Today, the US Secretary of the Interior declared a first-ever Shortage Condition for the Lower Colorado River Basin. After more than 21 years of drought in the western United States intensified by human-caused climate change, the Bureau of Reclamation has released a study projecting that the elevation of Lake Mead will be below an elevation triggering a Tier 1 Shortage Condition that will reduce water access to some users starting in January 2022. It’s a historic move sending reverberations throughout the water policy world — both within the United States and globally.
California is back in a drought. You’ve heard it on the news, you’ve heard it from scientists, and they’re right — 100% of the state is in at least moderate drought. Yet, California Governor Gavin Newsom has yet to declare a statewide drought emergency, instead opting for county-level declarations — 50 of 58 counties have been declared so far this year.
The American West has entered another drought crisis, with nearly the entire region (97 percent) facing abnormally dry conditions and over 70 percent of the region already in severe drought. State and local leaders are making emergency declarations. Water allocations are being slashed. We are already seeing fish die-offs and domestic wells running dry — and the dry season is just beginning.
In the U.S., the vital responsibility of continuing safe water supply during the pandemic is decentralized, spread among nearly 50,000 community water systems. More than 45,000 of these are small community water systems (SCWS), serving fewer than 10,000 people each. Together, SCWS provide water to more than 53 million people — 18 percent of the national population — across urban and rural areas, on tribal reservations, in the midst of larger utilities in huge metropolises, and in growing communities.
Earlier today, President Biden announced the first components of his proposed $2 trillion national infrastructure plan to rebuild failing, aging, and outdated water, energy, transportation, and communications systems. While the current information provides only the broadest outlines of his proposals, and the details will have to be worked out in specific legislation to be debated in Congress, it is clearly the most ambitious plan to have been put forward in many years.
In California’s Water Futures Market: Explained, Cora Kammeyer describes how futures markets operate generally and the particulars of California’s version. This new water futures market has attracted considerable attention and hyperbole. Here we explore the potential implications of this novel financial tool through the lens of California water supply reliability.
What does it mean to “build back better” as the global economy seeks to recover from the shock of COVID-19? The international environmental community has proposed a “green” global recovery that prioritizes reducing greenhouse gas emissions as governments work to create jobs and stimulate economic growth.
A recently launched water futures market in California drew global attention, from Wall Street to the United Nations. While news of the market has brought both skepticism and speculation, much of the coverage has failed to address the fundamental question: what actually is a water futures market?
Water systems in most large urban areas like California’s Silicon Valley are linear and highly centralized. Water is cleaned at a central treatment plant, distributed to homes and businesses through a vast and decades-old system of pipes, used once, and then returned through another set of pipes to a wastewater treatment plant, before being discharged into a nearby waterway like the San Francisco Bay.
Water systems across the country are facing budget shortfalls as a result of the pandemic and need assistance. For small water systems (systems serving 10,000 people or fewer) total budget shortfalls are estimated to be $4 to 6 billion, primarily caused by decreased demand, delayed payments, and additional costs for protective equipment and sick time.
The fact is that water challenges in the U.S. are severe and worsening. As the COVID-19 pandemic revealed, poor water infrastructure and the failure to provide universal access to safe water and sanitation threaten public health. Water shortages, poor management, and antiquated water systems threaten the nation’s food supply, ecosystems, and economy. Conflicts over water around the globe threaten our national security. Worsening climate changes are increasing these risks, and the failure to act now will only make solving these issues harder.
Approximately 25 million people in the United States are served by water systems that regularly fail to meet federal safe drinking water standards. In addition, systems with poor water quality are more likely to serve low‐income and semi‐rural communities, as well as people of color. Internationally, other developed nations like Canada and Australia also struggle with delivering safe drinking water universally, particularly to rural, indigenous communities.
In recent years, a wide range of water-related factors have contributed to political instability, human dislocation and migration, agricultural and food insecurity, and in more and more cases, actual conflict and violence.
COVID-19 — and the ensuing economic crisis — is affecting all sectors of society, including water. Across the country, water utilities are facing lower revenues, more unpaid and late water bills, and higher costs to protect essential staff from COVID-19.
The Pacific Institute has developed an interactive guide, Sustainable Landscapes in California: A Guidebook for Commercial and Industrial Site Managers, which provides step-by-step help for businesses interested in sustainable landscapes.
In January 2020, California state agencies released a draft document meant to signify a new chapter in California water. Now, six months later and after extensive public consultation, the final draft of the Water Resilience Portfolio has arrived.
It goes without saying that California today, in the throes of the coronavirus pandemic, looks very different from the California of January 2020. Governor Gavin Newsom’s May Revisions to the 2020-2021 state budget reflect this drastic change in circumstance, announcing a $54.3 billion budget deficit and proposing $18 billion in cuts to State funds expenditures.
The newly proposed House of Representative’s emergency supplemental appropriations bill was just released. Among the $3 trillion dollars it allocates are several provisions related to water and wastewater agencies, residential water use, and agriculture.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought up problems and challenges related to basic sanitation, as this is not only a global health crisis, but also a social crisis that affects the lives of millions of people living in vulnerable situations.
The 2020 Coronavirus Pandemic is having the unexpected and unintended effect of teaching us lessons about both the vulnerability and the resilience of our natural ecosystems and environment. As of this writing in late April, we are still in the middle of it, with no obvious end in sight, as the virus continues to spread around the world.
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