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Wells Dry, Fertile Plains Turn to Dust

Michael Wines, New York Times
Forty-nine years ago, Ashley Yost’s grandfather sank a well deep into a half-mile square of rich Kansas farmland. He struck an artery of water so prodigious that he could pump 1,600 gallons to the surface every minute.

Last year, Mr. Yost was coaxing just 300 gallons from the earth, and pumping up sand in order to do it. By harvest time, the grit had robbed him of $20,000 worth of pumps and any hope of returning to the bumper harvests of years past…

Vast stretches of Texas farmland lying over the aquifer no longer support irrigation. In west-central Kansas, up to a fifth of the irrigated farmland along a 100-mile swath of the aquifer has already gone dry. In many other places, there no longer is enough water to supply farmers’ peak needs during Kansas’ scorching summers…
(19 May 2013)

How to Save Water-Starved Cities

Eric Jaffe, The Atlantic
Considering how blue this planet looks from outer space, it seems strange to worry that water supplies would run dry. But that’s exactly what’s happening in a lot of major metropolitan areas around the world. Turns out more than half of all global cities with populations greater than 100,000 people are located in regions with depleted water basins.

o what can thirsty cities do to secure a watery future? Well the first step may be getting in touch with local farmers. A new study [PDF] led by Brian Richter of the Nature Conservancy suggests that the key to replenishing city water supplies is forming urban-rural partnerships designed to decrease regional consumption:…
(16 May 2013)
Link to report

Water may reshape energy industry

Eli Hinckley, Christian Science Monitor Energy Voices blog
Demand for fresh water could exceed supply by an estimated 40 percent by 2030, pushing up prices for the water-intensive energy industry. Soaring water prices would help wind, solar, and natural gas, but hurt coal and nuclear plants…

There is a broad and growing consensus that freshwater is undervalued. It is a limited, but vital, commodity without a price. In nearly every region the price of water is the cost of water access rights, treatment costs, and transportation costs. There is no price or market for the water itself.

That will begin to change. Prolonged drought and overuse have depleted freshwater reserves at the same time that demand is rising rapidly. The resulting imbalance has some projections of demand for freshwater exceeding supply by as much as 40% by 2030 . Increasingly, water starved regions have begun to look to ways to both reduce overall use and to prioritize different types of use. While there are a number of policy approaches, one that seems to have wide support is the idea of regional exchanges where water could be priced (with adjustments for preferred uses) and sold.

The implications for the energy industry are significant. Fuel extraction is water intensive, especially for mining and fracking extraction – for fracked natural gas, about a gallon of water is required to extract one mmbtu. Electric generation from fossil fuels also requires large amounts of water. The average kWh produced from coal-fired electric generation uses a gallon of water, and while natural gas averages less water use, nuclear uses significantly more…
(19 May 2013)

Analysis: China: High and dry

Leslie Hook, Financial Times
Wang Fuguo, a 63-year-old cotton farmer, does not know when his ancestors began tilling the land in the dusty village of Weijie.

But he is fairly sure he will be the last of his family to do so…
(14 May 2013)

Stressed Ecosystems Leaving Humanity High and Dry

Stephen Leahy, IPS News
Everyone knows water is life. Far too few understand the role of trees, plants and other living things in ensuring we have clean, fresh water.

This dangerous ignorance results in destruction of wetlands that once cleaned water and prevented destructive and costly flooding, scientists and activists warn.

Around the world, politicians and others in power have made and continue to make decisions based on short-term economic interests without considering the long-term impact on the natural environment, said Anik Bhaduri, executive officer of the Global Water System Project (GWSP), a research institute based in Bonn, Germany.

“Humans are changing the character of the world water system in significant ways with inadequate knowledge of the system and the consequences of changes being imposed,” Bhaduri told IPS.

The list of human impacts on the world’s water – of which only 0.03percent is available as freshwater – is long and the scale of those impacts daunting…
(21 May 2013)

Forget peak oil—start worrying about peak water

Todd Woody, Quartz
A report released today by the US Geological Survey (USGS) today shows that Americans are sucking dry the aquifers that irrigate their crops and supply their drinking water. Between 1900 and 2008, the US lost 1,000 cubic kilometers (240 cubic miles) of groundwater. That’s twice the volume of the water in Lake Erie.

It gets worse. The rate of groundwater depletion is accelerating, according to the study of 40 major US aquifers. Between 1900 and 2008, the US lost an average of 9.2 cubic kilometers of groundwater annually as the growth of cities and industrial agriculture tapped underground reserves…
(20 May 2013)
Link to report

Water splash image via shutterstock. Reproduced at with permission.