e grandmother sat outside in her Sunday best next to a house with peeling paint, her canned iced tea resting on top of a washing machine that didn’t work. She’d been without running water for four months.
Up an easy-to-miss dirt road, a 70-year-old woman moved 5-gallon jugs of water into her single-wide trailer. It was hard because she was weak from chemotherapy. Her water had stopped coming out of the tap three months ago.
"I’d heard ‘California drought!’ on the news," she said. "But I guess I was just oblivious to how bad it had gotten."
At the local gas station where everyone stops for a cold soda, Johnson tuned in to the conversations.
"It was all, ‘So-and-so’s well ran dry,’" she said.
No public agency was keeping track. Until this week, California was the only Western state that didn’t regulate groundwater, including an estimated 600,000 private, domestic wells mostly in more rural regions such as the Central Valley. Groundwater levels here have plunged by 60 feet or more in some spots, and tens of thousands of wells are in danger.
In the course of a broader effort to determine the origins of high methane levels in drinking water aquifers near gas wells in Pennsylvania and Texas, scientists found that water in two homes in Parker County, Texas, changed over nine months from containing trace amounts of methane to having high levels.
The newly identified cases “caught this contamination in the act,” said Robert Jackson, a study co-author and professor of environmental science at Stanford University.
The discovery poses a challenge to a long-standing assertion by the oil and gas industry that the energy boom sweeping the country has not damaged water supplies. Other studies have found that water wells near natural gas production are at greater risk of containing methane than those farther away. But industry has contended that the methane found in water wells is naturally occurring and was there all along, prior to the start of gas production.
Darrah and his colleagues concluded that the water contamination occurred when natural gas from a lower geological depth migrated higher into drinking water sources because of a faulty cement job around the well.
The researchers believe that in nearly all the cases, the water contamination occurred because poor casing or cementing around the gas wells allowed methane to leak out the sides and into aquifers. Said Darrah, “The good news is that most of the issues we have identified can potentially be avoided by future improvements in well integrity.”
‘Empty buckets’ in Henan say no to Ice Bucket Challenge
Dozens of people in the drought-hit Henan Province are protesting against the Ice Bucket Challenge, which has become a global viral trend
Armed with empty buckets, bowls and other containers, the protesters stood outside the Spring Temple Buddha in Lushan County on Friday.
The Chinese characters on their clothes read: “Henan, please say no to the Ice Bucket Challenge.”
The province is experiencing its worst drought since 1951. Nearly 19 million people have been affected by the drought.
With that in mind, protesters are calling for water to be saved and other sensible means to be used to help patients of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).
Grape vines march across wires strung along rolling hills, their little trunks improbably supporting heavy black fruit. Cindy Steinbeck’s family has been farming this land since 1920. They grow Zinfandel, Viognier, Cabernet, Merlot, and Petite Syrah grapes but are best known in this area of Central California for a blend called The Crash, named after a remarkable incident in 1956, when a B-26 crash-landed 200 yards from the family home. Four of the five Air Force men aboard survived, bailing out in the nearby fields.
Now a new crash threatens, as groundwater levels beneath the vineyards plummet. California produces nearly half of U.S.-grown fruits, nuts, and vegetables, according to the state’s Department of Food and Agriculture. It is in the midst of one of the worst droughts ever recorded, with more than 80 percent of the state in extreme or exceptional drought. But so far, the Steinbeck Vineyards’ 520 acres of grapes are growing well under the hot August sun, thanks to the family’s access to all the groundwater they need: up to two acre-feet per acre per season. An acre-foot is the amount of water required to flood an acre of land one foot deep—about 326,000 gallons. The Steinbecks’ sole source of irrigation is groundwater.
However, groundwater and surface water—rivers, lakes, streams—are part of the same hydrological system. Excessive groundwater pumping can overdraft aquifers, emptying them faster than natural systems can replenish them; dry up nearby wells; allow saltwater intrusion; and draw down surface water supplies. Taking so much water out of the soil can cause the dirt to compact and the land to sink, an action called subsidence. Because land can subside as much as a foot a year in the face of aggressive pumping, it can destroy infrastructure such as irrigation canals, building foundations, roads, bridges, and pipelines.
Study: Western US drought caused Earth to rise 0.16 inches
Los Angeles Times: The ongoing drought in the western United States has caused the earth to lift up about 0.16 inches over the last 18 months, a new study found.
Researchers found an estimated 63 trillion gallons of groundwater was lost since the start of 2013.
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Photo: A section of Lake Oroville is seen nearly dry in Oroville, Calif., on Aug. 19, 2014 (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)
California over the last century has issued water rights that amount to roughly five times the state’s average annual runoff, according to new research that underscores a chronic imbalance between supply and demand.
That there are more rights than water in most years is not news. But UC researchers say their study is the most comprehensive review to date of the enormous gap between natural surface flows and allocations.
Of 27 major California rivers, rights on 16 of them exceed natural runoff. Among the most over-allocated are the San Joaquin, Kern and Stanislaus rivers in the San Joaquin Valley and the Santa Ynez River in Southern California.
In theory, that difference is not necessarily a problem. It gives water agencies and irrigation districts with junior rights access to additional supplies during wet years, when runoff is above average and there is plenty to go around. But in reality, study co-author Joshua Viers said, it fosters unrealistic expectations for water that is often not available.
“It gives the public a false sense of water security,” said Viers, a UC Merced professor of water resources. For the most junior rights holders, he added, “It’s kind of like standing in line to get into a concert and they give you a ticket when they’re already at capacity. But you don’t know that you’ll never actually get in to see the show.”
The main cause for such algal blooms is an overload of phosphorus, which washes into lakes from commercial fertiliser used by farming operations as well as urban water-treatment centres. Hotter and longer summers also promote the spread of the blue-green scum.
The US government banned phosphorus in laundry detergents in 1988. That stopped the algal blooms for some time. But they came back to the Great Lakes in force in 2011 – forming a green scum that covered 5,000 square kilometres (1,900 sq miles) of water at its biggest extent – in the worst algal bloom in recorded history.
Scientists attribute the comeback in large part to changes in farming practices, including larger farms and different fertiliser practices, which send heavier loads of phosphorus into the lakes.
Well water has kept losses in California’s agricultural industry relatively modest considering the severity of the ongoing drought, the report said. The researchers estimated $1 billion in lost revenue and $500 million in additional pumping costs this year. That’s a fraction of the $40 billion the industry rings up annually.
Still, there’s little optimism the industry can weather another year relying on so much groundwater without significant consequences.
By the end of 2014 alone, groundwater is expected to replace three-quarters of the 6.6 million acre-feet of surface water lost to drought this year — raising groundwater’s share of the state’s agricultural water supply from 31% to 53%, the UC Davis report said.
"If there’s no surface water available, farmers really have no choice but to use the groundwater and use it in a very big way," said Jay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Caltech and a professor of Earth system science at UC Irvine. "The question is how long can we keep doing this before we hit rock bottom? … We are on a current path that is nearly the definition of unsustainable."
In an attempt to staunch the crisis, two bills have been proposed in the California Legislature to create the state’s first groundwater management system. There are currently no restrictions on how much water a landowner can pump from beneath his or her property.
The new study is the first to look at the role of groundwater in the parched region and has been carried out against a backdrop of a severe drought dating back to 2000.
A series of monthly measurements have shown that over nine years the Colorado River Basin lost nearly twice as much water as Lake Mead, Nevada - the country’s largest reservoir.
"We don’t know exactly how much groundwater we have left, so we don’t know when we’re going to run out," said Stephanie Castle, a water resources specialist at the University of California, Irvine.
"This is a lot of water to lose. We thought that the picture could be pretty bad, but this was shocking.”
Saying that it was time to increase conservation in the midst of one of the worst droughts in decades, the State Water Resources Control Board adopted drought regulations that give local agencies the authority to fine those who waste water up to $500 a day.
The emergency rules, expected to take effect Aug. 1, don’t order cities to slash water use by a certain amount. Rather they direct agencies to — at a minimum — ban wasteful practices such as allowing runoff from outdoor sprinklers, hosing down driveways and sidewalks and using drinking water in ornamental fountains that don’t recirculate.
California’s city dwellers will have to drop their hoses and shut off sprinklers before water meets pavement under a proposed regulation announced Wednesday, with individuals facing potential fines of up to $500 per day.
The State Water Resources Control Board will consider a suite of measures next Tuesday proposed under the authority of Gov. Jerry Brown’s April executive order. Urban water suppliers would have to move toward mandatory restrictions within 30 days, possibly limiting outdoor watering to two days a week — or face a $10,000 daily fine.
New rules would prohibit people from washing down driveways, washing cars in the street without a shutoff nozzle on your hose or creating runoff over pavement any other way.
It is a question being asked about children across India, where a long economic boom has done little to reduce the vast number of children who are malnourished and stunted, leaving them with mental and physical deficits that will haunt them their entire lives. Now, an emerging body of scientific studies suggest that Vivek and many of the 162 million children under the age of 5 in the world who are malnourished are suffering less a lack of food than poor sanitation.
Two years ago, Unicef, the World Health Organization and the World Bank released a major report on child malnutrition that focused entirely on a lack of food. Sanitation was not mentioned. Now, Unicef officials and those from other major charitable organizations said in interviews that they believe that poor sanitation may cause more than half of the world’s stunting problem.
“Our realization about the connection between stunting and sanitation is just emerging,” said Sue Coates, chief of water, sanitation and hygiene at Unicef India. “At this point, it is still just an hypothesis, but it is an incredibly exciting and important one because of its potential impact.”
This research has quietly swept through many of the world’s nutrition and donor organizations in part because it resolves a great mystery: Why are Indian children so much more malnourished than their poorer counterparts in sub-Saharan Africa?
In five months since the drought emergency was declared, Californians have cut their water consumption only 5 percent compared with recent years, according to state officials — a far cry from the 20 percent that Gov. Jerry Brown called for in January.
So, faced with apparent indifference to stern warnings from state leaders and media alarms, cities across California have encouraged residents to tattle on their neighbors for wasting water — and the residents have responded in droves. Sacramento, for instance, has received more than 6,000 reports of water waste this year, up twentyfold from last year.
Loretta Franzi has called the Sacramento water-waste hotline “a number of times” in recent months.
“You can hear people running their sprinklers when it’s dark because they don’t want to get caught watering when they’re not supposed to be — it’s maddening,” said Ms. Franzi, 61, a retiree. “You can tell the people who are conserving because their lawns are brown. The lawns that are really green, there’s something wrong.”