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Sunday, March 29

California Drought Update: Bark Beetles, Bare Mountaintops,Sparse Hydropower, and a Big Surprise

Skiers ride a chairlift over dry ground at Squaw Valley Ski Resort on Saturday, March 21, 2015, in Olympic Valley, Calif. Photo: Max Whittaker, Getty
March 21: Skiers ride a chairlift over dry ground at Squaw Valley Ski Resort, Olympic Valley, CA
Photo: Max Whittaker, Getty, via San Francisco Gate, March 28
The cascade effect -- one situation generating others that intensify the effects of drought to create a vicious cycle -- is on display in the following two reports. But in the third report, we see how the cascade effect can lead to a positive cycle.  

March 28, San Francisco Chronicle:
Armies of tiny bark beetles are ravaging drought-weakened pine trees throughout California in a fast spreading epidemic that biologists fear could soon turn catastrophic.
The rest of the report is behind a subscription wall but from the caption for the accompanying photograph,  "A resident of Truckee tends a small permitted burn to clear pine cones, dead branches and pine needles to protect his property before before fire season begins," it looks as if the best defense against the beetles is very limited during fire season, which is now more or less year 'round in parts of California that are bone dry.

Fewer trees, less moisture in the air. Drought effects intensified, leading to more bark beetle infestations, leading to.....

March 28, San Francisco Gate (my apology to reporter Peter Fimrite for chopping up his story so much):
The abominable snowpack in the Sierra Nevada reached an unprecedented low this week, dipping below the historic lows in 1977 and 2014 for the driest winter in 65 years of record-keeping.
Electronic surveys show the water content of the snow throughout the Sierra is a shocking 8 percent of the historical average for this time of year, by far the driest it has been since 1950, the year record-keeping began, because of the lack of rain and snowfall and the exceedingly high temperatures.
The state has been publishing statewide snowpack measurements in the Sierra since 1950, but there are several places where measurements go back as far as 1926.
The measurements are important because snow makes up 60 percent of the water that is captured in California's reservoirs when it melts in the spring and 30 percent of the state's overall water supply during a normal year.
Curiously, California's biggest reservoirs have managed to hold steady despite the dismal snowpack. Shasta Lake, the state’s largest reservoir, has 74 percent of what it normally holds at this time of year. Lake Oroville, the second-largest reservoir and the most important source for the State Water Project, is carrying 67 percent of what it normally holds at this time of year.
Shasta and Oroville carry 80 percent of the state's reservoir supply. The water is used to irrigate 8 million acres of farmland and quench the thirst of close to 30 million people.
The problem, experts say, is that the reservoirs will not be getting much additional supply from snowmelt, a crucial source in California’s dry Mediterranean summer climate.
Meanwhile, the reservoirs that serve farming communities are wretchedly low. Pine Flat Dam on the Kings River is only 32 percent of normal, and Exchequer, or McClure Dam, on the Merced River stands at only 16 percent of normal. Some of the smaller reservoirs are in real danger of going completely dry this summer.
Meteorologists see nothing on the horizon that could pull the state out of its increasingly frightful drought.
An undated NBC News report filed by Anna Schecter (Snow-Starved Sierra Spell Trouble for Drought-Stricken California) adds these interesting facts:
NASA is using cutting-edge technology — an airborne snow observatory equipped with lasers — to measure the snow depth.
Tom Painter, the lead investigator for the observatory, says NASA's equipment doesn't just gauge how much snow is up there. A spectrometer also looks for "reflectivity" — how much sunlight it absorbs.
"The reason we need to know that is that the absorption of sunlight is what controls the timing of the snow melt," Painter said.
"The timing of that and knowing how much is going to come out is absolutely critical to the operation of those reservoirs — to meeting the water users' needs and also making sure that you can capture the water you need to generate electricity."
Yes. Hydropowered Electricity. Which brings me to a March 27 report, updated March 28. from California's Sacramento Bee, filed by Dale Kasler (California’s hydro power dries up as drought worsens; utility customers paying more).

By the way the photo accompanying the report is spectacular. It was taken by a photographer for the newspaper, Paul Kitagaki, Jr. Talk about one picture worth a thousand words.  It never fails to impress me how much great talent there is in local hard news reporting and photography. On to the report:
The drought is drying up California’s once-plentiful supply of cheap hydroelectricity, and utility customers are paying for it.
SMUD said it expects to raise rates slightly, starting with April’s bills, to compensate for the use of more expensive energy alternatives. Roseville’s city-owned utility has imposed a 2 percent “hydroelectric surcharge” on ratepayers since last July. PG&E consumers have been shouldering a 1.5 percent rate increase for more than a year to cover the cost of replacing inexpensive hydro.
While there’s little fear of blackouts this summer, the scarcity of water has slowed the state’s far-flung network of hydro turbines practically to a crawl. Hydroelectric production in California plunged 60 percent from 2011 to 2014, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Estimates for 2015 aren’t available yet.
That’s forcing utility companies to rely more heavily on power from natural gas-fired plants, solar farms and other sources, all of which are pricier than hydro.
Despite the water shortage, the state should be able to endure the summer with enough electricity to go around. In a preliminary forecast, the California Independent System Operator believes supplies “will be sufficient, even in the worst case scenario,” said spokesman Steven Greenlee. The ISO runs the state’s transmission grid.
Nonetheless, the drought is forcing utility managers and others to take a hard look at the network of reservoirs and dams that has become such a big part of the power picture.
California has traditionally been one of the leading hydro-producing states, trailing only Washington and Oregon. In a typical year, hydro is responsible for 15 percent of California’s electricity supply.
Last year, that sank to just 8 percent, according to federal data. That’s robbed the state of millions of megawatt hours from one of the least-expensive energy sources around.

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/environment/article16494344.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/environment/article16494344.html#storylink=cpy
But the biggest surprise for me in the report is that there are sliver linings to the cutback in hydropower:
[Robert B. Weisenmiller, chairman of the California Energy Commissionand Stanley Young, spokesman for the California Air Resources Board, said many utilities are looking to non-carbon alternatives such as solar and wind power to offset the decline in hydro power.
“You’re seeing a really big growth in wind and solar,” Weisenmiller said.
Solar power generation in California nearly tripled last year, a growth rate that was enough to offset 83 percent of the loss in hydroelectricity, according to the Energy Information Administration. California got 5 percent of its power from solar last year and 7 percent from wind. State law requires utilities to generate one-third of their electricity from renewable sources by December 2020.
The good news is that alternatives to hydro, including renewables and gas-fired generation, have fallen in price in recent years. But they’re still more expensive than hydro.
There's much more to Dale Kasler's highly informative report; the entire report is well worth the read. But I want to zero in on the passages I just quoted.  It almost looks to me as if the state got in the habit of using water to make electricity even when it was feasible to switch to water-saving alternatives. And now adversity is finally giving a big leg up to technologies that will allow California to transfer oceans of water to other sectors where it's desperately needed.

And I'd assume that with more usage, the price for the alternatives will come down.  Also, the report mentions that Roseville residents aren't complaining about the "hydropower surcharge," which amounts to less than $2 a month.  They might start complaining if the "green" technologies replace relatively cheap carbon alternatives.

But while I'm saying this as an onlooker, sometimes it takes a hard push to move forward. Isn't it so?

Phys.org's great section about water

Yesterday I took a good-natured if exasperated swipe at Phys.org  because they headlined their report about research on Syria's water crisis "Did climate change help spark the Syrian war?"  They were only quoting the claim made by the researchers, and at least they didn't add "manmade" to the title.  Yet it was very clear from the report that actually water shortages helped spark it -- all of them human-made.

But the organization is a great resource for reports about water issues that don't get much if any attention from the mainstream press.  I'm going to be quoting from a handful of their reports, so I thought it only polite to take a moment to thank all the people involved in the site, which makes its reports free to the public and without putting the reader through any hoops.

Here is the link to the water section; it's simply lists of hyperlinked report titles as they come available.  The lists run many pages.  So when they say "water" that means everything to do with water -- from cutting edge experiments to purify water, to research on farms in the Atacama Desert abandoned 500 years ago, to headlines on California's drought.  To spend a few minutes perusing the report titles is a fast way to get an appreciation for the incredible scope and urgency of water issues.

I'll assume that the "phys" in the organization's name refers to physicists; if so the organization branched out since its inception.  Here, from the site's About section, a little background on the site (emphasis mine):
Phys.org™ (formerly Physorg.com) is a leading web-based science, research and technology news service which covers a full range of topics. These include physics, earth science, medicine, nanotechnology, electronics, space, biology, chemistry, computer sciences, engineering, mathematics and other sciences and technologies.
Launched in 2004, Phys.org’s readership has grown steadily to include 1.75 million scientists, researchers, and engineers every month. Phys.org publishes approximately 100 quality articles every day, offering some of the most comprehensive coverage of sci-tech developments world-wide. 
Quancast 2009 includes Phys.org in its list of the Global Top 2,000 Websites. Phys.org community members enjoy access to many personalized features such as social networking, a personal home page set-up, RSS/XML feeds, article comments and ranking, the ability to save favorite articles, a daily newsletter, and other options.
When I make time I'm going to find websites that focus exclusively on water issues or like Phys.org have a big section about them.  For now I generally prefer the hunt and peck method of using keywords; a look at the titles in Phys.org's water section explains why.  I'm like a kid in a candy store when I visit.  

All right.  Again, thank you, a heartfelt thanks, to the people who make the website possible and highly readable, and a thank-you to all the contributors to the water section.

Phys.org is truly performing a vital public service.

I'll close by noting that visiting the site is a great way to banish the blues.  Yes, we're all going to hell in a hand basket but there are many, many very bright and concerned people working like mad to slow the march.  One recalls that after spending a little time at Phys.org.


Saturday, March 28

New York: a megacity's mega water nightmare

Wawarsing resident David Sickles in his basement, waist-deep in water.
David Sickles
The nightmare began quietly enough. From an Al Jazeera America August 4, 2014 report (Why New Yorkers Should Be Worried About Their Water Supply) by Aaron Ernst and Christof Putzel: 
[New York City's water infrastructure] is "... the largest, single capital investment that New York City has made, including the subway systems."
That constant investment has been needed to keep up with the explosive growth of the city. In 1930s, and again running out of water, New York City built what many consider to be the crown jewel of its water infrastructure: the Delaware Aqueduct.
Finished in 1945, this deep rock pressure tunnel tapped into the Delaware watershed and was designed to deliver up to 850 million gallons of water per day to New York City. On any given day, it delivers anywhere between 50 to 80 percent of the city’s water.
But over the years, the residents in a neighborhood of the small upstate town of Wawarsing, located over the aqueduct, began to notice something odd. Whenever it rained, roads backed up, basements flooded. 
At first no one wanted to consider the unthinkable. Eventually, New York's water authority confronted the truth.  The aqueduct had sprung massive leaks, to the tune of up to 35 million gallons a day -- enough to supply nearly half a million people a day with water.  That wasn't the worst of it. Undertaking repairs isn't even the worst;
But while the aqueduct is wasting twice the amount daily that the [massive July 2014] UCLA water main break did in its entirety, the waste isn’t what worries Bill Wegner, the staff scientist at Riverkeeper, a watchdog organization that monitors the health of the watersheds that feed New York City.
"Worst-case scenario is you'd have a catastrophic failure,” he said. "If the tunnel, which is under pressure, were to collapse, the whole aqueduct would have to be shut down. Fifty percent of the city’s water supply would cease to exist."
A 2001 report published by Riverkeeper concluded that New York City’s reservoirs would run out of water in just 80 days.

"If you do the math and figure out that the city's going to be hurting for water for 50 percent of its consumers, it is really a catastrophic event," Wegner said.

And the city would be out of water for years, the amount of time experts estimate it would take to make the repairs, according to the Riverkeeper report.
Of course the water authority is no longer sitting on its hands. As the Al Jazeera report details, a very expensive, lengthy, and complicated project, which includes construction of a bypass tunnel (started in November 2013), and expanding water delivery systems from other water sources, has been underway. The estimated finish date for the bypass will be 2021, but that'll only be completing one phase of the all-over project; then the Delaware aqueduct has to be shut down and dewatered in order to fix its leaks and connect the new bypass to it.

Until then the nightmare hangs over New York City like a Damocles sword.

I've been learning that big water problems are not confined to arid or semi-arid regions, nor do they necessarily follow a typical drought pattern or even a water misuse pattern. But this situation with New York went on for a long time before it was addressed despite vociferous complaints from state residents like David Sickles.  Why?  Because Warwasing doesn't have clout in the Borough of Manhattan's city hall or the state's capital.


Pundita's retort to Manmade Climate Change: Humanmade Water Shortages

Why didn't I think of that earlier instead of just grousing about the Manmade Climate Change narrative hogging the water crises spotlight? In last August's "Swept Away" I wrote that it was past the time for recriminations. But these damn "narratives," which governmentalists love so much, hide so much truth.

It's past time to put up a counter-narrative because the Manmade Climate Change people and their Manmade Global Warming fellows cried "Wolf" so many times that most people tuned out -- and they're not tuning in the way they need to about the water shortages.

I mean, the Syrians grew cotton for export -- until the drought there got so bad they didn't even know where their drinking water was going to come from.  Who cultivates cotton on an industrial scale in an arid climate?  Californians, for one.  Now tell me what that has to do with climate change.

Yes, the climate did change in Syria and California; it got hotter, at least for the present. But before we try to lower the Earth's temperature, why not go for the low-hanging fruit? Like cultivating a little common sense about water usage.  

An online rag called "Oregon Live" tried to force me through hoops UPDATED 4 PM

I went to the site, my first visit there, to read a report on Oregon's deepening drought headlined, "Oregon Drought fuels unease about state's long-term water security"  datelined yesterday.  I'd found the report on Google News when I keyed in "drought." The copy in the report was blanked out; the only way I could read it was if I took a little survey on how I felt about computer technology OR graciously "shared" the report. 

So this isn't a subscription wall or pay wall -- or even an attempt to get my email address by asking to forward the report to my inbox.  I could read the report, for free, provided I behaved in a way the people who run the online newspaper directed me.  I'd never seen anything like it.   

Well, I can't give any more time to Oregon and I'll not waste my time again visiting the Oregon Live site.  If the drought in the state gets bad enough the national press will track it closely. 

For now, Reuters has a report, datelined March 17, headlined, Oregon governor declares drought emergency as snow pack levels drop

It seems a concern is that the weather pattern drying up California is spreading to Oregon.  

There's also a website called "The Oregon Story" run by Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB). The site has a backgrounder to the Oregon drought, which I know from plowing through 100,000 reports during the past year on droughts is never only about the weather. 

Ah. I see the people at Oregon Story are making a genuine attempt to communicate with the reader, so I'll be glad to give them a plug. Here's the lead paragraphs from the site's water section:
Oregon has a reputation as a leader in environmental issues, but in this case, we are following other Western states into an extended, widespread drought. A drought in Oregon? Yes. Because drought isn't always caused by a lack of water. It can also be the result of too many people competing for a limited supply.
Our recent water shortages have led to some highly publicized conflicts. But in the background, a broader crisis has been brewing, and it affects every person in the state. The shortage also has an impact on our fish and wildlife, the food we eat, the water from our faucets, our livelihoods, our play and our economy.
In this section of The Oregon Story, you can learn about the sources of Oregon water, see how an old law has shaped the current situation, and consider the many ways that Oregon depends on a stable water supply.

NEXT: Water, Water Everywhere
All right. On to the Salton Sea and the Jordan River. Sigh. To think I used to complain about the complexity of the Afghan War.  But I've learned that water shortage crises have one thing in common with wars: no matter how different the details and no matter how complex they boil down to a surprisingly small list of drivers -- the same drivers.

UPDATE:  Here's the link to the USGS page titled Drought Watch Pacific Northwest states: Washington, Oregon, Idaho


Friday, March 27

The American habit of stepping into conflicts that are 1,000 years old

I well remember Hillary Clinton during her confirmation hearing for Secretary State explaining to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that her era at State would be characterized by the American use of "smart power" in the Middle East:
"We must use what has been called 'smart power,' the full range of tools at our disposal -- diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal, and cultural -- picking the right tool, or combination of tools, for each situation," Clinton said in her opening remarks. "With smart power, diplomacy will be the vanguard of foreign policy."
Ah, but one is only as smart as one's knowledge base, which is the perennial problem with choosing advisers.  If you, yourself, don't know as much as they about a particular strategic situation, it's easy to pick a screwdriver from the toolbox when you actually need a wrench.  The only fallback for ignorance is to possess a large store of common sense that can be applied to matters of defense and foreign policy.

If both knowledge and sense are lacking, this is how a government can smartly power its way to the verge of World War Three.  

I was sharply reminded of this last night when I listened to John Batchelor talk with Victor Gaetan of the National Catholic Register about the Christian Church's side in the Ukraine crisis.  There is more than one side, it turns out, there being more than one kind of Christianity in the country.

Gaetan did his best to explain the situation in simple terms, but I'm afraid that after five minutes I started feeling a little seasick trying to keep up.  One really has to enjoy learning about the ins and outs of religious history to even have the will to get one's bearings in the situation.

Well, it's complex, as are all disagreements that have been going on for a thousand years or so,  It's just that the Obama Administration and its foreign office overlooked the religious part of the political aspect in Ukraine. Which it turns out is more important than might seem immediately evident.

And so the Obama Administration fell prey to lobbyists and agendists who want to promote a one-dimensional view of Ukraine's relationship with Russia.

Repeat the sentence with "Arab Muslim countries" instead of Ukraine.

So what is to be done with the American habit of wading into situations in foreign countries it understands not at all?  I venture there are too many Grand Master chess players in America's defense/diplo establishment and not enough ping pong players.


"Zionist Saudis?" Heh.

The name-calling in that part of the world is getting more colorful than usual reported Ambassador Dennis Ross to John Batchelor last night, as the melee in the Middle East careens toward Black Friday at Best Buy with bombs and automatic weapons.  Everybody is fighting everybody else, coalitions unimaginable two years ago have formed and reformed with dizzying speed.  

Through all the confusing events leading to the outbreak of the region-wide war, Batchelor has managed to keep accurate score but also handicapped so well that much of what is happening today in the Middle East is old news to his radio audience.

A big chunk of Batchelor's show last night was dedicated to guests' analyses of the current scoreboard. But if you're late to the melee I'd suggest listening to two of his talks in February with strategic analyst Gregory Copley. They're a good crash orientation to the furniture rearrangements that have radically altered the geopolitical map in a matter of months.

Gregory Copley also wears the hats of author, historian, and erstwhile industrialist in addition to his consulting work for the highest levels of governments around the world. He's also founder and Editor-in-Chief of Defense&Foreign Affairs group of publications, founder and Director of GIS (Global Information System), co-founder of ISSA (International Strategic Studies Association), and has competed barefoot in the Marathon des Sables.

I am joking about that last, I hope, although I wouldn't put it past him; he's a tough Aussie. But it's no joke he has the kind of mind well suited to analyzing the free-for-all era of Westphalianism -- as does John Batchelor, by the way.  And of course as does Pundita, which is how I know Copley and Batchelor can chew and walk their way through data maelstroms.  

Ah!  I see from the author bio for one of his books that Copley has written extensively on the role of monarchies in governance.  I must try to learn whether he's studied Thailand King Bhumibol's Sufficiency teachings, which I think if adopted on a wider basis could go a long way to solving the problem of today's societies gobbling their own tails. In the way they're doing in the Middle East, to bring the conversation full circle.

All right; here are links to the two talks, posted on the JBS podcast page:

February 20 - first segment

February 27 - third segment

Be sure to listen to the Feb 20 segment first.  I'd also check out Eli Lake on his visit to Baghdad (he's reporting for Bloomberg View nowadays); second segment in the Feb. 20 block linked above. The intelligence he reported is still vital.


Massive Migrations to Cities Squeeze Out Space for Reservoirs

Foreword by Tony CartalucciThis presentation is taken from Thailand's Government Public Relations Department and describes the King of Thailand's Sufficiency-Economy and his "New Theory" of economics. For free people around the world, they will recognize the concepts and goals as self-sufficiency, self-reliance, and true, genuine sustainable development.
 He goes on to note that the passage from the presentation he's quoting is very long; that it is, and by the way the link to the source document is dead.  But I want to go straight to this part; emphasis in numbers 3 and 4 is mine:  
 "[...]  In the course of his visits to people in the rural areas, His Majesty reckoned that a large number of his subjects were not able to support themselves. He was determined to make them self-sufficient, so that they would be better able to contribute to national development.
On his royal visits to the people in all parts of the country, His Majesty spoke with  farmers and found that they faced chronic water shortages. Pondering over their plight, His Majesty drew the following conclusions:
1. Rice is a sturdy plant. With sufficient water, more yields can be obtained.
2. If rainwater can be stored for crop planting, better harvests can be achieved.
3. The construction of large reservoirs is becoming more and more difficult, because of the expansion of communities and the limited land area.
4. However, if each household has its own pond, the combined stored water can match that of a large reservoir, involving less investment and directly benefiting the local people. The hard-working monarch, who had intimate knowledge of the people's problems and had been advising those in the agricultural sector, who made up the majority of the population, spelled out the "New Theory" in his Sufficiency Economy philosophy.[...]"
That's it; that's the cancer that's metastasizing: they're hollowing out the countrysides in all these nations and shoving the rurals into larger and larger urban areas that are squeezing out the reservoir capacities meant to serve the urbans.

Of course there are additional problems with water storage but King Bhumibol nailed it decades ago.

There's no way this situation can continue.  Sao Paulo is already facing the collapse of its major reservoir.  How many reservoirs did that foreign ngo dig for the Lebanese?  Was it 10? Bah, that'll last them a year or two if the birth rate and the refugee population from Syria keeps swelling.  

It's the same with dams; those things are monsters so only so many can be built.  The only humane, sustainable route for many countries and even regions in the USA  is the one King Bhumibol has recommended.


Maybe a little less promoting of manmade climate change arguments and more organized data on MENA water shortages?

"From 2006-2010, an unprecedented drought (brown areas) spread over much of Turkey, Syria and Iraq. Syria was especially vulnerable to its effects. Credit: NASA" -- PhysOrg

After searching 20 minutes last night I was unable to find a weekly drought monitor map for MENA either as a whole or by country that's along the lines of the weekly US Drought Monitor. The little available by way of drought maps for MENA is a complete mess and completely incomplete.  This means I'm still reduced to scraping together bits and pieces of data on a water crisis from news reports or blogs  -- or from the kind of research paper that PhysOrg quoted earlier this month, which sent me through the roof.

Gentlemen. Ladies. Transgenders. Visiting aliens from outer space.  Now hear this. Are you piggybacking "manmade climate change" speculations on water crises because you know that's the only way they can get much attention anymore?  It looks that way to me but for whatever reason, your insistence on putting manmade climate front and center adds a lot of distracting 'noise' to the already hideously complicated water shortage situations.

All right, let's see if I can excavate a few shreds of useful data from the March 2 PhysOrg report titled Did climate change spark the Syrian civil war? Wait a minute. Didn't I already mention the situation with Syria a thousand or so posts ago on the water crises? Well if I did a little review won't hurt:
The recent drought affected the so-called Fertile Crescent, spanning parts of Turkey and much of Syria and Iraq, where agriculture and animal herding are believed to have started some 12,000 years ago. The region has always seen natural weather swings. But using existing studies and their own research, the authors showed that since 1900, the area has undergone warming of 1 to 1.2 degrees Centigrade (about 2 degrees Fahrenheit), and about a 10 percent reduction in wet-season precipitation. 
The study's authors say Syria was made especially vulnerable [to the drought] by other factors, including sheer population growth—from 4 million in the 1950s to 22 million in recent years.
Also, the ruling al-Assad family encouraged water-intensive export crops like cotton. Illegal drilling of irrigation wells dramatically depleted groundwater that might have provided reserves during dry years, said coauthor Shahrzad Mohtadi, a graduate student at Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs who did the economic and social components of the research.
The drought's effects were immediate. Agricultural production, typically a quarter of the country's gross domestic product, plummeted by a third. In the hard-hit northeast, livestock herds were practically all obliterated; cereal prices doubled; and nutrition-related diseases among children saw dramatic increases.
As many as 1.5 million people fled from the countryside to the peripheries of cities that were already strained by influxes of refugees from the ongoing war in next-door Iraq. In these chaotic instant suburbs, the Assad regime did little to help people with employment or services, said Mohtadi. It was largely in these areas that the uprising began.
Like falling dominoes more than a million people then fled the war in Syria that followed in the wake of the uprising.  They fled to Lebanon, further straining already strained water resources there.  And so it goes.    


Stratfor's analysis of India's water shortage issues

A Guardian article I quoted last year claimed that most of India's water for crops came from the monsoon. The Stratfor report makes it clear the claim is untrue or way out of date. Toss the bad data on a big pile of bad data about water shortages the world over.  

Graphics from Stratfor report


Water Use Reform Will Be Difficult for India
January 28, 2015 | 10:00 GMT


Editor's Note:This is the sixth installment of an occasional series on water scarcity issues around the world that Stratfor will be building upon periodically.

Because of its massive river systems and variety of climates, India is not always the first country that comes to mind when considering water stress issues, but the emerging regional powerhouse is still an agrarian society at its core. This already inefficient sector relies on inconsistent monsoons and, in some locations, on groundwater to make up for years with deficits in rainfall. Increasing urbanization and population growth have compounded demands for municipal water and increased agricultural production. By 2030, India is projected to consume nearly 1.5 trillion cubic meters of groundwater annually — more than its estimated 1.1 trillion cubic meters of usable reserves. As New Delhi faces a major challenge in managing this essential resource, India's highly decentralized system will make it difficult for the central government to effectively manage the problem.


The history of the Indian subcontinent has been shaped by water. To the southeast and southwest, India's coastlines front the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea, while to the north, the Himalayas separate the country from Eurasia. Inside this self-contained world, a multitude of rivers have produced a variety of powerful city centers as well as the internal divisions that have resulted in India's strong regional identities — identities that centralized powers have always struggled to balance.

Today, one of New Delhi's core geopolitical imperatives is to control the fertile Ganges River Basin, which is key to maintaining the country's agricultural sector. Agriculture accounted for 18 percent of India's gross domestic product in 2012 and employs about half of the country's population. It also accounted for more than 90 percent of total water withdrawals. While India does possess natural renewable water resources that total roughly 1.9 trillion cubic meters, rainfall distribution is naturally erratic and dependent on seasonal monsoons, leaving agricultural production highly susceptible to fluctuations.

The 2014 monsoon season officially concluded at the end of September with cumulative rainfall 12 percent below the long-term average. Increased rainfall near the end of the season meant that more dire predictions from earlier in the year did not come to pass, but many crop production estimates for 2014-2015 are still expected to fall year-on-year.
Water Stress

The Indian agricultural sector's reliance on groundwater irrigation to maintain crop yields, especially in weak monsoon years, has been steadily increasing since the 1950s. Over the past 20 years, 84 percent of added irrigation has come from groundwater sources. Today, 50-70 percent of India’s crops rely on irrigation — an estimated 60-80 percent of which uses groundwater. India's use of these resources is also extremely inefficient. The amount of water it takes to produce one ton of grain in India is 24 percent higher than the global average for both wheat and rice.

Further exacerbating the water scarcity problem is the fact that not all of India’s water supplies are usable; much of the supply has been compromised by pollution or fertilizer use. Inadequate infrastructure prevents the use of some of the annual renewable water resources as well. India’s Ministry of Water Resources estimates that only 1.1 trillion cubic meters of the country's total 1.9 trillion cubic meters of natural renewable water resources are usable. Independent studies put this number at 650 billion to 750 billion cubic meters, less than half of India's total annual renewable amount.

The greatest evidence of groundwater depletion can be seen in India's north, an area that includes the fertile Indus and Ganges basins. New Delhi has made this worse by applying only limited regulation to groundwater extraction and by subsidizing electricity, which, among other things, helps makes pumping water more affordable. At the same time, the municipal sector has come to rely on groundwater to meet more than 80 percent of the urbanized population's growing demand.

India's current water withdrawals add up to between 630 billion and 760 billion cubic meters per year, and this is set to expand. India’s population is increasing at an average annual rate of roughly 1 percent, and urbanization rates are high, at 31 percent in 2010 and projected to rise to 43 percent by 2035. The government is also working to increase access to electricity and maintain food security, both of which will require steady water supplies. 

All of this will contribute to a projected rise in annual water demand to nearly 1.5 trillion cubic meters by 2030 — a number higher than India's existing usable water resources (which the government generously estimates to be around 1.1 trillion cubic meters) can meet. By 2030, most of India’s many river basins could face gaps between supply and demand. At the same time, the nation's per capita annual water supply fell to around 1,500 cubic meters in 2011. This is projected to approach the water scarcity line of 1,000 cubic meters per person by 2050.

At the same time, these declines in groundwater levels could actually increase India's water demands by speeding up the rate of urbanization. As groundwater levels decline, wells become more expensive to drill and operate, meaning that more farmers will not be able to afford to water their crops using groundwater. This has already driven many subsistence farmers off the land and into cities. The urban population will increase pressure to supply municipal water and will strain the agricultural sector as India tries to maintain food security in the face of its growing population.
Constraints on the Center

India's water constraints will continue to worsen, but the change will be long and gradual, stretching out over several decades. The situation could ease if the country shifts its water consumption patterns or if New Delhi changes its water management policies, perhaps by regulating well drilling, implementing new water-efficient irrigation technologies or making improvements to water infrastructure. Such programs, however, will face the barrier of India's regional political fractures, which make central management difficult.

Programs to increase efficiency or improve water management policies, such as the implementation of more efficient irrigation practices, would likely have to be implemented at the state level, resulting in regional (not national) solutions.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, despite hopes to the contrary, will likely be limited by these same geopolitical constraints. New Delhi might manage to make a slow push for higher efficiency by reducing subsidy schemes, as it has done for phosphate-based fertilizers. The phosphate fertilizer subsidy reduction showcases the difficulty of this approach: Other fertilizers are still subsidized, meaning that the problems of pollution and inefficient use or overuse of fertilizers remain.

Modi is still unwilling or unable to adjust the broader fertilizer subsidy framework that plays a large role in perpetuating poor agricultural practices.

The slow and fractious nature of the reform process means that over the next 20 years New Delhi will continue to cope with increasing water stress. At the present time, India is essentially self-sufficient in agriculture. However, over the next decade, it is likely to become a food importer. Inadequate supply chain infrastructure will impede efficient food distribution. To maintain social stability in the face of this challenge, New Delhi will likely have to sacrifice some economic growth and possibly take on additional debt as its import bills rise.

Other recent Stratfor reports on water (when last I checked, the other day, the Sao Paulo report is still open access at the website; the other, older reports require signing up for free access to reports. 

• Part 1: Yemen's Looming Water Crisis

• Part 2: U.S. Agriculture Wilts During California's Drought

• Part 3: South Africa's Water Needs Will Be Costly

• Part 4: Indonesia's Disjointed Islands Make Water Scarcity a Problem

• Part 5: Mesopotamian Vitality Falls to Turkey

• Part 7: Sao Paulo Drought Could Benefit Brazil

• Part 8: Industrial Expansion Will Strain Mexico's Water Resources

Thursday, March 26

US Drought Monitor March 24 relased today

See Drought Monitor website for detailed discussion including projections

Can King Bhumibol's Sufficiency teachings save societies from economic suicide?

Oh no,  Your Majesty, not another hilltop village today

During 1946-1952, Thailand was recovering from the Second World War causing Thai people to live in difficult conditions. So, the early stage of His Majesty’s development work was focused on urgent problems such as medical, sanitary and social problems. His Majesty saw that if his people were healthy, it will lead to the country’s sustainable development. 
In the second stage, later in 1953, His Majesty began to travel to every region of the country from the north to the south with a great intention to learn about the troubles, hardship and the needs of his people who mostly conducted agricultural activities as a mainstay of living, particularly those living in remote rural areas.
During that time, His Majesty spent over half of each year outside the capital, causing us to follow and frequently spend several days and nights in different parts of the nation. Almost every other day, His Majesty traveled to visit different projects and his people.

The traveling conditions in those days were not as convenient as nowadays especially in remote rural areas with bad road networks. Sometimes the road was incredibly rough and bumpy, and sometimes there were no roads at all so that His Majesty had to walk for hours to reach the destinations.
A Human-Sized Economic Philosophy 

During the years he was spry enough to get around in on foot in the rural regions Bhumibol Adulyadej, ninth monarch of Royal House of Chakri, also called Rama IX, visited every square foot of Thai lands open to him and asked uncounted questions of the people he met with.

I venture his "New Theory" of land and water management to develop from his fact-finding tours was as much a result of his engineering mind and consultations with scientists and engineers as conversations with villagers. But running alongside the technical development challenges, he began to realize that the people he spoke with weren't free because they weren't self-sufficient.  From that point his questions went far beyond discussions about acreage and ponds when he conversed with rural peoples.

The "Sufficiency" philosophy that evolved from this unusual education for a monarch is human-sized.  I'd add "to a remarkable degree" but there is no other modern economics philosophy that is actually geared to humans.  King Bhumibol's is the only one in the running for the prize.

Then one day he felt ready to begin a formal teaching mission, and just in time. From In Thailand, A Return to Sufficiency; Shawn W. Crispin, October 5, 2006, Asia Times Online:
The monarch's self-sufficiency-economy concept gained currency in the aftermath of the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis. In a now-famous 1997 speech, Bhumibol called on the Thai population to scale back its reliance on exports and shift toward a more self-sufficient, localized economic system, where 25% of the economy would be geared toward local production for individual needs.
"A careful step backward must be taken; a return to less sophisticated methods must be made with less advanced instruments," the highly respected monarch said.
Bhumibol's back-to-basics message ran counter to the orthodox prescriptions offered by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, which called for more, not less, openness to restore economic growth and financial stability. Then, Bhumibol's message presented a direct challenge to the country's traditional pro-globalization stance but resonated deeply with many Thais who had lost their factory jobs and were forced to reintegrate into the lower-earning rural sector.
Some of Thailand's most neo-liberal economic thinkers embraced Bhumibol's philosophy, which they construed broadly to emphasize long-term optimal over short-term maximum production and consumption - as most liberal Western economies are geared.
The King's message helped Thailand weather the economic storms of 1997 without the social unrest seen in neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia.
What Does Sufficient Mean?

But you know how it is when a leader keeps talking common sense.  Pretty soon the respectful listeners start asking, 'Could you elaborate on what you mean by the word "is?"

Where this led in Thailand and elsewhere in response to the king's Sufficiency teachings can be intuited from the note Shawn Crispin appended to his report:
1. "A sufficiency economy is not self-sufficiency. It is a philosophy rather than a theory. But the philosophy can be applied to every level of the economy. Households should avoid overspending, businesses should avoid over-expansion and the government should concentrate on protecting national resources." - Pridiyathorn at a forum held by the Thai Chamber of Commerce in Bangkok on Tuesday.
 "Pridiyathorn" being then-Bank of Thailand governor Pridiyathorn Devakula.

Because of Thailand's stringent enforcement of lèse majesté, which roughly translates to, "You're in a lot of trouble if you publicly criticize a reigning monarch," there hasn't been much public criticism in Thailand of Sufficiency. This didn't stop economists from fiddling with King Bhumibol's clear points until they sounded like teachings in a secret order.

The king couldn't resist poking a little fun at the economists who requested clarification on what he meant by "sufficient." I don't have the source document handy for that particular speech of his but while these are my made-up numbers the questions went something like this:

Does sufficiency mean 40 percent sufficiency for the entire country, or 25 percent sufficiency for the individual or 23.5 percent for a village -- or 55 percent for a group of villages?  

For Pete's sake, if the idea is to be self-sufficient one first asks, 'What must I produce that's sufficient to keep myself and my family alive?'

Then taking a real jaunt into higher math, one asks how big one's family is.  And so on like that.  How to check the equations?  At the point you're an able to produce an abundance -- what is above sufficiency, which can be traded, sold locally, exported, etc. 

Now does this mean sufficiency excludes ownership of things like color TVs?  No, and neither does it necessarily mean a Back to the Land movement.  If you return to Shawn Crispin's report, King Bhumibol was addressing a situation in 1987 that had already occurred:  job losses in the cities during a severe economic downturn had driven many Thais back to their villages.  But he's said that the sufficiency economy isn't only for people who support themselves through farming or live in rural areas. A passage in Tony Cartalucci's 2011 essay points to this:
Of course in Thailand, agricultural self-sufficiency is coupled with technology to enhance efficiency and improve the quality of life. Even in the city, small independent businesses are adopting the latest technology to improve their production, increase their profits, and even out-compete larger corporations. Computer controlled machining equipment can be found in small workshops crammed into old shop-houses, automatic embroidering machines allow a single woman to fulfill orders for name tags on new school uniforms - rather than both businesses sending off orders to factories owned by a handful of wealthy investors. A multitude of examples can be seen walking around any city block in Thailand's capital of Bangkok.
The remarks are a springboard to a discussion of personal digital fabrication including 3D printing, "Fab Labs," and the ideas of MIT professor Dr Neil Gershenfeld. It was my introduction to Gershenfeld's ideas; that Tony wove these into a discussion of King Bhumibol's Sufficiency philosophy was a tour de force.  By putting the two approaches together he amplified an understanding of both, for which I am grateful.

Self-Sufficiency, A Socialist's Worst Nightmare

Outside Thailand, every time those most heavily invested in keeping up the interdependence of the globalized economic order managed to recover from the trauma of a global financial crisis, they took to sharply criticizing the king's teachings on Sufficiency, or dismissed them as too vague to be workable policy guidance. (This majority opinion finally prompted Wikipedia to re-title its article on the teachings, "Localism in Thailand.")

Without taking a poll I'll venture the latter camp of critics, at least the kind that hang out at global financial institutions such as the IMF and Bank for International Settlements, have no trouble understanding the teachings, But they would view Sufficiency as a grave threat to the interdependence of national economies that keeps the present era of globalization humming along.

The thinking goes this way:  It won't do if a nation can survive gracefully for an extended period with only very limited involvement in the economic world order.  Other nations would start getting the same idea, and pretty soon they'd start going their separate ways. This would lead to anarchy. This would lead to world war. Then we're all headed to hell in a hand basket.  

However, to keep the world hanging together requires socialist government in one form or another at national levels because as Tony Cartalucci shrewdly pointed out in his explanation of King Bhumibol's teachings (The Globalists' Worst Nightmare; July 2011), self-sufficiency isn't socialism.   

Without the dependence that socialism fosters in national populations, it's hard for central banks and governments they serve to manage the market mechanisms that grease the wheels of global economic interdependence.

The catch:  for national socialist government to work well, it must foster centralization of the populations it administers to. By the turn of the century this had created a waking nightmare from which no escape seems possible, as governments the world over sleepwalk to the edge of a precipice.


The chasm was clearly in sight by the time residents of a Texas border town blocked busloads of children that had illegally come across the U.S. border from Mexico. The residents said, truthfully, they didn't have the capacity to deal with the influx.

Many of the children weren't Mexican. Mexico's government, overwhelmed by huge numbers of illegal immigrants from countries deeper in the Americas, was accelerating its old tactic of passing along the problem to U.S. border patrol.

Yet the children sent across the U.S. border by their relatives weren't so much immigrants as refugees -- fleeing a severe drought that had hit a wide swath of Central America and also drug gangs that had taken over the "hollowed out countryside," as I think Nils Gilman called it in his discussion about deviant globalization.

It's becoming the same in many parts of the world.  After emptying countrysides into cities that swelled far beyond their infrastructure capacities, governments don't have the manpower to police the vast deserted spaces left behind. International crime syndicates and terrorist gangs moved into the vacuum, terrorizing the rural peoples still left.

Arvind Kejirwal had seen the situation with his own eyes in rural India when he worked as an engineer for Tata. The Maoist Naxalites had established a reign of terror in the countryside but it was a government, of sorts, the only force around that approximated a governing entity.

The answer he came up with was to restore real decision-making power to India's villages, which the British Raj had co-opted and post-Independence Indian administrations had turned into Potemkin examples of self-governance.

Self-rule is not the whole solution, however. It's really hard to stand up for the right of self-rule when one doesn't have enough to eat and a politician arrives in the village with a truckload of free rice.  

I'll add that this point is so self-evident it's gotten lost in the shuffle of current political debates in the United States. But it's putting the cart before the horse to say the U.S. Constitution defends America's freedoms. There would have been no Constitution, no revolution, if colonial American insurgents had been unable to feed themselves without help from the British Crown.

Self sufficiency is foundational to freedom.  

By the way if American readers think the situation Arvind noted in India doesn't apply to the USA, you haven't learned about the devastation caused by drug gangs who moved into America's national parks and forests to raise marijuana on a large scale. They expanded to every rural region where they knew law enforcement was too small to keep up with them. By 2012 they'd moved into California's Central Valley farming belt in large numbers, touching off crime waves that underfunded and undermanned local authorities were helpless to staunch.

On the heels of the gangsters land grabbers have showed up in several countries. These are big foreign agribusiness concerns that bribe revenue-starved local governments into displacing rural peoples from land that can be farmed. The grabbers are rich enough to bribe the local military or hire an army of mercenaries to shoo away the gangsters.  Yet the foreigners are themselves desperate, scouring the world for regions that still have enough water left to support large scale agriculture to feed water-stressed populations in their home countries.

But where do all those displaced rural people go?  Why into cities, which aren't capable of supporting them.  


Where is this Round Robin of disasters headed?  I think to the disintegration of a mirage.

In his essay Tony Cartalucci singles out the global "elite" as the chief villain.  But it wasn't the global elite that persuaded millions of Americans it was perfectly sane to live far above their means and neither was it socialists. It was blue collar "company stores" that allowed purchases on paycheck credit and later, during America's post-WW2 salad days, white collar employers that could afford to pay fat pensions.

From there it was a hop and skip to Americans buying into the fallacy that a salaried individual could act like a corporation to finance debt.  This led to the biggest mirage in modern times: that the United States is a consumer society. Excuse me; the United States of America is a debtor society.

Economists tell China's government that it must stimulate domestic consumption of manufactured products to survive a downturn in its export model -- be more like the American consumer economy.

What the economists don't say is that to keep buying more and more, Chinese must go into debt and not only stay in debt but also keep increasing their debt.

What else they don't say is that debt-fueled buying skyrockets the number of products made for sale -- and that making the products gulps water and other vital natural resources at a faster and faster rate. So it's not increasing affluence, per se, which is the biggest problem regarding sustainability. It's faux affluence, debt affluence, that's the real killer.         

The economists also don't say that if people believe they can accumulate through debt far and above what is sufficient for their well being, they are destroying their wealth -- whatever abundance they produce -- and ultimately their lives.


Rama IX was a product of a Swiss high school education and a graduate of the University of Lausanne. He was also humble enough to ask his subjects to teach him and to listen carefully when they spoke.  They repaid his respect by giving him an education no amount of money can buy. From this evolved teachings grounded in the bedrock of a common-sense wisdom humanity built up over many millenniums.

Well, you didn't want hill detail

Wednesday, March 25

Sitreps John Batchelor Show UPDATED

Crowded field as always but these are ones that rose to the top for me so far this week; links are to the podcasts at the JBS website podcast page :

Mar 24

Russia-Ukraine and Latest Euro/US Actions Toward Both
Dr Stephen F. Cohen

Update: The interview included discussion of a commentary on Russian-European relations by Walter Schwimmer, a prominent Austrian politician and Secretary General of the Council of Europe from 1999-2004. The commentary is delivered in an interview conducted by Alexey Khlebnikov, Senior Editor at Russia Direct and published at the organization's website on March 19. It's titled, There is no Europe without Russia and no Russia without Europe.

It would be hard to overstate the importance of Schwimmer's comments but to understand why, listen to Batchelor's discussion with Cohen.    

Ann Marlowe

Tunisia (3rd segment)
Larry Diamond

Mar 23

Bill Roggio and Tom Joscelyn


Friday, March 20

Socialism's terrible dilemma: First you raise us out of poverty then you cut off our water

"Behind closed doors, the views are grimmer. In a meeting recorded secretly and leaked to the local news media, Paulo Massato, a senior official at São Paulo’s water utility, said that residents might have to be warned to flee because “there’s not enough water, there won’t be water to bathe, to clean” homes."

“I feel hatred, hatred of the governor and of Sabesp [the water utility controlled by São Paulo State],” said Márcia Oliani, 54, the finance manager of an art gallery who endured six days without water in her apartment. “I’d like to take them out and set fire to them. They completely failed to warn us, and have just continued to lie about this throughout.”

President Dilma Rousseff and her center-left Workers’ Party (PT) have been able to boast that "millions of Brazilians had been lifted from poverty and entered the middle class through social welfare policies like the Bolsa Família, and that improved workers’ rights and increased wages have allowed a new class of Brazilians to become consumers." (Foreign Policy, March 16 )  

However, things have not been going terribly well in recent days for Rouseff and the PT, as you can learn from the Foreign Policy report. But if Brazil's right-wing political parties would really like to sock it to the country's leftists, they might just practice patience for a year or two instead of waving signs at street protests that read, "Less Marx, More Mises."

Brazil's government, and socialist governments throuoghout Latin America and the world over, are about 15 minutes away from being forced to recall that Karl Marx, and all governing approaches that evolved from his ideas, were products of the dawning Industrial Age. That age didn't even have "water crisis" in its vocabulary. The same for electricity and fossil fuel crises.   

So while it sounds good on paper to quickly raise millions of out poverty and make them consumers, if the natural resources base can't support the spike in newly affluent users, this isn't just a problem; this is a crisis and a dilemma that no socialist government is capable of dealing with.

This would be particularly true for large cities in Latin America that were built far from water sources, and built at a time when water crisis hadn't entered the lexicon and the population was a tiny fraction of what it is today.  

Which are these cities? From the comment section in a February 16 New York Times report, Taps Start to Run Dry in Brazil’s Largest City, from which I took the quotes that lead off this writing:

Lubomen411  in NY, NY
Why are people surprised that Sao Paulo is suffering from water shortages, or that there is a regional drought in the southeastern portion of Brazil? That area has historically suffered from prolonged droughts, made much worse with the loss of most of the original Atlantic coast forest cover over the past century.
Brazilians, in all their wisdom, decided to build their largest cities in areas far removed from large, navigable rivers. Sao Paulo itself is located in the highlands where a number of rivers have their headwaters. In other words, it is quite distant from any large natural bodies of water. Hence the need for reservoirs and the panic that ensues when these reservoirs start to dry up during a prolonged drought.
Brazilians, like the Americans in California and the Southwest, are deluded in their long-term economic and city planning -- building huge agglomerations of industry and commerce, along with the large requisite populations, in areas that in the long term cannot sustain those very populations. In fact, most very large Latin American cities are in eco-regions that cannot sustain huge, water-intensive populations in the long-term.
If we thought Sao Paulo was in trouble, I can't wait to hear the same travails for Mexico City, Lima, Santiago or Botoga (all huge cities located far, far from reliable sources of water).
Now to be fair they couldn't see around corners when those cities were originally built. And it's not as if cities near reliable water sources aren't also facing trouble. From PsyOrg's February 5 Study reveals scale of water crisis in areas of Pakistan:
The situation may be extreme in Pakistan but Europe is not immune to water shortages. According to the European Environment Agency (EEA), eight European countries can be considered water-stressed: Cyprus, Bulgaria, Belgium, Spain, Malta, Italy, United Kingdom, and Germany. [...]
I don't understand why Greece isn't on the list, but the point is that intractable water shortages in water stressed regions will all be arising around the same time.  No surprise there, as capitalists and socialists vie each other in claiming success for raising huge numbers of people and livestock out of poverty.  

But this is a problem for the International Community and development banks and aid donors of all stripes, when everyone is crying, 'Help!' at the same time.

Can von Mises save the day?  Well he's already saving the day in one sense, in that every start-up company on the planet that has "water solutions" in its name is set to make a mint.  

But the solutions are not really to be found in water management.  Societies are going to have to confront the fact that socialist government is a relic of a bygone era, as are the mega-cities that socialist policies turned into hogs of natural resources.    

People can rise out poverty.  A large middle income group is sustainable.  What isn't sustainable is to keep stuffing people in ever greater numbers into infrastructures that consume more critical resources just to keep functioning than all the human spendthrifts could ever do. 

So this onrushing crisis is not about economics. And it's not about climate change.  It's about finding humane ways to disperse large human populations before Nature takes over population management. 

Of course widely dispersed populations make centralized government very hard to carry off without deploying the most authoritarian measures or creating the kind of 'bossism' that allowed China's emperors in the Forbidden City to ride herd on thousands of distant villages.  



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