Toledo water crisis a wake-up call

If what happened in Toledo this month doesn’t scare you, it should.

In a modern U.S. city — on the Great Lakes, the nation’s most expansive freshwater resource — some 400,000 residents went days without water after an algae bloom turned the waters of Lake Erie into something resembling pea soup. Treated water was unsafe for human consumption, even if boiled, even for bathing or cleaning dishes.

Here’s the worst part: This crisis was almost entirely man-made. And unless something changes, it will keep happening.

The toxin microcystin was produced by a blue-green algae in Lake Erie. States don’t require testing for this toxin, and there are no state or federal regulation of acceptable standards of microcystin, which can cause health problems such as abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, liver inflammation and pneumonia. When coming in contact with skin, it can cause rashes, hives and blisters.

This type of algae needs warm temperatures, nitrogen and phosphorus to grow. Nitrogen and phosphorus arrive in lake waters via sewerage overflows and runoff that contains agricultural and residential fertilizers. Humankind is providing the warmer temperatures through climate change.

Ecologists suggest in a story by the Detroit Free Press’ Keith Matheny that the problem could occur again as blooms expand in late August and early September.

This isn’t the first time algae blooms have threatened Lake Erie. In 1960, the lake’s oxygen levels dropped so sharply that it was declared “dead” because of algae blooms. Its recovery is largely the product of standards put in place by the U.S. Clean Water Act. But in 1995, algae blooms began again, the Toledo Blade reports, as researchers tracked an increase in the amount of phosphorus deposited in the Maumee River.

If the impacts of pollution or climate change seem largely theoretical to you, what happened in Toledo should bring it all very, very close to home.

There are a number of practical policy steps any state with significant freshwater resources should be taking. First is to develop state safety standards to provide guidelines for acceptable quantities of nutrients like nitrogen or phosphorus, something few states have,according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, an important part of reversing the impacts of pollution. Ditto microcystin.

At the federal level, lawmakers should stand firm behind the Clean Water Act.

There’s no credible scientific counterweight to theprevailing opinion that climate change is happeningand that it is caused by human activity. Yet policymakers continue to wrangle over the reality of climate change as though it’s fringe science. There are sensible steps that can and should be taken to curb human behavior that causes climate change, but it’s a question lawmakers — particularly on the Republican side of the aisle — aren’t taking seriously.

Eleven million people rely on Lake Erie for drinking water, 26 million on the Great Lakes.

If the water crisis in Toledo doesn’t spur voters to demand response and lawmakers to take action, what will?

— Detroit Free Press (via http://www.wausaudailyherald.com/story/opinion/2014/08/13/make-toledo-water-crisis-wake-call-view/14012431)

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Indiana Chamber forecasts water shortages

Indiana isn’t facing the dramatic water shortages hitting California, but a new report from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce warns the state’s water supply won’t be adequate to meet future needs unless government better manages and distributes the valuable resource.

A study released today by the chamber’s foundation calls for the development of a statewide water resource plan to better conserve and manage the state’s water supply.

Without it, the chamber warns, “a large portion of the state likely won’t have the local water resources needed to meet growing needs.”

In Southern Indiana, specifically, local water supplies are insufficient for meeting future public needs, the study said. The report noted that few aquifers or perennial streams exist immediately south of Bloomington — a prime area for business development with the expansion of I-69 and continued work at the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center.

Kevin Brinegar, chamber president and CEO, said the state legislature needs to set aside least $10 million next year to make an initial investment to start collecting water resource data and begin work on a water resource plan.

Chamber officials and Bloomington-based Jack Wittman, geoscientist with INTERA Inc., which conducted the study this year for the chamber, released findings during a news conference this morning.

“This is definitely a jobs and economic development issue,” said Brinegar. “Our state’s economy is growing more diverse, but we always will make things. And it often takes large, reliable supplies of water to do so.”

He said a recent report out of Michigan found that Indiana is the most water dependent state in the country, as it relates to its impact on the economy.

Water resources and needs vary around the state, but chamber officials stressed the importance of cooperation of local governments and developing a new governance structure for managing water resources.

Northern Indiana has more water, but irrigation usage is fast increasing and more data needs to be collected on aquifers and streams.

Central Indiana could see an increase in demand of 50 million gallons used per day by 2050 due to continued population growth, the study finds. Although utilities have identified the need and taken initial steps, the report said “supplies are limited and, without new sources, economic growth is at risk.”

Chamber officials stressed that improving and managing water resources is a long-term issue that needs to begin to tackled now for the good of businesses and citizens alike.

“What this study does is set the stage for creation of a long-needed, long-range water plan for the state,” said Vince Griffin, the chamber’s vice president. A credible plan make take three to five years to put in place, he said.

Wittman said the state needs to plan now to be ready for needs 15 years from now. “It takes decades to build these (water) infrastructure systems,” he said.

In addition, he urged that more attention needs to be focused on water conservation by everyone.

“Conservation has to become a normal part of policy on water and has to be adopted across the state,” Wittman said.

The full study and county-by-county data on water usage and resources are available at www.indianachamber.com/water.

(via http://www.indystar.com/story/news/politics/2014/08/08/ind-chamber-release-study-states-water-supply/13764953)

California Farmers Ask: Hey Buddy, Can You Spare Some Water?

(originally found here)

Imagine if a gallon of milk cost $3 in your town, but 100 miles away it cost $100, or even $200.

Something similar is happening right now in California with water that farmers use to irrigate their crops. Some farmers are paying 50 or even 100 times more for that water than others who live just an hour’s drive away.

The situation is provoking debate about whether water in California should move more freely, so that it can be sold to the highest bidder.

For all of you who aren’t intimately familiar with the wacky and wonderful world of California water, here’s some background.

California is America’s biggest agricultural state, but its vineyards, orchards and vegetable fields don’t actually get enough rainfall to grow a crop. Some of those fields — notably the “salad bowl” of the Salinas Valley — get their water from wells.

The majority, though, depend on water from far away, mainly from melting snow in the mountains. Dams capture it, pumps and canals distribute it, and lawyers argue over who gets to use it.

Some end up with much more water than others.

Let’s start with one of the fortunate ones: Allen Peterson, who grows almonds near the city of Turlock, Calif. A concrete-lined canal full of water runs right past his orchards. “The water’s coming from Lake Don Pedro, on the Tuolumne River,” Peterson explains.

The Turlock Irrigation District started building dams on the Tuolumne more than a century ago. Now, every farm in this district gets a share of the lake’s water. This year, it’s less than usual but still enough to grow a crop of almonds.

That secure source of water is as much a part of Peterson’s farm as the land itself. It’s also a family legacy. “My grandfather, and even people before him, built this irrigation system,” Peterson says. “He scraped canals, built this thing up. They sacrificed a lot to have this irrigation system. And our land prices have reflected that ever since.”

His land is valuable. The water itself, though, comes cheaply. Peterson is paying the district just under $30 this year for each acre-foot of water. (That’s enough water to cover an acre of land to a depth of 1 foot.)

Meanwhile, there are farmers not far away, on the other side of California’s Central Valley, who’ve been paying much, much more.

“We’ve had water that’s sold for upwards of $2,000 an acre-foot,” says Sarah Woolf, a farmer and water consultant in Five Points, southwest of Fresno. “It was horrible.”

Woolf and I are standing in an almond orchard that’s alive thanks to that expensive water.

It’s part of the Westlands Water District, which came late to the California water party. It tapped into the statewide system of aqueducts just 50 years ago. So under California’s water laws, when there’s not enough water for everyone, farmers here are the first to be cut off.

They were cut off this year. The owner of this orchard turned to Woolf to help him buy enough water to keep these trees alive. Woolf located a few farmers outside the Westlands area with rights to water that they were willing to sell.

The actual transfer of water was just a matter of aquatic bookkeeping. The sellers gave up their rights to draw some water from California’s aqueducts, and this farmer was able to use that amount of water instead.

But this kind of exchange doesn’t happen very often. In some places, it’s banned. The Turlock Irrigation District, for instance, doesn’t allow farmers to sell any of their $30 water outside the district.

This is why farmers are paying such wildly different prices. The water’s not allowed to move.

Economist Richard Howitt, at the University of California, Davis, says that’s really unfortunate. Irrigation water should flow more freely to the places where it’s needed most, he says. A free market in water would leave everyone better off. “It should be good for both producers and consumers to have more efficient use of our basic natural resource,” he says.

There are some physical barriers to moving the water around. Very few aqueducts and rivers run between water-rich areas like Turlock, on the eastern side of the Central Valley, and thirsty areas to the west.

But Howitt says that problem could be solved. “With small engineering changes, we could move the water from east to west, from the $20 region to the $2,000 region,” he says.

The emotional and political barriers are more difficult to overcome. Many farmers just don’t want to sell something that’s so central to the life of their community. “If we sold our water off, the jobs would go away here, too. There would be less commerce going on in our county,” says Peterson, the farmer in Turlock.

Howett, the UC Davis economist, says farmers also don’t want to raise any questions about their legal rights to water. “They are worried that if they sold the water, they would be admitting that they didn’t ‘need’ it.”

In that case, others might try to claim it. Environmentalists, for instance, would like more water to flow into California’s rivers and wetlands.

Woolf, the farmer and water consultant in Five Points, says that’s why farmers who do sell water sometimes won’t admit it.

“There’s definitely a [feeling of] ‘hush-hush, I don’t want to talk about it, they’ll take my water away,’ ” she says. “And I don’t blame them for that.”

If California’s water-rich farmers didn’t have to worry that someone might take their water, they might be more willing to sell it, she says. And everybody would benefit.

(Courtesy of http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2014/06/09/317011698/california-farmers-ask-hey-buddy-can-you-spare-some-water)

Learn More About Fixing Our Aging Water Infrastructure

(originally found here)

We’re all concerned about the quality of the food we feed our families.  Having a variety of fresh, locally grown choices at the grocery store is important- and that’s what you get when buying California produce.

But did you know that many family farmers depend on the same water supplies and aging water system as you do for your home?  Learn more about the water supply challenges facing California’s families and our farmers below.

Why don’t California Farmers have enough water to grow the fresh California produce we need?

Regulatory restrictions sometimes limit the amount of water that gets sent to farms. When that happens, farmers must find other sources of water, often at much higher prices or worse, they have to leave fields unplanted because water simply isn’t available to grow with.

What if California Farmers aren’t able to grow the high quality food my family deserves?

California farms produce local food for all of us but sometimes they just can’t get enough water. Tough choices have to be made and sometimes farmers have to fallow land that otherwise could have grown tomatoes, melons, broccoli or other fruits and vegetables. When that happens grocery stores sometimes look to import food from other states or other countries to find sufficient produce to fill their shelves.

How does having a reliable water supply help farmers grow my food?

Farmers make planting decisions early in the season and when water supplies are unreliable it is difficult for them to choose which crops to plant. That can lead to changes in the variety of fresh fruits and vegetables that make it to the grocery store and also higher prices for the produce that makes it there.

Why doesn’t our aging water system work?

Much of California’s water supply system was designed and built more than 50 years ago. Over the years California’s population has grown and the system that was designed to provide water to 20 million people simply can’t keep up with a population that is almost double that today. In order to meet our future needs California must invest in additional conservation and recycling as well as new supplies that can be stored in reservoirs or groundwater aquifers and moved efficiently to parts of the state where they are needed.

What other ways will our aging water system impact me?

California’s vibrant economy depends on adequate and dependable water supplies. It takes water to meet the needs of new businesses that in turn, provide jobs for residents today and into the future. Water is important for the environment and recreation as well. Investing in California’s water system makes sense for everyone.

What can I do to ensure we all have a reliable water supply and politicians fix our aging water system?
Many of California’s leading water experts have put together a comprehensive plan to deal with the problems affecting our families and farmers.  Their hard work over the past four years will ensure that our water system is ready to face the needs of future generations.  The plan, called the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (or BDCP) will improve the reliability of water supplies and provide more than 100,000 acres of new habitat to help restore endangered species.

(Courtesy of http://new.farmwater.org/new/fixing-our-aging-water-infrastructure/)

A Tale of Two Farms: How Water Efficiency could help Drought-Proof California Farms

(originally found here)

For many California farmers, this growing season has been the “worst of times”. While all of the state is in the midst of a severe drought, conditions are most acute in the state’s most productive agricultural region.

ca drought productivity image.jpg

Map derived from US Drought Monitor and 2012 Census of Agriculture. Credit: Anna Kheyfets

The full impact of the drought on the state’s agricultural regions is not yet quantified, but preliminary results from a University of California- Davis study suggest that Central Valley farms will receive 6.5 million acre-feet less surface water than under normal conditions.

This is bad news not just for California farmers, but for all of us. California is the most productive agricultural state in the nation, growing about half of the fruits and vegetables produced in the United States. Limited water supplies mean smaller crop harvests, higher costs for farmers, and potentially even higher prices for some commodities. 

It’s also bad news for California’s groundwater resources.  In an average year, groundwater provides an estimated 40% of the state’s water supply and up to 60% during a drought, making it not only an important primary water supply but also a critical “backup” dry year supply for many water users. Many of California’s groundwater basins, especially in the San Joaquin Valley, are already painfully overextended, causing the ground to sink nearly one foot per year in some parts of the state and threatening the structural integrity of the state’s water delivery system. Furthermore, declining groundwater levels mean that wells will go dry, water quality will decline, and some farmers and other water users will lose a key water supply, making dry years even more painful.

But there’s a glimmer of hope, and an opportunity to transition to far better times for California’s tough and dedicated farmers.  “Untapped Savings,” an analysis released today by the Pacific Institute and NRDC, reveals that efficiency could reduce agricultural water use by 5.6 to 6.6 million acre-feet annually. That’s enough water to make up the shortage in surface water predicted by UC Davis, even during this exceptionally dry year, speaking to the power of efficiency as a drought-resiliency technique. So what does this drought-resilient farm of the future look like?

  • Drip Irrigation- Farmers who use drip irrigation apply low volumes of water directly to crops’ root zones.  This technology can use 21% less water than traditional gravity irrigation, where water is applied by flooding the area between crop rows. 
  • Irrigation Scheduling- Crops need different amounts of water during different stages of growth.  A farmer who uses irrigation scheduling closely tracks the amount of water crops are using, monitors weather and soil conditions, and times watering to match crop needs. Farmers in the Pajaro Valley who use this technique were able to reduce their water use by 30% while maintaining yield. 
  • Regulated Deficit Irrigation- With this technique, a farmer strategically reduces the amount of water applied during certain drought-tolerant stages.  The reduced water helps to improve crop quality, and is especially popular among tree nut, wine grape and other fruit growers.

There’s not much we can do to make it rain, but there are steps we can take to prevent the worst impacts of dry periods for California farmers.  Some California farmers have already adopted these and other efficiency practices.  Further adoption of modern irrigation technologies would help make California agriculture more drought-resilient and ensure that groundwater resources are available during dry years.  By expanding adoption of drip irrigation, irrigation scheduling, regulated deficit irrigation, and other efficiency practices on our farms, and in the irrigation districts that serve them, we have an opportunity to transform this “worst of times” into a new era of prosperity and resilience for California agriculture.

For more information about the 21st Century water supply solutions for our farms, cities and homes, which together can offer enough water savings and demand reductions to irrigate all of the fruits, vegetables, and nuts in California each year, check out ourUntapped Savings website.

(Courtesy of http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/coconnor/a_tale_of_two_farms_how_water.html)

Water – a Necessity of Life

Sharon Kleyne, the host of The Sharon Kleyne Hour, interviewed Alistair Morrison who was in Stockholm, Sweden, attending World Water Week. He is involved with the International Water Institute in Stockholm and has traveled all over the world to water problem areas such as Pakistan and Mozambique.

He states that the key risk in floods is sanitation and water borne diseases such as cholera. The situation in Pakistan is made much worse because Al Qaeda won’t let foreign aid workers in. So the biggest problem is not collecting or organizing aid but delivering it on the ground to the neediest people.

World Water Week has developed what they call “Millennium Development Goals.” The objective is to halve the number of people with unsatisfactory water, which is now over one billion out of a world population of 6.7 billion. Five million people die annually from poor sanitation.

In many areas of the world, women and children spend 5 to 6 hours a day carrying water, time that could be used far more productively. And often, the water is not safe. It has been suggested that with a simple faucet at every door, societies could be transformed, education improved, the status of women elevated, and disease and infant mortality reduced.

According to Morrison, water and sanitation are the #1 global problem. For every dollar invested in sanitation, there is a nine-fold return in health, productivity, economic development, tourism and fisheries. In the nation of Liberia, which has 3 million people, the entire investment of the national government in development of sanitation facilities is $25,000.

What is Morrison’s vision for the world, with respect to water? Improved access to safe water and sanitary facilities, one of the Millennium goals, could produce a tremendous leap forward. The solution is not complicated or even that expensive, says Morrison, but it requires education, commitment and prioritizing.

In Indonesia, three years after the tsunami, there are still a million homeless, with inadequate water, sanitation, shelter, food or medical care. Cholera is rampant. Relief needs to be sustained for many years.

For more information, visit http://www.voiceamerica.com/worldtalkradio/vguest.aspx?gid=8345

World Vision

We here at The Power of Water would like to commend World Vision on their continued support of water projects. According to the World Vision website,

  • Every 21 seconds, a child dies from a water-related illness.
  • More than 2.7 billion people have inadequate or nonexistent access to proper sanitation.
  • When a community gains access to clean water, its child mortality rate drops by half.

World Vision is committed to drilling wells, collecting and maintaining water, and providing water for land irrigation. They have also launched projects to purify water sources and provide sanitation.

You have a unique opportunity to help them achieve these goals. Go to http://www.worldvision.org to learn how you can make a difference!