219 Multi-Benefit Resources


Salton Sea +20

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By Michael Cohen

After decades of false starts and false hopes, progress might finally be within reach for California’s Salton Sea – the state’s largest and most maligned lake. California’s governor and natural resources secretary have demonstrated the commitment and political will needed to construct actual, on-the-ground habitat and dust control projects. California’s voters have approved hundreds of millions of dollars for Salton Sea projects. And the state and the largest local landowner recently completed land-use agreements to move the projects forward.

An Ebbing Sea

It’s long overdue. The Salton Sea’s surface has dropped by about 10 feet in twenty years – and almost two feet in just the past two years. At the dry flats of the former Red Hill Bay, the shoreline has already receded more than a mile since 1999. Salinity has increased by almost 50%. The Salton Sea is now almost twice as salty as the ocean. In 1999, there were some 100 million fish in the Sea. Now, more than 97 percent of those fish are gone.

In 1999, the Sea stood close to its highest elevation since it formed in 1905, lapping at dikes and berms erected along its shores to protect farmers’ fields. In 1999, the Salton Sea covered 375 square miles – about twice the size of Lake Tahoe. Since that time, the Sea has shrunk by more than 45 square miles – roughly the size of the City of San Francisco. In eleven years, the Salton Sea will likely be another 45 square miles smaller than it is today.

A Changing Landscape

California and the West have changed dramatically in the past twenty years. In 1999, the Bureau of Reclamation was developing plans to share surplus water because Lake Mead was almost full. Twenty years later, Lake Mead will end the year less than half full, its surface down almost 125 feet. Colorado River water users recently completed a drought contingency plan, to better manage the river for shortage. As climate change decreases run-off, shortage becomes the new normal, placing ever-greater pressure on an over-allocated and increasingly stressed Colorado River.

In 1999, the Imperial Valley-San Diego water transfer was still hotly debated and four years from being signed. This year, the Imperial Valley will send 160,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water to San Diego County and another 68,000 acre-feet to the Coachella Valley. Meanwhile, the total amount of water flowing into the Salton Sea this year could be 400,000 acre-feet less than in 1999.

In 1999, the Pacific Institute released Haven or Hazard, projecting the rapid decline of the Salton Sea and calling for prompt action to protect people and birds. We released Hazard in 2006, and Hazard’s Toll in 2014, estimating the public and ecological health costs of continued inaction at the Salton Sea.

A History of False Starts

The reality of the Salton Sea has changed dramatically in the past twenty years. Prospects for real action at the Sea continue to be elusive, cycling between brief periods of hope and years of subsequent frustration.

People have been planning to protect and restore the Salton Sea for more than fifty years. Twenty years ago, the Salton Sea Authority and the Bureau of Reclamation focused on managing salinity, with a pilot Enhanced Evaporation System and plans to impound portions of the lake to capture and manage salts.

The Imperial Valley-San Diego water transfer killed those plans – there wouldn’t be enough water to sustain them. But the upside was that, in facilitating the water transfer, California committed to “undertake the restoration of the Salton Sea ecosystem and the permanent protection of the wildlife dependent on that ecosystem.” The downside was that the water transfer did not include a volumetric fee, to pay for the significant annual operating costs that have subsequently and repeatedly delayed the construction of required habitat projects.

In early 2005, California convened a large Salton Sea Advisory Committee, charged with identifying a preferred alternative. Prop. 50 made tens of millions of dollars available. Yet in 2007, the state released a cobbled and bloated $8.9 billion ‘preferred alternative’ with no stakeholder support. The recession soon followed. Interest waned and the Sea’s prospects dimmed, again.

American white pelicans at USGS/Reclamation Saline Habitat Ponds. Photo courtesy of Tom Anderson.

 

From 2006-2010, two federal agencies operated and monitored a 100-acre pilot wetland project near the Alamo River delta. The project included four shallow ponds fed by blended water from agricultural drainage and the Salton Sea. Thousands of birds, from more than 200 different species, used the ponds. California had the opportunity to take over the ponds in 2010, after the federal contract expired. Instead, the state shut down and drained the only operational habitat project at the Salton Sea, collecting and moving more than a million endangered desert pupfish from the ponds to an unknown fate.

In 2008, California began developing a consensus “no-regrets” plan, now called Species Conservation Habitat. Although it’s been fully permitted and fully funded for many years, the project has yet to begin construction. Once completed, SCH will cover 3,770 acres at the New River delta with a series of shallow wetlands, providing habitat for a broad mix of shorebirds and waterbirds and eliminating dust emissions by covering that playa.

In response to requests from environmentalists, California’s state water agency hired a Salton Sea Program Manager in 2010, to focus solely on expediting Salton Sea projects. Recognizing the lack of direction and vision for the Salton Sea, California enacted legislation that same year, creating a Salton Sea Restoration Council comprised of state and local stakeholders, with science and community advisory boards. The law required state agencies to staff the Restoration Council.

Governor Brown’s new administration did not staff the Restoration Council. In 2012, the legislature disbanded the Salton Sea Restoration Council at the governor’s request – because the unstaffed council had never met. The Salton Sea program languished, low on the list of the governor’s priorities.

Five years ago, the Imperial Irrigation District (IID) challenged the state’s indifference, petitioning for action at the Salton Sea. In response, the governor convened a state task force that, a year later, “directed agencies to develop a comprehensive management plan for the Sea that will:

  • Meet a short-term goal of 9,000 acres to 12,000 acres of habitat and dust suppression projects, and
  • Set a medium-term plan to construct 18,000 acres to 25,000 acres of habitat and dust suppression projects.

California hired an Assistant Secretary of Salton Sea Policy in 2015 as well – a new sign for hope. In late 2017, the state water regulator responded to IID’s petition with a new water order, creating explicit annual acreage milestones for state construction of habitat and dust control projects taken directly from the state’s own construction schedule. Governor Brown’s administration failed to meet those milestones.

Renewed Hope

But 2019 brought a new state administration and new enthusiasm and even hope for the Salton Sea.

The pieces are all in place for real action at the Salton Sea. Land use agreements have been signed. More than $350 million is available for Salton Sea projects, approved by California voters. Another $200 million or more has been authorized at the federal level but needs to get to California. More than 700,000 acre-feet of water – a staggering amount, much more than San Diego County uses each year – will continue to flow into the Salton Sea, available to support a host of habitat and dust control projects. We know what works; the 100-acre pilot projects that operated from 2006-2010 were quite successful. Completing and expanding the Species Conservation Habitat project, along with the Red Hill Bay project at the Alamo River delta and other similar habitat projects at the south end of the Salton Sea, combined with a deeper North Lake to provide recreational opportunities and better habitat for fish and the birds that eat them, offers a reasonable goal for the next five years. And – finally – the new governor and resources secretary are demonstrating the commitment and political will to hire and direct staff to get projects in the ground and protect public and environmental health.

Will 2019 mark the turning point, from hopes and plans to actual projects and the staff and funds needed to monitor and manage them over the long term?

In 1999 and 2000, research in a variety of disciplines led to a comprehensive understanding of the Salton Sea at the time. Yet the Salton Sea has changed dramatically in the past twenty years, and questions remain:

  • What is our understanding of the Salton Sea now, of its inflows and water quality, of the invertebrates and fish that live in its waters, of the amount of dust blowing off of the more than 20,000 acres of lakebed exposed since 1999?
  • What is in that dust? What’s being done to limit the amount of dust?
  • What are the state’s plans for the Salton Sea?
  • What are the local agencies planning for the Salton Sea?
  • Are local communities being engaged in these state and local planning efforts?
  • Will there be enough money to pay for these projects?
  • Who will manage the projects over the next five or 10 or 25 years?
  • Will 2019 really mark a turning point for the Salton Sea, or will it signal yet another false hope?

For answers to these questions and more, join us at the Salton Sea Summit in Palm Desert, California from October 17th to 18th 2019. Registration is free!

Find Your Partners for Water Sustainability with the Water Action Hub 3.0

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By Peter Schulte

Two weeks ago, I was delighted to launch Water Action Hub 3.0 at Stockholm World Water Week. You can see a video of the launch here.

For those who don’t know, the Hub is an online collaboration and knowledge sharing platform for water. Or, as we like to say sometimes, it’s a “dating” site for water sustainability partners. Originally launched in 2012 by the UN Global Compact’s CEO Water Mandate, which is implemented in partnership with the Pacific Institute, the Hub now features over 900 projects and 700 organizations around the world.

While we were initially inspired to build the Hub because CEO Water Mandate-endorsing businesses wanted to be able to better identify and connect to potential water partners, the Hub is actually designed and available for anyone in the world: NGOs, communities, utilities, academics, and individuals. Anyone in the world can go to the Hub, create an account for free in five minutes, list their water-related efforts and goals, and find and message others from around the world with similar interests.

 

New Features

Water Action Hub 3.0 – made possible through a grant from GIZ’s Natural Resources Stewardship Programme (NatuReS) – features hundreds of new projects and organizations, a new and improved interface, and considerable new functionality including:

  • Proactive matching that suggests potential water partners to one another via email
  • The ability to author and share lessons learned related to water sustainability efforts
  • Community “portals” that capture all relevant information on particular locations, topics, and interests and fosters discussion and coordination around their communities of practice

 

Sharing Lessons Learned

We are particularly excited for the new “lessons” functionality. Through these lessons, anyone in the world can articulate insights on good practices or barriers to project success and tag them by country, topic, project phase, etc. Once they publish the lessons to the Hub, they are then recommended to other projects around the Hub based on shared location, topic, project phase, etc. In this way, the Hub can help ensure that key insights on designing and implementing water sustainability can be shared around the world, making all of our efforts more effective and efficient.

As part of this effort, earlier this year  Hannah Baleta of the Pacific Institute traveled from her home in South Africa to four other countries in sub-Saharan Africa to talk to project partners and stakeholders involved with GIZ water sustainability projects there. Through these discussions, Hannah was able to glean several core lessons about water sustainability partnerships, which were published as lessons in the Hub.  And stay tuned for an upcoming blog series from Hannah about her visits and discussions.

 

More Relevant Content with “Portals”

New community “portals” on the Hub help you hone in on the areas most relevant to your work. So, if you are based in California, you can go to the California Portal and connect to others working  there. Or if you are focused on groundwater management efforts, you can go to the Groundwater Portal and do the same. In this way, we hope to better tailor the now hundreds of projects, organizations, resources, and lessons in the Hub to your own particular interests.

We encourage anyone in the world with an interest in water sustainability to create their free profile on the Hub today. Just visit the Water Action Hub and select “Sign up.” And feel free to drop us a line with any questions or ideas at: contact@wateractionhub.org. If you’d like, we’d be happy to help assist you in creating and expanding your profile.

 

Comparing Apples to Apples: Towards Better Communication Using a Common Language for Water

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By Karina de Souza

Writing this as I return from my family summer holiday, I am reminded of a trip to Siena, Italy where I visited the Piazza del Campo, home to the famous Palio di Siena horse race. I surveyed the view from a piazza café and in my best Italian ordered two lattes. The waiter returned with… two glasses of hot milk. No espresso in sight. After some exchange, I re-ordered two café lattes and realized if I had simply communicated using the ”universal” description of my drink, rather than the British vernacular, I would have gotten my drinks much sooner!

In a similar way, leading companies wanting to engage on water issues across their business have discovered significant fragmentation in water terminology and metrics across contexts, stakeholders, and regions. And this has led to some confusion. If you have a group of people sitting around a table comparing the contents of a fruit bowl – say a policy maker, a company, a community member, and a water management authority – if they don’t speak the same language, it may sound like they are describing different fruits. In the water world, this language barrier can lead to frustration and a lack of action on key shared water management issues.

Our Vision

Coming up with a common language to describe water issues is a must if companies and other stakeholders are to engage in meaningful action. As a precursor to this, in 2014 we collaborated on the publication of the UN Global Compact (UNGC) CEO Water Mandate Corporate Water Disclosure Guidelines. A collaborative effort between the Pacific Institute, CDP, World Resources Institute (WRI), and PWC, this report offers a common approach for companies to disclose their water use and report on water issues. This was a great first step, but now companies are demanding that the reporting language barrier be dismantled to create globally consistent water terminology and accounting metrics guidance. This common language for talking about water accounting and metrics would aim to bridge the corporate sector and the public sector, enabling transformative collaborative action towards water security.

Towards this end, the CEO Water Mandate, which the Pacific Institute helps manage, and WRI are partnering in an initiative to develop a common language for water. Our vision is the standardization of the ”building blocks” of water accounting terminology and metrics to create a common water accounting framework for all users, in all contexts and at all scales – from facility to water catchment. This will facilitate more effective apples to apples conversations, enabling collaborative action and helping to achieve improved water outcomes for all. Our aim is not to re-invent the wheel, but to start with a simple enabling framework which builds off existing approaches and terminology and can be built out modular style.  We are planning to produce a first version of this guidance by 2021.

Vision for a Common Water Accounting Framework

We envision that this guidance will contribute to improving water data quality, coverage, and transparency for other areas  of society long-term.  As part of a broad outreach effort, we will seek to understand how this work might “plug in and play” with other initiatives that aim to make improvements in the areas of public health, food security, natural capital, climate change mitigation and adaptation, and sustainable livelihoods, so that nobody gets left behind.

Get Involved

The CEO Water Mandate and WRI will be convening a workshop for this research at the Radisson Hotel in Stockholm on Tuesday August 27th, during World Water Week.  To participate in the event, please contact Karina de Souza at kdesouza@pacinst.org for further information.

We will also be presenting on this work to the investor community at UN-PRI in Person, in Paris, on Wednesday September 11th. To attend this session, please register here.

If you’d like to discuss in more detail how you and your organization can get involved, or to learn more about upcoming events or workshops for this initiative, please contact Karina de Souza at kdesouza@pacinst.org or Dr. Amy Herod at aherod@pacinst.org. Please visit our webpage to sign-up to the Pacific Institute email list for future communications on this initiative.

4 Reasons Why Urban Landscapes are a Linchpin for Climate Resilience

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By Cora Kammeyer

When it comes to water sustainability and climate resilience, urban outdoor landscapes represent a wealth of opportunity.

Outdoor landscapes are a vital component of our cities. Whether it’s outside a home, a store, an office, or a manufacturing plant, the landscape is a property’s primary interface with the community and the environment. Properly designed and managed using sustainable landscape strategies, these outdoor areas can help communities weather droughts, mitigate floods, sequester carbon, improve human well-being, and more.

We can build sustainable landscapes, by which I mean landscapes that are in balance with local climate and ecology and actively contribute to watershed health. Key elements of sustainable landscapes include:

  • Building healthy soils
  • Preserving vegetative cover
  • Using climate-appropriate plants
  • Conserving water and other resources

This could include strategies like removing turf, building rain gardens, or installing permeable pavement or rain tanks.

To achieve sustainability, we need to make some changes.

Take California, my home state, as an example. California has notoriously variable precipitation patterns, and this is increasing with climate change. We are seeing longer and hotter droughts, and more intense storms; and more dramatic fluctuations between these two extremes. This means that our cities are facing increasing threats of water shortage on one hand, and flooding on the other.

Our current urban landscapes, marked by big lawns and paved areas, don’t do much to alleviate these problems. In fact, in many cases, they exacerbate them. Thirsty turf grass requires a lot of irrigation, especially in the peak of summer when it’s dry and hot, and water is in shorter supply. Over half of urban water use in California goes to landscape irrigation, and that portion is higher in the summer. Vast expanses of pavement—parking lots in particular—leave no place for rain water to go but down the drain, which has limited capacity to handle intense storms, leading to flooding and pollution.

There is a better option.

We can turn our urban landscapes into assets for climate resilience, rather than a source of risk. For example, look below at this side-by-side case study of two residential yards in Santa Monica, California (sustainable landscape on the left, traditional landscape on the right). Nine years of monitoring both landscapes showed that the sustainable landscape uses 83 percent less water, creates 56 percent less green waste, and requires 68 percent less maintenance than the more traditional landscaping.

 

 

Sustainable landscapes can provide a multitude of benefits, but I’ll focus on four themes here: drought, flood, carbon, and community.

Sustainable landscapes are resilient to droughts.

There are two key ways that sustainable landscapes can make urban communities more resilient to drought: using less water, and capturing water to use later.

Replacing grass with climate appropriate plants (and irrigating those plants properly) can reduce a landscape’s water needs by 70-80 percent. During the last California drought, we saw homes across the state doing this, a trend significant enough to be clear on Google Maps. This was a big part of why California’s urban communities were able to meet, in fact exceed, the emergency drought mandate of reducing water use by 20 percent.

Sustainable landscapes can also be designed to capture water and hold it—in the soil, groundwater, or rainwater catchment systems—for future use. Building healthy soils allows water not taken up by plants to infiltrate into the landscape, and even down into groundwater aquifers, rather than running off and being lost down the drain. Similarly, rain barrels and tanks can capture roof runoff, which can then be applied back onto the landscape when it’s needed. Research shows that applying these approaches across southern California and the San Francisco Bay Area could increase local water supplies by 20 billion gallons each year, which is roughly the amount of water used by the city of Los Angeles annually.

Sustainable landscapes help reduce flooding and water pollution.

As the climate warms, California is experiencing more precipitation in the form of rain (versus snow), and these rain events are growing in intensity. Our urban areas, particularly those in southern California, will need to better prepare for these storms, and in particular improve flood management. As discussed above, sustainable landscapes are great at capturing and holding water; this is also useful for mitigating local flooding. If water can run into rain gardens and soak into the soil, that means less water pooling on streets, parking lots, and sidewalks. Beyond designing existing green spaces to hold flood waters, reducing the amount of paved area and replacing it with permeable paving or more green space can greatly contribute to local flood reduction.

These strategies also help prevent water pollution in our oceans and stream, because sustainable landscapes can absorb and purify the “first flush” of a rain event, which contains the most polluted water (carrying all the grime and contaminants from our city streets).

Sustainable landscapes sequester carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Water, energy, and land use management are all intertwined and deeply connected to climate. Healthy soils rich in organic matter, a key component of sustainable landscapes, can sequester carbon from the atmosphere, providing climate mitigation. Sustainable landscape practices can also reduce energy use (and associated greenhouse gas emissions) because they require less mowing, blowing, and green waste hauling than typical grass-dominated landscapes. There is also the energy embedded in water to consider—less irrigation (through climate appropriate plants and capturing water for reuse onsite) means less water that needs to be collected, treated, and transported to a landscape.

Sustainable landscapes improve community well-being.

Finally, sustainable landscapes provide benefits to human-scale benefits to communities, beyond helping them weather droughts and floods. Switching from outdoor areas dominated by grass and pavement to ones with beautiful native plants and expanded natural spaces improves our well-being. For example, there is research showing the employees who have access to sustainable landscapes at their workplace are happier and more productive. In addition, sustainable landscape practices (especially replacing pavement with rain gardens) can help combat the urban heat island effect, a public health threat which is growing worse with climate change.

Transitioning to sustainable landscapes in cities around the world requires innovation and collaboration.

The challenge (and opportunity) of achieving resilience to droughts and floods, reducing carbon emissions, and fostering community well-being is one faced by cities around the globe. These are imperative and deeply interconnected issues, and urban landscapes lie at a critical nexus among them all.

With urbanization increasing rapidly, and climate change impacts manifesting more prominently every year, the call to action is becoming more urgent. Tackling this multifaceted challenge will take the efforts and collaboration of diverse urban stakeholders, from residents, businesses, scientists, city governments, and on-the-ground change makers. At the Pacific Institute, a nonprofit organization focused on water and climate, we have been working for over 30 years on advancing innovative solutions for water-smart cities, including sustainable urban landscapes.

This blog post was originally published on Meeting of the Minds

Water Risk Management for the Private Sector

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By Peter Schulte

The complexity and local nature of the global water crisis requires collaboration, from community-based organizations to governments to businesses and others. Knowledge of water risks and opportunities can help businesses mitigate those risks and contribute to water security. 

Last month, Whetu and Columbia University’s Columbia Water Center’s launched its Certificate Program in Water Risk Management for the Private Sector.  This new online program helps businesses and others around the world understand the basics of the world’s water challenges, how they affect businesses, and what the private sector can do to understand and manage those risks. 

I have been delighted and honored to develop and teach the Certificate Program’s module on water-related external engagement collective action. This module shows why and how businesses can partner with others to advance shared water goals – from watershed-level projects in areas of strategic importance, to engagement with key suppliers, to raising awareness and changing behavior among their consumers. Given the highly local and shared nature of water challenges, collaborations and partnerships are absolutely vital to businesses’ managing their water risks and the world achieving Sustainable Development Goal 6 on water and sanitation.

The collective action module I led is just one of six course modules taught by top-notch experts in the field. The instructors include Upmanu Lall (Columbia Water Center), Paulina Concha Laurri (Columbia Water Center), Nick Martin (Antea Group), Paul Reig (World Resources Institute), and Kari Vigerstol (The Nature Conservancy), who all bring their own powerful perspectives to the discussion.

 In addition to lectures, each participant engages in an on-line learning decision-making experience that maps out consequences of choices on the topics covered under the six topics. At the end of the Program, participants are awarded a Certificate of Completion by Columbia Water Center, Columbia University.  

The complexity of today’s water challenges requires a holistic approach empowered by a deep understanding of water risks, as well as effective techniques and tools to address these challenges. If you’re at all interested in getting the skills to understand and address the world’s water challenges from a business perspective, I highly encourage you to explore this great opportunity. There are no prerequisites to join.

Visit this page for more information. 

Kilimanjaro, Home to a Great Example of Water Stewardship in Action. And the Highest Mountain in Africa.

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By Hannah Baleta

In Tanzania, between Moshi and Arusha, you come across a small town called Usa River, which is situated on the banks of its namesake: the Usa River, a tributary of the Kikuletwa and then eventually Pangani River. This region is a tourist-magnet due to its proximity to Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. Usa River in particular lies on the slopes of Mount Meru, a lesser known but equally beautiful dormant volcano.

My recent trip there was not to go birding or hiking within this spectacular scenery, but instead was to interview the partners of the Sustainable Water Management Partnership (SUWAMA), supported by the International Water Stewardship Programme (IWaSP).

SUWAMA Partnership in Usa River was officially launched on the 6th of December 2017 to collaborate in addressing and finding solutions to water challenges in the Usa River sub catchment. The initial partnership was created following consultative meetings between the Pangani Basin Water Board (PBWB), Upper Kikuletwa Water User Association (WUA), Kiliflora Limited, Tanzanian Horticulture Association (TAHA) and IWaSP. In 2018, other partners like the Usa River Water and Sanitation Authority (USAWASSA) and the Arumeru District Council joined.

To address the identified water challenges in the Usa River sub-catchment, the partnership is organized under three thematic working areas:

  • Good water governance and conservation
  • Water-use efficiency
  • Water quality and supply

Top and bottom: The eye of the Teema spring is protected within this thick forest. (Top photo credit: Hannah Baleta; Bottom photo credit: GIZ Tanzania)

Sounds great in theory, but what does that mean on the ground?

Good water governance and conservation have resulted in the activation of effective communication between the PBWB/WUA and village water and environment committees within the 11 villages that fall within the partnership area, along the Usa River. A water user survey, looking at permitted water use, was carried. This identified only 11 users holding valid permits and 54 users with no permits at all. , and facilitated the transfer of 40 old water rights into new water permits. This also potentially increased the revenue from water permits in the area from 15,722,000  TZS to 27,272,000  TZS, an increase of 42.4%. In addition, source protection was an important aspect. With the active support of the Arumeru District, Council springs (like the Teema spring photographed below) have been protected through the installation of markers to delineate the statutory boundary for protection around a water source. A vigorous tree-planting campaign was also carried out to reforest the area, bringing additional protection to the slopes. The trees were donated by Kiliflora.   

Water-use efficiency in agriculture has put into practice through training provided by TAHA to farmers in the area, while water quality and supply has been implemented through the rehabilitation of the Furrow #1 (pictured below at the furrow offtake). To ensure upkeep and sustainability of the furrow improvements, a furrow committee was reactivated through the support of SUWAMA to ensure that the furrow is managed to ensure secure water supply to all the farmers and villages downstream. Furthermore, SUWAMA supported the handing-over of communal water systems, including those developed and sponsored by Kiliflora Ltd. over the years around the flower farm, and other community-owned water supply systems, to the local water utility USAWASSA.

Launch of furrow #1 infrastructure improvements where contributions were made collectively among the farmers in addition to a furrow committee being formed to ensure sustainability (Credit: GIZ Tanzania)

The SUWAMA project has successfully implemented a suite of practical physical, as well as more complex, governance structures to ensure that the project can meet its original mission of addressing the water challenges in the Usa River. When I left Usa River, I left with a far more nuanced understanding of this lofty term, “stewardship.” What I saw in reality was a practical way of engaging the private, public, and civil society sectors in addressing shared water challenges. The SUWAMA partnership in Usa is a great example of this.

*This blog post is part of a project collecting lessons learned through stewardship. It is being implemented by the UN Global Compact’s CEO Water Mandate, which the Pacific Institute is co-secretariat for, and is supported by IWaSP.

Can California Shift to Proactive Drought Preparedness?

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By Cora Kammeyer and Heather Cooley

Precipitation in California is highly variable from year to year, and climate change is increasing this variability. We can expect to see more intense droughts and storms, and rapid shifts from very wet to very dry conditions. To address this and other challenges, the state passed Assembly Bill (AB) 1668 and Senate Bill (SB) 606 in June 2018.

Known jointly as the Water Conservation Legislation, these bills were drafted in response of Governor Jerry Brown’s 2016 executive order to “make water conservation a California way of life.” The directive called on state agencies to take actions to ensure that all Californians use water more wisely, eliminate water waste, strengthen local drought resilience, and improve agricultural water use efficiency and drought planning. This came during the height of California’s recent drought—the longest and most severe on record. A key objective of these bills is to help California proactively adapt to climate change and the resulting longer and more frequent droughts, avoiding costly emergency measures in response to future weather extremes.

There are six key components of the Water Conservation Legislation:

  • Customized water use targets for urban water suppliers;
  • Performance measures for managing commercial, industrial, and institutional water use;
  • Drought planning for small water systems and rural communities;
  • Annual water supply and demand assessments;
  • Agricultural water management planning; and
  • Data reporting and transparency.

Now the work of implementing the Water Conservation Legislation is underway, and the Pacific Institute is actively work with state agencies and stakeholders to ensure its success. For example, Senior Researcher Dr. Laura Feinstein is helping to develop water shortage vulnerability factors and risk indicators for small water systems and rural communities. Her recent work on measuring progress towards universal access to water and sanitation in California has been a valuable resource for this group.

And on Monday May 20th, we attended the first urban overview meeting for the Water Conservation Legislation in Sacramento. At this public meeting, the California Department of Water Resources and State Water Resources Control Board walked attendees through the details of the legislation, work plan, and implementation timeline. Nearly a dozen working groups are being established to tackle various aspects of implementation across urban, rural, and agricultural contexts, each comprising stakeholders with diverse expertise and interest from across the state.

The state and stakeholders are just beginning the process of determining what “making conservation a California way of life” will look like on the ground. That vision will come from the cumulation of dozens and dozens of details, out of decisions that may seem small but must be considered carefully. We believe that the implementation strategies developed for the Water Conservation Legislation should:

  • Demonstrate a clear path towards more efficient water use across the state;
  • Be socially and environmentally equitable; and
  • Account for expected changes in climate and hydrologic conditions.

Using our extensive background and expertise on California water policy, we will engage in working groups and decision-making processes to ensure these tenets are achieved, towards an equitable and resilient water future for California.

The CEO Water Mandate launches a beta version of Water Action Hub 3.0 for World Water Day

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By Peter Schulte

This World Water Day, the CEO Water Mandate, a UN Global Compact initiative implemented in partnership with the Pacific Institute, will launch a beta version of Water Action Hub 3.0. The Hub 3.0 is a collaboration between the Mandate and GIZ to highlight, share, and scale stewardship lessons learned around the world and to proactively match potential water partners to one another.

Background on the Hub

The Water Action Hub is a global online collaboration and knowledge sharing tool developed by the CEO Water Mandate. Since its initial launch in 2012, the Hub has enabled organizations of all kinds from all corners of the world to find and connect to potential partners for their water sustainability efforts, to showcase their own projects, and to learn about others efforts already underway in locations of interest. The Hub now has over 1500 users from over 600 organizations and 550 projects, including hundreds sourced from CDP, BAFWAC, California Water Action Collaboration, El Agua Nos Une, and others.

 

Introducing Hub 3.0 – Lessons Learned & Matching

The water community has already unearthed many critical insights into the challenges that hinder stewardship efforts as well the best practices that can drive impact effectively, credibly, and efficiently. Unfortunately, as of yet, there is no way to systematically and reliably ensure that new water stewardship efforts integrate these past lessons into their project plans. Further, existing lessons learned have only scratched the surface of insight possible and necessary. There is much more knowledge and experience remaining to be captured and integrated into existing mainstream stewardship practice. This dearth of access to lessons learned among new water stewardship projects means they often repeat preventable problems and in so doing waste precious time and financial resources.

Water Action Hub 3.0 seeks to address this critical need. The Hub 3.0 features new functionality that allows us to compile key stewardship lessons learned from GIZ and other stewardship practitioners and allows Hub users themselves to author, publish, and share their own lessons learned.

For example, through its years of supporting water stewardship partnerships around the world, GIZ has learned that developing and implementing robust project governance plans is critical to project success and the failure to do so often impedes otherwise promising efforts. The Hub now features a page that describes how projects can go about implementing such a plan and why, while offering practical examples and also tracking how many projects around the world have done so.

While the Hub now only features a handful of lessons, we hope to use this beta launch to test this functionality and solicit organizations like yours to author your own lessons learned in time for the official launch at this year’s Stockholm World Water week in August.

Get involved

While the Hub is developed and maintained by the CEO Water Mandate, a business-oriented initiative, the Water Action Hub is built for businesses, NGOs, government agencies, communities, academics, and more. It is entirely free and open access. Anyone in the world can use it! Indeed, the more organizations use it around the world, the more powerful and useful it becomes for all involved.

You can register for the Hub any time at: https://wateractionhub.org/accounts/register/

If your organizations has learned critical lessons implementing water sustainability efforts, we encourage you to share your insights with others around the world, by publishing them in the Hub.

And if you’d like to discuss in more detail how you and your organization can get involved, I’d be delighted to have a chat with you. Please feel free to contact me at pschulte@pacinst.org with any questions, suggestions, or opportunities.


The CEO Water Mandate is a UN Global Compact commitment platform for water stewardship, implemented in partnership with the Pacific Institute since its inception in 2007.

The Private Sector as Part of the Solution to Address Water Security and Sanitation Issues in Brazil

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By Giuliana Chaves Moreira

January 2, 2019

A few months after the 8th World Water Forum (8th WWF) in Brasilia, between November 26th and 28th, the Brazilian Association of Sanitary and Environmental Engineering (ABES, in the Portuguese acronym) held the first ever Rio Water Week (RWW) event in Rio de Janeiro.

The event was a second opportunity for the private sector to reaffirm its commitment to water issues and to present the results achieved by the private sector’s engagement agreed at the 8th WWF, as well as to disseminate the private sector’s messages on water security, sanitation, and infrastructure.

On March 18, as Brazil hosted the 8th WWF, the Brazilian National Confederation of Industry (CNI), the Brazilian Business Council for Sustainable Development (CEBDS), and the UN Global Compact Network Brazil (GCNB) had their first opportunity to amplify the business voice within the 8th WWF as a key partner for solution delivery. The key business messages of this event were compiled into a report.

ABES invited the promoters of the 1st Water Business Day to bring the voice of the Business Sector into the agenda of the RWW. This culminated with the organization of a full side day event at RWW called “Water and Business”.

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Climate Resilience in the Urban Context: Sustainable Landscapes for Southern California Businesses

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By Cora Kammeyer

February 5, 2019

Today the Pacific Institute, in collaboration with the CEO Water Mandate, California Forward, and Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority, released a new report, “Sustainable Landscapes on Commercial and Industrial Properties in the Santa Ana River Watershed,” accompanied by an interactive online map. This report represents phase one of a collective effort among the business community, public sector water managers, and other stakeholders to improve water and climate resilience through sustainable landscapes. With the release of the report, we are now launching into phase two, for which we are actively recruiting companies to participate.

Through sustainable landscapes, we can improve the resilience of our cities.

Around the world, communities are facing water-related crises at an unprecedented scale. Two of the top five global risks identified by the World Economic Forum for 2019 are extreme weather events and failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation, both of which have direct ties to water. Extreme weather, exacerbated by climate change, manifests through water – storms, floods, and droughts. Adapting to these new extremes will require rethinking our water management systems, including the way we design our urban areas to interact with water.

Like many other places, California is experiencing severe climate and water impacts. Precipitation in the state is highly variable from year to year, and climate change is exacerbating this variability, producing rapid shifts from very wet to very dry. For example, the years 2012 to 2016 were the five hottest, driest years and 2017 the wettest year on the instrumental record. At the same time, pressures on water resources are intensifying due to aging infrastructure, population growth, and other factors.

The combination of continued growth and climate change puts California cities at a critical nexus for water and climate resilience. Yet, California’s urban landscapes are not designed for resilience; they are characterized by vast expanses of thirsty lawns and impermeable pavement. Fortunately, more sustainable options exist, and implementing them can provide tangible benefits to individual properties and to local communities.

The new report examines the benefits and opportunities of installing sustainable landscapes on commercial and industrial (CI) properties, with a focus on the Santa Ana River Watershed in California. It also explores barriers to more widespread uptake of such landscapes by companies, coupled with recommendations for overcoming these barriers and scaling the approach. While focused on the Santa Ana River Watershed, the approach and methodology can be replicated elsewhere, and it is our hope to scale this work to other regions. Here is a snapshot of some of the key findings:

Sustainable landscape practices provide multiple benefits.

‘Sustainable landscapes’ are in balance with local climate and ecology and actively contribute to watershed health by providing economic, social, and environmental benefits. This report focused on five sustainable landscape practices:

  1. Turf replacement;
  2. Bioswales and rain gardens;
  3. Permeable pavement;
  4. Green roofs; and
  5. Rain tanks and cisterns.

These landscape practice can make substantial contributions toward improved surface water quality, flood management, and water supply reliability. They can also reduce energy usage and associated greenhouse gas emissions, sequester carbon, improve ecosystem and human health, promote economic activity, and enhance community resilience.

Businesses stand to gain from investing in sustainable landscapes.

In addition to the broad-reaching water security and climate resiliency benefits that sustainable landscapes can create, businesses stand to gain directly from investments in sustainable landscape practices. Through surveys and interviews with Southern California businesses, we found that these can include, but are not limited to:

  • Financial considerations: Sustainable landscape practices can provide financial benefits through, for example, reduced water, energy and operation and maintenance (O&M) costs.
  • Corporate sustainability goals: A growing number of companies have adopted sustainability goals and investing in sustainable landscapes can help contribute these, particularly to water and energy targets.
  • Reputation and public perception: Converting to a sustainable landscape is a highly visible way for a business to signal their commitment to sustainability to customers and the local community, as well as to investors and peer companies.
  • Social responsibility: Companies are increasingly recognizing the water-related risks facing their business operations and their communities. While companies are often motivated by the desire to reduce business risks, many are also motivated by a commitment to social responsibility.

Businesses have a vital role to play in transitioning to sustainable landscapes.

The scope and scale of urban resiliency challenges warrant action by all – including the business community. CI properties are disproportionately landscaped with turf grass and have large impervious surfaces. In the Santa Ana River Watershed, for example, CI parcels have three times as much turf grass as residential parcels. Impervious surfaces on CI properties make up almost 10 percent of the entire watershed area. As a result, there are vast areas owned and operated by businesses that can be converted to sustainable landscapes, contributing to shared watershed goals.

Curious about the water benefit opportunities at your facilities? You can explore them using this interactive mapping tool.

Click map to view

About the Project

View the project on the Water Action Hub

The Pacific Institute and CEO Water Mandate, in collaboration with California Forward and the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority (SAWPA), are leading a collaboration with the Southern California business community to motivate the installation of landscapes on corporate properties that provide multiple benefits, such as water conservation, enhancing stormwater capture, improving water quality, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. These landscapes represent a highly visual way for the business community to showcase its commitment to sustainability and will help to promote similar actions by residents and others.

This project is now in phase two, the implementation phase. Throughout 2019, the project team and participating companies will work with local partners to install, and measure the outcomes of, sustainable landscapes on the participating properties. We are actively recruiting companies with facilities in the Santa Ana River Watershed to participate in the project (participation does not mean a priori commitment to investing in landscape changes). If your company is interested in getting involved, please email Cora at ckammeyer@pacinst.org.

The Stormwater Opportunity

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By Morgan Shimabuku and Sarah Diringer

Navigating around puddles that form on streets and in parking lots after a rainstorm can be a nuisance. But this water, technically known as stormwater, has the potential to become an important water supply for many Californian communities. For example, one studyshowed enough potential supply from stormwater in major urban and suburban centers in California to annually provide millions of gallons for the recharge of local aquifers. In addition to providing valuable water supply, effective stormwater management can help reduce local flooding and prevent trash and other pollution from getting into streams or the ocean. What’s more, many stormwater capture projects have further co-benefits, such as providing habitat, reducing urban temperatures, reducing energy use, creating community recreation spaces, and increasing property values.

With all of these advantages, many Californian communities are beginning to expand stormwater management programs to not only address flooding and water quality, but to recharge aquifers, irrigate landscapes, and provide an additional, climate-resilient water supply. In a recent Pacific Institute report, we highlight some innovative and practical strategies that communities throughout California and the country are using to improve local stormwater policy, overcome funding challenges, and harness this viable local water supply.

Advancing policy to support stormwater capture

In some areas, communities are updating municipal codes and guidelines that inadvertently and unnecessarily prohibit stormwater capture. The City of Gonzales in California, for example, updated the city’s design specifications for curbs and planters to allow runoff from stormwater to flow from places like parking lots and streets to be directed into vegetated areas where it can soak into the ground. This relatively easy update to the municipal code allowed for urban designers to incorporate stormwater capture into new projects and retrofits.

Source: Conservation Design Forum

 

In addition, cities throughout California are adopting policies to encourage or even require stormwater capture in urban areas. In San Francisco, an ordinance makes capture, treatment, and reuse of stormwater — and other non-potable sources such as graywater  — mandatory in new construction projects larger than 250,000 square feet. And in Santa Monica, a new policy to source all the city’s municipal water supplies locally by 2022 has been a driver for stormwater projects, such as the Los Amigos Park Stormwater Harvesting and Direct Use Demonstration Project that provides water to the park for the irrigation of sports fields and for restroom toilet flushing.

Developing dedicated, local funding sources for stormwater capture

Paying for stormwater management is no trivial challenge, and California has an existing funding gap of between $500 million to $800 million annually. However, the benefits of stormwater management far outweigh the costs, especially when accounting for the many co-benefits, such as improving water quality, providing habitat and open space for communities, and in some cases, providing an additional local water supply. In California, water supply generated through stormwater capture is among the cheapest options for new supplies. And communities are increasingly pursuing stormwater projects that meet a variety of objectives, allowing for innovative approaches to funding these projects. For example, the City/County Association of Governments of San Mateo County received voter-approval for a $10 annual vehicle registration fee to improve both transportation and stormwater management, including projects like permeable pavement to reduce flooding, filter stormwater runoff, and support infiltration. In Fresno, the regional flood control agency created a development fee that supports flood control and stormwater capture and places the cost of additional structures on future growth. By tackling multiple issues simultaneously, these entities were able to fund stormwater capture while addressing flooding and water quality challenges in their regions.

Looking outside the state, Dubuque, Iowa partnered with several agencies to reconstruct alleyways with permeable pavement to reduce flooding, reduce pollution from runoff, and beautify neighborhoods. These partnerships helped them obtain low interest loans through the Iowa Clean Water State Revolving Fund. California has a surrogate fund, but to date it has rarely been used by California communities for stormwater programs.

While State Revolving Fund dollars and other bond funds can help to pay for capital costs of stormwater projects, communities also need continual funding for operations, maintenance, and other ongoing costs. There are several options for funding these ongoing costs, such as parcel taxes or property-based fees, sewer utilities, and development impact fees. While California state law sets onerous voter approval standards for implementing stormwater fees, a growing number of communities have successfully passed measures to create dedicated stormwater funding sources. For example, in 2016, Culver City passed the Clean Water, Clean Beach parcel tax, which charges an annual tax to property owners to cover the cost of keeping pollution out of local streams and beaches with multi-benefit projects that also recharge local groundwater supplies. In 2017, Palo Alto residents voted to approve an update to their stormwater drainage fee, increasing funds for stormwater management with nature-based solutions that help to clean and infiltrate water rather than directing it to the Bay. Lessons learned from success stories such as these can help provide guidance for other communities seeking to create ongoing, dedicated funding for stormwater management and capture.

Stormwater has long been managed to reduce its impact on water pollution and to mitigate flooding challenges, but the time has come to also use it as a source of water supply. Due to California’s highly variable weather, most rain falls during just a few winter storms. Stormwater capture could help provide relief from both California weather extremes – dry and wet; during wet periods it can help reduce the impacts of flooding and water pollution, and during dry periods it has the potential to augment water supplies. Through our research, we found many examples of communities taking new approaches to tap the potential of this valuable local resource, but we can, and must, do more.

As winter nears and the rain begins to fall, communities across the state can collect this valuable resource, turning puddles into a plentiful, local water supply.

Want to learn more about what communities are doing in California and beyond to capture stormwater? Check out our report!

Water Is a Source of Growing Tension and Violence in the Middle East

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By Peter Gleick and Charlie Iceland

In the hot, dry Middle East, where populations are growing rapidly and all major rivers cross political borders, water has become a focal point for escalating violence. From the foothills of the Taurus Mountains in Turkey that feed the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to the desert wadis on the southern tip of Yemen, the history of water conflicts provides a cautionary tale: When water and politics mix, and when cooperation gives way to conflict, freshwater becomes an issue of human and national security and a tool of violence.

The long history of conflict in the region is intertwined with the history of water. The earliest recorded water fight is a dispute around 2400 BC over the use of irrigation canals in the ancient Mesopotamian cities of Umma and Lagash between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. When the walls and temples of Babylon were razed around 690 BC, the waters of the Euphrates were used to wash away the ruins.
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Collective Action Toward Water Security in Brazil

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By Abbey Warner and Giuliana Chaves Moreira

Credit: Ryan Tacklin

Brazil’s water basins hold 12% of the world’s freshwater, yet the country continues to face serious water challenges, with multiple effects on people, environment, and the economy. Brazil estimates that close to 35 million citizens lack access to safe water, while 100 million lack access to appropriate sanitation. Water pollution and wetlands degradation threaten the country’s myriad species of flora and fauna. Meanwhile, 30-40% of treated water is lost during distribution, a significant economic loss. And multiple water risks threaten business viability. The country’s growing economy and burgeoning population, combined with its vulnerability to climate change, will place added pressure on its water resources.
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Water is Connected to Every Major Global Risk We Face

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By Cora Kammeyer

Water crises have been among the top five global risks in each of the last seven years, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF). This year is no exception. ‘Water Crises’ is listed as the fifth-most impactful risk for 2018. In addition to being a major risk in its own right, water is also linked to many other of the most significant risks, social and environmental, confronting our society today.

Defining Water Crises

“Water Crises: A significant decline in the available quality and quantity of fresh water, resulting in harmful effects on human health and/or economic activity.”

– WEF Global Risks Report 2018

While WEF’s definition of “water crises” is focused on insufficiency, it is important to remember that the world’s water challenges are not constrained to scarcity and pollution. As we have said before, physical water risks can stem from a variety of issues, including having too much water, not enough water, or water that is unfit for use. This year’s risk report highlighted all three types of water challenges: (more…)

Why Companies Should Dip Their Toes in Clean Water (and Sanitation)

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By Abbey Warner

“While considerable progress has been made over the past decade across all areas of development, the pace of progress observed in previous years is insufficient to fully meet the Sustainable Development Goals and targets by 2030.”United Nations, 2017

As of 2015, 29 percent of the world population did not have access to safely managed drinking water and 61 percent did not have access to a safely managed sanitation service, according to a World Health Organization and UNICEF report. Additionally, more than 40 percent of the global population is affected by water scarcity, and that number is projected to rise. Meanwhile, more than 80 percent of global wastewater is discharged without treatment.

In 2015, the United Nations Member States committed to the 2030 Agenda, a 15-year plan to support people, the planet, and prosperity. The Agenda aims to eradicate global poverty sustainably and (more…)

The World’s Water Challenges (2017)

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By Cora Kammeyer

Water is perhaps the most vital natural resource on the planet. It is necessary for human survival and a critical input into our food, manufacturing, and energy systems. It also sustains the ecosystems and climates upon which both our built and natural world rely.

Today we are putting more pressure on freshwater resources than ever. Between a rapidly growing population and a shifting climate, water stress – and therefore water risk –  is increasing around the world. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6 is focused on water, with several sub-goals related to different water challenges. We have seen promising progress, but there is much work to be done to make water sustainability a reality before the SDG target date of 2030.

Global water stress map. Source: World Resources Institute.

Growing Water Demand and Water Scarcity

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Watershed Context & Water Stewardship Goals: Why Thinking Local is Critical to Hedging Global Corporate Water Risk

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By Morgan Campbell

What do the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan, destructive monsoon flooding in Mumbai, India, Hurricane Harvey’s devastating storm surges in Texas, the recent five-year California drought, and the hypoxic dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico all have in common? They are all water risk events. Although they are characterized by differences in geography, they show water risks faced today are as diverse as the world’s topography and precipitation patterns. And while global pollutants, such as carbon or chlorofluorocarbons, can be addressed by global reduction initiatives, the inherently local nature of water risk requires that we weave together localized solutions to protect the future sustainability of water resources. (more…)

How Your Business Can Play a Role in Ending the Global Water and Sanitation Crisis

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By Peter Schulte

No one need explain the true value of water to 54-year-old Elizabeth and her family in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.  She spends more than half her meagre salary on buying drinking water from a local water vendor, as she knows the water from the nearby lake could make her unwell, unproductive and unable to provide for her family.

Elizabeth knows that installing a safe water supply and decent toilet close to her home and market stall makes good business sense. She’ll spend less money on buying water. And a decent toilet will increase her productivity and reduce her absence from work, because she’ll get sick less often. In the long-run, if $1 were invested in water and sanitation, an average of $4 would be returned in increased productivity.

Imagine now that instead of Elizabeth working at an independent market stall, she works in the supply chain of a multi-national food retailer. The lack of access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in her workplace could cost the company millions in lost productivity; every year, the equivalent of US$4 billion in working days are lost due to poor sanitation.

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Make Public Drinking Water Fountains Great Again

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By Rapichan Phurisamban and Peter Gleick

In February of 2017, the Pacific Institute released a white paper entitled Drinking Fountains and Public Health: Improving National Infrastructure to Rebuild Trust and Ensure Access, which highlighted the limited evidence of a link between illness and disease outbreaks and drinking fountains. The report found that most problems could be traced to contamination from poor cleaning and maintenance or old water infrastructure in buildings, and called for comprehensive testing of drinking fountains, implementation of standard protocols for fountain maintenance, and a nationwide effort to replace old water infrastructure, which can be the source of lead and other contaminants.

One aspect of efforts to expand access to fountains is to take a look at current drinking fountain technology and identify features that can help ensure their quality, convenience, and reliability. Ultimately, these features can help increase public confidence and access to high quality and affordable tap water.

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Mobile Apps to Quench Your Thirst

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A Review of Public Drinking Fountain Finders

By Ayana Crawford and Rapichan Phurisamban

Public drinking fountains used to be everywhere, providing a reliable source of free, high-quality drinking water outside the home. They are a great alternative to bottled water, with its steep environmental costs and high price (200 to 1,000 times more expensive than tap water or more). Drinking fountains, however, have been disappearing from public spaces over the past few decades. Poor public perception and concerns over water quality (as illustrated in the “water fountain episode” of Parks and Recreation) have played a role in their disappearance.

Water quality issues at public fountains, when they exist, can be traced to poor cleaning and maintenance or old piping and fixture parts. To ensure the quality and continuance of public drinking fountains, (1) they must be routinely cleaned and maintained; (2) old drinking fountains with lead parts must be replaced or new fountains installed in high-traffic areas, and; (3) modern tools must be developed to let people know how to find these fountains.

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Corporate Water Targets: A New Approach

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By Tien Shiao

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Water risks once again rank as one of the top 10 global risks in the 2016 World Economic Forum’s annual report.

Screen Shot 2017-05-20 at 8.22.58 PMBecause of this, more and more companies view water as a business risk and water stewardship as a solution. As such, they are looking to find ways to measure their performance and progress. However, current methods for creating water stewardship metrics that evaluate on-the-ground projects are inadequate.

Corporate water targets are often developed with various objectives in mind. Sometimes they are used to demonstrate the company’s leadership to external audience. Sometimes they are used to inform and inspire employees internally. Sometimes they are used to align water efforts across the company’s operations in various regions. And sometimes they are used to mark the company’s contributions to (more…)

Thirsty for Change? 4 Ways to Improve Corporate Water Targets

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By Paul Reig, Morgan Gillespy, Tien Shiao, Kari Vigerstol and Alexis Morgan

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Water-related business risks are becoming more and more apparent. According to CDP’s 2016 global water report, 607 companies lost $14 billion last year alone due to water scarcity, drought, flood and other water risks.

Current methods for creating corporate water stewardship targets—which often ignore the unique local context of water issues—are inadequate. For companies to succeed as water stewards, they need a new generation of targets. Such targets—based on the local context and guided by the best available science—would help ensure long-term business growth in the face of increased competition and depletion of water.

That’s why CDP, the UN Global Compact CEO Water Mandate, the Nature Conservancy, the World Resources Institute and WWF are calling for a new approach to setting corporate water targets. Our discussion paper launched today makes the case for setting context-based corporate water targets. Here are four considerations for companies looking to create more impactful water stewardship goals:

1. Local context matters—a lot.

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National Geographic ScienceBlogs: National Water Infrastructure Efforts Must Expand Access to Public Drinking Fountains

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By Peter Gleick and Rapichan Phurisamban 

There is strong bipartisan support for expanding investment in the nation’s water infrastructure as part of a broader infrastructure effort. But there is, as yet, little agreement about what specific investments should be made. Here is one idea: expand access to high-quality and safe municipal water by improving access to drinking fountains in schools, parks, public buildings, and around public transit areas.

Modern drinking fountains chill and filter water, and let users fill water bottles (Photo: Peter Gleick 2011)
Modern drinking fountains chill and filter water, and let users fill water bottles (Photo: Peter Gleick 2011)

Drinking fountains are an important public resource, serving as an alternative to bottled water or sugary drinks and accommodating a wide array of users, including children, commuters, runners, the homeless, and tourists. Some fountains are even designed to provide water for pets. A newly released study from the Pacific Institute, entitled “Drinking Fountains and Public Health: Improving National Water Infrastructure to Rebuild Trust and Ensure Access,” discusses the state of the nation’s drinking fountains and addresses concerns about their quality and links to illnesses. The report concludes that the risk of fountain water contamination can be reduced or eliminated altogether through improved maintenance and cleaning or updating and replacing old water infrastructure and pipes.

The significance of drinking fountains has been documented since ancient times. Some of the earliest records of public water fountains come from ancient Greek cities, where fountains were both a common sight and a public necessity. A second century Greek writer, Pausanias, wrote that a place can never rightfully be called a “city” without water fountains. Spring-fed public water fountains were typically placed in or near temples and were dedicated to gods, goddesses, nymphs, and heroes.

 

 

Florence, Italy
Drinking Fountain, Florence, Italy (Photo: Peter Gleick)

As populations grew and cities expanded, demand for public water systems and new water treatment and delivery technologies led to the increased use of public water fountains. By the early 20th century, public drinking fountains became a fixture of the urban landscape. In the past few decades, however, they have been disappearing from public spaces for several reasons, including the advent of commercial bottled water, decreased public investment in urban infrastructure, concern over the health risks of fountains and municipal water in general, and alaisse-faire attitude toward public water systems.

It is time to reverse this trend.

Drinking fountains are essential for maintaining free public access to water, and we need to expand the science and practice of ensuring they remain clean, safe, and accessible. A modest investment by public agencies, school and park districts, and even private businesses could greatly expand the number and quality of drinking water fountains. New fountain designs equipped with filters, chillers, and bottle fillers make fountains an even smarter choice for everyone. Mobile apps that make it easier to find a nearby drinking fountain are currently being tested and could improve access to drinking water, and thus public health.

Drinking fountain, California (Photo: Peter Gleick)
Drinking fountain, California (Photo: Peter Gleick)

Key recommendations from the Pacific Institute report should be adopted quickly, by federal, state, and local agencies, and by others who build and maintain drinking fountains. These recommendations include consistent cleaning and routine maintenance; installation of new fountains in high-traffic areas; retrofitting or replacement of old models with modern fountains with optional filters, chillers, and bottle fillers; and the elimination of parts and pipes that contain lead and copper.

Recent reports of unsafe water from fountains show that the problem is almost never the fountain itself, but old water distribution and plumbing systems that should, with a proper national water infrastructure effort, be upgraded and replaced immediately to remove lead and other sources of contamination. Uniform maintenance guidelines should be developed and widely adopted. These efforts, combined with communications on the results of regular water testing, reports on the performance of fountains, and information on how to find and access high-quality drinking fountains, can help build public trust in water fountains and protect the human right to water.

This article was originaly published on http://scienceblogs.com

National Geographic ScienceBlogs: From Scientists to Policymakers: Communicating on Climate, Scientific Integrity, and More

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By Peter Gleick

Among the different professional categories, scientists and engineers remain very highly respected by the public, at least compared to politicians, business leaders, the media, and even religious authorities. Part of this is due to the fact that success in the scientific enterprise depends on impartial analysis and independence from political ideology. And yet there are strong connections between science and policy: good policy without good science is difficult; good policy with bad science is impossible. Sure, there is plenty of bad policy made even in the face of contradictory scientific evidence, but that is the result of political failures, or, at times, poor scientific communication.

A perennial question facing scientists is when — and how — to participate in public communication and policy debates around issues of social concern. This is not a new question: as long as scientists have seen a connection between their work and major challenges facing society, some have acted on a sense of responsibility to contribute to debates about how science can be harnessed to improve the world. Scientists have little political power: they are small in numbers, rarely sufficiently financially wealthy to use money as a political tool, and often politically naïve or poorly networked.As a result, until the past decade or so, when new tools of social media have made more direct communication between scientists and the public easier, scientists have had limited tools to communicate policy-relevant opinions. Congressional and legislative testimony at public hearings offered one avenue for the exchange of information between policymakers and scientists. I’ve personally provided testimony at nearly 40 state and federal hearings on climate, water, and broad environmental policy issues. In recent years, however, the hostility of some policymakers to scientific evidence and information – especially at the federal level — has decreased the number of such hearings and has turned them into events more akin to political theater than educational and informational opportunities.

Another approach was for scientists to work with television producers and film makers to produce high-quality products for the public. Early efforts of pioneers like Carl Sagan paved the way for more recent efforts, but they depended on scientists willing to put themselves forward as communicators and popularizers. Sagan, who wrote popular books and created the award-winning TV show “Cosmos,” was criticized by some colleagues at the time who felt this was not a proper role for scientists, though the more recent success of science communicators such as Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson have shown that this approach can be tremendously effective.

A simpler and more common approach has been for groups of scientists to reach out to policymakers and the public in open letters, expressing concerns about public policy, suggesting priorities for governments, and calling for actions around specific issues. Two early examples include the petition to the President of the United States in July 1945 from 70 scientists at the Manhattan Project calling on Truman to refrain from deploying the newly created atomic bomb, and the famous Russell-Einstein Manifesto, which called on world governments to banish war as a way to settle disputes because of the risks of global annihilation from nuclear weapons. That letter, signed by some of the most well-known scientists in modern history, stated:

“… There lies before us, if we choose, continual progress in happiness, knowledge, and wisdom. Shall we, instead, choose death, because we cannot forget our quarrels? We appeal as human beings to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death.

Resolution:

We invite this Congress, and through it the scientists of the world and the general public, to subscribe to the following resolution:

“In view of the fact that in any future world war nuclear weapons will certainly be employed, and that such weapons threaten the continued existence of mankind, we urge the governments of the world to realize, and to acknowledge publicly, that their purpose cannot be furthered by a world war, and we urge them, consequently, to find peaceful means for the settlement of all matters of dispute between them.”

The use of such letters has continued over the years, with appeals to policymakers around the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs, both pro and con), the accelerating destruction of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, why Brexit would be bad for science, strategies for protecting the planet from asteroid impacts, oversight of artificial intelligence research, and more.

russell-einstein-manifesto-400x396In the last few years such letters have proliferated for three reasons: (1) the open hostility of some politically powerful groups to science and scientific findings is ringing alarm bells in the scientific community that cannot be ignored, (2) scientists now recognize that the dramatic and rapid alteration of the Earth’s very climate poses the second massive threat to the planet after nuclear annihilation, and (3) the ability to mobilize and collect signatures from scientists has greatly improved as networks of scientists have formed and social media tools have made it easier to organize around specific issues.

Whether or not such letters are useful, motivating to policymakers, or just feel-good efforts for scientists (or a combination of such things) cannot be known for sure. But scientist seem increasingly willing to speak out on issues at the intersection of science and policy because of their special knowledge and because of their belief that they have a social responsibility to help policy makers understand the nature of both scientific threats and opportunities.

Here, from just the past few years, are some of the key letters prepared by scientists and sent to policymakers on issues around scientific integrity, climate change, and public health:

Climate Change and the Integrity of Science, 2010

An early key letter on the issue of climate change and the integrity of science was published in Science magazine in mid-2010, signed by 255 members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences calling for action to reduce the risks of climate change and an end to harassment of scientists by politicians.

“For a problem as potentially catastrophic as climate change, taking no action poses a dangerous risk for our planet… We urge our policy-makers and the public to move forward immediately to address the causes of climate change, including the unrestrained burning of fossil fuels. We also call for an end to McCarthy-like threats of criminal prosecution against our colleagues based on innuendo and guilt by association, the harassment of scientists by politicians seeking distractions to avoid taking action, and the outright lies being spread about them. Society has two choices: We can ignore the science and hide our heads in the sand and hope we are lucky, or we can act in the public interest to reduce the threat of global climate change quickly and substantively. The good news is that smart and effective actions are possible. But delay must not be an option.”

On February 1, 2012, 38 world leading climate scientists published a letter in the Wall Street Journal  rejecting an earlier WSJ op-ed on climate as dangerously misleading and misinformed.

Letter to Congress from U.S. Scientific Societies on the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change, 2016

In June 2016, a partnership of 31 leading nonpartisan scientific associations sent a consensus letter to U.S. policymakers that reaffirmed the reality of human-caused climate change, noting that greenhouse gas emissions “must be substantially reduced” to minimize negative impacts on the global economy, natural resources, and human health. These scientific organization represent practically the entirety of the geosciences expertise of the nation, including:

  1. American Association for the Advancement of Science
  2. American Chemical Society
  3. American Geophysical Union
  4. American Institute of Biological Sciences
  5. American Meteorological Society
  6. American Public Health Association
  7. American Society of Agronomy
  8. American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists
  9. American Society of Naturalists
  10. American Society of Plant Biologists
  11. American Statistical Association
  12. Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography
  13. Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation
  14. Association of Ecosystem Research Centers
  15. BioQUEST Curriculum Consortium
  16. Botanical Society of America
  17. Consortium for Ocean Leadership
  18. Crop Science Society of America
  19. Ecological Society of America
  20. Entomological Society of America
  21. Geological Society of America
  22. National Association of Marine Laboratories
  23. Natural Science Collections Alliance
  24. Organization of Biological Field Stations
  25. Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics
  26. Society for Mathematical Biology
  27. Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles
  28. Society of Nematologists
  29. Society of Systematic Biologists
  30. Soil Science Society of America
  31. University Corporation for Atmospheric Research

Letter from Leading Australian Scientists to the Australian Government on Climate Change, 2016

In August 2016, 154 of Australia’s leading university and government scientists sent a letter to the Australian government stating “governments worldwide are presiding over a large-scale demise of the planetary ecosystems, which threatens to leave large parts of Earth uninhabitable.” The letter calls on the Australian government

“to tackle the root causes of an unfolding climate tragedy and do what is required to protect future generations and nature, including meaningful reductions of Australia’s peak carbon emissions and coal exports, while there is still time. There is no Planet B.”

An Open Letter on Climate Change From Concerned Members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, 2016

On September 20, 2016, 376 members of the National Academy of Sciences, including 30 Nobel laureates, published an open letter to draw attention to the serious risks of climate change. The letter warns that the consequences of opting out of the Paris agreement would be severe and long-lasting for our planet’s climate and for the international credibility of the United States.

Letter of Concern about the Views of Donald Trump on Scientific Reality, 2016

A letter from a broad coalition of scientists was released in fall 2016 expressing concern that presidential candidate Donald Trump’s stated views on many topics are at odds with scientific reality and represent a dangerous rejection of scientific thinking.

Letter to President-Elect Trump and the 115th Congress, 2016

Thousands of scientists joined an open letter in November 2016 calling on the incoming Trump administration and 115th Congress to ensure that science continues to play a strong role in protecting public health and well-being and that scientists be protected from political interference in their work. The letter has been signed by thousands of scientists, including 22 Nobel Prize winners.

An Open Letter from Women of Science, 2016

https://500womenscientists.org/#our-pledge

In November 2016, over 10,000 women of science signed an open letter noting that science plays a foundation role in “a progressive society, fuels innovation, and touches the lives of every person on this planet.” The letter expressed deep concern that

“anti-knowledge and anti-science sentiments expressed repeatedly during the U.S. presidential election threaten the very foundations of our society. Our work as scientists and our values as human beings are under attack. We fear that the scientific progress and momentum in tackling our biggest challenges, including staving off the worst impacts of climate change, will be severely hindered under this next U.S. administration. Our planet cannot afford to lose any time.”

The letter reaffirmed a commitment to build a more inclusive society and scientific enterprise, reject hateful rhetoric targeted at minority groups, women, LGBTQIA, immigrants, and people with disabilities, and attempts to discredit the role of science in our society. The signers also set out a series of scientific, training, support, and policy pledges.

Letter from All Major US Scientific Societies/Organizations to Trump Transition Team, 2016

Amidst the nationwide concern about future challenges facing a Trump Administration, the nation’s scientific, engineering, and higher education community wrote an open letter in November 2016 urging the quick appointment of a nationally respected presidential science advisor.

This article first appeared in ScienceBlog. 

National Geographic Presents: Water Scarcity

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By Peter Gleick, President-Emeritus and Chief Scientist

The reality of climate change, driven by the fossil-fuel industrialization of the planet, is upon us. Scientists have known for decades of this risk and have, with increasing urgency, tried to alert the public and policy makers about the threat and the opportunities to reduce that threat, to little avail. And now, we must live with unavoidable consequences, even as we continue to work to reduce the emissions of climate-changing gases.

Among those unavoidable consequences are widespread impacts on freshwater – perhaps the most important resource for human and ecological well being, economic productivity, and global security. Water is a renewable resource, and vital for all the things we want to do. The hydrologic cycle of evaporation, condensation, precipitation, runoff, and back to evaporation provides life-giving rains for crops and forests, generates the runoff we see flowing in our rivers and streams, and refreshes the oceans that are the nurseries for much of the life on the planet.

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21st Century Water Demand Forecasting

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By Matthew Heberger, Senior Research Associate and Heather Cooley, Water Program Director

Yogi Berra once said, “It’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future.” And nowhere is this more true than in the water business. Forecasts are extremely important for water utilities, which must make plans today to meet their communities’ current and future water needs. Since water supply projects can take years to plan and build, utilities’ long-term view often reaches twenty years or more into the future. But the industry has a poor track record when it comes to long-range forecasting.

The results of this are not purely academic. The end result is that water utilities may build unneeded or oversized water supply and treatment infrastructure – things like reservoirs, pumping stations, treatment plants, and desalination facilities – passing on the costs to customers and creating unnecessary environmental impacts. (more…)

U.S. Bottled Water Consumption is on the Rise: What Does It Mean?

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By Rebecca Olson, Communications Associate

                       Steven Depolo

If last year’s bottled water sales are any indication, the sale of bottled water in the U.S. this year will likely surpass that of soda. In 2015, Americans bought the equivalent of five bottles of water per citizen each week. Meanwhile, the sale of soda fell 1.5 percent, reaching the lowest level per person since 1985.

While there is a positive side to this picture — certainly water is a healthier beverage to consume than sugary carbonated drinks — the consumption of bottled water has negative environmental and economic repercussions, as outlined in Peter Gleick’s 2010 book Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water. As Gleick explained, each bottle of water is the product of a vast amount of energy and contributes to plastic waste. (more…)

ERW Opinion: On Methods for Assessing Water-Resource Risks and Vulnerabilities

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By Peter Gleick, President Emeritus and Chief Scientist

Much more can and should be done with new data and methods to improve our understanding of water challenges, says Peter Gleick.

As populations and economies continue to expand and as anthropogenic climate change accelerates, pressures on regional freshwater resources are also growing. A wide range of assessments of water pressures has been produced in recent years, including the regular updates from the United Nations World Water Development Reports (WWAP 2003, 2006, 2009, 2012, 2014, 2015), the biennial assessment The World’s Water (Gleick et al 1998–2015), the Aqueduct water stress datasets produced by the World Resources Institute (WRI 2015), and numerous other efforts to develop quantitative water measures and indices. The development of such methods has become increasingly common in recent years in order to help measure progress and evaluate the impacts or effectiveness of water policies and practices. The new letter in this volume of Environmental Research Letters by Padowski et al (2015) offers another opportunity to evaluate freshwater threats and vulnerabilities.

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National Geographic ScienceBlogs: Diablo Canyon, Climate Change, Drought, and Energy Policy

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By Peter Gleick, President Emeritus and Chief Scientist

The announcement that Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) will close the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant when its current operating licenses expire in 2025 has caused what can only be described as consternation mixed with occasional conniptions among the nuclear industry and some strongly pro-nuclear groups.

That’s understandable. Diablo Canyon is aging, but is not the oldest nuclear plant in the fleet and PG&E could have chosen to push for a renewal of the license to continue operations for many more years. Diablo Canyon’s two reactors are also California’s last operating nuclear plants, following the closure many years ago of Rancho Seco near Sacramento, and more recently, the last of the San Onofre reactors. As such, the closure is symbolic of the broader woes of the nuclear power industry in the United States, which has been unable to build new reactors and is seeing the current reactors being shuttered, one by one.

The decision to phase out Diablo also rankles those who see all non-carbon energy sources as critical in the fight against the real threat of climate change. This has led to an internecine dispute among those who claim the mantle of “environmentalist,” who are legitimately concerned about climate, but who split on their positions around the pros and cons of nuclear power.

I get it. The climate threat is the most urgent one facing the planet and shutting down major non-carbon energy sources makes it that much harder to meet carbon reduction goals. But old nuclear plants have to be retired and replaced at some point, simply due to age, economics, and updated environmental challenges. It would be great if there was a new generation of replacement reactors that was safe, cost-effective, and reliable and if there was a satisfactory resolution to the problem of nuclear wastes and accumulating spent fuel. But at the moment, there isn’t. The good news is there are other non-carbon alternatives available.

And Diablo Canyon faced a unique set of problems, including the need in the next few years to replace its old once-thru ocean cooling system with a far costlier, but more environmentally friendly system, challenges with steam generators and a growing risk of leaks, the long-standing earthquake risk at the site, and cheaper alternatives. Even with the sunk costs at Diablo Canyon, these challenges made it clear that cheaper options exist and “that California’s new energy policies will significantly reduce the need for Diablo Canyon’s electricity output.”

Moreover, the claim that current nuclear energy is cheap is false: even at Diablo Canyon – never a cheap nuclear plant – additional updates to address existing problems could cost a massive additional $10 billion.  As Peter Bradford, a former member of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said,

“The unraveling of the [hoped for nuclear] renaissance was not a surprise to anyone who understood the workings of the power markets.”

Diablo isn’t shutting down tomorrow. The plan gives the utility nearly a decade to phase out the plant and replace it with renewable energy and energy efficiency. As the official announcementnotes:

“The Joint Proposal would replace power produced by two nuclear reactors at the Diablo Canyon Power Plant (DCPP) with a cost-effective, greenhouse gas free portfolio of energy efficiency, renewables and energy storage.”

This time frame is important. When San Onofre closed its last reactor in 2012, with no formal replacement plan in place, there was a short-term spike in natural gas consumption (worsened by the simultaneous arrival of a multi-year drought, which cut hydroelectricity generation) and an increase in California’s greenhouse gas emissions. Nuclear proponents cherry pick this point as evidence that shutting Diablo will similarly lead to an increase in emissions. But within a couple of years, the rapid construction of non-carbon wind and solar systems made up for San Onofre’s lost electricity, and natural gas use — excluding excess natural gas burned to make up for lost hydroelectricity due to the drought –dropped again. The Figure below shows total non-fossil fuel electricity generation in California from 2001-2015 (solid red line) and what it would have been without the drought (dotted red line). Without the drought, expansion of new solar and wind completely made up for San Onofre’s closure.

Total non-fossil fuel electricity generation with (solid red line) and without the drought (dashed red line). Data from US EIA.

Total non-fossil fuel electricity generation with (solid red line) and without the drought (dashed red line). Data from US EIA.

With the longer timeframe to prepare for closing Diablo Canyon, and with the specific agreement to accelerate investment in renewables, there is no reason California’s carbon reduction targets can’t be met. Will they? We don’t know: that ultimately depends on the nature and timing of efforts to continue California’s transition to non-carbon energy.

But even this argument misses the key point: While it is certainly far better from a climate perspective to replace old fossil fuel plants rather than old nuclear plants, even old nuclear plants have to be replaced eventually. We should keep them open as long as feasible from an economic, environmental, and safety point of view, but when the decision is made to replace them, make sure other non-carbon generation and energy efficiency options are part of the decision.

That’s what happened here and it is a model for the future.

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This blog was originally published on National Geographic ScienceBlogs.

Fits and Starts at the Salton Sea

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By Michael Cohen, Senior Research Associate

The fortunes and prospects of California’s Salton Sea have ebbed and flowed over the years. Currently, the Sea is enjoying renewed attention and funding, after almost a decade of neglect and indifference. The State of California is poised to dedicate $80 million to efforts to protect and revitalize (a small portion of) the Salton Sea, prompted in large part by a fast-approaching tipping point that will see a dramatic shrinking of the Sea, devastating its rich ecosystem and imperiling the health of hundreds of thousands of people in the region.

In Salt Dreams, Bill DeBuys writes, “In low places consequences collect.” Southern California’s Salton Sea collects and manifests the hydrologic consequences of intensive agriculture in the Colorado River basin, the leaching of salts and selenium from ancient sea-beds now elevated high in the Colorado Plateau, as well as the fertilizers and pesticides running off of the fields in the Imperial, Coachella, and Mexicali valleys. The Sea also reflects the consequences of political and economic decisions and deals in the basin and in Southern California. By 2018, the Salton Sea will begin to reflect the consequences of the nation’s largest agriculture-to-urban water transfer, a long-term deal that has helped San Diego and the urban coast survive California’s persistent drought but that will soon cause the Sea’s surface to drop by 20 feet and its salinity to triple.

Daniel M. Edwards
Daniel M. Edwards

 

The shrinking Salton Sea poses several significant threats, including the loss of habitat for more than 420 species of birds – often numbering in the thousands of individuals – and of the ecosystem as a whole due to rapidly rising salinity. The shrinking Sea will also expose tens of thousands of acres of dust-emitting lakebed in a region where air quality regularly fails to meet state and federal standards, posing a direct and measurable threat to the hundreds of thousands of people who live downwind from the Sea.

The loss of the ecosystem and the escalating public health costs driven by poor air quality, combined with massive fish and bird die-offs and associated impacts on local and regional property values, could cost the region tens of billions of dollars over the next 30 years.

As noted in a recent article in the Desert Sun, insufficient state action and the lack of a long-term commitment to the Salton Sea impede efforts to address the long-term supply-demand imbalance on the Colorado River, potentially jeopardizing a vitally important multi-state deal. The consequences of failing to act on behalf of the Salton Sea could, in fact, extend well beyond the Sea and the surrounding region.

Daniel M. Edwards
Daniel M. Edwards

Last October, California recognized its responsibility to protect the Salton Sea and set admirable short-term habitat and dust suppression goals. The governor’s budget for the next fiscal year contains $80 million for Salton Sea projects over the next three years, a small fraction of the total investment needed but an excellent start. And a recent report to the legislature detailed several “shovel-ready” habitat projects at the Salton Sea.

Yet, as shown in the figure below, the proposed habitat projects wouldn’t even keep pace with the amount of lakebed exposed in the next several years.

Salton Sea May newsletter blurb chart

In collaboration with other organizations, the Institute has recommended several specific actions to accelerate the state’s implementation of habitat and dust suppression projects at the Salton Sea. We are very concerned that the excitement generated and promise offered last October by the state’s hiring of a new Assistant Secretary of Salton Sea Policy and the establishment of aggressive acreage goals for habitat and dust suppression projects at the Salton Sea will not translate into actual projects or progress on the ground. California’s continuing focus and dedication of high-level staff to the challenges of the Bay-Delta come at the direct cost of attention to and progress at the Salton Sea.

Yet the Salton Sea offers real potential for significant success, with broad consensus among stakeholders over the nature and timing of short-term projects, ample water, and demonstrated results. As we make clear in our recommendations, the challenge is to operationalize the state’s commitment, to dedicate resources, and especially the right set of skills to manage the projects already identified, funded, and permitted.

Unlike the challenges of protecting habitat and human health in most of the water-starved West, this problem is not a lack of water but rather a lack of political will. With the $80 million in the governor’s budget and a dedicated effort from state staff and local stakeholders, we could celebrate the completion of more than a thousand acres of high-quality, dust-suppressing habitat projects by the end of next year. This short-term success is within reach, but it will require dedicated project management, urgency, and commitment.

National Geographic ScienceBlogs: Global Droughts: A Bad Year

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By Peter Gleick

Populations around the world face many severe water challenges, from scarcity to contamination, from political or violent conflict to economic disruption. As populations and economies grow, peak water pressures on existing renewable water resources also tend to grow up to the point that natural scarcity begins to constrain the options of water planners and managers. At this point, the effects of natural fluctuations in water availability in the form of extreme weather events become even more potentially disruptive than normal. In particular, droughts begin to bite deeply into human well-being.

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Huffpost Green: An Open Letter From Peter Gleick: My Transition at the Pacific Institute

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By Peter Gleick

As readers of this column may already know, earlier this week the Pacific Institute and I announced an important and exciting change: on July 1st after 28 years as co-founder and President of the Institute, I will be moving to a new position as President Emeritus and Chief Scientist. A wide search for a new president has been launched.

I’m neither resigning nor retiring. In my new role, I will continue to do research and writing on global climate, water and sustainability issues, and I will continue to speak out on science and policy issues in public forums, with the press, and on social media channels like this one at National Geographic ScienceBlogs and at Huffington Post. Indeed, as many friends, colleagues, and readers know, I’m a firm believer in the vital need to integrate science and policy, to speak out publicly on issues of importance to current and future generations, to change the way we think about water, and to challenge those who would seek to delay needed actions or confuse or mislead the public about science (here or here) and the global challenges facing the planet. I will also continue my pro-bono professional work with U.S. National Academy of Sciences committees, various journal editorial boards, and committees with professional science societies, but I will also free up uncommitted time to take on new challenges, and travel.

Some friends have asked, why now? Two reasons: First, organizations are full of people who stay in positions of leadership and power a bit too long. So better to plan carefully and do this before that happens (if I have…). But second, and most importantly, the Pacific Institute is in a perfect position now for this transition: we have a superb, top-quality staff of researchers, policy analysts, a unique and highly valued approach to creating and advancing solutions to global water challenges, a strong committed board of directors, and a visionary strategic plan.

The Institute works with a wide array of partners and stakeholders, ranging from Fortune 500 companies to environmental groups, and from the United Nations to disenfranchised communities. This is exactly the right time for the Institute to expand its effectiveness, reach, and influence in tackling the threats to water resources of climate change and extreme events, unsustainable management and use of urban and agricultural water, conflicts over water resources, the human right to water, and the growing importance of corporate water stewardship and sustainability efforts at the national and international scale.

On a practical level, before I transition to my new role, the selection of a new president is currently being led by a board-appointed committee (including staff members), which has retained California Environmental Associates, a San Francisco-based executive search firm to carry out the recruitment process. Here is the job description; please share it with appropriate friends and candidates. We’re seeking someone with exceptional skills who will continue to build on the strengths of the Institute and bring new insights and ideas as the Institute expands its ability and influence.

A few notes of personal thanks as I make this transition to the staff and board of the Institute who have been and continue to be hugely supportive and a source of inspiration to me; my personal friends and professional colleagues who have always encouraged me to follow the dream of starting an organization like this and then encouraged it over the years; the Institute’s many and diverse donors and funders who saw and continue to see the value and unique role we play in helping reshape the way society thinks about problems of global sustainability; and most importantly my family, who may actually get to see a bit more of me, but who never (really) complained about my workload.

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(OK, maybe some more of this, too. Yes, that’s me.)

So, I look forward to continuing the battles to save the planet and to my interactions with you, in whatever form they take.

This blog was originally published on Huffpost Green.

National Geographic ScienceBlogs: Water, Security, and Conflict: Violence over Water in 2015

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By Peter Gleick, President

Since its founding in 1987, the Pacific Institute has worked to understand the links between water resources, environmental issues, and international security and conflict. This has included early analytical assessments (such as a 1987 Ambio paper  and this one from the journal Climatic Change) of the risks between climate change and security through changes in access to Arctic resources, food production, and water resources, as well as the ongoing Water Conflict Chronology – an on-line database, mapping system, and timeline of all known water-related conflicts. In 2014, an analysis of the links between drought, climate change, water resources, and the conflict in Syria was published in the American Meteorological Society journal Weather, Climate, and Society.

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Moving from Theory to Practice: A Synthesis of Lessons about Incentive-Based Instruments for Freshwater Management

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by Heather Cooley, Michael Cohen, and Matthew Heberger

There has been growing interest in applying incentive-based instruments, such as pollution charges and tradeable permits, to address the twin challenges of accessing enough freshwater to meet our needs while also preserving the well-being of freshwater ecosystems. These instruments use direct or indirect financial incentives as motivation to reallocate water or to reduce the health and environmental risks posed by an activity. But what do we know about how they have actually performed?

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Huffington Post: The Most Important Water Stories of 2015

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By Peter Gleick, Brett Walton, and J. Carl Ganter
Water was a Top Risk on the 2015 Global Agenda

In early 2015, participants at the World Economic Forum, a who’s who of the political and business elite, ranked water crises as the top global risk. Water was also a key factor in the adoption by the United Nations General Assembly of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a blueprint for international development over the next 15 years. Ensuring safe drinking water and sanitation for all by 2030 is one of six water goals for the SDGs. In December at the UN climate change conference in Paris, world leaders acknowledged the instrumental role that water will play in a warming planet. Water security was included in the response plans of most nations and was at the core of numerous debates and side agreements.

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Sanitation and Water for All Partner Perspectives: One Year On: Companies and Respect for the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation

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By Mai-Lan Ha

2015 was a historic year for sustainable development. The world came together and adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a new framework that will guide development for the next 15 years. The 17 SDGs cover a range of topics from health to education to equality and environmental protection. Underpinning the achievement of these goals is the importance of water. As such, water has its own dedicated goal (Goal 6) and is also integrated into a number of other related goals, such as those on health, wellbeing, and biodiversity. Critical to achievement of SDG6 will be the important role that businesses must play and the need to ensure that the rights to water and sanitation are met. As such, a year ago, the CEO Water Mandate and Shift released Guidance for Companies on Respecting the Rights to Water and Sanitation. The Guidance is the first comprehensive document that lays out how businesses can meet their responsibilities to respect the rights by incorporating them into existing water management practices, policies, and company cultures.

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Huffington Post: The Historic, Unprecedented, Landmark Climate Agreement

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By Peter Gleick, President

Historic. Unprecedented. Landmark. Also, the world’s greatest diplomatic success. A turning point for the world. This is some of the language used to describe the global climate agreement reached this week in Paris. The excitement about this agreement is palpable, for good reason. The Paris Agreement marks a fundamental turning point in the future of the planet, a conscious vote by the world community to acknowledge that climate change represents an “urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet” and to try, finally, to avoid leaving our children and grandchildren with a dangerously changed global climate.

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Huffington Post: Climate Science in 1956 and 2015

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By Peter Gleick, President

Despite the apparent inability of many of our current policy makers to accept the scientific reality of climate change, the science is not new. Fifty-nine years ago, on October 28, 1956, the New York Times ran a story in their Science in Review section entitled “Warmer climate on the earth may be due to more carbon dioxide in the air.” The full text of that article is reprinted below and is available from the New York Times archive, here.

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Huffington Post: Damn Dams

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By Peter Gleick, President

The history of water development around the world, and especially in the western United States, is really a history of the construction of massive infrastructure, particularly large dams. As populations and economies expanded, the need to control, channel, and manage water grew, and large dams offered a way to provide energy, relief from damaging floods and droughts, irrigation water, and water-based recreation.

There is no doubt the construction of dams played a vital role in the past in supporting our growing economies, and some regions of the world would benefit from the careful development of new dams and related water infrastructure. But along with the benefits of dams came unexpected, understudied, or long-ignored costs above and beyond the narrow economic costs of building them. These costs include disruption of the ecology of free-flowing rivers, extinction of a range of aquatic species including key fisheries, displacement of communities, and destruction of cultural sites. Literally tens of millions of people around the world have been forced to abandon their villages and homes because of the flooding caused by big dams.

In the past few decades, there has been a growing awareness of the need to more carefully balance the potential advantages of dams with their negative consequences, and new guidelines have been developed for evaluating and reducing the risks of such projects to communities and the environment. For countries like the United States, especially in California and the western U.S., most of the best dam sites have already been exploited and massive government pork-barrel subsidies have disappeared, slowing the construction of new dams. Figure 1 shows the construction of new dams in California and the peak of activity in the middle of the last century.

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Figure 1. Water storage capacity of California dams over the past century. (P. Gleick/Pacific Institute)

At the same time, there is a growing movement to remove dangerous, costly, and damaging dams and to restore–at least in part–some riverine environments and their fisheries. In the United States, according to American Rivers, nearly 1,150 dams have been successfully removed, including some large ones.

Despite this history, there is still pressure to build new, big dams and to ignore their human and ecological costs. In California, where thousands of big and small dams have been built, some politicians still call for more dams, despite extensive and compelling assessments showing that new projects are not cost effective, would have massive additional environmental and cultural impacts, and would not–in the end–do anything to resolve the state’s water challenges. This old-style thinking can be seen in the design of California’s 2014 $7.5 billion water bond, which included $2.7 billion for new storage and only $100 million for water conservation and efficiency, which could save far more water than any new surface storage project could ever supply, at far lower cost.

The poster child for this antiquated and misguided approach is the proposal to raise the height of Shasta Dam and increase the potential storage volume of its reservoir–California’s largest. Built in the late 1930s and early 1940s by the federal government, Shasta plays in important role in regulating flows in the Sacramento River and providing water supply to farms in central and southern California. Various proposals to raise the dam between 6 and 18 feet have circulated for many years, but there is significant opposition from some hydrologists, communities, environmental groups, and local Native Americans whose land is directly at risk. Recent legislation submitted to Congress would accelerate raising the dam by providing funds, reducing environmental protections, or bypassing existing review processes.

The problems with raising Shasta Dam epitomize the problems with big dam projects everywhere. The additional useful water that might be gained is far more expensive and far smaller in quantity compared to the water that would come from other approaches, especially improved water-use efficiency, local stormwater capture, and the reuse of high-quality treated wastewater. The additional flooding the dam would cause would violate the California Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which protects some of the state’s few remaining relatively undamaged rivers and streams, and it would further destroy some of the few remaining sacred sites and traditional homelands of the Winnemem Wintu people, whose lands were devastated by the original construction nearly a century ago. As noted in a letter recently sent to Senator Barbara Boxer and the California Congressional delegation,

“Raising the dam will harm the Winnemem Wintu people who have already been harmed by the dam. Shasta Dam flooded most of their sacred sites and traditional homelands, including their cemeteries. Raising the dam will flood out the little that remains. For a traditional people deeply tied to the land, further flooding would be worse than drowning St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican as they have no other sacred places to turn to.”

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(“For a traditional people deeply tied to the land, further flooding would be worse than drowning St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican as they have no other sacred places to turn to.” Photo montage by P. Gleick 2015)

In the end, there are new, smart solutions to our water problems that don’t involve further costly destruction of our natural ecosystems and local communities. Let’s not apply 20th century solutions to 21st century problems.

This blog was originally published on the Huffington Post.

National Geographic ScienceBlogs: Breaking Water Taboos

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By Peter Gleick

The recent severe drought in the Western United States — and California in particular — has shined a spotlight on a range of water-management practices that are outdated, unsustainable, or inappropriate for a modern 21st century water system. Unless these bad practices are fixed, no amount of rain will be enough to set things right. Just as bad, talking about many of these bad practices has been taboo for fear of igniting even more water conflict, but the risks of water conflicts here and around the world are already on the rise and no strategy that can reduce those risks should be off the table.

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National Geographic ScienceBlogs: Impacts of the California Drought, Part 2: Net Agricultural Income

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By Heather Cooley, Kristina Donnelly, and Peter Gleick

Last week, the Pacific Institute published the first comprehensive analysis of the impacts of the drought on California crop revenue and agricultural employment through 2014. The study showed that during the recent drought California’s agriculture sector experienced record-high crop revenue and employment. Crop revenue peaked in 2013 at $33.8 billion, the highest level in California history, and declined only slightly to $33.4 billion in 2014 (all economic data have been corrected for inflation). Statewide agriculture-related jobs also reached a record 417,000 jobs in 2014, highlighting the sector’s ability to withstand the reduction of available water.

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National Geographic ScienceBlogs: Impacts of the California Drought: Agriculture

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By Peter Gleick, President and Heather Cooley, Water Program Director

California is in a severe drought – four years long now. But what does the drought really mean for the things we care about: food production, fisheries, industrial activities, rural communities? As part of the work of the Pacific Institute to evaluate both the impacts of water problems and identify smart solutions, we’ve just released the first comprehensive assessment of the actual impacts of the drought for California agriculture.

Many commentators and analysts have worried especially about California’s agricultural sector, which is a major water user and has experienced significant cutbacks in surface water deliveries over the past few years as rainfall has plummeted and reservoirs have been depleted.  The bottom line of our analysis is that California agriculture has had record revenue and employment during the drought, but at a long-term cost of massive groundwater overdraft and other practices that cannot be sustained into the future.

California is one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world, supplying both U.S. and international markets with more than 400 different farm products. That productivity has been made possible by a vast and integrated water infrastructure network that stores water in wet years for use in dry periods, delivers water long distances, and provides large volumes of water to both agricultural and urban users. Using data from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Survey and the California Employment Development Department, the Institute’s new study examines the impacts of the ongoing drought on California’s total harvested acreage, gross crop revenue, and agricultural employment through 2014 – the last year for which actual data are available. [When 2015 data come in after harvest, the assessment will be updated.]

While harvested acreage in California has declined during the drought, agricultural revenues remain very high. In 2014, harvested acreage was 6.9 million acres, about 8 percent lower than the average over the past 15 years. Almost all of the reductions in harvested acreage came from temporary fallowing of field crops (e.g., cotton, alfalfa, sugar beets). The area planted in fruits and nuts – such as almonds and pistachios – has actually grown substantially. Most importantly, total crop revenue is at its highest level in California’s history, peaking in 2013 at $33.5 billion. At $33 billion, crop revenue was down slightly in 2014, but it remained the second highest ever recorded, with especially large increases for fruits and nuts. (See Figure 1: all revenue numbers are corrected for inflation.)

Figure 4.
California crop revenue by major crop type over time (Figure 4 from the full report)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Farm employment (Figure 2) has also increased in every year since 2010 by an average of 9,000 jobs. While the annual increase in 2014 was less than in other years during the drought, total 2014 agricultural employment reached a record-high 417,000 people.

California Annual Average Farm Employment

Data Source: California Employment Development Department

Finally, food prices also appear to be largely unaffected by the drought. The US Department of Agriculture projects that retail food price inflation this year will be normal to slightly lower than average due in part to the strength of the U.S. dollar and lower oil prices.

The study explicitly highlights the fact that these statewide and even regional estimates can hide local variability and notes that the drought is very likely having more negative impact on local economies in some areas, especially those areas with extensive fallowing. Equally importantly, the agricultural sector’s response to the drought so far has depended on a range of strategies, including:

  • under-irrigating their fields
  • fallowing land
  • changes in the mix of crops planted, with more acreage of higher-valued or less water-intensive crops
  • voluntary water sales from farmer to farmer, or farms to cities
  • water efficiency improvements
  • purchasing insurance, and especially
  • massive increases in unsustainable groundwater pumping.

Pressures on California’s water resources are not merely a result of the drought. Rather, the drought is highlighting water management problems that have persisted for decades. For example, it is widely recognized that groundwater pumping rates, even in good water years – are unsustainable in some major agricultural centers, such as the Tulare Lake and southern San Joaquin River hydrologic regions. Continued groundwater overdraft, while reducing the economic impacts of the drought for the agricultural sector now, has shifted the burden to others, including current and future generations forced to dig deeper wells or see their community wells dry up, find alternative drinking water sources, and repair infrastructure damaged by land subsidence. In these areas, pumping will ultimately have to be slowed and recharge expanded to bring these aquifers back to a more sustainable balance.

The Pacific Institute study finds that the measured impacts of the drought on California’s agricultural sector through 2014 were less than expected, but if the drought continues overall impacts will expand and worsen. The study concludes that evaluating both the actual impacts of the drought on California agriculture and the policies put in place to respond to the drought offer important insights into “how the state can maintain a healthy agricultural sector in a future likely to see less water, more extreme weather, and greater uncertainty.”  The protracted drought provides policymakers, farmers, and agriculture officials a unique and urgent opportunity to plan for and implement more sustainable water use policies and practices to support a vibrant and sustainable agriculture sector in California.

 

This blog was originally published in ScienceBlogs. You may find the original article here.

Huffington Post: The New UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Fresh Water

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By Peter Gleick, President

For 15 years, the world community has worked to achieve a comprehensive set of goals and targets called the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – launched in 2000 to tackle poverty, economic and environment inequity, and strategies for effective development. The MDGs concluded this year, and a new set of goals to replace them have been in design and negotiation for some time. These new objectives – now called Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – are now final, offering global priorities for sustainable development beyond 2015. Figure 1 lists the 17 overarching SDGs. Each one is accompanied by specific targets and measured by specific indicators. Individual governments will be responsible for setting their own specific national targets based on their own priorities and circumstances.

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New Data Show California Cities’ Progress towards State-Mandated Conservation Requirements

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by Kristina Donnelly, Research Associate

In response to the Executive Order Governor Brown issued in April, the State Water Resources Control Board adopted an emergency regulation requiring 25% savings in urban water use across the state, with a goal of saving 1.2 million acre-feet over a nine-month period. Each water supplier serving more than 3,000 connections was given a conservation standard based on how high their residential use was in the summer of 2013; those with higher use (in gallons per capita per day, or gpcd) were required to save more (as a percentage of overall use) and those with lower gpcd were required to save less. Water suppliers have been working to reduce water use through drought surcharges, mandatory restrictions, rebates, education campaigns, and more.

The State Board has been collecting and reporting per capita water use data since July 2014. However, the compliance period for the mandatory reductions began on June 1st of this year. Late last week, the State Board released figures showing each utility’s progress towards their individual goal. We have created two online tools (an interactive table and map) that allow you to explore and visualize these data.

The data show that the state, as a whole, exceeded the 25% reduction goal, saving more than 27% in June 2015 (the hottest June on record) compared to that of 2013. Californians saved over 182,000 acre feet of water, or about 15% of the total 1.2 million acre feet goal. Of the 405 water suppliers reporting, 266 suppliers (66%) met or exceeded their conservation standard. More than 40% of all urban water suppliers reduced their water use by 30% or more.

There were some high performers in June. Of the water suppliers serving more than 100,000 people, the following exceeded their target by at least 15 percentage points (with their compliance target listed in parentheses):

  • City of San Buenaventura (16% target)
  • City of Hayward (8% target)
  • Alameda County Water District (16% target)
  • City of Sunnyvale (16% target)
  • San Gabriel Valley Water Company (16% target)
  • California-American Water Company, Sacramento District (20% target)
  • San Jose Water Company (20% target)
  • East Bay Municipal Utilities District (16% target)

Even utilities with relatively low per capita water use were able to achieve significant reductions. For example, the City of San Bruno reduced their total water use by 29% to 57 gpcd. Likewise, the Cambria Community Services District, which serves just over 6,000 customers, reduced their water use by 45% – from 132 gpcd in June 2013 to 73 gpcd in June 2015. It can be done!!

But it is not a rosy picture everywhere. According to the data, 139 water suppliers (34%) did not meet their target, with 86 suppliers missing the target by more than five percentage points. Of the water suppliers serving more than 100,000 people, the following missed their target by 13% or more (with their compliance target listed in parentheses):

  • Rancho California Water District (36% target)
  • California Water Service Company, Dominguez (16% target)
  • Coachella Valley Water District (36% target)
  • Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District (28% target)
  • Eastern Municipal Water District (28% target)

The State Board will be issuing notices to those who fell short of their conservation targets by more than 1% and will require many of these to submit more detailed information about their drought actions. Water suppliers that are more than 15% from meeting their standard (of which there are 16) will be required to take additional actions, such as implementing mandatory water use restrictions and increasing their enforcement.

The current drought is giving California an opportunity to build a more resilient water future and so any significant reductions in water savings should not foster complacency. With the public paying such close attention to the drought, water utilities have a much greater chance to help their customers make significant, permanent reductions in water use. Every drop that we save now is a drop we can use in the future. Without knowing how long this drought is going to last, we must save as many drops as we can.


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. The views and opinions expressed in these blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect an official policy or position of the Pacific Institute.

National Geographic ScienceBlogs: Down the Drain: The Power and Potential of Improving Water Efficiency

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By Peter Gleick, President and Heather Cooley, Water Program Director

Debates about water in California, the western U.S., and indeed, worldwide, have traditionally focused on the question of how best to further expand water supply to meet some hypothetical future increase in water demand. And the solution frequently offered is to build massive new infrastructure in the form of dams and reservoirs, drill more groundwater wells, or expand water diversions from ever-more-distant rivers, in order to “grow” the supply available for human use.

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Huffington Post: Laudato Si’ and Water: The Vatican’s Encyclical Letter and Global Water Challenges

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By Peter Gleick, President

The official text of the much-anticipated Vatican’s Encyclical Letter, “Laudato Si'” was released today. While considerable attention is being devoted to the sections of Pope Francis’s new Encyclical related to the threats of climate change, the letter also tackles many other environmental challenges, including biodiversity, food, and especially the critical issue of freshwater. Woven throughout is attention to the social and equity dimensions of these challenges and a deep concern for the poor.

The water sections of the Encyclical Letter focus on the disparities in access, quality, and use of water between the wealthier, industrialized parts of the world and poorer populations. It notes that in many parts of the world, exploitation of water is exceeding natural resource limits – the problem of “peak water” – while still failing to satisfy the needs of the poorest.

“The exploitation of the planet has already exceeded acceptable limits and we still have not solved the problem of poverty.” (Section 27)

The Encyclical identifies several key water problems including the lack of access to clean drinking water “indispensable for human life and for supporting terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems” (section 28), the challenges for food production due to droughts and disparities in water availability and “water poverty” (section 28), the continued prevalence of water-related diseases afflicting the poor (section 29), contamination of groundwater (section 29), and the trend toward privatization and commodification of a resource the Vatican describes as an “basic and universal human right” (section 30).

The Letter also expresses concern for the inefficient and wasteful use of water in both rich and poor regions:

“But water continues to be wasted, not only in the developed world but also in developing countries which possess it in abundance”

and it decries the risk that the

“control of water by large multinational businesses may become a major source of conflict in this century” (section 31).

In the context of climate change, the Letter notes the clear links between a warming planet and threats to water resources and other environmental conditions:

“It [warming] creates a vicious circle which aggravates the situation even more, affecting the availability of essential resources like drinking water, energy and agricultural production in warmer regions, and leading to the extinction of part of the planet’s biodiversity.” (section 24)

Consistent with the overall theme of the Encyclical is the observation that the poorest suffer the most from water problems:

“One particularly serious problem is the quality of water available to the poor. Every day, unsafe water results in many deaths and the spread of water-related diseases, including those caused by microorganisms and chemical substances. Dysentery and cholera, linked to inadequate hygiene and water supplies, are a significant cause of suffering and of infant mortality.” (Section 29)

The Encyclical goes further and notes:

“Our world has a grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water, because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity. (Section 30, italics in original).”

This framing is consistent with the formal human right to water declared by the United Nations in 2010, linking the right to water with the right to life and well-being. Today, the UN estimates that around 2.5 billion people on the planet still lack access to safe sanitation and 750 million do not have safe drinking water. Worldwide, more people die from unsafe water annually than from all forms of violence, including war.

While progress has been made in cleaning up some water pollution, especially in richer industrialized nations, many water-quality indicators are worsening, not improving, and as populations grow, exposure to some forms of water pollution affects larger and larger numbers of people and watersheds. Even in places like California, hundreds of thousands of people – mostly in low-income communities – are at risk of exposure to water with high concentrations of nitrates because of the failure to protect and clean up groundwater systems contaminated by agricultural chemicals, animal feeding operations, and poor sewage systems.

In order to tackle these challenges, the Encyclical Letter identifies several priorities, but especially for water:

“some questions must have higher priority. For example, we know that water is a scarce and indispensable resource and a fundamental right which conditions the exercise of other human rights. This indisputable fact overrides any other assessment of environmental impact on a region.” (section 185)

It also calls for reducing waste and inappropriate consumption, increasing funding to ensure universal access to basic water and sanitation, and increased education and awareness, especially in the “context of great inequity.

The world’s water challenges are technical, economic, political, and social issues, but the Vatican Encyclical reminds us that ultimately they are ethical and moral issues as well. This is a valuable and timely reminder.

 

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. The views and opinions expressed in these blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect an official policy or position of the Pacific Institute.

This blog was originally published in Huffington Post. You may find the original article here.

National Geographic ScienceBlogs: The Future of Desalination in California is Still in the Future: California, Israel, and Australia

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By Peter Gleick, President
It’s only natural that during a crisis we look to single, “silver bullet” technical solutions, after all, they are supposed to be effective against werewolves, witches, and other monsters. For monsters like the ongoing severe California drought, the current favorite silver bullet is seawater desalination.  And why not? California sits at the edge of the largest body of salt water in the world – the Pacific Ocean – and taking salt out of water is a successful, commercial, well-understood technology.

Look at how Israel has solved their water problems by building desalination plants, we’re told by The New York Times.

Look at how Australia responded to a massive multi-year drought by, in part, spending $10 billion to build six major desalination plants.

Look at recent statements from California Senator Barbara Boxer or from Senator Dianne Feinstein, saying they would push federal desalination efforts as a response to state’s drought.

Where does ocean desalination fit into the mix of water solutions for California? And what are the real lessons from Israeli and Australian experiences with desalination?

The real lesson is that desalination is a last resort, and even then, caution is warranted.

Israel didn’t turn to desalination until it radically transformed its agricultural sector to cut production of water-intensive crops like cotton and grains, invested in urban conservation and efficiency far beyond what California (despite its progress) has achieved, and massively expanded wastewater treatment and reuse. And Australia invested $10 billion in desalination plants, four of which they subsequently shut down or derated because they couldn’t afford to run them and didn’t need them.

Here are some important water numbers and facts:

Water Supply: Compared to Israel, California is water rich. California has an average total renewable water supply of over 2,300 cubic meters per person per year. Israel’s is around 230 – one-tenth as much. [One cubic meter is around 264 gallons.]

Wastewater: Israel currently treats and reuses 75% of its wastewater, compared to only 13% at present in California.  California uses around 670,000 acre-feet of wastewater a year and throws away around 4.3 million acre-feet.

Water Use: Israel has pursued a very aggressive and effective water conservation program, far exceeding California’s.  In Israel, current water use – including for municipal, industrial, and agricultural uses – is around 200 gallons per person per day (gpcd) (around 280 cubic meters per year), a 45% decrease from 1970. California’s water use is currently more than 1,000 gpcd (over 1,400 cubic meters per year), five times larger than Israel’s. Some of this can be attributed to conservation and efficiency, but it also reflects differences in the type and extent of agricultural and industrial development.

Agricultural Area: Between 1970 and 2011, Israel’s cultivated area dropped 30%. During the same period, California’s cropland expanded by 20%, increasing pressure on water resources (Israel’s Agriculture 2015, Olmstead 1997, USDA 2015). On average, Israel applies 1.6 acre-feet of water per acre of land; California farmers apply an average of 3 acre-feet per acre (Olmstead 1997, Israel’s Agriculture 2015, CDWR 2014).

The mix of crops in Israel has also shifted dramatically (see Figure 1), away from one dominated by water-intensive, low-valued field crops like cotton, barley, and wheat to one dominated by higher-valued fruits, nuts, and vegetables. California is also moving in this direction, but more slowly.

Israeli crop mix

Irrigation Method: Over 80% of irrigated areas in Israel use micro-irrigation systems and the rest use precision sprinklers or mechanized systems like center pivots. In California, only 38% of irrigated land uses low-volume systems like drip, 15% use sprinklers, and the rest (around 46%) use flood/gravity/other systems (Israel’s Agriculture 2015, CDWR data).

Water Allocations and Rights: In Israel, water is regarded as a national asset protected by law. Users receive an annual quota from the Water Authority. The entire water supply is carefully measured and customers are charged according to their water consumption and the quality of the water used. Recycled water costs about half that of potable water (Israel’s Agriculture 2015).

California allocates water based on a century-old system of water rights; actual water use is not accurately measured or reported, including especially groundwater, and only some water prices are based on volume or quality.

Table 1 summarizes the key differences between Israel’s and California’s water availability and use.

Table 1. Water Comparisons: California and Israel

Water Issue California Israel
Total Renewable Water Supply (cubic meters per person per year) > 2,300 230
Total Water-Use per Person (cubic meters per person per year) 1,400 280
Wastewater Treatment (% of total wastewater) 13% 75%
Total Change in Harvested Agricultural Area (1960 to 2012) +15% -14%
Applied Agricultural Water (average), acre-feet per acre 3 1.6

Sources: See full reference list below. Note that one cubic meter is 264 gallons.

And Australia?

Australia’s experience with desalination is equally sobering and enlightening. Australian residents are water misers compared to Californians. Average Australian households uses 54 gallons per person each day (for both indoor and outdoor uses), compared to 230 gallons in California; and in the state of Victoria, water usage is on only 40 gallons per person (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2013).

Australians lowered their water consumption dramatically over the past decade in response to the unprecedented Millennium Drought (2000-2010). Authorities responded by adopting new water-saving habits as well as water-efficient technologies. For example, dual-flush toilets are now found in nine out of ten Australian homes. A third of homes capture rooftop runoff in a rainwater tank, and the government offer rebates to residents installing rainwater tanks or graywater systems to recycle water (Heberger 2011).

Even with all of these efforts, desalination has been problematic:  In response to the Millennium Drought they invested $10 billion dollars in desalination plants, most of which they now cannot afford to run. Four of the six major plants they built are shut down or running at a fraction of their capacity, but ratepayers are still paying for these plants. This is exactly what happened when Santa Barbara, California built an expensive desalination plant two decades ago and then had to mothball it because they couldn’t afford to run it and didn’t need the water because people conserved and there was cheaper water available. Yet that lesson seems to have been forgotten.

The bottom line for desalination in California? There is more desalination in California’s future. But the future isn’t here yet.

California should add desalination to the mix of options only after the state and local agencies do the other things that are more cost effective and environmentally appropriate first: continue to improve the efficiency of current water use, greatly expand wastewater treatment and reuse, and bring our agricultural economy into the 21st century. Even then, local agencies should think twice. There should be no subsidies or accelerated environmental review or special treatment to private companies seeking to build desalination plants and then sell the water under take-or-pay contracts to the public. Either desalination is the right choice or it isn’t. At the moment, in California, it isn’t.

Sources

Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2013. “Water,” chapter 2 in Information Paper: Towards the Australian Environmental-Economic Accounts, Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.http://tinyurl.com/oa5eq4b

California Department of Water Resources (CDWR). 2014. Applied Water and Irrigated Acreage from the California Department of Water Resources. Statewide Water Balances, 1998–2010. Sacramento, California.

Cooley, H., PH Gleick, R. Wilkinson. 2014. Water Reuse Potential in California. Pacific Institute and NRDC.  http://pacinst.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/ca-water-reuse.pdf(Accessed June 8, 2015)

Heberger, M. 2011. “Australia’s Millennium Drought: Impacts and Responses,” in The World’s Water, Volume 7: The Biennial Report on Freshwater Resources, Peter H. Gleick, ed., 97-126. Washington, DC: Island Press.

Israel’s Agriculture. (Accessed 2015).  http://www.moag.gov.il/agri/files/Israel%27s_Agriculture_Booklet.pdf. Accessed June 2015.

Olmstead, A. L. 1997. “The evolution of California agriculture.” Overview of the History of California. Retrieved: September 9, 2011. http://giannini.ucop.edu/CalAgBook/Chap1.pdf

United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). 2015. AQUASTAT database. (Accessed on June 9, 2015.)

USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service. Data accessed 2015. California data on harvested acreage in 2012 and crop production from USDA NASS.

Additional Pacific Institute Publications on Desalination

Desalination, With a Grain of Salt (Full report, 2006)

Proposed California Desalination Facilities (2012)

Cost and Financing of Desalination (2012)

Marine Impacts of Desalination (2013)

Energy and Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Desalination Facilities (2013)

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. The views and opinions expressed in these blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect an official policy or position of the Pacific Institute.

This blog was originally published in ScienceBlogs. You may find the original article here.

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