Waterless World

A Global Water Crisis Forum

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When the Rain Doesn’t Fall on the Plain, You Do This

India Drought

Several years of weak monsoon seasons has left India in the midst of an extraordinary drought, requiring extraordinary measures.  In this case, diverting water from rivers across the country to areas hardest hit by the lack of water.  From the BBC:

India is set to divert water from its rivers to deal with a severe drought, a senior minister has told the BBC.

Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti said transferring water, including from major rivers like the Brahmaputra and the Ganges, to drought-prone areas is now her government’s top priority. 

At least 330 million people are affected by drought in India.

The drought is taking place as a heat wave extends across much of India, with temperatures in excess of 40C.

The Inter Linking of Rivers (ILR) has 30 links planned for water-transfer, 14 of them fed by Himalayan glaciers in the north of the country and 16 in peninsular India.

Environmentalists have opposed the project, arguing it will invite ecological disaster but the Supreme Court has ordered its implementation. 

“Interlinking of rivers is our prime agenda and we have got the people’s support and I am determined to do it on the fast track,” Ms Bharti said.

“We are going ahead with five links [of the rivers] now and the first one, the Ken-Betwa link [in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh] is going to start any time now.

“And then we will have the Damnaganga-Pinjal interlink which will sort out the Mumbai drinking water facility.” 

Ms Bharti said the river-linking project would be the first in Indian history since independence in 1947.

There were also other projects aimed at supplying water for irrigation and drinking in the next few years and the ILR was a long-term scheme, she added.

Following two consecutive bad monsoons, India is facing one of its worst droughts.

Of its 29 states, nearly half were reported to have suffered from severe water crisis this dry season. The worst hit have been Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, among others.

The federal government in Delhi has had to send trains carrying water to the worst affected places.

India has faced a water crisis for years. Its ground waters have depleted to alarming levels, mainly because of unsustainable extraction for agriculture and industries.

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Coming to a Theater Near You

There are a number of societal signals that let us know when a trend, an issue, or a threat has migrated from the fringe to the center of a collective consciousness.  Having Hollywood take notice and transform the meme into meaningful motion pictures is one such signal.  From USA Today:

The global drought that threatens food and water supplies for billions is spreading into the sci-fi future depicted in mainstream films as well.

The Antonio Banderas-led Autómata (in theaters and on VOD on Friday) is set in a 2044 future nearly devoid of water, and Jake Paltrow’s Young Ones(Oct. 17) has a similarly bleak outlook in an unspecified future.

Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar (Nov. 7) has already tipped its hand in trailers showing a dust-covered world, part of the overall picture of an exhausted, uninhabitable planet. Robert Pattinson and Guy Pearce roamed a barren landscape for a stolen car in the futuristic The Rover (just out on Blu-ray/DVD). And Mad Max: Fury Road (May, 2015) takes place in a similarly bleak landscape.

A lack of water is on filmmakers’ brains for good reason.

“Water is one of the important themes now for human beings. As a result, it’s one of the very important themes of science fiction,” says Automata director Gabe Ibáñez. “People are very worried about the water situation. It affects all people. And we know this is going to be a problem in the next century, so of course it’s going to play out in movies.”

Jessica Yu, director of the 2012 documentary Last Call at the Oasis, says documentary makers may feel pressure to not go “too far” in warning about the world’s precarious water supply. The picture can be too alarming for the audience.

But when it’s science fiction, the unforgiving landscape of the future instantly taps into human fears and is a powerful storytelling device.

“It’s something that has dramatic impact because of its roots in reality. We don’t need to invent alien invaders to destroy the Earth,” says Yu. “Environmental disaster as part of the apocalyptic future definitely holds sway with audiences.”

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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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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