Wednesday 22 October 2014

Water woes

Water Crisis Seen Worsening as Sao Paulo Nears ‘Collapse’

A man walks on dry, cracked earth where water usually stands at the Jaguar Reservoir  Photographer: Paulo Fridman/Bloomberg

22 October, 2014

Sao Paulo residents were warned by a top government regulator today to brace for more severe water shortages as President Dilma Rousseff makes the crisis a key campaign issue ahead of this weekend’s runoff vote.

If the drought continues, residents will face more dramatic water shortages in the short term,” Vicente Andreu, president of Brazil’s National Water Agency and a member of Rousseff’s Workers’ Party, told reporters in Sao Paulo. “If it doesn’t rain, we run the risk that the region will have a collapse like we’ve never seen before,” he later told state lawmakers.

The worst drought in eight decades is threatening drinking supplies in South America’s biggest metropolis, with 60 percent of respondents in a Datafolha poll published yesterday saying their water supplies were restricted at least once in the past 30 days. Three-quarters of those people said the cut lasted at least six hours.

Rousseff, who is seeking re-election in the Oct. 26 election against opposition candidate Aecio Neves, is stepping up her attacks of Sao Paulo state’s handling of the water crisis, saying in a radio campaign ad yesterday that Governor Geraldo Alckmin was offered federal support and refused. Neves, who polls show is statistically tied with Rousseff, and Alckmin are both members of the Social Democracy Party, known as PSDB.

Neves said yesterday on his website that ANA is being used by the PT for it’s own purposes. “The agency could have been a much better partner to Governor Alckmin,” he said.


Neves campaign officials didn’t immediately respond to an e-mailed request for comment on ANA chief’s accusations.

With more than 40 million people and over 96,000 square miles (250,000 square kilometers), Sao Paulo state is geographically bigger than the U.K. It’s responsible for almost a third of Brazil’s gross domestic product.

Andreu, who served as secretary of water resources under Rousseff’s predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, criticized the state government’s handling of the water crisis, saying officials haven’t communicated with water regulators on key issues. Sabesp, the Sao Paulo state-run water utility, andAlckmin’s office declined to comment.

Sabesp’s responses have been small -- they should have already taken huge steps,” Andreu said, adding that he told the state’s water secretary in August that “we can’t keep this up; we’re not alerting the population of the seriousness of this situation.”

Sabesp is struggling to find new ways to supply greater Sao Paulo after the drought turned its Cantareira reservoir, which serves half of Sao Paulo, into a dried-up bed of cracked earth. What’s left of the four-lake complex are sediment-filled pools in the center -- so-called dead reserves -- that were previously untappable until Sabesp built 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) of pipes to drain the water.

Water levels fell to 3.3 percent of capacity at Cantareira and 8.5 percent at Sabesp’s Alto Tiete reservoir, according to the company’s website.

Sabesp, formally known as Cia. de Saneamento Basico do Estado de Sao Paulo, is Latin America’s largest publicly traded water company. The stock has plunged 27 percent this year.

14 California Communities Now on Verge of Waterless-Ness; Mass Migration out of California Seems Imminent

20 October, 2014

Unless California gets some heavy rain, and soon, the state’s roughly 38 million residents will eventually be up a creek without a paddle — or without a creek, for that matter. The latest media reports indicate that some 14 communities throughout the state are now on the verge of running completely dry, and many more could join them in the coming year if conditions remain as they are.

A few months ago, the official count was 28 communities bordering on complete waterless-ness, according to the Water Resources Control Board. Those that have since dropped off the list were able to come up with a fix, at least for now. The other 14, though, face an unprecedented resource collapse that could leave thousands of Californians with no other choice but to pack their bags and head to greener pastures.

It’s a sign of how severe this drought is,” verbalized Bruce Burton, an assistant deputy director for the board, to the Los Angeles Times about some of the drastic measures being taken. For the first time ever, the water board has begun tracking communities throughout the state that are bordering on complete water loss, a situation that has never before occurred.

Most of the communities on the brink are located in California’s Central Valley, the “food basket” of America that The New York Times (NYT) once declared to be the nation’s greatest food resource. Most of America’s carrots are grown there, as are the bulk of salad greens, almonds and citrus fruits that we all take for granted — but that could soon disappear due to the continued drought.

Larger, More Sophisticated Communities’ Face Total Water Depletion

In some stricken areas, water facilities have been able to secure temporary supplies from neighboring communities as they figure out longer-term solutions. In Siskiyou County near the Oregon border, the city of Montague was actually able to construct a brand-new irrigation ditch to transport water from a lake 25 miles away, replacing an old ditch that had run dry back in April.

While most of the communities facing total water depletion are relatively small in size, with only a few thousand residents each, the prospect of larger communities also becoming affected is increasingly likely. Tom Quinn, the executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies, says that, if the drought continues, many of the more iconic regions of California will suffer.

If this drought keeps on going, some larger, more sophisticated communities are going to be in trouble next year,” he told the LA Times.

Mountains Shifting Due to Water Loses

It isn’t just that no new water is coming into California — underground aquifers and other former backup sources are also running dry. According to research published in the journal Science, the entire Western United states has lost an astounding 240 gigatons of water since 2013, an amount equivalent to 1 billion tons.

In spatial terms, this amount of water could be spread out across the entire Western U.S. in a solid 10-centimeter sheet, constituting about 63 trillion gallons, or enough to fill 75,000 football stadiums. This loss has not only altered the gravitational field of California, according to the study, but also caused mountains throughout the state to rise up out of the ground in some areas.

100 percent of the state is in drought, with 82 percent of the land designated as in ‘extreme’ or ‘exceptional’ drought, the highest levels on the U.S. Drought Monitor scale,” explains the National Journal. “Thirty-seven million people are affected by the drought.”

Drought drives 42 percent crash in crop production in Sri Lanka

Parched paddy fields, destroyed by sustained drought, await rainfall in Sri Lanka's northern Jaffna District. (Thomson Reuters Foundation/Amantha Perera)
20 October, 2014

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (Thomson Reuters Foundation) -  An 11-month drought, considered by experts to be the worst in recent history, has forced sharp increases in food prices in Sri Lanka – and the worst may be yet to come, according to recent updates.

Rice, the island’s staple food, has seen double digit price hikes in all varieties compared to a year ago. Some of the more popular varieties such as Samba have recorded price increases of 30 percent compared to a year back, according to government statistics
Rice prices rose 36 percent by the end of September, compared to a year ago, as a result of falling production, the Geneva based Assessment Capacities Project, which provides updates of humanitarian crisis situations, said in its latest Global Food Security Updates, citing government reports.
Some vegetable varieties have shown similar price increases, with beans and beetroot rising in cost by 19 percent and 13 percent respectively compared to a year ago.
This is one of the worst droughts in the past decade. The impact is going to be severe and will increase if adequate rains are not received during the October (and) November season,” said Ranjith Punyawardena, chief climatologist at the Department of Agriculture.
According to government estimates, the rice harvest this year is likely to be at least 20 percent below the four million metric tons recorded last year and will also be the lowest in six years. Overall, crop production has fallen by 42 percent this year compared to 2013, the update by the Assessment Capacities Project said.
Dayarathna Gamage is a farmer from the North Eastern Polonnaruwa district who is now faced with the twin evils of losing his harvest and facing rising food prices.
Gamage, who has a one acre plot of paddy rice and a half acre plot of vegetables, has lost two harvests back to back. “I am in debt. I have borrowed over Rs 250,000 ($1,800) this year and mortgaged my paddy land,” he said.
In a normal year, the father of two school-going children makes around Rs 500,000 ($3,600)  to Rs 600,000 ($4,200) from his crops. But he said that all his savings had been exhausted and he was now left to wait till the next rains.
If they don’t come, I will lose my paddy plot,” he said.
Over 1.6 million people are affected by the drought and at least half of that population is in the Northern and Eastern Provinces of the country, two of the poorest regions nationally, according to government figures.
A study by the World Food Programme in April said that over 700,000 Sri Lankans, mostly from the North and East, were food insecure. The agency has set aside $2.5 million to assist the drought victims, while the government has also allocated around $10 million to provide cash-for-work programmes.
Farmers like Gamage blame their losses on lack of advice about upcoming rain delays, but Punyawardena and other experts say the losses are also due to poor water and crop management.
It is now more about how we manage our water than the amount of rain we get,” said D.C.S. Elakanda, project director for the Climate Resilience Improvement Project at the Ministry of Irrigation and Water Management.
Though rains have failed in the last 11 months, Elakanda said that during the season preceding that rains had been above average. To balance increasingly extreme rainfall and worsening drought, “we need to manage our water resources much more efficiently”, he said.
Punyawardena said that when the drought set in, the advice sent to farmers by the Department of Agriculture was to shift to quicker maturing rice varieties or to crops like onions and bananas that require less water.
But “very few heeded our advice”, he said.
However, farmers are slowly coming around to breaking out of their traditional harvesting patterns and becoming more flexible, the climatologist said.
They have suffered such high losses due to changing weather patterns that they have no option but to be flexible,” he said.
Amantha Perera is a freelance writer based in Sri Lanka. He can be followed on Twitter at @AmanthaP 

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