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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.

  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • NRDC Switchboard: Making the Most of California’s Rain – New Report Shows How Capturing Stormwater Can Help Make Our Water Supplies More Reliable.

    By Noah Garrison, Attorney with the National Water Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)

    June 10, 2014

    This post originally appeared at the NRDC Switchboard.

    For much of California, 2013 was the driest year since the state started keeping records more than 150 years ago.  In May, measurements of the Sierra Nevada snowpack, which normally provides about one-third of the water used by the state’s farms and cities (as well as by natural ecosystems) as it slowly melts through the spring and summer, were at only 18 percent of average for that time of year, and the state reported that it “found more bare ground than snow as California faces another long, hot summer.”  Statewide, the average rainfall in 2013 was only 7 inches, far less than its long-term average of 22 inches, and the lack of precipitation poses a serious threat across the state—including placing communities at risk of running out of water (though this risk was thankfully reduced by rain, still below average, in February and March).  Capturing that water when it does rain in our cities and suburbs can help communities increase their water supply reliability—so they have the water they need when it doesn’t.

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  • Huffington Post: Solving California’s Water Problems

    By Peter Gleick, President

    June 10, 2014

    For over 150 years, Californians have argued, litigated, yelled, and otherwise fought over water. California is a big state – we have redwood forests, desert regions, mountains, coasts, rich agricultural lands, amazing natural ecosystems. And overall, we have a pretty good amount of water.

    The problems with California’s water are that it is highly seasonal, highly variable, and poorly managed. Now, halfway through the second decade of the 21st century, we’ve hit the wall. California is in a drought – some call it the third year of a drought, but it could also be called the tenth dry year out of the last thirteen (see Figure 1). Even if next year brings some relief, our water problems will remain.

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  • Huffington Post: The State of Our Water: World Water Day 2014

    By Peter Gleick, President

    March 21, 2014

    Welcome to World Water Day 2014. As I said last year, I think every day should be World Water Day, not just March 22nd, but hey, we take what we can get. Here are some thoughts that warrant repeating about water and important water news from the past year.

    • Those of us who are lucky enough to live in countries with high-quality tap water take it for granted. Go to your tap, draw a glass of water, and drink it. Then remember that nearly a billion people still do not have reliable access to safe, affordable tap water and cannot do what you’ve just done.
    • Stop taking your toilet for granted, too. Nearly 2.5 billion people (more people than lived on the planet in the 1930s) don’t have safe sanitation.
    • Do you know anyone who had cholera, or typhoid, or dysentery? Probably not. Yet just a few generations ago, some of your ancestors certainly died from one of these diseases. The bad news is that millions of people still die from these preventable diseases — associated directly with the lack of safe water and sanitation.
    • That food you’re eating or the clothes you’re wearing or the computer you’re sitting at to read this? It took a lot of water to produce them. That water is part of your water footprint. Here are some resources that discuss water footprints.
    • …»

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  • Water Vlogged: Where There Is No Water Utility

    By Misha Hutchings, Senior Research Associate

    September 27, 2013

    In cities throughout Indonesia, utilities employ some of the latest technologies to supply treated water to millions of residents. However, service still isn’t available to thousands of those who are living in informal neighborhoods (slums) or just outside service networks. How, then—and from where—do these residents get their daily water for drinking, bathing, and washing? Here are just a few examples of typical urban water sources in medium and large-size Indonesian cities. …»

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  • The Need for, and Value of, Science in the Debate over Fracking

    By Peter Gleick, President

    July 8, 2013

    As most people now know, hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” is a method for enhancing the production of natural gas (or oil, or geothermal energy wells). Fracking involves injecting fluids – typically complex mixes of water and chemicals – under high pressure into wells to create cracks and fissures in rock formations that improve the rates of production.

    Whether you support or oppose fracking depends on many complex factors: the economics of the practice, perceptions about the implications for national security of relying on domestic or imported energy, the consequences for climate change from the emissions of different amounts of greenhouse gases from different energy strategies, the positive and negative implications of fracking for employment and quality of life in rural communities, and the scientific evidence about the environmental consequences of the practice, including risks to water availability, water and air quality, and local ecosystems. …»

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  • Improving Access to Water and Sanitation: Is the Answer Individual Behavioral Change?

    By Dr. John Akudago, Senior Research Affiliate 

    June 25, 2013 

    Born and raised in rural Africa where I spent my youthful life, open defecation was not only the norm but preferred to outhouses that were poorly ventilated and unbearably hot. We did not understand the consequences of exposing human waste around our houses. At that time, the best practice for sanitation and hygiene was to use a hoe to excavate the ground and bury our feces during the farming season so that the food we grew in the wild did not get contaminated. …»

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  • Notes from the Field: What We Know about Indonesian Urban Residents, Water Utilities, Local Government Agencies and NGOs at the Beginning of Our Third Year Developing WASH SMS

    By Misha Hutchings, Senior Research Associate

    February 5, 2013

    Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success. – Henry Ford.

    December marked the beginning of year three in the development of the WASH SMS platform through our pilot project in Indonesia. The Institute and our partners Nexleaf Analytics and PATTIRO have been developing two Indonesia WATER SMS systems …»

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