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Conservationists rip water policy, quit state panel

Beth Daley, Boston Globe
Members of four influential conservation groups abruptly resigned from a state waterway advisory panel yesterday, alleging that a new state policy undercuts environmental protection of rivers so greatly that some could run bone dry.

Members of the Conservation Law Foundation, Charles River Watershed Association, Ipswich River Watershed Association, and Clean Water Action sent a joint resignation letter to Governor Deval Patrick saying the policy “removes any environmental consideration’’ from decisions about how much water is safe to remove from a river basin for industry, agriculture, or household use.

The resignations are the most significant break yet between environmentalists and the Patrick administration, which has largely enjoyed the groups’ support. They also underscore the growing pressure on the state’s 11,000 miles of rivers and streams for lawn watering and other uses as development spreads out from Boston. Today, 160 rivers and streams already suffer from low flows or water levels.

“This move makes a mockery of sustainable water management,’’ said Peter Shelley of the Conservation Law Foundation. The groups pulled their representatives from the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Water Resources Management Advisory Committee, saying the panel – specifically assembled to help guide the state on water issues – was not consulted on the state’s new approach…
(15 Oct 2009)

Finding Water from Outer Space

Vince Beiser, Miller-McCune
The Land Cruiser rattles and bumps down a stripe of rutted dirt carving through the brush in this remote corner of southern Angola. Half a mile to the west, the tranquil blue Atlantic glimmers in the African sun. To the east, miles of spiky desert grass fade away to a range of sere mountains. The last village lies miles behind us, the next miles ahead.

In the front seat, Alain Gachet, a plump, boyish 58-year-old, his thick crest of silver hair crammed under a leather Indiana Jones hat, is focused intently on the laptop balanced on his knees. The computer is plugged into a tiny GPS unit set on the dashboard. On the screen, a thin yellow line tracking our progress creeps forward over a map stippled with thousands of differently colored squares.

“Stop here!” Gachet cries suddenly.

…A former oil industry geologist, Gachet has developed a path-breaking, high-tech system that could help slake that growing thirst. The key: using satellites high above the Earth’s surface to see what’s underneath it.

By combining terabytes of space-based photographic imagery, ground-penetrating radar and topographic data — much of which has only recently become available — Gachet creates multispectral maps that are proving excellent guides for finding undiscovered underground aquatic resources. At the height of the Darfur crisis, the United Nations called on Gachet to help find sustainable locations for camps in Chad that now house thousands of refugees. It was the first time such technology had been used in a humanitarian emergency. “Gachet’s work was an extremely important contribution at a time when it was not sure that [the U.N.] would be able to provide water for the long term for all refugees,” says Marc-Andre Bunzli, a former U.N. official who worked with Gachet in Chad. Since then, Gachet has located water in Darfur itself, as well as in parts of Afghanistan, Iraq and Eritrea.
(19 Oct 2009)
related: Guidance from Above on Food Insecurity

Melting Himalayan ice prompts conflict fear

James Lamont, Financial Times
On the outskirts of Kathmandu, capital of Nepal, climate researchers twiddle with computers displaying maps of the Himalayas. At the press of a button, rivers and mountain passes change colour and watercourses expand to show villages swept away by simulated flood waters.

Not all the researchers at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development are pondering the devastation that would result from the bursting of high-altitude glacial lakes, though. Some are considering what awaits millions of people when the ice and snow caps of the “water towers of Asia” – so called because of the 10 big rivers originating in the peaks – are depleted by global warming. Few are willing to guess when this will happen, but their charts and photographs of retreating snowlines and glaciers have the whiff of inevitability.

Already mountain hydrologists can pinpoint where water stress will be greatest in the years to come. As the availability of water in Himalayan-fed river systems that support 1.3bn people drops, researchers expect the border between India and Bangladesh to be the first flashpoint of an intensifying battle across south Asia.

“If we don’t address this [issue], it will further aggravate political conflict,” warns Golam Rasul, senior economist at the research centre…
(19 Oct 2009)