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Pacific Institute Insights is the staff blog of the Pacific Institute, one of the world’s leading nonprofit research groups on sustainable and equitable management of natural resources. For more about what we do, click here.

  • insights-into-prop-1-cover

    Huffington Post: What Does Proposition 1 — the 2014 California Water Bond — Really Say?

    by Peter Gleick, President

    October 23, 2014 

    On November 4, California voters will decide the fate of Proposition 1 — the 2014 Water Bond — which authorizes the sale of $7.12 billion in new general obligation bonds and the reallocation of an additional $425 million of previously authorized, but unissued, bonds.

    Do you live in California and are you trying to figure out how to vote on Proposition 1? Today the Pacific Institute has released a comprehensive assessment of Prop 1. The Institute is neutral: We are taking no formal position, choosing instead to try to offer the voting public some insights into the complexities of the bond. If passed by the voters, Proposition 1 would be the fourth-largest water bond in California history, funding a wide range of water-related actions and infrastructure. The total cost of Proposition 1, including interest, will exceed $14 billion over 30 years.

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  • 2014-10-18-Westlandsgwuseduringdrought

    Huffington Post: When Our Responses to Drought Make Things Worse

    by Peter Gleick, President

    October 18, 2014
     

    In a new study just published by the journal Sustainability Science (Springer), analysis from the Pacific Institute shows that many of the fundamental responses of California water users to severe drought actually make the state’s overall water conditions worse — that in the end, many of these actions are “maladaptations.”

    Water is a complex resource; and water problems are an equally complex mix of natural resource, technology, social, economic and political conditions. When water is limited, such as in water-short areas or during extreme events such as droughts, society puts in place a variety of responses. The Institute evaluated the major responses to water scarcity during multi-year droughts — in particular the recent 2007-2009 drought — by the energy and agricultural sectors. (A follow-up analysis of the current drought is in preparation.)

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  • ebola-blog

    National Geographic ScienceBlogs: An Open Memo on Ebola and Water

    by Peter Gleick, President

    October 13, 2014

    As input to the ongoing discussions about how to meet and overcome the spreading risks of Ebola, here are some summary thoughts about the water-related components of U.S. efforts. Specifics about the operations and effectiveness of water treatment or supply technologies, or the medical and health implications of their use must be verified by the designers/makers of the technology along with medical experts from the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), West African health and water officials, and related institutions.

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  • discloure-guidelines-chart

    The Corporate Water Disclosure Guidelines – A common and meaningful way for companies to track and communicate their water performance, risks, and impacts

    by Peter Schulte, Research Associate

    October 7, 2014

    The Corporate Water Disclosure Guidelines are available as a PDF report and web-based tool.

    disclosure-guidelines-cover-2014This week, the CEO Water Mandate launched its finalized Corporate Water Disclosure Guidelines – a common approach for companies to effectively and intelligibly disclose the many elements of their corporate water management practice to key stakeholders. The Guidelines present an important step in corporate water stewardship that can help companies communicate with their stakeholders, and better understand themselves in the process. Here are a few (of many!) ways in which the Guidelines can benefit a company.

    Demonstrating good practice

    By providing meaningful quantitative metrics and qualitative approaches that describe corporate water practice, the Guidelines help companies demonstrate good performance and reduced risks and impacts to investors, consumers, communities, suppliers, their own employees, and others. This is particularly important as, in the past, many companies have used water-related metrics that are at best of only limited use, and at worse quite misleading! For example, traditional globally-aggregated water use metrics inherently hide and undervalue the local nature of water resource challenges. Perhaps a company’s global water use has decreased, but has it decreased in the places that are facing the most urgent water shortages?

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  • Aral-Sea-1977

    National Geographic ScienceBlogs: The Death of the Aral Sea

    by Peter Gleick, President

    September 26, 2014

    In the 20th century, society was either ignorant of, or ignored, the consequences of bad water management. The goal was economic development at all costs. Over the past few decades, we’ve learned about the ecological and social implications of the misuse of water, and some efforts have been made to protect natural ecosystems, restore a modicum of flows, bring local communities into the discussion about water policy and infrastructure. These are steps in the right direction.

    But sometimes our failures have been monumental — and uncorrected.

    Perhaps the best, or worst, example, is the complete destruction of the Aral Sea. Once one of the four largest lakes in the world by surface area, fed by the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers, it has now been destroyed by the complete diversion of inflows to grow crops — largely cotton — in the arid regions of  Uzbekistan (with parts of the watershed of the Sea in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan).

    All 24 species of fish endemic to the Aral Sea are now extinct. Dust storms spread respiratory diseases. And the local climate has been altered.

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  • featured-image-9-19

    Huffington Post: Our Disappearing Snows: Climate Change and Water Resources

    by Peter Gleick, President

    September 19, 2014
     

    As the Earth has warmed over the past 30 years, the global water cycle has begun to change. In particular, our snows have begun to disappear. The implications for the water systems we’ve built and operate are vast and pervasive. And despite decades of research, observations, and outreach to water managers, we’re not ready.

    Nearly three decades ago, as a young graduate student at the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California, Berkeley, I published initial results from the core of my doctoral dissertation to integrate regional hydrologic models with output from the three major general circulation models of the climate in operation in the United States. Those models — the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) model under the direction of Dr. James Hansen, the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Model (GFDL) under the direction of Dr. Syukoro Manabe, and the model developed at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) under the direction of Dr. Warren Washington — were still too coarse in spatial resolution to provide much detailed information on the effects of climate changes on regional and local water resources.

    My modeling produced some disturbing results with implications for the future of water resources availability and management in the western United States and regions around the world dependent on snowfall and snowmelt hydrology: global climate changes and especially the rising global temperatures would have dramatic impacts on the timing of water flows in rivers and the extent and duration of mountain snowpack. In 1985 at a conference on arid lands in Tucson, Arizona, I published the following:

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  • water-filters-for-faucet_16602_600x450

    Response to Washington Post Article “Water Utilities Charge More to Offset Low-Flow Toilets, Faucets and Shower Heads”

    by Heather Cooley, Water Program Director

    August 20, 2014

    A recent Washington Post article erroneously stated: “Federally mandated low-flow toilets, shower heads and faucets are taking a financial toll on the nation’s water utilities, leaving customers to make up the shortfall with higher water rates and new fees that have left many paying more for less.” The article tackles an important topic, albeit one that is all too commonly misunderstood. Two key facts are frequently missing from these discussions:

    • Fact #1: Water Conservation and Efficiency Reduce Long-Term Costs

    Most areas have already developed the least expensive water supplies, and the next increment of supply is considerably more expensive. Water conservation and efficiency improvements are the cheapest, fastest, and most reliable “new supply.” Moreover, efficiency improvements save energy, reduce water and wastewater treatment costs, and eliminate the need for costly new infrastructure. This saves the customer money in the long term.

    When it comes to looking at the relationship between the cost of water and conservation, the key question is “how much would we be paying for water if we had not conserved?” A recent study by the City of Westminster, Colorado tackled this question, and their answer is compelling. In 1980, the City’s per capita water use was 180 gallons per person per day (gpcd); conservation programs, progressive pricing policies, and national plumbing codes reduced per capita demand to 149 gpcd in 2010. If water use had stayed at 1980 levels, staff estimated that the City would have had to secure 7,300 acre-feet of additional water supply, requiring $591 million in new infrastructure costs and $1.2 million per year in operating costs. They estimated that, without conservation, the average single-family customer would pay combined water and wastewater rates that are more than 90% higher than they are today.

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  • 1024px-Reverse_osmosis_desalination_plant

    What about Desalination during the Drought?

    by Amanda Pebler, Communications Intern

    August 13, 2014

    When discussing the current drought in California, there is often talk of desalination and its potential to increase our freshwater supply. Desalination, the process of removing salt and minerals from saline water, seems like an obvious solution to the drought and ongoing water scarcity concerns because it is a reliable, drought-proof water source. Indeed, fourteen new desalination plants have been proposed along the California coast and one is under development in Carlsbad. For many, this may seem like an answer to the “exceptional drought”. As consumers, it may also seem like a way to help us avoid making lifestyle changes, such as Governor Jerry Brown’s call for Californians to reduce their water use by 20 percent. But while desalination may be a reliable option, the answer is much more complicated.

    One of the greatest issues with desalination is the cost associated with these projects. A new plant may cost upwards of hundreds of millions of dollars to build (a billion in the case of the Carlsbad facility), plus considerable cost to run the plant.

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  • slow-the-flow

    Planning For Rain: Why Storm Water Management Matters during the Drought

    by Paula Luu, Communications Manager

    July 31, 2014

    slow-the-flowIt’s been weeks, even months, since some parts of California have gotten rain, and it’s likely it will be a few more months before rains return. Water districts across the state have imposed mandatory and voluntary water restrictions to encourage water conservation and efficiency, but there have been fewer discussions around what and how we can prepare for the upcoming rainy season  during the drought. 

    Stormwater runoff is generated when precipitation from rain and snow hits impervious surfaces such as roads, rooftops, or parking lots and is not absorbed into the ground. Instead, this water picks up trash, metals, chemicals, and other contaminants as it makes it way to our waterways. Due to concerns about flood damage in urban areas, stormwater was traditionally viewed as a liability, and urban areas were designed to get stormwater out to waterways as fast as possible. In California, stormwater typically bypasses water treatment plants, and as a result, is a major source of pollution in our rivers, streams, and ocean.  

    There are many opportunity costs associated with the traditional stormwater management, but the biggest one that concerns our thirsty state is groundwater recharge. By moving water away from the people and places that need it, stormwater cannot percolate into the ground and replenish water we keep drilling deeper and deeper to reach.

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  • percent-irrigated-cropland

    The Multiple Benefits of Water Conservation and Efficiency for California

    by Heather Cooley, Director of the Pacific Institute Water Program

    July 29, 2014

    California farmers have made great progress in updating and modernizing irrigation technologies and practices. For example, in 1990, more than two-thirds of California crops were flood irrigated. By 2010, that number had declined to 43% and is likely even lower today. During that same period, the percent of land irrigated with more efficient microsprinklers and drip irrigation increased from 15% to 38%. These improvements are one of the reasons that California remains among the most productive agricultural regions in the world, producing more than 400 different farm products.

    percent-irrigated-cropland

    Note: These data do not include rice acreage, which is grown using flood irrigation. If rice acreage were included, the percent of crop land using flood irrigation would be higher.
    Source: G.N. Tindula, M.N. Orang, and R.L. Snyder. 2013. “Survey of Irrigation Methods in California in 2010,” ASCE Journal of Irrigation and Drainage Engineering 139: 233-238.

    But despite past efforts, great untapped potential remains to use water more efficiently. Water efficiency – defined as measures that reduce water use while maintaining the benefits water provides – has been shown to be a cost-effective and flexible tool to adapt to drought as well as address longstanding water challenges in California. Moreover, today’s investments in efficiency will provide a competitive advantage in the future and ensure the ongoing strength of the agriculture sector in California.

    Water-efficiency improvements provide multiple benefits. …»

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