On August 3 – 12, I joined another American and a representative from the International Atomic Energy Agency to visit Jordan for assessing water treatment options of naturally-occurring radium in drinking water supplies. We also obtained logistical support from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) office at the Embassy in Amman. The mission supports the Jordanian Ministry of Water and Irrigation. Jordan is listed as the second poorest country in the world for water resources so potable water is only distributed to communities once or twice per week! Currently, groundwater containing radium is either not used or mixed with surface water. Innovative new treatment options that conserves water are being considered to remove radium and manage low-level radioactive waste. My contributions include touring well fields, meeting officials, reviewing extensive hydrogeology, geochemistry, waste disposal options, and planning a proposed pilot test of a treatment facility to be built that uses ceramic filtration with hydrous manganese oxides. If we can obtain success at one well location, future planning will use this technology at numerous other locations.
I found the Jordanian people to be incredibly gracious, peaceful, well educated, and very respectful. It appears to be an island of peace surrounded by conflict. The water situation is made even worse by refugees coming from many nearby countries.
Please see the photo gallery for a few of the interesting views.
Now that you've passed the test (or checked out the answers) to the the Chasing Water book that I reviewed in my previous blog post, here are Brian Richter's ideas for water sustainability. So what does water sustainability really mean anyway? He cites Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute who offered this definition: "the use of water that supports the ability of human society to endure and flourish into the indefinite future without undermining the integrity of the hydrological cycle or the ecological systems that depend on it." For example, Richter suggests extracting more than 20 percent of a river's daily flow can lead to ecological harm to fish, turtles, frogs and other sensitive species. Lakes and aquifers may be even more sensitive to withdrawals due to slow replenishment.
Here are seven principles to consider for sustainable water management:
1. Build a shared vision for your community's water future.
2. Set limits on total consumptive use of water.
3. Allocate a specific volume to each user, then monitor and enforce.
4. Invest in water conservation to its maximum potential.
5. Enable trading of water entitlements.
6. If too much water is being consumptively used, subsidize reductions in consumption.
7. Learn from mistakes or better ideas, and adjust as you go.
Western water law based on prior appropriation (first in time, first in right) allows control of senior to junior water rights for people but priorities for sustaining natural ecosystems depends on people advocating for the environment. Obstacles to water conservation cited by the author include challenging social norms (people love green grass even in the desert), water providers whose receipts depend upon sales, spreading fear of shortages, and political will for unpopular projects such as dams.
Richter explains how he learned through personal connections that Australian landowners fought for the environment even during severe droughts to keep water flowing and prevent additional fish kills. A cap-and-flex system adopted in the Murray-Darling watershed enabled setting limits to priority distributions for consumptive use accounting for protecting ecosystems and being flexible with supply during wetter years. The government stepped in to purchase 400,000 acre-feet at a cost of $700 million to store and distribute water where needed for ecological preservation and areas significant to Aboriginal people.
Australia set up a market-based system to trade water rights which improved accounting systems for water management such as adding efficient technology that can measure the hydrologic cycle and consumptive use.
Ultimately, there is great power in creating partnerships that can transcend institutional bureaucracies - individuals in local communities and grassroots organizations can network with public and private groups to share in a common mission to find solutions to these challenging problems.
The annual Colorado River water conference held in Grand Junction, CO yesterday brought together outstanding speakers and a fully engaged audience of several hundred “experts” who shared diverse messages about our looming water crisis – as if we do not have one already but we don’t want anyone to panic – some want to blame the droughts which may get worse, or climate change and rising temperatures, and future population increases for declining water supplies. Many are focused on future risk scenarios on how the economies and livelihood of farmers will be destroyed and who or what’s to blame.
The state of Colorado can keep about 1/3 of the river supply while 2/3’rds are required to be delivered downstream based on current agreements between seven Western states. We heard that people who live in the desert are growing unsustainable crops like alfalfa and cotton that get huge federal government subsidizes due to our broken political system. No surprise there as it’s been going on for many decades. The state of Arizona may put an end to all farming and focus on the four million water consumers of the Central Arizona Project. Plans being discussed in Arizona are forcing them to reduce their water dependency on the Colorado River by about 20 times the amount for Nevada due to priority rights.
We heard that the beneficial use doctrine in Colorado permits no wasting of water -- that the “use it or lose it” mentality is hysterical thinking -- others who said in reality much water is being wasted and not put to beneficial use which is illegal but not enforced. We heard that on average each American consumes an equivalent of 300 gallons per day of Colorado River Water (based on food consumption). Given that California has the largest population in the West with significant senior rights on the River and provides a majority of food for the World, imagine how they are feeling and when push comes to shove everyone will need to become more aware of the urgency.
The Colorado Water Plan completed one year ago provides for great ideas spread over several decades and is moving into the implementation phase. The plan is currently an unfunded mandate for the most part and money is needed to take action. Here is the Grand Junction Sentinel article that focused on the taxes issue.
We heard that water efficiency for farmers is better than conservation and others said both are great as long as people get compensation for their loss of rights. Some said Americans want more with more, and efficiency is doing more with less while conservation is doing less with less -- so conservation to some almost sounds unAmerican! Arguments were made for which method is more appeasing to various interest groups.
I thought the talk by a local Hotchkiss farmer, Tom Kay of North Fork Organic Farm, provided the best example of someone taking action that we all need to learn from. He converted his farm to sustainable practices by going organic which on average pays three times higher for crops; created a storage pond to capture two million gallons of storage from his water right on the Gunnison River that can be used all year; built a storage area used by other organic farmers; rotates crops and farm practices to increase yields and maximize profits; and is willing to innovate and test new technology!
Overall, with all the highly qualified speakers and attendees, in my opinion another opportunity was lost for meaningful dialog that could lead to us to taking action. Much too little time for questions and answers was given at the conference and no time made after the final panel discussion, the meeting was very brief (from 9:00 am to 3:30 pm), and seemed to check the box for many groups.
Future meetings held in Grand Junction are needed to focus on ‘connecting the dots’: the issues of the Western Slope including being caught between the power centers on both sides – from Denver to California and including large parts of Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and Utah. The Western Slope needs much more awareness of these issues than only to hear about another fight on taxes as mentioned in the newspaper.
A renewed spirit of cooperation and creating new partnerships is needed for our children's survival - obviously water is connected to everything including the food we eat and supplies are not unlimited. Nature is truly interconnected and we are so dependent on the natural world; we need to find better ways to cooperatively solve problems through effective education and positive actions groups - we can all make a difference and work harder to achieve better sustainable outcomes.
The Colorado Mesa University's Water Center will host the 5th annual Colorado River Basin Water Forum on October 28-29, 2015. Topics will include recent weather anomalies, managing flows for multiple purposes, and demand management. The 2015 forum is organized to be an interdisciplinary dialogue between academic, practitioner, and artistic perspectives on water issues affecting the Upper Colorado River Basin. Here is the website link for more information and to register for the forum.
Colorado Mesa University's Water Center held an event last Saturday night that drew about 300 people to see the film "The Great Divide" and discuss issues. The documentary provides a great history of water development in Colorado which ultimately impacts 18 other states in the US as headwaters run on both sides of the Continental Divide. With future populations increasing, water supplies will continue to be in greater demand and East Slope areas will likely exercise their water rights to draw more water out of West Slope basins. The need for education is the one thing that everyone can agree on and the hope is that negotiated settlements rather than legal battles will prevail.
Our hearts go out to all life tragically affected by the raging floods currently focused in South Carolina. We also stay mindful of the prolonged four year drought on the west coast focused in California. Check out Pacific Institutes website on the drought and low reservoir levels.
Yesterday, about 50 people in Grand Junction took a walk for water. A 12-year old girl organized the event to raise awareness and donations for people who must walk daily for access to water. The event took place at the campus of Colorado Mesa University and it was great to see younger children inspiring college students and adults. The international group Unbound.org is sponsoring children in 12 impoverished countries. Here is the TV news broadcast about the local event.
At the annual Colorado River District water seminar held on September 10th, we heard numerous speakers discuss the essential need to conserve. The western U.S. is close to a crisis as the demand for water is greater than the supply! As Lake Powell and Mead reservoirs decline, we are approaching the minimum levels needed to generate hydroelectric power. Water availability affects rural and urban areas, agriculture, and the environment. These issues are interconnected and we must work together to resolve our conflicts.
Here is an amazing CBS news story about the struggles of the Navajo People who rely totally on groundwater. No running water and indoor plumbing. They must store water outside. Luckily many Navajo people have a saintly woman to deliver water they call the Water Lady.
Can you imagine what life must be like relying on only 7 gallons of water per day? That is like only flushing a standard toilet twice per day. That's it - all you get for drinking, cooking, washing, etc!
When I worked for the U.S. Geological Survey on the Navajo Reservation conducting surveys of water resources, we found that groundwater was in very deep formations and the quality of water changed depending upon location. Water is very precious - especially on the reservation!
For more information on the water quality of San Juan Basin aquifers, check out some of my old USGS reports (there are over a dozen) or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yesterday, Los Angeles completed a $36 million project to deploy 96 million plastic balls on a reservior to conserve water and protect water quality. Estimates are that the balls will save 300 million gallons per year and comply with new EPA standards for preventing sunlight reacting with chlorine in drinking water that produces carcinogens.
Here are some news clips: