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Thursday, August 28

The mysterious journey of Bardarbunga's magma, clearly explained by the Beeb

As millions of people around the world including air traffic controllers watch and wait and wonder, the complex secret life of volcanos goes about its business, unaware of the stir it's causing in the world of humans.
 
Rebecca Morelle, Science Correspondent for BBC News, has followed the reports of scientists fussing around at the Bardarbunga volcano with their many instruments, and from this somehow delivered a clear explanation of what the hell is going on.

In the updated version ("4:47 ET") of the August 27 report (Iceland volcano: New quakes raise concern over large eruption), Morelle also details the three most likely scenarios at this point about the magma's route and explains ihow each scenario would affect people, including air travelers, should it come to pass.

When we know which scenario happens?  The worst case is that we'll know when the skies above Europe are filled with ash, which as of the update doesn't look very likely.  In a few days the magma will make up its mind, is the best the scientists can figure.
    
The report is a joy to read for its clarity.  And educational too.  And yes, there is a graphic depicting the magma's journey, if you like studying bunches of meandering dots and little triangles pointing this way and that.

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Wednesday, August 27

Legal Marijuana Farming's Phantom Profits and Why The Real Profits Are For Crooks

"The boom in medical pot farms has led to a decline in pot prices, which in turn has caused people to grow even more to make up for their income losses, further exacerbating the problem, state and federal law enforcement and environmental officials say. Both public and private lands are suffering as a result."
-- From Cleaning Up After Pot Growers Challenges North Coast; The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, California); July 24, 2014

In response to every study and news report revealing more about the environmental damage done by commercial marijuana ("pot") cultivation, in answer to every report about criminal involvement in the industry, advocates of pot have one reply: Legalize it.
  
By this they mean legalize the cultivation of pot at the federal level of U.S. government.  This on the argument that once the federal government puts its weight behind regulating commercial pot growing it will result in better enforcement of regulations and knock criminals out of the pot growing business. That last on the assumption that under a legal regime the price of pot would decline to the point where legal growers could match or even beat the price charged by organized crime.

Yet the entire argument is wrong. This is first because it ignores retail business economics 101. The chaos that erupted in California, indicated in the quote I provided above, could have been predicted by any Walmart executive.

Second, the pot legalization argument can't seem to distinguish between agriculture for human consumption and the manufacture of chachkas. Pot agriculture intersects with no less than four heavily regulated retail areas in the USA.  This is because pot is used as a medication, added to processed foodstuffs, and cultivated commercially both indoors and outdoors. Those last two items also fall under every kind of American environmental regulation one can name.
 
Add to this the fact that while virtually all the regulations also apply to other types of agriculture for human consumption in the USA, there are features of pot agriculture that place a unique regulatory burden on it.      
All this means the regulatory regime covering just the agricultural aspects of marijuana is only slightly larger than the planet Saturn.

The cost of complying with this regime is in the stratosphere.  How, then, have any licensed commercial pot growers been able to make a profit up to this point?  Because the U.S. states that license the growers have never enforced any more than a fraction of the regulations and even then only in haphazard fashion.
 
And even with the will to enforce compliance, the cost of doing so is fabulously expensive. This is because commericial pot agriculture has two unique aspects:

1. The dual nature of commercial pot cultivation -- indoor and outdoor -- places it under two large and vastly different sets of regulations.

2.  Pot's cultivation sites are ubiquitous. If you want to inspect, say, commercial corn farms in your state, it's pretty hard to miss a corn field. But if you want to inspect commercial marijuana, first you have to find where it's grown. This can be anywhere -- inside a private home, a warehouse in a town's commercial district, in a forest or back yard, or interspersed with other crops in a field.
 
Piling those two factors on top of a regulatory regime larger than Saturn means that enforcement would gobble up all the revenue pot-licensing states realize from taxing pot sales, and then some. Yet by skimping on regulation the states have in effect been subsidizing commercial pot agriculture.  This has created the illusion that there are profits in the industry that don't actually exist.

It's this illusion that investment funds, venture capitalists, pot legalization advocates, and economists have been pitching when they laud the big profits in legal marijuana farming.

There are big profits all, right. The fine print is that the profits can only be made illegally -- by both the regulators and pot farmers cutting regulatory corners.
    
But if pot cultivation is legalized at the federal level, this would bring in a host of federal agencies that would set about enforcing codes, chiefly by handing out mountains of fines for noncompliance. 

This would force state governments to spend their revenue from taxing pot sales on code enforcement, a problem they'd try to solve by slapping all kinds of fees and taxes on pot farmers in their states.

There's only a handful of U.S. agricultural corporations with deep enough pockets to cover expenses from that big a double whammy.  However, Big Ag would have three good reasons not to grow pot: its cultivation can't be offshored, the product can't be exported, and the law suit regime that would gear up if pot is legalized at the federal level. The regime would be huge because it'll cover so many issues, including environmental and health ones.

That would leave the smaller fry to attempt to eke out pennies in profits from high volume production of pot.

To boil it down, under a federally enforced regulatory regime, commercial marijuana farming would be so costly the only entities that could legally make a decent profit from it would be law firms, accounting firms, auditing firms, and banks.

That would keep the door open for organized crime, which can make a good profit under a federally enforced legal pot regime in the same way it does now: by ignoring every U.S. law related to agriculture.
   
It would also continue to incentive lawbreaking by licensed pot growers. California's 18 year experience with licensed medical pot growing demonstrates that there is no surer way to turn law-abiding citizens into scofflaws than by setting up an industry that delivers good profits only by breaking the law.
  
So a bonus for forcing down the price of pot through high volume production while forcing up the cost of compliance is that it switches out Mexican organized crime's control of the illegal pot industry for American organized crime's control of the legal industry.  One consequence would be a level of corruption in U.S. state governments not seen since alcohol's prohibition days.
  
That's the Elmer Fudd method of crime fighting. We shot ourselves up but we sure showed those wascal Mexicans.

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Saturday, August 23

James Bamford's shattering conversations with Edward Snowden

Of all the people who might interview Edward Snowden, James Bamford is the logical top choice. But just because of this Bamford would have been the U.S. government's logical choice for the closest surveillance of anyone in the public eye who might conceivably speak with Snowden in person for publication.

It took him nine months and considerable trouble to arrange a meeting with Snowden in Moscow. Yet the long wait worked out to his advantage because he was able to study everything that had been written about Snowden in those months, all Snowden's comments during that period, and assess the questions other interviewers had put to Snowden. 

And just because he is James Bamford, the man who'd written more for publication about the National Security Agency than anyone else and closely studied the agency for decades, Snowden was willing to take successive security risks in Moscow in order to talk with him at length, over a period of three meetings.

The breaks in the periods allowed Bamford to avoid what the French call the Staircase Moment: those brilliant thoughts you should have voiced during the dinner party but didn't occur to you until you'd left.  Those moments are an occupational hazard for journalists; there's nothing like thinking of a great question four minutes after you've been ushered out the door.

Having been ushered out the door twice before his last meeting with Snowden, James Bamford had the luxury of getting the Staircase Moment out of his system before the conversations ended.

Yet if one knows nothing about Bamford's history, the one question he said he wanted Snowden to answer above all else would seem an odd choice, even a waste of interview time.  Snowden had already exhaustively explained to anyone who would listen why he'd stolen and made public copies of the most sensitive trove of secret government documents in America's history.

That is just why Bamford begins his account of his talks with Edward Snowden, which are written up as the cover story for the September issue of Wired magazine, by reminiscing about his previous visits to Moscow and his own experiences with the NSA. By the time he wraps up his account, it's clear that Bamford's burning question, as he called it, was directed as much at himself, at who he was at Snowden's age, as it was at Snowden.

These two men are not like Julian Assange and Glenn Greenwald, who were seemingly born with a great distrust for all forms of authority and never saw praise for a government they couldn't turn into an indictment. Bamford and Snowden were born to serve their government; these are law and order men, the kind who form the backbone of a nation's military and police forces. 

What could provoke such men into extreme actions to take their government to task?  Was it something in themselves that caused them to break every code of conduct that supports a nation's security services?  Or something they perceived about American government actions that was so awful conscience demanded the strongest remonstrance?

The most complete answer is found in the two most unethical and unfortunately illuminating psychology studies in U.S. history: the Milgram Experiment and the Stanford Prison Experiment.  It turns out that given the way human nature is built, there are just some among us that no matter how well-intentioned and law-abiding will transform into monsters when given even a small amount of authority that can't be challenged, or when instructed to obey such authority.

What we also know from the experiments is that there is no way, no way at all, to predict who among us will fall prey to the obverse of humanity's most noble characteristics: the ability to take charge in a crisis and make the tough and even ruthless decisions that no one else wants to make, and the ability in a crisis to unquestionably obey authority no matter the cost to oneself.

So important to our race's survival are these characteristics, any attempt to purify them of their dross would only result in a greater evil than their dark side represents. That is our lot, the dilemma we can only bear, the price we pay for free will.

And so James Bamford's burning question for Edward Snowden, what he really wanted to know, is whether either of them could have become Keith B. Alexander.  The answer, never made quite explicit in Bamford's account, is maybe but they didn't.


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That's a lot of bananas to lug around the oceans




"The project, which has spurred a series of port and infrastructure upgrades throughout the Caribbean and the US eastern seaboard, will make room for vessels with the capacity to carry as many as 12,600 containers, almost three times what the existing locks permit."

Not to be a wet blanket about what is "perhaps the most important project being built in the world right now," meaning the expansion of the Panama Canal to make room for mega-humongous container ships. These giant ships are in addition to the mega-humongous floating oil tankers, which I think I mentioned some years ago on this blog in connection with a report the John Batchelor Show did on the topic.

But I have a question about the behemoths that are now trolling the oceans in ever great numbers and frequency, and which are prompting canal expansions not only in Panama but also Egypt (see the report below), the somewhat strange plan for building a Nicaraguan canal (report below), and channel deepenings in just about every major port.
Has anyone done a study on the amount of heat generated by these big banana carriers and how this affects the ocean temperatures? Or any kind of study on how these carriers in large numbers are impacting ocean ecology?

If I understand rightly, ocean ecology has a big effect on global weather systems.

I am just asking, that's all. I know the oceans are vast, but if they're beginning to look like Grand Central Station at rush hour because traffic from veritable floating cities is covering up a lot of water surface, and combining this with a lot of floating trash on ocean surface and other floating gunk like oil spills, and with huge annual dust storms out of the Gobi picking up tons of industrial particles from China and dropping these on ocean surfaces as the trade winds pick up the grit -- I'm wondering how all this is combining to affect the oceans' reflective ability.

One of the interesting things about the mega-cargo ships, which National Geographic's article on alfalfa brought out (see my 'Shoot Yourself in the Foot Model of Global Trade' essay), is that while many of them arrive laden at ports, they can go home virtually empty because of big trade imbalances. So that's a lot of empty space to lug around the oceans -- and, I would guess, the giants exhaust as much heat into the ocean whether they're empty or full.

An ocean scientist might tell me there's nothing to worry about; that oceans are so big they aren't bothered by big banana carriers. And maybe a jaunt around Google and Bing would reassure me. Next year I'll look into the subject.

Panama says a $5.3-billion canal expansion may not be big enough
By Michael McDonald / Bloomberg / Global Eye
August 16, 2014
via Business Mirror August 22, 2014

A CENTURY after the US steamship Ancon first sailed through the Panama Canal, a $5.3-billion expansion delayed by bickering contractors and angry workers is nearing completion. The problem is it might not be big enough.

With the expansion 16 months behind schedule, canal administrator Jorge Quijano said officials are studying whether to dig a fourth set of locks to handle a growing fleet of super-sized ships. Those include the 400-meter-long “Triple E” vessels capable of carrying more than 18,000 containers, four times more than current ships passing through the canal.

“We are always analyzing the market and as soon as we can economically justify it, we will begin,” said Manuel Benitez, deputy administrator of the Panama Canal Authority, adding that he thinks the current expansion is sufficient for now. “If that changes and the demand exists, we are ready to begin.

”Panamanian officials will celebrate this weekend the anniversary of the French- and US-built canal, which cut thousands of miles off global trade routes and generated almost $10 billion in tax revenue for Panama since the US handed over control at the end of 1999. A new expansion could help sustain economic growth that has averaged 9 percent per year since 2007, the fastest in Latin America.
Delays on the current expansion, approved by voters in a 2006 referendum, have cost the country about $200 million, pushed the completion date back to December 2015 and may force the government to trim spending.
“We are going to elaborate a plan to tighten public spending, and we are going to review the budget,” Economy Minister Dulcidio de la Guardia told Congress on Monday, citing lower-than-expected canal revenue.
Campaign promises
PRESIDENT Juan Carlos Varela, who took office in July, needs the boost that would come with increased ship traffic to fulfill campaign pledges to reduce poverty, expand public transportation and sustain growth as canal construction winds down. The country’s fiscal deficit reached 3.2 percent of gross domestic product in the first half of 2014, above the 2.7 percent allowed by Panamanian law, de la Guardia said.
“We have already felt the impact of not having the canal expansion done,” Benitez said.
A consortium, led by Spain’s Sacyr SA, halted work on the expansion at the start of the year in a dispute over $1.6 billion in cost overruns. Construction workers demanding higher salaries went on strike in the days leading up to the May presidential elections and Quijano, the canal administrator, said a regional drought may limit ship traffic later this year.

Ship traffic

ECONOMIC activity in May, when the labor strike hit, eased to 1.7 percent from a year earlier, the slowest pace in almost five years. Growth will be 7.2 percent this year, the least since 2009, according to the International Monetary Fund. The country’s dollar bonds have returned 1.1 percent in the past three months, below the 1.9-percent average of emerging markets, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s EMBIG index.

The global financial slowdown since 2008 has also hurt revenue in the 77-kilometer canal. Total ship transits declined to 13,660 in 2013 from 14,685 in 2011, according to the Canal Authority. Officials expect those numbers to rise when the new locks open.

With a surge in US natural-gas production expected to boost trade with Asia and shipping companies including A.P. Moeller-Maersk A/S rerouting their largest vessels away from the canal, Panama is vowing to finish the expansion next year.

The project, which has spurred a series of port and infrastructure upgrades throughout the Caribbean and the US eastern seaboard, will make room for vessels with the capacity to carry as many as 12,600 containers, almost three times what the existing locks permit.

48,000 bananas

ONE 20-foot container can hold 329 19-inch televisions, or 48,000 bananas, according to Maersk, which says it has a fleet able to transport 4.1 million containers.

“Vessels are getting larger because of the economies of scale,” said Robert Brodesky, director of transportation consulting for IHS.

“There is a lot emphasis being put on ports, particularly on the east coast of the United States, in being able to deepen their channels.”

The expansion will coincide with the delivery in the coming years of about 165 ships capable of carrying as many as 10,000 containers, said Jonathan Roach, a shipping analyst at Braemar ACM Shipbroking in London. About 140 ships, including some under construction, will be too big to fit through the new canal, Roach said.

Benitez said the idea for an additional set of locks emerged as a way to attract increasing shipments of iron ore and coal from Brazil and Colombia, and oil from Venezuela to the canal. Officials have blueprints of the land where contractors would build the locks, Benitez said.

Nicaraguan canal

CHINA Harbor Engineering Co., which built Pakistan’s Gwadar Port and Macau’s airport, said it is ready to make the canal ever bigger. Chairman Mo Wenhe announced interest last week in “exploring our participation in all canal projects, especially in the design, construction and financing of a fourth set of locks.”

Talk of new locks may be driven by Nicaragua’s efforts to pursue its own canal, a $40-billion project it announced last year in partnership with a previously unknown Chinese company. Honduras also said it wants to build a rail line connecting it’s Pacific and Caribbean coasts to spur more trade.

The route through Nicaragua would be longer than Panama’s and the cost of the undertaking, at nearly four times Nicaragua’s gross domestic product, has raised doubts over whether the project is feasible.

Egyptian rival

“THE Nicaragua canal has incited Panama to play its cards and to push it a little bit further,” said Jean-Paul Rodrigue, a professor of global studies and geography at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, who estimated that an additional expansion would cost $10 billion to $20 billion.

The Panama Canal’s more immediate rival, Egypt’s Suez Canal, announced plans this month for an $8.4-billion expansion. About 18,000 ships pass through the Suez each year.

Plans for a canal across the Central American isthmus date back to the Spanish colonial era. Cornelius Vanderbilt funded a failed effort in Nicaragua in the 1850s. The French government, fresh off the completion of the Suez, first backed efforts starting in the 1880s to build a waterway across Panama.

As many as 20,000 men at one point worked on the French canal project, which was abandoned multiple times as debt and deaths piled up. In 1904 the US, led by President Theodore Roosevelt, took control of the project and the entire canal zone, which it would relinquish 95 years later.

Post-Panamax

SHORTLY after the Panama Canal opened in 1914, the 4,500 container ship that came to be called the Panamax became the new standard in shipping. By 1996 the first so-called post-Panamax ships were in use, and two generations of larger ships have been built since then.

With more than 50 million tons of dirt excavated since 2006 and sets of Italian-made gates awaiting placement at the new locks, Benitez said the canal has reached an agreement with its contractors on how to resolve any disputes and will finish by the end of next year.

“We are at the point of no return,” Benitez said. “It’s perhaps the most important project being built in the world right now, and it’s to the benefit of both sides to finish it as soon as possible.”

With assistance from Naomi Christie in London
[END REORT]
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Monday, August 18

Second look at the subsidence issue along California's Delta-Mendota Canal

An irrigation channel delivers water to farm fields in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta near Isleton, California

A photo of an irrigation channel delivering water to farm fields.
PHOTOGRAPH BY ROBERT GALBRAITH, REUTERS/CORBIS

The following report brings up points I'd missed the first time I looked at the canal subsidence issue -- and mentions something that is so obvious I hadn't thought of it:  the rapid land sinkage is cracking irrigation pipes.  Duh. So how much water is leaking from these cracks?  The report doesn't even try to estimate, and it's doubtful the state or local government has any idea.  See the National Geographic website for links in the text.   

In California, Demand for Groundwater Causing Huge Swaths of Land to Sink
By Julie Schmit
National Geographic
March 25, 2014
As growers pump subterranean water, farmlands fall to new lows.

With California in the throes of a major drought and demand for groundwater rising, officials and landowners are racing to respond to the process known as subsidence. Some areas of the San Joaquin Valley, the backbone of California's vast agricultural industry, are subsiding at the fastest rates ever measured, said Michelle Sneed, a U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist and lead author of the recent report.

While the bulk of the sinking 1,200-square-mile (3,108-square-kilometer) area in central California is subsiding only about an inch (2.5 centimeters) a year, one 2-square-mile (5-square-kilometer) area Sneed studied is subsiding almost a foot (0.3 meters) annually. At that pace, "lots of infrastructure can't handle such rapid subsidence," Sneed said, including roads, water canals, and pipelines. The drought is likely to exacerbate the situation, as less rain drives more pumping.

Sinking Lands Raise Flood Risk

The worst subsidence has already increased the risk of flooding in the sparsely populated region, including to the low-lying town of Dos Palos, population 5,400, said Christopher White, manager of the Central California Irrigation District.

That's because portions of the area's flood control system have sunk, reducing their ability to contain floodwater. Local flood officials are crafting emergency plans for where to place sandbags when big rains return.

"We've got some serious issues," said Reggie Hill, manager of the Lower San Joaquin Levee District, which maintains part of the flood canal.

Other canals and dams that deliver water to irrigate the fields of hundreds of growers are also losing capacity as parts of them sink.

White oversees the local effort to respond to the subsidence. His irrigation district, which serves 1,900 growers, spent $5 million in recent years to raise canals and dams.

The federal Delta-Mendota Canal, which delivers water from northern California to growers and cities in the Central Valley, runs near the edge of the subsidence bowl and was the focus of the USGS study.

In 1969 the canal's banks were raised four feet (1.2 meters) along a 15-mile (24-kilometer) stretch in response to subsidence. More renovations—including the raising of several two-lane bridges over the canal—will be needed in 20 years if the sinking in the area doesn't slow, said Bob Martin, an engineer with the agency that oversees the canal.

Sneed said more research is needed to assess the impact of subsidence on cities around the Delta-Mendota Canal.

One permanent impact to the region may be lost groundwater storage. As groundwater levels drop, clay deposits move closer together and space for groundwater is lost. "You can never get the deposits to go back," Sneed said. Groundwater provides about one-third of the area’s total water supply, even more in drought years, officials said.

Surprising Find

The rapid subsidence was first noted several years ago when the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation did survey work as part of an $800-million restoration of the San Joaquin River.

The land had settled so much "we thought our data was wrong," said Rick Woodley, a bureau resource manager. That led to further study by the USGS. Because of the subsidence, some construction tied to the restoration has been delayed. Anything built "needs firm footing," Woodley said.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority, however, said subsidence will not have a significant impact on plans for a new high-speed rail through the area. The system will run from San Francisco to Los Angeles and can be engineered to deal with sinking land, said Frank Vacca, chief program manager.

Longstanding Issue

Sinking land is not new to the San Joaquin Valley. In the four decades prior to 1970, portions of the valley sank 28 feet (8.5 meters), the USGS reported. Other states also suffer subsidence, and groundwater extraction is often the cause.

In the San Joaquin Valley, subsidence largely abated when growers began pumping from large federal and state water projects built in the 1950s and 1970s that are fed by Sierra Nevada snowpack.

But growers say they're now getting less of that water as the snowpack has diminished and more water goes to sustain critical habitat for endangered species. That combination has renewed growers' demand for groundwater, especially in drought years when surface water supplies dwindle, said Timothy Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies.

Landowners near the heart of the subsidence bowl are totally reliant on groundwater to irrigate crops, including almonds and grapes. More tree crops have also been planted in the valley, and they will die if left dry in drought years.

Local officials are working with landowners to reduce the deep groundwater pumping that causes subsidence, and to secure future surface-water resources and recharge shallow groundwater reservoirs, the Central California Irrigation District's White said.

California's groundwater is largely managed locally, but the renewed subsidence may spur more state oversight, Quinn said. "The groundwater situation in California will be a crisis long after the drought."

[END REPORT]
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Gee, and I thought cap and trade was baloney

The education of Pundita continues. Well, throw this in the hopper with the rest of the debates about cap and trade .....

How Can Critics of Carbon Dioxide Cap and Trade Explain This?
June 11, 2014
By Elisa Wood
Energy Efficient Markets 

You can’t miss the swords drawn to slash the Obama administration’s new plan on carbon dioxide emissions. There are big dollar signs written on their hilts.

Republican opponents, the Heartland Institute and others are brandishing warnings about hikes in electricity prices they say will come as coal-fired plants tumble under the restrictions. The Heartland Institute predicts a cost of $50 billion per year to the U.S. economy.

Right or wrong, such arguments are likely to look medieval compared to the other side’s arsenal: Not predictions, but data from a real-life carbon cap and trade program with a five-year track record.
Called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, the nine-state program could serve as a model, analysts say, as states figure out how to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s new proposal to cut carbon 30 percent by 2030.

“RGGI has demonstrated that emissions can come down rapidly and affordably in the electric sector,” said Peter Shattuck, director of market initiatives at Environment Northeast, a group that has been tracking RGGI for several years. “The ongoing progress of the program shows that this is an effective mechanism for cutting pollution from major sources.”

The common assumption is that reducing carbon dioxide emissions equates to increasing electricity costs. But since RGGI started, electricity prices declined eight percent in the nine states, while in non-RGGI states they rose an average six percent, according to recent ENE report. Meanwhile, emissions in RGGI states dropped 29 percent.

How did this happen?

RGGI is a complex program with a simple logic behind it. Create a cap on the amount of carbon dioxide that power plants are allowed to emit. Let the power plants meet the cap by purchasing allowances sold at auction. Channel auction proceeds back to the states who then use a big chunk of the money for energy efficiency.  As a result, consumers use less energy, emissions fall and utility bills go down.

The RGGI states (Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont) increased energy efficiency investment from $680 million in 2008 to $1.94 billion in 2012, a 186 percent increase.  (See related story ”What’s Ahead for New England Energy Efficiency Markets?“)

Of course, RGGI advocates can’t give the program all of the credit for the drop in electricity rates – and they don’t try. Various factors play into this achievement – low natural gas prices, in particular. But the RGGI data at the very least gives pause to the idea that carbon restrictions kill an economy.

“RGGI state economies have outpaced the rest of country, showing that the link between economic growth and emissions has broken in the region and demonstrating that we can address the threat of climate change while promoting continuing prosperity,” said the ENE report.

Economic downturns, of course, decrease power plant emissions as well. When we do less business we use less energy.  But now, as the economy is recovering, RGGI states are still seeing emissions decline, ENE said.

”Furthermore, within the RGGI region, emissions dropped 2.7 times faster than the rest of the country since RGGI was established, even as RGGI’s states’ economies have grown 2.5 times faster than other states,” the report said.

There is a long way to go before the EPA’s carbon dioxide reduction plan goes into effect – at least a year before it moves from draft to final rule, and then at least another year before the states file plans to show how they’ll reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants. Law suits are inevitable, too, and that could cause further delay.
So there will be plenty of time for debate over the economics of carbon dioxide cap and trade. Expect to hear more about RGGI (pronounced Reggie) in the coming months – if you can over the clanging of swords.

The full ENE RGGI report is here.
[END REPORT]
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Sunday, August 17

Yep, we are a nation of dog lovers

Not that Snake's owners gave a damn how much wildlife died of thirst.  So there is one unsettling aspect of this report.  Why did law enforcement wait months before rolling up an illegal operation that was tapping into the only water source in the vicinity?  As to the likelihood that marijuana growers will be "more and more creative" in finding water sources during California's drought -- they're already stealing water from fire hydrants. They've stolen water from a public elementary school.  They're stealing it from everywhere they can.  I'm surprised they haven't burst into the Governor's mansion yet and drained all the toilet water there.  

Resource Agency Officers Arrest Pot Growers in Sonoma County
August 14, 2014
Imperial Valley News

(Sonoma, California) - Law enforcement officers from the California Natural Resources Agency arrested
four men for cultivating marijuana in a remote area of Austin Creek State Recreation Area in Sonoma County over the weekend.

California State Park Rangers have been watching the illegal grow site for months after it was reported to officials by a park employee. On Aug. 2, officers cut down and removed more than 150 fully grown marijuana plants with an approximate value of $300,000. All the marijuana plants were growing inside the park boundaries.

“As the drought wears on, marijuana growers are likely to be more and more creative in finding places to set up these illegal grows where they can find easy access to water,” said California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Assistant Chief Briand Naslund. “Marijuana uses six to eight gallons of water per plant, per day.”

Working with the State Park Rangers, wildlife officers from the CDFW Marijuana Enforcement Team entered the grow site and immediately located and arrested two suspects, one carrying a firearm. Two additional suspects were found and arrested at the trailhead above the grow.

Officers arrested Alfredo Soto, 33, of Santa Rosa [California]; Noe Calderon-Garcilazo, 32, of Santa Rosa; Erick Reynoso, 34, of Cotati; and Jose Reynoso, 41, of Santa Rosa. All four were charged with marijuana cultivation, committing a felony while armed with a firearm, polluting a state waterway and damaging state park plant life and geological features.

During the arrests, a chihuahua belonging to one of the suspects ran into the forest. Fearing that the dog would be lost, several officers and CDFW K-9 officer Phebe set off in pursuit. After a short search and excellent tracking by Phebe, the terrified dog, “Snake,” was found hiding in a small canyon.

In addition to the plants officers found hundreds of feet of irrigation tubing, wire fencing, fertilizers and pesticides. The suspects were tapping a spring, which was the only water source in the vicinity. The water was diverted to the illegal marijuana grow, depriving all local wildlife of its most basic need and further exacerbating the state’s severe drought.

“Snake” was safely transported to Sonoma Valley Animal Control, where he is being cared for

[END REPORT]
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Monday, August 11

Ah ha! Aliens from outer space, cleverly disguised as megacity infrastructures, are stealing all our water!

Yes, I have discovered we are under attack by a race of Rube Goldberg contraptions. No applause, please; my humility is boundless.  I even plan to donate the Nobel prize money to establish a new branch of scientific inquiry called common sense. But this really does explain everything; even why so many people started getting the idea that they'd been kidnapped by aliens.  In a way, they had, if they lived or worked in a city on its way to becoming a megalopolis.

Humans use at most a gallon of water a day, and even a cow can only manage 25 gallons. But the infrastructures for maintaining a constantly expanding megacity slurp up so much water they're threatening to drain dry every river, lake, and aquifer. 

Obviously this is a plot thought up by sentient water pipes to conquer the human race.

They hypnotize mayors and tell them: Repeat after me, "The more people and business I can attract to my city, the more tax revenue city hall takes in."

By the time the mayors figure out what's going on, it's too late. All they can do is try to sell yet more bonds and attract yet more business and residents in a losing battle to keep up with the cost of maintaining humongous ever-expanding infrastructures and the ever-expanding search for enough water to maintain those infrastructures.

In case you think I'm making any of this up, consider the following factoid:

"Large cities occupy only 1 percent of the Earth’s land surface, but the watersheds that provide their water cover 41 percent of the land surface."

It's not the people in those cities who're drinking up all that water, it's the giant cities they live and work in, the infrastructures, that have an insatiable thirst.  The bigger the cities get, the more water they use out of all proportion to the people who live and work there -- just to maintain their giant infrastructures!
 
So while agriculture takes about 70 percent of the water humans use at least it's vital: it feeds us and our livestock.  But what genuis thought up the idea of pouring water down the throats of contraptions and facilities whose entire reason for existence is to maintain their own gigantic and ever-expanding size?

Think it through: only an alien race that doesn't like humans very much could have come up with that one.

And then we complain about the costs to cities of public unions and welfare; heck, those are a drop in the bucket next to what it costs to maintain the state of always getting bigger.  At least welfare payments and union salaries support people. The megacity infrastructures support one thing: big.

And the amount of water that governments in the megacities lavish on staying big is mind-boggling.  The factoid I quoted is from Sandra Postel's June 6 summary for National Geographic of new research that provides the most detailed study to date of urban water use.  To get you in the ballpark fast the summary is titled, World’s Large Cities Move Water Equivalent to Ten Colorado Rivers to Meet their Annual Water Needs.

Do you know how many miles the Colorado River stretches?  How vital it is?  It's not called the American Nile for nothing.  And yet one megalopolis, Denver, is scheming and plotting to divert even more Colorado water than it already does in order to support its urban sprawl -- and Denver isn't the only megacity intent on grabbing lots more water from the Colorado by means that are bound to wreak havoc downriver.
  
But if officials in those cities were called out, they'd say cows and rice also use up large amounts of the river water. Yeah, well, those officials should try chowing down on a 30-inch water pipe for dinner.

And while this doesn't only relate to water: if you want to see what's perched on the banks of the Hudson River, lift up the City of New York and it's green "Central Park" and look underneath. That's a desert. Then lift up Washington, D.C. and its green "Rock Creek Park" to see what's on the banks of the Potomac River. Desert. 

These giant cities are one big desert-making machine. And they generate so much hot air, and trap so much hot air, I'd like to see the average global temperature recalculated without that heat source included. Then tell us what human-made source is contributing the most to global warming.

During a heat wave recently in Washington, which put the temperature near 100 degrees, I went about 15 city blocks down from a shopping/ business district to a residential one that had large trees lining the sidewalk and large shrubs fronting old apartment buildings.  I didn't have a thermometer with me but I'd estimate the temperature was at least 5 degrees cooler in the residential block, even with the sun beating down. When I remarked on this to a passerby, he agreed that it did feel cooler.

The kicker is that when the cities can't expand outward, they expand upward. There's at least residential skyscraper in New York that's about as tall as the new World Trade Center tower.  But many of the condos in the residential skyscrapers aren't even occupied. They're bought up, mostly by foreigners, as a safe house or speculative investment -- I guess on the theory that if they paid $2 million for a coffin in the sky, some other fool is bound to come along and pay $5 million for it.

Yet those towers have to be maintained, whether they're occupied or not, and that takes lots of water and electricity. And lots of heat being generated.  

And here in Washington, builders who can't buy up any more land in the city are putting up apartment buildings on top of older apartment buildings. No joke. Soon the nation's capital can lay claim to another dubious distinction: the craziest skyline. 

But when you consider how many people and how much business have fled a city the size of Detroit and think of all the infrastructure that goes into maintaining a ghost megacity, the scope of the craziness comes into sharp focus. Vast amounts of water are being transported though a huge infrastructure to pour onto ghosts.
  
The situation is out of control, so it's a skewed priority to talk about chopping down the size of federal government. First chop down the size of monster cities.  Even 20 years ago that might not have been feasible, but the technologies now exist to decentralize massed human populations and return cities to human size.  If we don't do this, the giant cities are going to destroy us -- and our water sources.

Before I quote more passages from Postel's summary, one possible caveat about the new study she discusses: The study's finding that 25 percent of cities are water-stressed might be challenged by ones that put the figure at 39 percent.  It could be that those earlier studies used different criteria for determining stress. However, even the lower percentage is alarming, given the size of the cities in question.
World’s Large Cities Move Water Equivalent to Ten Colorado Rivers to Meet their Annual Water Needs
by Sandra Postel
National Geographic
June 6, 2014

The California Aqueduct transports water 700 kilometers from northern California to southern California, including Los Angeles, which ranks first in the world in cross-basin water imports, according to a new study.

As cities grow in population and economic activity, they reach further and further out to find water to meet their needs.

Now, a new study has estimated that collectively the world’s large cities, defined as those with at least 750,000 people, move 504 billion liters (133 billion gallons) of water a day a cumulative distance of some 27,000 kilometers.

Positioned end to end, the canals and pipelines transporting that water would stretch halfway around the world.  The volume transferred annually is equivalent to the yearly flow of 10 Colorado Rivers.

Many large cities tap supplies not only in their own watersheds, but also in others far afield.

Los Angeles, California, with imports of 8.9 billion liters per day from distant rivers, ranks first in the world in cross-basin water transfers, according to the study, published this week in the journal Global Environmental Change.  The city diverts water hundreds of kilometers from the Colorado River Basin, as well as from rivers in central and northern California, to satisfy the demands of its 13.2 million people.

After Los Angeles, Boston (USA), Mumbai (India), Karachi (Pakistan), and Hong Kong round out the top five large cities that import the most water from watersheds other than their own.

Large cities occupy only 1% of the Earth’s land surface, but the watersheds that provide their water cover 41% of the land surface, underscoring the importance of good land use in maintaining the quality of drinking water. [Pundita note: Huh?  How can you use land well when it's been covered up by highways and tunnels feeding into the megacity and by the city itself?] 

Led by Rob McDonald, a senior scientist with the Nature Conservancy, the research team found that large cities get 78% of their water from rivers, lakes and other surface sources, 20% from groundwater, and 2% from desalination.

The study provides the most detailed assessment to date of urban water sources, and is the first to include inter-basin water transfers.

The Colorado River Aqueduct transfers water from Parker Dam west to the Los Angeles area. These transfers often cause ecological harm in the source watersheds, but they can relieve urban water stress by making more water available to cities.  McDonald and his team estimate that 25% of cities are in conditions of water-stress, compared with estimates from earlier studies of 39%.  (For these figures the range is +/- 4%.)

Still, urban water stress – defined in this study as occurring when a city’s water demand equals or exceeds 40% of its available supply – is a large and growing concern.
[...]
The top ten largest cities under water stress, according to the McDonald team, are Tokyo (Japan), Delhi (India), Mexico City (Mexico), Shanghai (China), Beijing (China) Kolkata (India), Los Angeles (United States), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Moscow (Russia), and Istanbul (Turkey).

While relatively wealthy cities can keep reaching further out for more water, the environmental, energy, and economic costs of doing so keep rising.
[...]
But these cities can't keep reaching out, not in a democracy, where today law suits can stop many of the water grabs, the worst of them. The suits are launched by city and state governments that find their water sources are being sucked dry by megacities located many hundreds of miles away.

Then what will officials in the American megacities do, when they can't divert and dam any more river water and pump any more estuaries and aquifers dry?  I don't know.  Maybe try to get their buddies from outer space to take over the U.S. legal system, or watch their real estate turn into a ghost city
.
********

Friday, August 8

Swept Away

I knew before I launched the "Water Crisis Gordian Knot" series in July that there was a crisis and that it had many interwoven parts, but it wasn't until I plunged into the specifics that I realized the extent of either.  At one point in my research I blurted in dawning horror, "Oh God. They left water out of everything."

"Everything" being clean energy, much of which requires vast amounts of increasingly scarce freshwater; development projects for entire regions of the world; vast modernization and industrialization schemes;  globalized manufacturing and agricultural exports; democratization; political philosophies; geopolitical strategies; and government economic and social polices.

All of it, the entire edifice of the modern era, did not reflect thinking about water usage in an age of megapopulations.

It wasn't hard to see why. Water, for Europe and most of the United States, was never a big issue in the 20th Century, and it was these two regions that designed the economic, governing, and development policies that the rest of the world adopted. Freed from the bottom line for human progress, the intellect was able to create theories about human values and economic and social progress that ignored water.

Now it's all being swept away as the unyielding bottom line, and the price of ignoring it, become evident.

"We" left water out of everything, I corrected myself.  We, not they.  "I" not we, I corrected myself again. Now I am forced to tear apart everything I thought I understood, all the concepts I'd struggled so hard to learn over the course of my life, and try to rebuild my ideas on a new foundation. For someone closing in on 70 years of age, that's not easy.

And so for the first time I have a real idea of what it feels like for people whose house as been totaled by a natural disaster. I'm too old to start over, but having seen the truth I have the same choice that families do when they've lost the roof over their heads.  Either give way to despair or rebuild.

This isn't to say that the enlightened justice systems that rose up in the West during the 20th Century were wasted effort. Humanity will need all the enlightened justice it can muster as the bottom line makes itself felt with increasing severity.  But we will have to rework every economic and social system, every theory of development and sustainability we hold now, so that water is considered first in every calculation.

Oh, snap!

Then there are the added horrors to contemplate: the anorexic types, the totalitarian minded, and the ones who can convert any disaster into a free ride, will welcome the age of water crises.

Already I've come across the argument that the way to solve the world's water problem is to stop eating meat.  Soon every national government will sprout a water czar.  Then there will be the Global Water Regulatory Regime. And of course cap-and-trade in carbon emissions will be extended to water usage, to be overseen by the same scoundrels who made fortunes by scamming the U.N. Oil For Food Program.

The era of water crisis will also be taken up with gusto by the Occupy Wall Street crowd, which will rework the tyranny of Wall Street into the tyranny of water hogs.  Already there is what's called the "Green Coast and the Brown Inland," which arose during the drought.  The term applies to rich Los Angeles coastal communities that are so well-watered they look like "the Amazon jungle," as one observer put it, while the poorer neighborhoods farther inland, which can't afford fines for wasting water, have brown lawns and dying trees.
   
And then there are the Scarlet Letter types. Having never quite recovered from no longer being able to brand others witches, warlocks and hussies, they will have a field day pointing at water wasting criminals. 

Don't laugh at the idea of criminalizing water use. This year the government in Jamaica went beyond its usual water rationing during one of the country's periodic droughts and announced that water wasters would be arrested.

Will the coming years see a Grand Water Inquisitor?  A tribunal in the Hague where water wasters are put on trial?

All right, Pundita, don't scare yourself witless.

The irony is that technically there is no water scarcity. This is because all the water this planet has ever had is still with us today. As one observer put it, "Do you realize we're all drinking dinosaur piss?"

This view of water evolved the concept of "virtual" water among water scientists: everything manufactured and grown for food, everything built that uses water in its creation, is water itself albeit in a different form.  

This view is driving the shift in thinking among water engineers toward reclamation as much as toward conservation. And indeed much used water can be reclaimed.  I've learned that even the condensation from air conditioning units can be captured and reused.

There is, however, a caution about carrying the concept of virtual water too far. While it's true that your cell phone represents virtual water, you can't sip from your phone when you're thirsty.  Water, once poured into a different form, can't be reclaimed as water.   

So now plans for every building project, every manufacturing and agricultural process, must be seen first in four aspects: how much water it uses, the amount and location of the water source, and how long the source can hold out.  

And gone are the days when regions could depend on an annual monsoon or melting snowpack to replenish rivers and aquifers. The snow will still fall on the mountain top, but it will evaporate in 100 degree temperatures before it can melt and flow into the river valley.  The monsoons will still arrive, but they can fall on land already so parched by drought that their restorative effect is almost nil.
  
Not to consider those aspects is to set up a falling dominoes situation. Too much agriculture in California?  Okay, transfer some of it to places in Oregon and Texas that have plenty of water.  Pretty soon, the regions in those states that welcomed the new business are finding their irrigation systems are running dry.

We'll learn as we go along, but we'd better learn fast. When this close to the edge, the margin for error plummets.

Another pitfall is to place too much blame on poor water management. The most enlightened water management cannot overcome the realities of stuffing too many people into cities perched in a semi-arid or arid region. The experience of Las Vegas is ample indication of that. Led by a smart and tenacious water czar, the city by sheer dint of effort greatly reduced its water use, but it could not change its locale.

When the water czar fixed on the idea of importing water from the Great Lakes, a member of the public who lived in the Great Lakes region took objection: "Come endure our cold winters if you want our water," he snapped. And added, "Nobody told you to live in a desert."
    
So it's not just about water management.  Every mistake in every type of policy that pertains to human populations also intersects with water use -- and with human nature, which is not the fountain of caring and sharing when it perceives gross violations of common sense.

Thus ends my account of how a series of blog posts became a personal journey of discovery. There will be one or two more posts on the water crisis but then I'll have to move along to other topics.  

Yet when I look back on 2014 I will remember it as the year of "Oh by the way."  Oh by the way, six U.S. states are running out of water. Oh by the way, 10 major cities in the world are running out of water. Oh by the way, our satellite imagery shows there's far less groundwater left than we'd realized.  Oh by the way, oh by the way..... 

My time spent on learning about the water crisis in detail has amounted to one long reading on "Oh by the way."

And I will remember, above all else, the words of a blogger at the University of California at Berkeley. In an essay titled Desertification: The Forgotten Side of Climate Change, he wrote:

"Ironically, we appear to be making great strides in enhancing our energy infrastructure, while at the same time the grass is slowly disappearing under our feet."

Yes. Those most intent on fighting global warming were looking at the atmosphere. Not at the ground, and the groundwater, beneath them. But this is not the time for recriminations. This is the time to change.
 
********   

Thursday, August 7

What do Washington's war hawks have in common with Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, and Justin Bieber?

Like teeny bopper idols who find themselves washed up at the ancient age of 22, the war hawks are desperate to get back in the limelight.
 
Next we'll be hearing that Russia causes solar flares and China is set to invade Beverly Hills. ('China adding Bangladesh to its string of pearls?' blared a recent headline at a uh, "geopolitical" website.) 

To which the American majority yawns.
 
See, this is the problem with running propaganda so many times everybody knows the script backward and forward.  But the danger, then, is that the provocations skyrocket. By gad if Russia and China don't want war they'll just have to be provoked into wanting one.

To add insult to injury, the new kid on the block, the Hot Blonde of the Year, is -- Nature.  The hawks are being upstaged by the weather. Viruses. Drought. Water. Toxic algae.  You can't give away tickets to a defense briefing but if NOAA sold tickets to a briefing, the line to buy would be a mile long. 
     
Now the hawks are ready for their close-up, Mr DeMille.  Show a nipple, raise the hem to the crotch, get drunk in public, smash stuff, shoplift, just keep acting out because there's no such thing as bad publicity.

This is what happens when war becomes an industry. It acts like the teeny bopper industry.  Except that Britney Spears never had a nuke in her purse. 
  
********

Tuesday, August 5

Note

I've just updated my post earlier today about the $500/fine.  It went into effect July 29, not August 1.  I don't know whether this strengthens or weakens the point I made.

**

Drought Global: "We are standing on a precipice here" Water Crisis Gordian Knot, Part 15


An Egyptian farmer sitting on cracked soil to show the dryness of the land due to drought in a farm formerly irrigated by the River Nile. Photograph: Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Corbis

Snapshots From A Fast-Moving Train

12 Provinces Suffer from Severe Drought
New Tang Dynasty Television
While the south is experiencing severe floods, severest drought in decades is hitting 12 provinces in China such as Henan, Hebei and others.
Drought threatens vast swath of China with shortages, crop failure WantChinaTimes
Henan province faces worst drought in 63 years China Economic Net
Henan Suffers From Its Most Severe Drought In 63 Years Getty 

The above is from yesterday. Last week I took five minutes to grab headlines from Google on drought. If I'd taken 15 minutes I could have found many other countries experiencing drought or that were severely water-stressed in key regions; here are the headlines: 
   
Brazil prosecutors want water rationing plan
Yahoo News 

40,000 Families affected by drought in Guatemala
Fox News Latino
Some 40,000 families have been affected by the drought caused by the El Niño weather phenomenon in Guatemala ...

Continued lack of rainfall extends drought in Puerto Rico
Fox News Latino 
Drought conditions continue worse than usual in Puerto Rico due to the drastic lack of rainfall over most of the island, except for the eastern and ...

Serious drought hits Inner Mongolia and Henan
WantChinaTimes
Lingering drought in northern China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region and central China's Henan province has dried up rivers and ...
Henan ramps up emergency measures for worst drought in 63 years 
Drought hits China food production - Xinhua 
Thomson Reuters Foundation

Jamaica drought leads to $8 million in crop losses
Yahoo News
KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) — A Jamaican official said Tuesday that a severe drought and brush fires on the Caribbean island have led to ...

Drought and misuse behind Lebanon's water scarcity
Middle East Eye
Over the years, drought or seasons of scarcity have become more frequent”. In his opinion, the current drought must be taken as a warning ... 

Iran's water crisis the product of decades of bad planning ...
The Washington Post 
Jul 2, 2014 ... TEHRAN — Iran is headed for a water shortage of epic proportions .

Drought in northern Kenya ...
The Guardian
Aside from drought, numerous factors are affecting access to food in Kenya's arid north, where the majority of people are pastoralists. Rapidly ...

Where Is Water For Sacramento County Housing Project Coming From?
CBS Local 
SACRAMENTO COUNTY (CSB13) — Why are new homes going up during a drought? Tony Lopez is getting answers. 

Major California reservoirs below 50% capacity as drought wears on
Los Angeles Times 
Dusk falls as a lone boater heads out on Lake Shasta, near the Lake Shasta Dam amid serious drought conditions. ...

Unprecedented California Drought Restrictions Go Into Effect
TIME
California implemented emergency water-conservation measures today as it struggles to cope with an ongoing drought ...

California curbs injection of toxic fracking waste into aquifers ...
RT - Jul 22, 2014
California is shutting down 11 oil and gas wastewater injection sites and reviewing over 100 others in the state's drought-ravaged Central Valley.

13 Oregon Counties, One Third Of Nation Experiencing Notable Drought
OPB News (blog)
Thirteen of Oregon's 36 counties are feeling the effects of extreme to severe drought as we enter August, arguably the hottest month of the year.

Don't Bank on Groundwater to Fight Off Western [U.S.] Drought—It's Drying Up
Smithsonian
A growing reliance on irrigation, a growing population and the ongoing drought have led to an overreliance on groundwater supplies ...

Drought Hastens Groundwater Depletion in the Texas Panhandle
National Geographic - 5 days ago
Persistent drought in northwest Texas is leading farmers to pump more water from the Ogallala Aquifer, hastening the depletion of this crucial ...

The Drought
Santa Fe Reporter 
There is a drought in Santa Fe. It is real and it is serious. It is so bad that city residents and businesses could face mandatory water rationing as ...

Klamath Basin cattle industry hit by drought
KOBI-TV NBC 5 / KOTI-TV NBC 2 - 12 hours ago
Beatty, Ore. - The Klamath Basin's cattle industry is drying up as the result of continued drought conditions. 

How Long Have We Got?


Developing world fast running out of water
(Asia Times) 

By Samanta Sen

LONDON - The developing world is running out of water at an alarming rate, a new study ["Running on Empty"] by the London-based agency Tearfund" shows.


Two out of three people around the world will live with a drinking water shortage by the year 2025 unless drastic changes are made quickly, the report says. And these two in three will be living in developing countries.

[...]
The crisis is upon us right now, the report says. Two thirds of China's cities are facing severe water shortages. In India, the capital New Delhi will run out of ground water by 2015 at present rates of loss.

Lake Chad in Africa has shrunk from 6,900 square miles to 1,500 square miles in the last 20 years. The number of people facing serious food shortages in eastern Africa has risen to nearly 20 million because of widespread drought.

[...]

By 2025, 25 countries in Africa will be subject to water stress measured at an availability of 1,700 cubic meters per person per year. Kenya, Morocco, South Africa, India and Pakistan will have levels well below 1,000 cubic meters per person per year. These levels have been described by the United Nations as "catastrophic", the report points out.
[...]

China is facing "devastating water shortages which can no longer be blamed on unusual weather patterns". The Yellow River, one of the biggest northern rivers, now regularly runs dry; in 1997 it ran dry for 226 days of the year. "This is the result of the large number of unmanaged demands made on it by households, industry and agriculture," the report says.

"The drought in the North has forced the government to take drastic action by diverting the Yangtze from the South, but this action could cause the river to run dry by 2020."
The crisis is hitting Chinese cities in unexpected ways. "Shanghai is sinking because of the amount of ground water being extracted from beneath it," the report says.[emphasis mine] 

"Altogether, two thirds of China's cities are facing severe water shortages."
[...]
Water tables are falling by as much as a meter a year in parts of Mexico, India, Yemen and China.

The heaviest human claim on water is agriculture. It uses 70 percent of fresh water across the world. In Asia and Africa the proportion rises to 90 percent, the report says. This raises difficult questions about the distribution of water.
[...]
[END REPORT]

If you don't recall seeing Sen's report at AToL -- it, and the Tearfund study, were published in March 2001. A few months later worries about global drought were relegated to the world's back burner -- except, of course, in regions that were experiencing severe drought. Then, just as the furor from the war on terrorism was cooling down, the 2008 financial crash happened. Once again the issue of global drought got lost in shuffle.

Fast forward to 2014.

Now The U.S. Military Really Has Something To Worry About   

Why global water shortages pose threat of terror and war
By Suzanne Goldenberg 
February 8, 2014
The Guardian Observer


From California to the Middle East, huge areas of the world are drying up and a billion people have no access to safe drinking water. US intelligence is warning of the dangers of shrinking resources and experts say the world is 'standing on a precipice'

On 17 January, scientists downloaded fresh data from a pair of Nasa satellites and distributed the findings among the small group of researchers who track the world's water reserves. At the University of California, Irvine, hydrologist James Famiglietti looked over the data from the gravity-sensing Grace satellites with a rising sense of dread.

The data, released last week, showed California on the verge of an epic drought, with its backup systems of groundwater reserves so run down that the losses could be picked up by satellites orbiting 400km above the Earth's surface.

"It was definitely an 'oh my gosh moment'," Famiglietti said. "The groundwater is our strategic reserve. It's our backup, and so where do you go when the backup is gone?"

That same day, the state governor, Jerry Brown, declared a drought emergency and appealed to Californians to cut their water use by 20%. "Every day this drought goes on we are going to have to tighten the screws on what people are doing," he said.

Seventeen rural communities are in danger of running out of water within 60 days and that number is expected to rise, after the main municipal water distribution system announced it did not have enough supplies and would have to turn off the taps to local agencies.

There are other shock moments ahead – and not just for California – in a world where water is increasingly in short supply because of growing demands from agriculture, an expanding population, energy production and climate change.

Already a billion people, or one in seven people on the planet, lack access to safe drinking water. Britain, of course, is currently at the other extreme. Great swaths of the country are drowning in misery, after a series of Atlantic storms off the south-western coast. But that too is part of the picture that has been coming into sharper focus over 12 years of the Grace satellite record. Countries at northern latitudes and in the tropics are getting wetter. But those countries at mid-latitude are running increasingly low on water.

"What we see is very much a picture of the wet areas of the Earth getting wetter," Famiglietti said. "Those would be the high latitudes like the Arctic and the lower latitudes like the tropics. The middle latitudes in between, those are already the arid and semi-arid parts of the world and they are getting drier."

On the satellite images the biggest losses were denoted by red hotspots, he said. And those red spots largely matched the locations of groundwater reserves.

"Almost all of those red hotspots correspond to major aquifers of the world. What Grace shows us is that groundwater depletion is happening at a very rapid rate in almost all of the major aquifers in the arid and semi-arid parts of the world."

The Middle East, north Africa and south Asia are all projected to experience water shortages over the coming years because of decades of bad management and overuse.

Watering crops, slaking thirst in expanding cities, cooling power plants, fracking oil and gas wells – all take water from the same diminishing supply. Add to that climate change – which is projected to intensify dry spells in the coming years – and the world is going to be forced to think a lot more about water than it ever did before.

The losses of water reserves are staggering. In seven years, beginning in 2003, parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers lost 144 cubic kilometres of stored freshwater – or about the same amount of water in the Dead Sea, according to data compiled by the Grace mission and released last year.

A small portion of the water loss was due to soil drying up because of a 2007 drought and to a poor snowpack. Another share was lost to evaporation from lakes and reservoirs. But the majority of thewater lost, 90km3, or about 60%, was due to reductions in groundwater.

Farmers, facing drought, resorted to pumping out groundwater – at times on a massive scale. The Iraqi government drilled about 1,000 wells to weather the 2007 drought, all drawing from the same stressed supply.

In south Asia, the losses of groundwater over the last decade were even higher. About 600 million people live on the 2,000km swath that extends from eastern Pakistan, across the hot dry plains of northern India and into Bangladesh, and the land is the most intensely irrigated in the world. Up to 75% of farmers rely on pumped groundwater to water their crops, and water use is intensifying.

Over the last decade, groundwater was pumped out 70% faster than in the 1990s. Satellite measurements showed a staggering loss of 54km3 of groundwater a year. Indian farmers were pumping their way into a water crisis.

The US security establishment is already warning of potential conflicts – including terror attacks – over water. In a 2012 report, the US director of national intelligence warned that overuse of water – as in India and other countries – was a source of conflict that could potentially compromise US national security.

The report focused on water basins critical to the US security regime – the Nile, Tigris-Euphrates, Mekong, Jordan, Indus, Brahmaputra and Amu Darya. It concluded: "During the next 10 years, many countries important to the United States will experience water problems – shortages, poor water quality, or floods – that will risk instability and state failure, increase regional tensions, and distract them from working with the United States."

Water, on its own, was unlikely to bring down governments. But the report warned that shortages could threaten food production and energy supply and put additional stress on governments struggling with poverty and social tensions.

Some of those tensions are already apparent on the ground. The Pacific Institute, which studies issues of water and global security, found a fourfold increase in violent confrontations over water over the last decade. "I think the risk of conflicts over water is growing – not shrinking – because of increased competition, because of bad management and, ultimately, because of the impacts of climate change," said Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute.

There are dozens of potential flashpoints, spanning the globe. In the Middle East, Iranian officials are making contingency plans for water rationing in the greater Tehran area, home to 22 million people.

Egypt has demanded Ethiopia stop construction of a mega-dam on the Nile, vowing to protect its historical rights to the river at "any cost". The Egyptian authorities have called for a study into whether the project would reduce the river's flow.

Jordan, which has the third lowest reserves in the region, is struggling with an influx of Syrian refugees. The country is undergoing power cuts because of water shortages. Last week, Prince Hassan, the uncle of King Abdullah, warned that a war over water and energy could be even bloodier than the Arab spring.

The United Arab Emirates, faced with a growing population, has invested in desalination projects and is harvesting rainwater. At an international water conference in Abu Dhabi last year, Crown Prince General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan said: "For us, water is [now] more important than oil."

The chances of countries going to war over water were slim – at least over the next decade, the national intelligence report said. But it warned ominously: "As water shortages become more acute beyond the next 10 years, water in shared basins will increasingly be used as leverage; the use of water as a weapon or to further terrorist objectives will become more likely beyond 10 years."

Gleick predicted such conflicts would take other trajectories. He expected water tensions would erupt on a more local scale.

"I think the biggest worry today is sub-national conflicts – conflicts between farmers and cities, between ethnic groups, between pastoralists and farmers in Africa, between upstream users and downstream users on the same river," said Gleick.

"We have more tools at the international level to resolve disputes between nations. We have diplomats. We have treaties. We have international organisations that reduce the risk that India and Pakistan will go to war over water but we have far fewer tools at the sub-national level."

And new fault lines are emerging with energy production. America's oil and gas rush is putting growing demands on a water supply already under pressure from drought and growing populations.

More than half the nearly 40,000 wells drilled since 2011 were in drought-stricken areas, a report from the Ceres green investment network found last week. About 36% of those wells were in areas already experiencing groundwater depletion.

How governments manage those water problems – and protect their groundwater reserves – will be critical. When California emerged from its last prolonged dry spell, in 2010, the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins were badly depleted. The two river basins lost 10km3 of freshwater each year in 2012 and 2013, dropping the total volume of snow, surface water, soil moisture and groundwater to the lowest levels in nearly a decade.

Without rain, those reservoirs are projected to drop even further during this drought. State officials are already preparing to drill additional wells to draw on groundwater. Famiglietti said that would be a mistake.

"We are standing on a cliff looking over the edge and we have to decide what we are going to do," he said.

"Are we just going to plunge into this next epic drought and tremendous, never-before-seen rates of groundwater depletion, or are we going to buckle down and start thinking of managing critical reserve for the long term? We are standing on a precipice here."


REGIONS AT RISK

1 CALIFORNIA 

The state's water resources are at critically low levels and a drought emergency has been declared. The health department says 17 rural areas are dangerously parched.

2 BRAZIL

São Paulo, the country's largest city, is on the verge of water rationing because of a severe drought and shortages are possible when the country hosts the football World Cup in the summer. January was the hottest month on record in the city and water in its main reservoir has fallen to 20.9% of its capacity, the lowest level in a decade.

3 MIDDLE EAST

Tehran, the capital of Iran, is facing a shortage so serious that officials are making contingency plans for rationing in an area where 22 million live as well as in other big cities. President Hassan Rouhani has identified water as a national security issue. Shortages are so severe in the United Arab Emirates that the country is using non-conventional resources, including desalination, treated wastewater, rainwater harvesting and cloud seeding. At a a water conference,Crown Prince General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan said: "For us, water is [now] more important than oil." With the third lowest water reserves in the region, Jordan is struggling to cope with an influx of Syrian refugees. The country is undergoing power cuts because of water shortages. Prince Hassan, uncle of King Abdullah, warned last week that a war over water and energy could be bloodier than the Arab spring.

4 NORTH AFRICA


Egypt has demanded that Ethiopia stop construction of a mega-dam on the Nile, vowing to protect its historical rights to the river at "any cost". The Egyptian authorities have called for a study into whether the project would reduce the river's flow.

5 SOUTH ASIA 

About 600 million people live on the 2,000km swath that extends from eastern Pakistan, across the hot dry plains of northern India and into Bangladesh and the land is the world's most intensely irrigated. Up to 75% of farmers rely on pumped groundwater.

6 CHINA

There is increasing competition for water. More than half the proposed coal-fired power stations are expected to be built in areas of high water stress, thus threatening water insecurity for farms, other industry and the public.

[END REPORT]

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