Wednesday, February 17, 2016

More water development foolishness!

In response to a Facebook query re my earlier posting about proposed Indian water developments I realised it would have been useful if I had provided some more background. So here it is.

Most Indian rivers and groundwater are already overexploited. Groundwater on the Indo-Gangetic plain has been dropping at alarming rates and is becoming increasingly polluted, especially with nitrate (which is the fertiliser fix that substitutes for the loss of silt deposited by the historical flooding action of the river).  There are also flouride contamination problems in some areas.   The article "China and India 'water grab' dams put ecology of Himalayas in danger" gives more background.

Or this article: "Water Wars: China, India and the Great Dam Rush. The construction of dams on major rivers has serious implications for millions living downstream" explains why the systemic implications are so serious.  

Today I received news of this publication, which confirms in a rigorous analysis what many of us have known for some time:

"There are four billion people worldwide who are affected by severe water scarcity for at least one month a year. That is the conclusion of University of Twente Professor of Water Management, Arjen Hoekstra, after many years’ extensive research. This alarming figure is much higher than was previously thought. His ground-breaking research was published in Science Advances.

Professor Hoekstra’s team is the first research group in the world to identify people’s water footprint from month to month and to compare it to the monthly availability of water. “Up to now, this type of research concentrated solely on the scarcity of water on an annual basis, and had only been carried out in the largest river basins,” says Hoekstra.

He defines severe water scarcity as the depletion of water in a certain area. “Groundwater levels are falling, lakes are drying up, less water is flowing in rivers, and water supplies for industry and farmers are threatened. In this research, we established the maximum sustainable ‘water footprint’ for every location on earth, and then looked at actual water consumption. If the latter is much greater than what is sustainable, then there can be said to be severe water scarcity.”
The full paper is available to view.  A key conclusion is that:

"Putting caps to water consumption by river basin, increasing water-use efficiencies, and better sharing of the limited freshwater resources will be key in reducing the threat posed by water scarcity on biodiversity and human welfare."

The tragedy is that politicians, bankers, developers and techno-optimists still believe there is a biological free lunch to be had by damming more rivers; in policy circles it seems too hard to appreciate that caps on water consumption are needed.  Unfortunately Australia's new Deputy Premier is of the 'exploitation' persuasion as this report outlines:

"Federal and state government eyes have turned once again toward water infrastructure for northern Australia.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce joined Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for a whistlestop visit to Queensland this week.

At talks with community groups and members of the public, dams and the downturn in resources dominated discussion.

No announcements were made, but Mr Joyce did reaffirm his keenness for water projects.
“Water is wealth and a dam is a bank,” he said.

“Any essence of wealth is connected to water and water infrastructure.

“As they say you can make money out of mud, you can't make it out of dust.

“We have put $500 million on the table, for which $50 million goes towards the feasibility studies of the construction of dams. Now these have actually been over-subscribed.”

Perhaps Barnaby may become known as the minister for Systemic Failings! It is ironic that Malcolm Turnbull has much of the credit for the legislation that has led to caps in water exploitation in the Murray-Darling Basin, although some would argue these achievements are under threat.

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