19 November 2009

Happy (?) World Toilet Day!

Well, I guess that depends on what part of the world you were born into. It's estimated that 20% of the global population lives without adequate clean water and sanitation facilities. Projections suggest that, though the percentage of the population without access to such rich-world basics as a toilet should decrease slightly in the next ten years or so, because of rapid population growth in many of the areas where this occurs the absolute number of people without adequate sanitation will remain fairly constant. You'll note that the UN Millennium Development Goals (7.3) only suggest reducing the proportion of people without access to adequate sanitation. At current rates of progress, I don't think it's gonna happen, but we still need to try and every effort counts.

So, several international groups have special things going on for World Toilet Day, as 19 November was designated by the World Toilet Organization (WTO) in 2001 in partnership with Unilever and its product brand Domestos in the UK and elsewhere. Water for People wants us all to "spread the word - not the germs" with e-cards and donations. And the more recently-founded group Water.org has lots of information on both events of the day as well as the toilet itself. Did you know that the first television program to show a toilet on-screen was "Leave It To Beaver" and that your car steering wheel likely carries more than twice as many germs as a typical toilet seat? You can donate to sanitation efforts there as well: according to their site, $30 will provide one person access to a toilet for life. Thanks to Water.org for the graphic as well. The group End Water Poverty is even sponsoring a ''Twitterstorm'' today, so go join in if you're on there.

Why is something so basic, that we in the developed world take so much for granted, such a big deal? The group Water Advocates has placed superb and highly informative full-page advertisements in the New York Times (pdf) every year over the past five to address and bring attention to sanitation issues in the developing world. Sometimes it's an issue of dignity, as I mentioned a few weeks ago in another post. Most often it's a matter of personal and public health: access to clean water sources and adequate sanitation facilities frequently occur together, and poor sanitation leads to contaminated water, human and animal diseases, and death due to dehydration from diarrhea and related symptoms in almost 2M children under the age of five every year in developing countries. Sick children need their parents, who then can't work, so families and villages lose productivity where subsistence farming and hunting are the primary sources of food. This is a significantly larger issue than the toilet itself, but a hand up needs to start somewhere. Water Advocates is hosting several events with lawmakers and other related groups in Washington D.C., including a photo opportunity for their "Sanitation is Dignity" exhibit on the Mall with the Capitol as a backdrop. If someone out there gets a picture of that, something like a Senator on the throne in front of the Capitol dome, send it along and I'll be happy to post it with due credit!

02 November 2009

SMOS is up!

As I discussed quite a while ago in a post on ESA's Earth Observation Missions, the Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) mission was successfully launched on Sunday (U.S. time) from a site in northern Russia. With the satellite in a sun-synchronous, nearly circular orbit at about 760 km, mission parameters call for a check-out period of six months followed by an operational period of 2.5-4.5 years. The new science satellite will have a repeat-time of about 23 days but, with its coverage swath, will generate maps of ocean salinity at a resolution of about 200 km (due to spatial averaging) on a monthly basis, providing a great improvement over existing systems that have measured only ocean temperature and surface winds from space (since the 1970s and 1990s, respectively), and ocean surface salinity only from ships and buoys scattered across that 70% of the globe. Observations will be further enhanced with the expected launch of Aquarius, a joint mission by the U.S. and Argentina that is scheduled to begin in late 2010. With ancillary observations of temperature, precipitation and winds from other polar-orbiting and geosynchronous satellites, the ocean current system that depends on both temperature and salinity is coming that much closer to full knowledge for Earth scientists.

Over land, the same instrument that will provide those ocean salinity measurements will give us a first look into large-scale mapping of soil moisture content in the top 1-2 meters of the soil column. According to ESA, we can expect to see global maps of soil moisture at about 50 km resolution and accurate to within 4% volumetric water content every three days, and with ground-truth measurements we should see these new observations bring about significant advances in guidance for practical applications in agriculture and hydrology, as well as a boon to further research in water- and carbon-cycle processes and, by extension, to nutrient-cycle processes related to agriculture and forestry around the world. This might seem like coarse data, but in fact it's an impressive achievement for a first mission due to an ingenious design: instead of a massive and unwieldy (and practically un-launch-able) dish/antenna for receiving the surface microwave signals, the SMOS satellite is a single-instrument platform that carries 69 smaller antennas (antennae?) arrayed in a Y-shape from the center. Using what is basically an interferometric method, the signals received at each smaller dish are correlated and compared with those of every other on the satellite in order to produce a single snapshot-like observation of the surface from which the soil moisture content is then inferred by physical methods. In essence, many small antennas make for one large ''virtual'' antenna that provides better observations than any single, but smaller, antenna and instrument could have produced. Kudos to the Europeans for not compromising on design, and for taking the lead without waiting for the Americans to get their act together...

Alas, we don't quite know the status of NASA's foray into soil moisture measurement from space - the couple American missions that I've heard of have suffered a tumultuous history of delays due to withdrawal of funding (Hydros, in 2005) and then reinstatement of the mission (as SMAP, in 2008) with underfunded progress all the way. NASA's Soil Moisture Active-Passive (SMAP) mission is apparently in the development phase, but was last heard from around April 2008. We can only assume that SMAP remains scheduled for launch in late 2012 or early 2013, which would overlap by a year or two with ESA's SMOS mission and improves on the latter's observations with soil moisture mapping at approximately 10-km resolution. In the meantime, NASA has been focusing on measurements obtained over land using new techniques on existing missions (e.g. AMSR-E on Aqua), and the USDA has a collaborative project with NASA going to further establish and justify the design of SMAP, using SMOS measurements as proxy observations for assimilation into agricultural models and as a hint of what is to come.

With all of the calls now for climate change assessments and predictions, it remains critical to know where we are starting from, or most of the communication remains noise without signal. Missions such as SMOS, and SMAP as it comes about, aim to clarify the signal and provide just such important information to meteorologists, oceanographers, climatologists, water resource and flood hazard managers, and the agricultural community on which we all depend.

27 October 2009

Working on things...

With apologies to my readers, I am indeed still working on writing for my blog here. I have a few items in process, including a short series on the ''Water-Energy nexus'' in the American southwest and a commentary on the recent Nobel Prize in Economics awarded to Elinor Ostrom of Indiana University for her work on extra-market dynamics in the commons. Then there's the things I have that I want to get posted from prior work, including a collaborative submission to the Google 10^100 contest that may be worth reading for some of you, and recent grant proposal submissions that I'm still waiting to hear about. And then, I'm even (finally) working out the publication of my M.S. Thesis work in Hydrology that was embargoed for a few years while the subjects remained in court proceedings, a story all its own. In the meantime, with proposals and papers and work with AHIS to keep up on, my creative writing process is something like Snoopy's right now:

But I'm working on it! Thanks to Amazon.com for the cover image. Back soon...

16 September 2009

Water for People $1M Challenge

The organization Water for People has recently announced their second, seemingly annual Rosenthal Million Dollar Challenge Grant. Between 15 September and 15 November 2009, if WFP raises $500,000 through donations from people like you and me, Stephen and Sandy Rosenthal of New Orleans will match it for a total of $1M in new funding for WFP. They did this last year and succeeded greatly, so WFP is eager to see it happen again. In addition to ongoing efforts at proving clean water and sanitation facilities in many countries of Central and South America and Africa, WFP has recently expanded its efforts into more of sub-Saharan Africa, Central America and India. This past May it was announced that Malawi, a long-time WFP beneficiary, will also receive an additional $47M from the African Development Bank (AfDB) for water and sanitation projects over the next five years. Not only do WFP personnel go out there and do the building and plumbing themselves, but the group also contributes to the activity and employment of local small businesses who do the same.

One of the best project targets for WFP is providing new toilets and latrines in schools, where girls can then use the facilities in privacy. It helps keep girls in school, and contributes to the health of the community, and for those reasons is one of the focus activities of the Water Advocates' Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Initiative and activities funded by the newer organization Water.org. The WASH-in-Schools Initiative has become so successful that the Millennium Water Alliance, the Global Water Challenge, and the Water & Sanitation Rotarian Action Group have provided funding for as many as 20 U.S. embassies in other countries to implement Ambassador's WASH-in-Schools (AWASH) Initiatives in their areas. The Global Water Challenge also supports a School Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Plus Community Impact (SWASH+) program to reach more than 1,500 schools over five years in Kenya, in partnership with several other organizations including the Coca-Cola Company and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, who also just announced a grant of more than $700,000 to WaterAid America. Sometime I'll try to draw a map of all the organizations and contributions in water and sanitation, though it would probably become obsolete immediately, but you can tell that the connections are becoming more and more dense by the week between charitable organizations and the countries where their efforts are most in need, especially as we draw closer to the Millennium Development Goals for these sectors.

Go and do! Pledge your support! A direct link to the WFP matched donations campaign page is here.

03 August 2009

New CNA report links energy issues with climate change

It was quite a while ago that I referred a new report by the CNA Corporation entitled "National Security and the Threat of Climate Change" to fellow blogger Tom Barnett in the hopes that he might put forth serious consideration to the idea that climate change impacts can indeed become drivers of conflict on regional scales. Issues in Darfur were heating up, and for the most part that was explained away as a conflict between the agricultural black Africans and pastoralist Arabs over simple matters of territory and access. That explanation barely scratches the surface of the issues, however, so listen up.

The CNA Corporation has just recently released a follow-up report to that first on national security titled "Powering America’s Defense: Energy and the Risks to National Security" which is linked explicitly on their site to the earlier report on climate change. Both were produced by the CNA Military Advisory Board, it turns out - aside from diplomacy, the military is still our best guarantor of national security, no matter how thinly our troops may be stretched about the globe right now. The earlier report identified climate change as a "threat multiplier," essentially a driver that could turn marginally stable situations to bad, and make bad situations even worse. Climate change drives the desertification of the Sudan so that the semi-arid band across the immediate sub-Saharan portion of Africa, known better as the Sahel, moves southward toward the equator. One might suggest that this band is our principal indicator of stability in middle Africa, north of the Congo at least. As farmers lose marginal agricultural lands to the desert, they retreat toward the coastal areas, while monsoons fail to bring regular moisture to the same areas and much of subsistence society, put under greater pressure by the following pastoralists, eventually collapses. We've learned a lot of things from the settlement and development of the American West that we ought to be applying in our assessments of other regions: forty acres may support a hard-working and quick-learning family dedicated to farming for years on end, just to subsist and keep their land, but the same area can support one lonely head of cattle for a grazing season, and then the cow better move on to greener pastures or that forty acres will never recover from being grazed down to its grass roots.

And now, if climate change was not enough to wake up the masses and bring about some attention to the issues at hand, lots of people in places of power will be paying significantly more attention to a new report on energy. Let's get one thing straight and clear: national security means a lot of things, and the military part includes tanks and MRAPs and jets and aircraft carriers and submarines and helicopters and Tomahawk missiles, not a single one of which runs on renewable energy resources. When American troops enter a country to do their jobs, they don't bring along a football-field of photovoltaic panels or build a hydropower plant before getting to work. Does this mean that the military is falling behind? Not at all - they do what they have to do, and we all appreciate the freedoms that their work ensures. Without our current wars of choice, we would be putting off inevitable wars of necessity, and it has been recognized for decades that access to energy resources are a matter of national security. When it comes down to it, that's why America is in Iraq, why Russia won't let their former republics in the Caucasus go their own way, and why the governments of Nigeria and Venezuela are so problematic to us.

So why fight these wars of choice over non-renewable energy resources when those are the very threats to the global climate, the identified causes of recent climate change, the fossil fuels to which we are seemingly so addicted? To give us the luxury of time - it's that simple. We don't want to be backed into a corner, forced to find alternative energy sources at a moment's notice, drawn to bail out carmakers with concepts of the market drawn straight from Henry Ford's own playbook. We want the time to develop those alternatives at our own pace, to find new sources such as ethanol biofuels and develop them to the point of failure, when we finally recognize that the costs of that particular alternative are better measured in the water required than in the money spent to produce a commodity that, if properly priced, would cost only marginally more than the same volume of water at its own proper price, which is more than the rest of your car's sticker price. Fossil fuels are a finite, exhaustible resource that are replaceable only over a period of generations, requiring centuries of inspiration and innovation to reach the other side of this divide. It is certainly prudent to consider the national security implications of dwindling energy resources that are easily obtained when we are still working out the kinks on those sources that are more difficult to bring to market.

But water, well, we're still trying to figure that one out, aren't we? Until we do, sometimes it seems as if the legislators and others with power seem to care little, until their home district runs out. Contrary to popular belief, water is not an infinite and inexhaustible resource, no how much you can seem to pump from the ground, no matter how much it snows in the Sierra one winter, no matter if Lakes Mead and Powell come back up to full capacity in the next ENSO cycle, and no matter how much Atlanta pretends to own outright every drop of water in its vicinity, Alabama and Florida and the Gulf coast fisheries be damned (a theory of ownership which, I learned today, is called the principle of absolute territorial sovereignty or, in shorthand, the Harmon doctrine). Go ahead and invoke the principles of the water cycle instead, if you like, but do your homework first: sure, the water goes around and around, eventually. That leg between the mountain recharge front and the nearest river could take ten thousand years to travel, and in the meantime the water might just refill an emptied aquifer and stop right there instead. Water evaporated from the oceans can remain in the atmosphere for hundreds of years before ever falling as precipitation over land again.

Water is, essentially, just as finite and exhaustible as fossil fuels, because its replacement cycle can be longer than a human lifespan in many places. Many uses of water in society preclude the recycling and re-use of the same water again further downstream, the largest of which is probably agriculture: what does not transpire to the atmosphere in the process of plant growth might percolate through the soil, taking pesticides and fertilizers and nutrients with it. Agricultural return flows are inherently tricky to estimate, and certainly not of a quality to be relied on for those in need downstream. Here's the kicker, though: while fossil fuels are on the verge of replaceable technologies, such that true energy independence is still worth pursuing if only for the implications of that self-sufficiency on national security concerns, water is irreplaceable! No other substance, except air, is so vital to life as we know it and yet still so undervalued (and, often, underpriced) in our society. And no other substance can replace water in its many and varied uses.

So that brings me to a question: which of the CNA's recent reports is more important to us as Americans, and to us as humans? I'd have to say that we can still have a sense of national security without our current portfolio of energy dependencies; we will, in time, find replacement technologies and substances to meet our needs. But climate change will alter the entire geopolitical landscape, and the fact that it may come about on a regional basis at first will only mask the larger issues to come. And yet, we cannot fight climate change, so don't ask me to say that or support your effort, because you'll lose. In our lifetimes, the global climate will evolve on a trajectory toward which it has already been set, and our best chances for national or even human security rest in deep study to find the drivers and concentrated efforts at adaptation to the changes. A sea change in energy policy is one key to such adaptability, one which is reachable in a human lifetime and can bring about a great sense of national security, which I suspect is one reason that CNA chose to address the energy issues now. Climate change, the shifts in habitats and water availability on a global scale, the mistakes that we've made and the natural processes that we've come to understand, those are the things that will require a deeper and longer effort to come to terms with, because they are not entirely (if at all) within our control, and it is only human to ignore, then resist, and then wrestle most with those pressing problems which we cannot control.

22 July 2009

Stormrise, east of Tucson

Stormrise over Redington Pass between the Catalina and Rincon Mountains, east of Tucson, Arizona. Photo around 6 pm on 21 July 2009.

09 July 2009

Inaugural AMS Energy Conference and call for abstracts

First American Meteorological Society (AMS) Conference on Weather, Climate, and the New Energy Economy

The First Conference on Weather, Climate, and the New Energy Economy, sponsored by the American Meteorological Society, and organized by the AMS Committee on Energy, will be held 17–21 January 2010, as part of the 90th AMS Annual Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia. Preliminary programs, registration, hotel, and general information will be posted on the AMS Conference Web site in September 2009.

The AMS Energy Committee invites participation from researchers and practitioners who are experienced in and/or are studying the linkages between weather, climate and the next generation of the energy complex. Participation may range from practical (non-academic) presentations to submission of academic papers. We invite discussion on all subjects dealing with the New Energy Economy including observation, modeling, theoretical, forecasting, and applied studies. Planned session themes include energy supply and demand (wind, solar, natural gas, oil, etc.), the impacts of climate change on energy supply and demand, societal impacts in and of the New Energy Economy, policy issues in energy, education and communication of data and information to stakeholders, new economic opportunities, and additional topics as suggested by the participants.

If you or your colleagues would like to participate, please submit a short summary (abstract) of you topic electronically via the Web by 3 August 2009 (please refer to the AMS Conference Submission Web page for detailed instructions). An abstract fee of $90, payable by credit card or purchase order, is charged at the time of submission, and will be refunded only if your abstract is not accepted.

Authors of accepted presentations will be notified via e-mail by late September 2009. For additional information please contact the program chairperson, Jon Davis.

21 May 2009

Rainy Day...

...in Tucson, Arizona! Who'd'a thunk it? Does anybody out there know what to do when it rains? I seem to have forgotten...

Sorry I haven't been blogging much lately - so much work to be done! I am again in transition, though just a small move around the corner this time. The Arizona Water Institute is going away, at the behest of the state university system in Arizona. When the state showed a $3B deficit, what did they choose to cut? Education! When the state universities had to decide where to trim $100M+ this year, where did they look? Science! As a recently-added line item in the state's budget, AWI was a last-in-first-out target of miniscule financial proportions, at least in terms of true operating costs. As one of the few successful inter-university and government-linked collaborative efforts in the state, AWI was a target with significant impact. What can we not live without? Water!

Water's not the thing sometimes, at least "wet" water I mean. "Paper water" gets more attention around here. Rules and regulations, laws and policies, Central Arizona Project allocations, well water pumping reports, credits for aquifer recharge and trades between groundwater management areas, "water banking" for neighboring states, and that elusive concept of sustainability. AWI contributed to the understanding of all this paper water in Arizona and the Lower Colorado River Basin, so that real people could get real "wet" water when they need it. Our own director just shook hands with the Secretary of the Interior for her part in the Environmental Impact Statement that led to new operating rules for the Bureau of Reclamation along the Colorado River in times of shortage (like now). She co-authored a paper just published in Water Resources Research on the recent Arizona Water Settlements Act and its largely positive impacts on the fulfillment of water-related obligations to Native American tribes in Arizona. Other researchers funded by AWI have figured out how much various energy sources cost in terms of water (note: there are two different kinds of solar - one of them should never have been devised - and promotion of biofuel crops will be a bad idea in water-limited agricultural regions), found which pharmaceuticals persist in our drinking water, developed improved management plans for drought adaptation, and helped establish sensor networks in riparian areas and Native American lands across the state.

The state universities, and the state government as a whole, will rue the day when they cut their knowledge base in this way. Rue the day, I say!

So anyway, my official affiliation is moving from AWI to SAHRA, a National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center here at the University of Arizona. I get to keep my project, the Arizona Hydrologic Information System, and carry it as far as I possibly can. We'll see what we can do with it. I see a bright future in geospatial analytics, the mapping component of my efforts in hydrologic informatics...

Official (and unofficial) forecasts call for an early and strong monsoon onset in Arizona this summer, possibly accompanied by the development of a strong El Niño pattern in the eastern Pacific Ocean that would eventually bring an early end to the North American monsoon circulation, but at the same time increase the chances for East Pacific tropical storms, so maybe we'll see a double spike in precipitation over Arizona this summer. Will it end the southwestern drought? Unlikely.

In the meantime, some delta blues should fit the day nicely...

04 May 2009

Legislation-in-process: the Paul Simon Water for the World Act of 2009

Some friends back east sent this press release to me from the Water Advocates non-profit organization based in DC:

Water Advocates Commends New Global Water and Sanitation Bill:
"The Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act of 2009"

April 27, 2009
Washington, DC
Legislation introduced in the House of Representatives on Earth Day would put the United States in the lead of responding to the worldwide crisis in drinking water and sanitation. The new bill, "The Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act of 2009," commits the U.S. to extending safe, affordable and sustainable supplies of water and sanitation to 100 million people by 2015. Joining companion legislation introduced in the Senate last month, this major bipartisan initiative would put the U.S. in the forefront of addressing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for drinking water and sanitation.

Water Advocates commends Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Donald Payne (D-NJ), Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL), George Miller (D-CA), Peter Welch (D-VT), John Boozman (R-AZ), Dan Burton (R-IN), Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), and Zach Wamp (R-TN) and the Senate's lead sponsors who introduced companion legislation in March: Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL), Patty Murray (D-WA), Bob Corker (R-TN) and Susan Collins (R-ME).

"No other country has set out to reach as many people in need of safe drinking water and basic sanitation in this period of time," said David Douglas, President of Water Advocates. "This is one of the most effective actions the United States can take to improve health worldwide."

Nearly a billion people currently lack access to safe water, and 2.5 billion people lack a way to dispose of their human wastes safely. More than two dozen resulting diseases-including cholera, typhoid, hookworm and schistosomiasis-trigger the world's most serious public health problem. Diarrheal dehydration caused by these diseases kills more children than AIDS, malaria and TB combined.

Development experts point out that inadequate water and sanitation undermine not only global health but efforts to protect the environment, keep children in school, and empower women. Women and children, as the primary water-haulers across the developing world, bear the brunt of this crisis.

"The Water for the World Act answers the call to act and helps build a healthier, safer and more equitable future," said bill sponsor Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). The bill would also strengthen the capacity of USAID and U.S. Department of State to ramp up U.S. developmental and diplomatic leadership, while buttressing American private-citizen initiatives to provide safe, affordable and sustainable drinking water and basic sanitation.

The bill builds on the similarly-named landmark 2005 legislation ("The Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act") that at long last made safe drinking water and sanitation a priority of U.S. foreign development assistance.

"This new legislation is critical for bringing support-both financial and human-for the water and sanitation crisis to respectable levels," said Patricia Simon, wife of the late Senator Paul Simon. "We shouldn't forget that this problem is solvable; we know the solutions."

Water Advocates is a U.S.-based nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing American support for worldwide access to safe, affordable, and sustainable drinking water and adequate sanitation.
That 2005 legislation, "The Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act," (pdf) was also administered by the U.S. Department of State primarily through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and so was focused on specific regions of the world. Some time ago, at the suggestion of a colleague, I started looking at that Act and ended up marking it up quite a bit with comments and questions of my own, as well as going through the State Department's annual reports on progress toward the goals of the Act and making notes there too. Interestingly enough, that was also about the time that I was reading Thomas P.M. Barnett's first two books (The Pentagon's New Map and Blueprint for Action) and his blog and my interests in water issues went global. Alas, I have not yet compiled all of those notes and markings for my own blog posts, something of a running commentary on the earlier legislation, but I'll work on that.

For now, I'll simply say that I have much higher hopes for this renewed effort - while legislation of foreign policy does not often go over well (different branches of government, separation of powers and all that), and the 2005 Act was a good attempt at codifying the American dedication to helping solve global health issues, circumstances are simply and significantly different now: a new executive in the White House, a new and less specialized Secretary of State, better cooperation between the State and Defense Departments in places where this kind of foreign aid will do the most good, and a budding recognition that government-driven foreign aid is a crutch that too many countries and peoples fall back on at a (barely) subsistence level of agricultural economy. Aid from foreign governments provides no incentive for those agricultural, often ethnically-divided countries to develop the basics of anything resembling an industrial or service economy into which foreign direct (i.e., private) investment can flow, which is the real route out of poverty for those countries. True globalization, true advancement on economic and information integration with the rest of the world, will not allow such countries to remain politically and economically unstable, and such societies and peoples to remain off-grid forever.

22 April 2009

Earth Day 2009

Happy Earth Day to all of the faithful and few that read my blog!

"Nine planets around the Sun,
Only one does the Sun embrace,
And on this watered one,
So much we take for granted..."
Dave Matthews Band, One Sweet World

The theme this year seems to be the Green Generation Campaign that will culminate in next year's 40th anniversary Earth Day Celebration around the world. Don't take it for granted that your environment, your ecological support, your planet will remain the same forever. Get out there and do something good for yourself and for everyone else. Don't know where to go or what to do? Check your local newspaper, check the web, visit the Earth Day Network and find an event. Clean up a park, a playground, a streambed, a sidewalk. Plant a tree, recycle your office paper and magazines and junk mail and newspapers, your bottles and cans and just clap your hands, just clap your hands...

Get involved, somewhere, somehow. Got a nice garden? Join the National Phenology Network. Know your ecological address? Check out the EPA's Surf Your Watershed site. Want to help others with the most basic of human needs? Contribute to the Global Water Network and Water For People. Where does your own water come from? Where does your trash go? How much is your electric bill, your gas bill, your water bill? Got CFL bulbs in all your lamps? Make sure you know where to recycle them properly. And by the way, what's that stuff coming out of that pipe and pouring into the stream near the factory across town? (Don't touch it, just ask!) Stencil a stormwater drain. Check up on your state water and environmental quality agencies. Educate yourself, your kids, your spouse or significant other, your parents, your friends, your neighbors.

What keeps me awake sometimes and drives me to work so hard at this stuff? Nearly one billion people in the world have no source of clean, fresh water. Two-and-a-half billion people in the world do not have adequate sanitation to help prevent the spread of disease. More than six thousand people around the world die every day from water-borne illnesses, and most of them are children under five years old. My daughter is about to turn seven years old, lives in a decent house in a rich country, can get her own water from the kitchen sink and can use the bathroom whenever she needs, and goes to a decent school with similarly reliable water and sanitation services. Just for those, she's a lucky kid, one of the few in the world. If you have those too (and chances are, since you're reading this blog on a computer that is connected to the internet, you do) then consider yourself one of the lucky as well, and don't take it for granted.

Hmmmm...what else? Global warming, anthropogenic climate change, melting ice caps, rising sea levels, shrinking glaciers, homeless polar bears, over-appropriated rivers, streams and street gutters and city parks as dump sites, untreated sewage outfalls, combined sewer overflows (yes, even in the U.S., there are still cities with combined sewer systems), polluted stormwater, pharmaceuticals in wastewater, laws against greywater re-use, interbasin water transfers, aquifer depletion, arsenic in the groundwater, leaky municipal water systems, unmetered wells and homes, aqueducts across the desert, inefficient irrigation methods, green lawns and blue pools and all the golf courses in Arizona and southern California, virtual water, invasive species, urban heat islands, floodplain encroachment and development, land grabs for water rights, water grabs without land rights, big dams and big reservoirs, international river basins, green revolutions in developing countries, fossil water mining, deforestation, water shortages, food shortages, energy shortages, desertification, saltwater intrusion in coastal aquifers, floods, flash floods, droughts, inundation without compensation, tipping points in the climate system, mass migrations of animals and peoples, genocide, climate refugees, alternative energy that is actually more expensive ecologically, carbon cap-and-trade schemes, water as a basic human right, environmental regulation without means of legal enforcement, the sixth extinction, and rivers that no longer reach the sea.

But, lest I become the downer for your day, look at this Earth Day as a opportunity to make a difference in the world around you. Think globally, act locally, learn, teach, and do. Still need inspiration? Watch an episode of the award-winning BBC Planet Earth series, and check out NASA's extraordinary new presentation of Bella Gaia.

30 March 2009

There's a new sheriff in town...

...and she's not even four feet tall!

Today was the day that the local water utility (Tucson Water) representative visited my daughter's elementary school for a presentation on water use in the home. Oh boy, what a time and place for her first lesson in water use: a precocious first-grader in the semi-arid Southwest. She started the lecture as soon as we got home..."we have to turn off the water when we brush" and "two- or five-minute showers only." I tried to clean up some dishes while she was doing homework in the kitchen, and she turned off the water on me when I looked away--twice!

Now of course, with a hydrometeorologist as her dad, she's had lots of science to play with. All that reading of hydrology texts to her in utero must have sunk in, and rain and stream gauges make great infant manipulatives, and papering her nursery walls with journal articles and diagrams was a great idea! I've tried to instill in her upbringing and education some sense of responsibility and sensitivity toward nature, and specifically our water use, and it certainly seems to show. But there's nothing like hearing it from a "true authority" at school that parents just can't seem to provide.

Yeah, go ahead and laugh. Just wait till your own little water cop makes a visit. Better yet, just wait till my daughter grows up enough to get her own blog - then we'll all get an earful about the state of the world that's left to her generation...

25 March 2009

Easy Giving

I was contacted late last week by a couple of women who work for an effort called replyforall.com. I've spared you all the Google AdSense module that is available here on Blogger, but this is a little different. Basically, if you use a GMail, Hotmail or Yahoo e-mail account, you can do this.

Replyforall is actually a for-profit company that partners with non-profits at no cost to provide donor engagement and on-going donations through your e-mail signature. When you sign up for this, you can choose a cause and generate a little signature box that gets attached to all of your outgoing e-mails through that account. The box shows a small ad from a sponsor that they've already secured on one side, the cause that you've designated on the other (which you can change from time to time - there are currently eight to choose from), and in between is your own contact info and a little snippet indicating how much your participation has provided in charitable contributions. When the e-mail recipient sees that ad and clicks on it, a donation from that company is accrued on your behalf, and then replyforall tallies it all up and distributes the donations on a quarterly basis. An example of one of the signature boxes, from one of the women who contacted me, looks like this:

Pretty smart! If you don't want to use that space in the middle for your own contact info, you can have it show a factoid about the cause you've selected. One of the reasons that I received information about this is that replyforall is exclusively featuring clean water efforts this month (though you are still welcome to select the cause of your choice when signing up). As their press release states, "every new replyforall user that adds the signature for one month can provide clean water to 12 people in countries like Haiti and Kenya where these non-profits work." Yeah, I had a question about the "hour of clean water" that is listed there in the signature snippet about Ms. Core's support. As she explained it to me,
"If we can get 275 more users we will be able to build a well with Partners In Health and Student Movement for Real Change. Water is measured by hour because of our algorithm which feeds back to our users how much of an impact they make by being an active user. These micro units best reflect that activity. Basically, for every 275 new users we can build a spring capped well that serves 2,500 people over 15 years. We measure our impact by the dollars it takes to provide access to clean water, per person, over the life of the well rather than by liter of water used."
In case you're wondering, Partners in Health was designated a four-star organization by Charity Navigator, and Student Movement for Real Change is an international non-profit organization fighting global poverty through health and education efforts. Not too long ago, SMRC received an Empowers Grant for assistance in online advocacy from the non-profit DemocracyInAction organization.

Good for you with a minimum of effort, good for the companies who donate in exchange for their ad exposure, and great for the people who get that new well.

24 March 2009


To the person who requested on my behalf a copy of the 2008 volume of SAISPHERE (which I mentioned a couple days ago in my World Water Day post) from the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, I received it today, and it's beautiful! From the bottom of my heart, I thank you.

For the rest of you water-loving-but-less-fortunate-not-to-have-such-a-thoughtful-friend types, you can still read the articles here.

And to follow up on collaborations between the Center for Strategic and International Studies and SAIS during this "Year of Water," their full-day conference in Washington D.C. on 30 March entitled "Water and Agriculture: Implications for Development and Growth" is also supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. For those of us unlikely to make it to D.C. then, the conference will be webcast too!

22 March 2009


As Graham Greene dismissed some of his best works as "entertainments" in the light of fellow authors in their genre and era (read: John Le Carré around his beginnings), this World Water Day we are treated to the re-imagination of classic film scenes as "provocations" by our Earth-hugging friends at GOOD. There's one from "Cool Hand Luke" that is worth watching, but this one's more on point (viewer discretion advised - it's pretty dirty):

Many thanks to Simon Owens for the link. Find more information at GOOD Magazine, more videos on their YouTube channel, and more stuff to do at think MTV.

20 March 2009

Events around World Water Day 2009

This upcoming Sunday, 22 March, is World Water Day as designated sixteen years ago by the UN General Assembly. The Day's theme for this year is "Water Connects," bringing global attention to the more than 260 transboundary river basins that connect nearly 150 countries in water-sharing relationships and cover more than half the Earth's surface. Lots of things going on this week prior, and likely lots of things to happen that day too. One place to check for events in or near your own hometown is Ethos Water. Yes, that's the bottled water you find most often at Starbucks locations, of whose product I drink enough that they're practically a sponsor of this blog. If only I could get them to put some cash on my Starbucks Gold Card (props to the muse) every month... Did I write "Starbucks" enough times in this paragraph to get a mocha or two? Can a caffeine-fueled blogger catch a break here? Feeling...so...sleepy...

Seriously, these couple weeks before World Water Day saw a lot of attention to water issues, from local and state-based meetings to U.S. and global fora. In conjunction with President Obama's stimulus packages, on 12 March the U.S. House of Representatives passed and sent on to the Senate the "Water Quality Investment Act of 2009" (H.R. 1262) which would provide almost $19.4B for wastewater infrastructure over the next five years, including almost $14B for distribution through the Clean Water State Revolving Funds. Without such funding, wastewater management and the water quality in our nation's waterways might have been set back almost 40 years, to a time before the original Clean Water Act brought about an era of much-needed environmental and ecological remediation.

Here in subtropical semi-arid Tucson, Arizona, we were treated to the Arizona Water Resources Research Center's Annual Conference, co-sponsored by the U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution at the Morris K. Udall Foundation and by my own employer, the Arizona Water Institute. To answer your obvious question, yes, there is water in Arizona, just not much of it, which is why we need organizational efforts and get-togethers like this on a consistent and regular basis. That is, unfortunately, something the Arizona state legislature and the state university system little recognizes, but that's a story for another time. The conference on Tuesday was followed immediately by a St. Patrick's Day celebration at the local brewpub with numerous conference participants in attendance. The WRRC Conference this year focused on "Best Practices for Stakeholder Engagement in Water Resources Planning" and had more than 40 communities from throughout Arizona represented among the conference participants. As I now work in direct interaction and service with so many passionate and dedicated stakeholders, where I attempt to secure and then later provide datasets and information to the public and interested groups, numerous aspects of the Conference were highly insightful and educational in that regard. The WRRC Conference was considered a success all around.

The U.S. National Weather Service declared this Flood Safety Awareness Week and has provided daily profiles of NWS activities and products related to flood causes, hazards, observation, warning, safety, and recovery. The all-important National Flood Insurance Program has been a focus of NWS promotion all week. Back in graduate school at Colorado State, I presented a brief examination of the NFIP in a course on Water Resources Management - maybe I can resurrect that material from my archives for another post here in the near future.

The non-profit organization International Rivers kicked off this past week in a big way with an "International Day of Action against Dams and for Rivers, Water and Life," so it was no surprise when they stirred things up at the triennial 5th World Water Forum, hosted this past week by the World Water Council in Istanbul, Turkey. I was pleased to see that the UN's own "water czar" Maude Barlow was expected to participate in protests at the Forum, which is itself sponsored by the United Nations and several of its component organizations and was supported this year by the International Hydropower Association. It's no small irony that Turkey itself remains embroiled in controversy over it's dam(n) project at Ilisu in Southeast Anatolia, which I've mentioned previously in a post on the Kurdish ethnic region and hope to cover again given more recent developments there.

I also certainly enjoyed following the adventures of the small International Rivers contingent that was removed from the event (and then deported from the country) for "protest activities" that seemed to consist almost exclusively of a colorful banner and aborted chant against the funding, construction and use of large dams around the world. International Rivers' Policy Director Peter Bosshard provided a level overview of the events, both inside and outside the Forum, and two of the deported participants (Ann Kathrin Schneider and Payal Parekh) have already provided their own entertaining accounts of the incident. At the same time, an "Alternative Water Forum" was also convened in Istanbul in direct competition with the official meeting and with the slogan "Another Water Management is Possible!" Gotta admire their tenacity...

So, at the official Forum, the controversial $33B Libyan "Great Man-Made River Project" to bring water from fossil aquifers in the Saharan interior to the more populous coastal regions was finally presented in an international meeting, and then there were the usual calls for international cooperation on water issues, and the Forum was the setting for official release of the 3rd UN World Water Development Report titled Water in a Changing World. Otherwise, as expected, very little came of the Forum itself; a meeting of high-level international officials does not often seem the place to get real work done - have you ever seen a positive and substantive outcome from the World Economic Forum in Davos each year, or from a G-8 or G-20 meeting for that matter?

In more academic circles, the impressive Global Water Futures program (which follows on their 2005 report Addressing Our Global Water Future) within the Global Strategy Institute at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C. sponsored several events: on Tuesday they hosted a panel discussion on "Renewing American Leadership On the Global Water Crisis" led by Representative Earl Blumenauer, who has previously spoken at the Wilson Center on bringing progressive water policy home while continuing our global outreach in the water sector, and Senator Richard Durbin and including statements on the pending "Paul Simon Water for the World Act" (S. 624), formerly the "Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act 2005" that is administered by the U.S. State Department. That was followed on Wednesday with a "Declaration on U.S. Policy and the Global Challenge of Water" led by Coca-Cola Company Chairman E. Neville Isdell and former Senate Majority Leader William Frist. Coca-Cola is one of those international companies so forward-thinking as to have supported from their inceptions the Global Water Challenge and the CEO Water Mandate, a UN Global Compact activity. Although they consistently come under fire for water management practices in India, they've been working consistently with the WWF on conservation partnerships around the world and some time ago struck a deal for water sustainability in their manufacturing activities in China and have entered into a unique partnership with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to help address water needs in developing countries at the level of individual communities.

Obviously not a group to underestimate the value of momentum, CSIS is sponsoring even more events in the coming weeks: with co-host the Global Health Council, three NGO partners will present a briefing following up on the "Renewing American Leadership" discussion and regarding their activities to "Let Clean Waters Flow: U.S. Leadership and Innovation Addressing the Global Water Crisis" in Washington on 25 March. On 30 March CSIS will collaborate with the "Year of Water" program and lecture series led by the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, which dedicated their entire 2008 volume of SAISPHERE magazine to water issues, on a conference to address "Water and Agriculture: Implications for Development and Growth." We've seen a lot of interest and work in Arizona around the "water - energy nexus" but little extension along natural lines into the agriculture sector, on which I have a few ideas of my own.

And finally, during the World Water Forum in Istanbul, the Blue Legacy group debuted "Expedition: Blue Planet," a water-oriented travelogue series being led by Alexandra Cousteau (daughter of the famed oceanographer) through eight critical regions across five continents, telling the stories of the people and the problems in these fragile environments. They've chronicled aspects of the sacred Ganges River in India, just left Botswana's oasis-like Okavango Delta, and are currently setting up in the Dead Sea basin along the Jordan River. Oh, and by the way, the Blue Legacy project is sponsored by Dasani, a product of the Coca-Cola Company. Still, it should be fun to watch...

16 March 2009

Call for Abstracts for AWRA Annual Water Resources Conference in Seattle, Washington, November 2009

The American Water Resources Association (AWRA) has released a call for abstracts for the "2009 AWRA Annual Water Resources Conference." In keeping with AWRA's scope and interests, the array of topics to be addressed is quite broad:
"...technical, social and legal issues that are of national and international interest, including conflicts over water and efforts to resolve them; recent advances in water resource monitoring, modeling and analysis; effects and responses to drought, floods, and other natural calamities; and collaborative efforts to address transboundary and international water issues."
There is also a special geographic focus, given the conference location, that encourages "sessions that focus on water resources issues in the Pacific Northwest, particularly those having broader national or international implications." The conference is to be held over 9-12 November 2009 in Seattle, Washington. Abstract submissions are due 22 May 2009. You can click over to the conference site for more information.

04 February 2009

Welcome recognition (belated thanks)

I meant to post this much earlier, but have been away from the blog for a while (obviously). A reader and friend, who also happens to be a freelance author, sent me a link to the ''100 Best Blogs for Earth Science Scholars.'' Love the blog title ("Learn-gasm"! Ha!) - it's part of the BachelorsDegreeOnline site. Scroll down a ways to see that Hydro-Logic made it on the list in the section for hydrology, geology, and oceanography. Many thanks to author Alisa Miller and her research contributors!

Call for Abstracts for ASCE EWRI in Chennai, India, January 2010

Ganesha, the Remover of Obstacles

The ASCE's Environmental & Water Resources Institute (EWRI) and the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Madras have just released a call for abstracts for the EWRI's ''3rd Developing Nations Conference: India 2010'' with the theme of an International Perspective on Current & Future State of Water Resources & the Environment. The conference is to be held over 5-7 January 2010 in Chennai, India. A wide variety of subtopics within the three primary conference tracks (water resources, urban and domestic water supply, and the environment) are open for submissions. Abstract submissions are due 26 March 2009. You can click over to the conference site and download the brochure (pdf) for more information.

03 February 2009

Happy (belated) World Wetlands Day!

Yesterday, 2 February, was not just a day to watch for the groundhog's shadow. Besides, it turns out he's right only about 30% of the time anyway - you can flip a coin for better odds on guessing the arrival of spring, especially if you live outside of Pennsylvania.

The date also marked the anniversary of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands that was signed in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971. As articulated in a statement developed in 2002, ''the Convention's mission is the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local, regional and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world.'' Since its inception, 158 parties (countries, protectorates, and former states) have signed the Convention and collectively designated more than 170 million hectares (1.7M km2) in 1,831 wetlands sites for inclusion in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.

The global group Wetlands International represents the Ramsar Convention in issues of advocacy, publicity, and fund-raising for awareness and conservation initiatives. In 2009, the theme of World Wetlands Day is ''Upstream-Downstream'' in order to highlight the connectivity that wetlands provide among all peoples along river systems and, quite often, across borders. More specifically, the stated theme ''highlights how the world’s wetlands are connected to millions of people whose livelihoods, safety and security depend on them for water supply and their capacity to help regulate floods. Climate change will considerably magnify the problems that ongoing degradation of these river basins will bring to nature and people. Increasing the resilience of these wetlands is therefore a fundamental issue that must be part of climate change adaptation strategies.''

A repeated plea follows on their website:
Wetlands International urges governments, development organizations and finance institutions to integrate wetland conservation and restoration into climate change adaptation and development strategies to maintain and enhance the resilience of these ecosystems and millions of people.
It is certainly reassuring to have a global organization (outside of climate scientists themselves) recognize not only the facts of climate change, but also one of the many ways in which the climate system operates in such complex feedback cycles that natural features such as wetlands can continue to mitigate the impacts of environmental change, no matter the sources or drivers of those changes. Vast wetlands are found on every continent (save Antarctica, as far as I know) and occur in almost all climate zones, from the deep tropics to the Arctic circle. Ongoing conservation projects stretch from the Baltic Sea to the limits of the South American and Australian river systems. The city of Ramsar itself is nestled in the middle of six designated wetlands sites in Iran alone along the southern shore of the Caspian Sea in central Asia. Wetlands International provides a Ramsar Sites Information Service from which you can download and visualize all of the designated wetlands sites around the world using Google Earth.

Of course, wetlands are far more extensive that just those listed as Ramsar sites, as shown in this global map produced by the USDA NRCS: (click on the map for a larger version)
A recent article in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera (thanks to the SAHRA Global Water News Watch for a summary translation) indicates that about 60% of global wetlands, and 90% of wetlands in Europe, have disappeared due to development and related impacts. We have simply not recognized, as a society, the importance of wetlands to our livelihood: wetlands provide invaluable services, not only removing pollutants from water but absorbing coastal floodwaters as well as 35% of the world's carbon dioxide. We have seen the physical results of wetlands in degraded conditions: Hurricane Katrina crossed the outer shoals of Louisiana and Mississippi with a storm surge almost unimpeded into the inner coastal regions of the Gulf of Mexico to bring about unprecedented damage. Where wetlands provide ecosystem services, such as filtration of river contaminants and diminution of flood surges, those downstream suffer the impacts of poor conservations practices, often by unrelated upstream neighbors and the commercial interests at work on the superior lands.

Given the vast biodiversity at home in wetlands communities, sometimes greater than that supported by tropical rainforests, the WWF has taken up the cause of wetlands awareness and conservation. The International Congress of Ecology formed the INTECOL Wetland Working Group in 1978 and just last summer (winter in the Pantanal of South America, where the Congress met) drafted the "Cuiabá Declaration on Wetlands" regarding the "State of Wetlands and their Role in a World of Global Climate Change." In summary,
Wetlands are at the interface between land and water, cover about 5% of the global terrestrial surface and are widely used by humans, support biodiversity, and are a necessary part of our common future under global climate change. In some, but not all instances, wetlands provide flood protection, fiber and food, enhance water quality, and protect economic services. Their natural and ecosystem 'services' are compromised in different ways at the local, regional and national level, through inappropriate land use, nutrient over-enrichment, water management and storage, and climate change. There is unacceptable lack of knowledge about their areal extent and quality which can be remedied with existing technology and resources for research and management purposes. The Ramsar Convention, a global agreement of international significance can be, and often is, an effective policy instrument protecting wetlands, but is underutilized by the signatories and does not have enough participation worldwide.
Looking at the Ramsar map of designated sites, this underutilization and lack of participation is especially evident in the U.S.: since entering the Ramsar Convention in 1987, only 24 sites in the U.S. with a total area of approximately 1.3 million hectares have been designated as Ramsar sites. One of those, the Everglades in southern Florida, constitute almost half of that designated area, and just two more sites make up an additional one-quarter of the designated area in the United States. What we may have here is a surfeit of bureaucracy: the delineation of wetlands falls under the responsibility of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who then take on the responsibility of management in accordance with the Clean Water Act as enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency, all subject to overlapping jurisdiction of the National Park Service, National Forest Service, Bureau of Reclamation, Bureau of Land Management, various riparian contracts and agreements (especially along the Colorado River), and various interests at the state and local levels. And on top of all that, the U.S. Supreme Court weighs in once in a while: in the case Rapanos v. United States in 2006, the esteemed Justices wound up in a split decision (4-4 with 1 abstention) over a lower court's ruling that federal protection can be extended to small tributaries and wetlands near, but not directly abutting, navigable waters. This designation of "navigable waters" is the crux of the USACE's operations and protection plans; apparently, if a stream or water body is non-navigable, it must not need protection under the Clean Water Act. The more liberal Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer noted that ''as the wetlands and their inhabitants go, so goes the entire watershed.''

Justice Kennedy suggested that, to come within federal protection, regulators must make a scientific determination that the wetland in question has a significant hydrological "nexus" to a navigable water body [italics mine]. Here's where the hydrologists come in! The Ramsar Convention, Wetlands International, INTECOL, and innumerable water-related organizations around the world all attempt to make this very point: all hydrology is connected, whether over, on, or under the ground. Rainfall and climate must be taken into account in assessments of surface water availability. The principle of conjunctive use dictates that surface sources and subsurface aquifers are connected. In the last two centuries, the U.S. has lost more than half of its original wetlands to development and the USACE's version of ''reclamation,'' and more than half of those remaining are no longer connected in a ''significant hydrological nexus'' to still-navigable waterways. At the same time, wetlands provide connectivity among all peoples along and across river systems, and an integrated view toward assessment and management is fundamental to wetlands survival, resilience, and sustainability.