Undercurrents: beneath the obvious

October 26, 2007

States eye lakes water management

From the Post-Tribune:

Great Lakes water levels are near historic lows. And with droughts in the Southeast and Southwest, the pressure to turn to the Great Lakes as a source of fresh water is growing.

The Georgian Bay Association released new figures in August indicating that an extra 2.5 billion gallons of water are being drained from the lakes every day. It takes about 99 years for water in Lake Michigan to replenish itself.

Meanwhile, New Mexico Gov. and Democratic presidential hopeful Bill Richardson hinted earlier this month that he’d be willing to divert Great Lakes water when he said “states like Wisconsin are awash in water.” He later partially withdrew that statement.

“On a longer-term basis, among the issues are, we’ve been losing population in the Midwest to the West and Southwest, which means we’ve been losing seats in virtually every election. The concern is that in the future, we’d not be able to defend our territory in Congress,” said Gary environmental activist Lee Botts.

May 9, 2007

Waukesha Wisconsin wants to tap aquifer

Filed under: Great Lakes Issues,Water Diversion,Wisconsin — nemo @ 1:06 pm

From The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Facing a state Department of Natural Resources deadline to reduce radium levels in its drinking water, the Waukesha Water Utility with Mayor Larry Nelson’s support wants to acquire property [42 acres along the Vernon Marsh Wildlife Area] in the Town of Waukesha [WI] by using its powers of eminent domain.

Underneath the property is a shallow aquifer of clean water that replenishes the Vernon Marsh and provides private well service to an unknown number of homeowners near the massive wetlands.

The utility wants to withdraw up to 3 million gallons daily from that aquifer and mix it with existing city water to dilute radium concentrations that are usually twice the amount allowed under federal safe drinking water standards.

The city’s goal is to hook into a new source eventually, possibly from Lake Michigan, and relegate the Vernon Marsh wells to backup status, but that goal is years away.

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April 25, 2007

Waterloo Ontario Looking at Lake Erie Pipeline

The Waterloo Record on more pipeline news:

The proposed pipeline would draw water from an existing Nanticoke treatment plant. The plant would be expanded to supply treated water to seven communities along the Grand River.

Waterloo Region, population 507,000, draws 80 per cent of its drinking water from underground and 20 per cent from the Grand River. Underground sources are considered plentiful and they are being expanded. Water conservation is keeping pace with growth.

Some environmentalists oppose a pipeline at any time, calling on politicians to focus instead on conservation and groundwater protection. However, regional government forecasts call for a Great Lake pipeline by 2035, when the population has grown beyond 729,000.

Lake Erie is touted as a pipeline source in part because there’s already a water-taking permit in place that’s big enough to service Waterloo Region and other communities. The Ontario government approved the permit in the 1970s, based on a 1969 plan to pipe water from Lake Erie to Waterloo Region.

The Ministry of the Environment has said it will reject Lake Huron as a source, to avoid diverting water from one Great Lake to another. Water used [in Waterloo] becomes treated wastewater that flows to Lake Erie, down the Grand River.

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April 13, 2007

Debate to heat up over North American water trade

From Canada’s National Post:

Canadian water is on the table at trilateral talks between politicians, businessmen and academics from Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, …

A series of closed-door conferences for the North American Future 2025 Project will include the discussion of “water transfers” and diversions, according to the outline for the project, a trilateral effort to draft a “blueprint” on economic integration for the governments of Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.

The project was launched by the three governments in March 2006 to help guide the ongoing Security and Prosperity Partnership, a wide-ranging effort to further integrate the countries’ practices on everything from environmental rules to security protocols and border controls.

“It’s no secret that the U.S. is going to need water. … It’s no secret that Canada is going to have an overabundance of water. At the end of the day, there may have to be arrangements,” said Armand Peschard-Sverdrup, director of the project, which is spearheaded by the the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a powerful Washington think-tank, in partnership with the Conference Board of Canada and CIDE, a Mexican policy institute.

Pressure on Canada from the U.S. will be intense, according to the UN report, which warns drought may cut a key Texas aquifer that supplies water for two million people by 40%, and decimate the Ogallala aquifer, which underlies eight U.S. states.

Maude Barlow national chairperson of the Council of Canadians, which obtained the outline, said it “shows the American government and its think-tanks … see Canada’s water as a North American resource, not Canada’s.”

Key quotes from the outline (emphasis mine):

  • North America, and particularly the United States and Mexico, will experience water scarcity as a result of arid climates coupled with growing populations and increased water consumption.
  • Canada possesses about 20 percent of the earth’s fresh water. … Because water availability, quality, and allocation are likely to undergo profound changes between 2006 and 2025, policymakers will benefit from a more proactive approach to exploring different creative solutions beyond the current transboundary water management agreements that the United States has reached with both Mexico and Canada.
  • One such option could be regional agreements … on issues such as water consumption, water transfers, artificial diversions of fresh water, water conservation technologies for agricultural irrigation, and urban consumption.
  • The three nations will have to overcome the bureaucratic challenges posed by their different political systems and legal regimes, particularly if the overriding future goal of North America is to achieve joint optimum utilization of the available water

Read the outline here: North American Future 2025 Project (pdf)

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April 11, 2007

Kazakhs get loan to save Aral Sea

Filed under: Aral Sea,Water Diversion,Water Wars — nemo @ 7:21 pm

From the BBC Asia-Pacific:

The Kazakhstan government has secured a multi-million dollar loan from the World Bank to help save the Aral Sea.

The money will be used to implement the second stage of a project aimed at saving the northern part of the sea.

The United Nations has said the disappearance of the Aral is the worst man-made environmental disaster.

But this new project could mean that at least part of the Aral – once the world’s fourth largest inland body of water – will be saved.

It is an ambitious project aimed at reversing one of the world’s worst environmental disasters.

See a summary of the Aral Sea on the left sidebar.

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February 9, 2007

Another front in the water wars breaking out across the Northern Plains

Another front in the water wars breaking out across the Northern Plains:

As the worst dry spell since the 1930s shows no signs of abating, many states are squabbling with each other and federal officials.

Nebraska and Kansas are wrangling for control of irrigation water from the Republican River. South Dakota has demanded that the Army Corps of Engineers stop drawing down reservoirs in the state because it is hurting recreational fishing. Barge companies along the Missouri River in Iowa are demanding the Corps release more water so their vessels can operate.

And Wyoming and Montana are fighting two more water battles in the Tongue and Powder river basins. Montana officials claim Wyoming is diverting too much water from the rivers before they cross the state line, sparking a U.S. Supreme Court lawsuit.

Check out the Drought Monitor for more information about the drought conditions in the northern plains.

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January 7, 2007

Groundwater pumping: When is it too much?

Filed under: Bottled Water,Michigan,Water Diversion — nemo @ 6:04 pm

The question of whether pumping water out of the ground endangers surface waters is one important point of contention in Michigan’s bottled water debate. Some facts are in order:

  • Groundwater is to Michigan what oil is to Saudi Arabia: abundant and incredibly valuable.
  • Groundwater is the source of drinking water for half the state’s residents and accounts for 80 percent of all water in Michigan streams.
  • Michigan industries, municipalities, farms and other businesses pumped about 730 million gallons of groundwater daily in 2000, or 266 billion gallons annually.
  • That was about 2.6 percent of the estimated 27 billion gallons of water that flows each day into underground aquifers — layers of buried, porous soils that store groundwater.
  • Retreating glaciers that created the Great Lakes thousands of years ago deposited a thick layer of sand and gravel in western Michigan. Those soils are ideal for storing some of the 32 inches of precipitation that falls on the state annually.
  • Pumping too much groundwater can decrease water flow and increase water temperatures in nearby streams, which can hurt fish and other aquatic life.

Michigan’s new water withdrawal law:

  • does not regulate any withdrawal that pump less than 250,000 gallons of groundwater daily — Minnesota, which has one of the region’s toughest water withdrawal laws, regulates all uses of groundwater that exceed 10,000 gallons per day or 1 million gallons per year.
  • defines adverse resource impact as anything that disrupts a stream’s ability to support trout, and
  • presumes — until the state develops a scientific formula to evaluate the potential impacts of water withdrawals — that groundwater pumping will not harm trout streams if wells are at least 150 feet deep and 1,320 feet from the nearest trout stream.

Today, millions of gallons of spring water are pumped out of the ground daily and used — to grow crops, make soft drinks and beer or, in Nestle’s case, bottled water. The State of Michigan believes there is a safe level of withdrawal and has reached a compromise, interim set of standards on defining safe withdrawals. The next milestone to watch for is the scientific formula.

Source: Muskegon Chronicle

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January 6, 2007

Catawba basin water war is glimpse of future

Filed under: Great Lakes Compact,Water Diversion,Water Wars — nemo @ 9:51 am

Political battles over water aren’t unique to the Great Lakes region. North Carolina is having its own little water war and the Charlotte Observer is covering it. What makes this article special is the series of questions it asks:

The issue hasn’t made a big ripple in Charlotte. But get outside of the Great State (of Mecklenburg, that is), and you’ll find people steamed over a proposal from two Cabarrus County cities to take water from the Catawba River and, when done, send it to another river basin.

The technical term for what Concord and Kannapolis want is an interbasin transfer — or IBT — of up to 26 million gallons a day from the Catawba basin and 10 million from the Yadkin. City, town and county governments all along the Catawba and even the S.C. attorney general are saying they’ll sue if North Carolina grants the IBT.

The key problem is this: Most places like growth. But growth requires water, and it isn’t unlimited. So who gets it? The places sitting near good water supplies? Or should natural resources be treated as if they’re held in common by all, and shared?

After all, the Catawba, the Yadkin and even the humblest creek are all “waters of the state” — a publicly held resource.

So is it right to tell Concord and Kannapolis, “We’re keeping our water on our side of the ridge, so I guess you can’t grow”?

How smart is it, for a metro region that essentially functions as one economy, to let a couple of major municipalities dry up, literally and economically? A regional economy isn’t a game of you-lose-we-win. It’s an interconnected organism in which the whole suffers when a part suffers. We’re all in this together.

But on the other hand, if Mother Nature says no, how smart is it to ignore that? Facing up to the truth — that natural resources have limits — is important if humans are going to continue to occupy this planet.

The answers to these same questions are playing out in Ohio as the Ohio Senate debated the Great Lakes Compact last December and it will play out in every Great Lake State and Province. Will any State deny growth simply because that growth is occurring outside the basin? Chicago didn’t and Wisconsin would like to follow Chicago’s lead. The Ohio Senate debate centered on this question: “Why should Ohio give up its sovereign power to control the use of Lake Erie water within Ohio?”.

What governmental authority will go along with the “common good” if it results in limited economic (tax base) growth?

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