CARLSBAD, N.M. » Just after the local water board announced this month that its farmers would get only one-tenth of their normal water allotment this year, Ronnie Walterscheid, 53, stood up and called on his elected representatives to declare a water war on their upstream neighbors.
“It’s always been about us giving up,” Walterscheid said, to nods. “I say we push back hard right now.”
The drought-fueled anger of southeastern New Mexico’s farmers and ranchers is boiling, and there is nowhere near enough water in the desiccated Pecos River to cool it down. Roswell, about 75 miles to the north, has somewhat more water available and so is the focus of intense resentment here. Walterscheid and others believe that Roswell’s artesian wells reduce Carlsbad’s surface water.
For decades, the regional status quo meant the northerners pumped groundwater and the southerners piped surface water. Now, amid the worst drought on record, some in Carlsbad say they must upend the status quo to survive. They want to make what is known as a priority call on the Pecos River.
A priority call, an exceedingly rare maneuver, is the nuclear option in the world of water. Such a call would try to force the state to return to what had been the basic principle of water distribution in the West: The lands whose owners were the first users of the water — in most cases farmland — get first call on it in times of scarcity. Big industries can be losers; small farmers winners.
The threat of such a move reflects the political impact of the droughts that are becoming the new normal in the West.
“A call on the river is a call for a shakeout,” explained Daniel McCool, a University of Utah political scientist and author of “River Republic: The Fall and Rise of America’s Rivers.”
“It’s not going to be farmers versus environmentalists or liberals versus conservatives,” he said. “It’s going to be the people who have water versus the people who don’t.” And, he said, the have-nots will outnumber the haves.
Dudley Jones, the manager for the Carlsbad Irrigation District, said that water law and allocation practice have long diverged. “We have it in the state constitution: First in time, first in right. But that’s not how it’s practiced.” In New Mexico’s political pecking order, his alfalfa farmers, despite senior priority rights dating back 100 years, have little clout. The state water authorities, he said, “are not going to cut out the city.”
“They’re not going to cut out the dairy industry,” he added. “They’re not going to cut off the oil and gas industry, because that’s economic development. So we’re left with a dilemma — the New Mexico water dilemma.”
A priority call, said McCool, “will glaringly demonstrate how unfair, how anachronistic the whole water law edifice is.”
He added, “The all-or-nothing dynamic of prior appropriation instantly sets up conflict. I get all of mine and you get nothing.”
Ongoing drought conditions on Maui have prompted the county to adjust potable water production in the Upcountry area, the Maui Department of Water Supply said Friday.
On or about Wednesday, the department will reduce production at the Olinda Water Treatment Facility to 0.1 million gallons per day from 1.8 mgd to give Upper Kula reservoirs time to be refilled by rain.
The 30-million-gallon Waikamoi Reservoir is empty and the 100-million-gallon Kahakapao Reservoir is at 39.5 million gallons, the department said.
In the meantime, Upper Kula customers will get water from the Kamole water treatment facility in Haliimaile, the Piiholo treatment facility in Makawao and the Po‘okela well in Makawao.
Upper Kula customers may notice a change in water quality because the water from the lower elevations is disinfected with chlorine. The water meets all federal and state water quality standards.
The last decade saw the end of cheap oil, the magic growth ingredient for the global economy after the second world war. This summer’s increase in maize, wheat and soya bean prices – the third spike in the past five years – suggests the era of cheap food is also over.
Price increases in both oil and food provide textbook examples of market forces. Rapid expansion in the big emerging markets, especially China, has led to an increase in demand at a time when there have been supply constraints. For crude, these have included the war in Iraq, the embargo imposed on Iran, and the fact that some of the older fields are starting to run dry before new sources of crude are opened up.
The same demand dynamics affect food. It is not just that the world’s population is rising by 1% a year. Nor is it simply that China has been growing at 9% a year on average; it is that consumers in the big developing countries have developed an appetite for higher protein western diets. Meat consumption is rising in China, India and Brazil, and since it takes 7kg of grain to produce 1kg of beef (and 4kg to produce 1kg of pork), this is adding to global demand.
Farmers have been getting more efficient, increasing the yields of land under production, but this has been offset by two negative factors: policies in the US and the EU that divert large amounts of corn for biofuels and poor harvests caused by the weather.
If the World Bank’s projections are anything like accurate, further massive productivity gains from agriculture are going to be needed over the next two decades. There will be an extra 70m mouths to feed every year
Legal notices published Wednesday in The Maui News and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser listing people, churches, and commercial and other entities with claims to kuleana water rights in the Na Wai Eha surface water management area are part of a “historic” effort by the state water commission to recognize those appurtenant rights.
“This is the first time in its history that the commission is formally going to permanently recognize kuleana rights,” said Isaac Moriwake, an Earthjustice attorney, Wednesday.
He represented Hui o Na Wai Eha and Maui Tomorrow, which along with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, earlier this month claimed a major victory for appurtenant or kuleana water rights in the Hawaii Supreme Court. Moriwake and his clients got the high court to vacate a state Commission on Water Resource Management decision in a dispute over mauka diversions of the surface water of Na Wai Eha, or the four great waters of Central Maui – Waihee, Waiehu, Waikapu and Iao streams.
Currently, surface water is diverted from the four West Maui Mountain streams for Central Maui sugar cultivation and domestic use, and Native Hawaiian and environmental groups are seeking to have more water returned to streams to revive the natural habitat and to allow for taro cultivation.
The publication of those with claims to kuleana water was not directly related to the Hawaii Supreme Court ruling Aug. 15. However, as part of the process of recognizing kuleana water rights, water commission officials will be estimating how much water was historically used by landowners.
The kuleana water inventory can only help as the state water commission revisits the allocation of Na Wai Eha water, Moriwake said.
“There has been a historical difficulty to have these rights recognized,” he added.
Despite ongoing health concerns about the endocrine-disrupting chemical known as BPA — that it may promote breast cancer growth, for instance, harm sperm quality, or cause erectile dysfunction — the Food and Drug Administration has yet to come down hard on the use of the substance in consumer products. It’s still regularly found in our water bottles, soda cans, and even receipts.
But while we might look past threats to our own health, a new study published yesterday in the journal Evolutionary Applications linking BPA to inter-species mating in fish may be troubling enough to make the issue worth revisiting.
After all, nothing fires up the masses like some good, old-fashioned moral outrage.
The study, which looked at the mating behavior between blacktail shiners and red shiners that spent two weeks in BPA-contaminated tanks, found that the substance messed with the fishes’ hormones enough to cause changes in both appearance and behavior, culminating in an all-out cross-species lovefest.
While one could be open-minded about the possibilities deriving from such behavior — hybrid superfish? A new dinner item? — one concern is that the spread of BPA into rivers could promote the proliferation of invasive species. The red shiner has already been identified as a threat to other species in its natural habitat; continued procreation through interspecies mating would only intensify the problem. Might other species take their cue from the shiners and get funny ideas? Could the shiners tire of their aquatic options and start trolling the river banks for land species?
Right about now, tiny goldfields and purple mat should be erupting in carpets of color on the desert floor at Joshua Tree and Death Valley national parks. The gentle hills of the Antelope Valley poppy reserve should be turning bright orange with thousands of California poppy blossoms.
But so far this spring, wildflowers in local deserts and mountains are in short supply. Even the rainstorm that swept through Southern California last weekend won’t be able to rescue what flower watchers say is turning out to be a disappointing year.
“I have a feeling that if anything does happen, it’s going to be a late season and a short one,” says Helen Tarbet, a field ranger who leads wildflower walks at Figueroa Mountain in the Santa Lucia District of Los Padres National Forest.
Indeed, it has been a very dry year in California. In the Southland, the drenching winter rains critical for wildflowers to start germinating never materialized. The mid-March storm brought less than an inch to 4 inches of rain to Southern California, Santa Barbara area and the vicinity, but rainfall totals are still below normal for this time of year, according to the National Weather Service.
Statewide, the snowpack measured continues to be well-below last year’s record-setter.
“The pretty abysmal snowpack levels we have this year are going to impact a lot of recreational experiences,” says Frank Gehrke, chief of snow surveys for the state’s Department of Water Resources. Late rains in the Sierra could help, but the roaring waterfalls at Yosemite and the white-water courses of the Kern River probably will be less robust than usual.
Desert wildflowers might be one of the earliest harbingers of the low-water year.
Continued inefficient use of water could threaten Europe’s economy, productivity and ecosystems, a report has warned.
The European Environment Agency (EEA) said that the continent’s water resources were under pressure and things were getting worse.
It said limited supplies were being wasted, and nations had to implement existing legislation more effectively.
The EEA presented its findings at the 6th World Water Forum in Marseilles.
“The critical thing for us is that we are seeing an increasing number of regions where river basins, because of climate change, are experiencing water scarcity,” said EEA executive director Jacqueline McGlade.
“Yet behavioural change, and what that means, hasn’t really come about.”
Prof McGlade said the main purpose of the report was to raise awareness about the issue.
“Member states need to be clearer about the opportunities they can make in order to enhance their use of a scarce resource,” she told BBC News.
“Nations need to use different kinds of methods. Instead of just having a hosepipe ban to fix this year’s problem, you need to invest in a very different way.
“Long-term investment needs to recognise these different uses of how water is allocated, how it is used [and the need for] different water qualities.
“[The report] highlights all the different challenges as countries move from their historical position on water to where they are moving to [as a result of] climate change.”
Within the EU, agriculture uses about a quarter of the water diverted from the natural environment, and in southern Europe the figure is as high as 80%.
As there was an economic cost to farmers abstracting water to put on their crops, Prof McGlade said the sector was showing an increased awareness of where water was being used inefficiently.
For years, San Francisco’s Ocean Beach has been under assault by such powerful surf that a fierce winter storm can scour away 25 feet of bluff in just days.
The startling pace of the erosion near the San Francisco Zoo has compelled the city to spend $5 million to shore up the crumbling bluffs. The strategy has been simple: drop huge rocks and mounds of sand to protect the nearby Great Highway and the sewer pipes underneath from being destroyed by the crashing waves.
But as the enormous rocks have piled up, adding to a jumble of concrete — chunks of curb and bits and pieces of gutters — from parking lots that have tumbled onto the shore, so too have the demands that the city get rid of it all and let the coastline retreat naturally.
Now, San Francisco finds itself under fire from environmentalists, who call the rock and rubble unsightly and harmful to the beach, and the California Coastal Commission, which regulates development along the state’s 1,100-mile coastline but has refused to sign off on the fortifications, some of which have sat on the shore for 15 years without its permission.
WAILUKU – If you ask Department of Water Supply Director Dave Taylor what keeps him awake at night, he might think of something lurking in the depths of a 647-foot-long tunnel.
A single, aging pump, accessible only by descending to the very bottom of “Shaft 33,” a 65-year-old well above Wailuku, is responsible for delivering more than 5 million gallons of water per day to Central and South Maui. If the pump were to fail, thousands of residents could be without water until it was repaired – and that would be a long wait, he said.
“This kind of thing would be very, very hard to fix,” he said. “It’s difficult even to get to.”
While voters clamor for the county to provide more water to a growing population – and politicians promise to deliver it – Taylor said one of his biggest jobs will be to remind people that the county first needs to take care of the water customers it already serves. And that can take a lot of time and money in a system that includes more than 750 miles of pipelines; infrastructure located deep in mountainous jungles; and century-old water intakes and ditches that must integrate with state-of-the-art treatment plants.
“All the discussion is about expanding service,” he said. “There’s very little discussion about what it takes to keep reliable service to existing customers.”
Calling Shaft 33 one of the system’s weakest links, Taylor said it’s imperative that the county continue a project that is already under way to replace the aging well with three smaller, modern ones tapping into the same aquifer.