‘Women Need Water Rights, Not Just Technologies’ by Masum Momaya

article, community, drinking water, economy, gender, outreach, women

Just finished an interesting article examining roles and limitations of technology for solving problems in water access, planning, and management for women around the world.

“In poor communities, technologies are often touted as panaceas for poverty. For women in productive and reproductive roles, technologies, such as those for fetching and storing water, can make daily tasks easier. But do such technologies actually ensure women’s rights?”

Read the article called Women Need Water Rights Not Just Technologies by Masum Momaya on the AWID website.


Above Photo: Two women washing clothes in a canal in Tamil Nadu.

Greenwashing and Water Advertisements

drinking water, drought, economy, outreach, photos

Have you ever seen an advertisement for a product claiming to be sustainable?  Has an advertisement like the one below (by Nestle) ever convinced you that a product is good for the environment?

725_eco_bottle_callouts_im
Above Photo: EnviroMedia Greenwashing Index

As I heard today on Think Out Loud, an advertising organization called EnviroMedia Social Marketing and the University of Oregon have created a website called EnviroMedia Greenwashing Index to provide a forum for people – you the consumer –  to compile and discuss these types of advertisements.

It’s greenwashing when a company or organization spends more time and money claiming to be “green” through advertising and marketing than actually implementing business practices that minimize environmental impact.

– EnviroMedia Greenwashing Index

A simple search for the keyword water shows several ads that dupe the consumer into thinking a product is sustainable. For example, look at the ad below for cotton – the catch line is “Cotton: the environmentally friendly fiber.” Yet cotton is a water intensive crop often grown in water scarce locations. So do you think cotton is environmentally sustainable?

955_cotton-sustainability-ad
Above Photo: EnviroMedia Greenwashing Index

Register on the website to comment on this ad or upload more ads that you think have been “greenwashed”.

Blue Planet Run: The Race to Provide Safe Drinking Water to the World – A Book Review

climate change, drinking water, drought, economy, groundwater, international, outreach, photos, water availability, water conflict

As readers of Water for the Ages may have noticed, I’ve been on an extended holiday break (to visit family in East Tennessee). Arriving back to the Pacific Northwest, my mailbox was full with letters, bills, Christmas Cards, and other postal paraphernalia. Yet, to my surprise, there was one mysteriously large and somewhat heavy package addressed to me.

me-and-book-2

Soon, I discovered this large package was a massive, coffee-table sized book called Blue Planet Run: The Race to Provide Safe Drinking Water to the World published by the Blue Planet Run Foundation in San Francisco, California. The Blue Planet Run book was published to raise money to assist in meeting the Blue Planet Run Foundation’s goal of providing safe drinking water to 200 million people by 2027. One hundred percent of all royalties from the sale of this book will be used to fund drinking water projects around the world.

photo-from-book

Opening the book, I was immediately transported around the world through the vivid photographs that graced cover to cover. These images, taken by photojournalists over a period of one-month last year, tell the stories of rapid development and its effect on water supplies, dam construction, access to water in crowded cities, new water technologies, and leaders who are making strides in water access and supply. Several essays are also featured throughout the book written by authors including Robert Redford, Diane Ackerman, Paul Hawken, and Bill McKibben.

And, after coming home to indoor plumbing and plenty of fresh water, this book helps me remember (during this holiday season) just how lucky I really am.

UNESCO Launches Global Aquifer Map

drinking water, drought, economy, general, groundwater, hydrogeology, outreach, research, sustainability, united nations

A worldwide map of groundwater resources crossing national boundaries has just been published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). This map details 273 shared aquifers – sources of ground water – across the globe. It is the culmination of eight years of research and development of an extensive ground water database by UNESCO’s International Hydrological Programme (IHP). The map also indicates water quality of the aquifers, recharge of the aquifers, streams and rivers in the region of the aquifers, and population density near the aquifers.


Above Photo: Inside the Global Aquifer Map

The unveiling of this project is set to coincide with the United Nation’s review of a new draft Convention on Transboundary Aquifers on October, 27, 2008. This convention is an international treaty to assist in the management and protection of ground water resources across country boundaries. This project is very important because shared ground water resources could increase conflict across political boundaries in the future. The delineation of transboundary aquifers will assist countries in current and future water planning.

Water and the Next U.S. President

drinking water, drought, economy, general, groundwater, international, water availability, water conflict

The economy, health care, Iraq, government spending, nuclear proliferation… What else should the incoming president of the United States focus on?

Water – as noted recently in WIRED magazine by leading water researcher, Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, a think-tank in California that works to “advance environmental protection, economic development, and social equity.” Mr. Gleick’s eight proposals to the next president include focusing on water at home and abroad.

Check out the WIRED page to view the eight hypothetical slides. The text is quoted below:

  1. The US mismanages water at all levels. For instance, states compete for resources.
    Proposal: Establish a non-partisan national water commission to recommend policy changes
  2. Drought costs $6-8 billion a year. Rivers are over-allocated. Reservoir levels are falling.
    Proposal: Promote water conservation to reduce pressure on limited supplies.
  3. Domestic water supplies and systems are vulnerable to multiple security threats.
    Proposal: Improve monitoring. Hold water-security workshops at the US War Colleges, State Department, CIA, and DHS.
  4. Water has profound implications for international security as well.
    Proposal: Empower the US State Department to address global water-related disputes.
  5. Nearly 1 billion people worldwide lack access to safe drinking water…
    Proposal: Fund clean-water, sanitation, and hygiene projects in the developing world.
  6. ..leading to 2.5 million deaths annually from preventable illnesses and malnutrition.
    Proposal: Take a leadership role in eliminating waterborne diseases.
  7. Climate change will intensify flooding, storms, drought, and disease.
    Proposal: Factor the effect of climate change on water supplies into all new infrastructure projects.
  8. Taking water seriously is a no-brainer.
    Proposal: Put water at the center of your administration’s strategic agenda.

For more information on McCain’s and Obama’s views on water policy, see here and here and here.

Prepaid Water Meters, Price of Water

africa, drinking water, economy, international, sustainability, technology, water availability, water conflict

As the recent disruption in the worldwide economy suggests, we have a global economic system. This economic system relies heavily on the concept of supply and demand. We allocate a price to anything tradeable in the economy. These tradeable goods run the gamut from clothes, chemicals, televisions, homes, drugs, cars, tools, land, food, and even water. Water is sold in our economy in a variety of ways in the commercial, private, and public sectors. While placing a value on water may encourage conservation of water supplies in some situations, not everyone in the world has the means to pay money for water. Case in point, prepaid water meters.

Prepaid meters are hooked to a water-supply system and require the user pay before retrieving water. US-based NGOs Public Citizen and Food and Water Watch warn of the dangers of prepaid water meters in predominantly poor areas of the world. Prepaid water meters are currently used in Brazil, Curacao, Egypt, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, the Philippines, Uganda, and the United States. The photos below are from Tetsane, Maseru (Lesotho) in South Africa during April 2008.

A recent article in ADBUSTERS detailed the plight of one South African community challenging the legality of prepaid water meters. In 2006, several residents of Phiri, Soweto filed a suit against the City of Johannesburg in South Africa declaring that prepaid water meters were unconstitutional. A landmark ruling earlier this year affirmed the unconstitutionality of prepaid water meters in Phiri. The ruling also declared that the City should provide Phiri residents with 50 liters (roughly 13 gallons) of free water for every person each day instead of the previous allocation of 25 liters for every person each day. This ruling was a success for the citizens of Phiri in South Africa, but there are still many other towns around the world facing similar challenges with prepaid water meters. For more information, please visit the Public Citizen and Food and Water Watch websites.

Widespread Drought: The Middle East in 2008

agriculture, dam, drinking water, drought, economy, international, iraq, middle east, rivers, sustainability, water availability

The following words come to mind as I think of the Middle East – oil, Iraq, war, Palestine, Israel, and desert. Many of the words on my list are mere impressions of media-induced messages, but one word on my list is somewhat realistic – desert. The Middle East is an arid region known the world-over for sand, camels, heat, and more sand. So when I tell you in a few moments that many countries in the Middle East are facing severe drought conditions this year, you may not be surprised.

Yet contrary to my word list the Middle East isn’t entirely desert. Among the sand and heat, the region hosts fertile valleys and forests fed by one of two main rivers – the Tigris or Euphrates. This place was once so fruitful it was called “the fertile crescent,” “the cradle of civilization,” and “the birthplace of agriculture.” Today crops exported from the region include wheat, dates, olives, pistachios, raisins, eggplant, hazelnuts, and apricots. So when I tell you again that many countries in the Middle East are facing serious drought conditions this year, you may be dismayed.


Above Photo: Yale University

Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Cyprus, Iran and Iraq have each been dealing with decreased rainfall, reduced water storage, irrigation water shortages, and in some cases, declared drought. Drought in northeastern Syria over the past two years devastated wheat production in the region. Syria was forced to import wheat for the first time in fifteen years to compensate. Crops were also wiped out in Turkey after drought affected 35 out of 81 provinces. Iran is another nation importing extra wheat this season after a 20 percent decline in annual yield.

Palestine and Israel have been in a “regional drought” for over half a decade. Palestinians in the West Bank, facing especially difficult circumstances, are without water for hours or days at a time this summer. Israel controls 90 percent of the water distribution system for the West Bank, but claims to be unable to provide additional water to those in the West Bank.

Meanwhile, King Abdullah in Jordan has secured an Emergency Water Supply plan for next summer in case rains are less than predicted over winter. And, of course, the island of Cyprus is dealing with prolonged drought. Turkey is sending water by tankers to the Turkish half of the island, but the Greek half of the island refuses to accept water from Turkey. They are receiving water by tankers from Greece. A drought has been declared in Iraq after significantly less than the annual, average rainfall of six inches. Some say it is the worst drought in ten years. Both the Tigris and Euphrates flow through Iraq in less quantities from a lack of rainfall and dams constructed in Turkey and Syria. Barley and wheat yields, in this country, are expected to be reduced by half this year.

Widespread drought in the Middle East means many individuals are enduring severe hardship with little watery relief. Often forced to relocate or consume muddy or polluted water unfit for human consumption, people in this region have to test the limit of life with minimal water. Simultaneous drought in regions such as the Middle East and Australia further influences already soaring grain prices on the world market. In fact, wheat prices have risen by 40 percent over the last several months alone.

Water and the G8: Hokkaido Toyako Summit

climate change, drinking water, drought, economy, general, groundwater, industrial, international, investments

As most have heard by now, the 34th annual G8 Summit is underway in Japan from July 7th to July 9th in Toyako, Hokkaido.



Leaders from eight of the world’s industrialized nations, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, and the United States (in addition to the president of the European Union and representatives from fifteen other nations) are busy talking and talking some more about the global economy. Again this year, some of these conversations address environmental concerns which embrace the issue of water.


The agenda for the G8 Summit is prioritized something like this:


  1. Global Economy (Sub-prime Crisis, Rising Inflation, Economic Growth)
  2. Environment and Climate Change (Carbon Reduction, International Cooperation, Global Food Security)
  3. Development in Africa (Development, Water, Health, and Education)
  4. Political Issues (Nonproliferation, Nuclear Safety)

Water is linked to the global economy, a changing climate, food security, and is necessary to consider for future development in Africa, but it is unclear exactly how G8 leaders will tackle the matter of water. Many international organizations have been lobbying delegates of the 2008 Summit to focus on the topic of water. The Asia-Pacific Water Forum encouraged G8 leaders to highlight the importance of water security in the region. Water Aid issued a plea for G8 leaders to provide additional funding for sanitation projects abroad. UNICEF met with G8 leaders earlier in the spring to inform participating nations of the one billion people worldwide without access to clean, drinkable water.





Deliberations on water by G8 nations are nothing new. In 2003, global water was discussed at the Summit in Evian, France. Participants from this Summit produced a G8 Water Action Plan outlining an agreement for better global water management “particularly taking into account the importance of proper water management in Africa…” But indistinct steps have been made towards realization of these goals as evidenced by talks on similar subjects at this year’s Summit and a “reaffirmation” of the G8 Water Action Plan.


So far, the following agreements relating to water (sort of) have been reached at the Hokkaido Toyako Summit:


  • Environment and Climate Change – The world should cut carbon emissions by 50 percent before 2050 with each nation having individual targets.
  • Development and Africa – G8 nations pledge 60 billion dollars over five years to help the continent fight disease. G8 nations reaffirm Millennium Development Goals for water, health, and sanitation in Africa. G8 nations hope to reinvigorate efforts to implement the Evian G8 Water Action Plan from 2003 with a progress report at the 2009 Summit.
  • Global Food Security – Nations in the world with sufficient food storage should release food to the market. Worldwide removal of food export restrictions is necessary.

Repetitions of past/existing goals seem to highlight the 2008 Summit list of accomplishments in the environmental realm. Agreements similar to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol ‘reduction of greenhouse gas’ initiative to a repeat of the 2003 Evian G8 Water Action Plan.


Well, you know what they say, maybe the third time is a charm (or the fourth, the fifth, the sixth, the seventh)…

Quarter of Crude, Please

drinking water, economy, international, investments, outreach, water treatment

A friend asked me the other day, “did you know that it takes about quarter of a bottle of oil to produce one bottle of water?” I didn’t, and he was right.

His simple statement, and I found myself pondering this fact. To be honest, just thinking about the concept of a quarter of a bottle of oil in a beverage container disgusted me. And it further solidified my aversion to plastic bottles.

The production of plastic PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) bottles is an oil (natural gas and petroleum) intensive process. The Pacific Institute estimates the equivalent of 17 million barrels of oil were required to produce 31.2 billion liters of water in 2006. This figure does not include the immense amount of oil used to transport bottled water around the world. (‘Fiji Water‘, oh my).

“The Pacific Institute estimates that the total amount of energy embedded in our use of bottled water can be as high as the equivalent of filling a plastic bottle one quarter full with oil.”

Dammed if we do, dammed if we don’t.

architecture, audio, dam, drinking water, economy, energy, floods, general, international, sustainability, technology

A friend sent along these great videos of a coffer dam being breached in super-fast speed. This video has since circulated the Internet extensively, but in case you haven’t seen it yet…

Marmot Dam Removal – ‘largest dam removal in Oregon’

This video shows the intentional breaching of a coffer dam, the final phase in a process to return the Sandy River to a free-flowing state.

Just like the Marmot Dam, most dams are finally demolished because of significant upkeep costs and concerns for fish.

So, what is the shelf-life of a dam?

Many dams constructed in the early 20th century are beginning to age and show signs of disrepair. The Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO) is keeping a watchful eye over the dams in America. With over 79,000 dams in the United States, the ASDSO supposes there are thousands (3,316 to be exact) of dams susceptible to collapse.

…the number of dams identified as unsafe is increasing at a faster rate than those being repaired.
– ADSO

The possible failure of a dam is probably the most likely contender for its removal. But, many environmental, socio-economic, aesthetic, and cultural benefits also occur with the removal of dams.

We Build Them…

World’s Five Largest Dams by Volume (completed and proposed)


Source of Data: InfoPlease

And, then we take them down…

Three Largest Proposed Dam Removals in the World (so far)

  • If approved, four dams on the Klamath River in California and Oregon.
  • Two dams on the Elwha River are cited for removal in 2012.
  • Matilija Dam: Will this dam in Ventura County, California be removed?

American Rivers has compiled a list of dams removed from 1999 to 2007. They state around 713 dams have been removed, to date.

Dude, where’s my lake?

africa, agriculture, asia, audio, climate change, economy, general, lakes, rainwater, research, south america, sustainability, water availability

An estimated three hundred and four million of them across the globe, and yet researchers are noticing many inland lakes are beginning to dry. In Siberia, Central Asia, East Africa, and North America – the results are the same – lakes simply cannot compete with man-made alterations to the environment. These are not just small lakes, some of the lakes with dropping water levels are gigantic in size.

There are 122 large lakes in the world each over 1000 square kilometers (386 square miles). Lake Victoria, in Africa, is the largest tropical lake in the world at 68,800 square kilometers (26,560 square miles). Mounting water-level decline in this lake is slowly eroding the livelihood of local fisherman and ranchers, agricultural producers, and industrial water users near the lake. A lack of suitable drinking water or dependable power supply is also becoming more common in the region.

Morning Edition on NPR recently aired a segment on Lake Victoria by corespondent Jessica Partnow: ‘Battle for Resources Grows as Lake Victoria Shrinks‘. She has also reported on dropping water levels in Lake Haramaya in Africa for World Vision Report.

Disappearing Lake‘ by Jessica Partnow

Sometimes occasional fluctuations of water levels in lakes are natural, but the current rate that many lakes are beginning to go dry throughout the world is not. Humans alter the natural environment near lakes and water levels decline. We build dams, over-pump rivers, over-use groundwater, put roads and parking lots in natural recharge areas, build industries in locations without enough water, over-irrigate our crops, and, often, we use too much water in our homes. Not to mention the effect of a changing climate on water supply sources.

But, some things that could help ‘decline’ at least some of this water-level decline include: conservation, conservation, conservationgrow crops in regions they are acclimated (low-water crops)alternative water supply sources such as rainwater harvesting systemspursue green “water conservative” development techniquesreduce the pavementrethink industrial productionlow impact livingconservation, conservation, conservation.

A few other lakes around the world with dropping water levels

Aral Sea – Central Asia
Great Lakes – United States
Lake Baikal – Russia
Lake Chad – Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria, and Niger
Lake Chapala – Mexico

Barcelona Imports Water from France

drinking water, drought, economy, general, water trade

Barcelona Water Imports

This ship, docked in Barcelona, Catalonia, is carrying 5.3 million gallons of water in 20 storage tanks. This water will serve up to 180,000 people for one day in the capital city. Photo courtesy AP/Manu Fernandez

Spain is enduring a drought. Reservoirs in Barcelona are at 20 percent capacity, and rainfall has been minimal over the past four years. The government has opted, as a short-term answer to this water crisis, to import water from Tarragona, Spain and Marseilles, France. The water will arrive on ten ships (like the one above) each month over the next six months.

Total Price Tag = $68 Million

‘The politics of oil and water’ – Interviews on Big Think

drinking water, economy, film, international, outreach, rivers, water availability, water trade

Several interviews on the ‘politics of oil and water’ are featured this week on Big Think, a website of ideas from people on everything including the environment. The following people and others were asked about “access to oil and water as a human right, sources of alternative energy and the future of global conflicts over resources”.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Natural Water Treatment in Ecuador

agriculture, drinking water, economy, international, south america, sustainability, water treatment

A village in Ecuador was recently recognized on World Water Day 2008 for an innovative yet simple approach to water treatment using aquatic lentil and water lettuce.

The people of San Rafael de la Laguna, an indigenous community of 4,700, constructed a water treatment facility along the edge of Lake Imbakucha to offset polluted discharge from local tourist facilities and agricultural practices.

The water treatment facility removes up to 90% of the contamination, and the clean water is then used for irrigation of reeds. Local artisans create furniture, crafts, and paper from the reeds, and sell the products through the Totora Sisa Cooperative.


Photo above is Lake San Pablo (Imbakucha) in Ecuador.

Turkey, Iraq, and Syria to Form Collaborative Water Institute

dam, drinking water, drought, economy, groundwater, international, rivers, sustainability, technology

The Middle East is an area rich in oil reserves but without ample water supplies to sustain a growing populace. Over 21 politically distinct countries and jurisdictions maintain 5% of the world’s total inhabitants with less than 1% of the world’s water reserves. At times, coming to an agreement on how to share the three river systems (the Jordan, Nile, and Tigris-Euphrates) that traverse the region make water policy a virtual nightmare. Now three countries are coming forward to resolve past arguments on transboundary water issues.

Turkey, Iraq, and Syria will soon form an institute to study water in the Middle East, as detailed in Today’s Zaman (a major Turkish newspaper). Experts, scholars, and professionals from each country will begin meetings at Turkey’s Atatürk Dam to share information and work on resolving past water-allocation problems.

Goals of the institute include:

  • Develop and share information on irrigation and potable water technology.
  • Map water resources in the Middle East.
  • Release a report on effective water management in each country (for release on April 15th).

Management of water storage and dams in the region will be an aspect of the institute’s endeavors. Turkey and Syria will attempt joint construction of a dam on the Asi River. Syria expressed an interest in greater downstream shares from dams on the Euphrates River. Iraq, which had previously filed concerns against Turkey’s dams on the Tigris and Euphrates, approved the construction on the controversial Ilisu Dam on the Tigris River. Also, see this post on Intercontinental Cry on the contested Ilisu Dam and related protests in Turkey.


Above Photo: Ted Thornton at History of the Middle East Database.