Category: Water Rights
|August 30, 2012||Posted by karmadsen under blog, Climate Change, Complexity, Drinking Water, Drought, Environmental Justice, Uncertainty, Water Rights|
In the United States, many cities and states are taking a pragmatic approach to climate change. In Chicago, city planners are installing porous pavement, and vegetated roofs. Portland’s Climate Change Adaption Plan encourages green architecture that uses energy efficiently and can hold up to extreme weather events. And California’s Climate Adaptation Strategy outlines a plan to lower emissions, improve energy and water-use efficiency, and to avoid development in areas that cannot be protected from floods or wild-fires.
But while these efforts are laudable, there may be limits to how well governments can prepare for climate change. Researchers at the University of Lagos brought up an important point while writing about impacts to trans-boundary water resources. They discussed the fact that uncertainty about future climate patters is only one piece of the puzzle. There is also uncertainty about the demographic and cultural density of future populations. Furthermore, we cannot know how future water managers will behave or if they will behave in a rational manner. The human component, with its cultural and political influences, may be both more important and more uncertain than climate behavior. How to respond to this? The researchers suggest that present day water managers should develop flexible plans that take into account a wide range of future outcomes (Oyebande & Odunuga 2010).
However, it is clear that even now cultural and political influences make it difficult for many societies to enact optimal water policies. It would be silly to assume that future water managers will necessarily do a better job than we currently are doing. In essence, this means that water planners should be as conservative as possible with water in the present and to plan for adaptability. They also need to accept a lot of uncertainty.
Oyebande L, Odunuga S. 2010. Climate Change Impact on Water Resources at the Transboundary Level in West Africa: The Cases of the Senegal, Niger and Volta Basins. The Open Hydrology Journal. 4: 163-172.
|April 1, 2012||Posted by karmadsen under blog, Climate Change, Desertification, Drinking Water, Environmental Justice, Environmentalism, Groundwater and Surface Water, Groundwater in the News, Water Rights|
Will Doig wrote a fascinating piece for Salon.com about America’s strange tendency to build cities in the middle of deserts. While technology may help these cities survive, the rising cost of water just might reverse the migration pattern of the last few decades, sending jobs and workers back to the rust belt from the sun belt.
Climate change will exacerbate the problem, expanding the band of subtropic deserts across the globe, and making Texas look more like Mexico. The town of Spicewood, Texas is currently completely dessicated has been surviving on trucked-in water since January.
Christopher Mims of Grist.org writes that Midland, Texas, which is incidentally the hometown of President Bush, may be out of water within a year. While Midland could also truck in water until the current drought releases its death grip, at a certain point, it may make sense for people to just move to the water.
Reorganization of population in the next century makes sense from a practical perspective, although it will be stressful for people who are displaced this way. But new patterns of migration may allow people to live in better harmony with the planet and it would certainly be good for desert wildlife.
|September 2, 2011||Posted by karmadsen under blog, Conservation, Drinking Water, Environmental Justice, Water Rights|
Last week, the New York Times reported that two native tribes located in Oklahoma had sued the governor, Oklahoma City, and the state and city water agencies over a water rights dispute which was literally centuries in the making.
In the 1830′s the United States government forced several Native American tribes to leave the Eastern US and migrate to a vast tract of “unsettled” land in Oklahoma which was then named the Indian territory.
By the 1890s, these territories were under pressure from white settlers moving into Oklahoma. Congress dissolved the tribal governments and ended tribal law, putting all the native people under federal law.
After the dissolution of the Indian nations, land was parceled to the Chickasaws and Choctaws using a land allotment system under the 1898 Curtis Act and the 1902 Supplementary Agreement. Under this system, the Tribes’ reservations were parceled to individual members, but this left a large reserve of unallocated land.
Initially Congress specified that unalloted land could not be sold by the Department of the Interior, but this was controversial even at the time, and over the next decade the Federal Government did sell much of the unalloted land and also turned a large portion of it into a national forest. The legality of these actions is still contested by the Chickasaws and Choctaws nations. They brought a lawsuit against the government in 2005 to recuperate the true monetary value of the resources that were taken from them, which include land, timber, and mineral deposits. The tribes agreed to enter into mediation with the government to avoid a costly lawsuit.
Lake Sardis lies within the lands that were taken from the tribes during the land allotment actions at the beginning of the 20th century.
This case is part of a larger trend emerging in the central plains and the west. In the face of mounting population growth and water scarcity, native tribes have been pursuing legal avenues to ensure that municipalities to respect their historic water rights. But thirsty, growing cities aren’t giving up the water without a fight, and even though the native tribes have a legal claim on the water, the law can be changed.
In April, in reference to the legal claim of the Chickasaws and Choctaws, Daniel McCool of the University of Utah told the New York Times, that “the more broadly tribes seek to assert their rights, the greater the risk that the federal courts — the Supreme Court in particular — will trim or even eviscerate earlier rulings establishing Indian rights.”
For one thing, the shear number of people competing for this water may make it difficult for the tribes to retain the rights. Oklahoma City, for example, has a population of 1.8 million. In 1990, there were 21,522 Chickasaws and 86,231 Choctaws.
|July 12, 2011||Posted by karmadsen under blog, Climate Change, Conservation, Desertification, Drinking Water, Groundwater and Agriculture, Water Rights|
The New York Times had a great article yesterday about a sever drought that has descended on 14 southern states. The drought could ultimately rival the Dust Bowl. Farmers are pumping wells dry in an attempt to save their crops. Read the article here.
|June 26, 2011||Posted by karmadsen under blog, Conservation, Desertification, Drinking Water, Groundwater and Agriculture, Groundwater in the News, Groundwater Regulation, Water Rights|
At present, water is extremely cheap in this country, with a gallon of water typically costing less than one cent. But the price of water is trending upward.
Rising water treatment costs, stronger regulations, and crumbling infrastructure are all putting pressure on the cost of municipal water in the United States. In a survey of 30 major metropolitan areas, Circle of Blue found that water prices rose about 9% last year.
Maybe we could learn something from Australia. In spite of being the driest inhabited continent in the world1, the cost of municipal water in Australia is much less than it is here. In 2007, their cost for municipal water was one Australian dollar per kiloliter2, which equates to roughly half a cent per gallon. Water prices in Australia are expected to climb 2.6% this year, mostly due to increasing energy costs, regulatory efforts towards green technology, and infrastructure projects, including the Sydney desalinization plant.
In Australia, the affects of water scarcity are already bumping up against, not only environmental health, but also economic growth. This crisis is spurring innovations in water management and infrastructure development that we may soon need to copy here. Their government continues to research best management practices relating to home rainwater collection, stormwater collection, wastewater recycling, desalinization, preventing evaporation from reservoirs, and drip irrigation.2
Australian economists study the most efficient way to allocate water in the marketplace1 and private companies allocate water through a license market. The total market is worth around $37 billion in Australian dollars, with the agricultural sector representing the bulk of license holders. The value of water licenses has skyrocket over the last few decades. In the State of South Australia a the cost of a megaliter of water went from $50 in 1990 to a peak of $2,600 in 2007. The cost will continue to climb in the long run, as the governments of some states have capped the number of new licenses that may be awarded and have even begun buying licenses back.
In the coming years, the United States would be wise to watch how the water economy develops in Australia. It may tells us something about what the future holds for us.
1. Roberts, R., Mitchell, N., and Douglas, J. Water and Australia’s future economic growth. Australian Treasury: Industry, Environment and Defense Division. Available at: http://www.treasury.gov.au/documents/1087/PDF/05_Water.pdf
2. Australian Water Association. (2007) Water in Australia: Facts & Figures, Myths & Ideas. Sydney: Australian Water Association. Available at: www.dubbo.nsw.gov.au/_literature_54950/Water_in_Australia. Accessed June 26, 2011.
|June 19, 2011||Posted by karmadsen under blog, Environmentalism, Groundwater in the News, Water Rights|
The National Groundwater Association has issued a call for volunteers. I just received this email, and I think its important to pass it on. Volunteering for the NGA has been a wonderful experience for me. Volunteer if you can:
“The challenges of our industry aren’t going anywhere. Population growth is putting a greater demand on groundwater resources. More groundwater is being withdrawn everyday to meet the expanding demands of our culture and day-to-day living. When done correctly and responsibly, groundwater is a safe and effective way to meet a community’s water requirements.
As groundwater usage increases so will the need for oversight and leadership. NGWA is dedicated to providing responsible development, management, and usage of groundwater but we can’t do it alone.
Only two minutes is needed to fill out the volunteer application. Your expertise and real-world, hands-on knowledge can help save communities, resources, and change the world!
2. Share and spread the word!
Share this message with others. Use the power of your address book and the Web to spread the word. It only takes a minute to forward. Simply click “forward” and send it to anyone you think would be able to use their knowledge and expertise to benefit the groundwater industry.
Volunteers for NGWA aid the drinking water source of millions of people. As a volunteer you influence the professions that provide and protect the natural groundwater resources. Your contribution shapes your community, the industry, and the world!
The deadline for responding to the 2012 NGWA “Call for Volunteers” is July 1, 2011. Appointments will be made in the fall.”
|May 30, 2011||Posted by karmadsen under blog, Conservation, Groundwater in the News, Water Rights|
Today, the New York Times published an article about the history and scope of the GRACE project, which uses variations in the earth’s gravity (monitored by satellites) to measure changes in aquifer storage. The Center for Hydrologic Modeling at the University of California developed the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment and have used it to to determine that groundwater is being depleted at a dangerous rate in many regions throughout the globe. Their findings must contend with complicated water politics and are limited to measuring storage over very large areas, but will clearly become and increasingly important part of water management in the future.
|May 11, 2011||Posted by karmadsen under blog, Conservation, Drinking Water, Groundwater and Agriculture, Groundwater and Surface Water, Groundwater elevation, Groundwater Pumping, Irrigation, Water Rights|
Groundwater banking, a management strategy of storing water supplies in aquifers for future use, is catching on in this country and around the world, particularly in dry climates. Water utilities in California have launched hundreds of water banking projects over the last few decades. In dry hot places, where great volumes of surface water are lost to evaporation, groundwater banking provides a cheap alternative.
In 2009, the International Water Management Institute determined that groundwater banking would be more useful in Gujarat, India than building canal projects. Droughts can render canals ineffectual, but groundwater is somewhat protected from evaporation.
There are three main types of banking:
- In liew of recharge: Farmers use water imported from outside the local water basin, allowing local aquifers to rebound naturally.
- Direct recharge: Farmers periodically go on a pumping hiatus, allowing the local aquifer to rebound naturally.
- Injection: The water authority injects water directly into the local aquifer at a time of water surplus. The water may be purified (often to potable quality) prior to injection. Injection methods include infiltration ponds, injection wells, and dual use wells
Water banking requires constant monitoring of water levels. To manage the system, the water authority must be able to differentiate between season water level changes and real aquifer decline.
To my mind, banking will be an important, if somewhat limited, component of future resource management. Aquifer storage may offer a slight efficiency improvement over surface water storage in terms of minimizing evaporation, but ultimately the water budget is intractable. Water taken from one basin can be moved to another, or surface water exchanged for groundwater, but eventually the resource will be tapped out if demand continues to grow.
To my mind, the greatest advantage of water banking is that it encourages carefully tracking and measurement of water use, and consequently inspire efficiency. The Semitropic Groundwater Storage Bank, founded in the 1990s in Kern County, California, considers water use accountability to be one of its core philosophies, carefully monitoring the balance in each of is accounts.
|May 9, 2011||Posted by karmadsen under blog, Climate Change, Conservation, Desertification, Groundwater and Agriculture, Groundwater Pumping, Groundwater Regulation, water ecology, Water Rights|
This April, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation published a report describing the squeeze climate change will put on the water budget of the Western United States. Groundwater is fairly sensitive to climate change.1 As temperatures increase, evapotranspiration will accelerate, impacting the entire hydrologic cycle and will lower the water level of aquifers and surface water bodies. With less snow and more rain falling, recharge patters will alter. The peak annual of recharge may shift towards the winter months and away from the spring. Recharge will also become more spread-out across seasons, as hydraulic storage in snow decreases.2
And all this could have an impact on our wallets. As change climate robs us of aquifer storage, the cost of water and food will climb. Modeling scenarios predict that warming temperatures will reduce the productivity of the Ogallala Aquifer, which accounts for 30% of all groundwater withdrawls in the US. 96% of water pumped from the Ogallala Aquifer goes to agriculture.1
The challenges is being taken seriously by the scientific departments of the federal government. In 2009, the Federal Climate Change and Water Working Group was formed to identify data gaps and support collaboration between government agencies and the scientific community. It includes NOAA, the USGS, the USACE, and the Bureau of Reclamations.
Simulated impact of climate change on long-term average annual diffuse groundwater recharge (under four different climate change models)3
1. U.S. Department of the Interior. (2011). SECURE Water Act Section 9503(c) – Reclamation Climate Change and Water 2011. Denver, Colorado: Bureau of Reclamation
2. Brekke, L.D., Kiang, J.E., Olsen, J.R., Pulwarty, R.S., Raff, D.A., Turnipseed, D.P., Webb, R.S., and White, K.D. (2009). Climate Change and Water Resources Management: A Federal Perspective. Circular 1331. Reston, Virginia: US Gelogical Survey. US Department of Interior.
2. M.L. Parry, O.F. Canziani, J.P. Palutikof, P.J. van der Linden, and C.E. Hanson (eds). (2007). Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007. Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press. Section 3.4.2 Groundwater: Figure 3.5. Simulated impact of climate change on long-term average annual diffuse groundwater recharge. Availalbe at: http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg2/en/ch3s3-4-2.html.
*Image reproduced with permission given in the copyright of the Intergovenmental Panel on Climate Change
|March 15, 2011||Posted by karmadsen under blog, Desertification, Drinking Water, Environmental Justice, Environmentalism, Groundwater Cleanup, Groundwater Contamination, Groundwater Pumping, Groundwater Regulation, Water Rights|
In 2007, the New York Times reported that pollution threatened to cripple China’s economic boom. Cancer had become the leading cause of death and 500 million people lacked access to clean drinking water. In Northern China, desertification was overtaking farm land and some aquifers had been depleted to such a degree that wells were drilled to depths of half a mile just to reach fresh water.
China’s economic transformation occurred rapidly and its environmental awareness struggled to keep up. In 2006, Yin Yueping, an expert with China Geological Survey told worldwatch.org that “China’s groundwater management is about 20 years behind the world’s most advanced levels.”
Environmental justice is emerging in China in response to the health burden associated with ecological decline, but it may look very different from environmental justice in the Untied States. In a 2002 Georgetown International Law Review article, Ruixue Quan argued that an appropriate environmental justice model for China would differ significantly from an American model. Quan asserted that instead of applying a model based on income or race, a Chinese model should examine the environmental affects of the spacial distribution of natural resources, industrial activity, legal regulation, and economic development.
Indeed, in China, water security is very tied to geography. In 1999, the World Resources Institute reported that a person living in Northern China had one fifth the fresh surface water resources of a person living in Southern China, and one forth the groundwater resourced. To make matters worse, China as a whole contends with the second lowest per capita water resources in the world.
In spite of these challenges, there are signs of change in China. The leadership of China has embraced clean energy, and takes a favorable view of environmental non-profits working in the country. This year, China announced that it will invest four trillion renminbi over the next decade to ensure sustainable water for its people and industries.
Government officials have also shown interest in improving environmental justice. In September 2010, China Power Newspaper conducted an interview with Chris Groves, director of the Hoffman Environmental Research Institute at Western Kentucky University, about his collaboration with Chinese officials to protect the Lingshui Spring. Groves explained that an understanding of environmental justice is still emerging in China and that a complex web of social, economic, and political factors often put the rural poor at an environmental disadvantage. The Lingshui Spring supplies drinking water to communites throughout Wuming county in the Guangxi Provence, including several communties of ethnic minorities. The spring is supplied by a karst aquifer system, a type of aquifer system which is extremely easy to contaminate through surface water runoff. In August 2010, US and China-based non-profits collaborated on a workshop to discuss environmental justice and protecting the water quality of the Lingshui Spring. It was attended by residents and political leaders from Wuming county, as well as academics from nearby universities.