229 Multi-Benefit Resources


Rural Water Systems Struggle in the Good Times and the Bad

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By Joe Ferrell, Communications Intern

The current drought is shaping up to be particularly damaging to small and rural communities. In mid-February, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) announced that 17 rural communities face the prospect of running out of water within 60-100 days. These water systems serve populations ranging from 39 to 11,000 Californians. The CDPH is extending its assistance to these communities in an effort to both reduce water use and locate alternative sources, stressing the need for conservation and creativity.

However, water systems in rural communities have been underfunded for years, something that has impacted their ability to maintain and upgrade infrastructure. The State will hopefully work to make infrastructure that is already in place more efficient, but as the drought continues, they will likely look to bring in water from elsewhere. This could be done by connecting smaller water systems to larger ones, drilling new wells, or hauling in water on trucks, among other options.

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Seventeen rural water districts in California at risk of running out of water. To view the full sized map, click here.
Source: California Department of Public Health

The Pacific Institute’s 2013 report Assessing Water Affordability notes that, despite California’s recognition of the human right to water, many rural areas of California still suffer from a lack of access to safe and sufficient supplies. Even when small rural systems have decent water quality, the lack of revenue base leaves them unable to save sufficient funds to address future infrastructure replacements or emergencies. As a result, small rural systems’ water services can be less reliable than large or urban systems.

Many small community water systems in California also struggle with nitrate contamination. Nitrates in drinking water can cause shortness of breath and blue baby syndrome, and small systems don’t often have the revenue to afford mitigation technologies. The Pacific Institute report The Human Costs of Nitrate-Contaminated Drinking Water in the San Joaquin Valley explores how households in communities with contaminated water end up paying more for filtration systems or alternative sources such as vended and bottled water. This can be particularly detrimental to poorer, rural Latino populations, because as The Human Costs report points out, they are statistically more likely to have tap water with higher levels of nitrate.

Small rural communities with dwindling water supplies during the drought may accrue similar additional costs as users look to alternative water sources. A survey-based study on a population in rural Pennsylvania showed that the cost of water from alternate sources ranged from $26.71 to $82.85 per household per month. In addition to paying higher rates for water from alternative sources, water users utilizing alternative sources frequently have to pay an additional $11.33-22.66* in transportation costs because of the longer distance between them and the water source.

It is unclear how drought-stricken water systems will pay for alternative sources of drinking water, should they be needed. Suffering communities may institute rate increases, although this is a slow process that still does not address the issue of affordability. The state’s Drinking Water Program will provide some financial assistance, and the state might also be able to expedite loans made through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, an EPA program that provides low-cost loans to drinking water systems in need of infrastructure improvements.

Lacking the resources and revenue that big urban water agencies possess, rural communities face a stark and immediate concern at the worsening drought. As the CDPH evaluates alternative water sources for these communities, who will bear the burden of the cost to develop them?

* Alternative source and transportation costs adjusted for inflation.

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.

Finding Light (and Water) at the End of the (Drought) Tunnel, on the Farm and for the Future

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By Anna Olive Klein, Agricultural Water Steward Project Coordinator 

With all the flurry of attention surrounding the drought these days, it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed by the bleak future of California’s water. Apocalyptic forecasts and desolate images dominate much of the recent media dialogue. While it is clear the drought is bad news and its effects will trickle into a variety of sectors from our food to energy supplies, much of the conversations surrounding the drought often only reaffirm the collective sentiment that we are all doomed. As a result, the once slow-moving disaster has quickly transformed into a state of emergency, creating an atmosphere of alarmism that, in the end, only helps to advance quick-fix, band-aid solutions.

blog-farm-water-steward-irrigationBut we need to start thinking longer term, because as historic droughts suggest, drought in California is not an anomaly. Fortunately, Californians of all walks are mobilizing—initiating conversations long overdue—in preparation for a future with significantly less water. But, to truly start thinking and acting for the long term, we desperately need to discard the belief that the drought simply poses an obstacle to the status quo. Instead, we must view the drought as an opportunity—a chance to build a more resilient water future—so we can work toward adapting to the “new reality.”

For farmers across California, drought has been a major, longstanding concern. Agriculture is a major user of water in California, accounting for about 80% of the state’s developed water supply. The good news is that there are opportunities to reduce the agricultural sector’s use of water, and therefore its vulnerability to water supply constraints, while maintaining or even improving crop yields. Expanding on already existing and newly emerging innovative technologies and strategies is one way to do this. Some farmers and irrigation districts are already leading the way, implementing innovative, on-farm water conservation and efficiency practices, including scientific irrigation scheduling and efficient irrigation technologies.

To recognize leaders and innovators in the California agricultural community, the Pacific Institute launched the Farm Water Steward Award in 2012. Every other year, a Farm Water Steward Award recipient is chosen from success stories submitted on the Interactive Database of Ag Water Stewardship Case Studies, launched by the Pacific Institute and California Roundtable on Water and Food Supply, which features innovative and effective efforts of farmers who work to improve on-farm and regional water management. Highlighting farmers already moving in innovative directions is especially important for leading by example and empowering collective change to overcome barriers and create a resilient agricultural sector for the future.

In January, Madera County almond grower Tom Rogers was awarded the 2014 Farm Water Steward Award for his leadership and innovation in water stewardship across the California agricultural community. The award was presented jointly by the Pacific Institute, Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF), and Ag Innovations Network at Glide Ranch in Davis, California, just days after Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency in California.

Together with his brother, Dan Rogers, Tom grows a variety of almonds on his medium-sized farm, one of the last of its kind in the area. To keep pace with the dwindling water supplies over the decades, Tom has relied on his affinity for innovation and eagerness for experimenting. He claims it all began with his father back in the 1970s, when they installed a series of irrigation scheduling technologies, including special weather monitoring stations and soil moisture monitors, “for fun.” “Water is the cheapest fertilizer you’re going to buy,” Tom explains. “Under water [the tree], and you’ll damage yourself. Over water, and you’ll damage yourself. Water is what makes the crop.”

Efforts like Tom Rogers’s in water stewardship are a gentle reminder that even amidst all the desolation of the drought, there is light (and even water) at the end of this (seemingly waterless) tunnel. His story, and stories about other innovative farmers like him, is exactly the sort of uplifting narratives we need to amplify and rally around. “Together, we can all be water stewards,” he says.

Sustaining California’s water resources in an increasingly uncertain future involves working collaboratively—with farmers, industries, communities, water utilities, laborers, and the public—to implement technological innovations, rethink priorities, adopt smart economic policies, integrate water into statewide planning, and modify water management institutions. Part of embracing the “new reality” and building a more resilient water future involves reimagining our relationship with water such that we view our collective water use in a new light.

Learn more about Tom Rogers, 2014 Farm Water Steward, from his audio interview here. For more information on the Farm Water Steward Award, click here. For more information about the 2014 Farm Water Steward Award presentation, including a list of speakers, click here.

The Farm Water Steward Award was established to recognize leaders and innovators in water stewardship across the California agricultural community. Growers, water districts, and agricultural organizations are invited to submit case studies to be considered for the next Farm Water Steward Award on the Interactive Database of Ag Water Stewardship Case Studies at: www.agwaterstewards.org/index.php/case-studies.

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: Learning from Drought: Five Priorities for California

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By Peter Gleick

Droughts – especially severe droughts – are terribly damaging events. The human and ecosystem costs can be enormous, as we may relearn during the current California drought.

But they are also opportunities – a chance to put in place new, innovative water policies that are not discussed or implemented during wet or normal years.

In the hopes that California’s warring water warriors open their minds to policy reform, here are some of the issues that should be on the table now, in what could be the worst drought in California’s modern history. But here is what I fear, said best by John Steinbeck in East of Eden:

 “And it never failed that during the dry years the people forgot about the rich years, and during the wet years they lost all memory of the dry years. It was always that way.”

Here are five top priorities (more will be presented in later posts):

  1. Put in place comprehensive groundwater management. This includes monitoring and reporting of all groundwater withdrawals, integrated surface and groundwater management, pricing of groundwater withdrawals, increased wet-season groundwater recharge, and restrictions on groundwater pumping, on average, to the limit of sustainable yield…Continue reading.

California’s “Bellwether” Drought

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By Peter Gleick, President

It is time to recognize the serious California drought for what it is: a bellwether of things to come; a harbinger of even more serious challenges to California water resources allocation, management, and use.

The drought could end next month. It could go on for more years. But it will not be the last drought and it is vital that we take the opportunity — amidst the serious problems farmers, cities, and the environment all face — to rethink those aspects of California water policy created in the 1900s and 2000s that no longer make sense in the 21st century. (more…)

Defining Water Scarcity, Water Stress, and Water Risk

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By Peter Schulte, Research Associate

Over the past couple years, the Pacific Institute’s Corporate Sustainability Program, in its role with the UN Global Compact’s CEO Water Mandate, has been developing the Corporate Water Disclosure Guidelines, which provide a common framework for how companies can report water-related information to stakeholders in a meaningful manner. One of the core goals of this effort is to encourage companies to report their water-related information in a more harmonized way, so that companies are thinking and talking about water in a similar, more comparable way.

One obstacle to more harmonized water reporting is the fact that many companies, stakeholders, and corporate water assessment tools do not have a shared understanding of key water-related terms used in disclosure. In particular, many companies and others use the terms “water scarcity,” “water stress,” and “water risk” (often used to indicate geographic areas where water challenges are more pronounced) in a variety of ways and often interchangeably. For example, some companies report water use reduction specifically in areas of water “scarcity,” while others report water use reductions in areas of water “stress.” In other cases, many companies refer to areas facing water stress, but actually mean different things. (more…)

Infographic: What to Expect from California’s Drought

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By Paula Luu, Communications Manager

While our weather-beaten friends in the Midwest and Northeast braced for near-record low temperatures and polar vortex snowstorms, Californians rang in the New Year with a rainless January.  2013 had gone down as the driest calendar year (since we began keeping record of rainfall 119 years ago), so it was no surprise when Gov. Jerry Brown officially declared a drought emergency on January 17. The governor’s official statement has changed the state’s political climate — drawing more public attention to the growing need for improved management and expanded climate policies. The impacts of water shortages are widespread, affecting everyone from consumers to farmers.

Last week, Pacific Institute President Peter Gleick wrote about what Californians could expect from the drought. To build on that blog, I’ve created an infographic that further explains what California’s dry future could look like. You can share the infographic by linking to http://bit.ly/1iuDmeh. (more…)

What Californians Can Expect from the Drought

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By Peter Gleick, President

California has a “Mediterranean” climate, which means that each year it has a concentrated rainy season, followed by a long temperate and dry period. California’s rainy season typically runs from early October to late March, with very little precipitation outside of these months. (Figure 1 shows the average monthly rainfall for California.) It is now early 2014 and the rains have not come, for the third year in a row. While the definition of “drought” varies from place to place, it is safe to say that California is currently suffering from a severe – and by some measures, unprecedented — drought.

Figure 1: Monthly average precipitation showing the seasonality of precipitation in different parts of California, from the iconic California Water Atlas.

It is not too late for some big storms off the Pacific Ocean to bring relief. But the odds are against it and current meteorological conditions are not encouraging. If the rest of the winter months are dry, or even of average wetness, the state will have much less water than normal, and much less than water users want – from cities to farms to our natural ecosystems.

We’ve had dry periods before – they are a recurring feature of our variable climate. The difficulty, expense, and pain of droughts, however, depend on two things: how severe they are and how we react. The Pacific Institute has spent many years studying the effects of droughts in California and has published several analyses of past impacts and responses (here and here).

Based on past experience, here is (part of) what Californians can expect this year if it remains as dry as it is now. (more…)

Water and Sanitation for All: How to engage with the private sector and create good partnership?

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By Jason Morrison, Technical Director, CEO Water Mandate

The CEO Water Mandate joined the Sanitation and Water for All Partnership because, increasingly, companies are looking more broadly at how they engage externally with water-related issues, both at the facility and global levels.

Launched in July 2007 by the UN Global Compact (itself an initiative established by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan), the CEO Water Mandate is a unique public-private initiative designed to assist companies in the development, implementation, and disclosure of water sustainability policies and practices. It has been a platform for companies to engage strategically with peers and key stakeholders on water and related issues, both from the physical perspective (water security, scarcity, quality, availability for production processes, etc.) and, lately, the reputational and regulatory risk perspectives.

Engagement in the CEO Water Mandate has benefited many companies, but broader coordination at the global and national levels can help the business community understand how to engage further and be even more cost effective and strategic. This is where SWA comes in. A lot of global water institutions and initiatives in not just WASH, but also education, ecosystem services, and other fields, are asking what it looks like to engage the private sector. The flipside of that coin is being asked too. How do we engage with the business sector and figure out what good partnership looks like? I have been tasked with exploring this emerging engagement landscape for the CEO Water Mandate.

This engagement opportunity links strongly to the emerging paradigm of corporate sustainability, seen by many as the next and by far more meaningful iteration of corporate social responsibility, if you will. Companies are moving from sustainability as philanthropy to sustainability as integral part of business. One of the tenets of good corporate sustainability is that companies align programmes and goal setting with public policy priorities and strategic direction.

Read the entire post. 

Water Policy: What about All Those Swimming Pools in Los Angeles?

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By Peter Gleick, President

Pools in a single block of Los Angeles, via Google Maps

Water policy and water problems always seem to be someone else’s responsibility. Those farmers who use all the water; the guy down the street who lets his sprinklers run all over the sidewalk; the Central Valley cities that don’t even have water meters; the environmentalists who are demanding water for some inconsequential fish we can’t even eat; those swimming pool owners in hot Los Angeles.

The reality, of course, is that water problems belong to all of us. We all contribute in various ways through our choices of appliances, or diets, or Congressional representatives, or gardens. And every little thing adds up to stress our limited freshwater, or contributes just a bit more to water pollution that has to be treated or ends up contaminating a local waterway. (more…)

Nigiri at the Landscape Scale: Salmon on Rice Rolls Up Multiple Benefits for Fish and Farms

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By Anna Olive Klein, Agricultural Water Steward Project Coordinator

Salmon on rice, also known as Nigiri, is a popular sushi dish among enthusiasts of the Japanese delicacy known for its tasty simplicity. The Nigiri Project at Knaggs Ranch is, as the name suggests, a hub for salmon-on-rice connoisseurs. But not quite as you’d think.

Though the name is inspired by the sushi dish, the Nigiri Project is actually a collaborative effort working to understand and test the multiple benefits of nurturing young salmon on agricultural rice paddies in the Yolo Bypass of the Sacramento River Valley.

Photo: FishBio.com

In partnership with scientists from UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences, government agencies including the California Department of Water Resources, and the local nonprofit California Trout, Knaggs Ranch is applying the Nigiri culinary model to the local landscape. Working together, the partners are formulating a new model of integrated management that works to balance the multiple priorities of the area, including preservation of local rice agriculture, floodwater prevention, and restoration for local fish and wildlife habitats. Two years in the making, the Project is leading the way in shifting the Yolo Bypass, and in the long run, other regions of the Central Valley, towards a new multi-use management paradigm.

 

Historic Floodplains and The Yolo Bypass

Once dominated by vast stretches of seasonal marshland, the Central Valley floor, including the Yolo Bypass, was historically inundated with river water during most winters. As a result, the marshlands once supported a diversity of salmon, waterfowl, and other wildlife. The gentle overflow prevented extreme floods further downstream and washed young Chinook salmon out of main rivers to off-channel habitats with abundant food resources essential for promoting growth and survival of the salmon.

Over time, the construction of dams and extensive levee systems, pervasive drainage for agriculture, and withdrawals for urban water use caused a marked loss in connectivity among the marshlands, floodplains, and ecosystem health. Today, salmon are seldom able to access historical rearing habitats that were once the trusty hub for the salmon runs. In turn, other wildlife, ecosystems, and ecological diversity in the area have also suffered.

The Yolo Bypass, the Central Valley’s largest remaining contiguous floodplain, continues to convey floodwaters from natural, seasonal inundations from the Sacramento, American, Yuba, and Feather Rivers, as well as their tributary watersheds. Working as a natural relief valve, the Bypass absorbs incoming floodwater in wet years and reduces the risks of flooding in populated areas, as did most of the Central Valley long ago.

 

Knaggs Ranch and the Nigiri Concept

Knaggs Ranch, the official site of the Nigiri Project, is situated in the agricultural floodplains of the Yolo Bypass. The folks at Knaggs are working to integrate the historically conflicting issues of the region—floodplain management, agricultural operations, and space for wildlife habitat—through their collaborative Experimental Agricultural Floodplain Habitat Investigation, more cleverly known as the Nigiri Project.

But Knaggs Ranch was not always so. Like most growers in the area, before mobilizing the collaborative efforts for integrated management, over 90% of the 1,700-acre land at Knaggs Ranch was dedicated solely to rice farming. However, changing hydrologic regimes of the Bypass along with strained water resources provided the critical need not only for understanding the dynamics of the narrow strip of floodplain but also for exploring new options for sustainable agriculture.

Floodplain Fatties and Flexibility

In 2011, a group of researchers began a pilot study to see if agricultural lands not viable for farming could be transformed into productive rearing habitats for young salmon before they began their long journey toward the ocean. Rather than tap into already strained water resources and flood-sanctioned wildlife areas as a way to mimic critical salmon habitat, the study integrated salmon rearing into the rice growing cycles of the local agricultural operations where shallow, flooded, marsh-like habitats already existed. Led by California Trout biologist and fly-fisherman Jacob Katz and UC Davis researcher Carson Jeffres, the initial study mimicked historical salmon habitat rearing conditions, when seasonal winter flooding gave salmon access to expansive marshland across the Sacramento Valley.

The initial pilot study, completed in 2012, compared the growth potential of young salmon that spent time on the seasonally flooded (post-harvest) rice fields with salmon that were left to rear in the Sacramento River. The “salmon on rice” grew remarkably—twice as fast as their river-feeding counterparts. Researchers also found the test salmon increased weight at an impressive speed—5.4 grams per day on average—calling the salmon reared at Knaggs Ranch “floodplain fatties.”  The pilot project documented among the highest growth ever recorded in the Central Valley salmon research, indicating that there is potential for the entire Yolo Bypass agricultural floodway to foster productive salmon nurseries at relatively little cost to farmers.

The second phase of the project, launched in early 2013 and planned to continue through 2014, aims to evaluate the best habitat variations for both the salmon and the agricultural operations to thrive. The goal is to find the sweet spot that maximizes juvenile salmon growth and local wildlife resiliency without disturbing planting cycles and other farm operations.

Preliminary findings indicate that the salmon do not have preference among the different rice field habitats, likely owing to the generally plentiful food supply of the productive marshes. The salmon did, however, prefer habitats with better water flow.  These findings suggest farm managers may have more flexibility in land treatment for salmon rearing after harvest, as long as adequate water flow is maintained.

So far, according to Katz, this year’s salmon have grown about 30% bigger than in the previous year, despite one of the driest winters on record.Reduced overflow from nearby rivers has resulted in more concentrated nutrients among the experimental marsh plots, making for an even richer insect and zooplankton buffet for the salmon. The phenomenon illustrates the buffer the marshes provide for salmon resiliency over erratic climate conditions, particularly relevant in the face of climate change.

Rolling Up Multiple Benefits

Success stories such as the project at Knaggs Ranch critically demonstrate the multiple benefits of integrating land, water, and ecological priorities, including:

  • Preventative flood planning by better incorporating spillways and bypasses to relieve pressure from levees. This works to protect local human populations and their property, and also provides water overflow to fallow agricultural rice paddies, creating wetland habitats for fish and wildlife.
  • Beneficial fisheries management that promotes a thriving salmon population better equipped for ocean survival. As mentioned previously, research confirmed substantially improved body condition and growth, delayed out-migration timing ideal for ocean integration, and superior out-migration route of salmon reared on flooded rice paddies compared to the salmon of the Sacramento River.
  • Economical land use of fallow agricultural rice paddies that promotes regeneration of the land and creates highly productive habitats that mimic historic hydraulic regimes for salmon.
  • Climate change mitigation against erratic drought or flood conditions that could negatively impact salmon and human populations of the floodplain.

The findings at Knaggs Ranch also suggest it is possible to achieve win-win-win outcomes among land-use planners, conservationists, and farmers alike. Balancing these multiple priorities not only provides innovative, low-cost adaptation solutions for addressing the uncertain future of the Yolo Bypass, but also serves as a template for other equally vulnerable areas throughout the Yolo Bypass—and beyond. Most importantly, the success story inherent to Knaggs Ranch underscores the possibilities for creatively adapting water use and agricultural practices in California as we transition into the uncertain terrain of the 21st century.

For additional agricultural water success stories, explore our interactive database here. Also, be sure to stay tuned for the upcoming announcement of our next Farm Water Steward Award recipient. The Farm Water Steward Award is a collaborative effort among Pacific Institute, Community Alliance for Family Farmers, and Agricultural Innovations Network to recognize an outstanding grower who demonstrates water stewardship. Each award cycle, the collaborative selects a winner with a success story already submitted to the interactive database. For information on submitting a success story for the next award cycle, please contact annabee@pacinst.org.

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.

Up-scaling Sustainable Agriculture Initiatives on the Water Action Hub

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By Mai-Lan Ha, Research Associate

Technology for development has been a hot topic in the development sphere, particularly here in the Bay Area. The rapid advancements in broadband and mobile technology, combined with the proliferation of mobile applications, and increasing internet penetration rates worldwide have allowed these new tools to take a central role in programs working to meet sustainable development objectives.

A few weeks ago, I attended Net Impact’s annual conference as a judge for AT&T and EDF’s Ideathon, “How Would You Address the Water Crisis,” focused on utilizing mobile technology to help address the issue of water scarcity. The participants were thoughtful young professionals and students interested in understanding more about the water crisis and working with others to develop real solutions to address it.
Interestingly, three of the solutions focused on leveraging consumer behavior in the marketplace to encourage more efficient water usage in agricultural supply chains. The proposed solutions focused on utilizing mobile technology (through an application) that would allow consumers to understand the water footprint of products – the idea being that, given the knowledge, consumers would choose to buy products with a lower water footprint and be rewarded for it through a company’s reward program. There was significant recognition that tackling the water crisis will hinge upon addressing the issue of water and agriculture.

Here at the Pacific Institute, we have been engaged in utilizing web-based and mobile-based technologies to provide tools for different audiences. This includes analytical tools for water managers such as the Urban Water Demand to 2100 model and the Water-Energy Simulator (WE Sim) to help in decision making, those that empower local communities to make decisions about the best solutions to their water needs through the Community Choices System, or those that give communities a voice in monitoring and reporting water issues in urban areas through the WASH SMS system. Most recently, we developed a web-based platform, the Water Action Hub, that helps different actors, particularly business, find partners with whom organizations can collectively work to address local water challenges.

Since the Water Action Hub’s launch in September 2012, actors ranging from local community-based organizations to international NGOs to large global businesses have signed-on and utilized it in different regions and basins around the world. For the most part, the Hub has been focused around a devolved model wherein users worldwide and particularly in any of the focus regions can sign-on, browse, and connect with one another at the river basin level. It led us to question, however, whether and how we complement facilitation of local partnership with a “top down,” global coordination around key water-related challenges. Naturally, coordination around businesses’ agricultural supply chains became one of the priority issues areas identified.

Over the next few months, the CEO Water Mandate will be building a specialized portal into the Water Action Hub focused upon catalyzing coordinated action around sustainable agriculture initiatives in key regions and around key commodities. The goal will be to align and up-scale action by the array of actors, be it businesses, government, or civil society, in a more coordinated (and efficient) manner in order to bring about real change. Of course, it will only represent one mechanism in a much bigger landscape of initiatives to tackle the multifaceted nature of the issue.

Stay tuned in the coming months as we build out and launch the portal!

Feel free to comment on this post or write me (mlha (at) pacinst.org) if you have any comments or ideas on how this can be best achieved or if you’d like to contribute to this exciting work.

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.

“Water to Supply the Land” Describes Irrigated Agriculture in the Colorado River Basin

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By Joseph Ferrell, Communications Intern

The Colorado River is a tightly controlled network of dams and diversions, spanning seven states in the U.S. and two in Mexico, providing water for fish and wildlife, agriculture, industry, and cities along the way. More than 35 million people depend on the Colorado River basin for at least part of their water supply. Yet the river is so over-appropriated that it usually fails to flow to the sea; altered flow regimes, depleted water levels, and degraded water quality have pushed many species to the brink of extinction, leading the Colorado to be named America’s most endangered river. Two years ago the Pacific Institute provided compelling data on Municipal Deliveries of Colorado River Basin Water, documenting  the impressive water-efficiency gains made in many of the cities served by the river. (more…)

The Sacramento Bee: Why I’m still confused about the proposed tunnels in the Delta

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By Peter Gleick, Pacific Institute President

This blog post originally was posted on The Sacramento Bee on November 6, 2013. 

I and my colleagues at the Pacific Institute have worked on California water issues for more than a quarter of a century. It is therefore no surprise that we get asked on a regular basis by friends, journalists and colleagues what we think about the efforts underway to resolve the problems of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and in particular, about the proposed massive tunnel project to divert water from the Sacramento River to the conveyance aqueducts south of the Delta.

The purpose of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan proposals, ostensibly, is to resolve the joint problems of 1. ensuring reliable water suppliessouth of the Delta, and 2. restoring the damaged ecosystems and fisheries damaged by the current design and operation of water infrastructure. These are supposed to be “co-equal” goals. Will the new proposals achieve this? I don’t know what to think, because I cannot get the critical information necessary to make an informed judgment. Here are some questions that should have been answered long ago:

“How much water will this new system take out of the Delta?”

Uh, we don’t know.

Why? Because: “Future scientific studies will identify project yield.” This fact alone should set off alarm bells. The project documents, to the extent you can get detailed information out of them, suggest anywhere from 4.8 million to 5.8 million acre-feet a year would be exported for the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project, not including the additional 1.7 million acre-feet or so that comes out of the Delta for Northern California users, and not including water taken out even before it reaches the Delta.

The upper end of this range is what Southern California water contractors think they’ll get and is one of the reasons they’re so anxious for the full-size version of the project to proceed. But that upper range is even more water than recent exports from the Delta, which averaged 5.4 million acre-feet a year from 1995 to 2011. Yet most scientists agree that a key to fixing the ecological problems of the Delta is to take less water out, not more.

“What will this infrastructure, or the water it provides, cost?”

We don’t know.

Why? Because there is no agreed-upon design, no final information about land costs or contracting or interest rates or much more, including especially hard-to-measure ecological costs and benefits. Current numbers being bandied about are $25 billion with interest costs. I think we can safely say that this is the bare minimum, given the routine and severe cost escalations common to such projects. And if you hear someone quote a cheaper number, they’re leaving something out.

“Who’s going to pay for it?”

We don’t know, since it depends on what “it” is.

There is a clear agreement that most of the infrastructure cost should be paid for by the direct beneficiaries who receive water. But who will pay for the ecosystem improvements and efforts to fix damages already caused by existing water infrastructure? How will the costs be split among irrigation beneficiaries vs. urban water beneficiaries? Current vs. future ratepayers? We don’t know.

“Well, can I look at a cost-benefit study or an evaluation of alternative options?”

No, at least not an official one.

And the unofficial ones, which have reached completely opposite conclusions about whether there are any net benefits at all or whether non-structural options can play a role, are controversial, incomplete in what they count and riddled with questionable and untested assumptions. For example, most of them leave out full evaluations of ecosystem benefits, or the potential for cutting water demands south of the Delta by improving water-use efficiency.

“Will the ecosystem repairs and restoration happen along with the infrastructure construction?”

We don’t know.

Why? Because the funding mechanisms are completely different, regulators and policymakers don’t agree about what changes are necessary to fix the ecosystems and ecosystem restoration isn’t a simple engineering problem amenable to technical fixes.

“What rules will govern its operation and who will strictly monitor and enforce those rules?”

We don’t know.

Presumably a combination of state water agencies, independent oversight boards and water users, but the details are not final. History shows that clear operating rules and oversight are vital to successful water projects. Should the project of this magnitude be built before such rules are in place?

“What provisions will be put in place to change the operating rules as climate change increasingly alters water conditions and in the event that new science shows new problems or advantages?”

We don’t know.

A key to effective water management in the future will be the ability to modify and adapt to changing conditions. We know the climate is changing, and that California’s water systems are vulnerable. But the current system is designed for a stable climate. The future one cannot be.

Provide the answer to these questions and then the public – and perhaps the voters – can have a real debate about the pros and cons before shovels go in the ground and more dollars get thrown around. We’re supposed to get some of the final project documents in just a few weeks after many years and dollars spent planning. Honest and complete answers to the questions posed above must be provided if California voters and decision-makers are to make informed choices about the path forward for California water. Good water policy in California will only come about if it is guided by sound science, eyes-open analysis and public transparency.

Water Managers and Social Media: How to Get Started

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By Paula Luu, Communications Manager

A few of you have reached out to me after I wrote about why water managers should invest in social media. It looks like I’ve managed to convince a few of you that it’s worthwhile, but now what?

Here are a few tips and tricks to help you get things off the ground:

Figure out which social sites to engage on given your customers and goals.

Don’t know where to start with social media? Here’s a few tips to get you started.

Getting started on social media can feel like a daunting task with all the different platforms available. YouTube or Vimeo? Should we pin? #Help!The truth is, there isn’t one formula for every organization, water utility, or business.  Depending on your customers and goals, different social media channels may be more or less appropriate. The leading water managers I’ve seen on social sites use a combination of any of these heavy-hitters:  Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Vimeo, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Slideshare. More on that here. That said, you don’t have to sign up for every one of these channels, especially if your organization or company is just getting started or may not be able to commit to building and staying active on each site. It’s better to be excellent with one or two channels than mediocre at five or six.

A good example of water utility social media use is Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD), which is active on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Pinterest.  They were one of the first water districts I’ve seen utilize Pinterest and have managed to capture and engage their customers in a unique way. SWFWMD has pinned photos to several boards to showcase everything from local wildlife to Florida-friendly landscaping to beautifully painted rain barrels. Followers can then re-pin these links and images to their own boards to share with their followers or bookmark and access later.

No matter which social sites you choose to engage in, the most important thing to do before starting is to develop a plan for regular posting and updating so as not to lose focus once you’re social. It will take time to grow a following, and during that time, your personality and messaging on all channels should remain consistent.

Utilize the contacts you already have to grow your network.

Regardless of which social media platform you use to communicate with your customers, chances are you already have some way of reaching out through snail mail or email. Use this list to build your followers base.

Invite customers to follow and like your page(s) in your next newsletter or bill. Put the links to your social pages on the homepage of your website. In order to attract followers, you could hold a contest where a few new followers can win a gift card they can apply towards their bill.

Once you’ve got a solid group of followers (200-500), invite them to invite their friends for other prizes and awards. The most valuable marketing available is word-of-mouth. People are much more likely follow a page if they get an invitation from a friend or family member or recognize someone from their friends list who follows that page. Referrals to your social media page will not only help you to quickly build your base of followers, it will also build quality followers. Remember, it is much better to grow slowly and have followers who regularly engage with you than it is to have a million followers who don’t care about you or your mission.

Be interesting!

No one appreciates that friend who constantly talks about himself or herself. Same is true for businesses or organizations on social media. Your audience will quickly tune out if all you talk about is about your products, events, and media mentions. Post content from other sources that your followers would find interesting or valuable; do this more often than you post links to your website. Create a good mix of content that allows you to promote your campaigns or products without coming off like a used car salesmen.

Don’t just be a sounding board – solicit feedback. Learn what your customers need and what they are interested in learning more about. Santa Clara Valley Water District posted a video that recapped a recent public meeting on design changes for Almaden Lake and asked for feedback from those who couldn’t attend. More and more, water districts are asking customers to contribute to solving local water issues. For example, DC Water in Washington D.C. and the Thames Water  in the UK ask their Twitter followers to report leaks around town by tweeting them in. Having this kind of two-way dialogue can also facilitate more effective communication during events such as emergencies or changes to water rates.

Listen and respond. When something begins trending on social media channels, and it relates to the interests of your followers, speak up. Join the discussion and become a leading voice on these topics.  The day the Indian TV show Satyamev Jayate premiered an episode in which one of the leading charactersfelt the pressures of water scarcity, the hashtag #ConserveWater was the number one trending topic on Twitter in India within an hour after the show was aired. People interested in a particular issue are already congregating around online conversations. Stay connected beyond just your followers; seek out these conversations and jump in.

Collaborate and network.

Social media allows you to take in information, respond, communicate, and collaborate. As you get into your posting routine, look for partner organizations or businesses that might be working on the same issues and consider collaborating on a social media campaign. Ask customers and colleagues in the industry to contribute a guest post or video. This fosters a sense of community and adds value to the people who visit your social pages.

The Pacific Institute recently worked with Sacramento County to build a river-friendly calculator to help promote ways for residents and businesses to beautify their yards and landscapes while saving water, energy, and money, and even reducing their carbon footprint. We tweeted and posted their “Aspire to be River Friendly” contest on Facebook and promoted the $500 Green Acres gift card prize. Promoting the contest on our social media channels allowed for more coverage of the contest, and more importantly, got more people to try the river-friendly calculator.

In addition to working with partners to leverage each other’s social networks, there are tools like Thunderclap that allow you to create viral messages. Users create a single message on the crowdspeaking platform to be mass-shared so it rises above the noise of your social networks. You post a message on the platform with a target number of likes and the date you want the message to be sent. Users like your message, and if you reach your target number of likes, your message gets posted on each of the likers’ profiles on the date you’ve chosen – instant viral hit. It’s a great tool for smaller businesses and organizations to amplify their message without having to establish a following of 100,000.

The tips and tools I mention here are just the tip of the iceberg but a good start. There are several (free!) tools that help you manage, track, and amplify your presence on social media channels.  Just remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Successful social media efforts are nuanced and require time, but if you learn to understand your audience, have regular interactions with them, and build relationships with partners and users, your investments of time and energy will pay off. If you have questions, feel free to reach me at @nicholuu on Twitter. Best of luck!

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.

Water, Food, and Agriculture

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By Pacific Institute Staff

Agriculture uses approximately 70% of the world’s freshwater supply. Agricultural water use is under growing pressure as demands for water increase; competition among cities, farmers, and the environment grows; and as concerns grow over large-scale overdraft of groundwater and water contamination from agricultural runoff. New threats include the challenges of climate change, which is likely to alter both water availability and agricultural water demands.

Increasing water productivity in food production

In the twentieth century, the primary objective of water policies was to simply make more “new” water available for human use. In this traditional paradigm, the best measure of success was total water delivered or used. Yet, total water use is now understood to be a poor indicator of the value or productivity of water, and a poor indicator of true efficiency. New thinking suggests that greater emphasis is needed on the goods and services provided by that water use, e.g., water-use efficiency and productivity. The Pacific Institute has produced a series of studies that address improving the water productivity of agriculture, including: Sustaining California Agriculture in an Uncertain Future; Water-Use Efficiency and Productivity: Rethinking the Basin  Approach; and Potential Water Savings Associated with Agricultural Water Efficiency Improvements: A Case Study of California.

Work on the considerable untapped potential to save water in the face of the California drought highlights Agricultural Water Conservation and Efficiency in California, and a fact sheet and infographic illustrate The Multiple Benefits of Water Efficiency for California Agriculture.

Highlighting successful agricultural water management practices

Many farmers have already adopted innovative water management strategies. The Institute seeks out those individuals, organizations, and institutions that are interested in collaboration, shared learning, and the identification and testing of innovation. As part of this effort, we identify and evaluate farm water “success stories,” and present case studies and videos that share these practices. In addition, the Pacific Institute has partnered with the California Roundtable on Water and Food Supply to develop an interactive database of sustainable agricultural water management practices at www.agwaterstewards.org. The database is searchable by region, crop type, and irrigation technique to help farmers find context-appropriate solutions.

The Farm Water Steward Award was established to recognize leaders and innovators in water stewardship across the California agricultural community. Madera County almond grower Tom Rogers is the 2014 recipient of the Farm Water Steward Award for his leadership in smart irrigation scheduling. The award was jointly presented by the Pacific Institute, Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF), and Ag Innovations NetworkRead more.

Adapting to climate change and extreme events

The agricultural sector is particularly vulnerable to climate change because it is directly tied to land and water resources. Even modest changes in temperature and precipitation patterns, the length of growing seasons, or the frequency of extreme events will have large consequences for many farmers. The Pacific Institute has conducted a number of studies on the impact of drought on California, including its agricultural sector. In addition, the Institute is working on how to help farmers understand and plan for climate impacts at the local level.

Building new partnerships for knowledge and good governance

Strong partnerships are key. The Institute works with others to build knowledge and effective strategies for policy by actively participating in a number of stakeholder-driven processes, including the Agricultural Water Management Council, California Roundtable on Water and Food Supply, and the California Department of Water Resource’s Agricultural Stakeholder Committee.

Over the next three decades, threats to water and food security will grow as the global population continues to climb, dietary preferences change, and the climate becomes more variable. The Pacific Institute conducts research and works with innovative agricultural partners to identify ways to ensure clean water and sufficient food for current and future generations.

 

 

Water Vlogged: Where There Is No Water Utility

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By Misha Hutchings, Senior Research Associate

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

 

 

 

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.

Collective Action on Water – To What End?

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By Jason Morrison, Program Director and Peter Schulte, Research Associate

The United Nations has designated 2013 as the International Year of Water Cooperation, which highlights the critical importance of cross-sectoral collaboration in promoting sustainable water management. But just to make an obvious point, public-private water stewardship partnerships are not about collective action simply for the sake of collective action; they’re about jointly tackling shared water challenges. And the highest priority ones at that.

In recent years, companies are beginning to think more systemically and strategically about with whom and on what water issues they look to engage in a collective action context. The $2 billion dollar question (conservative estimate) becomes: are the other two segments of society – public sector and civil society – doing the same?

When looking at companies’ public disclosures related to water, we often see that company actions are addressing an incredibly wide range of water-related challenges, including inadequate infrastructure, poor catchment governance, potential impacts of climate change, neighboring community access to clean water, upstream riparian restoration, and others. Such programs demonstrate that while water use efficiency and pollution abatement measures are certainly a critical component of corporate water stewardship, they simply are not and cannot be the complete picture.

This is evident when you look at the unique complexity that underpins the water challenges companies face. For instance, there are many places around the world with abundant water resources (think large swaths of Latin America or Southeast Asia), but where governments simply do not have the capacity to deliver clean water reliably, manage the impacts of storm events,  and where communities may not have the means to access the water they need. What would company operational water performance improvements mean in these contexts?

Indeed, corporate leaders on water have come to the realization that water management efforts within the confines of the factory fencelines alone can’t address the water risks they face and they are taking a much broader approach to their water risk mitigation strategies. These approaches increasingly look not only to minimize the adverse impacts of corporate operations on water resources by promoting water use efficiency and improved wastewater treatment, but also to actively engage external interests to jointly address the complex landscape of water challenges that reside outside their fencelines. Such joint efforts to address shared risks include advocating for more sustainable and effective water policies, sharing knowledge and data, facilitating community access to water access and sanitation services, improving climate resilience, and many more.

The CEO Water Mandate’s newly release Guide to Water-Related Collective Action provides step-by-step guidance regarding how companies can design and implement such collaborative approaches in a way that is both strategic for the company, and also addresses the underlying drivers of water-related problems affecting a wide array of stakeholders. A critical part of this guidance is assisting companies and those with whom they collaborate to develop a shared understanding of the drivers and manifestations of the water-related challenges the face. This, in turn, will allow the parties to scope the collective action around objectives that will derive shared benefits. The schematic below is a tool the Guide puts forth that allows the company to map acute water challenges and their underlying drivers with the collective action responses that can prospectively address them.

Across the top of the schematic are a number of key water-related challenges that in turn create risk for companies. Along the left side of the diagram are the indirect water system deficiencies that underpin the acute water challenges. The matrix is then populated by twelve different types of actions collaborators might pursue to drive more sustainable water management. In essence, this schematic provides a simple and practical way for companies to begin to identify potential actions that will drive the changes needed to address the water risks they face. It also allows a starting point for a conversation among prospective partners to understand where their interests lie and develop a strong sense of shared interest in collective action. (As an aside, for those companies interested in moving from conceptual strategy development, to actual on-the-ground implementation, these twelve collective action areas are identical to the ones utilized in the CEO Water Mandate’s Water Action Hub, an enabling platform for facilitating matchmaking.)

This decision framework was developed primarily for businesses, particularly those confronting the collective action imperative in a given geography and that are looking to embark on a collective action project in the most efficient and effective manner possible. Our question now is: Does this model align with how businesses’ potential partners, such as government agencies, civil society groups, and academia, understand these challenges and the steps needed to address them? Does it provide a solid footing with which to begin achieving consensus on how water-related problems at a local level can be solved to the benefit of all?

Let us know your thoughts!

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.

AT&T Tool Kit Uncovers Billions of Gallons of Potential Water Savings in Cooling Systems

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Guest Blog by John Schulz, Director, AT&T Sustainability Operations

“Great discoveries and improvements invariably involve the cooperation of many minds.”  – Alexander Graham Bell

Coming from a telecommunications company and attending a conference entitled Water Cooperation – Building Partnerships, I find this an appropriate quote with which to open. It is true that while we can attribute some of the greatest inventions of our time to individuals, it is hardly those individuals alone who achieve them. This is especially true when tackling the challenge to protect and preserve a shared resource such as water.

A new toolkit from AT&T and EDF can help reduce water consumption in buildings with cooling towers. For full size, click here.

At the World Water Week conference in Stockholm, Sweden this week, I will be speaking about a year-long project that we undertook in collaboration with Environmental Defense Fund. Through the cooperation of many minds, including groups like Pacific Institute, we developed a toolkit that could save U.S. commercial and industrial sector buildings 28 billion gallons of water per year – that amount of water is equivalent to the entire city of New York not showering for nearly a year.

As a technology company, you might not first associate AT&T with water. Our journey began when we developed our first water footprint in 2010 and found that 125 buildings – representing a fraction of our total portfolio – consumed 50 percent of our water. Upon further investigation, we found that these 125 facilities had one thing in common – they all used mechanical cooling systems with cooling towers. These cooling towers use water, for example, to cool the buildings that house our network equipment.  They also use water to keep our employees cool in large office buildings. In fact, an average large office building devotes more than one fourth of its water use to cooling. Yet we found very few practical and usable resources about water efficiency in cooling systems.

Seeing this as an opportunity, we approached the environmental nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). With them, we began a one-year trial of several pilot sites to see which methods would be most effective in reducing water use in our cooling systems. The findings were encouraging. Through improved technologies and the use of free air cooling (pulling cool air from the outside to cool the building), we were able to find anywhere from 14-40 percent water savings at each pilot site.

Sometimes, making the case for water efficiency in the United States can be difficult because water is relatively inexpensive. Through our pilot sites, however, we also found that water savings could lead to monetary savings. For example:

  • One cooling tower filtration system upgrade costing less than $100,000 produced more than $60,000 in annual water and sewer savings – paying for itself in less than two years.
  • A minor $4,000 equipment upgrade to expand free air cooling produced nearly $40,000 in annual savings.

These savings, when deployed across an entire portfolio of buildings, can add up.

Over the fall, we will be working with EDF and others to get the toolkit into the hands of those who can use it – building managers, real estate executives and other business and government leaders. At AT&T, we are already utilizing many of the tools and will continue to deploy them at our 125 water-thirsty facilities. We also set a goal to realize 150 million gallons of water savings per year by the end of 2015.

We encourage you to check out the toolkit for yourself, help spread the word, and jump-start water management programs in your own organization: www.edf.org/attwater. Together, with our continued collaboration, we can be smarter about how we use and preserve this vital shared resource for generations to come.

The views and opinions expressed in this guest blog are those of the author and do not reflect an endorsement or official policy or position of the Pacific Institute.

Many Agricultural Water Districts Fail to Submit Required Water Management Plans: Laggards Can Learn from Leaders

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By Dr. Juliet Christian-Smith, Senior Research Associate

A few years ago, the California Legislature passed the Water Conservation Act of 2009, which among other things, required large agricultural water providers to begin preparing agricultural water management plans (as urban water providers have done for over a decade). These plans are a key component to encouraging better water planning, management, and efficient use. They also help water managers and consumers understand where the state’s precious water resources are going and efforts to improve water-use productivity.

At the end of 2012, the first round of agricultural water management plans were due. Yet, a new study, from the Pacific Institute and Natural Resources Defense Council, finds that only 24 out of 79 agricultural water district in California submitted agricultural water management plans, leaving 55 districts out of compliance. This represents a 30% compliance rate.Fortunately, the report also identifies and describes the work of some good actors — setting the standard for other water districts to follow. The study, Implementation of the Agricultural Water Management Planning Act: A Review of Agricultural Water Management Plans, highlights exemplary agricultural water management plans and activities, including:

  • Turlock Irrigation District in Stanislaus County is utilizing approximately 5,200 acre feet of recycled water every year, freeing up traditional water resources for other beneficial uses. Turlock receives their recycled water from the City of Turlock, the City of Modesto and Hilman Cheese Factory.
  • Reclamation District 108 in Colusa County is phasing in new water measurement devices to allow them to accurately measure the amount of water they deliver to  heir customers, as required by the Water Conservation Act. Surprisingly, many districts do not measure the amount of water they deliver to their customers. By knowing precisely how much water they are delivering, RD 108 will be able to provide their customers with enhanced feedback about how efficiency could be improved.
  • Alta Irrigation District in Tulare County has been charging their customers based on the amount of water they receive for over a decade. Many other districts currently charge either by the acre or by the number of times a grower irrigates during a growing season, even though the Water Conservation Act requires them to begin charging at least in part by volume. By pricing water volumetrically, Alta is providing its customers an incentive to become more efficient.

And while the only mechanism to enforce the planning requirement is the denial of state funds to non-compliant districts, the California Department of Water Resources recently recommended awarding substantial state funds to agricultural water suppliers that are not in compliance with the Water Conservation Act of 2009.

The study concludes with a series of recommendations to improve compliance in the future, including: more timely guidance and financial assistance from the Department of Water Resources, regional peer-to-peer workshops to help districts learn from one another, an online clearinghouse of submitted plans to ensure transparency, and an annual conference on agricultural water management planning best practices. Finally, the Department of Water Resources should hold non-compliant districts accountable by not awarding public funds until they come into compliance.

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.

WRI Insights: Managing the Earth from Space: Satellite and Sensing Technology in Water Management

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Guest Blog by Andrew Maddocks, World Resources Institute Outreach and Development Coordinator 

Andrew Maddocks of the World Resources Institute shares his WRI blog previewing the Stockholm World Water Week session “The Use of New Spatial Information Products for Improved Water Management and Risk Mapping.”  Dr. Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, will be joining WRI and NASA on the panel, presenting the Institute’s work in this area.

WRI experts Betsy OttoCharles IcelandTien Shiao, and Paul Reig will attend World Water Week in Stockholm next week. Among other activities, they’ll co-host a session on using satellite data to map global water risks. Here, Andrew Maddocks explores the role that satellite data can play in improving water management. Learn more about WRI’s World Water Week Activities.

Approximately 200 miles above the Earth’s surface, two satellites circle the planet, always between 106 and 193 miles apart. But while these twins—called Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE)—live in space, they’re providing invaluable assistance in managing natural resources on the ground.

The Euphrates River. Photo credit: Verity Cridland, Flickr

GRACE has created a unique picture of groundwater level changes around Earth over the past 11 years. This information is already helping water users and policymakers manage scarce groundwater resources in California, the Tigris-Euphrates Basin, and several other locations around the world. It’s also providing an example of how satellites and remote sensing are reshaping the water world.

“GRACE and other satellite projects like it are opening new frontiers for water resources management,” said Betsy Otto, director of WRI’s Aqueduct project.

World Water Week Event

WRI will co-host a session at Stockholm’s World Water Week, highlighting some of the most innovative projects using satellite data for risk mapping. The event takes place on September 5, 2013 and features:

  • David Toll, NASA, Practical Uses of Satellites for Improved Water Management
  • Peter Gleick, Pacific Institute, Addressing Climate and Water Issues with Advanced Technologies
  • Richard Lawford, NASA/Morgan State U., Using Satellites to Address Issues Related to Transboundary Waters, Droughts, Floods and Climate Change in Africa and Asia
  • Aleix Serrat-Capdevila, University of Arizona, NASA-USAID ‘SERVIR’.
  • Panel DiscussionThe Use of New Spatial Information Products for Improved Water Management and Risk Mapping, featuring: Amy Luers (moderator), Skoll Global Threats Fund; Diego Rodriguez, World Bank; Peter Gleick, Pacific Institute; Jay Famiglietti, University of California, Irvine; Mr. David Toll, NASA, USA; Mr. Charles Iceland, WRI, USA; Mr. Alfio Mianzan, Shell Oil, The Netherlands

Bank Accounts with No Balance

Approximately 26 percent of the freshwater withdrawn in the United States every day comes from groundwater, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). That number varies in different regions and countries, but groundwater-storing aquifers are an important source of drinking water and one of the primary buffers against drought around the world, offering more stable supplies when surface sources like lakes and reservoirs are depleted. But in many parts of the world, there is little or no publicly available information on how much water a given aquifer contains. It’s rare to know how much water people are withdrawing or how this relates to replenishment rates.

Even in a developed state like California, land owners can pump underground water without any reporting or metering [http://legalplanet.files.wordpress.com/2011/07/pritzkerpaper_final-1.jpg]. On private land, owners only pay for their pumps’ electricity—not for the water they consume. The specifics, of course, change around the world, but ignorance of groundwater levels and sustainable withdrawal rates is the common denominator.

“It’s like taking money out of your bank account without knowing how much money is in your bank account,” said Kate Voss, policy fellow at the University of California Center for Hydrologic Modeling (UCCHM), University of California, Irvine. “It’s a really terrifying prospect.”

Using Satellites to Provide Transparency, Better Data

That’s where GRACE comes in.

As the satellites orbit the earth, one crossing a given point 106 to 193 miles in front of the other, they constantly monitor the distance between them with incredible accuracy. The first satellite moves up and down depending on the amount of mass on Earth below it. The greater the mass beneath it, the more gravity acts upon the satellite, and the farther down it moves.

Water happens to be especially heavy, so depletion of a water-rich aquifer will cause a mass loss that will lessen gravity’s tug on the satellites, allowing them to drift a tiny bit further away from Earth. The small movements of the GRACE satellites are detectable, even if they are only one-tenth the width of a human hair. Researchers have created an accurate database of groundwater-storage change in water basins by monitoring how much the distance between the satellites changes on a month-to-month basis.

These satellites provide transparency and necessary data that can make up for the lack of on-the-ground monitoring of water resources around the world. For example, the Middle East’s Tigris-Euphrates basin experienced significant drought in 2007, with GRACE satellites detecting decreasing groundwater levels in northern Iraq. Researchers learned that Turkey’s well-developed canal and reservoir infrastructure could store enough water to sustain crop yields during the drought, but Syria and Iraq had no such infrastructure. Their farmers were forced to draw on groundwater.

Agricultural yields in Syria and Iraq plummeted after 2007. Turkey – the upstream user– refused to release additional flows to the neighboring countries, and water stress became so severe that some farmers abandoned their lands and migrated to Baghdad. As of this year, the region had the second-fastest rate of groundwater depletion on Earth, after India.

Researchers in Turkey, Voss said, have at times refused to release their water-related data, citing security concerns. But the GRACE remote-sensing technology has created a bypass around the reluctance of many countries to release their data.

“Water in trans-boundary river basins must be managed efficiently, equitably, and sustainably,” Charles Iceland, senior associate for WRI’s Aqueduct project, said. “This is not possible without data openness and transparency.”

Using Data to Build Better Water Management

GRACE and other satellite systems like it have made remarkable progress in spotlighting global water risks. In California, the data and associated research have helped inform a complex federal, state, and local policy discussion since 2010. The next step toward better water management solutions is contextualizing and translating this information into user friendly online tools.

To that end, WRI’s Aqueduct team will work with GRACE researchers, led by Jay Famiglietti, professor of earth system science at UC Irvine and Director of the UCCHM. Over the last 15 years, Famiglietti and his team have pioneered the methods for using GRACE to track changing levels of aquifer storage. Over the next year, WRI will work with Famiglietti and the UCCHM to incorporate this new groundwater data onto Aqueduct’s interactive water maps and global water risk assessment tool.

“You link something [like GRACE] into Aqueduct, where you combine the hydrologic data with other indicators and socioeconomic factors, and I think it becomes a really powerful tool,” Voss said. “It becomes leverage for water managers and for politicians to hopefully start acting.”

“We will take this really interesting satellite data about groundwater depletion, translate it into maps on the Aqueduct platform so it’s easy to understand, and share it with the world,” Otto said. “It’s harder to ignore something when you can actually visualize it.”

This article originally appeared at World Resources Institute Insights and is reprinted with permission.

The views and opinions expressed in this guest blog are those of the author and do not reflect an endorsement or official policy or position of the Pacific Institute.

 

Hundreds of Thousands May Not Have Affordable Access to Safe Drinking Water in California

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By Dr. Juliet Christian-Smith, Senior Research Associate

In 2012, California made history by being the first U.S. state to legally acknowledge a human right to water. Yet, what does it mean, in practice, to ensure that all Californians have access to safe drinking water? And, how does the state measure who has access to safe water?

A new study from the Pacific Institute in partnership with Community Water Center and Fresno State University, Assessing Water Affordability: A Pilot Study in Two Regions of California, addresses these questions and finds that over 100,000 households in two regions (the Sacramento metropolitan area and the Tulare Lake Basin) do not have access to what is considered “affordable” water. In addition, the study finds that the current metrics that the state is using to measure affordability would not capture many of these people. These metrics focus on water affordability at the water system level, which can encompass a variety of different socio-economic groups.

In the Sacramento metropolitan region, measuring overall affordability for water systems misses serious affordability problems at the household scale. A water system with overall affordable rates may have many households whose costs for water may great exceed formal definitions of affordability. Similarly, in the rural Tulare Lake Basin, measuring on these different scales means finding only nine out of 51 water systems with unaffordable rates vs. nearly 4,000 households with unaffordable water rates – some 40% of the households in the study group.

The Institute’s analysis also showed that water affordability is likely to become an even greater problem in the future. The cost of water provision rising in both urban and rural areas, with much of the water infrastructure in the U.S. at, or beyond, its useful life. Infrastructure replacement costs will significantly contribute to the problem of unaffordability unless these costs are paid for in great part by external funds or financing and pricing approaches are developed that protect low-income consumers.

In addition, some water systems, such as many in the Tulare Lake Basin, are facing challenges as legacy nitrate pollution or other contaminants like arsenic and DBCP continue to contaminate water supplies. In these areas, households must spend an even greater percent of their income purchasing replacement water, making affordability an even greater challenge. If the persistent water-quality problems in the Central Valley worsen, water treatment costs will increase, and systems may be forced to increase their water rates, leading to increasing water bills in an area already plagued with high levels of unaffordability. Indeed, more and more water systems may find themselves in a difficult financial situation, torn between the need to upgrade or increase treatment to ensure safe drinking water while also keeping water bills low enough for customers to have access to affordable water.

More specific discussion of developing affordability programs, whether within or across systems, is critical for California, and more work is needed to address financing considerations for water systems, and their technical, managerial, and financial capacity, as well as how to protect the poorest and most vulnerable populations from rising water costs.

This white paper, Assessing Water Affordability: A Pilot Study in Two Regions of California, is the second in a series covering critical issues for water service providers as they deal with the “new normal,” including: water affordability, water financing mechanisms, and lessons from the energy sector. These additional white papers will be released over the coming month.

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.

Aligning Two Worlds: Business and the Human Right to Water and Sanitation

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By Mai-Lan Ha, Research Associate

Available, Affordable, Accessible, Acceptable, and Safe – the cornerstones of the human right to water and sanitation were codified in California in 2012 with the adoption of Assembly Bill 685. California’s adoption of the right heralded another step in the progressive realization of the right to water and sanitation globally. It followed the UN General Assembly’s adoption in 2010 of a binding resolution acknowledging the right to safe drinking water and sanitation and national-level recognition of the right by countries such as South Africa, Kenya, and Belgium.

The human right to water has been a longstanding area of work for the Pacific Institute, starting with two papers on basic human needs and water and the Human Right to Water in 1996 and 1999, respectively. Since then, the Institute has continued to explore the issue, looking at it from multiple facets including nation-state adoption and implementation of the right and local community impacts, to business sector respect for the right. Currently, the Pacific Institute, in its capacity as Co-Secretariat for the UN Global Compact’s CEO Water Mandate, has been working to better define, on a practical level, what respect for the human right to water and sanitation entails for large water-using companies.

Photo: Eyal Ofer

Over the past decade, there has been increasing recognition that businesses have a responsibility to respect internationally recognized human rights. However, how to do so effectively and practically on a day-to-day basis has been less clear. With the unanimous adoption of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (“the Guiding Principles”) by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011, there is now an authoritative reference point for business. These two developments, the adoption of the UN General Assembly of the human right to water and sanitation in 2010 and the adoption of the Guiding Principles in 2011, created an opportunity for the CEO Water Mandate to further explore and provide much needed guidance for businesses.

Early on, the Mandate adopted a workstream focused explicitly on business, water, and human rights. This was based on the recognition that the human right to water and sanitation has fundamental implications for key elements of corporate water management from direct operations to supply chain engagement to local watershed management. However, these early conversations within the initiative also revealed there was much uncertainty among companies about what they could do on a practical level to respect and in some cases even promote realization of the right. Practical, actionable guidance was much needed.

Since 2010 the Mandate has taken on the task of developing such guidance.  As the project has progressed, what has become clear is that many companies, through their existing corporate water stewardship practices, may already be taking measures that are aligned with respecting the human right to water and sanitation. Actions to understand impacts are fundamental to respecting the human right; processes to limit water use may be a step toward mitigating impacts; community engagement processes, communications, and disclosure are all core to key aspects of respect under the UN Guiding Principles.

In August 2012, the Mandate released a paper entitled Bringing a Human Rights Lens to Corporate Water Stewardship. Besides laying out the international and national context around the human right to water and sanitation, challenges companies face, and perspectives of potentially affected communities, the paper lays out key areas of alignment between the elements of the UN Guiding Principles and corporate water stewardship. An initial analysis of the two frameworks reveals that there are areas of clear convergence. For example, both corporate water stewardship and the Guiding Principles stress the importance of effective consultation with stakeholders, particularly potentially affected communities to understand a company’s impacts. It should be noted, however, that the Guiding Principles have a focus on understanding and preserving the rights of potentially affected stakeholders, while many corporate water stewardship risks assessments focus on understanding risks to the business. However there is increasing awareness that risks to human rights and water may lead to risks to businesses.

The project, now in its second phase, is focused on an in-depth exploration of these areas of convergence and divergence.  More importantly, we are in the process of understanding how to bring about greater alignment between two worlds: one focusing on business and human rights and the other on corporate water stewardship. The ambition is to develop guidance for creating integrated processes and effective corporate management systems that enable companies to “know and show” that they are indeed respecting the human right to water and sanitation.

If successful, the Guide will be a key resource that will help the private sector effectively do its part to contribute to the overall realization of the right and ensure that water as a fundamental resource is available and accessible to all who need it.

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: Peak Water in the American West

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By Peter Gleick, President

It is no surprise, of course, that the western United States is dry. The entire history of the West can be told (and has been, in great books like Cadillac Desert [Reisner] and Rivers of Empire [Worster] and The Great Thirst [Hundley]) in large part through the story of the hydrology of the West, the role of the federal and state governments in developing water infrastructure, the evidence of droughts and floods on the land, and the politics of water allocations and use.

But the story of water in the West is also being told, every day, in the growing crisis facing communities, watersheds, ecosystems, and economies. This isn’t a crisis of for tomorrow. It is a crisis today. What is, perhaps, a surprise, is that it has taken this long for the entire crazy quilt of western water management and use to finally unravel. But it is now unraveling. (more…)

Why Water Managers Should Embrace Social Media

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By Paula Luu, Communications Manager

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest. I don’t need to explain what social media is because chances are you’re plugged into one, if not most, of these social media platforms. And individuals aren’t the only ones engaged in social media. Eighty percent of businesses, 89% of NGOs, and 66% of government agencies are also a part of these networks– connecting, sharing, digesting, and discussing information with their followers and fans.

But are water managers effectively using social media?
While my research didn’t bring up any hard numbers, my years as a Communications professional in the water and environmental justice sector suggest that a smaller percentage of water managers are using social media compared to the business and non-profit sectors. It’s perhaps more apparent why a B2B/B2C company or a membership-based NGO would join Facebook, Twitter, and the like, but there is still a strong case to be made for why water managers should embrace social media. Here are a few reasons why investing time and resources into social media is worthwhile for water managers:

Water managers can engage more productively with their stakeholders.

The District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority serves 16 million customers in Washington, D.C. but only reaches 130,000 of them through bills and other traditional communications. So in 2009, they launched a social media campaign to reach a larger segment of their customers. For example, DC Water promoted Twitter as a channel for customers to report problems, resulting in fewer e-mails sent to the general purpose inbox. The utility has also been able to help consumers understand where their water comes from and how it is priced, and answer questions as they come in.

Similarly, Tacoma Public Utilities launched their Know your H20 social media campaign in 2010 to raise awareness of the utility’s conservation programs. Using Facebook, Twitter, and other online media, Tacoma Water sent out an online survey to their customers about their water-use habits to inform their efficiency goal-setting process.

Social media engagement allowed both water utilities to meet and even surpass their original goals and deliver an overall better service to their customers. Beyond that, it primed the utilities to learn what was working and what potential areas could be improved to build a better brand.

Social media helps mitigate risk and promote best practices.

Farmers, struggling through climate change,  are using social media to  share information with one another.  Photo: Flickr

Because about 70% of the freshwater water withdrawn globally supports agriculture, farmers are among the most important water managers.  Water efficiency is especially important to agriculture since it has been also one of the industries most immediately impacted by climate change. As farmers worldwide struggle through droughts and floods, they are finding new ways to communicate with one another and are utilizing social media to open new windows of opportunity.

In 2009, British farmer Michele Payn-Knoper founded AgChat, a moderated Twitter conversation for folks “involved in the business of growing food, fuel, feed, and fiber” that takes place every Tuesday night. Over the last four years, nearly 10,000 people from ten countries have attached the hashtag #agchat to their tweets to discuss issues and share ideas related to food and farming.

Stateside, grain farmers are tuning into Twitter to get information that would help them decide how and when to market their crops. During 2012 – the hottest year on record – a growing number of farmers like Bill Graff, who grows 1,400 acres of corn, soybean, wheat, and hay in central Illinois, used social media to get updates from crop scouts who shared photos of crops they visited around the country and gave basic information about insects, weeds, and diseases. The information was not only free, but also a faster alternative to the USDA’s weather and crop updates.

Other efforts have been made to build resilience to climate change across the northeastern United States. The idea came after Hurricane Sandy when farmers were left to deal with their unexpectedly inundated crops. The Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN) in New York links Cornell Cooperative Extension educators; emergency management agencies (including FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security); and local officials and community members to increase agricultural resiliency to disasters. Less than 24 hours after Sandy had passed, Cornell and SUNY experts in the area put together an informational fact sheet about the impacts of saltwater inundation and how to mitigate damage that they were able to distribute via social media and the EDEN website.

Moving forward, the USDA plans to build on existing infrastructure to establish “regional hubs that will provide technical support, assessments and forecasts, and outreach and education” to farmers.

It opens up opportunities to reduce (water) waste.

Water managers are not only implementing social media in their conservation efforts, they are also using it to reduce waste. Take Bloomfield Farms in California for example.

General Manager Nick Papadopoulos devised a plan to reduce the amount of unsold produce that was being thrown away after selling at the farmer’s markets over the weekend. Rather than have them spoil and go to waste, he marketed the food at a deep discount on the farm’s Facebook page every Sunday night. Not surprisingly, there was a demand for discounted leftover produce, and groups of homeowners in the neighboring communities and local gourmet food businesses regularly purchased the food.

Encouraged by his success on Facebook, Papadopoulos started the website cropmobster.com, where those involved with food production and hunger relief and those who want to buy local can access surplus produce. A recent study found that, depending on the time of year and demand, up to 30 percent of fresh crops grown in the U.S. don’t make it to market. Cropmobster.com launched this March and has since salvaged more than 20,000 kilos of food between non-profits, restaurants, and individual buyers – and that’s a lot of water embedded in growing those 20,000 kilos.

More apps and social websites that connect farms with food banks are also emerging. According to Voice of America, a company based in San Francisco is working with a grocery chain to cheaply market perfectly good produce that doesn’t meet the size and quality standards for sale in a U.S. supermarket – for example an apple that is only 37% instead of the required 40% red.

Whatever the goal or challenge, water managers of all kinds can leverage social media to streamline current systems and find economical solutions. Water management is a centuries-old practice, but water managers who want to lead in their industries need to also use 21st century tools to deliver the best service or product and sustainably meet current and future demands.

I just got started on Twitter. Follow me on Twitter at @nicholuu.

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.

Where Have We Reached on Our WASH Models Journey and What Impacts Have They Made?

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By Dr. John Akudago, Senior Research Affiliate 

August 13, 2013 

A month ago, I blogged on “Improving Access to Water and Sanitation: Is the Answer Individual Behavioral Change?” After several reflections, thoughts on “model journeys and changes we have seen as well as travelled on this road” keep coming to mind. The answer is still not clear. Hence the need to continue to ask, “Where are we on the model journey and what changes have we seen as we travel on these journeys?”

Fresh from college, in the mid-1990s I had the opportunity to be part of a team to develop a participatory model of rural community water and sanitation supply in Ghana. Before the participatory model era, many communities in Ghana, especially in the northern part of the country, had received water supply wells that were financed and managed by the central government. Various types of hand pumps metamorphosed (from monarch, mono, etc. types) in order to reduce the frequent breakdowns and cost of repairs. Changes in hand pumps, however, did not result in any significant increase in communities’ independence, ownership, management, and maintenance of the hand pumps, since they still had to report repair and maintenance issues to a central point which took several days to months before any decision was made as to whether to repair them or not. (more…)

Why Might Businesses Be Interested in Contributing to Sanitation Efforts?

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By Peter Schulte, Research Associate

August 9, 2013

Sanitation is quickly gaining prominence as one of the most important development challenges of the 21st century. This status is well-deserved: 2.5 billion people in the world do not have access to adequate sanitation. Inadequate sanitation is known to cause chronic health and nutrition problems, prevent children (especially girls) from receiving education, and contribute to water quality/access challenges and ecological degradation. Children living in households with no toilet are twice as likely to get diarrhea as those with a toilet. In the Global South, around 90% of sewage is discharged untreated into rivers, polluting freshwater sources used by communities, agriculture, and industry. (more…)

Sink Spit and Shockers: Communications in the Water World

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By Nancy Ross, Communications Director

August 6, 2013

Confession: It’s only a couple years ago that I started turning off the tap while I brushed my teeth. Why so late? Muscle memory – because I learned how to brush my teeth standing on a little step stool with the faucet running. And I grew up in a Hudson River town, when knee-deep snow and plentiful rainfall were the norm, and I never thought about needing to use water wisely. (more…)

More Comprehensive and Coordinated Global Effort Needed to Meet Global Water Challenges

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By Heather Cooley, Water Program Co-Director

August 1, 2013

The world’s water challenges have largely been perceived of as local issues. Yet, the scope and complexity of water-related challenges extend beyond national and regional boundaries. For example:

  • At least 780 million people do not have access to clean drinking water, some 2.5 billion people lack access to safe sanitation systems, and 2-5 million people – mainly children – die from preventable, water-related diseases every year. Widespread scarcity and lack of access to adequate water supply and sanitation threaten socio-economic development and national security for countries around the world.
  • People around the world share and exchange water directly through connected river and groundwater basins and indirectly through global trade, i.e., virtual water.

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Remembering Mike Taugher

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By Peter Gleick, President

July 31, 2013

California water science and policy are complicated. California water issues are contentious. And good California water reporting and journalism are rare. This is the world that Mike Taugher tackled, and tackled well. It is thus with dismay and sadness that I and my colleagues learned of Mike’s all-too-untimely death last weekend. His impact will not be forgotten.

At the time of his death, Mike was serving as a spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, but before that he was one of the leading water journalists, writing for the Bay Area Newsgroup, with stories in the Contra Costa Times, Oakland Tribune, and San Jose Mercury News. (more…)

You are Here. Don’t Mess it Up.

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By Peter Gleick, President

July 24, 2013

Floating somewhere in the vast emptiness of space is our little planet. Seen from a distance of nearly a billion miles away, it is a tiny blue dot – hardly noticeable. It appears blue, in large part, because of the presence of vast oceans of rare (in the grand scheme of things) liquid water and because of the way light interacts with the thin film of atmosphere coating the Earth’s surface like the skin of a peach. Without these two vital natural resources, there would be no life as we know it.

Until the last few decades, we have not had the opportunity to see our world as a single, unified whole. The first image of the full Earth was taken from space on December 7, 1972 by the Apollo 17 astronauts and helped change the way we see ourselves. It also helped stimulate a nascent environmental movement by bringing home the stark fact that we are not just individuals, or ethnic groups, or nation-states, but a single, isolated planet. (more…)

Unleashing the Information Floodgates: the Right to Information in Water and Sanitation Provision

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By Misha Hutchings, Senior Research Associate

July 19, 2013

Working closely with communities in Ghana, Indonesia, and India has given us firsthand, sobering insight into the problems affecting the 783 million people in the world without safe water and 2.5 billion without sanitation. Undeniably, the lack of safe and reliable water and sanitation services in low- and lower-middle-income countries impacts women, poor people, and other marginalized groups the hardest. They spend disproportionate amounts of time and money and risk health and safety for basic needs—a glass of water or use of a toilet—for which other people within the same borders yet of different socio-economic statuses and means don’t have to give a second thought (see infographic below). (more…)

Financing Drinking Water Infrastructure – Updates from the Golden State

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By Kristina Donnelly, Research Associate

July 16, 2013

It should come as a surprise to pretty much no one that infrastructure in the United States needs serious, sustained financial investment. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) finds that one in nine bridges are structurally deficient; 240,000 water mains burst each year; 40% of major urban highways are congested; and 4,000 dams are structurally deficient, half of which would cause significant economic damage or loss of life if there were a collapse. And those are just three random facts I selected to make a point; think of all the other scary facts the ASCE could probably come up with.

As if collecting scary statistics weren’t enough, ASCE also periodically grades our nation’s infrastructure. In what could marginally be characterized as “good news,” their 2013 report card increased the nation’s overall infrastructure grade from a D to a D+, the first increase in 15 years. This was due, in part, to a rise in private financing of public works projects, as well as improvements made using funding from the $800 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. (more…)

National Geographic ScienceBlogs: Things Climate Change May Ruin: From Allergies to Wine

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By Peter Gleick, President

July 16, 2013

The evidence from real-world observations, sophisticated computer models, and research in hundreds of different fields continues to pile up: human-caused climate change is already occurring and will continue to get worse and worse as greenhouse-gas concentrations continue to rise.

Because the climate is connected to every major geophysical, chemical, and biological system on the planet, it should not be surprising that we are learning more and more about the potential implications of these changes for a remarkably wide range of things. And while it is certainly possible – even likely – that climate changes may positively affect some things (like modestly reducing heating bills in colder regions), the planet’s ecosystems and human-built systems have evolved and been built around yesterday’s climatic conditions, not tomorrow’s. Overall, the evidence suggests the bad consequences will greatly – perhaps massively – outweigh the good.

Continue reading

What’s Freight Got to Do with It?

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By Ariana de Leña, Popular Education Associate

July 11, 2013

While a concept like freight transport can be overwhelming and full of jargon, starting with a simple question like “What do you feel, hear, smell, taste, and see when a diesel truck passes you on the street?” elicits a response from nearly everyone. It also creates an opportunity for people to be empowered by their own experiences and be more effective advocates for change.

On June 21, over two dozen Bay Area organizers, health outreach workers, and community health advocates gathered at the Pacific Institute for a daylong “Training-for Trainers” on Popular Education Tools for Community Health. Co-hosted by the Ditching Dirty Diesel Collaborative, the training explored the relationship between each participant’s work and the chain of factories, ships, trucks, trains, and ports that moves products and raw materials around the world. The Pacific Institute developed the training activities and materials with members of the Ditching Dirty Diesel Collaborative, a regional coalition of community-based organizations, environmental advocates, and public health agencies working to reduce diesel pollution in the San Francisco Bay Area. (more…)

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

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By Peter Gleick, President

July 8, 2013

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

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

Another Grim Day for the Salton Sea

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By Michael Cohen, Water Program Senior Research Associate

July 3, 2013

California Governor Jerry Brown signed the state budget last Thursday. Unfortunately, the governor line-item vetoed funding for the Salton Sea Financial Assistance Program (FAP), a program requested and strongly supported by the Pacific Institute and other organizations. The Institute has written extensively about the Salton Sea’s current and future problems. In four and a half years, rapid and extreme reductions in the volume of water flowing into the Salton Sea will cause catastrophic ecological changes and will very likely lead to widespread dust storms, adversely affecting human health in both the Imperial and Coachella valleys. We desperately need programs like the FAP to direct funds to local habitat and air quality management projects that can be built quickly and cheaply, to offset some of these impacts and to demonstrate what can be accomplished at the Salton Sea.

Instead, we get more delay. (more…)

Voluntary Sustainability Standards and Public Policy – Where Is It Headed?

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By Mai-Lan Ha, Corporate Sustainability Research Associate

July 1, 2013

Today, when you enter a supermarket, hardware store, or shop online you are besieged by a variety of labels and stamps claiming products are Fair Trade Certified, certified by the Rainforest Alliance Network, Utz Certified, SA8000 certified, FSC certified amongst many others. The proliferation of voluntary sustainability standards systems has led to questions about their tangible impacts and how to eliminate some of the “noise” of overlapping standards. Yet, a more fundamental question needs to be answered: what should be the role or relationship of voluntary sustainability standards systems to public policy processes toward meeting sustainability objectives? (more…)

‘Hood Reporters: Unlocking the Power of Photos to Engage Youth in Building Healthier Communities

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By Catalina Garzón, Community Strategies for Sustainability and Justice Program Director

June 27, 2013

We’ve all heard the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”  Harnessing and reclaiming the power of photographs is at the heart of a participatory research tool called photo-voice. Photo-voice combines picture-taking and story-telling to identify issues of concern in a community, document community conditions, and generate solutions to create healthier communities.

Through our partnership with Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ), we use photo-voice to engage young people in promoting innovative solutions that address the root causes of violence in their communities.  CURYJ is a community-based organization in Oakland, California that builds the leadership of young people directly impacted by the criminal justice system and their family members as positive forces for change in their communities. (more…)

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

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By Dr. John Akudago, Senior Research Affiliate 

June 25, 2013 

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

American Rivers: A Graphic

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By Peter Gleick and Matthew Heberger

June 26 Update: Several astute readers have pointed out that the western portion of our map looked a little, well, funny. It has been decades since some rivers had flows of the magnitude shown, due to dams and diversions. Indeed, our map shows modeled runoff, which represents unimpaired flows, and does not take these developments into account. Here is a new map, where river symbols are proportional to the “gage-adjusted flow,” which takes into account real-world observations. Note the thinning of the Colorado River as it makes its way south, due to withdrawals for cities and farms. Also note the drying of some of the West’s main rivers—long stretches of the Salt, Pecos, Canadian, Rio Grande, and San Joaquin Rivers virtually disappear as their flow drops below 1,000 cfs as a result of withdrawals for human use.

Caption: Major rivers of the 48 contiguous United States, scaled by average flow where river symbols are proportional to the “gage-adjusted flow.” The symbols drawn here have widths proportional to the square root of the rivers’ estimated average annual discharge. Only rivers with discharge above 1,000 cfs are shown. Data from NHDPlus v2. Background map by ESRI. Map projection: Albers equal-area conic. Prepared by Matthew Heberger (2013)*. Full size map here.

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Shared Risk, Shared Interest: Corporates and Their Role in Sustainable Water Management

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By Peter Schulte, Research Associate

June 18, 2013 

Businesses around the world are making the strategic decision to invest in water-use efficiency and wastewater treatment in their operations. From a business perspective, these efforts reduce operational costs, help alleviate reputational damage due to harmful impacts on ecosystems and communities, and manage risks related to insufficient water supplies. However, many businesses are increasingly going beyond these “inside the fencelines” efforts to encourage more sustainable water management throughout their supply chain and the watersheds outside their factory gates.  They do so by facilitating water-use efficiency and pollution reduction measures of other actors in their watersheds; advocating for efficient, equitable, and ecologically sustainable water policies and practices at the local, national, and international scales; investing in public water infrastructure expansions or upgrades; and a variety of other approaches. (more…)

National Geographic ScienceBlogs: The Promise and Threat of Ethiopia’s Dam on the Nile: 21st century Water Conflicts

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By Peter Gleick, President

June 2, 2013 

The Nile River – river of legend – is not just a river in Egypt. It is the lifeblood of 11 different African nations and the longest river in the world, extending over 6,500 kilometers long and draining a watershed of over 3 million square kilometers. The eleven nations that share the Nile are Egypt, Ethiopia, the Sudan and South Sudan, Kenya, Eritrea, the DR of Congo, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi, and Rwanda.

The river is really two major rivers: the White Nile and the Blue Nile, which meet near Khartoum and become the mainstem of the Nile, flowing north to Egypt and the Mediterranean.  The White Nile originates in the highlands of the Great Lakes region of Rwanda and Burundi. The Blue Nile originates in the Lake Tana region of Ethiopia. Of all of the water that reaches Egypt, the majority comes in the Blue Nile.

Over the past centuries, indeed over the past millennia, the waters of the Nile have been captured and harnessed by the people of Egypt, who depended initially on the ebb and flow of the river for recession agriculture, and in modern times, on hydropower and irrigation waters pulled from the massive Aswan Dam or from downstream diversion systems. By some estimates, 97% of all of Egypt’s water comes from the Nile, and to say that the nation is critically dependent upon it – with a population of more than 80 million people — is an understatement.

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National Geographic ScienceBlogs: Syria, Water, Climate Change, and Violent Conflict

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By Peter Gleick, President

June 10, 2013 


There is a long history of conflicts over water – the Pacific Institute maintains an online, searchable chronology of such conflicts going back 5,000 years. There were dozens of new examples in 2012, in countries from Latin America to Africa to Asia.  (A full update for 2012 has been posted.) Access to water and the control of water systems have been causes of conflict, weapons have been used during conflicts, and water systems have been the targets of conflict.

One especially disturbing example of a major conflict, with complicated but direct connections to water, has developed over the past two years: the unraveling of Syria and the escalation of massive civil war there. Syria’s political dissolution is, like almost all conflicts, the result of complex and inter-related factors, in this case an especially repressive and unresponsive political regime, the erosion of the economic health of the country, and a wave of political reform sweeping over the entire Middle East and North Africa region. But in a detailed assessment, Femia and Werrell noted that factors related to drought, agricultural failure, water shortages, and water mismanagement have also played an important role in nurturing Syria’s “seeds of social unrest” and contributing to violence.

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Huffington Post: The Most Important Day of the 21st Century

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By Peter Gleick, President

June 6, 2013 

 

One day, sometime around the middle of this century, during the lifetime of people now alive, the population of the planet will be smaller than it was the day before. Global population growth is slowing, will level off, and one remarkable day, decline. (more…)

California Water Rates and the “New Normal”

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By Juliet Christian-Smith, Senior Research Associate

California is facing new challenges to sustainable water management, particularly when it comes to water rate-setting. The twin pressures of increasing water costs (driven by everything from deteriorating infrastructure to climate change) and decreasing water demand (associated with the economic recession and conservation and efficiency improvements) are often known as the “new normal.” This “new normal” means that many water service providers are experiencing a gap between the cost of providing water services and the prices that customers pay. In order to maintain fiscal solvency, many water service providers are increasing water prices and/or changing water rate structures. (more…)

Can Business Help Achieve Water-Related Sustainable Development Goals In a Post-2015 World?

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By Jason Morrison, Corporate Sustainability Program Director

The answer is an emphatic, YES! In fact, given that the private sector accounts for the majority of global water use (when including both industrial water use and companies’ agriculture-based supply chains), one could argue that achieving such goals without direct business involvement and support will be near impossible. The good news is that many in the business community share an interest in achieving more sustainable water management, as there’s a growing understanding within companies that such an outcome is perhaps the most viable long-term strategy for addressing water-related business risk.

And to the degree to which a comprehensive goal for water will be included in the post-2015 development agenda, this broadened perspective on water will resonate deeply with many private sector companies. Looking backward at the Millennium Developments Goals, the focus for water was on access and sanitation to meet basic human needs, a topic one could argue that is only tangentially related to direct business interests. Yet the current UN-led global consultation on water in the post-2015 world has expanded beyond setting policy objectives relating to access to safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), and to include objectives relating to water resources management and wastewater and water quality more generally. Inherently, achieving targets associated with these latter two aspects of water will require engagement of, and collaboration among, all segments of society.

Source: http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/

This was one of the many conclusions of a day-long conference organized by the CEO Water Mandate in Mumbai, India in March of this year to explore specifically the role of business in advancing potential global policy objectives relating to increased access to WASH services, improved water resources management and governance, efficient water use, and pollution reduction.

However, to look to 2015 and beyond, one must understand why and how businesses are seeking to collaborate with others to address water challenges presently. Shedding light on today’s situation illuminates why and how companies will prove a key asset in cooperative efforts to advance the post-2015 development agenda.

Companies are increasingly recognizing the global water crisis is a business issue, and they’re ready to act – in fact, they’re already taking action, often in collaboration with other stakeholders. This awareness has been growing over the last decade as water scarcity has become more pronounced in many parts of the world. For the last two years, water has been in the top five societal risks identified in the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Risks Report (for both probability and severity). This means that mainstream CEOs in many industry sectors are recognizing that water represents a material risk to their companies; it’s not a perspective held solely by a handful of progressive chief executives or by mid-level sustainability personnel at global and medium-sized companies.

Often, the greatest water risks come from conditions over which companies have the least influence. As a case in point, even an ultra-efficient factory in a location where the water management system is dysfunctional is still facing water risk. This reality has caused companies to look outside their factory fenceline for solutions. And, in fact, a strong business case (measured in return on investment) is emerging for engaging with external actors and partnering on water issues.

However, businesses are not the only actors that face water risk. A dysfunctional, unsustainably managed water system poses risks across segments of society – governments, civil society groups, impoverished communities, etc. are all threatened by unsustainable water management in distinct but related ways. Thus shared water risk creates a strong motivation for collective action among companies and others to improve water management.

After considering the needs and interests of other partners, a growing number of companies are subscribing to the proposition that over the long-term, sustainable water management represents the most viable water risk mitigation strategy. Within the context of deliberations relating to the post-2015 development agenda, the notion of water security has perhaps the strongest alignment with the business case for action. Water security, similar with the concept of sustainable development, is a broad term that means many things to many people. However, a fundamental component of water security is the notion that long term demand must come into balance with reliable, renewable supply. Such a balance is integral to long-term business viability, making the business case for action fairly compelling. With water security as the umbrella, WASH-related targets serve to address equitable distribution of supply among societal uses, and participatory water governance structures become the enabling mechanisms that ensure all voices are heard in democratic decision making. Water efficiency targets and targets around treating and/or reusing municipal and industrial wastewater are all in essence about addressing either the supply or demand side of the water balance equation (or both).

The good news is that companies and other actors don’t need to await the outcomes of the next two years of intergovernmental policy negotiations to learn how water challenges will be tackled in the post-2015 development agenda. Enabling platforms that facilitate cross-sectoral collaboration on water already exist. The CEO Water Mandate’s Water Action Hub is an online tool that allows companies and other stakeholders to efficiently find other actors that share an interest in addressing a particular water challenge at either a global level or in a particular geography of shared interest. I am highly confident that most if not all twelve of the action areas the Hub uses to coordinate collaboration among stakeholders will be highly relevant to whatever emerges out of the political negotiations relating to our global goals for water in the post-2015 world.

 

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.

 

Desalination and Energy Use… Should We Pass the Salt?

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By Heather Cooley, Water Program Co-Director

Long considered the Holy Grail of water supply, desalination offers the potential of an unlimited source of fresh water purified from the vast oceans of salt water that surround us. Interest in seawater desalination in California is high, with 17 plants proposed along the California coast and two in Mexico. But the rapid expansion of desalination in California – there are currently only a handful of small plants operating along the coast, and most of these are for industrial purposes – raises concerns that must be addressed.

Beginning in 2011, the Pacific Institute initiated a research project on seawater desalination to identify the key outstanding issues for projects in California. As part of that effort, we conducted some 25 one-on-one interviews with industry experts, water agencies, community groups, and regulatory agencies to identify these issues. One-third of those interviewed cited the high energy requirements of desalination plants – and the resulting impact on project cost and greenhouse gas emissions – as a key concern.

Indeed, removing the salt from seawater is an energy-intensive process. These energy requirements have declined dramatically over the past 40 years due to a variety of technological advances, and desalination designers and researchers are constantly seeking ways to further reduce energy consumption. Despite these improvements, desalination consumes more energy per gallon than most other water supply and treatment options.

Figure 1. Comparison of the Energy Intensity of California Water Supplies
Notes: Estimates for local and imported water sources shown here do not include treatment, while those for desalination and recycled water include treatment. Typical treatment requires less than 500 kWh per million gallons. The upper range of imported water for Northern California is based on the energy requirements of the State Water Project along the South Bay Aqueduct. Energy requirements for recycled water refer to the energy required to bring the wastewater that would have been discharged to recycled water standards. Estimates for brackish water desalination are based on a salinity range of 600 – 7,000 mg/l.
Sources: Veerapaneni et al. 2011; GWI 2010; Cooley et al. 2012; GEI Consultants/Navigant Consulting, Inc. 2010

Figure 1 shows the energy intensity, in kilowatt-hours (kWh) per million gallons, of various water supply options in California. Local sources of groundwater and surface water are among the least energy-intensive options available. Imported water is highly variable, depending on the distance the water is moved and the change in elevation. Some imported water systems use little energy and may even generate it, such as the Los Angeles Aqueduct and San Francisco’s Hetch Hetchy Aqueduct. Most systems that convey water to Southern California, however, use large amounts of energy, although still less than the requirements for seawater desalination, which average about 15,000 kWh per million gallons.

But the overall energy implications of a seawater desalination project will depend on whether the water produced replaces an existing source of water or provides a new source of water for growth and development. If water from a desalination plant replaces an existing supply, then the additional energy requirements are simply the difference between the energy use of the seawater desalination plant and those of the existing supply. Producing a new source of water, however, increases the total amount of water that must be delivered, used, and disposed of. Thus, the overall energy implications of the desalination project include the energy requirements for the desalination plant plus the energy required to deliver, use, and dispose of the water that is produced. Conservation and efficiency, by contrast, can help meet the anticipated needs associated with growth by maintaining or even reducing total energy use.

Energy is the largest single variable cost for a desalination plant, varying from one-third to more than one-half the cost of produced water. As a result, desalination increases the water supplier’s exposure to energy price variability. In California, and in other regions dependent on hydropower, electricity prices tend to rise during droughts, when runoff, and thus power production, is constrained and electricity demands are high. Additionally, electricity prices in California are projected to rise by nearly one-third between 2008 and 2020 (in inflation-adjusted dollars) to maintain and replace aging infrastructure, meet new demand growth, and increase renewable energy production, among other things. Rising energy prices will affect the price of all water sources but will have the greatest impact on those that are the most energy intensive.

The high energy requirements of seawater desalination also raise concerns about greenhouse gas emissions. In 2006, California lawmakers passed the Global Warming Solutions Act, also known as Assembly Bill 32 (AB 32), which requires the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. AB32 has put the state on a carbon diet, which includes cutting current emissions and preventing future emissions associated with growth. Desalination ¬¬– through increased energy use – can increase greenhouse gas emissions, further contributing to the root cause of climate change and running counter to the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals.

We can mitigate the greenhouse gas emissions of desalination plants by powering them with renewables. But is renewable desalination the answer? Certainly, renewables can reduce and/or eliminate the greenhouse gas emissions associated with a particular project. This may assuage some concerns about the massive energy requirements of these systems and may help to gain local, and even regulatory, support. But it is important to look at the larger context. Even renewables have a social, economic, and environmental cost, albeit less than conventional fossil fuels. Furthermore, these renewables could be used to reduce existing emissions, rather than offset new emissions and maintain current greenhouse gas levels.

Communities should consider whether there are less energy-intensive options available to meet water demand, such as through conservation and efficiency, water reuse, brackish water desalination, stormwater capture, and rainwater harvesting. Certainly energy use is not the only factor that should be used to guide decision making. However, given the increased understanding of the risks of climate change for our water resources, the importance of evaluating and mitigating energy use and greenhouse gas emissions is likely to grow.

 

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: Three Iconic Graphs Showing the Climate Fix We’re In

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By Peter Gleick, President 

Here are three iconic graphs (unfortunately, there are many, many more) showing just some of the clear observational evidence that we’re changing the climate.

The first is the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, measured at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii. It shows the little ups and downs in concentration that varies with the seasons,

but also the inexorable rise in this powerful greenhouse gas. There are now thousands of stations measuring these gases.

The second is the deviation from global average temperatures over the past 130 years. It also shows the natural variability (ups and downs) of temperature, together with the disturbing rapid rise that scientists say is due to human factors (especially, the rise in greenhouse gases shown in Figure 1). The temperature data come from NASA’s GHCN-M version 3.1.0 dataset. Again, there are other global datasets. They all show the same thing.

The third graph is the volume of ice in the Arctic (extent and depth together give you total ice volume), showing the rapid decline is the Arctic ice cap — far more rapid than even conservative scientists expected (“conservative” in the non-political sense). These data come from the PIOMAS Polar Science Center.

Read ‘em and weep.

[UPDATE NOTE: On April 4, I updated the second graphic with the latest (through 2012) combined land/ocean temperature anomalies. The overall trend is unchanged. I would also note, there are other datasets from research groups around the world, all of which show the same trends. Thanks to Richard (see comments below) for calling attention to the newest data.) The data come from: ftp://ftp.ncdc.noaa.gov/pub/data/anomalies/monthly.land_ocean.90S.90N.df_1901-2000mean.dat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Technical Assistance

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By Pacific Institute Staff

The Pacific Institute lends its technical expertise through targeted assistance to organizations doing work consistent with our values and mission. Institute staff are leading professionals in diverse fields including engineering, environmental health, hydrology, economics, geography, and policy and planning. Types of technical assistance range from quantitative and qualitative data analysis and design and production of maps and spatial analysis, to review and critique of technical reports, to development of research instruments like surveys and indicators.

Our approach to technical assistance is to align technical expertise with the Institute’s values of equity and sustainability, which often requires expanded and innovative methodologies. For instance, in 2012 we developed a methodology for assessing social vulnerability to coastal flooding in the San Francisco Bay Area. The tool combines social and physical data on local hazards and resources and is being distributed by the Bay Conservation and Development Commission to local planners and stakeholders involved in climate adaptation efforts. In another example, we produced GIS maps identifying homes in close proxim­ity to pesticide applications for a community survey and health promotion project lead by the National Latino Research Council.