Tag Archives: clean drinking water

The Unquenchable Thirst

South-to-North Water Transfer Project. image from wikipedia

Most of the drinking water consumed in Beijing has travelled 1,432km (895 miles), roughly the distance from New York to Orlando, Florida. Its journey begins in a remote and hilly part of central China at the Danjiangkou reservoir, on the bottom of which lies the drowned city of Junzhou. The water gushes north by canal and pipeline, crosses the Yellow river by burrowing under it, and arrives, 15 days later, in the water-treatment plants of Beijing. Two-thirds of the city’s tap water and a third of its total supply now comes from Danjiangkou.

This winter and spring, the reservoir was the capital’s lifeline. No rain or snow fell in Beijing between October 23rd 2017 and March 17th 2018—by far the longest drought on record. Yet the city suffered no supply disruptions, unlike Shanxi province to the west, where local governments rationed water. The central government is exultant, since the project which irrigates Beijing was built at vast cost and against some opposition.

The South-to-North Water Diversion Project—to give the structure its proper name—is the most expensive infrastructure enterprise in the world. It is the largest transfer of water between river basins in history, and China’s main response to its worst environmental threat, which is (despite all the pollution) lack of water.

The route between Beijing and Danjiangkou, which lies on a tributary of the Yangzi, opened in 2014. An eastern route opened in 2013 using the ancient Grand Canal between Hangzhou and the capital. (Jaw-dropping hydrological achievements are a feature of Chinese history.) A third link is planned on the Tibetan plateau, but since that area is prone to earthquakes and landslides, it has been postponed indefinitely…

Downstream from Danjiangkou, pollution has proved intractable. By diverting water from the Yangzi, the project has made the river more sluggish. It has become less able to wash away contaminants and unable to sustain wetlands, which act as sponges and reduce flooding. To compensate for water taken from their rivers, local governments are also building dams wherever they can to divert it back again. Shaanxi province, for example, is damming the Han river to transfer water to its depleted river Wei….Worst of all, the project diverts not only water but money and attention from China’s real water problem: waste and pollution.

Excerpts from Water: Massive Diversiion, Economist, Apr. 7, 2018

To Each its Water: the fight for the California aquifer

Palm springs pool. Image from wikipedia

Deep beneath the desert east of Los Angeles is a Southern California treasure: a massive basin filled with fresh water.

The aquifer has spurred development of the popular resort towns in the Coachella Valley, such as Palm Springs, Palm Desert and Rancho Mirage. But it also lies underneath the reservation of a small Native American tribe that owns golf courses and casinos in the area.

The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians say the drinking water is partly theirs, and wants a stake in how it is used by public utilities. A yearslong legal battle over the issue could end up being taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court this fall.  The high court’s action could affect groundwater rights across the arid West, where utilities now deliver the water to tribes as another customer, along with farmers, cities and businesses.

The 480-member tribe contends the local water agencies—the Desert Water Agency and Coachella Valley Water District—have mismanaged the groundwater by allowing too much to be pumped out and by replenishing the source with untreated water from the Colorado River that they consider subpar.  The water agencies, however, say the tribe appears to be making a water grab, potentially setting a dangerous precedent where control of a municipal resource is partially ceded from a public utility.

They also say the tribe, which has built two casino resorts and two 18-hole championship-caliber golf courses on its 31,500 acres, has little experience in managing water, and could potentially sell some of it.  “They’re in the money business,” said James Cioffi, board president of the Desert Water Agency. The tribe says its only interest is in preserving the quality of the water.

Agua Caliente in 2013 took its case to federal court, winning in the first round on the issue of whether it has federal reserved rights to groundwater. That ruling was upheld in March by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. The water agencies appealed to the Supreme Court, which is expected to decide whether to hear the case this fall….If it lets the lower court rulings stand, more tribes could seek groundwater rights—triggering more litigation….Other tribes have already filed friend-of-the-court briefs on behalf of Agua Caliente’s litigation, including the Spokane in Washington and Paiutes in Nevada.

Tribal rights over rivers and other surface water supplies are well established in the West, but less so when it comes to groundwater—one of the most important drinking water sources in many desert areas.

Excertp from In Palm Springs, a Fight Over Who Controls the Drinking Water, Wall Street Journal,  Aug. 2, 2017

The Price for Self-Sufficiency: water resources in China

Crand Canal of China

China’s new canal stretches over 1,200km (750 miles) from the Yangzi river north to the capital, Beijing. The new channel is only part of the world’s biggest water-diversion scheme. More than 300,000 people have been kicked out to make way for the channel and the expansion of a reservoir in central China that will feed it. But the government is in a hurry, and has paid their complaints little heed.

China’s leaders see the so-called South-North Water Diversion Project, which has already cost tens of billions of dollars, as crucial to solving a water problem that threatens the country’s development and stability. Grain-growing areas around Beijing have about as much water per person as such arid countries as Niger and Eritrea. Overuse has caused thousands of rivers to disappear. The amount of water available is diminishing fast as the water table drops and rivers dry up; what little is left is often too polluted even for industrial use. The World Bank has said that China’s water crisis costs the country more than 2% of GDP, mostly because of damage to health. T

Yet China’s water problem will remain unsolved. The canal is the second leg of the diversion project; the first, which opened last year in eastern China, brings water from the south along the route of the old Grand Canal, built 1,400 years ago, to the northern plain. Neither will prove more than temporary palliatives as demand continues to soar and pollution remains widespread. China’s water crisis cannot be tackled by showy mega-projects. Misguided policy is as much to blame as a mismatch in supply between the water-rich south and the arid north. A new approach to water management, rather than more concrete, is needed.

The solution is simple: China needs to price its water properly.  The Maoist obsession with food self-sufficiency compounds the problem. The arid northern plain, home to 200m people, produces water-hungry crops such as wheat and corn. Nearly 70% of water consumed in the area is used for agriculture. It is time for China to abandon autarkic thinking and import more food.

China’s water crisis: Grand new canals, Economist, Sept. 27, 2014

Cross Border Water Management: the case of Namibia and Angola

A transboundary initiative aimed at providing clean drinking water and proper sanitation between Angola and Namibia is making steady progress.  The Kunene Transboundary Water Supply Project — is a good model of trans-boundary cooperation in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC). The KTWSP will improve the water supply for around 700,000 residents of southern Angola and northern Namibia, providing for domestic consumption, irrigation, and industry.  The project includes the rehabilitation of the Calueqe Dam in southern Angola, which suffered extensive damage during the country’s 27 years of civil war. So far, some 35 million dollars have been invested in the project, which is being funded by the Namibian and Angola governments and contributions from the UK, the German Development Bank and Australia.

Dr Kuiri Tjipangandjara, an engineer at the Namibia Water Corporation (NamWater) and co-Chair of the KTWSP, told IPS that construction of a new pipeline between the southern Angola towns of Xangongo and Ondjiva has already begun. This link will supply treated water to various towns and villages along its route, such as Namacunde, Santa-Clara and Chiedi.  Designs for the network to distribute water within and around Ondjiva are in progress, as are plans for another bulk water pipeline linking Santa Clara to the Namibian town of Oshakati.

Tjipangandjara said Angola has also begun setting up a water utility for the Kunene region.  “There was nothing in place before, and it takes time to set up such a utility and other facilities of the project,” he said.  Numerous design and feasibility studies must be conducted and approved by all involved parties: Angola, Namibia, SADC and the German Development Bank.  “Of course it will be a state-owned utility,” he said, but he did not venture to predict if it would eventually operate on a cost-recovery basis like NamWater, explaining that each country designs its own policies – dictated by the reality on the ground and by history. –