A coastal desalination plant planned for east of Beijing could provide a large portion of the drinking water for the parched Chinese capital by 2019, the state news media quoted officials as saying on Tuesday. The reports indicated that the government and state enterprises were investing heavily in desalination projects to alleviate a dire water shortage in northern China.

The reports, citing officials who spoke over the weekend and on Monday, said that the proposed plant, to be located in the city of Tangshan in Hebei Province, had already been approved by a provincial development agency. The plan is to complete construction of the plant by 2019 and for it to supply one million tons of fresh water each day, which could account for one-third of the water consumption of Beijing, a city of more than 22 million people, officials said. A headline on an article published by Global Times, a populist state-run newspaper, said, “Seawater to Supply Beijing in 2019.”

The plant would be the core of one of the biggest desalination projects in China. It is the second phase of a desalination project that is run by Aqbewg, a joint venture company formed by Aqualyng, a Norwegian company, and Beijing Enterprises Water Group, which is headquartered in Hong Kong and is a subsidiary of a large state-owned company.


The participants were also asked to estimate the amount of water consumed during 17 different activities, from filling a bathtub to washing a car to filling an Olympic-size swimming pool. The correlation between the estimated and actual water consumption was large, which suggests that participants had a basic understanding of water use and generally knew which activities used the most and least water. However, people vastly underestimated the amount of water used; overall, these activities required twice as much water as they expected.

There were also some major biases in the participants’ estimates of water consumption. First, people tended to underestimate the amount of water used by standard appliances like dishwashers and toilets, and they overestimated that used by their water-efficient counterparts. This is called “compression,” and it’s a common psychological bias when people are comparing objects, people, or concepts. People don’t seem to fully grasp how much water can be conserved by using high-efficiency appliances, which may also explain the popularity of curtailment over efficiency strategies in the open-ended part of the survey.

People also have a bias when it comes to activities that require a lot of water: the higher the water use of a given activity, the more people tended to underestimate the water required. For example, participants low-balled the water needed to fill a standard backyard pool by a factor of more than 18.


for 17 small rural communities in California, the absence of rain is posing a fundamental threat to the most basic of services: drinking water. And Lake of the Woods, a middle-class enclave 80 miles from downtown Los Angeles, a mix of commuters, retirees and weekend residents, is one of the most seriously threatened. Signs along its dusty roadways offer stark red-on-white warnings of a “Water Emergency” and plead for conservation.

“I didn’t think it would come to this,” said Diane Gustafson, the manager of the Lake of the Woods Mutual Water Company, as she greeted a team of county and state officials reviewing the community’s request for emergency funds to drill more holes. “Our wells are so deep. I have lived here for 40 years, and this is the first time we’ve had a problem like this.”

So far, nothing has seemed to have helped: not the yearlong ban on watering lawns and washing cars, not the conscientious homeowners who clean their dishes in the sink and reuse the gray water on trees, not even the three inches of rain that soaked the area last weekend. Three attempts to drill new wells, going down 500 feet, have failed.


China has a severe water problem overall. Its resources of freshwater, around 2,000 cubic meters per capita, are one-third of the global average. Coal production, which supplies about three-quarters of China’s energy, already accounts for one-sixth (pdf, p. 3) of total water withdrawals. Between now and 2040 China’s total energy demand is expected to more than double, and be twice that of the US (slide 26). The World Bank has put the annual cost of China’s water problems—specifically, water scarcity and the direct impacts of water pollution—at 2.3% of GDP (pdf, p. xxi) but says it is likely much higher. About 45% of the country’s GDP comes from water-scarce provinces, according to a 2012 report by HSBC and China Water Risk, a consultancy. About 300 million people in China, almost a quarter of its population, drink contaminated water every day. Former Chinese premier Wen Jiabao wasn’t being dramatic in 1999 when he called the country’s water problems a threat to the “survival of the Chinese nation.”

But these shortages are unevenly spread. The North Plain, a region home to a quarter of the population, and which includes Beijing, is especially dry. Here, water tables are falling by two to three meters a year (pdf, p. 194), according to the UN, and posing serious risks to agriculture and food security. Of China’s 22 provinces, 11 were considered “water-stressed,” meaning they have less than 1,000 cubic meters of water per person a year as of 2012. One of the north’s main water sources, the Yellow River, has been shrinking for the past three decades, drying up almost every year before reaching the the sea. Hebei province, which neighbors Beijing, has seen 969 of its 1,052 lakes dry up; some of its farmers water their crops with sewage water. Wang Shucheng, a former minister of water resources, predicted that if groundwater extraction in the north continues at current rates, in 15 years there will be none left.​

The solution, as Mao Zedong first said in 1952, is to “borrow a little water from the south.” Southern China is home to four-fifths of the country’s water sources, mostly around the Yangtze River Basin. It took another 50 years after Mao’s suggestion for China to start work on it. Finally, on Dec. 10, the first phase of the South-to-North Water Diversion Project (SNWDP) or Nanshuibeidiao, began operating.

The project’s eventual goal is to move 44.8 billion cubic meters of water across the country every year, more than there is in the River Thames. The infrastructure includes some of the longest canals in the world; pipelines that weave underneath riverbeds; a giant aqueduct; and pumping stations powerful enough to fill Olympic-sized pools in minutes. It is the world’s largest water-transfer project, unprecedented both in the volume of water to be transferred and the distance to be traveled—a total of 4,350 km (2,700 miles), about the distance between the two coasts of America. The US, Israel, and South Africa are home to long-distance water transfer systems, but none on this scale.


centerforinvestigativereporting:

Where the Bay Area’s water comes from
KQED Science has put together a guide on the patchwork of sources that provide water to the Bay Area. From KQED’s Lauren Sommer:

More than two-thirds of the Bay Area’s water supply comes from outside the region, which means in extreme drought years like this one, local water districts are competing with many others around the state for limited supplies.

You can also see how much water California cities are using in this infographic from Mother Jones.

centerforinvestigativereporting:

Where the Bay Area’s water comes from

KQED Science has put together a guide on the patchwork of sources that provide water to the Bay Area. From KQED’s Lauren Sommer:

More than two-thirds of the Bay Area’s water supply comes from outside the region, which means in extreme drought years like this one, local water districts are competing with many others around the state for limited supplies.

You can also see how much water California cities are using in this infographic from Mother Jones.


NASA Responds to California’s Evolving Drought - NASA
NASA is partnering with the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) to develop and apply new technology and products to better manage and monitor the state’s water resources and respond to its ongoing drought.
NASA scientists, DWR water managers, university researchers and other state resource management agencies will collaborate to apply advanced remote sensing and improved forecast modeling to better assess water resources, monitor drought conditions and water supplies, plan for drought response and mitigation, and measure drought impacts.
"Over the past two decades, NASA has developed capabilities to measure and provide useful information for all components of Earth’s freshwater resources worldwide," said Michael Freilich, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division in Washington. "Working with partners like DWR, we are leveraging NASA’s unique Earth monitoring tools and science expertise to help managers address the state’s water management challenges."
NASA Responds to California’s Evolving Drought - NASA

NASA is partnering with the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) to develop and apply new technology and products to better manage and monitor the state’s water resources and respond to its ongoing drought.

NASA scientists, DWR water managers, university researchers and other state resource management agencies will collaborate to apply advanced remote sensing and improved forecast modeling to better assess water resources, monitor drought conditions and water supplies, plan for drought response and mitigation, and measure drought impacts.

"Over the past two decades, NASA has developed capabilities to measure and provide useful information for all components of Earth’s freshwater resources worldwide," said Michael Freilich, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division in Washington. "Working with partners like DWR, we are leveraging NASA’s unique Earth monitoring tools and science expertise to help managers address the state’s water management challenges."


In early January, thousands of gallons of a toxic chemical leaked into West Virginia’s Elk River. The accident caused the contamination of the water supply in nine counties. Earlier this month, a broken pipe owned by Duke Energy leaked toxic coal ash into North Carolina’s Dan River. And two weeks later, a second leak from a different pipe spilled more arsenic-laced chemicals into the river. While the water ban has been lifted in West Virginia, thousands refuse to drink the water. And in North Carolina, tests of river water show high levels of iron and aluminum. Diane and guests discuss recent chemical spills and ongoing concerns over the safety of the U.S. water supply.

While much attention is being paid to the negative consequences of environmental pollution in China, another crisis is brewing with equally dangerous consequences for people’s health and for the country’s development: water scarcity.

The National Intelligence Council (NIC) report “Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds” states that, with regard to China, “climate change, urbanization trends and middle-class lifestyles will create huge water demand and crop shortages by 2030.” Aside from its economic and public health costs, water scarcity also endangers economic growth and social stability.

Lack of water in China is compounded by high levels of water pollution. Hu Siyi, vice minister at the Ministry of Water Resources, said in 2012 that up to 40 percent of China’s rivers were seriously polluted from 75 billion tons of sewage and waste water discharged into them. He also said about two-thirds of Chinese cities are “water needy” and nearly 300 million rural residents lack access to safe drinking water.

It is estimated that 4.05 million hectares of land are irrigated with polluted water, which has a negative effect on crop yields and on food quality and safety.


A 65-mile stretch of the Mississippi River, including the Port of New Orleans, was closed to all water traffic Sunday as crews cleaned up oil that spilled from a barge after it ran into a towboat between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, the Coast Guard said.

Officials don’t know how much oil spilled, but only a sheen was reported on the river following the collision, which happened Saturday afternoon near Vacherie, 47 miles west of New Orleans by land, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Bill Colclough.

No one was hurt and all barges were secured, Colclough said. The cause of the collision was under investigation.

By late Sunday afternoon, 16 vessels were waiting to go downriver and 10 vessels were waiting in an upriver queue, Colclough said. He could not estimate when the river would reopen but said it was likely to remain closed overnight.

Public drinking water intakes on the river were closed as a precaution in nearby St. Charles Parish, officials said. “The water supply in St. Charles Parish remains safe,” parish officials said in a news release Sunday afternoon.


A decade ago the state agreed to stop using more than its share of Colorado River water, cutting an important Southland supply. So much water is diverted from the watersheds of the state’s two largest rivers, the Sacramento and San Joaquin, that their common delta is on the brink of ecological collapse, triggering environmental restrictions on delta exports.

Agriculture chronically pumps more water out of Central Valley aquifers than man or nature puts back. During droughts like this, growers suck up even more groundwater, compounding the problem. The state’s acreage of almond and other nut and vine crops has ballooned, hardening the demand for irrigation supplies during dry spells.

A warming climate is shrinking the Sierra Nevada snowpack that acts as a natural reservoir. And although it is unclear exactly how climate change will affect precipitation levels in California, rising temperatures mean farm fields and suburban yards will dry out more quickly.

"I think that any prudent — fill in the blank — businessperson, governmental official, citizen, farmer would be thinking about how they can use less water" in the future, Hayes said.


The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation released its first outlook of the year, saying that the agency will continue to monitor rain and snow fall, but the grim levels so far prove that the state is in the throes of one of its driest periods in recorded history.

Unless the year turns wet, many farmers can expect to receive no water from the federally run Central Valley Project. Central Valley farmers received only 20 percent of their normal water allotment last year and were expecting this year’s bad news. Some communities and endangered wildlife that rely on the federal water source will also suffer deep cuts.


California is the biggest agricultural state in the US - half the nation’s fruit and vegetables are grown here.

Farmers are calling for urgent help, people in cities are being told to conserve water and the governor is warning of record drought.

But at the other end of the state the water is flowing as the sprinklers are making it rain in at least one part of southern California.

The farmers are making hay while the year-round sun shines, and they are exporting cattle-feed to China.

The southern Imperial Valley, which borders Mexico, draws its water from the Colorado river along the blue liquid lifeline of the All American Canal.

It brings the desert alive with hundreds of hectares of lush green fields - much of it alfalfa hay, a water-hungry but nutritious animal feed which once propped up the dairy industry here, and is now doing a similar job in China.

"A hundred billion gallons of water per year is being exported in the form of alfalfa from California," argues Professor Robert Glennon from Arizona College of Law.


"We wake up, we turn on the tap, and out comes as much water as we want for less than we pay for cell phone service or television," says Robert Glennon, author of "Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What To Do About It," and a professor at the University of Arizona. "Unfortunately, when most of us think about water we think about it like the air: infinite and inexhaustible. When for all practical purposes, it’s very finite and very exhaustible."

As we know from our economics classes, treating supply as if it’s unlimited, when it’s not, likely means one thing: we’re not paying enough for it.


latimes:

California’s calamitous drought drags on

It’s dry in California - historically dry. Water is in short supply, the air is noticeably without moisture, farms are parched and just look at the photo above of the state’s dwindling snow cover. It pretty much speaks for itself.

Meanwhile, various interests are turning to the political realm to try and ensure they get theirs when it comes to H2O.

And the drought has been particularly harsh on agriculture:

Ranchers have begun liquidating herds. Growers are considering tearing out thirsty tree crops such as nut orchards and citrus groves. And tens of thousands of additional acres of prime California soil could go unplanted if farmers don’t get enough water to irrigate them.

Read more on the drought’s effect on California here.

Photos: David McNew / Getty Images, Frederic J. Brown / Associated Press, NOAA, Randall Benton / Los Angeles Times