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Friday, May 22

Turkey takes it all, and a few words about Westphalian civilization and sand

Bets are on for who's going to come out on top in the Melee in the Middle East. Will it be the Saudi coalition?  Iran? Turkey? Islamic State?  My money's on Turkey.  From The world will soon be at war over water by James Fergusson; Newsweek, April 24, 2015 (May 1 edition):
Turkey’s stranglehold over its downstream neighbours is real – and it is set to tighten further in 2015, with the completion of the controversial Ilisu hydro-dam on the Tigris, which will create a 10 billion cubic metre reservoir just 30 miles north of the Syrian border. The dam is the latest of 22 envisioned under the Southeastern Anatolia Project (or GAP, to use its Turkish acronym), a vast regional development plan that was originally mooted by Kemal Ataturk in the 1930s.

The father of modern Turkey could not have foreseen how completely his country’s “blue gold” would one day replace oil as the region’s most important resource. Iraq’s oil industry requires 1.8 billion cubic metres of water a year in order to function at all.

Ankara has adopted a canny and forward foreign policy for years now, extending its influence everywhere from Somalia to Afghanistan. What is happening in Anatolia now suggests that “neo-Ottomanism” is not just political posturing: it really is the future for this part of the Middle East.

Hydrologists in Sweden recently suggested that by 2040, the volume of water being extracted from the mighty Tigris and Euphrates – rivers that once delineated and sustained the cradle of civilisation – could be so great that they no longer reach the sea.

Once the GAP is completed, about half of the water these rivers now carry may never leave Turkey at all. The prediction bodes very ill for the visionaries of Islamic State. Whatever else they may achieve, it is no 1,000-year Reich that they are building in Syria or Iraq.

I don't agree with James Fergusson's assertion in the report that Islamic State is, "in the end, a symptom of social malfunction." I'd say it's a symptom of Western governments failing to take the overriding aim of Islam seriously.    

As to his point that water is a significant factor in social unrest in many regions, he's in the parking lot.  But he and his editors at Newsweek and the rest of us are still feeling our way into the ballpark.

This isn't a problem of water scarcity contributing to social unrest; this is a civilizational problem.  The Westphalian concept of national sovereignty is a luxury that many peoples can't afford. This is because the deserts they live near pay no attention to legal boundaries. 

A report from Reuters on the conflict in Mali mentions the Sahara is spreading south at the rate of 48 kms (30 mi) a day. As it travels it shoves farmers and graziers off their land. 

And so the humans flee, into cities that then become overcrowded and unable to provide basic services or jobs for the hordes, and into rural areas traditionally controlled by other tribes and clans.

These, then, are the sand refugees.

When they can't flee any more within a nation, they spill across borders.


Thursday, May 21

When water conservation is counterproductive: "Waste, paradoxically, is a kind of reservoir"

Now they tell us.  Below, passages from a New Yorker article (May 25 issue) Where the River Runs Dry: The Colorado and America’s water crisis by David Owen.  While the article focuses on problems with the Colorado River water, Owen addresses some little known or poorly understood water issues that aren't specific to the river. I nearly fell off my chair when I read about the problems with water efficiency. All these months I've been wracking my brain about how to conserve water, as have a great many other people.  Turns out there's a "Damned if you do, damned if you don't" aspect to efficiency in this case.                                                

I've added a few notes after the New Yorker quotes. With no further introduction:  

In the Grand Valley, the principal crops include peaches, alfalfa, and grapes. I visited Brooke and Brad Webb, who worked in finance in Denver until 2009, when they bought Mesa Park Vineyards, in Palisade. Brooke showed me their headgate and the communal irrigation canal that feeds it. 

“When we moved in, the water wasn’t being managed well,” she said. “So we started cutting new furrows every year, and we’ve cleaned out our ditches and lined them with plastic, to keep them from leaking, and now we actually manage the wastewater for about five different properties.” 

The Webbs draw much less water than their right entitles them to, and they have eliminated a wet area at the bottom of their property, where excess irrigation water used to pool.

Reducing waste seems like an obvious solution to overuse, but it can actually make the problem worse. Bradley Udall, a scientist at Colorado State University’s Colorado Water Institute -- his family has been prominent in conservation and in regional and national politics for decades -- told me that water use can be divided broadly into two categories: consumptive and non-consumptive. 

When a farmer irrigates a field with river water, he said, some of the water is consumed by whatever the farmer is growing and by evaporation, but some is returned to the stream. The ditch system in the Grand Valley carries runoff and surplus irrigation water back to the river, and that water is used again, mainly by other farmers. (Kent Holsinger told me that, on average, river water is used more than half a dozen times before it leaves the state.) 

Excess irrigation water also soaks into the earth, replenishing groundwater and, eventually, feeding surface streams.

Udall said, “Efforts to improve water efficiency in agriculture almost always lead to increases in the consumed fraction. On an individual field, they make it look like we are using water better, but they actually move us in exactly the wrong direction.” 

Modern, efficient irrigation techniques can cause crop yields per acre-foot to rise, but also increase water consumption, so downstream users who relied on excess from upstream -- the non-consumed fraction -- now have to find water somewhere else. Increasing efficiency also does nothing to address over-allocation. Indeed, it can make over-allocation more dire, by allowing uses, and even the total number of users, to grow. 

Waste, paradoxically, is a kind of reservoir. If the residents of a suburb routinely water their lawns, they can stop during a drought. But once they’ve replaced their Bermuda grass with cacti and gravel, and once the water that formerly ran through their sprinklers has been redirected to bathrooms and kitchens in brand-new subdivisions, the enlarged system is more vulnerable in dry periods, because it contains less slack.

Cox drove me past a field in which one of his employees was planting lettuce, and parked by another ditch. “This is some of our citrus, here,” he said. “It’s grapefruit. It’s been flood-irrigated in the past, but we’re switching it all to micro-sprinkler.” 

Doing that will reduce Cox’s water need, but it will also have the perverse efficiency effect that Bradley Udall described, by turning a non-consumptive use (irrigation runoff) into a consumptive one (more grapefruit). That’s an especially complicated issue in the Imperial Valley, because runoff from farms like Cox’s is the only source of water, other than modest amounts of rainfall and mountain runoff, for the Salton Sea, an immense but shrinking and increasingly threatened lake at the northern end of the valley. [He means water in additon to water received from the Colorado for irrigation.]

Conservation has had other negative effects in the region. Water from the Colorado is transported to the valley by the All-American Canal, which was completed in 1942. It used to leak tens of thousands of acre-feet a year into the desert along its route. n 2010, as part of the Quantification Settlement Agreement, a concrete-lined replacement for the most porous section was completed. 

But it turned out that the leakage had sustained a fragile Mexican wetland, which dried up when the leakage stopped; leakage had also provided irrigation water for Mexican farms near the border. 

Lining the canal didn’t reduce water use or turn waste into a new resource; instead, it transferred an existing resource from Mexico to Southern California, creating a shortage that then had to be relieved with water from somewhere else.


Pundita Notes

1.  The entire writing is important but I wish Owen or another reporter would dedicate an article to the conservation issue he raised. I'd especially like to know whether any study has been done yet to determine when/if use of a large volume of water in a concrete-paved environment (cities) outweighs concerns about zealous conservation.   

2. I have a question about another part of the article, which discusses how water rights are allocated in the western states: “Water law in Colorado and most states in the West is based on what’s called the doctrine of prior appropriation." ...  “first in time, first in right.”

I'm trying to understand how this law squares with the "use it or lose it" rule, which was discussed in a National Geographic article about exporting Colorado River water to Asia via alfalfa feed.  (See reference below.)
"There's a lot of water being wasted growing alfalfa in the summer," [Robert Glennon] said. "The [Imperial Valley farmers] do it because they don't have anything else to do with the water, and because they fear they'll lose their rights to it if they don't keep using it. That's a rule that could be changed."
It's possible the rule (and the "first in time" rule) is governed by states and has nothing to do with interstate water law; e.g., the water compact governing how California and other states use the Colorado River water, but I wanted to raise the question.

3.  Three articles that are excellent background to Owen's discussion of problems connected with the drain on the Colorado:

The American Nile (photo essay/video/text), Jonathan Waterman, February 14, 2014, National Geographic
(Stunning, 1 pix worth 1,000 words 'then and now' photos of Colorado tributaries.  

Exporting the Colorado River to Asia, Through HayBen Jervey, January 23, 2014, National Geographic

Water's Edge (5 part video/text series), Steve Baragona, February 12, 2015, VOA News
"Baragona co-wrote a documentary on the impacts of the 2012 drought in the U.S. Midwest that won four awards."
Very interesting comment on the VOA series:
 Matt Colver ·  Top Commenter · California State University, Long Beach
There's one simple solution to add over 300,000 acre feet of water each year. That's more than Las Vegas uses each year. The answer is to lower Lake Powell to almost dead pool depth. Lake Powell is in sandstone and also has a huge surface area. More than 300,000 acre feet of water is lost to evaporation and into the sandstone each year in Lake Powell. Lake Mead is a deeper reservoir made of volcanic rock. It's a better place to store water. Lake Mead should be kept full at the expense of Lake Powell. The dam at Powell would still work to keep silt from filling up Lake Mead. It's a simple thing that can also be reversed if for some reason people change their mind. It's also a lot cheaper than the billion dollar straw they're digging for Mead or better than screwing over the Native Americans one more time by taking their water.  [Feb 23]
 [The remark about Native Americans is a reference to one of the articles in the series]
4.  Don't forget the 2013 Supreme Court decision in Tarrant Regional Water District v. Herrmann (Red River Compact) and the possible implications for renegotiation of old water compacts between states.  Here's a succinct analysis of the implications by two attorneys.  (PDF) The Court's decision, while narrowly applied to a specific dispute, will take on increasing import the longer the dought in the West drags on, and the more populations in the states grow.    


Sunday, May 17

Gimme that old time religion

Jade's "Blessed" from their 1992 debut album Jade to the Max 
I think Handel could have written an oratorio around their rendition of this Gospel song   

How to liven up Salvation Army streetcorner fundraising at Christmas time
These Malawi Salvation Army timbrel players put their soul in it 


Mata Amritanandamayi Devi ("Amma") singing
"Unni Ganapathiye" 
Amma, India's "hugging saint," is the lead singer for her 2014 bhajan         

Don't be fooled by Amma's sweet, folksy demeanor.  This one is Adamantine spiritual strength.

Sathya Sai Baba, who single-handedly resurrected public bhajan singing in his teens, during an era when the British still ruled India and had cracked down on any activity that struck them as a sign of 'hindoo' insurrection, said a long time ago that the devotional path is the best religious one for humanity in this era; that the paths of scholarship and yogas are too difficult for modern peoples.
(He wasn't talking about the yoga called"Hatha")  

Actually the Bhakhti Path, the path of devotion to God, turned out to be the hardest in the era of the Internet, which sears hearts with sights of horrors and awful sorrows that span the world and forces ordinary mortals into the role of helpless gods.

Under such circumstances devotion to God, let alone belief in God, is not for the faint-hearted. 

Amma Story:  A couple decades ago I was taken to visit her when she was in New York City. 
At the time I had the Hounds of Hell at my heels. Again. 

Amma and I hadn't met before. She took one look at me and said in exasperation,
"When are you going to take Pari-Nirvana?"

I was a little huffy. Nobody's gonna kick my higher self upstairs until she's good and ready to go.  

But her point was taken:  
Really, really, old people who pick fights with demons to stave off boredom with this realm 
had better practice all the paths, including the path of devotion to God.

So hand me a timbrel. 


The typical American refrain: Tell us where it hurts

Let's Stop Nepal's Mental Health Crisis Before It Happens

Wired - ‎May 15, 2015‎
Caption: Thousands of traumatized people in Nepalspent the night of May 12 outdoors because they were afraid to return to their houses following the second major earthquake there in less than three weeks.

'Nepali Times' Editor: After Quakes, Nepalese Surprisingly Upbeat

NPR - ‎May 16, 2015‎
Two earthquakes and numerous aftershocks have hit Nepal, killing thousands and leaving millions in need. Kunda Dixit, editor of theNepali Times, tells NPR's Scott Simon about how people are coping. ..

Strange Doings in Nepal? Third Earthquake Strikes

Reporting on the mag 7.3 that struck on May 12 (Nepal’s Recent Quakes Don’t Mean a Bigger One Isn’t Coming), Neel Patel at Wired adamantly maintained it wasn't an aftershock;
Hundreds of aftershocks [in the wake of the mag 7.8 earthquake on April 25] -- some as strong as 6.7 magnitude -- have continued to hamper relief efforts and keep residents in a panicked state.
This latest quake, however, is not an aftershock, but a brand new seismic event.
According to the United States Geological Survey, today’s earthquake occurred 9.3 miles deep in the earth’s crust -- the same depth as the April event. Cities and villages in the area have already felt six aftershocks, and the new quake created a whole new wave of landslides further north in the Himalayan mountains.
Is this just horrible luck, or are we seeing Nepal turn into a haven for earthquakes? The USGS previously estimated a 1-in-200 chance of another event similar to the April earthquake occurring.
“It wasn’t a high probability, but it wasn’t unexpected,” says Rich Briggs, a USGS research geologist.

Unfortunately, it might not even be the last quake to strike region in the near future -- and it certainly won’t be the last seismic event that’s observed there. [...]
Despite this, some news outlets referred to the May 12 event as an aftershock.  Yet Patel's observation was prophetic. From a May 16 report at ABC News, which I see isn't bothering with calling them aftershocks:
A 6.3-magnitude earthquake hit Nepal Saturday as the country was still recovering from previous earthquakes in recent weeks.
The tremor occurred 15 miles north of Ramechhap, about 50 miles east of the capital of Kathmandu and south of Mount Everest, according to the United States Geological Survey. There was no immediate word on damages.
The earthquake follows the deadly 7.8-magnitude earthquake from April 25 that killed over 8,200 people. Further activity, including a 7.3-magnitude earthquake, happened Tuesday [May 12], killing 117 people. [...]
The U.S. Geological Survey tagged Saturday's quake as 5.7 mag, so I don't know where ABC got 6.3 from. But the question is whether geologists are a little more surprised by the strength of this third quake within less than a month.  From a Press Trust of India report on the third quake:
The tremor was felt at 5.04 pm [in India's Bihar state], Director State Meteorological department A K Sen told PTI, adding it had its epicenter in Nepal at a depth of 10 km.
Referring to the evening quake, Sen said an aftershock of this magnitude is generally not seen three days after a high intensity one like the one that took place on May 12.
“An aftershock of 5.7 intensity after three days of high intensity earthquake on May 12 measuring 7.3 on the Richter Scale is rare in weather science,” Sen said.
Generally, aftershocks after a high intensity tremor like that of May 12 are not more than 4.0.
As Patel reported, there were 6+ mag aftershocks after the April 25 quake, but maybe those happened within the first 48 hours of the quake; I don't remember. And I didn't know earthquakes were in the purview of "weather" science.

So I don't know how unusual yesterday's quake, its magnitude (whether 6.3 or 5.7), is considered by geologists.  I suppose this will come clear as more reporters interview more experts about the quake. However, if Sen's observations hold up, things are getting seismically strange in Nepal. Stranger than usual.



American Pharaoh's Amazing Race

Hereafter American Pharaoh's name deserves to be correctly spelled.  That horse didn't just win the Preakness in rain and mud. He won in a storm.  Thunder boomed, a lightning bolt hurled to earth just at post time, the wind raged, torrential rain blew in sheets almost blinding his jockey.

But one would've thought American Pharaoh was out for a trot on a sunny day. And he started from the worst post position in the field, #1, where he could have easily been cut off.  So this isn't a mere thoroughbred or race horse. This is the kind of horse that won battles for his mount.

The pack could never come close except for a brief stretch when jockey Victor Espinoza pulled him in a bit to give him a little breather. The horse had made fantastic speed on the muddy track to prevent another horse, Mr Z, from getting ideas about being a front runner.  He practically flew the track.

American Pharaoh won by 7 lengths even with the breather; this is what the finish looked like:

Pegasus, the winged war horse of Greek myth, couldn't have run it better.

I hope you're taking notes because I'm not

He would've figured it out early on

I don't have time for taking notes anymore. I'm just trying to keep up with reports on drought and related issues -- and who knew how many issues there were, until California's severe drought raised public interest in water shortages?

I'd complained in August that 2014 was turning to out to be the year of "Oh by the way," as it seemed every time I turned around yet another new study with bad news about drought was being pored over by the press.

The year has continued into this one, as reporters have fanned out across the United States and the entire world to dig up little-known or little-understood aspects of drought and all kinds of water issues nobody thought of before -- almost nobody, that is.  The few who'd thought of these issue had spent decades shouting warnings in a glass booth.

At one point, and I can't remember when this was, I did put together a list for this blog of major patterns I'd noted in the thousands of water reports I'd plowed through up to the that point.  The jarring conclusion to emerge from the list: there was a sameness about the patterns no matter where I noted them.   When it came to lack of attention to water, not much separated first, second, and third countries. Even governments in perennially arid regions had perennially put water management at or near the bottom of a long to-do list, or their tactics to address water shortages were woefully inadequate for serious drought.

What no one (but a few) had stopped to ask was what would happen if all world regions where human and livestock populations congregate in large numbers got hit with catastrophic droughts around the same time.

The year 2014 came close to producing the unthinkable scenario.  So everybody's wide awake now and scrambling to make up lost ground,  But within weeks of my publishing the list I found more patterns, more knock-on effects of drought I hadn't considered before.

Take dengue fever outbreaks. How in heck can you get dengue fever during a drought? Easily. People store scarce water in uncovered containers right next to their homes or apartment buildings, then armies of thirsty mosquitoes converge on these water sources.  

The latest knock-on effect I learned about was drought-cracked dams.  (See the previous post.)
"Dessication cracks," the dam engineers call them. When the water level falls in the dam during prolonged drought, cracks appear in the exposed dam structure.  .

Don Corleone warned Mikey that the one close to him would be the betrayer.  I've thought of the warning many times since I started this water project. We have taken for granted the most prosaic, the most obvious and familiar feature of our existence next to air. Now our oversight has turned on us with a vengeance.


Saturday, May 16

Cracked Dams: yet another of the 1,000 faces of drought

First comes drought. Then comes cracks in dams. Then comes floods.

The photo is from a May 13 video report from WFAA8, a north Texas ABC TV News affiliate, headlined Hundreds of Texas dams at risk of failure.  (See the WFAA website for the video.)

While Texans were celebrating the arrival of drenching rains in parched regions of the state, WFAA reporter Rebecca Lopez was investigating how all this bounty from the skies was impacting the state's dams.  Her finding:  Texans who live downstream from many of the dams have plenty to be concerned about:
[...]A study by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality found 245 dams around the state are actually in really bad shape.
"Age has something to do with it," said Warren Samuelson, manager of TCEQ's Dam Safety Section.

Aging dams and severe drought are causing cracks, and there is concern that with all the rain and flooding happening now, it may be too much for smaller dams to handle.
"After an extended period of drought like this, there are desiccation cracks that open up and fill with water during an event like this and can cause shallow instabilities," explained Jason Vasquez, Dam Safety Program Manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The Corps does monitor the larger dams more closely, and works to repair them quickly. But the State of Texas is responsible for the smaller, private dams, and thousands go without being inspected.
In 2013, the state legislature decided to ease regulations on rural property owners, so more than 3,000 dams are exempt from inspection.
Even if the state could inspect all the dams, there is no money for repairs. The state hasn't funded repairs in five years.
"There are not many avenues for assistance," Samuelson said.

Texas Rains and Drought: "Don’t let your guard down, our status is unchanged."

"While the rain gauges in the city are full, far less has fallen on the Highland Lakes — the primary source of Austin’s drinking water. Parts of the state may be receiving 10 inches at a time, but in the Llano watershed, which feeds the lakes, the amounts have been less than an inch ..."
Good news in a May 15 report filed by WFAA8, the local ABC TV station in northern Texas (Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex). That part of the supersize state has been hit with enough rain to buoy it out of the worst of a long drought: "In just a month, our lakes that have been empty for years are now filling up again -- just in time for summer."

Yet on the same day as the WFAA report the Statesman, an Austin newspaper, was opining on how the same rains were affecting central Texas: 

Is the Central Texas drought really over? Not so much

But wait, you say. It’s been raining for weeks, and the Palmer Drought Index shows that Texas, once bathed in red for extreme drought, is now mostly white or yellow.
That drought map we are so intimately familiar with measures soil moisture, not regional water supply. So while the foliage is lush and the ground is currently saturated, Austin’s water reservoirs are still exceptionally parched. We are still in what’s known as a hydrological drought.
“Yes, we’ve gotten rain and yes we are thankful for it,” said John Hofmann, vice president of water for the Lower Colorado River Authority. “But we are not out of this drought — not by a long stretch.”
For those who are uninitiated to the vagaries of Austin’s weather patterns, this recent spate of daily downpours is unlike any stretch they’ve seen in Central Texas.
But washed out roads, swirling waters, flooded greenbelts and tornado watches are just a much of Central Texas in May as blistering 100-degree days, which are still certain to arrive in a few weeks. After all, this is still Texas.
May is typically one of the wettest months of the year in Central Texas. This May has generated enough moisture to move most of the state out its yearslong extreme drought. While the news is welcome, it’s hardly cause to reorder St. Augustine sod for your dead lawn or to start taking 30-minute showers again.
Rain in Texas is like real estate: location, location, location. While the rain gauges in the city are full, far less has fallen on the Highland Lakes — the primary source of Austin’s drinking water. Parts of the state may be receiving 10 inches at a time, but in the Llano watershed, which feeds the lakes, the amounts have been less than an inch, Hofmann said.
That’s not to say that there isn’t some good news. Lake Travis has risen nearly eight feet this year and more than two feet this month to 631 feet above sea level, bringing the lake to it to highest point in more than two years. Additional rains and watershed drainage has the LCRA forecasting at least another foot increase over the next week. Those few feet means that a few more boat ramps can reopen — including the one at Pace Bend Park — and lakeside businesses can contemplate the possibility of a somewhat busier Memorial Day weekend.
The bad news is that Lake Travis is still nearly 40 feet below average, while levels on Lake Buchanan have barely budged. Our water reserves at both are at less than 40 percent of their capacity. Don’t believe it? Just check out the white limestone ring that still stretches out from the water of Lake Travis to the grass line.
In the short term, that poses a safety hazard for boaters who haven’t been on the lake. In the long term, we all still need to fret about our water usage and take seriously the call to conserve.
Enjoy your lush green yards now. We’re still a long way away from getting out of Level 2 water restrictions. And based on Texas’ boom and bust cycles of rains, we would suggest forgetting about twice weekly watering forever. Water conservation should remain a permanent state of mind.
We agree with Hofmann, who told us: “Don’t let your guard down … our status is unchanged.”
Why? Because of regional watering restrictions triggered by the levels of lakes Travis and Buchannan. By that measure, the two lakes would need to capture more than another 120,000 acre feet of water to enable the city of Austin to even consider loosening the current restrictions — and we’d have to maintain those levels for at least four months.
The heavy rains from the first week of May, according to the most recent report available from the city, only generated about 7,222 additional acre-feet of water for the two lakes, which means it would take either a tropical storm or a long rainy season directly over the Hill Country to refill those reservoirs. And there is always another drought lurking around the corner — or a flash flood, which comes with its own problems.
The irony of Austin weather is that it can flood even in the midst of drought. So while our neighbors to north and west look for more rain, residents to our south and east are increasingly ready for a break. While the deluges so far have produced relatively minor flooding, an ill-timed or ill-positioned storm burst could prove destructive and deadly.
That is both the blessing and curse of weather in Central Texas. Wait five minutes and it will change.

Faces of Australia's drought survivors

An excellent May 12 report by Matthew Cullen and "AAP" for the (U.K.) Telegraph, Drought danger as El Niño officially returns, focuses on the complexities and uncertainties of how the weather pattern will affect Australia, parts of which have been in a deep drought for years.  The report contains helpful charts and also photographs of Australian farmers and cattle and sheep ranchers who've stoically endured the drought.  

There have been several suicides of Australians whose farms have been wiped out by drought in recent years. And there have been so many farmer suicides in India in recent years in reaction to bad weather that it's now a sick fad to the point of ridiculousness.  

One young Indian farmer didn't even try to see what could be salvaged for sale or attempt to get a loan from relatives to tide him over after his crops where hit by a storm.  He went straightaway to the main tree in his village and hung himself.  (The villagers cut down the tree after they cut him down.)

Suicide in response to drought is a story as old as farming.  There were many such suicides during the droughts on the Great Plains in Depression-era America. It takes true grit to face down a long drought when one's livelihood is directly dependent on rainfall.

So I thought it would be appropriate to feature some of the Telegraph's pictures of Australians who've refused to cave in. 

Dave Fleming on his parched farm in Walgett
Picture: Peter Lorimer

Annastacia Palaszczuk on a property near Barcaldine
Picture: Mark Calleja
Drought effect on grazier Richard Kinnon’s property
Picture: Mark Calleja
Cattle rancher Emma Forster on her "Werna" ranch near Winton 
Picture: Adam Head

Shut up, Lt.Gen. Wissler

Neither the cause of the crash nor the identities of the eight people aboard the craft have been disclosed. Lieutenant-General John Wissler confirmed Friday that the helicopter was carrying six Marines and two Nepalese soldiers. The general, a senior commander of Marines based in Japan, noted the enormous loss of life Nepal has suffered during the past three weeks.[...]"While we mourn the tragic passing of our service members and [those] of the Nepalese army, we recognize that the Nepalese people have suffered a loss of thousands of their own citizens," Wissler said.
It was VOA that reported Wissler's ruthlessly inappropriate statement.  

Yes we know the Nepalese suffered great loss of life, yet for a Marine to attempt to put the deaths of men he commanded in 'context' is unconscionable, especially at this point. 

Wissler didn't wait until the families of the dead had time to bury what was left of their sons.  He didn't even wait until the bodies, burned or mangled beyond recognition, were identified through DNA tests.  Instead, he leaped to play diplomat.  

Then what is he doing in command of troops?  Why not resign and join the foreign service?

It wasn't his place, it wasn't his job, to play diplomat.  His job as a soldier, as a commander of troops diverted to a humanitarian aid mission, was to simply state his grief about the loss of the Marines and offer condolences to their families.

Yet my fear, which has been growing since I studied the U.S. military command's conduct during the Afghan 'war,' is that too many commanders of American troops have been trained to think and act like diplomats. The day of reckoning for this is on its way, as sure as real war.

I close with condolences to the families of the 6 American Marines and 2 members of the Nepali military killed in the helicopter crash in Nepal.  The crash was an especially awful tragedy just because it happened on a humanitarian mission.


Friday, May 15

Nepal army says wreckage of missing US military helicopter sighted near China border UPDATED 8:20 AM EDT

A US Marines helicopter that crashed into a mountainside in Nepal was completely destroyed and there were no survivors among the eight on board, including six Marines and two Nepali soldiers, Nepal's top defence official said on Friday.

Three charred bodies were found in the wreckage of the UH-1Y Huey that went missing on Tuesday while on a mission to deliver aid to victims of two earthquakes, Defence Secretary Ishwori Prasad Paudyal said.

"The search for others is continuing. As the helicopter has broken into pieces and totally crashed there is no chance of any survivors," said Paudyal, the ministry's top civil servant.

The Marine Corps UH-1Y Huey was spotted near the village of Ghorthali at an altitude of 11,200 feet , an army general said, as helicopters and Nepali ground troops converged on the crash site

"It was found on a steep slope," Major General Binoj Basnet said. "Based on information from the Nepali army, the site has been spotted."

AP report via Yahoo
6:00 AM EST
KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — Nepalese rescuers on Friday found three bodies near the wreckage of a U.S. Marine helicopter that disappeared earlier this week while on a relief mission in the earthquake-hit Himalayan nation, and officials said it was unlikely there were any survivors from the crash.
"The wreckage of the helicopter was found in pieces and there are no chances of any survivors," Nepal's Defense Secretary Iswori Poudyal said. He gave no details about the nationalities of the three victims, only saying their remains were charred.
The helicopter was carrying six Marines and two Nepalese army soldiers.
A separate team sent by the U.S. Marines also said they identified the wreckage as the missing helicopter, the UH-1 "Huey."
"The assessment of the site is ongoing and a thorough investigation will be conducted," a statement from the Marine-led joint task force said.
The wreckage was found about 24 kilometers (15 miles) from the town of Charikot, near where the aircraft had gone missing on Tuesday while delivering humanitarian aid to villages hit by two deadly earthquakes, according to the U.S. military joint task force in Okinawa, Japan.
The area is near Gothali village in the district of Dolakha, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) northeast of Nepal's capital Kathmandu.
The discovery of the wreckage, first spotted by Nepalese ground troops and two army helicopters Friday, followed days of intense search involving U.S. and Nepalese aircraft and even U.S. satellites.
initial report:

By Andrew Marszal, and agencies

7:52 AM BST May 2015

The Telegraph (U.K.)

[this report has been updated by Telegraph]

Wreckage of the US helicopter that went missing in Nepal amid earthquake rescue efforts on Tuesday has been found near the Chinese border, the country's army said on Friday.

Six Marines and two Nepalese army soldiers were believed to be aboard the aircraft, which went missing at 10pm local time (2pm BST) on Tuesday in the mountains of Nepal. Their status is not yet known.

"We don't know if there are any survivors, we have yet to confirm that. We have sighted the wreckage from the air, we are now trying to land in the area and get more information," Major General Binoj Basnet told AFP by telephone.

No signs of life could be seen from the air, said Maj. Gen. Basnyat. He said the wreckage was located in the district of Dolakha.

Ground troops were being sent to survey the wreckage on the mountainous terrain. Many areas in that region of Nepal are not reachable by air or road.

The news came as stores reopened and traffic was returning to Nepal's capital three days after the Himalayan nation was shaken by a second major earthquake.

[...] [continues with report about Nepal quake survivors]

Twitter pix and caption posted with report:

High terrain where wreckage of Venom found Friday Mt Gauri Shanker (Chomo Tseringma) in background.
-- Kunda Dixit, Twitter poster

Day 4: Search and bafflement continue about missing helicopter in Nepal. Pilot of chopper and 1 other Marine on board identified. UPDATED 3:15 AM

Update: Nothing confirmed yet but Nepali army spokesperson says wreckage of helicopter has been sighted near China border.  See Telegraph article 7:52 AM BST May 15. 

Marine Capt. Chris Norgren from Wichita, Kansas, Pilot

Here, his mother holding picture of other identified Marine on board, Marine Lance Cpl. Jacob "Jake" Hug of Phoenix, Arizona

Jake Hug on assignment. He's a combat videographer

"Whatever happened to them, it had to have happened quickly" 

It's 12:30 PM in Nepal, Day Three of full day of searching has been on since dawn.  No news reports datelined Friday have been published as yet on today's search.  Here, scraps of news and speculation from 4 reports yesterday:   

From KSN News, about the pilot of the missing Huey:
KSN talked to Captain Chris Norgren’s family who told us he is on his second overseas deployment. His first deployment was to Afghanistan.
From AZ Central, about Jake Hug:
Hug's parents, Jim and Andrea, have been in frequent contact with the Marines since the helicopter went missing, but there have been no new developments or contact from the crew as of Thursday evening, Jim Hug said.
Jacob Hug, 22, is based in Okinawa, Japan, and was on temporary assignment in Nepal for about a week before the helicopter disappeared. It was carrying six Marines and two Nepalese soldiers.
Hug and the others were taking tarps, rice and other supplies to remote locations that had been devastated by the quakes, his father said. Hug, a combat videographer, also was taking footage of relief efforts for the Defense Department.
"Between the first stop and the second stop, the helicopter reported an issue with the fuel line, and then being in such a remote location, it just disappeared," Jim Hug said. "There's no signs of a crash, no signs of smoke, no signs of a fire. The emergency beacon didn't go on."
He said he understands that U.S. and Nepalese resources are stretched by earthquake-relief efforts, but he has pleaded with military officials and U.S. policymakers to dedicate more personnel to search for the missing crew.
He spoke Thursday to U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake and to staff members of U.S. Sen. John McCain, both Arizona Republicans.
Flake told The Republic that he planned to ask military officials whether they can commit more personnel to the search.
"I just don't know enough about what we're doing to respond to them yet," Flake said Thursday.
Jim Hug said he hoped more personnel would join the search.
"What needs to happen is ground support, slowly and methodically, getting into the area underneath the trees and finding this helicopter," he said. "We don't have it. We don't have the support. We don't have the means."
Jim Hug said he was encouraged that his son and Jacob's fellow Marines are well trained for survival. [...]
 From Breitbart:
“So far, two UH-1Y Hueys, two MV-22 Ospreys, one Indian Mi-17 and three Nepalese helicopters have searched for the [helicopter] that went missing May 12 near Charikot, Nepal, while conducting humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations. Augmenting the aerial search are Nepalese troops — a special forces platoon and a battalion-sized element,” said the Pentagon in a statement.
More than 400 Nepali soldiers have been searching the area on foot since the helicopter disappeared.
Nepali troops are also searching the Tamakoshi River on boats.
Reuters reports that a two-man U.S. civilian team in Koshikhet village was using a drone to search for the missing helicopter.  
“We are using infrared vision to look for hotspots and any signs of life,” drone operator Shepherd Eaton, from GlobalMedic, a U.S. aid agency that specializes in search and rescue, told Reuters.
The two-man team was reportedly working with the Nepali army.
From NBC News, 1:48 PM EDT, Thurs:

Crews are continuing the search for a missing U.S. military chopper and its eight passengers after it vanished Tuesday somewhere in the cloaked and craggy Himalayan hillside of Nepal.
But there remains no contact from the UH-1Y Huey, military officials say, even though the helicopter was equipped with a GPS device, radio and emergency beacon. Its unexplained disappearance has left even experienced helicopter pilots perplexed.
"It's baffling," retired Army helicopter pilot Jim Weatherill told NBC News on Thursday. "Why isn't the emergency beacon transmitting a frequency to where they might be?"
The Huey vanished late Tuesday night following amagnitude-7.3 aftershock that rocked Nepal earlier that day, killing at least 96 people. The chopper was on its way to deliver aid in the hard-hit district of Dolakha, east of Kathmandu. Six Americans and two Nepalese service members were on board.
Defense Department officials have said there were no reports of smoke or a loud bang indicating that the aircraft crashed. Two Marine MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft have been combing a search area.
Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said a helicopter from India reported hearing about a possible fuel problem with the Huey. The Marines had just dropped off their supplies in one location and were on their way to a second stop when they lost contact.
 Even if there was fuel or engine trouble and the helicopter had to make an emergency landing, it's puzzling that no one on board would have radioed, experts say.
"Whatever happened to them, it had to have happened quickly," said Weatherill, a pilot during the Vietnam War who has experience with Huey models.
If there was no flat surface to touch down on, the crew could have made an emergency landing on water, Weatherill said, in which case hearing the emergency beacon would be much more difficult depending on how submerged the aircraft became.
"The helicopter doesn't float," Weatherill added, "so the guys would have had to prepare for the emergency landing and have the doors open so they could swim out."
Theoretically, the beacon's signal would still go off like a siren and be picked up by someone monitoring the frequency. But detecting the signal also requires a line of sight that could be disrupted because of the mountainous terrain of the Himalayas, military officials caution.
Weatherill said if the aircraft is on land, it's only a matter of time before it's found. Helicopter missions include tailored flight plans, and the search teams would be focusing on a specific zone, while factoring in how much fuel the aircraft would have had before needing to land.
For now, it's all speculation. Military officials say there's a possibility the service members are alive and in an area where they simply can't communicate. Still, "it's going to be very difficult to figure out what happened without finding any presumed wreckage first," Weatherill said.

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