In a recent piece in Environmental Leader,
I addressed the importance of asset management programs aimed at preserving a city’s water infrastructure. Read More
New content added on Mexican water security, European hydropower, Chinese water transfers, and American water infrastructure and endangered rivers.
Finishing Phase One of the South-North Water Transfer Project in China
Although China’s freshwater supply is vast in absolute terms, its average per capita annual supply is about one-quarter of the global average. With annual precipitation unevenly distributed so that a majority of the country’s precipitation and groundwater are concentrated in the south, the North China plain – the cultural and historical core of China – has become become increasingly stressed in the wake of decades of rapid urbanization, industrialization, and economic growth. One third of China’s population is currently concentrated in the relatively dry basins of north China, so that not only are the surface waters drying up, but the water tables below are being drained as well.
Nonetheless, aggressive irrigation of agricultural land in northern China has continued and following Mao Zedong’s proposal that stated “the south has plenty of water and the north lacks it, so if possible why not borrow some?” China has moved forward with the South-North Water Transfer Project, which is now close to finishing phase one.
[aside]SEE ALSO: Water in 2050: The Future of Water Requires a Sustainable Path
Current conservation measures have had little impact on limiting water use in relation to the growing demands for drinking water, irrigation, energy production and other reuse so China is addressing the issue simply through environmental ingenuity. Following the stimulus to economic growth that followed China’s accession to the World trade Organization, and a budget plan with a predicted cost of more than $60 billion, the Project is planning on linking China’s four main rivers and diverting the water along three canals to the north. However, this project is surrounded by controversy as a result of the social, economic and environmental implications that involve not only the certainly too low price tag, but the human displacement required and the pumping of water up and over the Himalayan Mountains.
Wilson Center: The South-North Water Transfer Project
United Nations Publication: Long-Distance Water Transfer
Columbia University: China's South-North Water Transfer Project
New York Times Op-Ed: "China's Massive Water Problem"
Switzerland is Experiencing its Lowest Hydro Reserve Levels in More Than a Decade
Hydropower is the largest renewable energy source in Europe, yet it is estimated that 40% of the economically viable hydropower potential is not being tapped. It is a highly efficient and competitive electricity generation technology that currently only provides 11% of Europe's electricity. Therefore, the European Commission is supporting research on hydro- and small-hydro sites based on the energy source’s long tradition in Europe and the projected move towards the convergence of regional European electricity markets as well as technical megaprojects. The Commission is encouraged by the hydropower sector's recorded benefits including diversifying the energy supply, aiding local development, assisting in the maintenance of river basins, its suitability for rural electrification, and its high energy payback ratio.
However, a recent report by Bloomberg has brought attention to the current state of Switzerland’s hydro reserves, which are second only to the Nordic countries in the region. Recently hydro levels in Switzerland have dropped to almost 10% full, the least since 2000, according to data from the Swiss Federal Energy Office. The dry, cold winter weather has depleted reservoirs, boosted demand for heating and driven prices higher in Switzerland. This shortage of hydroelectric power may in turn lead to higher power prices not only in Switzerland but in the neighboring countries of France, Germany, Italy and Austria as well.
[aside]SEE ALSO: Growing Blue® Tool: Designed to help us find solutions to our water issues now.
Hydro reserves usually reach their lowest point at the end of April and then start to increase as snow and ice melts, but the drought and relating decrease in rainfall thats been experienced throughout Europe in the past year will affect the refueling of hydro reserves requiring more water to be used than is stored.
The amount of power demand and rainfall are key for short-term prices across the region. With the European Environment Agency stating that the annual average temperature over Europe is projected to continue increasing, more research will be required regarding how hydropower will continue to enhance the European Union’s water supply security and stability.
World Water Forum 2012 Eurelectric Report, Hydro in Europe: Powering Renewables
European Commission on Hydropower
Deutsche Bank Research: Hydropower in Europe [PDF]
Bloomberg Businessweek: "Lowest Swiss Water Levels in 13 Years Set to Boost Power Prices"
Water shortages can threaten regional economic stability and public health. But threats exist even in water-rich areas of our country: the nation’s water infrastructure – the pipes and systems that transport and treat our water – is at severe risk. Read More
More policy measures needed to protect water resources
Mexico is among the largest economies in the OECD and enjoys a rich natural asset base and less energy- and material-intensive production and consumption patterns than other developed economies. However, rapid urbanization, population growth and rising income are generating a range of environmental pressures that has required action to be taken.
Currently, about 15% of total abstractions are from non-sustainable sources and water use efficiency remains very low. Water used in agriculture accounts for over three-quarters of Mexico’s water abstraction with an agricultural electricity subsidy covering more than 60% of the irrigation costs. This subsidy therefore is not only discouraging more water-efficient technologies but also is overexploiting the groundwater aquifers.
[aside]SEE ALSO: Economic Impact of the Great Lakes: Water Supplies Play a Role in Local Economy
A new plan in Mexico City calls for the drawing of drinking water from a mile-deep aquifer. The government is prepared to spend as much as $40 million to pump and treat the deeper water, which they say could supply some
of the city’s population for as long as a century. However, the use of this water brings about concerns not just for Mexico but for the United States as well. U.S. clean water policy currently allows for water that far underground to be intentionally polluted because it will never be used. But as population increases, temperatures rise, and traditional water supplies dry up should this water begin to be protected?
While Mexico has strengthened the protection of its rich forest and biodiversity resources, new policies need to be implemented to protect water resources to determine whether the economic benefits of drilling deeper are sustainable in the world’s third-largest metropolis.
The American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, assigned grades of “D” to both water and wastewater infrastructure
The nation faces costly upgrades to aging and deteriorating drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. Frequent and highly publicized incidents of combined sewer overflows into rivers and streams, as well as water main breaks in the nation’s largest cities are only the most visible manifestations of this problem.
Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association (WWEMA) and the U.S. Water Alliance
presented findings from a survey of the association’s members on barriers to innovation and opportunities for fostering innovation to meet increasing demands for sustainable water resources.
Among the top barriers to innovation they found were:
- The risk averse nature of the industry;
- The low economic value placed on water;
- Complicated state permitting requirements.
The top recommendations were:
- Providing federal or state variances for projects using innovative technologies;
- Establishing a federal guarantee program for technology replacement;
- Employing full cost pricing of water
[aside]SEE ALSO: Water Valuation: Building the Business Case with Limited Supply
The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies are also looking at infrastructure funding and the need for reinvestment in water and wastewater infrastructure. The EPA’s Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) programs are currently the largest sources of federal assistance to states and local communities for funding the infrastructure. In fiscal year 2012, EPA funded the Clean Water SRF program $1.5 billion and the Drinking Water SRF program $918 million from congressional appropriations, however this still falls far short of the more than $1 trillion dollars that will be needed over the next 25 years to repair and expand existing infrastructure according to last year's AWWA report.