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U.S. intelligence sees global water conflict risks rising

Andrew Quinn, Reuters
Fresh water supplies are unlikely to keep up with global demand by 2040, increasing political instability, hobbling economic growth and endangering world food markets, according to a U.S. intelligence assessment released on Thursday.

The report by the office of the Director of National Intelligence said that areas including South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa will face major challenges in coping with water problems that could hinder the ability to produce food and generate energy.

The report said that a “water war” was unlikely in the next 10 years, but that the risk of conflict would grow with global water demand likely to outstrip current sustainable supplies by 40 percent by 2030.

“Beyond 10 years we did see the risk increasing,” a senior U.S. intelligence official told reporters. “It depends upon what individual states do and what actions are taken right now to work water management issues between states.”

The official declined to discuss the risks for specific countries, but in the past water disputes have contributed to tensions between rivals including nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, Israel and the Palestinians, and Syria and Iraq.

The report, drafted principally by the Defense Intelligence Agency and based on a classified national intelligence estimate, said that water in shared basins would increasingly be used by states to pressure their neighbors…
(22 March 2012)

Reflections on a Thirsty Planet for World Water Day

Sandra Postel, National Geographic
…Every year since then the UN has selected a different water theme for the day. Past themes have focused on water and cities, culture, sanitation, pollution, disasters and trans-boundary cooperation. This year’s theme is water and food security, with the tag line: “the world is thirsty because we are hungry.”

For me, this year’s theme is the 800-pound gorilla of water challenges. Agriculture accounts for the lion’s share of global water consumption. We “eat” at least a thousand times more water than we drink. The thirsty business of growing crops – in the ways and places that we do to meet the demands of seven billion people – is the primary reason earth’s rivers are running dry, aquifers are being depleted, and lakes are shrinking before our eyes.

Demographers project that the world will add another one billion people by 2025. That means, between now and then, an additional 210,000 people will join the global dinner table every night. At the same time, many millions will achieve incomes sufficient to add more meat to their diets. Because it takes water to grow the grain to feed the cows, pigs and chickens, this means the water footprint of that global dinner table could rise considerably faster than population growth.

I ran some numbers. Under some quite conservative assumptions, it could take an additional 1,314 billion cubic meters of water per year – equal to the annual flow of 73 Colorado rivers – to meet the world’s dietary needs in 2025…
(22 March 2012)

Las Vegas plans to pump water across 300 miles of desert approved

Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian
Contentious plans to pump water across 300 miles of desert to Las Vegas were given the green light on Thursday.

The ruling, from the state water engineer, Jason King, will allow the city to go ahead with a plan to draw water from four thinly populated valleys of eastern Nevada.

King did not give Las Vegas all of the water it was seeking. But the award of nearly 84,000 acre-feet of water, from the Spring, Cave, Dry Lake and Delamar valleys should help Las Vegas escape a worst-case scenario where it would run out of drinking water by the middle of the next decade.

“In formulating the decision, the state engineer’s Division of Water Resources conducted a thorough review of all evidence, testimony and exhibits, along with taking into consideration all public comment. The best science available was identified, and Nevada’s water law was applied in the rulings,” King’s office said in a statement.

Environmental groups, and a coalition of cattle ranchers and native Americans from eastern Nevada who have been fighting the project, said they would fight the decision in the courts…
(23 March 2012)

China plans to curb capital’s water usage

AFP, Asia Online
Authorities in Beijing plan to pass a rule this year aimed at curbing water usage by the capital’s many golf courses and ski resorts, an official said Monday, as the city battles severe shortages.

The guideline also targets waterhouses – common areas where locals gather to carry out daily washing chores – said an official at the Beijing Water Authority, which oversees water usage in the capital.

“The guideline is still under review, and is expected to come into force this year,” Ning Manjiang, who is in charge of the project, told AFP.

According to the official Xinhua news agency, the targeted venues will be given water quotas and will have to pay more fees for the precious resource…
(26 March 2012)

The Colorado River delta blues
Sandra Postel, LA Times
River deltas are among the most biologically productive ecosystems on Earth, and for millions of years the delta of the Colorado River was no exception. After a 1,450-mile journey from its headwaters in the Rocky Mountains south into Mexico, the Colorado sustained verdant marshes teeming with life before emptying into the aquatic Eden of the upper Gulf of California…

…Today, the Colorado delta is a shadow of its former self. Once one of the planet’s most vital aquatic ecosystems, it is now one of the most threatened. A low-altitude flight over the region reveals a desiccated landscape of salt flats and cracked earth. There is little sign of a living river because the river is gone; in all but the wettest years, it disappears into the desert sands a short distance south of the border.

The decisions that led to the delta’s decline date, ironically, to 1922, the same year Leopold canoed through the marshy wilderness. In late November of that year, then-Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover traveled to Bishop’s Lodge outside of Santa Fe, N.M., to broker an agreement divvying up the liquid lifeline of the Southwest.

All seven U.S. states in the basin were represented, but two voices were missing. One was that of Mexico. The other was the river itself…
(25 March 2012)
Image credit:Shutterstock/Colorado river delta