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As Texas Withers, Gas Industry Guzzles

Josh Harkinson, Mother Jones
At Trinity Park, a popular picnic spot near downtown Fort Worth, Texas, a scorching summer has killed stately oaks and turned lawns into brittle moonscapes. On the park’s eastern edge, loud diesel generators pump some 4 million gallons of water from the Trinity River, though they’re not supplying the park or city residents, who began facing drought-imposed watering restrictions on Monday. Instead, Chesapeake Energy is piping the water across the park to frack a nearby natural gas well.

As Texas faces its worst single-year drought ever, many drinking wells have failed, entire towns could go dry, and millions of residential water users face mandatory cutbacks. A study released at a meeting of Texas water districts yesterday predicted that the drought will persist through next summer. But so far, the state’s booming and increasingly thirsty natural gas industry faces no limits to how much water it can pump…

(1 September 2011)

Saudi Arabia’s water needs eating into oil wealth

Reem Shamseddine and Barbara Lewis, Reuters
Long before it understood the value of oil, the desert kingdom of Saudi Arabia knew the worth of water.

But the leading oil exporter’s water challenges are growing as energy-intensive desalination erodes oil revenues while peak water looms more ominously than peak oil — the theory that supplies are at or near their limit, with nowhere to go but down.

Water use in the desert kingdom is already almost double the per capita global average and increasing at an ever faster rate with the rapid expansion of Saudi Arabia’s population and industrial development.

Riyadh in 2008 abandoned what was in retrospect clearly a flawed plan to achieve self-sufficiency in wheat and aims to be 100 percent reliant on imports by 2016…

The lack of water also poses a major challenge to the kingdom’s hopes to develop its mining sector to diversify its economy given the water-intensive nature of the industry.

“Gold is there but we don’t have water,” Mohammed Hany al-Dabbagh, vice president of precious metals and exploration at state-controlled minerals firm Saudi Arabian Mining Co said.

“Water is as precious as gold.”…

But just as peak oil theorists believe the world’s conventional oil supplies are at or near their peak, proponents of the peak water view have said the resource has been irreversibly drained.

Booz and Company has said some of the region’s aquifers — also referred to as “fossil water” as they contain rain that fell thousands of years ago — have become too salty to drink…

The alternative to desalination — the energy-intensive process of converting salt water to fresh water — robs Saudi Arabia of its other precious resource, oil, by eating up both fuel and fuel revenues…
(7 September 2011)

Sandra Postel: Water World, Uncut

Todd Reubold, momentum
Whether it’s 500-year floods or 100-year droughts, water has been one of the top news stories in 2011. Good ol’ H20 will likely grow in prominence over the coming decades as growing demand due to rapid population growth collides with increasing unpredictability of supply. Momentum recently caught up with Sandra Postel, founder of the Global Water Policy Project, to discuss current freshwater challenges and our unending thirst for water in the 21st century.

When did you first become interested in water-related issues?

I’ve been interested in environmental issues since I was at least a teenager, if not earlier. When I left grad school at Duke I took a job with a small natural resources consulting firm in California and was given the opportunity to work on freshwater issues. We had some work going with the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers and so I got my feet wet, so to speak, in water pretty early out of grad school.

Can you tell me more about the organization you founded, the Global Water Policy Project?

The Global Water Policy Project is an umbrella for a variety of things that I do, but the goals really are to begin to move ideas and policies and advance ways of harmonizing human use of water with the protection of the natural world. It’s really focused on the question of, “How can we begin to meet the needs of this growing human population while sustaining the ecosystems that support not only the rest of life, but us, too?”

How would you characterize our relationship with water today?

We know that freshwater is finite, it’s the basis of life and there are no substitutes for it. But we’re not using it and managing it as if any of those things are really true. So there’s a big disconnect with these known truths about freshwater and the way we go about using and managing it.

The entire path of development over the 20th century has been about acquiring more water. As we run out, we find more. And we build more and bigger water projects. We drill more groundwater wells. And that worked for a time, but clearly it’s not working anymore. And so I think the challenge is to re-integrate how we use and manage water with those fundamental truths about freshwater. And that really is a game-changer. Once you start aligning our use of water, our policies around water, and our management goals around water with those fundamental truths at the core, it shifts everything.

Issues like climate change and energy seem to grab all the attention, but you’ve said one of our greatest challenges—if not the greatest—will be related to water. Can you elaborate?

First of all, to some extent we’ll experience climate change in large part through its impact on the water cycle. We’ll experience it through more and severe floods or more severe rainstorms. Where I am in the Southwest right now it’s very dry and expected to get much drier and much hotter. So, I think we’ll experience a lot of climate change through the water cycle…
(Fall 2011)