Cities Are Running Out Of Water

The Irish Times reports that cities are running out of water.

(emphasis mine) [my comment]

Thursday, April 16, 2009
Cities are running out of water, says expert

DEVELOPED CITIES and regions around the world are beginning to run out of water in advance of the effects of climate change, a seminar in Dublin was told yesterday.

The Institute of International and European Affairs was told that increasing drought was no longer "an image associated with third world charity", but now affected cities and regions such as San Francisco, Mexico, Raleigh North Carolina, and Atlanta, Georgia among others in North America, as well as Barcelona in Spain, parts of southern Europe, Turkey and Egypt and large parts of Australia.

A second tier of cities — including Dublin — are likely to face severe water demand over the next 20 years, while international bankers had already begun to see a market in "water rights" in relation to ownership of rivers and lakes and access to water in the ground.

Dominic Waughray, a senior director and head of environmental initiatives with the World Economic Forum in Geneva, said that by 2030, some 60 per cent of the world's population would live in cities with a hugely increased demand for food, industrial development and power generation, all of which require additional water.

Increasing demands for energy and industrial development have already led to near crisis in many cities in the US which have come within 100 days of running dry — and that is in advance of any effects that climate change might bring, he said.

Mr Waughray said 44 per cent of the world's population, some 2.8 billion people already live in water poverty. Some 1.1 billion people already have no clean supply of daily water and a further 2.6 billion had no toilet. Some 5,000 children a day died because of the absence of clean water — more than HIV/Aids.

He said 70 of the world's major rivers were close to running dry. These included the Colorado river in the US; the Ganges in India; the Nile in Africa, the Yellow river in China and the Murray-Darling in Australia.

Water shortages lead to an annual loss to global economic growth of about 3.6 per cent. He said the cost of water issues in California was already 2 per cent of state budget and he warned that dealing with global water rights and water shortages may be even more difficult than dealing with carbon emissions. [Absolutely. It will take amazing diplomacy to prevent wars between Pakistan, India, and China over water from the Himalayas.]

Already, he said water-related food shortages had led to the "breaking down" of the world's wheat market in 2008, which in turn had led to some states, particularly in the Persian Gulf, taking long leases on land in other countries, such as the Middle East in which to grow food to feed their own people. By 2030 he said 55 per cent of the world's population would be dependent on food imports.

This could see new strategic alliances between countries, based on the need for water, which bring about changes in geo-political balances [Agreed]. Global warming would also have a significant impact and Mr Waughray pointed out that retreating Himalayan glaciers provided seven of the world's greatest rivers with water for more than 2 billion people. [As water scarcity increases, control of and rights to water from the Himalayas will become a huge international issue.]

Governments and industry would have to find a water-neutral energy source, alongside the carbon-neutral energy sources they were already looking for, he concluded.

My reaction: For years, people have been worried about peak oil and global warming. Ironically, seems like peak water came first and is becoming a more pressing issue than controlling carbon emissions.

1) Developed cities and regions around the world are beginning to run out of water. (Affected cities and regions include: San Francisco, Mexico, Raleigh North Carolina, and Atlanta, Georgia among others in North America, Barcelona in Spain, parts of southern Europe, Turkey and Egypt and large parts of Australia.)

2) Increasing water demands have already led to near crisis in many US cities which have come within 100 days of running dry.

3) international bankers now see a market in "water rights" in relation to ownership of rivers/lakes and access to water in the ground.

4) 44 per cent of the world's population (2.8 billion people) already live in water poverty.

5) By 2030, 55 per cent of the world's population will be dependent on food imports.

6) 70 of the world's major rivers were close to running dry. These rivers include

A) The Colorado river in the US
B) The Ganges in India
C) The Nile in Africa
D) The Yellow river in China
E) The Murray-Darling in Australia.

7) Dealing with global water rights and water shortages will be even more difficult than dealing with carbon emissions.

8) Himalayan glaciers are an international political time bomb, as they provide seven of the world's greatest rivers with water for more than 2 billion people.

Conclusion: The reason I am focusing on water and food shortages right now is because they are very relevant to the immediate future. The next phase of this economic crisis will be most likely be out of control food prices. These rising food prices will cause nations around the world (like China and India) to sell of their US reserves to bring domestic food prices. As the dollar falls, the manipulation of gold prices will fall apart in the face of soaring demand. When the manipulation of gold is exposed to the world, the sinking dollar will go into a freefall, and a panic to escape the currency will begin.

The food commodities will begin to rise within two months, as the world realizes how poor the 2009 harvest has been.

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15 Responses to Cities Are Running Out Of Water

  1. Bowtie says:

    I've been alerted to the water issue since last year, and I have wanted to make an investment based on a water company. I just don't know how to play the coming water squeeze.

  2. Anonymous says:

    any other good news? should i keep my old 3-gallon toilet??

  3. Anonymous says:

    Re the Colorado River: having traveled all the way up and down the watershed, one pines for an analysis of WHY it is running dry. The answer is that agribusiness must die. It is all being sucked away for that, and to waste water on cities (anything over about 250,000).

    The most stupid thing that can be done in the name of farming is to burn oil-based fuels pushing water around on the flatlands.

    There is one force of which agribusiness refuses to avail itself: gravity. The Chinese, South Americans and others have mastered this millenia ago. You terrace foothills, capturing water above, and create infinitely more productive (and less wasteful) farming methods. Then water is delivered by sheer gravity, needing no electricity or other fossil fuel waste.

    Manure also functions as fertilizer, but it can only be managed small-scale. Nature provides all that is necessary, but certain humans are just too arrogant to leave it to that.

    Agribiz also puts soil on steroids (more petro-based fertilizer) and ruins it together with aquifers.

    This is what is wrong. Give the land back to la gente. Having traveled a lot in the "third world" (discluding the US, hah), this pilgrim can say for sure that the poor of the earth do not hate their lives. They are infinitely happier farming, and their children are very different in character than the scions of the industrialized peoples, playing happily rather than aping their imperialist fathers by tormenting one another. These people also don't pine away lamenting their lack of suburban promise, no SUV, no plasma TV. Lots of people are happy attending to small-scale farming. Not that everyone can or should, but for a healthy planet, a lot of people will have to attend to agriculture instead of a few.

    This is the collective hallucination of the states: they have turned agriculture (98.5% of US people do no agriculture) into something operated and managed by "furreners" who live south of the border (who happen to also be native Americans, but that's another rant). A disenfranchised class mans agriculture so that a self-proclaimed superior people can addle themselves with a life serving technology and "wisdom." A liberated people, too good to stoop to agriculture. This is the inherent lie of US democracy: they have outsourced agriculture and all things food. They have given over the family farm to agribusiness to serve out sentences at the gym.

    This is the problem: cities and agribusiness. There are not too many people - there are too many urban people.

    Give agriculture back to la gente.

  4. EPC says:

    Anonymous of the Colorado River is right about agriculture. A nation with less than 5% of its population working the land is like a car without either brakes or bumpers.

  5. EPC says:

    Eric writes, "The reason I am focusing on water and food shortages right now is because they are very relevant to the immediate future. ..."

    Spot on, Eric, and thanks for the good work, particularly your research work showing that so many of the statistics we rely on (US bank reserves, Indian gov't crop estimates, Chinese grain reserves, etc.) may well be based on fraudulent data.

    But besides the other crises that you mention, I think there will be a worldwide shock (perhaps a slow one) when people outside the U.S. begin to realize that virtually all their U.S. paper assets -- T bills, dollars (Federal Reserve notes), stocks and bonds, municipal bonds, paper gold, whatever -- are quickly running to zero. America has followed Japan's error in being too timid to mark-to-market its domestic assets, but what will happen when the rest of the world realizes that it needs to mark-to-market (i.e., cancel out) all its US assets because US production and consumption are dying and the number of dollars in circulation is exploding? What will happen to all those Chinese banks whose "assets" make them the biggest in the world, if those assets include sizeable quantities of US paper assets? I fear it won't be pretty. So I thank you for your articles outlining how even now, smart investors are already fleeing "paper" metals for physical metals.

    And oh, the crisis has not yet reached this part of southern Italy at all, but I am watching with bemusement some working people who are having big new houses constructed on ridges overlooking my town here (pop. 4,500). There is no natural water that high up, so they have to rely on the town's hilltop reservoir, but that reservoir is fed by a tunnel under the mountains from a rainy valley where there are few inhabitants, and it passes some other (dryish) towns before reaching here. But if the inhabitants of any of those intervening towns sabotaged the pipeline (very easy to do at night in this mountainous area), then the people in those hilltop houses would have to travel 2 km just to wash their hands.

  6. Degaz says:

    I believe the water crisis is the most serious crisis facing us. Life cannot exist without water. Our current use of water is unsustainable. In Dubai, the Tiger Woods golf course alone needs 3 million gallons per day or else the desert will reclaim the land. What an incredible waste of a precious resource. The capitalists are already jumping on the water bandwagon to try and corner the market. Look at t boone pickens for example:

  7. Jeff Burton says:

    Anonymous and Anton: get real about your romantic notions of "working the land" and "la gente". I grew up in the country milking a cow, tending chickens and all the rest. It's not for everyone. In fact, it's not for most. It's dirty, smelly, backbreaking work, and even moreso since you are so enamoured of ditching mechanized farming techniques. This is why cities are so popular. You should look into it. Rural->urban migration has been popular for thousands of years.

    In fact, anon, are you living out your 3rd world travelogue yourself? If not why not?

  8. Anonymous says:

    Anto? ma sei italiano o ci fai?

  9. Martijn says:

    Here go (are we capitalists or not):
    anyone any thought about water exposure in the market? What companies would be good picks?

    I've already bought some China water fund about a year ago, but would like some alternatives.

  10. Mark says:

    Hmmm... it is well known that many farmers just waste water (for example by growing the wrong stuff). On the other hand, it is questionable whether an improved efficiency in these cases helps in the Panjub region or in other problematic regions... comparing it to the oil crisis of around 1980, oil was easy to carry around (in terms of price per transport costs).

    There are Water ETFs. However, I am buying agricultural commodities for now because I'm not totally convinced that we will have profitable businesses benefitting *directly* from the water crisis.

    Additionally, agri commodities also benefit from energy prices. And possibly from the pirates problem near Somalia due to possibly rising transport costs. :-/

  11. EPC says:

    Ciao Jeff!

    I didn't quite go so far as the Anonymous of a couple days ago was going with his advocacy of "PERMACULTURE", because some varieties of permaculture are just "forest gardening". I really have nothing against cultivation of extensive fields in single crops, since people have been doing that sustainably in China and the Fertile Crescent for thousands of years. It takes a certain number of hectares to feed a single person, but the more extreme forms of permaculture would have one running around chasing geese and gathering berries on just a couple of acres, with no spare time at all.

    As for "dirty, smelly, backbreaking work", I've done a fair amount of that myself -- in cities. And you write, "... and even moreso since you are so enamoured of ditching mechanized farming techniques. This is why cities are so popular. You should look into it." Well, I wasn't going as far as Anonymous1 or Anonymous2 by calling for an end to mechanization, and I'll admit to having spent a few years myself in Tokyo, a modest hamlet of 40 million souls, but I think you'll admit that "mechanization", unless we're talking about nuclear-powered tractors, typically involves fossil fuels. And obtaining a stable supply of fossil fuels can involve you in extremely "dirty, smelly, backbreaking work", in cities, that is, in cities like Baghdad, Fallujah, Mosul, Kabul, and Mogadishu (and soon Tehran and Lagos). I think there are a lot of GI's who would gladly sacrifice the joys of patrolling those cities for the labor of milking a cow. Mechanization comes with a price, and for a while not all countries have been paying the full price.

    Anyway, my main point was that Eric is on to something: strictly from a business efficiency point of view, the highly mechanized and specialized model of agribusiness is running into a wall. Production has plateaued, and overkilling on the inputs is permanently poisoning vast tracts of land (e.g., southeast Australia). So Eric is performing a valuable service in giving us the heads-up on potential food (and water) shortages, commodity price spikes, and resulting dollar reserve selloffs.

    Ciao, Jeff.

    Anton in Italy.

  12. Anonymous says:

    This makes me shake my head. You guys are smart, so why would you put up a story about freezing wheat, and then a story about global warming drying up rivers? If you believe that tripe about warming models predicting cooling, then you deserve to lose your asses putting your money where your uninformed mouths are. Will there be food shortages? Likely - but localized. Same with water. As far as the Colorado, I assume you saw the movie Chinatown? It's a giant screw. LA is in a world of trouble. I suggest they start a Manhattan Project for affordable desalinization. If they really are concerned about sea level rise, then drinking the stuff is our only hope. /sarc

  13. Comet Windmills Australia says:

    For over 10 years now we have been pushing the renewed use of windmills to pump and push water efficiently and sustainably. I am not talking about the wind turbines but the original windmill often seen on farms. For years we have pushed the brilliance of these windmills to pump vast amounts of water using renewable energy. Cutting out the dependence of fossil fuel based pumps to transfer this valuable commodity. We also use gravity to irrigate crops thus creating a more sustainable future. Unfortunatley, everyone has become 'lost' with the pursuit of energy production and forgot about water pumping, transfer and storage. Maybe our Comet windmill can offer some solutions.

  14. i1 says:

    I'm lucky enough to live in a Florida county that pipes in "reclaimed" water (treated effluent), to users for unmetered irrigatio. This is great for turf and salt tolerant plants (bananas, magnolia), but not so good for vegetable gardens. At 300+ ppm of chlorates, tomatoes and beans will look dehydrated even with full watering.

    I'm investing in a filtration system to try to get below 75 ppm, and will go to an R.O. unit if necessary.

    Desalinization is a great concept, but considering seawater is at 30,000 ppm of total dissolved solids, it's a challenge that may end up being this century's holy grail.

  15. Anonymous says:

    @ j burton

    "It's dirty, smelly, backbreaking work, and even moreso since you are so enamoured of ditching mechanized farming techniques."

    I grew up on a farm, have personally worked with ditches and irrigation - a farm we were forced to sell to care for my aging mother - and we now live in Mexico. Here I train horses, something which I've done since my youth.

    Farming is a very individualized affair. The smartest people I've ever met are farmers, and are still doing it. They are also capable of selling their land if they want, and they don't.

    Maybe your family used difficult techniques or tried to do something ill-suited to a particular region, as I've seen many do? Those indeed are the people who retire to the cities. But I've gotten peaches to grow in northern Wyoming by altering topography of terrain, and we're also stonemasons who love to build.

    Maybe YOU need to come to Mexico and watch the happiest workers (they sing and laugh as they go) we've ever seen - doing masonry and farming. And yes I speak Spanish well enough to converse with folks who know no English. They are happy. They've been to the States, a lot of them, and wouldn't trade their places here to go back up there for "a million dollars." I have heard that very expression many times.

    Depends on attitude and also aptitude. Doesn't sound like you were using very friendly techniques. That does frustrate people, and it's an epidemic in the US, where an invading people who came over with European techniques attempted to farm the great plains in particular. Most of those regions should never have been farmed much in the first place. The great grasslands boasted grasses so high, a herd of buffalo could pass through unseen ( ). The loss of that great carpet of tall grass no doubt caused friction between earth and air to change, altering the climate for the worse (re: dust bowl). Maybe that's why you hate farming.

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