For the next two weeks, I will be traveling around Australia with a US delegation as guests of the Government here, meeting with water managers and touring facilities related to water reuse, desalination and irrigation. Australia is actively promoting its water management experience, with a group of companies coming together to form Water Australia with the stated goal of exporting at least $5 billion of water-related goods and services by 2015. It is certainly true that Australia has experienced significant droughts over the past decade, and they have responded aggressively to the situation (e.g., as reported yesterday in the New York Times), although certainly not without pain and controversy. I am interested to see some of their solutions on the ground, especially in comparison to California, which over the three years of the 2007-2009 drought did almost nothing.
In my occasional series of posts including public signs about water, here are a few from the Westlands Water District area in the Central Valley of California. The past several years, Westlands has received a relatively small proportion of water under its contracts with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation due to dry conditions in the Sacramento River watershed and regulatory restrictions on diversions based on protection of salmon, steelhead and delta smelt fisheries. As is obvious from the photos, farmers and residents in Westlands are not happy about some of those decisions.
There has been no drought of studies, articles and blog posts about the connection between water and energy in the past 2-3 years (e.g., see recent Special Report on Water vs. Energy by IEEE Spectrum), but I would like to add a few thoughts to what is still an emerging area. It is perhaps fitting that I am posting this from the Washington Dulles airport, in town for a water policy conference, since it was from right here in the airport last December that I launched the PrivateWaterLaw Blog.
As a water resources professional who regularly handles issues related to climate change and water planning, I have noted in past that one of the key missing data points in scientific studies related to climate change is a reliable projection of sea levels. This is important because sea level is a key input for determining the potential impact of climate change on coastal groundwater basins. Such basins frequently have both on-shore and off-shore areas, and intrusion of seawater into the on-shore portion is affected by the relative head of groundwater in the two areas. The head of groundwater in the off-shore portion is directly related to sea level, such that a rising sea level would increase the head in off-shore basins and tend to push seawater toward or into the on-shore portion. Seawater intrusion can be a significant problem for management of coastal basins and the water utilities, industries and individuals that rely on those basins for water supply.
Lest you think from my prior post that all Democrats and environmental organizations are now opposing the California water bond, rest assured that’s not the case. Several prominent Democrats have come out in support of the water bond recently, including Senator Dianne Feinstein and Congressmen Dennis Cardoza and Jim Costa. Well-respected environmental organizations such as the Natural Heritage Institute, Audubon California and The Nature Conservancy also have publicly supported the effort. The official website for the water bond, Clean, Reliable Water for California, includes a long list of supporters, including public water agencies, business, agricultural and labor organizations, and government officials at the federal, state, regional and local levels.