Waterless World

A Global Water Crisis Forum


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Balls!

It’s not like we haven’t reported on innovative, strange and extreme ways that drought-plagued people, communities and enterprises find to manage their water resources.  This is not the first time we have heard about this method of limiting evaporation from reservoirs, but this time we have video.  From onEarth, the magazine of the Natural Resources Defense Council:

As the drought rages on in California, things have been getting weird. Now the latest effort to protect L.A.’s water supply has just turned the city’s reservoir into a giant black-ball pit.

The 96 million plastic “shade balls” floating on the reservoir’s surface will help keep the water from evaporating, protect it from contamination by birds and other wildlife, and prevent sunlight from promoting algal growth. The balls are designed to last for about 10 years without degrading (at which point they’ll be recycled) or releasing anything harmful into the water themselves—Ed Osann, a senior policy analyst with NRDC (disclosuretells Bloomberg, “Everything that comes into contact with drinking water has to be a certified material,” meaning it shouldn’t cause pollution problems. 

ABC 7 reports that the move is millions of dollars cheaper than the alternative (which is installing a cover over the reservoir), and these spheres will save 300 million gallons of water every year. L.A. is on the ball, and other municipalities are catching on, too—watch officials from the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District release shade balls into their reservoir, too.


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Coca Cola Makes It RAIN

Coca Cola has been among the vanguard of corporations that recognized the global challenge of clean water availability.  In 2009, with the support/assistance of some of their “friends”, the company launched RAIN: The Replenish Africa Initiative.  Access to clean water is a challenge across the developing world but is, perhaps, no more critical than in Africa.

The lack of safe drinking water in Africa is no secret. Every year, preventable waterborne illnesses claim the lives of millions of Africans. No single organization can resolve the continent’s water crisis, but business, civil society, NGOs and government can work together to develop sustainable solutions.

The Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN) aims to improve access to clean water for 2 million people in Africa by 2015. RAIN is backed by a six-year, $30 million dollar commitment by The Coca-Cola Company and made possible through the support of more than 140 partners who provide development expertise and additional resources required to implement the projects sustainably.

The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation’s flagship program is making a positive difference in 35 of 55 of African countries by promoting happy and healthy lives. In these countries, we are building sustainable communities, catalyzing investment in clean water access, improving water and sanitation access for school children, replenishing more than 2 billion liters of water annually back to communities and nature, and empowering women through clean water access and entrepreneurship. 

Since its launch in 2009, RAIN has reached more than 1 million people with sustainable clean water access. The program’s objectives focus on making a strong, lasting community impact while supporting Coca Cola’s water stewardship goals and helping Africa meet the UN Millennium Development Goal on water and sanitation.

RAIN projects are tailored to address the specific water issues in target communities by focusing on the following areas:

  • Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH): RAIN improves access to water and sanitation and promotes improved hygiene behaviors for positive impacts on health and development. Approximately 80 percent of RAIN projects have WASH components.
  • Watershed Protection: RAIN establishes or enhances sustainable water management practices, improving environmental stewardship and community health.
  • Productive Use of Water: RAIN promotes efficient and sustainable use of water for economic development.


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It’s Time to Focus on “Local Water”

Beyond the need to invest significant capital in municipal water infrastructure improvement projects, towns both big and small can contribute to their water well-being by embracing the concept of local water outlined by Brian Young, Sustainable Infrastructure product manager at Autodesk,  in this recent article featured in the Economist Intelligence Unit.

In a world increasingly dry or flooded – depending on the circumstances –, city leaders and infrastructure experts are quick to advocate mega-projects to tap, convey or treat our most precious of natural resources: water.

California spends 5% of its electricity just conveying and treating water, and is in the midst of building a US$1bn desalination plant. China’s South-North Water Diversion Project plans to reroute enough water each year to submerge the United Kingdom 18 cm deep, over a distance between London and Barcelona.

Yet these Herculean efforts – both in terms of cost and engineering – fail to acknowledge a basic efficiency principle: use water where it falls. “Local water”, which exists even in arid regions, provides more benefit than adding new mega-projects, in three major ways:

Financially: Desalinating water can cost twice as much as recycling and four times as much as conservation. Furthermore, desalination plants become stranded assets once the rains return.

In contrast, local sources of water – the under-tapped streams of stormwater, wastewater, leaks, and conservation – can shrink the supply and demand gap at a fraction of the cost of desalination. In fact, a study last year found that simple conservation, reuse, and stormwater capture could save as much water every year as all of California’s cities require annually.

The city of Philadelphia is using code to convert stormwater into a resource, requiring developers to install green infrastructure like rain gardens and cisterns to capture rainfall that once drained away. Melbourne uses leak detection and metering technologies to reduce their water losses, which in some cities reach 40%. Parts of Virginia and California opted to recycle wastewater for use in irrigation and cooling, rather than create more water demand. These local alternatives enable cities to find more water without placing all their chips on one big bet that may become a very expensive matter.

Environmentally: Capturing rainfall, reusing wastewater and plugging leaks reintroduces lost water back into the system, offsetting the need to draw water from fragile ecosystems or convey it from other regions. And recycling it requires less than half the energy of desalinating saltwater.

Capturing and reusing water also keeps runoff and sewage overflows from contaminating nearby rivers and oceans, one of the leading causes of surface water pollution, while also acting as air and heat “filters”. Even in a place as arid as Arizona, a government study recently found that “green infrastructure” to capture and retain stormwater would generate a significant return on investment by reducing heat stress mortality and air pollution.

Socially: The “buy local” food movement (food production and distribution that is geographically localised, rather than national or international) educates shoppers as to where their food comes from, leading them to value it more. Governments and water utilities have done a good job of making water infrastructure invisible (i.e. below ground or behind walls), so much so that consumers don’t use water wisely, nor do they see the need to pay for infrastructure upgrades.

This wasteful type of behaviour is starkly different from communities that rely upon wells or stormwater, where water is considered precious. Local and visible solutions around rainwater capture, water recycling and conservation will help consumers appreciate the value of water more, and create a virtuous circle in their willingness to pay to protect it.

Cities aiming to solve their water scarcity problems should begin their search within their own municipal boundaries. With today’s technologies, water that was once lost to leaks, discharges, and wasteful use can now be found. And unlike the freshwater sources from afar, this rediscovered “local” water carries lasting financial, environmental, and social benefit.


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Nestlé Sells You Back Your Water at a Profit

In a fight that we are bound to see repeated in myriad ways the world over, a movement in Sacramento, California is tilting at the global corporate windmill by challenging Nestle’s right to take public water and resell it as bottled water at prices higher than gasoline. From Mint Press News:

The city of Sacramento is in the fourth year of a record drought – yet the Nestlé Corporation continues to bottle city water to sell back to the public at a big profit, local activists charge.

The Nestlé Water Bottling Plant in Sacramento is the target of a major press conference on Tuesday, March 17, by a water coalition that claims the company is draining up to 80 million gallons of water a year from Sacramento aquifers during the drought.

The coalition, the crunchnestle alliance, says that City Hall has made this use of the water supply possible through a “corporate welfare giveaway,” according to a press advisory.

“The coalition is protesting Nestlé’s virtually unlimited use of water – up to 80 million gallons a year drawn from local aquifers – while Sacramentans (like other Californians) who use a mere 7 to 10 percent of total water used in the State of California, have had severe restrictions and limitations forced upon them,” according to the coalition.

“Nestlé pays only 65 cents for each 470 gallons it pumps out of the ground – the same rate as an average residential water user. But the company can turn the area’s water around, and sell it back to Sacramento at mammoth profits,” the coalition said.

Activists say that Sacramento officials have refused attempts to obtain details of Nestlé’s water used. Coalition members have addressed the Sacramento City Council and requested that Nestle’ either pay a commercial rate under a two tier level, or pay a tax on their profit.

In October, the coalition released a “White Paper” highlighting predatory water profiteering actions taken by Nestle’ Water Bottling Company in various cities, counties, states and countries.  Most of those great “deals” yielded mega profits for Nestle’ at the expense of citizens and taxpayers.  Additionally, the environmental impact on many of those areas yielded disastrous results.