The Other Liquid Gold – By Selim Can Sazak and Lauren R. Skin November 10, 2015

Nuclear Power and Desalination in Saudi Arabia

The Saudi regime has insisted that its primary motivation for building a nuclear program is to develop a sustainable power source for the country’s desalination plants. A 2009 royal decree outlining Saudi Arabia’s energy policy illustrated the logic: “The development of atomic energy is essential to meet the kingdom’s growing requirements for energy to generate electricity, produce desalinated water, and reduce reliance on depleting hydrocarbon resources.” On the surface, this makes sense. The Saudis need water; for water, they need energy. And they have enough capital—political and economic—to make it happen.

Saudi Arabia is a desert country with no permanent rivers or lakes and erratic rainfall. The vast majority of its territory—95 percent—is covered by one of three deserts: the Rub al-Khali, an-Nafud, or ad-Dahna. Most of Saudi Arabia’s natural reservoirs, such as the Saq-Ram and Wajid aquifer systems, are nearly tapped out. Although other promising reservoirs have been found—for example, the Wasia aquifer, which is thought to hold as much water as the entire Persian Gulf—they are nestled deep in the desert, away from urban areas. Tapping into their full potential would take many years and billions of dollars. Accordingly, the Kingdom has turned to an obvious solution: desalinated water from the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. According to the latest estimates, the country consumes an estimated 3.3 million cubed meters of desalinated water per day, and desalination provides 70 percent of urban water supplies.

Taking salt out of water is an


Claudia Dewald Vetta Getty Images

Claudia Dewald Vetta Getty Images

Rural families in Kenya have few or no sources of clean water, with studies by Water Link International showing that half of the population in Kenya, and a majority in the rural areas, use contaminated water for drinking and cooking.

Unlike their urban counterparts, the rural people do not have access to piped water, which is treated at water plants. In the Nyeri area of Central Kenya, one of Kenya’s largest rivers, River Chania, runs through the area with a majority of the rural residents relying on it for consumption. The water is contaminated as a result of the dumping of chemicals, washing away of fertilizer-laden soils through soil erosions, fecal matter from animals grazing near the river source and open defecation.

But the menace of unsafe drinking is not confined to Central Kenya alone. Just recently an outbreak kilometers away in Western Kenya suspected to be as a result of drinking untreated water, claimed seven lives with 80 people hospitalized in critical condition.

It is a regrettable cycle that has gone unchecked for years and in its wake claimed incomes and livelihoods. Yet it doesn’t have to be this way. For every dollar spent on clean water systems in Africa, about $8 in health care costs are avoided according to Dr. Barry Otoyo from Kenyatta National Hospital, Kenya’s largest hospital. “It is regrettable that mothers and children in the 21st century have to succumb to such avoidable diseases. There definitely has to be a mind shift,” he said.

But it is easier said than done. Rural households with pressing needs do not see the need for water treating techniques which they deem expensive. The cheapest is around $0.50, liquid chlorine packaged in miniature bottles which experts have advocated for as the quickest and most convenient water treatment solution, especially for those living in rural areas.

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How Much Water Are the Richest Californians Wasting? It’s a Secret – —By Katharine Mieszkowski and Lance Williams | Mon May 18, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

In 1991, the public was outraged by the amount of water that wealthy homeowners like Mark McGwire were using. These days, that information is off-limits.

Mark McGwire of the Oakland Athletics watches his first-inning, three-run homer sail over the left field wall on Friday, Sept. 19, 1992 in Seattle during a game against the Mariners. The homer was the 39th of the season for McGwire who finished the game with four RBI?s as Oakland beat Seattle 7-4. (AP Photo/Bill Chan)

Mark McGwire of the Oakland Athletics watches his first-inning, three-run homer sail over the left field wall on Friday, Sept. 19, 1992 in Seattle during a game against the Mariners. The homer was the 39th of the season for McGwire who finished the game with four RBI?s as Oakland beat Seattle 7-4. (AP Photo/Bill Chan)

This story was originally published by Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and is republished here as part of the Climate Deskcollaboration.

During California’s last crippling drought, baseball slugger Mark McGwire became a poster boy for water wasters.

The burly first baseman figured prominently in a 1991 Oakland Tribune investigation that showed how residents of upscale neighborhoods skirted the conservation demands facing everyday homeowners. The Top 100 users in the East Bay used 15 times more than the typical household.

That included the Oakland A’s star, who pumped 3,752 gallons a day in the summer months at his home in Alamo. “There’s no way I would waste water,” he told the newspaper.

In response to the outcry that followed the story, the East Bay Municipal Utility District demanded that its top users cut water use by 20 percent, the Tribune reported. If customers refused, the district would limit them to about 1,200 gallons a day.

“There’s no way I would waste water,” insisted Mark McGwire in 1991, during California’s last crippling drought.

Today, nearly 25 years later, while McGwire’s had to deal with more high-profile denials, California again is in the clutches of a massive drought. And the very information that has the potential to drive smart policymaking is now off-limits to the public and journalists.

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Which California Crops Are Worth the Water? Check for Yourself – Reporting by Kelsey Nowakowski PUBLISHED MAY 08, 2015

A crop’s water footprint—–all the water needed to grow and process it—–is one way of measuring its water efficiency. But there is more to the picture than just how much water is used to produce every pound of a crop. Comparing the nutritional value of each one, you can see which crops provide the most bang for your buck, or in this case, the most bang for your gallon.Unprocessed crops for human consumptionNG STAFF SOURCES: USDA; UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, DAVIS; M. M. MEKONNEN AND A. Y. HOEKSTRA, UNESCO-IHE INSTITUTE FOR WATER EDUCATION

A crop’s water footprint—–all the water needed to grow and process it—–is one way of measuring its water efficiency. But there is more to the picture than just how much water is used to produce every pound of a crop. Comparing the nutritional value of each one, you can see which crops provide the most bang for your buck, or in this case, the most bang for your gallon.Unprocessed crops for human consumptionNG STAFF

California’s thirstiest crops are under scrutiny amid the state’s severe drought. At the center of the debate are permanent crops, like almonds, that require year-round watering.

With agriculture responsible for roughly 80 percent of California’s water use, many question the practicality of crops that cannot be fallowed and the viability of producing food for export.

A crop’s water footprint—all the water needed  to grow and process it—is one way of measuring its water efficiency. Almonds, in particular, have been criticized for their high water footprint, since they are one of California’s most water-intensive crops.

Around two-thirds of almonds are exported, making them the state’s leading export crop. Some critics disapprove of California sending so much virtual water to other countries in the form of food and animal feed irrigated with that water. Others have defended the growing of highly nutritious crops like almonds, noting their calorie and protein content is worth the amount of water use.

So how do California’s top export crops actually stack up when you factor nutrition into the water efficiency equation?

To answer this question, this graphic analyzes California’s top export crops as determined by the University of California, Davis. Water footprints for each crop were gathered from the Water Footprint Network, and nutrition datawere obtained from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The intention is to compare each crop’s relative efficiency at turning water into edible material, calories, and protein. (Other important nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and antioxidants, were not considered for this ranking.)

After a Mother Jones Investigation, Starbucks Says It Will Stop Bottling Water in California – —By Anna Lenzer| Fri May 8, 2015 2:49 PM EDT

On the heels of a Mother Jones investigation last week that found that Starbucks sources its bottled water from a spring in the heart of California’s drought country, Starbucks announced yesterday that it will phase out use of its California bottling plant for Ethos Water over the next six months. Because of “the serious drought conditions” in California, the company will transition to its Pennsylvania supplier while looking for another source to cover the western United States, Starbucks officials said in a press release.

Bocman1973/Shutterstock; Spondylolithesis/iStockphoto, Ethos Water

The Pennsylvania county to which Starbucks is now shifting its water production is itself facing drought conditions.

The California counties from which Starbucks sources and bottles Ethos have been in a drought emergency for years now. Placer County, where Ethos’ spring water is drawn, was already declared a natural disaster area by the USDA because of the drought back in 2012Reports from more than a year ago noted that the county was already scrambling to deal with the area’s “extreme drought.” Merced county, where the bottling facility is located, declared a local emergency due to drought more than a year ago, as “extremely dry conditions have persisted since 2012.”

Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania county to which Starbucks is now shifting its entire national production of Ethos Water is itself facing drought conditions. While not as catastrophic as California’s historic water emergency, Luzerne County, where Starbucks’ east coast supplier sources and bottles Ethos, was declared to be under Drought Watch by Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection back in March. DEP issued the declaration after below-normal rainfall over the past year has led to low groundwater levels in the region, which the agency noted has the potential to cause well-fed water supplies to go dry. The state is asking local residents to voluntarily reduce water consumption and to “run water only when absolutely necessary.” DEP has put large water users on notice to plan for possible reductions in water supplies.

Nevertheless, Ethos’ Pennsylvania bottler, Nature’s Way Purewater, which bottles a number of other brands at its facility, announced in January that it planned to double production going forward.

This article was reported in partnership with the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute, with support from the Puffin Foundation.


He may have dropped the news on April Fools Day, but California Governor Jerry Brown’s  new water rules are no joke. Issued while standing in the bone dry Sierra Nevada mountains—which are usually packed with snow this time of year—Brown’s executive order will affect every user in the state, from cities to golf courses, parks to agriculture.

A skier threads his way through patches of dry ground at Squaw Valley Ski Resort, March 21, 2015 in Olympic Valley, California. MAX WHITTAKER/GETTY IMAGES

The edict attacks the water shortage in four ways: by reducing water waste, implementing stricter waste enforcement, streamlining the bureaucratic processes for water management, and developing new technologies to reduce both usage and waste. Most strikingly, Brown’s plan called for a statewide, mandatory reduction of water use in cities and towns by 25 percent. According to the executive order, this would save 1.5 million acre feet of water in the next nine months. Why nine months? Because that’s when California’s wet season (hopefully) starts again.

An acre foot is literally an acre of land covered with one foot of water. For you non-farmers, that’s about 490 billion gallons. But most people can’t even visualize the volume of water they use in a single day, which is about 80-100 gallons, or about three fully filled bath tubs. Oh, speaking of bath tubs, Brown’s plan calls for skipping about 7.1 billion of them. Or 20 billion short showers. Or about 500 billion tooth brushing sessions. For the flush-conscious, that’s about 460 billion number ones (If it’s yellow, let it mellow!).

OK, that got a little gross. And maybe you’re better at visualizing that water all in one place. Whip out your favorite map and find the Great Salt Lake. 1.5 million acre feet would be about the same as skimming a foot off the surface of the largest lake west of the Rockies. More of a city person? That’s roughly the same volume as 1,766 Empire State Buildings. Which would be enough Empire State Buildings to cover Central Park almost four times over.

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California love: Water thieves just can’t get enough – by Haya El Nasser November 21, 2014 5:00AM ET

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LOS ANGELES — Something rare quickly becomes valuable. So, it should come as no surprise that the latest target of thieves in a state suffering a historic drought is water.

California thieves are cutting pipes and taking water from fire hydrants, storage tanks, creeks and rivers to get their hands on several hundred gallons of the precious commodity.

They drive in the thick of night with a 1,000-gallon tank on the back of a pickup and go after the liquid gold wherever they can find it. Some have hit the same target twice in one night, filling up their tank, unloading it into storage and returning for a second fill-up.

Counties mostly in the more rural northern parts of California are reporting a surge in thefts and illegal diversions of water from wells and streams. The prime suspects are illegal marijuana farmers desperate for water before the fall harvest, which would explain the surge in water thievery over the summer.

“A lot of the wells have gone dry, and the marijuana growers have run out of water and have been illegally taking the water out of the creeks,” said Hank Weston, supervisor in Nevada County, an old mining center in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada in California’s northwest. (The county has been around longer than the state of Nevada next door.)

“They have broken into a school district holding tank and in the fire department’s holding tank,” Weston said. “Some of the water trucks are pulling up near rivers and dropping water hoses in and suctioning it out.”

All of which is illegal, of course, but does not usually amount to much more than fines and a misdemeanor — at least for now.

Weston has lived in Nevada County since 1988. Despite a series of severe droughts in the past 30 years, he said, “it’s the first time I’ve heard of this.”

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A Giant Basket That Uses Condensation to Gather Drinking Water – BY JOSEPH FLAHERTY03.28.146:30 AM

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Around the world, 768 million people don’t have access to safe water, and every day 1,400 children under the age of five die from water-based diseases. Designer Arturo Vittori believes the solution to this catastrophe lies not in high technology, but in sculptures that look like giant-sized objects from the pages of a Pier 1 catalog.

His stunning water towers stand nearly 30 feet tall and can collect over 25 gallons of potable water per day by harvesting atmospheric water vapor. Called WarkaWater towers, each pillar is comprised of two sections: a semi-rigid exoskeleton built by tying stalks of juncus or bamboo together and an internal plastic mesh, reminiscent of the bags oranges come in. The nylon and polypropylene fibers act as a scaffold for condensation, and as the droplets of dew form, they follow the mesh into a basin at the base of the structure.


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Vittori decided to devote his attention to this problem after visiting northeastern Ethiopia and seeing the plight of remote villagers first hand. “There, people live in a beautiful natural environment but often without running water, electricity, a toilet or a shower,” he says. To survive, women and their children walk for miles to worm-filled ponds contaminated with human waste, collect water in trashed plastic containers or dried gourds, and carry the heavy containers on treacherous roads back to their homes. This process takes hours and endangers the children by exposing them to dangerous illnesses and taking them away from school, ensuring that a cycle of poverty repeats.

Exposure to this horrific scene motivated Vittori to take action. “WarkaWater is designed to provide clean water as well as ensure long-term environmental, financial and social sustainability,” he says. “Once locals have the necessary know how, they will be able to teach others villages and communities to build the WarkaWater towers.” Each tower costs approximately $550 and can be built in under a week with a four-person team and locally available materials.