Evidence of World Water Crisis Continues to Mount

By Robert D. Shriner, Ph.D.
Director of Research, World Water Center

News of water shortages, contamination, and conflicts over usage are becoming increasingly frequent, along with increased attention to the need for better processes, practices, and infrastructure for managing the water resources we have. This issue highlights some of the latest news on water research, projects, and policy issues.

Scripps Institute Study Says Lakes Mead and Powell Could Go Dry by 2021

Scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California-San Diego recently concluded that Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the two large reservoirs that store and supply Colorado River water to the major U.S. cities of southern California and Nevada, are being rapidly depleted and could go dry within the next 10-20 years.

Marine physicist Tim Barnett and climate scientist David Pierce found that increased water demand by the growing population in the region, combined with natural evaporation and a decline in run-off reaching the lakes due to changes in the climate, are already consuming more water each year than is being supplied by the Colorado iver system. Drought conditions in recent years have already reduced the two lakes to only 50 percent of their capacity; and the situation is expected to get worse. Without the water provided by these two large lakes and the Colorado River, Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas, and other cities in the region will not be able to meet the growing water requirements of their residents, industries, and agriculture. In addition, water levels in Lake Mead could fall too low to power the giant hydroelectric generators at Hoover Dam that supply electrical power throughout the region even sooner, by about 2017, giving the arid region a double-whammy of too little water and too little power.

"We were stunned at the magnitude of the problem and how fast it was coming at us," said Barnett. "Make no mistake, this water problem is not a scientific abstraction, but rather one that will impact each and every one of us that live in the Southwest."

"It's likely to mean real changes to how we live and do business in this region," Pierce added.

The study, which was jointly sponsored by the Scripps Institution, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and the California Energy Commission, has been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed Water Resources Journal. A press release with a detailed summary of the study is available on the Institution's website http://scrippsnews.ucsd.edu/releases/?releaseID=876 from which this brief summary was prepared.

New Study Finds World's Oceans Heavily Impacted by Human Activities

A recently completed study by a team of American, British, and Canadian scientists led by Benjamin S. Halpern of the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in Santa Barbara reports and maps the extent to which overfishing, pollution, nutrient run-off, commercial shipping, and other human activities are impacting oceans and marine ecosystems all around the world, from pole to pole. The study was published in February in Science, the journal of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The study found that the greatest threat to marine ecosystems is rising ocean temperatures. Researchers created a global grid of local ocean temperature variations in 1.5 mile blocks, far more precise than the 20 mile grid that previously existed. Among their findings was that most acutely affected areas are mangrove swamps, sea mounts, sea grass and coral reefs. The regions feeling the most stress from human activity and rising temperatures are "the North and Norwegian seas, South and East China seas, Eastern Caribbean, North American eastern seaboard, Mediterranean, Persian Gulf, Bering Sea, and the waters around Sri Lanka".

Short of Water, South American Mines Pump Ocean Water High into the Andes
With local rivers increasingly unpredictable supplies of water as glaciers melt and local farmers dependent on local supplies, a growing number of giant metal mines in Chile and Peru are turning to the Pacific Ocean for a more predictable but more costly supply, according to a recent Reuters story.

"Mining drives the Peruvian and Chilean economies, and is chiefly responsible for their exports. But conflicts over water, especially in Peru, where they often turn violent, have delayed billions of dollars of investments in new mines."

To reduce conflict with local residents and farmers, mining companies have begun tapping the ocean, building desalination plants and pipelines high into the mountains to provide water essential to the operation of their mines. The giant Cerro Lindo mine in Peru, which extracts copper, lead and zinc, pumps desalinated water some 90 miles from the ocean to the mine's refinery, which is at an
elevation over 7,500 feet in the Andes Mountains. In Chile, the new Esperanza gold and copper mine will be that countries first to be totally dependent on sea water.

Chile's Escondida mine, the world's largest copper mine, is considering expansion of an existing desalination system to provide additional water for its processing operations, according to Reuters. "The average mine requires millions of gallons of water during the course of its life, some 40 years, making access to reliable water increasingly crucial as global warming looms and cities grow."

Local communities often continue to oppose new mines, fearing pollution as well as water consumption, despite the jobs they provide.

To access the Reuters story on which this summary is based,
Click Here

Other Items of Note

Applications are now being accepted for the 2008 NeWater-Global Water System Project (GWSP) Summer School, "Managing Change: Tools and Methods for Adaptive River Basin Management", at Königswinter, Germany (on the Rhine River), Weds. 09 July - Sat. 19 July, 2008. Study topics include:
  • Introduction to basic concepts of Adaptive Management
  • Freshwater Ecology
  • Concepts of Resilience and Adaptive Capacity in River Basins
  • Systems Dynamics Modeling - conceptual and quantitative
  • Participatory Processes -
  • Scenario Analysis of future vulnerability and adaptive capacity in river basins
  • Introduction to the NeWater Web Portal: tools and training for adaptive water management
  • Adaptive Management in Practice: Experiences from Africa, Asia, Australia and Europe
GWSP provides financal support for up to 7 participants from developing courntries and economies in transition.
Please refer to the NeWater webpage for more details on the programme and application procedure: www.newater.info
Deadline for applications is 1 April 2008.

The battle over bottled vs. tap water continues.
The Christian Science Monitor reports that after negative media reports on the environmental cost of bottled water, the industry responds with greener strategies. To read the story on-line, go to www.csmonitor.com

Water Online is an on-line sourcing service and e-newsletter "focused on industrial and municipal wastewater treatment, drinking water purification, stormwater management, valve, pipe and flow control markets", at www.wateronline.com

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