Short essays by Douglas Winslow Cooper, Ph.D., the author of TING AND I: A Memoir of Love, Courage and Devotion, published in September 2011 by Outskirts Press (Parker, CO, USA), available from outskirtspress.com/tingandi, Barnes and Noble [bn.com], and Amazon [amazon.com], in paperback or ebook formats. Please visit us at tingandi.com for more information.
Sunday, December 29, 2019
WATER WARS: Sharing the Colorado, Ch. 1, Impending Crisis
IMAGINE LIVING INa world without clean
drinking water. Could this really happen? Could this be our planet’s next
global crisis? Is America likely to be spared?
Just as it could be argued that wars have been fought over
access to oil, an environmental expert at the World Bank has said that the next
wars will be over water, quite possibly the water stored on the Tibetan Plateau
that ultimately irrigates most of Asia (Kallen, 2015). As will be noted below,
political “wars” have already developed over the rights to various water
Concern over water supplies led recently to an unusual
accusation: in mid-summer of 2018, an Iranian general accused Israel of
stealing clouds that otherwise would alleviate an Iranian drought. [https://
THE WATER CYCLE
Water is present in several different forms here on Earth:
the oceans, the Arctic and Antarctic ice formations, rivers and lakes, snow
packs and glaciers, soil moisture, water vapor, clouds…. Water evaporates,
forms clouds, which precipitate rain or snow, which becomes liquid water or
snow and ice. Terrestrial plants absorb water from the soil and eventually give
it up through transpiration from their leaves or from decomposition after they
die. Water, especially liquid water, is essential to life. (See Appendix 2.)
If the Earth were much colder, it would be an ice ball,
with negligible evaporation and negligible precipitation. If it were much
hotter, there would be little liquid water on its surface, and almost all water
not lost to outer space would be stored in the atmosphere as vapor or in clouds
of water droplets and ice crystals. Life on Earth depends on our globe’s being
in the relatively temperate zone it is now, with water in its solid, liquid,
and gaseous forms.
In 2015, the World Economic Forum [https://www.WEForum.org/
agenda/2015/01/why-world-water-crises-are-a-top-global-risk/] listed water
issues as the largest global risk in the coming decade. Whether it is finding
enough drinking water or obtaining water for agricultural irrigation (currently
70% of the world’s water usage), water scarcity is likely to produce lowered
standards of living and greater international friction. Even now, as the WEF
article indicates, a billion people live without safe drinking water, and a
third of the world’s population lives in “water-stressed” areas. The
International Atomic Energy Agency is cited as predicting that energy
production 20 years from now will require 85% more water.
In a subsequent publication
a W E F author cited research indicating that world-wide some 4 billion people,
2/3 of the Earth’s population, face at least one month of water shortage every
year, and nearly half of the people who face such water scarcity are in China
or India. For half a billion of these people, the rainfall supplying potable
water is less than the current demand, and the demand is going to grow as
populations increase. Maps of water shortage show it to be most pronounced in
northern and southern Africa, southwestern U.S., and Australia.
A recent article
listed 17 major cities on the verge of running short of drinking water: Los
Angeles, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Miami, Denver, El Paso, Lincoln (NE), Atlanta, San
Francisco, Cape Town, Beijing, Sao Paolo (Brazil), Cairo, London, Moscow, Istanbul,
and Mexico City.
Indeed, 2018 was the year Cape Town, South Africa, was
expected to run out of drinking water
The same article notes that only 1% of the world’s fresh water is accessible to
humans, with much of the rest too remote or captured as snow or ice rather than
potable liquid. One 2018 proposal for bringing fresh water to Cape Town, South
Africa [https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/ world-news/huge-icebergs-could-towed-antarctica-12456271]
was to push floating chunks of ice that had been released from Antarctica
naturally to supply the drought-stricken city. An ocean current would be
harnessed to help to move the icebergs. They would be chopped up to form a
slurry added to drinking water supplies. One expert estimated the typical
iceberg could provide 30% of the city’s drinking water needs for a year.
California, Australia, and Brazil have areas that in the
past few years have experienced drought, or “water stress,” where demand
exceeded readily available resources. This has led to water theft in Brazil,
India, and Mexico, sometimes blamed on a misunderstanding of the 2010 United
Nations’ position that water is “a right.” This can lead to international
tension, such as when a dam under construction on the headwaters of the Nile in
Ethiopia is seen by some Egyptians as a threat to their water supply.
Although Africa as a continent is notably water-poor, the
possibility of no potable water coming from the household water taps is
imminent not only there in Morocco, but also in Spain, India, and Iraq. This
conclusion was reached by analysis of satellite views of many of the world’s
Analysis indicates dozens of countries face water shortages, according to the
World Resources Institute. Examples of major dams that are more than 50%
depleted are worrisome, the causes being a mix of reduced rainfall and
An article by Derek Coleman in the Huntington, WV, HeraldDispatch
article_291fe4dd-4ba8-5629-a96a-ad6ae0261c53.html] notes that in Sao Paolo,
Brazil, a three-year period of drought brought the city’s reservoir to a bare
4% of its capacity.
In many cities in the world, population growth is
aggravating the shortages. The population of Bangalore, India, has increased by
50% in just 6 years, putting great strain on the water supplies. Population
growth is occurring around the world, requiring more fresh water yearly
(Kallen, 2015). It is estimated that by 2025, newly industrialized nations like
China, India, and Kenya, will need about 50% more water; currently
industrialized countries will need another 18%. Another estimate states that
population growth and industrialization in Africa will require four times as
much water as now used, by the year 2040 (Kallen, 2015).
Coleman writes that China has 20% of the world’s
population, but only 7% of its water. In Beijing “nearly half the water is so polluted,
it can’t even be used by either industry or agriculture.” Water pollution of
the Nile River in Egypt is so bad that much of the water is hazardous, and the
country is predicted to have a drinking water crisis in seven years. Pollution
ruins some 60% of Russia’s water supplies in a country that has 25% of the
world’s water supply. The UN estimates “the need for water will exceed the
world’s supply by 40% in the next ten years….” Many poor nations have terrible
sanitation facilities, leading to contaminated water supplies.
It is estimated that every 21 seconds a child (usually
outside the U.S.) dies from dirty drinking water (Kallen, 2015).
Our book describes the water scarcity problems and
discusses the options for overcoming them, hopefully before they reach crisis
proportions. Its focus will be on drinkable water, but it is worth noting that
public vs. private recreational uses of lakes and rivers are generating
conflicting demands on those resources as well [https://www.
A publication by The Pew Charitable Trust, STATELINE of
April 17, 2018 [http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/
stated that “nearly one-third of the continental United States was in drought
on April 10 , more than three times the coverage of a year ago.” The
article goes on to note predictions of severe water shortages in the West and
Of concern for the near future is the Colorado River,
source of water for some 40 million people. This region is the focus of our
book. The U.S. EPA is cited as predicting that global warming by 2050 will
quadruple the number of above-100-degrees days in the U.S. Southern Plains
region. Groundwater supplies (aquifers) are used by half the U.S. population,
nearly all of the rural fraction, and these are being depleted, more water
being used than is being replaced.
The primary source of drinking water for both Tucson and
Phoenix, Arizona, Lake Mead, Colorado, site of the Hoover Dam, may drop even
more precipitously due to a thirty-year drought in its region (Davis, 2018):
The Bureau of Reclamation held a presentation for hundreds of interested
parties in June of 2018, explaining that Arizona officials need to join with
the six other Colorado River Basin states to prepare a drought plan now, as
there is a 65% chance the lake will fall to levels that require cutting back
the water currently supplied to the municipalities covered by the $4 billion
Central Arizona Project (CAP).
THE AMERICAN SOUTHWEST
On August 15, 2018, the Bureau of Reclamation, a
multi-state agency, predicted there is a 52% chance that by 2020 the water
level in Lake Mead would fall below the threshold that requires a Federal water
shortage declaration, which could be a blow to the Southwest region’s economic
prospects. Bureau officials are cited as stating this has been the driest
19-year period in their recorded history.
Los Angeles Times
reporter Bettina Boxall [http://www.latimes.com/
local/lanow/la-me-colorado-cuts-20181010-story.html] outlined an agreement
being worked out with Arizona and Nevada on sharing water from the Colorado
River during periods of drought. California would reduce its diversion from the
river by 4.5% to 8% as the shortage continued, with Arizona and Nevada losing
their water earlier, having had later “appropriation” histories. So far, with
occasional breaks, there has been a shortfall from 2000 on. The whole Basin is
at 47% of capacity; the Upper Basin’s Lake Powell is at 45%, and the Lower
Basin’s Lake Mead is at 38%; some experts expect drought restrictions to be
announced by 2020.
Because of arrangements made in prior years, including the
purchase of water rights and the banking of unused water allocations, the
Metropolitan Water District (MWD) of Southern California has some built-in
cushioning of the effects of the Basin’s drought conditions region-wide.
Experts believe the Lower Basin problems will only worsen, because the usage is
outpacing the supply.