Waterless World

A Global Water Crisis Forum


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That Sinking Feeling

We have discussed the massive groundwater depletion that has occurred in California here and here as the drought has lingered for the past four years.  It should not surprise anyone that one of the very visible impacts of the groundwater pumping is that some areas of the state are, quite literally, sinking.  Groundwater takes a long time to replenish, so even if the drought ended yesterday, the sinking would remain.  From the AP:

Vast areas of California’s Central Valley are sinking faster than in the past as massive amounts of groundwater are pumped during the historic drought, NASA said in new research released Wednesday.

The research shows that in some places the ground is sinking nearly two inches each month, putting infrastructure on the surface at growing risk of damage.

Sinking land has occurred for decades in California because of excessive groundwater pumping during drought conditions, but the new data shows it is happening faster.

Mark Cowin, head of the California Department of Water Resources, said the costly damage has occurred to major canals that deliver water up and down the state. In addition, wells are being depleted, he said.

“Because of increased pumping, groundwater levels are reaching record lows — up to 100 feet lower than previous records,” Cowin said in a statement.

The report said land near the city of Corcoran sank 13 inches in eight months and part of the California Aqueduct sank eight inches in four months last year.

Long-term subsidence has already destroyed thousands of public and private groundwater well casings in the San Joaquin Valley. Over time, subsidence can permanently reduce the underground aquifer’s water storage capacity.

As part of an ongoing effort to respond to the effects of the drought, a task force is working with communities to develop short-term and long-term recommendations to reduce the rate of sinking and address risks to infrastructure.

“Groundwater acts as a savings account to provide supplies during drought, but the NASA report shows the consequences of excessive withdrawals as we head into the fifth year of historic drought,” Cowin said in his statement. “

The Department of Water Resources is also launching a $10 million program to help counties with stressed groundwater basins to develop or strengthen local ordinances and conservation plans.

A record low mountain snowpack has increased pumping of groundwater by farmers and other water users. Scientists used satellite images of the Earth taken over time to measure the sinking land.


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Watching the Water Wasters

It’s not quite “Big Brother” but California continues to promote measures to ensure that water use is managed and that violators are discovered and subjected to a public flogging.  From CBS News:

California is launching a website that lets residents tattle on water wasters, from neighbors with leaky sprinklers to waiters who serve water without asking.

California has multiple restrictions on water use, including banning washing cars with hoses that don’t shut off and restricting lawn-watering within two days of rainfall. But enforcement varies widely across the parched state. 

Residents can send details and photos of water waste at www.savewater.ca.gov. Complaints are then sent to local government agencies based on the address of the offense.

Tipsters wary of being outed as the neighborhood snitch can remain anonymous.

The State Water Resources Control Board Water announced California cut its water use by 27 percent in June, passing the conservation target set by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Data shows 265 out of 411 local water agencies hit or nearly reached their reduction goals.

The site went online Thursday as the latest conservation initiative. More than 300 agencies have signed up to see the details of water waste tips. Many local agencies already had their own reporting sites.

“Our water use complaint calls have gone up exponentially from the last two years,” Terrance Davis of the Sacramento Department of Utilities told CBS affiliate KOVR in July. The city said from January to June, it received more than 8,000 complaints.

“Obviously we can’t see everything, can’t be everywhere so having people in the community helping us out–residents, neighbors–reporting those types of things is a great tool for us too,” Davis said.


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Global Aquifers Depleting At Record Rates

According to a recent study by researchers at NASA and the University of California-Irvine, humans are depleting more than half of the world’s 37 largest aquifers at unsustainable rates, and there is virtually no accurate data showing how much water is left.

World water Map


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Stealing Water

It was bound to come to this as the drought in California lingers.  Individuals and/or groups have started stealing water.  From Accuweather:

With the state of California mired in its fourth year of drought and a mandatory 25 percent reduction in water usage in place, reports of water theft have become common.

In April, The Associated Press reported that huge amounts of water went missing from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and a state investigation was launched. The delta is a vital body of water, serving 23 million Californians as well as millions of farm acres, according to the Association for California Water Agencies.

The AP reported in February that a number of homeowners in Modesto, California, were fined $1,500 for allegedly taking water from a canal. In another instance, thieves in the town of North San Juan stole hundreds of gallons of water from a fire department tank.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 46 percent of California is under exceptional drought conditions, the most intense measurement of drought according to the monitor. The drought is forecast to worsen this summer.

In Madera County, District Attorney David Linn has instituted a water crime task force to combat the growing trend of water theft occurring throughout the state and to protect rightful property owners from having their valuable water stolen.

Jennifer Allen, spokesperson for the Contra Costa Water District in Concord, about 45 minutes from San Francisco, said it’s not uncommon for her agency to receive reports of water theft, but as the drought has continued, she said there has been an uptick in reports.

With the drought showing no signs of letting up, California continues to formulate new strategies to preserve as much water as possible. On May 5, the California State Water Resources Control Board adopted an emergency regulation that calls for a 25 percent reduction in overall potable urban water use in accordance with the governor’s order.


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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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Hydro-Diplomacy Enters the Lexicon

The international community must gear up for a new era of “hydro-diplomacy” as the threat of water scarcity risks plunging the world into a period of geopolitical tension and stunted development, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson told delegates gathered at the General Assembly today.

“Water is one of the highest priorities for development and lives in dignity, as well as a serious factor in maintaining peace and security,” the Deputy Secretary-General said in remarks to open the High-Level Interactive Dialogue on the International Decade for Action ‘Water for Life,’ 2005-2015.

“The lack of water causes individual tragedies,” he continued. “And it also, growingly, constitutes a threat to international peace and security. There is a need for ‘hydro-diplomacy’ – making scarce water a reason for cooperation, rather than a reason for conflict.”

Mr. Eliasson warned that in a period of “intensifying disasters, both man-made and natural,” social and economic stresses related to water supply would increasingly flare up, spawning tensions between communities and nations.

The dire straits facing the world’s water situation was recently amplified in the UN’s 2015 World Water Development report, released by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and in time for last week’s World Water Day.

According to the report, the planet will face a 40 per cent shortfall in water supply in 2030 unless the international community “dramatically” improves water supply management. Demand for water is slated to skyrocket 55 per cent by 2050 while 20 per cent of global groundwater is already overexploited.

On average, nearly 1,000 children die every day from diarrheal disease linked to unsafe drinking water, poor sanitation, or poor hygiene. In three countries in particular – the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique and Papua New Guinea – more than half the population does not have improved drinking water.

“The impact of water on human health as well as economic well-being is better understood than a decade ago, including water’s critical importance for households, industries, agriculture, cities, energy production and transportation,” President of the General Assembly, Sam Kutesa, stated in a message to the meeting delivered by the Permanent Representative of Iceland to the United Nations, Einar Gunnarsson.

He observed that despite the considerable accomplishments made under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), some 800 million people continue to live without access to an improved water source while many more remain without a safe and sustainable water supply.