water supply

Lack of clean water kills more people than war; it's also choking Beijing in polluted dust

It's clear that climate change is going to be the story of the century, but today's news brings the reminder that an intertwined and nearly equally important story will be the lack of fresh water. Two developments highlight this trend today, on World Water Day:

1) From Beijing comes Christopher Bodeen's dispatch for the Associated Press relating how the Chinese capital is under attack by a dust storm blown off of the desert hundreds of miles away in country's interior in Inner Mongolia, where the Gobi desert is expanding. The cause, the AP reports, is overgrazing, deforestation, drought and urban sprawl. One has to wonder if climate change shouldn't be added to that list. The tiny dust particles mix with industrial pollution to cause a miserable dust-soot combination that blankets Beijing, working its way into homes through openings as small as a keyhole. The Chinese have tried to fight the problem by planting vegetation to hold the soil, but it isn't working. Now they're working on plans to pump lots of water from the wetter south of the country. Lotsa luck, guys. 

2) The United Nations issued a statement  (PDF) pointing out that more people die each year from the lack of clean water than are killed in violence of any kind. Many of these people are children under the age of 5. The UN says that pollution in its traditional forms is responsible for some of these, but so is degradation of watersheds through timber-cutting, covering the ground with hard surfaces that don't allow rainfall to soak in, and other modern practices. Said the UN:

"Preventing the pollution of water resources by reducing or eliminating contaminants at the source is almost always the cheapest, easiest and most effective way to protect water quality."

Carol Smith's picture

Canal safety under scrutiny in Utah

The dodgeball game of canal safety, and who's responsible for the more than 6,000 miles of leaky, privately owned canals that thread through Utah's towns and cities, is finally getting a squad of  umpires - or at least a panel to look over the rules.

The move comes after a woman and her two children were killed last month in a landslide triggered in part by a known-to-be-leaking canal that had already triggered dozens such slides over the past century.

Incoming Gov. Gary Herbert, ordered a panel to brainstorm how best to repair the systems, which have lacked funds to maintain and upgrade them even as the cities they served grew up around them.

To his credit, Herbert also ordered an investigation into the root causes of the fatal slide and canal collapse that killed the three in Logan, something he initially declined to do, and something that local officials, including Logan's police chief said was not necessary.

How this mess - city officials, who knew the canal was leaking, a statehouse representative responsible for the district, who is himself a shareholder in two water companies, and has said publicly he was concerned about costs associated with regulation, and a privately owned company that had not sought funds for improvements for decades  - doesn't warrant an investigation is a mystery. The Salt Lake Tribune's dogged reporting on the situation, including its editorials calling various stakeholders to account likely precipitated today's attention to fixing a system in collapse.

Climate refugees redux: Climate change could tap out Colorado River


[caption id="attachment_1528" align="alignright" width="200" caption=""Lake" Powell, one of the big Colorado River reservoirs threatened by climate change. Photo courtesy University of Colorado."]"Lake" Powell, one of the big Colorado River reservoirs threatened by climate change. Photo courtesy University of Colorado.[/caption]

Climate refugees. There it is again, this notion that large-scale migrations caused by climate change could be in the offing.

When we wrote about this a few months ago based on a climate conference in Seattle, the story got a lot of attention. Today this climate-refugees idea came up again in a story by Bruce Finley of the Denver Post on a new study of climate change's possible effects on the Colorado River.

The study (sorry -- no link; it's not posted to the Web yet) says there's up to a 50-50 chance of seeing Colorado River reservoirs run dry by mid-century, given current management practices, increased demand and the expected drying effects of climate change.

Now, that last one's not something that's easy to quantify in a projection. But lead author Balaji Rajagopalan of the University of Colorado and other researchers simply took a look at what would happen if water in the Colorado River system were reduced 10 percent or 20 percent due to hotter temperatures (which would increase what the water wonks call evapotranspiration, a combination of evaporation and plants' transpiring of water.)

Well, guess what? By mid-century there's about a 50-50 chance of the Colorado River's two major reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead, will run dry. That's under the 20 percent reduction scenario.

Carol Smith's picture

Global warming could dry up reservoirs along Colorado River

Global warming could deplete the Colorado River system's reservoirs by the middle of this century, according to the Associated Press. A study by University of Colorado researchers says warming trends could cut the river's average flow by 10 percent, and drain the reservoirs by 2057. The reservoirs along the river supply drinking and irrigation water to 39 million people.

More on this at our Dateline Earth blog: http://bit.ly/19WJOp .