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From Sewage, Added Water for Drinking

Randal C. Archibold, New York Times
It used to be so final: flush the toilet, and waste be gone.

But on Nov. 30, for millions of people here in Orange County, pulling the lever will be the start of a long, intense process to purify the sewage into drinking water – after a hard scrubbing with filters, screens, chemicals and ultraviolet light and the passage of time underground.

On that Friday, the Orange County Water District will turn on what industry experts say is the world’s largest plant devoted to purifying sewer water to increase drinking water supplies. They and others hope it serves as a model for authorities worldwide facing persistent drought, predicted water shortages and projected growth.

The process, called by proponents “indirect potable water reuse” and “toilet to tap” by the wary, is getting a close look in several cities.
(27 November 2007)
Looks like an energy-intensive process. One of the under-covered energy stories is the great amount of energy used to gather, process and distribute drinking water (water for irrigation is less energy-intensive).

Also, we can expect to see more stories on what we had earlier labeled “waste.” Energy Bulletin has several articles coming on humanure and waste in Australia. -BA

Owners of thirsty lawns, beware. The water cops are here

Richard Crossley, Christian Science Monitor
As a drought grips Los Angeles, the city sends its ‘Drought Busters’ out to teach citizens to save water.

“Who ya gonna call?”

The famous buzz phrase from the 1984 movie, “Ghostbusters” is being heard on the lips of Los Angeles water officials grappling with two of the driest years in the city’s history.

Their answer: “drought busters.”

The program, which helped cut water use by about 30 percent during a drought in the 1990s, comes as the entire state takes step to conserve water.

A federal judge has told state water authorities to cut up to 30 percent of their usual deliveries, starting next month, to protect endangered fish. Last week, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California announced it was buying water from farmers in the state’s Central Valley. San Diego has announced a similar deal with farmers in the Imperial Valley. Hundreds of farmers are idling fields, and manufacturers such as silicon-chip makers are rethinking water processes.

And then there’s Richard Crossley and his 15 colleagues. Each “water cop” drives a white Toyota Prius (complete with “Drought buster” logo) and wields a polite smile, handshake, and an armload of bulging information packets.

“Hi, I’m with the Department of Water and Power, and as I was driving by, I noticed a lot of overspray into the street,” says Mr. Crossley to Margarita Rojas, a housekeeper who answers the door of a house on Norton Avenue. The sidewalk in front of the house is soaked, and a two-inch-deep puddle of water has gathered.

…The main reason Los Angeles has stuck to the educational approach over strict enforcement, say officials, is that it has worked. Since the six-year drought in the early ’90s, the city has added 1 million residents but managed to keep water use to 1990s levels.
(27 November 2007)

Planetary Check-Up Starts With the Oceans

Stephen Leahy, IPS
If continents are the Earth’s sturdy bones and the atmosphere its thin skin, then the oceans are its heart, circulatory system and blood. And despite the crucial role played by the oceans in the health of the planet, and to our own health and well-being, there is little monitoring of ocean health.

Once the oceans were too big and too deep to probe, measure and observe, but between satellites, undersea robots, electronically tagged fish and deep sea sensors, scientists now have the tools.

On Tuesday, high-level officials began meeting in Cape Town, South Africa to see if governments have the will to create a Partnership for Observation of the Global Oceans (POGO) — a 10-year project to create a comprehensive monitoring system of what has been described as the last frontier.

“We have pathetically few measurements of the oceans relative to their importance to life on Earth and the extent to which we rely on them for energy, weather, food and recreation,” said D. James Baker, former administrator of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
(27 November 2007)

We Face Worldwide Drought with No Contingency Plan

Tom Engelhardt, via AlterNet
As droughts reach record levels from Atlanta to Australia, no one is asking the tough question: What happens when there is not enough water to go around?

… Imagine this scenario:

Over the last decade, 15 to 20 percent decreases in precipitation have been recorded. These water losses have been accompanied by record temperatures and increasing wildfires in areas where populations have been growing rapidly. A fierce drought has settled in — of the hundred-year variety. Lawns can be watered but just for a few hours a day (and only by bucket); four-minute showers are the max allowed. Car washes are gone, though you can clean absolutely essential car windows and mirrors by hand.

Sound familiar? As it happens, that’s not the American Southeast either; that’s a description of what’s come to be called “The Big Dry” — the unprecedented drought that has swept huge parts of Australia, the worst in at least a century on an already notoriously dry continent, but also part of the world’s breadbasket, where crops are now failing regularly and farms closing down.

In fact, on my way along the parched path toward Atlanta, Georgia, I found myself taking any number of drought-stricken detours. There’s Moldova. (If you’re like me, odds are you don’t even know where that small, former Soviet republic falls on a map.)

Like much of southern Europe, it experienced baking temperatures this summer, exceptionally low precipitation, sometimes far less than 50 percent of expected rainfall, failing crops and farms, and spreading wildfires.

Tom Engelhardt, editor of, is co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The End of Victory Culture.
(25 November 2007)
We linked before to this article, but it continues to get attention. For example, Sharon Astyk writes You Must Read This: “This piece puts together the truly terrifying truth about drought – it may not be rising sea levels that should scare us most.”