In a world with no shortage of calamities, there is an imminent disaster that threatens to trump all other disasters: running out of water. Human beings can live without petroleum. We can survive weeks without food. But no living creature can survive even two days without fresh water and across the globe–as a side effect of human decisions and of climate change — fresh water is about to become the scarcest commodity on the planet.
There are no continents on earth free from the clear and present danger of running out of water and water shortage. Yet, few governments on earth are giving this subject the attention it requires. From the United States, Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa, virtually every spot on earth is running out of water. There exist few solutions and the only universal ones — seawater desalination — require vast amounts of energy and the release of massive quantities of greenhouse gases, at the same time the world will need to slash those same emissions unless we want to face the onslaught of saltwater, extreme weather and the sweep of tropical diseases.
United States Water Shortage
Of all spots on the planet, the United States faces droughts and dwindling water supplies that had formerly been viewed as a given. The entire western half of the United States and a few spots in the East face freshwater calamities. California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas–all of these states face drought. The 20th Century was the wettest century in the Western half of the United States in 1,000 years.
All the states (California, Arizona, Nevada and Colorado) that depend on the Colorado River for the majority of their water supply face dwindling supplies as both Lake Powell and Lake Mead drop to the lowest level since both were built. Lake Powell sits at 45% of capacity and is dropping fast. The Colorado River faces its worst drought in a Century, one which will decimate agriculture, electric power generation, and human life.
As described in the book “Cadillac Desert,” states like California already face an endgame as they have long ago exploited every possible source of water within their reach and beyond, using skulduggery and every other means possible to steal from others (see the movie “Chinatown” for details).
Although delusional governmental groups such as the Central Arizona Project tried to downplay the coming horrors of water shortage, Arizona — late to the party — already faces grim alternatives others do: pumping groundwater that took millennia to accumulate at a rate that promises to exhaust it within a handful of years.
Larry Walkoviak, Director of the Upper Colorado Region, said:
This is the worst 14-year drought period in the last 100 years.
Pat Mulroy, chief of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, said Las Vegas is ready to request Federal Disaster Assistance as water levels threaten to fall so low 2 of the city’s 3 water intake pipes will stand above the water line, useless. Every entity that depends on the Colorado River is in crisis.
Craig Mackey, co-director of a coalition of 900 local businesses, said:
We’ve gotten to a point where we’ve never been before.
After the Bureau of Reclamation dammed every possible source of water in the 20th Century, there remain no more sources to tap. States like Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska are already pumping the Ogallala aquifer — accumulated over millennia — dry at a rate that promises to exhaust it within a few short years. In Texas, lassez faire water-usage laws encourage farmers to pump the Ogallala dry as fast as possible to prevent neighboring farmers from doing it before they can. Already, Texas is suffering the most intense lack of moisture on record, as the Ogallala aquifer races down hundreds of feet a year to its imminent exhaustion.
In other parts of Texas such as Galveston, rising sea water levels and storm surges present a different threat — the horror of inundation. The last big hurricane to strike Galveston nearly destroyed the city’s sewage treatment plant that is located right on the coast, threatening to poison what freshwater does exist.
As described in the book “The Big Thirst,” Atlanta, Georgia, the largest American city not near a major body of water, is fighting a last ditch water war with the states of Alabama and Florida over Lake Lanier — its source for three-fourths of the fresh water consumed by the city. In July of this year, a U.S. district judge ordered Atlanta to cease drawing water from Lake Lanier, setting a countdown to crisis that was halted temporarily by the 11th Circuit District Court of Appeals, pending a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Groundwater that supplies Chicago and Milwaukee has dropped a thousand feet as those cities drain their water at an alarming rate as states with current supplies turn a blind eye as oblivious citizens dump water on their lawns and farmers divert scarce water resources to grow water intensive crops in drought prone areas.
Miami and Southern Florida?– like Galveston, Texas — faces imminent inundation from climate change — which threatens to flood the entire Southern half of the state. Florida is already a place that gets 90 percent of its freshwater from groundwater. Rising salt water tables already threaten to eliminate that supply along with the supply of dry land in the entire state.
Europe Water Shortage
In Europe, rising sea levels associated with climate change threaten to submerge London in sea water, at the same time that the worst drought in 200 years paralyzes the Danube river as rainfall vanishes in Eastern Europe and the Balkans.
Anton Balasz,?a Hungarian ship captain whose boat is stranded, said:
In my many years of experience as a boat captain, I don’t remember a drought as harsh as this one.
Water levels have dropped so far they have exposed World War II-era bombs that have laid dormant for 67 years under water.
Asia Water Shortage
India faces a sputtering economy and the disappearance of years of prosperity in which the country neglected its water infrastructure and now farmers drain its groundwater, its holy rivers are cesspools of pollution and waste and its cities face non-existent water. Ironically, India is a rare place on earth that should enjoy abundant supplies of fresh water from its monsoon seasons that regularly dump mass quantities of fresh water. Yet, virtually all of that monsoon water passes uncollected into the ocean as the infrequent deluges are frittered away. India’s farmers rely on scarce groundwater for 65 percent of its irrigation needs and experts estimate it will last only for another 20 years. After that there will be famine and catastrophe as far as the eye can see.
In its cities, India frittered away the 24/7 water supply it inherited from the British when that country left India in 1947. Since then, India’s government has failed to maintain that system to the point where not one city–not Delhi, Mumbai or even Bangalore have true 24/7 pressurized freshwater as it is seen in all other developed countries. The lack of water pressure leads to a system in Indian cities where its water customers stand at the ready with pumps that kick on the second the scarce water appears. Perversely, these pumps–intended to cope with the lack of water pressure–combine with leaky adjacent sewage pipes to draw sewer water into the “freshwater” lines and thereby contaminate it. To this day, given the infiltration of sewer water because of the use of pumps that cause leaky water pipes not to expel water but draw it inside, in no city in modern India may a consumer drink that water straight from the tap.
So, even in India, a place blessed with the possibility of avoiding a water crisis, the overdraft of groundwater, pollution of its rivers with human sewage and even burned human bodies and mismanagement of the 20th-Century water system it inherited, freshwater remains an urgent crisis.
China similarly faces its own freshwater crisis as a result of climate change that threatens to eliminate the snow-pack in the Himalayan Mountains in Tibet, which affects the Yangtze, Mekong and Indus Rivers (affecting China, Viet Nam and India, respectively) . Freshwater reserves in China decreased 13 percent between 2000 and 2009, along with punishing droughts in 2000, 2007, and 2009. Normally, Southern regions in China receive 80% of China’s rain and snow melt but both of those sources are dwindling in the face of Climate Change. According to the book “World on the Edge,” over 24,000 villages in North and West China have been abandoned in the past 50 years because of creeping desertification. The Gobi Desert now stretches to within 150 miles of Beijing. China faces a problem similar to India where 55 percent of water intended for crops is wasted and never reaches its intended use. Other problems of mismanagement include diversions of freshwater to the production of coal, which in turn exacerbates climate change in a vicious circle. Added to that are nightmare scenarios around the state of the famous Yellow River in China and the precarious state of its levies.
Viet Nam, another country dependent on melt-water from the Himalayan mountains threatens to shoot itself in the foot by building damns along the Mekong river, plans that have been carried out in similar situations around the globe, and which lead to cost overruns and decimate Mekong wildlife that already face peril from climate change, pollution and over-fishing. Most dangerous for the Mekong would be the elimination of unique seasonal backward flows in the Mekong that allow its entire ecosystem to flourish. These benefits would end after the dams are built.
Australian Water Shortage
Already the world’s driest continent, Australia has been suffering the “Big Dry,” its worst drought and water shortage in recorded history, droughts that have caused its famous Murray River — the Australian equivalent of the Mississippi river — to stop short of the Indian Ocean for several years during the first decade of the 21st Century. Facing 90 percent empty reservoirs, some Australian cities have faced the prospect of survival only by recycling brown “poo” water. Given a temporary respite by rains from the winter of 2013, Australia and its 22 million citizens face a future of “poo” water and expensive sea water desalination. Already, agriculture is a distant memory in many former breadbasket sections of Down Under and thirsty rice farming had been slashed by 98% by 2008. Even Australian camels have invaded the cities, looking for anything to drink. The Murray-Darling watershed, responsible for 45% of Australia’s agriculture, is often a dry bed.
There are few places on earth not facing a water apocalypse/water shortage. Vast swaths of Africa have turned to deserts. As climate change picks up speed, it will become clear that the problems have only begun. As you turn on the tap in your home, take a hard look at that flowing life and know that it may not flow for much longer.
Edited and published by CB