Water Scarcity in the US

Water Scarcity in the USby Jay Kimball on 27 June 2010

When I talk with groups about water, here are some factoids that usually surprise:

  • By 2020, California will face a shortfall of fresh water as great as the amount that all of its cities and towns together are consuming today.
  • By 2025, 1.8 billion
 people will live in conditions of absolute 
water scarcity, and 65 percent of the worlds population will be water stressed.
  • To grow a ton of wheat uses 1,000 tons of water. The US is the largest exporter of wheat to the world. When we export a ton of our wheat, we are effectively including 100 tons of water in the bargain.
  • In the US, 21 percent of irrigation is achieved by pumping groundwater at rates that exceed the water supplies ability to recharge.
  • There are 66 golf courses in Palm Springs.  On average, they each consume over a million gallons of water per day.
  • Lake Meade (the source of 95% of water for Las Vegas) will be dry in the next 4 to 10 years (see picture below).

Water scarcity is a global problem and is not confined to “poor” nations.

Global Water Stress Global Water Stress (scource: World Resources Institute)

In the US, we are now seeing headlines about droughts in places like Florida, Georgia, etc. – not your traditional areas of drought. A powerful way to understand the pervasiveness of America’s water scarcity problem is through the following pictures.

This first picture shows areas of the US that are experiencing moderate (yellow), severe (red), and extreme (purple) drought.

US Drought Map (source: NOAA)

Here’s a picture of Lake Meade, boating haven and water source for Las Vegas. Current estimates predict it will be dry in the next 4 to 10 years.

Lake Meade water scarcity A picture of the fast disappearing Lake Meade taken in 2007

Food production in the “breadbasket” of the US depends on water from the Ogallala Aquifer.  The picture below shows where the sharpest declines in water level are occurring.

Ogallala Aquifer water shortage Ogallala Aquifer (source: USGS)

A recent article in The Texas Tribune sets out the impact Ogallala water scarcity will have on Texas.  This story is not unique and is being played out throughout the 8 state region covered by the Ogallala.

Highlights of the Tribune article:

  • The Ogalala aquifer stretches across 8 states and accounts for 40 percent of water used in Texas.
  • The Ogallala’s volume will fall a staggering 52 percent between 2010 and 2060.
  • The use of big pivot irrigation — the lifeblood of the Panhandle — could be cut back severely in 10 to 20 years.
  • Texans are probably pumping the Ogallala at about six times the rate of recharge.
  • Water conservation and regulation policy is difficult to implement because Texas views groundwater as essentially a property right.
  • T. Boone Pickens business Mesa Water and other companies are buying up water rights, and looking to market water to cities like Dallas.  This is creating a variety of court challenges in the struggle to define the line between public and private water rights.

For more information on the critical issues around private and public access to water, read the well-researched Blue Gold by Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke.

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Four desalination plants going up in Baja California


By Sandra Dibble of the San Diego Tribune 

With scarce rainfall and increasing competition for water from the Colorado River, Baja California faces many of the same challenges as Southern California as it strives to meet the needs of a swelling population.

Now water managers are considering whether to build four desalination plants along the Pacific Ocean corridor that spans Rosarito Beach to Ensenada. Two of the proposals are binational ventures – one private, the other public – that would pipe a portion of the processed seawater to users in San Diego County.

The private project has been moving forward quickly in recent months as developers explore the possibility of a reverse-osmosis facility in Rosarito Beach with an initial capacity of 50 million gallons daily. That would be as large as the Poseidon plant scheduled for operations in Carlsbad.

For years, U.S. and Mexican water agencies have discussed the prospects of a binational desalination plant in Rosarito Beach, and the issue is gaining momentum as mounting supply demands and drought have strained the Colorado River.

“The situation on the Colorado River is dismal,” said Halla Razak at the San Diego County Water Authority. “It is important to augment the water supply, and this is why everybody is talking.”

Combining forces with U.S. water agencies can help lower expenses for both sides, said Mario López Pérez, who oversees international ventures for Mexico’s National Water Commission. “The larger the project, the less expensive the cost per unit,” he said.

Sen. Denise Ducheny, D-San Diego, also believes such binational efforts can be mutually beneficial.

“To be able to help with the capital costs and share the water is a way for the whole region to prosper,” Ducheny said. “It’s acknowledging that we’re a shared economic region.”

The group behind the private venture in Rosarito Beach is NSC Agua, co-owned by a Cayman Islands-based company, Consolidated Water. The company has a contract to build on a plot next to the Rosarito Beach power plant, but still needs permits, financing, guarantees for a steady supply of electricity and commitments from water purchasers on both sides of the border.

If all of the components fall into place, the complex could be completed as early as 2015. In the initial phase, the developers are counting on selling half of the water to the Otay Water District.

“It’s another source in the portfolio of water supply that we need,” said Mark Watton, general manager of the district, which serves 48,000 customers in southeastern San Diego County. “Otay is not investing money into Mexico. It’s strictly water delivered at the border fence at the proper quality and quantity.”

The other binational project in Rosarito Beach is in early discussions. Many of its details remain unresolved, but the projected capacity is 50 million to 100 million gallons daily.

A third venture would be located in the southern Rosarito Beach community of La Misión, said Efraín Muñoz, head of the State Water Commission for Baja California. The agency is evaluating specific land parcels for a facility that would produce about 5.6 million gallons of water daily, he said.

The fourth desalination project is the furthest along.

Known as El Salitral, it would sit on property owned by the Baja California government in Ensenada. On Thursday, the state is expected to relaunch the bidding process after its initial selection effort was annulled by a federal board last year. It hopes to choose the winning bidder early next year and have the facility finished by the end of 2012.

“We have no other options but the ocean,” Muñoz said. The port city of Ensenada, with about 290,000 residents, is the only Baja California municipality that doesn’t receive water piped in from the Colorado River, and its aquifers are overdrawn.

Mexico’s federal government has agreed to pay 40 percent of the plant’s estimated $30 million construction cost, while the project’s builder would contribute the rest in return for operating the plant for 20 years.

The design for El Salitral calls for a reverse-osmosis facility that could produce nearly 5.6 million gallons of water a day, enough to serve roughly 90,000 people in the community of El Maneadero.

Hector Contreras Luenga, head of a business umbrella group in Ensenada, the Business Coordinating Council, said the project is urgently needed in his city. His group has recommended three desalination plants.

While there are some small desalination plants in Baja California, the Ensenada one would be the first large facility in the state and the largest in Mexico based on current construction timelines. At the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula, Cabo San Lucas has run a municipal desalination plant since 2007 that treats about 5 million gallons daily.

Desalination is becoming an increasingly attractive option as the cost of that technology drops and the price of water from other sources has risen. Mexican authorities see desalination as an important alternative in arid areas such as Baja California.

José Guadalupe Osuna Millán, the governor there, said the state needs to consider all possible ways of boosting the water supply.

“Desalination just on its own is very expensive, but in a mix it is very feasible,” he said.

Others stressed that desalination shouldn’t be pursued until water conservation and recycling have been fully emphasized. They include Leopoldo Mendoza, a professor with the Institute of Oceanographic Research at the Autonomous University of Baja California, who said the government should put more resources into water-reuse programs.

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Desalination Plants In Mexico

Desalination plants for the Baja California Peninsula

Source  http://geo-mexico.com/

Feb 222011

The Baja California peninsula is one of the most arid areas in Mexico and water shortages are becoming critical, especially along the southern coastline which has matured into one of the most desirable jet-set locations in the world.

Desalination, which involves removing the salts from seawater or brackish water to provide drinking water, is one viable option to ensure future water security for the region. There are already about 70 desalination plants on the Peninsula, though most are very small (25 liters/second or less) and are powered by conventional electricity. Several larger desalination projects on the Baja California Peninsula, some of which will rely mainly on solar power, are currently in the planning stages.

Map of Baja California PeninsulaLa Paz, the capital of the state of Baja California Sur, faces a particularly serious water supply problem. The local aquifer is reported to be already overexploited and suffering from salt water intrusions. Because of its greater density, seawater normally underlies freshwater in coastal areas. Salt water intrusions occur when so much fresh water is pumped out of coastal aquifers that it is replaced by the underlying salt water. The water supply issues have led to water rationing, in which almost half of La Paz’s 250,000 residents receive water only 12 hours or less each day.

Obtaining water from the desalinization of sea water is more expensive than abstracting water from aquifers via wells, but avoids the possibility of salt water intrusions.

A recent Ooska news article provides details of the desalination plants already built or being planned:

Baja California Sur:

Cabo San Lucas, opened in 2007, treats approximately 230 liters a second (60 gallons/s), equivalent to 20 million liters (5 million gallons) a day.

La Paz. Still at the proposal stage is a desalination plant capable of treating 200 liters a second.

Sierra de la Laguna. A Canadian mining company (Vista Gold Corp.) planned a desalination plant to provide water for its proposed Concordia open-pit mine. However, the mining plan was refused an essential permit by the Mexican government.

Baja California:

Ensenada. The 28-million-dollar El Salitral desalination plant is a “highly innovative project that would put the region on the map globally for desalination”. Construction is due to start later this year, and the plant should be operational by the end of 2012, when it will treat 250 liters of seawater a second. The plant would supply 96,000 people with potable water.

Rosarito. Preliminary geological and environmental impact studies are underway for a desalination facility in La Misión large enough to supply the needs of 96,000 people. Still in the concept stage is a second desalination plant  which would supply water across the border to San Diego in California.

San Quintín. Plans exist for a desalination plant with a capacity of 150 liters a second.

Main source: The OOSKA News Weekly Water Report for Latin America and the Caribbean (16 February 2011)

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