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Is growth over?

Cary Lowe, Los Angeles Times
California’s continuing water crisis may mean the end of the state as we have known it.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s recent executive order certifying that California is in a drought and directing state agencies to start thinking about what to do about it is only the latest sign that a way of life built on cheap and readily available water is coming to a close. For much of the state, June was the driest month on record, according to the National Climatic Data Center. The continuing water crisis raises the question of whether we are approaching the limits of growth in California.

For the last century, it seemed there was no limit. More than any other state, California’s economy and population exploded, a growth spurt fueled in large part by abundant water supplies. Now we may be at a turning point, especially in Southern California.

The most obvious indicators certainly point in that direction. Snowmelt in the Sierras, which historically has filled the state’s major reservoirs and aqueducts, has been shrinking steadily. California’s rights to Colorado River water have been gradually scaled back by regional agreements and mounting claims by other states. Court orders in response to environmental lawsuits aimed at protecting endangered fish species have slashed water deliveries from the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta. And reduced rainfall throughout the region has made it increasingly difficult to replenish groundwater basins…
(20 July 2008)

Mideast facing choice between crops and water

Andrew Martin, New York Times
CAIRO — Global food shortages have placed the Middle East and North Africa in a quandary, as they are forced to choose between growing more crops to feed an expanding population or preserving their already scant supply of water.

For decades nations in this region have drained aquifers, sucked the salt from seawater and diverted the mighty Nile to make the deserts bloom. But those projects were so costly and used so much water that it remained far more practical to import food than to produce it. Today, some countries import 90 percent or more of their staples.

Now, the worldwide food crisis is making many countries in this politically volatile region rethink that math.

The population of the region has more than quadrupled since 1950, to 364 million, and is expected to reach nearly 600 million by 2050. By that time, the amount of fresh water available for each person, already scarce, will be cut in half, and declining resources could inflame political tensions further.

“The countries of the region are caught between the hammer of rising food prices and the anvil of steadily declining water availability per capita,” Alan R. Richards, a professor of economics and environmental studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said via e-mail. “There is no simple solution.”…
(21 July 2008)

Spain’s water fair tackles conservation with innovation

Lisa Bryant, Voice of America
The northeastern Spanish city of Zaragoza is hosting an international water fair to highlight the importance of this vital and increasingly threatened resource. Spain is no stranger to water scarcity. The country is juggling competing demands of urban development, tourism, agriculture – and climate change. Lisa Bryant takes a look at the problems – and the solutions – for VOA from Zaragoza.

Running until September, Zaragoza’s international water fair is enormous. Countries from all over the world are hosting exhibits. Local musicians stage concerts throughout the day and well into the night.

Straddling the Ebro River, one of Spain’s major tributaries, this ancient city is a good place to showcase the importance of water. Water scarcity is a reality in the coastal and southern regions of Spain, and even in parts of the Aragon region in the country’s northeast, where Zaragoza is located. Experts say climate change is compounding the problem, with longer spells of dry weather.

The Mediterranean city of Barcelona was even forced to import water from Marseille France, this year – until major rains swept across the region. But they amount to only a short-term reprieve…
(21 July 2008)