The Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development is much bigger than its [three] predecessors — Stockholm in 1972,-
A transboundary initiative aimed at providing clean drinking water and proper sanitation between Angola and Namibia is making steady progress. The Kunene Transboundary Water Supply Project -- is a good model of trans-boundary cooperation in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC). The KTWSP will improve the water supply for around 700,000 residents of southern Angola and northern Namibia, providing for domestic consumption, irrigation, and industry. The project includes the rehabilitation of the Calueqe Dam in southern Angola, which suffered extensive damage during the country’s 27 years of civil war. So far, some 35 million dollars have been invested in the project, which is being funded by the Namibian and Angola governments and contributions from the UK, the German Development Bank and Australia.
Dr Kuiri Tjipangandjara, an engineer at the Namibia Water Corporation (NamWater) and co-Chair of the KTWSP, told IPS that construction of a new pipeline between the southern Angola towns of Xangongo and Ondjiva has already begun. This link will supply treated water to various towns and villages along its route, such as Namacunde, Santa-Clara and Chiedi. Designs for the network to distribute water within and around Ondjiva are in progress, as are plans for another bulk water pipeline linking Santa Clara to the Namibian town of Oshakati.
Tjipangandjara said Angola has also begun setting up a water utility for the Kunene region. "There was nothing in place before, and it takes time to set up such a utility and other facilities of the project," he said. Numerous design and feasibility studies must be conducted and approved by all involved parties: Angola, Namibia, SADC and the German Development Bank. "Of course it will be a state-owned utility," he said, but he did not venture to predict if it would eventually operate on a cost-recovery basis like NamWater, explaining that each country designs its own policies – dictated by the reality on the ground and by history. -
In the past year alone, say Chinese officials, levels in nine lakes on the Yunnan-Guizhou plateau (South China) have dropped by 70cm, marking a total loss of 300m cubic metres of water. The regional drought is now in its third year, and in that time 270-odd rivers and 410 small reservoirs have dried up in Yunnan alone. Residents at lower elevations are better able to tap into groundwater, and have so far been able to carry on as before.
Even so, not only hilltop farmers are affected. Residents in Yunnan’s capital, Kunming, suffer periodic stoppages in supplies of tap water. West of the city, dry conditions are causing forest fires. The region’s growers of such valuable crops as tea and medicinal herbs have suffered, causing prices of those commodities to soar. Hydropower production has also fallen with water levels. Officials report that last year nationwide output rose by 9% year-on-year, but in the southern provinces of Yunnan, Guizhou, Guangdong, Guangxi and Hainan drought caused a 47% fall in reserve power capacity.
The repercussions threaten to affect an ambitious central-government project, imperial in scale, to transfer vast amounts of water from the south to the parched north of the country. China has already invested 137 billion yuan ($22 billion) in what it calls the South-North Water Diversion Project, and is set to invest another 64 billion yuan this year. The idea is to pump water from the Yangzi river northward through pipes and canals along three separate routes. Priority is given to the eastern route, which by 2014 is expected to bring 1 billion cubic metres of water a year to Beijing—a quarter of the capital’s annual supply. From its inception, the vast scheme has suffered both delays and criticism. One concern has been the cost, both of the initial construction and of the expense of pumping so much water over such distances. The project has also required that at least 330,000 residents along its course accept being relocated.
The river systems of Yunnan and Guizhou figure only modestly in the planned supply chain of the South-North Water Diversion Project. But if the causes of the drought in these provinces have to do with changing global climate patterns, the main assumption underlying the project—that of permanent water abundance in the south—may not hold up. Liu Xiaokang of the Yunnan Green Environment Development Foundation, an NGO in Kunming, believes the causes are mixed. Global climate may be affecting patterns of precipitation, he says. But his group also notes that the parts of Yunnan that are hardest hit are those where development has been fastest and deforestation most extensive. Marco Gemmer of China’s National Climate Centre says droughts across southern China are linked to changing patterns in other parts of the world, such as anomalies in the Arctic oscillation or in the ocean current La Niña. Short-term droughts have occurred in the region for all of recorded history, but they may now occur with far greater frequency. His colleague, Professor Jiang Tong, warns of problems with the transfer project if both south and north suffer drought at the same time. The situation, he adds, is complicated by the Yangzi’s Three Gorges dam. It provides massive amounts of hydroelectricity to the Yangzi basin. He is concerned about what will happen should Shanghai need more power at the same time that Beijing needs more water.
Water Shortages: Ms Fang’s parched patch, Economist, April 14, 2012, at 56
Israel wants to become the Silicon Valley of water technology. The conditions are ripe: the country has plenty of scientists, an entrepreneurial culture and a desperate shortage of fresh water. Netafim, one of the world’s biggest “blue-tech” firms, got its start on a kibbutz in the Negev desert. Intrigued by an unusually large tree, an agronomist discovered that a cracked pipe fed droplets directly to its roots. After much experimentation the firm was founded in 1965 to sell what has become known as drip irrigation. Today it boasts annual sales of over $600m and a global workforce of 2,800. In 2006 the Israeli government launched a programme to support water companies, for instance by helping them to market their products abroad. It also created (and later privatised) Kinrot Ventures, the world’s only start-up incubator specialising in water technologies.
A new crop of water-tech firms is emerging, many of them started by computer-industry veterans. “I wanted to invent more than just a new ringtone,” says Elad Frenkel, the boss of Aqwise, a firm that provides gear and expertise to build wastewater treatment plants. Facilities based on the firm’s technologies feature what it calls “biomass carriers”, thimble-sized plastic structures with a large surface area. In wastewater pools they give bacteria more space to grow and thus allow biological contaminants to be consumed more quickly.
Emefcy, a start-up, is also in the wastewater business. It aims to reduce the energy required to clean water, which currently gobbles up 2% of the world’s power-generating capacity. One of its products uses special “electrogenic” bacteria to turn wastewater pools into batteries of sorts. If they work as planned, they could generate more electricity than is needed to treat the wastewater.
The mission of TaKaDu, another start-up, is to discover leaks in a water-supply network, sometimes before they happen. It does this by sifting through the data generated by the network’s sensors to look for anomalies. Even a 1% change in flow rate, if persistent, can point to a leak. TaKaDu’s detection engine is now monitoring water-supply systems in a dozen places, including London and Jerusalem.
Israel still has far to go, however, before it can truly call itself the Silicon Valley for water. Its domestic market is small. Its neighbours, though also desperate for water, are for some reason reluctant to seek help from Israelis. Elsewhere in the world, competition is stiff. Singapore also wants to be a water-tech hub. In developing economies, local players are strong and margins thin. And in America, water is often underpriced and sometimes not even metered.
The Silicon Valley model may not fit the water industry. Venture capitalists are always in a hurry, but water markets are cautious. “You can have bugs in a piece of software, but no bacteria in a water system,” says Jonathan Kolodny of McKinsey, a consultancy. Yet the environment is growing more favourable, says Ori Yogev, the chairman of White Water, whose products monitor water quality. Thanks to new rules as well as privatisation, water utilities are more open to new ideas. This is good news, says Amir Peleg, the chief executive of TaKaDu. “It’s not the water that is scarce, but innovation.”
Excerpts, Water technology: Striking the stone, Economist, May 14, 2011, at 81
In 2007 Oliver Wanger, a federal judge in California, ordered the huge pumping stations of the Sacramento Delta, the largest estuary on the west coast of the Americas, to reduce by a third the water they delivered to two aqueducts that run south to the farms of the San Joaquin Valley and onward to the vast conurbations of southern California. His reason was the delta smelt, a translucent fish less than eight centimetres (three inches) long that lives only in the delta and is considered endangered under federal law. The pumping plants were sucking in the fish and grinding them up. The next year, a "biological opinion" by the federal Fish and Wildlife Service reinforced Judge Wanger's order. Pumping from the delta remains restricted.
The consequences of these restrictions, which coincided with a drought that is now in its third year, reach far beyond one small population of fish. About two-thirds of Californians get at least some of their water from the delta, so with the stroke of a judicial pen the entire state, the world's eighth-largest economy and America's "fruit basket", entered an economic and political crisis.
Water has divided Californians since Mark Twain remarked that "whiskey's for drinking, water's for fighting over." But this latest conflict comes as America's largest state is politically gridlocked and holding back a national economic recovery. From Australia to Israel, parched places all over the world are now looking to California to see whether, and how, it solves one of the most intractable problems of thirsty civilisations in dry regions.
The pumping restrictions were a huge victory for environmentalists, who fill the ranks of one of the three armies in California's perennial water wars. With increasing success since the 1970s, greens have argued that the delta in particular, and California's dammed rivers and wetlands in general, are on the verge of ecological collapse and must be saved.
For the other two armies, the restrictions amounted to a stinging defeat. One army consists of urban consumers in the dry south, represented by the Metropolitan Water District, which supplies water to about 19m people, over half the state's population, and gets 30% of its supply from one of the two delta aqueducts. The authority has had to pay farmers in the Central Valley to give up their allocations and let their fields lie fallow, says Jeffrey Kightlinger, its boss. This year it also had to impose mandatory conservation measures.
The pain has been far worse, however, for the third force: agriculture. The farmers and farm workers who have been hardest hit live in the western San Joaquin Valley, which is supplied by the Westlands Water District, America's largest irrigation authority. Westlands has contracts to draw water from the other (federally financed) aqueduct. Tom Birmingham, its boss, says that, because of the drought and the pumping restrictions, it is receiving only 10% of its entitlement this year.
The result, says Mr Birmingham, is fallow land, farm workers being laid off and "people standing in food lines for hours". In some areas unemployment runs at 40%. There are scenes reminiscent of John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath", though most of the poor and jobless are not white "Okies", but Latinos. Just as the "dust bowl" swept across the Great Plains in the 1930s, so in the San Joaquin Valley, fields are reverting to desert and signs read, "Congress created this dust bowl".
"All my almond trees are going to die," says Shawn Coburn, a farmer in the area. He began farming in 1992 and has done everything he can to use water more wisely. He has planted fewer tomatoes and melons and more almonds and wine grapes because these crops drink less and yield more. He says he has conserved all he can with technology. Like other farmers, he has also dug wells to tap the shrinking aquifers, even though he knows he is making the entire valley floor sink. In one place, he says, the ground around a telephone pole has dropped by six feet (nearly 2 metres).
The environmentalists are not denying that their victory has cost agricultural jobs. But Jonas Minton of the Planning and Conservation League, a Californian non-profit outfit, thinks that a public-relations firm paid by the farmers has been exaggerating their misery. In any event, he says, the problem is not a court ruling but a system in which the state has pledged eight times as much water to title-holders as exists in nature and therefore cannot, of necessity, give everybody his due.
Jim Metropulos, a lobbyist at the Sierra Club, another environmental group, agrees. "I cannot control a drought," he says. Westlands' Mr Birmingham can complain, he says, but, "Why do we have to give him more water?" It so happens that Westlands' water rights rank below those of other title-holders and "there is simply not enough water to go around."
Angry and bitter words are thus flying on all sides, which is as it has always been in California. But this time the crisis has become so severe that the state's legislators in Sacramento, notoriously incapable of agreeing on anything serious, including a punctual budget, appear on the brink of a breakthrough. A complex package of legislation was almost passed in September and failed only because time ran out in that session. The legislators are now talking again. A deal could emerge for a vote within weeks.
Timothy Quinn, director of the Association of California Water Agencies, which represents the suppliers of about 90% of the water consumed in California, credits the pumping restrictions for this progress. He says Judge Wanger forced all sides to acknowledge the seriousness of the situation. His decision was the "equivalent of an earthquake" whose shock was severe enough to shake California's democracy. Therein lies, perhaps, the opportunity.
The details of the legislation negotiated so far are complex, but its main feature is a phrase, "coequal goals"-though how coequal goals differ from equal ones is not clear. For most of the previous century, says Mr Quinn, California and the entire West had an "extraction mindset" according to which man was meant to subdue and exploit nature. In water matters, this meant ever more dams, reservoirs and aqueducts. However, over the past four decades the environmentalist mentality grew up as an alternative, emphasising "sustainable" use of nature.
California's water policy in the past has swung "like a pendulum" between these two principles, depending on which lobbyists have won the latest victory, says Lester Snow, the director of California's water department. Enshrining the objectives of both sides as "coequal" in state law would thus mean progress, by requiring all factions to consider both fish and farms, both nature and the economy, both sustainability and reliability.
"It's a huge step," agrees Mr Kightlinger of the Metropolitan Water District. In practice, most water managers in the state already take sustainability seriously, but making equality official would force all sides to "play nicely", he thinks. The old rivalry between urban and agricultural water use has already faded, he says, and today's animosity between both of them and the greens may also subside.
Westlands' Mr Birmingham says that, in practice, water usage has already become equal. Whereas agriculture used to consume 80% of the state's water supply, today 46% of captured and stored water goes to environmental purposes, such as rebuilding wetlands. Meanwhile 43% goes to farming and 11% to municipal uses.
The environmentalists, as today's top dogs, are less excited about equal goals. At present the state's water infrastructure is run with a single goal, which is to protect nature, and this, says Mr Metropulos of the Sierra Club, provides complete clarity of purpose. Equality, he thinks, will only lead to new conflicts and litigation. When the time comes for trade-offs, he asks, "Who's going to make the decision? It is undefined." He is lobbying against the legislation, although he is unlikely to prevent it.
The next layer of legislative proposals will concern the Sacramento Delta, the inland network of streams and rivers, many contained by dykes and levees, that form the hub of California's water infrastructure. Californians hate rain but love water, so three-quarters of them live in the arid south, spurn the wet north where three-quarters of the rain falls, and expect water to come to them by pipe, canal or aquifer, preferably courtesy of the taxpayer.
The Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and their tributaries, carrying the rain from the north and the melting snowpack from the Sierra Nevada in the east, meet in the delta and flow out through San Francisco's Golden Gate. The trick has always been to intercept the fresh water in the delta before it gets salty and to send it south as well as west to the San Francisco Bay area.
Those in the south get it through two huge infrastructure networks. The federal Central Valley Project, dating from 1937, uses 20 upstream reservoirs and two pumps to take water to the southern Central Valley, largely for farmers. The State Water Project, begun in 1960 by Pat Brown, a visionary governor, uses another 22 upstream dams and reservoirs and its own pumping plant to send water into the other aqueduct, largely for urban use.
By pumping fresh water south, however, these two projects wreak ecological havoc. Sceptics like to inveigh against the unprepossessing delta smelt, which George Radanovich, a Republican congressman, has called "a worthless little worm that needs to go the way of the dinosaur". But other fish species such as the Chinook salmon, the steelhead and the longfin smelt are also threatened, and each species is a part of a complex food chain. About 25% of the state's sporting fish and 80% of its commercial fish live in or migrate through the delta.
The pumps kill fish and other species, and not just by grinding them up. They also change, and occasionally reverse, the water flow of the small rivers in the delta's vast labyrinth of streams, creeks, sluices, islands and marshes. In natural circumstances, the delta is brackish and its salinity changes with the tides. The pumps, by drawing in river water, keep the delta water artificially fresh. Native species die, invasive species thrive.
Beyond that, the ageing delta's levees are a human disaster in the making. The delta sits on top of seismic faults that may rupture, and many of the islands that make it up are below sea level. A large earthquake could disrupt the state's water supply and inundate the delta itself.
The best answer, says Ellen Hanak, a water expert at the non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California, is to build either a canal or a tunnel around the delta. Fresh water could then be tapped upstream on the Sacramento River and conveyed round the delta to the aqueducts without grinding up fish, reversing river flows or changing the delta's salinity, which would again fluctuate with the tides. The water going south would be fresher too. A canal would thus "separate the water for the fish from the water for the economy and the people," says Mr Quinn.
The trouble is that such a peripheral canal is a political hot button. In 1982 Jerry Brown, Pat Brown's son and California's governor at the time, put a canal on the ballot but the voters rejected it. Even now, many people are passionately against it. Farmers and residents in the delta itself fear that a bypass would mean that politicians and public money would abandon them amid their disintegrating levees, and others would grab their water. The Sierra Club is against a canal because "it is not going to make new water" and "we want to reduce exports from the delta" rather than reroute its flows, says Mr Metropulos.
The legislation under negotiation is therefore taking a different approach. Instead of decreeing a bypass canal or tunnel outright, it seeks to establish a new authority with the power to take this decision itself. This is sorely needed. Mr Snow at the water department has counted more than 200 entities, from cities and counties to fisheries and reclamation or irrigation districts and even mosquito-abatement boards, that share responsibility in such a way that nobody has any. A new and nimble "Delta Council" would seize authority from all of them and actively manage the delta for the first time. And it could do this by building a canal.
One sign of progress by Californian standards is that, if the deal gets stuck, it will be largely over relatively banal issues such as money. The legislation is likely to mandate investment in new dams and reservoirs, which appeal to Republicans, and also in waste-water recycling, desalination and groundwater storage, which are the environmentalists' and Democrats' preferred sources of water. But Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Republican governor, has said that he will veto any legislation that does not include billions of dollars in new bonds to pay for these new projects.
State Republicans, allied to farmers, are pushing for "general-obligation" bonds that would be put to the voters on a ballot and, if approved, paid out of general state tax revenues. Democrats are concerned that the interest on such bonds would aggravate California's continuing budget dispute and come at the expense of education, health care and other things they mind about. They prefer bonds that would be repaid by the users of new dams, ie, the water agencies that can pass costs on to their customers. Water thus trumps ordinary politics. Republicans, who usually claim to be against big government, want taxpayers to pay; Democrats, generally accused of being big spenders, want to match infrastructure costs with water revenues to send the right price signals.
The legislation is likely to encourage water conservation by setting targets for reducing consumption. One guess is that it may call for a cut of 20% per person by 2020. That cannot be a bad idea. On the other hand, little progress is being made on monitoring groundwater levels, even though many aquifers are shrinking. Some of the state's water districts voluntarily measure groundwater levels, but Republican legislators have opposed making such reporting mandatory on the ground that it would mean trespassing on private property. "California is the last bastion of the Wild West when it comes to groundwater," says Ms Hanak. It may stay that way.
Whatever happens, the legislation will not deal with the long-term threats to California and its neighbours. Climate change is already showing up "in the data", says Mr Quinn. The snowpack of the Sierra Nevada, California's most reliable water-storage system, is shrinking and may stop yielding predictable run-off in the spring and start producing sporadic and unusable, not to mention disastrous, floods. The delta is already below sea level and, as the sea rises, it may be submerged. Even today the south is a desert wherever irrigation does not reach. It will become even drier.
For professional water managers such as Mr Kightlinger, this makes the continuing talks in Sacramento frustrating. "‘I'm for screwdrivers but not for hammers': that's how they talk," he says. But he thinks all the tools are needed if California's population and economy are to keep growing.
Of those tools, water recycling, a euphemism for cleaning up sewage, is perhaps the most promising. Recycled water is local and does not disappear in a drought. But many consumers continue to struggle with the idea that what they are drinking today someone else restored to the water system yesterday. Desalination, which removes minerals from seawater or, more often, brackish groundwater, is an alternative. But it takes a lot of energy to push water through the dense filters that remove unwanted salts and other molecules. Water markets, which allow those with too much water to trade it easily with those who have too little, could also help.
If there is to be any progress, however, Californians first have to bury their hatchets. If the talks stall, the political fallout will be big. Tom Campbell, the most thoughtful Republican candidate for governor in next year's election, thinks water is by far the most important issue facing the state. Willie Brown, a former speaker of California's Assembly and mayor of San Francisco, believes "a political earthquake is rumbling in the Central Valley over water, and it could cause a real tsunami for the Democrats in the 2010 elections if they don't handle it well," since Democrats are more associated with environmentalists and several of them face re-election.
For the same reason, if the negotiations succeed, even a mediocre deal would amount to the most important water legislation since the era of Pat Brown, says Mr Quinn. Westlands' Mr Birmingham feels that many environmental groups, such as the Natural Resources Defence Council and the Nature Conservancy, have become "genuinely interested in working with water agencies", even though others are "using water as a means to limit housing development".
"I am very optimistic for the long term," says Mr Birmingham. "The real question is how are we going to survive between now and the time when new conveyance facilities become available," which could be a decade or more. "If we continue to live under the existing biological opinions, irrigated agriculture in the western San Joaquin Valley cannot be sustained," he says. For farmers such as Mr Coburn and his 26 Latino workers, never mind his almonds and wine grapes, the help may arrive too late. This is perhaps the only thing they have in common with the delta smelt.
California's water wars: Of farms, folks and fish, Economist, Oct. 22, 2009, at 27
Officials in Sudan's government in Khartoum could hardly believe their luck when, on July 22nd, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled on the fate of the disputed Abyei state, which sits astride the oil-soaked border between Arab northern Sudan and the ethnically African (and largely Christian) south Sudan. Surprisingly, the court reversed an earlier commission's ruling and redrew Abyei's borders, snipping out the lucrative Heglig and Bamboo oilfields (see map) and giving them to the north.
The ownership of these oilfields has soured relations between the north and south Sudanese ever since a peace accord was signed between them in 2005, ending a civil war that had raged on and off for nearly half a century at a cost of some 2m lives. So tense had the situation in Abyei become that last year much of its capital was burned to the ground in fighting between militias from the two sides. Now, however, the north seems to have got what it wanted by law rather than by force.
The head of President Omar al-Bashir's National Congress Party delegation in The Hague, Dirdeiry Muhammad Ahmed, said it was a "great achievement" that ownership of the oil had been settled "without conflict". However, perhaps intoxicated by victory, he then stirred a bit of animosity by suggesting that the government in Khartoum would stop paying half of the oil revenue from Heglig and Bamboo to the south, as it must do under the 2005 peace deal. As South Sudan's government relies on oil for almost all of its revenue, these comments were bound to provoke. Other northerners were more conciliatory. In any case, the north's true position will become clearer after a technical committee of north and south begins work on the border's final demarcation.
Ministers in South Sudan's capital, Juba, at first claimed they had "won the case", then grew puzzled. Then a sense of vertigo set in; perhaps the north had "won" after all. For southerners looking forward to independence, the thought of losing any oil is upsetting. That may explain why this week the south began to claim that the Heglig field has not been granted to the north at all but is still in the south because it extends into Unity state. This blithely contradicts the case South Sudan made at The Hague. "It's a rather desperate measure," admits a well-placed southerner. Even if the south has no chance of winning the oil back, it may drag out legal proceedings to satisfy its hotheads at home.
At least the court ruling pleased the Ngok-Dinka people. When the south votes in the 2011 referendum, Abyei state will exercise a special dispensation (which is nothing to do with the ruling at The Hague) letting it choose whether to stay in a federal Sudan or to secede with the south. As the state is now smaller within its new boundary, the Ngok-Dinka is the dominant tribe in it-so their vote will probably ensure that Abyei goes to the south.
Yet oil has blinded both sides to the question of land. Heglig and Bamboo produce low-quality crude. Oil men say their production is dropping off quickly, to 53,000 barrels a day. That could reduce revenues to less than $300m a year by 2011-hardly enough to go to war over. It is access to land that has always been the more combustible issue in this part of the world.
The Misseriya people, who are Arab pastoralists, had hoped the ruling would give them the right to run their cattle freely through Abyei, as they have long done, often in violent opposition to the sedentary Dinka people. Yet under the court's ruling, the Misseriya may now have to pay grazing fees to the Dinka. A dissenting Jordanian judge on the arbitration court said the ruling makes the Misseriya "second-class citizens on their own land and creates conditions which may deny them access to water." Some Misseriya protested after the ruling. Usually allies of the government in Khartoum, and sometimes its proxy fighters, they say they have been betrayed for a few dry oil wells.
So a mess prevails. People now look forward to the demarcation of electoral districts and the rest of the north-south border for national elections next year and then for the referendum. Both north and south appreciated the openness and speed of the court's mediation. Some say it could be a model for solving the many other outstanding issues between the quarrelsome Sudanese. If only.
Sudan's border dispute over Abyei: Do they agree? Yes, no, and sort of, Economist, Aug. 1, 2009, at 43
Ever since they started pumping water for their vines, the winegrowers of Langhorne Creek have learnt to cope with crises. But none as grave as the one they face now. Their water source at the mouth of the Murray River, in South Australia, has turned salty. Adelaide, the state capital 55km (34 miles) away, has been told its water supply from the Murray can no longer be guaranteed. The Murray Darling Basin Authority, a new body charged with saving Australia's biggest river system from expiring, has its work cut out.Early last month Rob Freeman, the authority's boss, delivered grim news. The volume of water flowing into the Murray and its main tributary, the Darling, between January and March was the lowest in 117 years. The three-year volume up to March was the driest ever. Mr Freeman told Adelaide's 1m people this meant that not enough water might be conveyed down the Murray to meet their "critical human needs" next year. Just 17 years ago, Adelaide relied on the Murray for only 10% of its water: regular rains filling dams in the city's hills provided the rest. Now, it depends on the Murray for 90%.
Climate change and Australia's worst drought in a century are partly to blame. But the river system that covers two-thirds of Australia's irrigated farming land is also suffering from decades of overuse. South Australians feel this with growing bitterness. They are at the end of the line in a system that starts about 2,700km north. The more populous states of Queensland and New South Wales (NSW) comprise four-fifths of the basin's area. Farmers, especially cotton and rice growers in those upstream states, account for 83% of the basin's consumed water. The impact of all this has left the Murray's mouth near Langhorne Creek close to ruin.
The wine region's first water came from an ancient aquifer. Too much pumping forced the authorities in the early 1990s to switch water licences to the Murray, 10km away at Alexandrina, one of two lakes at the mouth facing the Southern Ocean. Plenty of water then flowed through the basin to keep the lakes fresh. Langhorne Creek's wineries boomed. A crunch came last year. The flows stopped, and Alexandrina's level has dropped 1.5 metres. Its water is now too saline to use. The authorities are now pondering the harsh step of building a weir at nearby Wellington to stop the salt water moving back into the Murray itself. Experts predict this would in effect destroy the lakes and their surrounding freshwater wetlands. Penny Wong, the federal minister for climate change and water, says the "unfortunate reality" of the flow figures means the option must be kept as a "last resort".
Growers at Langhorne Creek and nearby Currency Creek, meanwhile, have formed a company to build a pipeline to secure their water from a cleaner point on the Murray further east. They may yet survive. Australia's interstate water-trading scheme has allowed the state to buy water from distant farmers in NSW, who have switched to less thirsty crops, and keep it in store for Adelaide. Mr Freeman's body, launched by Canberra late last year, is the first with power to manage the entire river system, overriding rivalries between the four basin states, so that calamities such as Lake Alexandrina's don't happen.
Unless drought-breaking rains come, that will be a tough ask. Craig Willson, proprietor of Bremerton winery at Langhorne Creek, and a director of its pipeline company, reckons drought and loss of the lake's water have cut the region's productivity by almost 40% over the past two years. "Even so, we're surprised at how well some vines survive using less water," he says. Applied to growers of other crops, the same lesson may help save the Murray.
South Australia's water shortage: In need of a miracle, Economist, May 9, 2009, at 56
In the dry south-western part of California's Central Valley, almond-growers are resorting to desperate measures. Some are trimming their trees so they can survive on less water. Others are spraying them with a chemical to retard growth. Dan Errotabere is planning to mix fresh water with salty, boron-tainted groundwater, in effect poisoning his soil. He has also got rid of less valuable crops and left some 1,500 acres (600 hectares) of his 5,600-acre farm to lie fallow.Before the 1930s this land was desert. Then the federal government built a vast irrigation system. Water from the Sierra Nevada mountains in northern California is pumped out of the Sacramento delta and dumped into a canal that runs 400 miles (640km) through the temperate Central Valley. It is an engineering marvel and an economic boon. In 2006 California's agricultural output was worth $31 billion, more than any other state. By contrast, worldwide ticket sales for Hollywood's films in that year amounted to $25 billion.
The trouble is that there is not enough water to go round. Snow levels in the Sierra Nevada mountains are below normal for the third year in a row. Judges have curtailed pumping in order to protect the delta smelt, a small, endangered fish. Last month Westlands Water District, in which two-fifths of Mr Errotabere's land lies, learnt that it would get no water from the federal canal this year. (The district may get a trickle if the rain is good in March.)
This would be an economic catastrophe even if California were not already mired in a deep recession. As farmers take land out of production, employment falls and the price of some crops is likely to rise. Small farming towns like Huron, which appear rickety at the best of times, are now desperate. Crowds of young Hispanic men loiter on street corners in the middle of the day. But the drought is also forcing changes that will help agriculture in the long run.
Farmers like Mr Errotabere have begun to use water more efficiently, dripping it through perforated hoses rather than flooding fields. There is a growing market in water trades between farmers. Most important, the state has set up a water bank. Farmers north of the Sacramento delta, many of whom grow rice, can offer to keep fallow their least productive lands and sell water to cities and needy farmers farther south. The contracts are still being negotiated, but the price to farmers in the Westlands Water District is likely to be close to $500 per acre-foot-that is, the amount that it takes to flood an acre of land a foot (30 cm) deep. It is more than three times the sum that farmers paid last year.
This is no free market. The state sets the price, and since demand even at $500 per acre-foot greatly exceeds supply, water must be rationed. The market is also crimped by a rule that no more than 20% of farmland in any county may lie fallow. And no fields that contain giant garter snakes may be allowed to dry out.
Yet it is a crucial change. The problem with water in the American West is not that it is too scarce but that it is too cheap. Low, stable prices have encouraged some farmers to waste water and to pour it on low-value crops like rice and alfalfa, while others struggle to sustain valuable almond trees. The water market that is emerging in California helps change that. There is an old saying that water flows towards money. At last it is starting to do so.
Water in California: Dust to dust, Economist, Mar. 5, 2009
When researchers analyzed vials of treated wastewater taken from a plant where about 90 Indian drug factories dump their residues, they were shocked. Enough of a single, powerful antibiotic was being spewed into one stream each day to treat every person in a city of 90,000.And it wasn't just ciprofloxacin being detected. The supposedly cleaned water was a floating medicine cabinet - a soup of 21 different active pharmaceutical ingredients, used in generics for treatment of hypertension, heart disease, chronic liver ailments, depression, gonorrhea, ulcers and other ailments. Half of the drugs measured at the highest levels of pharmaceuticals ever detected in the environment, researchers say.
Those Indian factories produce drugs for much of the world, including many Americans. The result: Some of India's poor are unwittingly consuming an array of chemicals that may be harmful, and could lead to the proliferation of drug-resistant bacteria. "If you take a bath there, then you have all the antibiotics you need for treatment," said chemist Klaus Kuemmerer at the University of Freiburg Medical Center in Germany, an expert on drug resistance in the environment who did not participate in the research. "If you just swallow a few gasps of water, you're treated for everything. The question is for how long?"
Last year, The Associated Press reported that trace concentrations of pharmaceuticals had been found in drinking water provided to at least 46 million Americans. But the wastewater downstream from the Indian plants contained 150 times the highest levels detected in the U.S.
Margie Mason, World's highest drug levels entering India stream, Associated Press, Jan. 25, 2009