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Archive for July, 2015

Scientists warn an entire eco-system is under threat from climate change

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Birds, bugs and blanket bogs — scientists warn an entire eco-system is under threat from climate change.
source: http://feeds.sciencedaily.com/~r/sciencedaily/earth_climate/water/~3/O2ThCu5r61E/150731070451.htm

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California 'rain debt' equal to average full year of precipitation

A new study has concluded California accumulated a debt of about 20 inches of precipitation between 2012 and 2015 — the average amount expected to fall in the state in a single year. The deficit was driven primarily by a lack of air currents moving inland from the Pacific Ocean that are rich in water vapor.
source: http://feeds.sciencedaily.com/~r/sciencedaily/earth_climate/water/~3/pWb9fwGMMRA/150730220033.htm

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Research spotlights a previously unknown microbial 'drama' playing in the Southern Ocean

A team of marine researchers has discovered a three-way conflict raging at the microscopic level in the frigid waters off Antarctica over natural resources such as vitamins and iron. The competition has important implications for understanding the fundamental workings of globally significant food webs of the Southern Ocean, home to such iconic Antarctic creatures as penguins, seals, and orcas.
source: http://feeds.sciencedaily.com/~r/sciencedaily/earth_climate/water/~3/eDvxywcAL0g/150730172346.htm

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Bering Sea hotspot for corals and sponges

North of the Aleutian Islands, submarine canyons in the cold waters of the eastern Bering Sea contain a highly productive ‘green belt’ that is home to deep-water corals as well as a plethora of fish and marine mammals.
source: http://feeds.sciencedaily.com/~r/sciencedaily/earth_climate/water/~3/JWtOcc0yq18/150730162242.htm

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Nature has more than one way to grow a crystal

New findings have implications for questions regarding how animals and plants grow minerals into shapes that have no relation to their original crystal symmetry, and why some contaminants are difficult to remove from stream sediments.
source: http://feeds.sciencedaily.com/~r/sciencedaily/earth_climate/water/~3/rYx8uv1Urwk/150730162234.htm

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The Stream, July 31: California’s June Conservation Figures Stand Strong at 27 Percent

The  Global Rundown

The Global Rundown

California has beaten its statewide water conservation target for another month. None of the 2016 Olympic venues in Rio de Janeiro are safe for swimming or boating. Former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Company will face charges stemming from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

“We will be in their face…. We are deadly serious about this.” — Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the California State Water Resources Control Board, on water districts that are still falling far short of their mandatory conservation targets. (Los Angeles Times)

By the Numbers

By The Numbers

27 percent – Amount of water California, on average, managed to conserve in June 2015 based on June 2013 figures. While California has again surpassed the statewide target of a 25% reduction in water use (conservation was at 29% in May), 16 water districts failed to meet their conservation standards by 15 percentage points or more. Los Angeles Times

Science

Science, Studies, And Reports

Not one of the 2016 Olympic water venues in Rio de Janeiro is safe for swimming or boating, according to tests commissioned by The Associated Press. Raw sewage is causing levels of viral and bacterial contamination that would have shut down beaches in the United States long ago. NPR

On the Radar

On The Radar

Three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) will face charges related to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, based on a decision made by a Japanese citizens’ panel. The executives are accused of failing to take measures to prepare for natural disasters such as the earthquake and tsunami that destroyed the plant in March 2011, causing three nuclear meltdowns, an evacuation of 160,000 residents, and contamination of air, soil and water. Reuters

The post The Stream, July 31: California’s June Conservation Figures Stand Strong at 27 Percent appeared first on Circle of Blue WaterNews.

source: http://www.circleofblue.org/waternews/2015/the-stream/the-stream-july-31-californias-june-conservation-figures-stand-strong-at-27-percent/

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The Stream, July 30: Costa Rica Considers Water System Overhaul

The  Global Rundown

The Global Rundown

In Costa Rica, several former presidents voiced support for legislation reforming the country’s water system. Nepal’s rice fields are suffering as drought stops farmers from planting, while drought-hit farmers in Canada can expect to receive financial relief from two major banks. Sinkholes are a growing problem along the Dead Sea coast in Israel.

“They have on a few occasions given us about a week’s notice, including the sinkhole that wrecked the highway. But there is nothing we can do with the information other than to send teams out, fill in each new hole with dirt and fix the damage after it occurs.”–Guy Dunenfeld, head engineer for the Tamar regional council in Israel, on the country’s attempts to monitor the formation of sinkholes along the Dead Sea coast. As the Dead Sea shrinks due to reduced water inflows, sinkholes are a growing problem. (Reuters)

By the Numbers

By The Numbers

$15.6 billion Estimated amount of money currently loaned to Canadian farmers by the Bank of Montreal and the Royal Bank of Canada. In response to a crippling drought in Western Canada, the two major Canadian banks are willing to waive fees and help farmers secure additional credit to ease their financial burden. Global News

Science

Science, Studies, And Reports

Approximately 80 percent of the rice fields in Nepal’s Mahottari District are still not planted due to poor rainfall, according to the country’s District Agriculture Development Office. The harvest is projected to be so bad that many farmers are migrating in search of better work. The Kathmandu Post

On the Radar

On The Radar

Four former presidents of Costa Rica released a joint video statement this week supporting the Water Resources Act, a piece of legislation first introduced in 2010 to overhaul the country’s water system. The act would close legal loopholes regarding water privatization, set price controls, prioritize water for human consumption, and recognize water access as a human right. ICR News

The post The Stream, July 30: Costa Rica Considers Water System Overhaul appeared first on Circle of Blue WaterNews.

source: http://www.circleofblue.org/waternews/2015/the-stream/the-stream-july-30-costa-rica-considers-water-system-overhaul/

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Texas Fund Turns Oil Dollars into Water Investments

Houston is the big winner in first round of state financing for new water infrastructure fund.

Houston skyline downtown Buffalo Bayou water infrastructure Texas SWIFT fund

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Creative Commons user Katie Haugland
The Houston metropolitan area will benefit from $US 3 billion in water supply projects that were selected last week for state financing. Click image to enlarge.

By Brett Walton
Circle of Blue

The oil and gas boom that began less than a decade ago and pulled the Texas economy through the recession is now paying dividends in securing the state’s water future.
Last week, the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB), a planning agency, approved $US 3.9 billion in state loans for 21 water projects – from reservoirs and distribution pipes to water treatment facilities and efficient irrigation canals.

The lack of investment in America’s water infrastructure – and the breaks, ruptures, and geysers spouting on Main Street – is a common lament. Cities from Chicago to Washington, D.C., are raising rates to pay for repairs. Texas is one of the few states, along with California, to address the problem with a sizable pot of public funds.

Texas voters in 2013 approved the use of $US 2 billion in oil and gas royalties to finance water projects. The successful ballot measure created the state fund known by its acronym, SWIFT. Local agencies will benefit from the investment in two ways: they will piggyback on the state’s sterling credit rating, which means a lower interest rate in the bond market, and they will receive an interest payment subsidy from SWIFT of up to 35 percent, depending on the type of loan that they choose.

TWDB estimates that $US 27 billion worth of projects over 50 years will be financed through SWIFT.

Houston Hits the Jackpot

The corporate capital of the Texas oil industry is the biggest beneficiary of the first round of SWIFT funding.

Applicants from the Houston metropolitan area received three-quarters of the funding – some $US 3 billion.

Houston’s needs are twofold, according to Mark Evans, director of planning and government affairs at North Harris County Regional Water Authority, a water wholesaler. First is the region’s swelling population. Harris County, which includes Houston, grew by 8.5 percent since 2010, adding roughly 350,000 people, which brought the county’s population to 4.4 million.

Houston’s second problem is rooted in past practices. Because so much water was pumped from the Chicot, Evangeline, and Jasper aquifers, parts of the region are sinking, a process called subsidence. The ground near Galveston Bay dropped by as much as 3 meters (10 feet) during the 20th century, according to data from the Harris-Galveston Subsidence District, a local agency created by the state Legislature to regulate groundwater use.

“There are not any areas that are not a concern for subsidence,” Robert Thompson, deputy general manager of the subsidence district, told Circle of Blue.

Harris and Galveston counties are under a mandate from the subsidence district to wean themselves from groundwater. A transition is already taking place. Groundwater withdrawals in the district dropped from 1.7 million cubic meters (450 million gallons) per day in 1976 to 727,000 cubic meters (192 million gallons) per day in 2014. Thompson said subsidence rates along the bay have “slowed, if not stopped.”

The projects financed by the SWIFT funds will complete the transition. One project is the $US 300 million Luce Bayou Interbasin Transfer, a 37-kilometer (23-mile) canal that will deliver water from the Trinity River Basin to Lake Houston, in the San Jacinto River Basin. A $US 2.7 billion expansion of the Northeast Water Purification Plant will provide additional capacity to treat and distribute the new surface water supplies to the five regional water authorities and the city of Houston.

“All of these are important projects for reducing subsidence,” Evans told Circle of Blue.

More projects will see SWIFT dollars in future funding rounds. TWDB expects to allocate $US 8 billion in the fund’s first decade.

The post Texas Fund Turns Oil Dollars into Water Investments appeared first on Circle of Blue WaterNews.

source: http://www.circleofblue.org/waternews/2015/world/texas-fund-turns-oil-dollars-into-water-investments/

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Sites Reservoir in Northern California Is 20th-Century Idea Trying to Fit the 21st

New water storage project would be largest in California since 1979.

By Keith Schneider
Circle of Blue

California drought irrigation farming water storage Sites Reservoir Sites Valley cattle

Photo © Keith Schneider / Circle of Blue
Grazing cattle vastly outnumber people in the Sites Valley of northern California, where a $US 4 billion reservoir is proposed. The reservoir would be the state’s fifth largest.Click image to enlarge.

MAXWELL, Ca. – The New Melones Dam and reservoir, which floods a 42-kilometer (26-mile) stretch of the Stanislaus River in the Sierra foothills near Yosemite National Park, is the last mammoth dam and water storage project built in California.

Proposed Sites Reservoir
California drought map Sites Reservoir Maxwell water supply storage irrigation Sites Valley Kaye LaFond Circle of Blue

Map by Kaye LaFond / Circle of Blue
Proposed location of the Sites Reservoir.Click image to enlarge.

Authorized by the U.S. Congress in 1944 and not finished until 1979, the 35-year story of the dam’s progress from idea to completion included resolving several engineering impediments and answering years of formidable public resistance. The construction of the 191-meter high dam (625 feet), one of the tallest in the nation, also was a measure of how long it takes the state, the federal government, and citizens to work through the various issues and actually turn a California valley into a manmade lake.

There is one more element that bears mention. Almost 40 years after it began operation, California’s four-year drought has turned the state’s fourth largest reservoir, capable of storing 2.4 million acre-feet of water, into a shallow brown pool that holds 343,000 acre-feet, less than 15 percent of its capacity.

Summed up, the New Melones storage project encompasses the idealism of mid-20th-century leaders intent on providing water for California’s massive and productive farm sector, the passions of late 20th-century activists determined to prevent the filling of a big reservoir and preserve a scenic stretch of a wild river, and the ecological realities of a new hydrological era that is miserly in producing water.

A Plan To Fill A Beautiful Valley

Whether any of these lessons are relevant now and over the next few years of decision-making about water supply is about to be tested in what looks to be California’s next consequential consideration of a formidable water storage project. On the table in Sacramento, the state capital, is a proposal to fill a Front Range valley east of this dust-blown northern California town with enough water to make it the state’s fifth largest reservoir. The Sites Reservoir is at the very top of the list of storage plans eligible for $US 2.7 billion in water project construction bond funds approved overwhelmingly last year by the California Legislature and state voters.

California drought irrigation farming water storage Sites Reservoir sign John Sites Front Range

Photo © Keith Schneider / Circle of Blue
The town of Sites, California, was named for John Sites, a landowner who settled in the Front Range valley in the 1880s. Sites today is a crossroad settlement of a handful of homes and a town square that exists only in a wooden sign.

The deep, 5,700-hectare lake (14,000 acres) would inundate a magnificent Colusa County basin of grasslands surrounded by rolling hills that was settled in the late 19th century and is populated by thousands of grazing cattle and a scant number of landowners. Residents of this region, including the largest landowner in the Sites Valley, overwhelmingly support the water storage proposal. Farmers and business leaders assert that the project, capable of holding 1.8 million acre-feet of water, would keep irrigated farms in business, establish a new recreation area and the economic activity that would accompany it, and help ensure the survival of endangered salmon runs in the nearby Sacramento River.

Catalyst California drought water town halls save the date Circle of Blue Maestro

Circle of Blue
Join the conversation with water experts in a series of virtual, interactive town hall events hosted by Circle of Blue and MaestroConference. Explore California’s drought in a global context and learn how the state is charting a path to water security in the 21st century.Click image to enlarge.

“People here like the idea. They like it a lot,” Nadine Bailey, chief operations officer of the Family Water Alliance, a 24-year-old farm advocacy group based in this town of 1,100 residents, told Circle of Blue. “It will augment the existing water storage projects here. It will also enable us to capture and store water from storms, which is a big help in times of drought, like the one we’re in now.”

State officials are equally enthusiastic.

“Sites is a very good project from what we see,” said James Wieking, the supervising engineer in charge of the Sites project at the state Department of Water Resources, in an interview with Circle of Blue. “It’s going to be very competitive for bond funds.”

But the Sites Reservoir also represents an idea from the big and very expensive water supply and distribution planning of the mid-20th century. Sites Valley was identified as a potential reservoir location soon after Lake Shasta, the state’s largest reservoir, began to fill in the mid-1940s. Opponents argue that at an estimated cost of nearly $US 4 billion, the Sites project is no longer nearly as relevant or as effective for assuring a stable water supply as cheaper and less land-consuming 21st-century ideas, such as recharging aquifers, changing cropping patterns, developing many more wastewater-to-irrigation recycling projects, and applying water to crops more efficiently.

California drought irrigation farming water storage Sites Reservoir Tehama-Colusa Canal

Photo © Keith Schneider / Circle of Blue
The Tehama-Colusa Canal transports water to irrigate northern California agriculture and communities.

“The four-year drought tells us California is in a new hydrological cycle,” Ron Stork, a senior policy specialist for Friends of the River, an environmental group in Sacramento, told Circle of Blue. “You can build all the reservoirs you want, but there’s no guarantee they will fill with water. The people who support the Sites project think they can still dam their way to paradise. That’s no longer possible.”

Water Supply Ideas in Conflict

To a large extent, the Sites Reservoir is emblematic of differing ideological views about water supply, agriculture, and the usefulness of big centralized or smaller decentralized community and regional water infrastructure construction projects. After years of discussion, California’s Legislature and voters in 2014 approved a $US 7.5 billion water bond that displayed the best water supply ideas culled from two centuries of experience.

From the 21st century, the bond proposal’s authors promoted water conservation, capturing and recycling stormwater and wastewater, safeguarding and cleaning up polluted groundwater, and providing drinking and wastewater infrastructure for disadvantaged communities. The bond’s authors also focused on restoring streams, providing water for refuges and habitat, and managing water supplies across watersheds. All of these ideas expressed the view that the era of bountiful water in California is over and more careful deployment of available supplies and natural systems is in order.

California drought irrigation farming water storage Sites Reservoir Sites Valley ranches

Photo © Keith Schneider / Circle of Blue
Just a handful of ranches occupy the Sites Valley in northern California where a US$ 4 billion reservoir is proposed.

But the largest single investment identified in the bond came straight from the mid-20th century: the $US 2.7 billion reserved for more water storage. That provision was included to satisfy conservative lawmakers and their constituents in the farm community convinced that the solution to California’s water woes is a big new storage reservoir, expansion of an existing reservoir, or projects to recharge some of the state’s depleted aquifers.

All of the ideas, though, are fraught with 21st-century budget limitations, transactional challenges, and ecological uncertainty. Ajay Goyal, chief of the Statewide Infrastructure Investigations Branch of the Department of Water Resources, explained that recharging depleted aquifers, for instance, involves transporting sufficient supplies of fresh water to one of the open expanses of land identified for recharge by the state and allowing the water to slowly seep into aquifers.

“Here’s the problem,” said Goyal. “Where do we find the surface water to do that?”

A second impediment is how the state will disperse funds for water supply projects. The water bond will pay no more than half of a project’s full budget up to a maximum of $US 1.6 billion. The balance must come from other sources.

And of the state’s portion, half must be devoted to “public benefits”, such as improved water quality, habitat restoration, and in the case of Sites Reservoir, providing water to assist in restoring the endangered fall Sacramento River salmon runs.

California drought irrigation farming water storage Sites Reservoir Tehama-Colusa Canal rice storage bins

Photo © Keith Schneider / Circle of Blue
Farm storage bins along the Tehama-Colusa Canal contain rice, northern California’s most important grain crop.

Sites Reservoir Could Make Sense

California water managers have been continuously evaluating potential water storage sites for decades. As the water bond proposal gained political momentum, five projects elevated to the head of the priority list, though four had big problems:

  • Raising the dam at Shasta Lake, near the Oregon border, would illegally back up water in designated federal and state wild and scenic rivers.
  • Raising the dam to add storage capacity at Los Vaqueros Reservoir, east of Oakland, would cost over $US1 billion and was superfluous. The dam was just raised.
  • Spending an estimated $US 360 million to expand San Luis Reservoir, east of Fresno, would only yield 7,000 acre-feet of new water in dry years, a pittance.
  • A fourth proposal to invest $US 2.5 billion to build a new Temperance Flat Dam and reservoir on the upper San Joaquin River would only add 30,000-acre feet of new water supply in a dry year and invite a pitched battle with conservationists over protecting a free-flowing stretch of the river.

That leaves the $US 4 billion Sites Reservoir as a top contender for the maximum $US 1.6 billion award in state water storage bond funds. The balance would need to be provided by the federal government or users of the water. The California Water Commission is charged with reviewing applications and making award decisions, which will not come until December 2016 at the earliest.

Aside from its considerable cost, which is virtually certain to escalate as the years pass, the Sites Reservoir proposal has several strong features that could prompt its construction. One is that almost nobody lives in the valley. Shifting land ownership from private hands to the state involves moving just a handful of residents. It is a far cry from building dams and reservoirs in China or India, which typically involves pushing tens of thousands of people off their land.

California drought irrigation farming water storage Lake Oroville Reservoir Sites Reservoir water levels

Photo © Keith Schneider / Circle of Blue
Water supplies stored in California’s big reservoirs are near record lows. Lake Oroville, east of the proposed Sites reservoir location, is California’s second largest reservoir. It currently contains about 1.19 million acre-feet of water, or less than a third of its 3.55 million acre-feet of storage capacity.

Second is that the reservoir, formed by two major dams and seven to nine smaller shoulder dams, is estimated to provide 400,000 to 600,000 acre-feet of water during dry years. That is enough to help keep water fresh in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the state’s great irrigation water supply mixing zone, and to keep cold water in storage in Lake Shasta for the fall Sacramento River salmon run. The reservoir would fill by pumping water from the Sacramento River during the winter and spring, when there are high flows from streams and tributaries below Shasta Dam.

Whether or not the Sites Reservoir is approved, it will be no help at all for a long time. Planning, design, and environmental reviews will take two to three years. Construction is anticipated to take at least five years and could last a decade, say state authorities.

.

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source: http://www.circleofblue.org/waternews/2015/world/sites-reservoir-in-northern-california-is-20th-century-idea-trying-to-fit-the-21st/

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The Stream, July 29: India Monsoon Rains Good So Far, Despite El Nino

The  Global Rundown

The Global Rundown

Monsoon rains are performing well in most of India. A major copper mine in Papua New Guinea is closing temporarily because of low river levels, while copper mines in Zambia are experiencing electricity shortages due to insufficient hydropower supplies. Oregon ordered state agencies to cut water consumption, scientists in Toledo, Ohio, monitored drinking water for algal toxins, and Switzerland apologized to France after taking water for thirsty livestock. A recent oil sands spill in Alberta could mean more opposition to new pipelines.

“Every high profile incident and spill, especially those that involve operator malfeasance, gets major play and adds to the call to stop new pipelines.”–Michal Moore, an economist at the University of Calgary, on the likely ramifications of an oil-sands pipeline spill in Alberta earlier this month. Opponents of new pipeline projects have long argued that they pose risks to land and water. (Bloomberg)

By the Numbers

By The Numbers

75 percent Land in India that has received normal or above normal rainfall this season, despite forecasts that an El Nino would diminish the annual monsoon. Bloomberg

15 percent Targeted cut in Oregon state agencies’ water consumption by 2020. Governor Kate Brown ordered the cuts on Tuesday, saying they are necessary “as water shortages become the new normal.” Reuters

20,000 cattle Number estimated to be dehydrated in the Swiss Alps due to a strong heatwave. Efforts to bring water to the thirsty livestock resulted in an inadvertent water grab from a French lake—for which Switzerland apologized. Newsweek

Science

Science, Studies, And Reports

Scientists at the drinking water plant in Toledo, Ohio, are on watch for microcystin toxins as algae blooms form in Lake Erie. While some toxins have been detected in the lake, the city’s drinking water remains safe. Toledo Blade

On the Radar

On The Radar

Operations at the Ok Tedi copper mine in Papua New Guinea will temporarily shut down due to low water levels on the Fly River. The river is used to generate power for the mine and transport copper products to port. Reuters

Power shortages have started to affect copper mines in Zambia, where low hydropower reserves are hurting electricity production. Industry sources say the mines could face further power cuts up to 25 percent. Reuters

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source: http://www.circleofblue.org/waternews/2015/the-stream/the-stream-july-29-india-monsoon-rains-good-so-far-despite-el-nino/

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