Water Strategies for the Next Administration: New Major U.S. Water Policy Recommendations

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science_coverNovember 3, 2016, Oakland, Calif. – A new Science article, written by the Pacific Institute’s chief scientist and president emeritus, Peter Gleick, will be published in the journal tomorrow, November 4th. The article identifies major water-related challenges facing the United States and offers explicit recommendations for strategies the next administration and Congress should pursue, domestically and internationally.

The article begins:

“Issues around fresh water are not particularly high on the U.S. political agenda. They should be. Water problems directly threaten food production, fisheries, energy generation, foreign policy, public health, and international security. Access to safe, sufficient, and affordable water is vital to well-being and to the economy. Yet U.S. water systems, once the envy of the world, are falling into disrepair and new threats loom on the horizon.”

Six key challenges are addressed:

  1. Inconsistent, overlapping, and inefficient Federal responsibilities for fresh water.
  2. Incomplete basic water science and data.
  3. Obsolete and decaying critical water infrastructure.
  4. Growing links between water conflicts and threats to U.S. national security.
  5. The failure to provide safe, affordable water to all Americans.
  6. The worsening threat of climate change for U.S. water resources.

The article offers recommendations in each of these areas and suggests that water policy offers an opportunity for bipartisan agreement. The report’s author, Dr. Peter Gleick, says “National water issues have been sadly neglected for far too long. The new administration has many opportunities to build a 21st century national water system with broad public support. During the 2016 campaign, both presidential candidates have indicated their backing for clean water and concern over recent water-quality problems in cities like Flint, Michigan.”

Among the recommendations in the Science Policy Forum piece are a call for a bipartisan water commission to make specific policy suggestions to Congress and the White House; an expansion of national efforts to collect, manage, and share water data; modernization of federal water-quality laws; testing for lead and other contaminants in every school in the country and remediation of any problems; new incentives for improved urban and agricultural water use technologies; an expansion of diplomatic efforts to reduce water conflicts; a boost in resources available for domestic and international programs to provide safe water and sanitation for all; and the integration of climate science into water management and planning at federal agencies and facilities.

In the article Gleick concludes:

“We have neglected the nation’s fresh water far too long. The next administration and Congress have the opportunity and responsibility to ensure federal agencies, money, and regulations work to protect our waters, citizens, communities, and national interests.”

 You may read more about the article and access the link to read it here.



The Pacific Institute is a global water think tank that creates and advances solutions to some of the world’s most pressing water challenges through interdisciplinary research and by partnering with a variety of stakeholders. Founded in 1987 and based in Oakland, California, the Pacific Institute envisions a world in which society, the economy, and the environment have the water they need to thrive now and in the future.


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

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By Rebecca Olson, Communications Associate

July 21, 2016

                       Steven Depolo

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

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

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

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By Peter Gleick, President Emeritus and Chief Scientist

June 24, 2016

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

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


The Water Footprint of California’s Energy System, 1990–2012

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Published: February 2015
Authors: Julian Fulton and Heather Cooley
Pages: 18

water-footprint-ca's-energy-systemReceived: October 15, 2014/ Accepted February 26, 2015 by American Chemical Society for Environmental Science & Technology

A new article by Julian Fulton and  Heather Cooley  evaluates the amount of water consumed in meeting California’s energy needs – also referred to as the water footprint of energy. The article, published in Environmental Science and Technology, examines how the water footprint of energy changed between 1990 and 2012 – finding that the amount of water consumed substantially increased over recent decades without utilizing more of the state’s water resources, but rather by relying more heavily on water resources from outside the state. Much of that increase is attributable to the production of bioethanol, which recent energy policies have promoted to meet state greenhouse gas targets. Fulton and Cooley demonstrate that while efforts to mitigate climate change in California have been successful in reducing greenhouse gases, these policies may have shifted burdens from energy to water, rather than alleviate them. They conclude that more integrated analysis and planning of water and energy systems are needed to ensure that climate adaptation and mitigation strategies do not work at cross purposes. 

Abstract: California’s energy and water systems are interconnected and have evolved in recent decades in response to changing conditions and policy goals. For this analysis, we use a water footprint methodology to examine water requirements of energy products consumed in California between 1990 and 2012. We combine energy production, trade, and consumption data with estimates of the blue and green water footprints of energy products. We find that while California’s total annual energy consumption increased by just 2.6% during the analysis period, the amount of water required to produce that energy grew by 260%. Nearly all of the increase in California’s energy-related water footprint was associated with water use in locations outside of California, where energy products that the state consumes were, and continue to be, produced. We discuss these trends and the implications for California’s future energy system as it relates to climate change and expected water management challenges inside and outside the state. Our analysis shows that while California’s energy policies have supported climate mitigation efforts, they have increased vulnerability to climate impacts, especially greater hydrologic uncertainty. More integrated analysis and planning are needed to ensure that climate adaptation and mitigation strategies do not work at cross purposes.

Download the unedited author’s version of the article. (PDF)

To access the final edited and published work see http://pubs.acs.org/articlesonrequest/AOR-MFwK7SAD3ZFaD4vijhni.
Please note that there are 50 free copies available for readers to access, but you will first need to register on their website. 


Water and Conflict in Syria

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Drought, Water and Agricultural Management, and Climatic Conditions are Factors in the Syrian Conflict

May 28, 2014, Oakland, CA: A new research paper evaluates the role of regional drought, unsustainable water management policies, and climatic conditions in contributing to the severe conflict in Syria in the past few years. The paper (“Water, Drought, Climate Change, and Conflict in Syria,” by Dr. Peter H. Gleick), coming out in the July issue of the American Meteorological Society journal Weather, Climate, and Society, concludes that the many factors influencing the severe violence in Syria include long-standing political, religious, and social ideological disputes; economic dislocations from both global and regional factors; and the consequences of water shortages influenced by drought, ineffective watershed management, and the growing influence of climate variability and change. Improvements in water-use efficiency and productivity in agriculture, better management and monitoring of groundwater resources, and comprehensive international agreements on managing and sharing the rivers that cross political borders are key to mitigating these risks.

Starting in 2006 and lasting through 2011, Syria suffered the worst long-term drought and the most severe set of crop failures in recorded history. The decrease in water availability, water mismanagement, agricultural failures, and related economic deterioration contributed to population dislocations and the migration of rural communities to nearby cities. These factors further contributed to urban unemployment, economic dislocations, food insecurity for more than a million people, and subsequent social unrest.

There is a long history of conflicts over water in the Middle East. The region experiences high natural variability in precipitation and suffers from a lack of modernized agricultural and water management systems. Less than one-fifth of Syria’s irrigated area uses modern sprinklers or drip irrigation. Half of all irrigation water comes from groundwater systems, which are in a condition of overdraft, leading to dropping groundwater levels and rising production costs. Water use and the construction of large water infrastructure upstream by Turkey have also decreased surface water supplies flowing into Syria. Populations have grown rapidly, further stressing limited water supplies. All of these factors were worsened by the severe multi-year drought.

The paper also assesses the role of climatic changes in altering water availability, with growing evidence that drought frequency and intensity in the Levant/Eastern Mediterranean region have changed from historical climatic norms. Researchers have identified an increasing tendency in annual and seasonal drought intensity corresponding with an increasing number of dry days in the rainy season, and there is evidence that climate changes are already beginning to influence droughts in the area by reducing winter rainfall and increasing evapotranspiration at rates higher than can be explained by natural variability alone.

Future climate projections for this region are also unfavorable from the perspective of water availability. Recent climate simulations all indicate growing water-related risks from higher temperatures, increased evaporative water demands, reductions in future runoff levels, and changes in the timing of runoff.

The paper concludes with options for reducing the risks of water-related conflicts in the region, including expansion of efficient irrigation technologies and practices, integrated management and monitoring of groundwater resources, and diplomatic and political efforts to improve the joint management of shared international watersheds and rivers.

“Water, Drought, Climate Change, and Conflict in Syria” will appear in the July 2014 issue of Weather, Climate, and Society. The Early Online Release notice and the abstract are available here: http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/abs/10.1175/WCAS-D-13-00059.1

[Dr. Peter Gleick is president of the Pacific Institute, a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, a MacArthur Fellow, and an expert on water, climate, and conflict. The Pacific Institute is one of the world’s leading independent research centers working to create a healthier planet and sustainable communities. Based in Oakland, Calif., the Institute conducts interdisciplinary research and partners with stakeholders to produce solutions that advance environmental protection, economic development, and social equity – in California, nationally, and internationally.  www.pacinst.org ]



Improving Understanding of the Global Hydrologic Cycle

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Observation and Analysis of the Climate System: The Global Water Cycle

Published: August 26, 2013 
Authors: Peter H. Gleick , Heather Cooley , James S. Famiglietti , Dennis P. Lettenmaier, Taikan Oki , Charles J. Vörösmarty , and Eric F. Wood

This chapter from the book Climate Science for Serving Society: Research, Modeling and Prediction Priorities addresses how understanding the complexity of the hydrological cycle is central to understanding a wide range of other planetary geological, atmospheric, chemical, and physical processes. Water is also central to other core economic, social, and political issues such as poverty, health, hunger, environmental sustainability, conflict, and economic prosperity. As society seeks to meet demands for goods and services  for a growing population, we must improve our understanding of the fundamental science of the hydrological cycle, its links with related global processes, and the role it plays in ecological and societal well-being. At the same time, human influences on the character and dynamics of the water cycle are growing rapidly. Central to solving these challenges is the need to improve our systems for managing, sharing, and analyzing all kinds of water data, and our ability to model and forecast aspects of both the hydrological cycle and the systems we put in place to manage human demands for water. We need to improve our understanding of each of the components of the hydrological water balance at all scales, and to understand the spatial and temporal variability in the components of the water cycle. This chapter provides a short summary of current World Climate Research Program (WCRP) efforts and addresses four primary research challenges:

1. The collection of more comprehensive data and information on all aspects of the hydrologic cycle and human uses of water, at enhanced spatial and temporal resolution and increased precision;
2. Improved management and distribution of these data;
3. Improved representation of the anthropogenic manipulations of the water cycle in the coupled land-atmosphere-ocean models used to forecast climate variations and change at both seasonal to interannual, and decade to century, time scales; and
4. Expanded research at the intersection of hydrological sciences and the technical, social, economic, and political aspects of freshwater management and use.

Download the chapter (PDF). 

This chapter is published in:
Peter H. Gleick , Heather Cooley , James S. Famiglietti , Dennis P. Lettenmaier,  Taikan Oki , Charles J. Vörösmarty , and Eric F. Wood. 2013. “Improving Understanding of the Global Hydrologic Cycle: Observation and Analysis of the Climate System: The Global Water Cycle.” In G.R. Asrar and J.W. Hurrell (eds.), Climate Science for Serving Society: Research, Modeling and Prediction Priorities, 10.1007/978-94-007-6692-1_6. Pp. 151-184. Springer, Dordrecht.

Keywords Hydrologic cycle • Water • Water systems • Climate • Modeling • Water balance • Data • GEWEX • GRACE • Water-energy nexus

Water-use Efficiency and Productivity: Rethinking the Basin Approach

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Published: December 4, 2011
Authors: Peter Gleick, Juliet Christian-Smith, Heather Cooley

The Pacific Institute provides thoughtful new analysis to help move beyond the theoretical quagmire that has characterized the debate over water use efficiency for decades. A newly published peer-reviewed article in the journal Water International analyzes three fundamental flaws in the traditional approach to water-efficiency or  the “basin approach,” including the assumption that all consumptive water use is beneficial, a lack of attention to water productivity measures, and the numerous, important “co-benefits” that are either ignored or discounted in most basin assessments.

The new article, Water-Use Efficiency and Productivity: Rethinking the Basin Approach describes how water use goals have changed over the last decade, and therefore why our metrics and approach to understanding the potential for increased efficiency and productivity should also change. In the twentieth century, the primary objective of water policies was to simply make more “new” water available for human use through the construction of infrastructure to store, move, and distribute water. But 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. The “soft path” for water recognizes that the real purpose of water use is measured in the goods and services provided by that use.

Pacific Institute President Peter Gleick wrote about the new article Water-Use Efficiency and Productivity: Rethinking the Basin Approach in his San Francisco Chronicle’s SF Gate “City Brights” blog:

“The debate about water use in California agriculture is stuck in a 30-year-old rut; relying on outdated and technically-flawed thinking that is slowing statewide efforts to meet 21st century challenges. This is exemplified by the recent release of a study authored by researchers at the Center for Irrigation Technology (CIT) and funded by a Sacramento-based farm lobby group (the California Farm Water Coalition) and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The CIT study uses old theories of water-use efficiency to argue that the potential to improve efficiency of water use in California agriculture is tiny. If the authors of the study are right, the only options for saving water in California agriculture would be to dramatically change crops or to take a considerable amount of agricultural land out of production – which would be bad news for our farming communities, our economy, and our environment. The good news is that they are wrong…” Continue to the full blog post.

Water-Use Efficiency and Productivity: Rethinking the Basin Approach examines how the traditional approach to water management obscures many important opportunities for increased benefits such as increased productivity or important co-benefits that are often completely ignored. The article argues that the failure to consider the many additional benefits of improving water-use efficiency – including improved crop productivity, improved water quality, greater water supply reliability, decreased energy demands and associated greenhouse gases, and reduced or delayed infrastructure investments – limits the range of solutions for complex real-world problems.The old “basin approach,” developed in the late 1980s and 1990s, calls attention to evaluating water use in basins as a whole, arguing that in water-stressed places like California, most water is ultimately used beneficially or productively, even if there are small-scale or field inefficiencies. It assumes that most losses are simply re-captured and re-used somewhere else downstream and therefore, there is no real potential for improving water efficiency. This way of thinking does not adequately address key issues of concern today, including droughts, water-quality degradation, the ability to improve water productivity, and an array of environmental problems.

The new Water-Use Efficiency and Productivity article points out three fundamental flaws inherent in the narrow basin approach:

1) underestimating the potential for better technology and management to reduce unproductive or non-beneficial evaporation or other consumptive losses of water;
2) ignoring the potential to improve water-use “productivity” because it only values “new” water;
3) failing to account for the many highly significant “co-benefits” of efficiency actions.

Read the article.

Read the press release.

Potential Water Savings Associated with Agricultural Water Efficiency Improvements: A Case Study of California

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Published: July 26, 2011
Authors: Juliet Christian-Smith, Heather Cooley, Peter Gleick

The Pacific Institute analyzes the potential for water savings from irrigation efficiency improvements in California, USA in a newly published peer-reviewed article in the journal Water Policy. The new article, Potential water savings associated with agricultural water efficiency improvements: a case study of California, USA models water savings associated with three efficiency scenarios in wet, average and dry water years.

The full article is available at the Water Policy website.

This study analyzes the potential for water savings from irrigation efficiency improvements in California, USA.

We model water savings associated with three efficiency scenarios in wet, average and dry water years. The ‘efficient
irrigation technology’ scenario shifts a fraction of the crops from flood irrigation to sprinkler and drip
systems; the ‘improved irrigation scheduling’ scenario uses local climate and soil information to more precisely
meet crop water needs; and the ‘regulated deficit irrigation’ applies less water to crops during drought-tolerant
growth stages to save water and improve crop quality or yield. The three scenarios evaluated here each conservatively
show the potential for significant water savings. Their combined potential applied water savings are between
5.6109 m3 (4.5 million acre-feet (MAF)) in a wet year and 7.4109 m3 (6.0 MAF) in a dry year. In total, these
scenarios could reduce water applied to California agriculture by 17% or reduce water consumed by California
agriculture by 13%. The results also indicate that water conservation and efficiency improvements are particularly
effective in dry years, when agricultural water demand is greater and conflicts over scarce water resources are more
severe. These approaches can reduce vulnerability to increasingly uncertain water supplies.

Go to the Water Policy website for the full article.

The CEO Water Mandate: Sixth Working Conference

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The CEO Water Mandate
Sixth Working Conference
November 14-17, 2010
Cape Town, South Africa


Key Objectives

 Share information on how to implement effective and responsible partnerships on water

 Bring together stakeholders from different sectors to facilitate such partnerships on the ground

 Better understand important water issues and challenges in South Africa

On Monday, November 15, the Mandate and World Economic Forum (WEF) Water Initiative, in collaboration with WWF-South Africa, co-convened a multi-stakeholder workshop aimed at discussing the potential for public-private partnerships to address key water challenges in South Africa. This event included the official release of the Mandate’s Guide to Responsible Business Engagement with Water Policy, an introduction to Phase Two work of the WEF Water Initiative’s Water Resource Group, a series of roundtable discussions on watershed-level issues in South Africa, and a larger discussion exploring key themes of the day.

The workshop began with Gavin Power (Head, CEO Water Mandate) providing background information on the Mandate, its origins, goals, workstreams, and future plans, while underscoring its commitment to facilitating partnerships between business and governments to address shared water risk. […]

Download the full article here

Peak Water Limits to Freshwater Withdrawal and Use

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Published: May 24, 2010
Authors: Meena Palaniappan, Peter Gleick
Pages: 8

Pacific Institute Authors Published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

A new journal article from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) highlights new “peak water” limits to global and regional freshwater availability and use. The May 24, 2010 early edition of the journal includes the new article Peak Water Limits to Freshwater Withdrawal and Use by authors Dr. Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, and Meena Palaniappan, director of the Institute’s International Water and Communities Initiative, and brings sharp focus to understanding the world’s water issues in new terms of “peak renewable water,” “peak nonrenewable water,” and “peak ecological water.”

Are we running out of water? No, Gleick and Palaniappan argue we will not “run out” of water on earth – but we are very close to using much of the renewable supply and in some regions we are well past the point of peak ecological water – where the environmental damage of human use of water exceeds the benefits of that water use.

The specter of “peak oil” – a peaking and then decline in oil production – has long been predicted and debated. Gleick and Palaniappan assess “peak water” as way to help water managers and policymakers, and all of us as water users, understand and manage different water systems more effectively and sustainably.

They describe peak water in three ways:

  • Peak renewable water: where flow constraints limit total water availability over time.
  • Peak nonrenewable water: where production rates substantially exceed natural recharge rates or where overpumping or contamination leads to a peak production followed by a decline (similar to peak oil curves)
  • Peak ecological water: the point beyond which the total costs of ecological disruptions and damages exceed the total value provided by human use of that water.

These concepts can help shift the way freshwater resources are managed toward more productive, equitable, efficient, and sustainable use. One of the most important outcomes of the concept of peak water is that it signals the end of cheap and easy access to water. This recognition of the value of water can drive us to an important and needed paradigm shift in the way water is managed and priced — toward a soft path for water, a strategy that improves the productivity, equity, and efficiency of water use.

Read the article abstract at Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Download the journal article.

This article appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, May 25, 2010 edition.


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