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Entries in water (9)

12:26PM

LockMart scores desalination breakthrough?

 

Fascinating to me, and to have a defense contractor to boot!

HT to Jim Henkenius.

Reuters story here.

Gist of short notice:

A defense contractor better known for building jet fighters and lethal missiles says it has found a way to slash the amount of energy needed to remove salt from seawater, potentially making it vastly cheaper to produce clean water at a time when scarcity has become a global security issue.

Why this matters so much:  check out the NYT story on India's growing water woes.

That people in one of the rainiest places on the planet struggle to get potable water is emblematic of the profound water challenges that India faces. Every year, about 600,000 Indian children die because of diarrhea orpneumonia, often caused by toxic water and poor hygiene, according to Unicef.

Half of the water supply in rural areas, where 70 percent of India’s population lives, is routinely contaminated with toxic bacteria. Employment in manufacturing in India has declined in recent years, and a prime reason may be the difficulty companies face getting water.

And India’s water problems are likely to worsen. A report that McKinsey & Company helped to write predicted that India would need to double its water-generation capacity by the year 2030 to meet the demands of its surging population.

separate analysis concluded that groundwater supplies in many of India’s cities — including Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Chennai — are declining at such a rapid rate that they may run dry within a few years.

The water situation in Gurgaon, the new mega-city south of Delhi, became so acute last year that a judge ordered a halt to new construction until projects could prove they were using recycled water instead of groundwater.

It's an old story:  nobody really prioritizes the innovation until the national security tag gets slapped on - amidst a general defense budget slowdown.  Then voila!  Big player comes through.

12:01AM

Fracking confronts the reality of limited water resources

WSJ piece noting that all this hydralic fracturing (fracking) is coming up against local water limits.  Already, US fracking uses water on par with the city of Chicago or Houston.

So the industry jumps into figuring out how to reuse the water multiple times by cleaning it up (not enough for drinking but enough to reuse).  Already in PA the percentage use of recycled water is up to 17% this year, jumping from 13% last year.

This is a huge issue, because we're looking at 1 million more fracking wells globally by 2035, according to Schlumberger (oilfield services co.).  The issue is expressed both in unwanted externalities (enviro risks/damage) and cost within the industry (acquiring and disposing).

Something to keep an eye on, as the industry competes with Mother Nature (climate change), agriculture and urbanization globally.

12:42PM

Smart argument on handling America's water advantage

Smart op-ed in WSJ.

America is sending over huge amounts of alfalfa to China.  Alfalfa is a VERY water-intensive crop.  China uses it to feed their cattle which produce beef and dairy products.

Point of the article:  why not send beef and dairy to China instead and reap the better profit margin for our valuable water?

That's how New Zealand does it.  Its highest-value export is powdered milk, notes the authors of the piece.

The culprit?  America's antiquated and byzantine water-regulation practices - especially in the West.

2:17PM

Chart of the Day: Water and Food in Mideast

Close the Straits of Hormuz, says the WSJ, and you shut down more than oil flow.  Ninety percent of food in the PG is imported.

Water is perhaps the most complex of the region's resource-security puzzles.  Gulf countries have some fo the lowest rainfall rates and smallest water resources in the world.  Gulf countries satisfy demand by desalinating seawater, but that leaves them vulnerable if their desalination plants malfunction or are attacked.

12:02AM

Getting seriously efficient on water use

USA Today story on San Antonio: exhibit A for those that assume we cannot do better on efficient use of resources.

In mid 1990s, city was slapped with restriction of use of aquifier due to endangered species (rare blind salamander).  Instead of looking for new sources, the city went big on cutting use (recycling, more efficient toilets pushed throughout city, etc.).

City now uses the same amount of water it used in 1984, even though population is two-thirds larger. Citizens average about 2/3rd the national average water use.

All of this is crucial given Texas' long and harsh drought - a harbinger of things to come with climate change.

Mayor: "We practice [conservation] religiously.  It's part and parcel of being a San Antonian."

Impressive.

12:03AM

Grafting an old fight on a new fear: jihadists chase fads too

WAPO story by way of WPR's Media Roundup on how a jihadist leader in Pakistan is stoking fears on India's upstream control of rivers.

Gist:

The latest standoff between India and Pakistan features familiar elements: perceived Indian injustices, calls to arms by Pakistani extremists. But this dispute centers on something different: water.

Militant organizations traditionally focused on liberating Indian-held Kashmir have adopted water as a rallying cry, accusing India of strangling upstream rivers to desiccate downstream farms in Pakistan's dry agricultural heartland. This spring, a religious leader suspected of links to the 2008 Mumbai attacks led a protest here of thousands of farmers driving tractors and carrying signs warning: "Water Flows or Blood." The cleric, Hafiz Sayeed, recently told worshipers that India was guilty of "water terrorism."

India and Pakistan have pledged to improve relations. But Sayeed's water rhetoric, echoed in shrill headlines on both sides of the border, encapsulates two issues that threaten those fragile peace efforts -- an Indian dam project on the shared Indus River and Pakistan's reluctance to crack down on Sayeed.

It also signals the expanding ambitions of Punjab-based militant groups such as the banned Lashkar-i-Taiba, founded by Sayeed, through an issue that touches millions who live off Pakistan's increasingly arid land.

Pakistan's water supply is dwindling because of climate change, outdated farming techniques and an exploding population. Now Pakistan says India is exacerbating its woes by violating the treaty that for 50 years has governed use of water originating in Kashmir.

India denies the charge, and its ambassador to Pakistan recently called the water theft allegations "preposterous." International water experts say that there is little evidence India is diverting water from Pakistan but that Pakistan is right to feel vulnerable because its water is downstream of India's.

The underlying reality is that there's no real evidence for the charge, but plenty of circumstantial conspiracy-style "evidence" and a triggering event/perception of climate change to fuel local fears.  The jihadis are drawn to any potential cause celebre.  Why?  To control through disconnection requires you blame the world for all your woes.

The real truth:

Politics aside, experts say, Pakistan's water situation is reaching crisis proportions. As the population has grown over six decades, per-capita water availability has dropped by more than two-thirds. About 90 percent of the water is used for agriculture, making it an economic lifeline but leaving little for human consumption.

Inefficient irrigation and drainage techniques have degraded soil and worsened shortages, forcing many small farmers to pump for groundwater. A severe electricity crisis means most rely on diesel-powered pumps, but fuel prices are rising, said M. Ibrahim Mughal, head of Agri Forum, a farmers' advocacy group.

So you ask yourself:  does Pakistan suffer from too little globalization (my diagnosis) or too much (the jihadis' charge at its most generalized level)?

None of these problems are insurmountable, but population growth plus outdated ag practices equals a disaster that must be blamed on outsiders.

12:05AM

Four approaches to fixing water

Economist editorial.

Great line:  "Although mostly unpriced, it is the most valuable stuff in the world."

A very true observation:  "So far the world has been spared a true water war, through the belligerency in Darfur comes close to being one . . .."  

No, the farmer and the cowboy are rarely friends.

The four obvious fixes:

 

  1. Improve storage and delivery--much of which comes down to fixing leaky pipes
  2. Make farms less thirsty--guaranteed requirement with global warming/droughts
  3. Better desalinization technologies
  4. "Unleash the market on water-users and let the price mechanism bring supply and demand into balance."

 

The clear way forward is--unsurprisingly--to do all four.

Lomborg makes the argument in various places that, if just #1 was done, there'd be more than enough water to go around.

GMOs are the unlocking mechanism on two.

Desal techs are coming and the price of that falls every time another major metro joins the experiment, but we're still talking less than 1/2 of one percent of fresh water and takes a lot of energy.

The biggest holdup is the widespread notion that water is a free good.

Then again, I've watched Americans change quite a few habits WRT drinking water in the past couple of decades--a process that should be joined regarding usage in the house.  But again, all this pales to the choices made by farmers and governments working with farmers.

And that's where I think work such as Venter's can be hugely impactful.

12:01AM

Chart of the day: Water, water--everywhere

Just a nifty chart from a recent Economist special report on water.

The basics of the planet's layout when it comes to water.

The bits that always catch your eye:

 

  • Only 2-3% of the water in the world is fresh, or non-salt water
  • Of that, much is held in glaciers and ice caps
  • Of the tiny fraction that is surface water, most of that is lakes.

 

The most counter-intuitive for me is that when we talk of water, it's mostly about rivers, but when you check the numbers, rivers are only 1.6% of surface/atmospheric water, which is 0.4 percent of fresh water, which is 2.5% of the world's water. 

The other big counterintuitive reality: domestic use of water is peanuts compared to agricultural.

 

12:07AM

Southern Sudan's nation will be built around agriculture as much as oil

The Dinka (Christian) of southern Sudan are built around cattle.  They are the south's largest tribe, and like all cattleman, they fret primarily over their herds' access to water and grazing.  The Dinka will dominate any new southern Sudan state--yet to be named.  If the state happens, it'll be Africa's first new one since 1993 (Eritrea), but hardly its last.

The issue:  the lands of the Dinka are vast and fertile but flat.  When rain happens, it pools for months, creating a lot of marshes, mosquitoes, etc.

The fear:  without the north to hate anymore, the tribes might turn on each other over water.

Dinka ministers in Juba talk grandly of bringing in tractors and turning virgin land into a breadbasket.

The trick?  Dinka men despise such labor, preferring the traditional herding route.

Sounds to me like southern Sudan might soon be on the block for having a lot of its potential farm land leased to, and worked by, foreigners.