpack, which accumulates during the cool season and melts gradually into reservoirs and streams during the warm season. April 1 is typically the fulcrum between the snow accumulation season and the snowmelt season. Because we have such little snow right now, what is in the reservoirs is essentially what we will have between now and the next rainy season, which typically doesn’t start until the autumn. Even in a normal summer without pre-existing drought conditions, it would be stressful to have essentially no snow supply. But we are already in severe drought conditions with record high temperatures so far this year, meaning this drought is very likely to worsen during the summer.

Leon Szeptycki

In terms of impact on people and the environment, California’s federally operated reservoir system will likely not provide any water to agricultural users for the second year in a row – an unprecedented situation. Urban water providers are expected to get 25 percent of their allocated water. Similarly, the state-operated reservoir system is currently expecting to provide 20 percent of water deliveries to the majority of its users. Snowmelt runoff plays an important role for fish and other aquatic species because it is the primary source of summertime flow for many of our rivers and streams. The lack of snowpack will mean acutely low flows for these streams, and many of them will run dry. The impacts on aquatic life and ecosystems is potentially staggering.


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Salva la goccia (“Save the Drop”) Campaign

The “Salva la goccia” (“Save the drop”) campaign in Italy was created with the goal of turning everyone from a spectator into an actor. Participants take concrete actions and spread a message about water’s relevance as a common good. To participate, contributors took an action that protects or conserves water (such as an eco-recipe), either photographed it or recorded a video demonstrating the action, and posted it on personal Facebook or Twitter profiles (using the hashtag #salvalagoccia). An online counter visible on the website www.immaginiperlaterra.it calculated how many sustainable behaviors were recorded, showing in real time the contributions everyone made to the protection of water resources.

Salva la Goccia

Initiated by Green Cross for the 22 March World Water Day, Save the Drop attracted over 4,000 contributions. This year, the campaign asked contributors to cut back water usage in daily activities and cooking. People did so by choosing foods – such as fruits, vegetables and legumes – with low water footprints, and by creating the beautiful recipes whose photographs have already been posted on various social networks. The whole cast and crew of the movie “Mia figlia si sposa” (My Daughter is Getting Married), now being filmed in Salento, showed their support as well.

Access to safe water and sanitation is an ongoing problem in much of the world and, even though progress has been made, there is a long way to go to solve it. By 2025, two-thirds of the global population could live under conditions of water stress. According to World Health Organization data, more than one in ten of the world’s people, some 748 million human beings, do not have access to sources of drinking water. About 1.8 billion people use contaminated water.