The Water Wars of Arizona

The Water Wars of Arizona

SOURCE: New York Times DATE: July 19, 2018 SNIP: Aquifers are unimaginably complex and incredibly fragile; once tapped, they can take more than 6,000 years to replenish. Among the most vulnerable aquifers are those underlying the desert basins of the American Southwest. The Sulphur Springs Valley, in Arizona’s far southeastern corner, is one such basin. Surrounded on three sides by steep mountain ranges, the valley is an unusually flat and level 1,900-square-mile expanse of sagebrush and tanglegrass, which acts as a massive natural vessel for rain and snowmelt. In geological terms, it is a “closed basin,” as none of its water rejoins a river. Instead, it pools at the center, percolating into the ground. Centuries of evaporation have transformed this ancient lake bed into a dry alkali flat, inhabited today by a migratory roost of 30,000 sandhill cranes. Beneath it, buried in layers of sediment, lies all the water that never flowed to the ocean. Some of it is more than 20,000 years old. Around the turn of the 20th century, when sulfurous water was discovered bubbling out of the ground, cattle ranches and homesteads began to proliferate across the valley. One of the first deep water wells was drilled around 1915, when Texas farmers began adopting the oil industry’s turbine pump. Overnight, this innovation allowed agriculture to stray deep into arid climates, and in the span of a generation, the valley became home to a thriving agricultural economy. In the late 1990s, during the first few years of what would eventually turn out to be a 19-year-and-counting Arizona drought, only about 15,000 acre-feet of water were estimated to...
When Tropical Cyclones Can’t Move On

When Tropical Cyclones Can’t Move On

SOURCE: National Center for Environmental Information at NOAA DATE: June 6, 2018 SNIP: Tropical cyclones—also sometimes referred to as hurricanes and typhoons—are taking substantially longer to move from place to place, according to a new study by NCEI scientist Jim Kossin. In his paper, “A Global Slowdown of Tropical Cyclone Translation Speed (link is external),” published in Nature, Kossin demonstrates that, globally, tropical cyclones slowed by 10 percent between 1949 and 2016. With additional water vapor in the atmosphere in a warming world, as little as a 10 percent slowdown could double local rainfall and flooding impacts caused by 1°C of warming. According to the study, tropical cyclones have slowed in both hemispheres and in every ocean basin except the Northern Indian Ocean. But, tropical cyclones have generally slowed more in the Northern Hemisphere, where more of these storms typically occur each year. “Of great importance to society,” says Kossin, “tropical cyclones over land have slowed down 20 percent in the Atlantic, 30 percent in the western North Pacific, and 19 percent in the Australian region. These trends are almost certainly increasing local rainfall totals and freshwater flooding, which is associated with very high mortality risk.” Hurricane Harvey in 2017 serves as a dramatic example of the consequences a slow-moving or “stalled” tropical cyclone can produce. Harvey—the hurricane that refused to leave—dumped upwards of 50 inches of rain on Houston, Texas, and the surrounding area in just five days. Some locations received two feet of rain in just two days. [Slower than expected?...
Warming, Water Crisis, Then Unrest: How Iran Fits an Alarming Pattern

Warming, Water Crisis, Then Unrest: How Iran Fits an Alarming Pattern

SOURCE: New York Times and LA Times DATE: January 18, 2018 SNIP: Nigeria. Syria. Somalia. And now Iran. In each country, in different ways, a water crisis has triggered some combination of civil unrest, mass migration, insurgency or even full-scale war. In the era of climate change, their experiences hold lessons for a great many other countries. The World Resources Institute warned this month of the rise of water stress globally, “with 33 countries projected to face extremely high stress in 2040.” Iran is the latest example of a country where a water crisis, long in the making, has fed popular discontent. That is particularly true in small towns and cities in what is already one of the most parched regions of the world. Climate change is projected to make Iran hotter and drier. A former Iranian agriculture minister, Issa Kalantari, once famously said that water scarcity, if left unchecked, would make Iran so harsh that 50 million Iranians would leave the country altogether. Water alone doesn’t explain the outbreak of protests that began in early January and spread swiftly across the country. But as David Michel, an analyst at the Stimson Center put it, the lack of water — whether it’s dry taps in the city, or dry wells in the countryside, or dust storms rising from a shrinking Lake Urmia (pictured) — is one of the most common, most visible markers of the government’s failure to deliver basic services. “Water is not going to bring down the government,” he said. “But it’s a component — in some towns, a significant component — of grievances and...
UN official calls for land preservation to ensure sustainable development

UN official calls for land preservation to ensure sustainable development

SOURCE: XinhuaNet (Chinese Media is notoriously unreliable, so read with a grain of salt). DATE: December 5, 2017 SNIP: The ecosystem services that land provides will have to increase exponentially to sustain the planet, as agricultural production needs to increase by about 70 percent globally to feed the expected population of 9 billion in 2050. That would mean finding an estimated 6 million hectares of land for agricultural production annually and twice the amount of water by 2050. The painful fact is that soil degradation is increasing rapidly in spite of fast growing demand, with a quarter of the world’s land highly degraded…more than half of all agricultural land has already degraded. The problem could lead to the loss of two thirds of all arable land by 2025, plunging millions of farmers into poverty and igniting conflicts and migration, according to the...
Climate change: Jordan water crisis ‘to get worse’

Climate change: Jordan water crisis ‘to get worse’

SOURCE: Al Jazeera DATE: November 7, 2017 SNIP: Water shortages in Jordan are likely to get far worse over the coming years, according to a recent study by Stanford University. The researchers said that, in the absence of international climate policy action, the country could receive 30 percent less rainfall by 2100 and annual temperatures could increase by 4.5 Celsius. This would double the number and duration of droughts when compared with the 1981-2010 period, raising concerns in a country already dealing with water shortages. Currently, the reservoirs in Jordan are at a record low – only one-fifth full – and the vital winter rains are becoming increasingly erratic. There seems little respite for the country, which draws 160 percent more water from the ground than is replenished by...