Ethiopia and Egypt: A dam conflict

Eve writes*

Borders establish limitations, separations between political regimes, economic opportunities and resource rights. So how do we deal with the allocation of trans-border goods?

Colonial agreements, climate change and increasing demographics are all contributing factors to the tensions revolving around the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

This is a case study about Cairo, we could hence wonder why an innovative project in Ethiopia could create such concern to all of Egypt? Well, GERD threatens the source of, according to Egypt Today, 95% of Egypt’s water.

A non-negligible fact is understanding the colonial 1959 agreement that “entitles” Egypt and Sudan to 55.5 Billion Cubic Metres (BCM) and 18.5 BCM of Nile water, respectively (Nashar).

Growing population contributes to Cairo’s water scarcity and food insecurity. Abdelkader says that Egypt is the most populous country in MENA (Middle East and North Africa), with a population of 92 million and a population growth rate of 2 percent.

Indeed, more people imply more mouths to feed and lives to sustain, hence increasing demand and further accentuating the need for supply. The later, hence increases reliance on this Egyptian watershed, a dependency that is not complementary to decreased water flows, due to the GERD. As the matter of fact, the filling of the reservoir is a primary concern linked to the dam. Though the filling time remains unpredictable, estimations vary from 3 to 7 years. The British Journal of Applied Science & Technology predicts that the Nile’s flow will decrease by 12-25% during this period.

The country is already food and water scarce. Currently, according to Falkenmark (1989), Egypt’s renewable per capita water resources of 630 m3 per year are already too low for food self-sufficiency. Indeed, the Nile plays a crucial role in Cairo’s economy. As mentioned by Abebe, 2014 the River provides almost 86% of Egypt’s freshwater for agriculture and benefits industrial production and sewage treatment.

However, it’s not all negative: the GERD could have numerous benefits on Sudan and Egypt. Tesfa’s research concludes that the GERD could remove up to 86% of silt and sedimentation, regulating the flow year-round and reducing flood risks.

Can we hope for cooperation? As we face the global issue of climate change and increasing population threats in countries such as Egypt, the need for regional cooperation rises. Water management issues demand cooperation between the Nile Basin states. Proposed adaptation strategies by Dr. El-Din suggest mutually beneficial adaptation strategies along the borders of the riparian countries, by the means of which water distribution corresponds to trade in water intensive goods, for example food and hydroelectricity. Cooperation could help everyone.

Bottom Line: The agriculturally dependent Egyptian society of Cairo faces food and water scarcity as unpredictable changes, due to the GERD, modify the flow of the River Nile.

* Please help my Water Scarcity students by commenting on unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data sources, or maybe just saying something nice 🙂

Fire and water (quality) in Sydney

Jenny writes*

Temperatures in Australia have been rising by 0.5°C rise per decade since the 1980s due to climate change. In New South Wales (NSW), higher temperatures have intensified precipitation events and increased the intensity and frequency of droughts  [Deb et al., 2020]. Intense precipitation increases fuel availability because it allows for widespread herbaceous plant growth in what would otherwise be barren land [Deb et al., 2020]. In combination with high temperatures, more fuel encourages bushfires, as occurred in 2019 in NSW, with negative consequences to water quality.

In the 2019/20 fire season, more than 3,200 km2 of native forests burned in the Lake Burragorang catchment, which supplies the Warragamba dam. Warragamba is Sydney’s largest dam (holding more than four times the water of Sydney Harbour when full); it  provides about 80% of greater Sydney’s water. By mid-January 2020, reservoir levels had dropped to about 42% capacity. Only days after local fires were declared to be contained, the most intense rainfall in 30 years doubled the amount of water stored in Warragamba dam from pre-rainfall levels.

Thermal decomposition during bushfires creates ash and soil material high in nutrients (including nitrogen and phosphorus), metals and organics, which erode quickly due to lack of vegetative ground cover and surface litter. Heavy rainfall increases the rate of runoff of this ash and soil material to nearby water networks which can produce algal blooms that reduce water quality and dissolved oxygen, which leads to fish kills.

Bushfires in the Burragorang catchment can impact drinking water quality in Sydney. However, various measures prevented this in 2019/20. WaterNSW installed floating sediment booms across the Burragorang catchment to limit the movement of high turbidity water toward the Warragamba dam wall. Monitoring at sampling stations was increased and fallout radioactive nuclides were used to measure the transfer of sediments and nutrients from wildfire locations to downstream areas. However, in other areas like the nearby Tenterfield region, large quantities of ash entered the Tenterfield Dam, resulting in residents needing to boil water from October to December 2019.

Research suggests the “record high” temperatures of 2019 will be “average” by 2040 if emissions continue to grow [Sanderson and Fisher, 2020]. Additional actions that can minimise impacts of bushfires on waterways include hillside sediment erosion traps like silt fences and planting vegetation like grasses and trees to stabilise soils, and prioritising the restoration of burnt riverbank vegetation zones.

Bottom Line: Unprecedented weather events due to climate change are increasingly likely. It is imperative that water managers in Sydney adequately prepare and adapt to maintain high water quality as bushfires grow more frequent.

* Please help my Water Scarcity students by commenting on unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data sources, or maybe just saying something nice 🙂

Missing water

Lorette writes*

Water on Basse-Terre’s coasts is blue and beautiful, but water from Basse-Terre’s taps is… missing.

Unlike metropolitan French departments, the overseas department of Guadeloupe is suffering from important water mismanagement leading to regular water shortages for consumers. Reports from the past years powered by the Guadeloupe Water Office (Office de l’Eau Guadeloupe) have shown consistent worrying data on severe leaks in the network, on growing concerns concerning the degradation of groundwater resources and on the lack of water treatment. This all led to more-than-angry consumers demanding transparency and accountability from the entities responsible for Basse-Terre’s water network and distribution.

Constant water shortages are the most visible consequences of a series of water mismanagements in Basse-Terre.

First major problem relating to water shortages is linked to leaks across the water network. On average in Guadeloupe, only 40% of distributed water volumes make it to consumers’ homes, or, in any case, is accounted for. However, for Basse-Terre in 2018, only 25% ended up in the consumers’ taps, which was the lowest water output in Guadeloupe that year. Existing infrastructure is falling apart and the million-euro budgets dedicated to the maintenance and reconstruction of the network never seem to help improve the service.

Furthermore, an average of 30% of bills were left unpaid in 2015, compared to a national average of 1.3% unpaid bills in 2013.  Several factors are at play here. On the one hand, this lack of payment from the consumers/customers may be due to a lack of satisfaction: too many water shortages, low quality water and high water prices. On the other hand, petty corruption might be at play, with water meters not reporting consumed volumes, which in turn leads to money being spent for the distribution of water and water volumes never accounted for.

Yet leaks might not be the only reason behind the lack of accessible drinking water for Guadeloupeans in Basse-Terre. There are considerable concerns when it comes to groundwater and surface water pollution from chlordecone, a pesticide used between 1972 and 1993 that has now contaminated around 90% of Guadeloupe and Martinique. With Basse-Terre draining water exclusively from groundwater resources and rivers, everyone can potentially be affected by this contaminant. Serious health issues are associated with chlordecone, especially the rise of prostate cancers which turns the distribution of water into a great threat to public health in the region.

Finally, another mismanagement that leads to consumers not receiving (enough) drinking water and repeated water shortages is the lack of water sanitation across the region. Water sanitation is, for reasons cited above, absolutely necessary for a quality drinking water and to ensure public health. In 2018 for instance, 67% of the major wastewater treatment plants were not up to standards. This is once again due to bad infrastructure and low maintenance of the existing infrastructure, because of a lack of stable money inputs.

Bottom Line: Highly polluted water, lack of wastewater treatment and regulators as well as bad infrastructure and management of the water network leave Guadeloupeans in Basse-Terre thirsty and angry.

* Please help my Water Scarcity students by commenting on unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data sources, or maybe just saying something nice 🙂

Farmers and water scarcity in Thailand

Sarah writes*

I have been living in Thailand for two months now. While here, I have had the opportunity to visit farms, agricultural learning centers, and farmer’s council meetings. During these experiences, I have been able to collect information on the concerns and opinions farmers have about water scarcity.

In order to grasp their frustrations and worries, I first needed to develop an understanding of the water situation in Thailand. Who manages the water? What policies are in place? What are the main industries that use water? How does the change in climate affect farmers’ crops, the price of water, and their irrigation systems? It will be difficult to answer all of these questions within one blog post, however, they are important to consider in order to understand the reasoning behind the concern of many farmers.

After the economic boom, water sources became heavily exploited from industries such as textile manufacturing and agricultural processing leaving less water for farmers and residents. The government of Thailand established a national water resources regulator in response, however, this system turned out to have its flaws. One is the fact that local concerns are not represented and there is a gap in communication that leads the water to be poorly managed and exploited.

In this design, there is a lack of government planning and skills available for the farmers regarding solutions and projects development for the water scarcity issue. Water tanks are widespread, as there are common in monsoon climates. However, water collection facilities are missing and no plan seems to be implemented. The region of Pak Chong takes its water from the Lamtakong Dam, but the farmers there have no collective or private capability to store the rainwater except in natural ponds, leaving many farmers without enough water.

Farmers try to exploit their water availability and consequently they overexploiting their land’s water supply, thus further impoverishing soils from their nutrients and increasing the need for fertilizers and other chemicals. Lack of sufficient water thus generates a vicious cycle of need and scarcity which dramatically affects the environment. Lack of water leads to overexploitation of ground reserves, decreasing soil fertility, and decreases the number of plants that can be grown, thus leading to the need to use fertilizers to make up for the fertility losses.

Additionally, the change in climate patterns of Le Nino and La Nina due to climate change has caused Thailand to see more flooding and droughts than usual. Droughts have been so extreme that two water sources dried up in the Nakhon Ratchasima region.  These droughts have led to a decrease in viable irrigation water for farmers, poorer quality crop production, and overall, fewer yields. This decrease in income has had negative effects on the livelihoods of many farmers in the region.

Many farmers turn to a mono-crop system in order to maximize their produce and sell to big export companies that are looking for large quantities, which is mostly rice and sugarcane. Agricultural specialists have advised farmers to establish multi-crop or agroforestry systems whose crop diversity allows more more efficient water use.  However, organic systems make up less than 5% of Thailand’s agricultural industry.

The main takeaways from my discussions with farmers are that there needs to be a better management system that is capable of allocating resources more effectively, which is conducted on a local scale. This management needs to be based on knowledge sharing on effective water storage, filtration, and collection that is appropriate for the region and the people.

Bottom Line: Local management and clear, effective knowledge sharing is key to beginning the process of solving the water scarcity challenge in Thailand.

* Please help my Water Scarcity students by commenting on unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data sources, or maybe just saying something nice 🙂

Pollution in London’s Thames

Jasmijn writes*

London is facing a future of water scarcity based on low levels of rainfall and a growing population (Novo 2019). A generally unaddressed scarcity challenge is the continuous pollution of London’s surface water by water companies, and how they get away with it.

In 2016, Thames Water was fined £2.3m “for raw sewage pollution.” In 2017, Thames Water was fined £20m for “a series of pollution incidents” where 1.9bn litres of untreated was discharged into the river Thames (Taylor 2021). In 2019, Thames Water was fined another £607,000 for a pollution incident in 2014 (Environment Agency 2019). An Environment Agency spokesperson said these fines “laid bare the company’s management failings.” Now that Thames Water has been under fire for at least a decade for their pollution activities, they have promised “an unprecedented amount of investment (…) towards safeguarding the environment” (Taylor 2021). While it’s good to see Thames Water paying for their mistakes, repeated infractions must be the result of something other than failed management.

Well, that ‘thing’ may be the permit for water discharge activities. This permit allows for any pollution substance to be discharged into controlled surface waters (Defra 2010). Not only that, but the permit allows for excess discharges during extreme weather, meaning that companies can spill  untreated wastewater during heavy rains. This version of the permit is also called the storm discharge permit (Three Rivers). However, Three Rivers District Council highlights that a lot of these permitted discharges become unlawful due to infiltration of polluted water into groundwater, which is not allowed. Therefore, the solution should be improving and increasing the capacity of treatment plants so that a permit will not be needed.

In addition, the excessive pollution of surface water harms the ecological cycles in the Thames. ZSL traced pollution in the water system to  misconnected appliances that allow wastewater to reach rivers (ZSL 2017). A loss of environment would be devastating for the ecological systems in London. If climate change continues to cause more droughts, the environment will need more water. However, if that water is polluted then organisms will die even more rapidly.

Although London’s ancient infrastructure allows leaks that increase water scarcity, water management must also consider pollution discharges. London faces a water management problem and, maybe even more importantly, regulation needs to be heightened with regards to illegal and legal discharge into surface water by companies. All this needs to happen to save local environments and be applied to catch up with an ever-growing population and water demand.

Bottom Line: Water management in London must be improved because pollution increases (clean) water scarcity, which harms people, animals and ecosystems.

* Please help my Water Scarcity students by commenting on unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data sources, or maybe just saying something nice 🙂

Will Las Vegas run out of water?

Elise writes*

Las Vegas, Nevada’s most populated city with 2.2 million habitants in its metropolitan area, is known for its hotels and casinos. Situated in the middle of a desert, the city has a total area of 350 km2, of which only 0.03% is water (United States Census Bureau 2010). Las Vegas’s largest source of water is the Colorado River, which is primarily withdrawn from the Lake Mead, and furnishes about 90% of its total water consumption (SNWA).

The Lake Mead was created in 1931 with the construction of the Hoover Dam. Today, it constitutes the United States’ largest water reservoir in terms of volume (26MAF or 32 km3 at full capacity). Water leaving Lake Mead goes to three states and Mexico (Holdren and Turner 2011).

The 1922 Colorado River Compact allocated 15 million acre-feet of water among seven US states, but more water rights were allocated than actually exists in a normal year (Karamanos 2010). Nevada has the right to use 300,000 acre-feet of water per year. Las Vegas takes 450,000 acre-feet yearly because it gets credits for treated wastewater it returns to Mead (SNWA).

All of the following information is drawn from Lasserre’s article “Water in Las Vegas: coping with scarcity, financial and cultural constraints”:

The explosive population growth since the 70s in Las Vegas have resulted in an increase in water demand for domestic but also economic use. Additionally, there has been a 22-year megadrought in the region due to climate change. Rising temperatures combined with the fast population growth explain why Lake Mead’s surface has dropped drastically over the past few decades. According to the NASA Earth Observatory, the reservoir is at its lowest levels since 1930s, at 35% of capacity.

As the Colorado River Compact is still in effect, Nevada has to cope with its acquired rights from the past, which turns out to be quite challenging. Lasserre explains that since the beginning of the 1950s, conservation policies have been encouraged due to the fast depletion of groundwater, the high costs of diversion infrastructures and the limited amount of available water. He points out that these policies led to a declining per capita water use: between 2002 and 2012, annual water use dropped by 110 million m3 (89TAF).** Most people believe that it is the fountains, golf courses, casinos and hotels that are responsible for most of the city’s water use, however, this is just an illusion. Most of Las Vegas’ water goes into residential use, both in and outdoor. In 2013, residential demand was responsible for 60% of the total water used in Las Vegas whilst the tourism industry is very water efficient (Lasserre 2015).

Image source

The Southern Nevada Water Authority, a government agency in charge of Southern Nevada’s water management, has started to implement some measures to face this water shortage. These measures include scheduled watering days for residential landscaping and the implementation of xeriscapes, which is the process of gardening with less need for water (National Geographic). Although measures to reduce water consumption reduced residential water use by over 30% since the 2002 drought, its overall water consumption has increased by 1.2 billion gallons between 2011 and 2014 (Lustgarten 2015).

* Please help my Water Scarcity students by commenting on unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data sources, or maybe just saying something nice 🙂

** Note from DZ: It’s unclear if this drop has left “more water” in Mead or been diverted to other uses in NV. Hopefully Elise can clarify.

Napa Valley: Wine without water

Noah writes*

Napa valley, California, is home to the country’s largest viticulture industry, and one of the wealthiest places in the United States. But, as the state’s droughts are becoming harsher, and the region is growing, Napa will soon begin to more seriously allow vineyard development.

The Napa watershed is primarily supplied by the water division of the municipal utilities department, who has become especially reliant on the drying Lake Hennesey. In recent years, the local governance has come into question due to over-lenient permitting of large scale developments. Large scale projects like the 2,300 acre Walt Ranch have paved the way for further abuse of the weakly enforced conservation regulations. Most notable about the Walt Ranch approval is the example it sets for further developments that plan for the destruction of oak trees, a key element of the watershed, as they allow for the percolation of water into deeper soil.

As mentioned, local reservoirs are storing less water and — with decreasing downstream flow from Lake Hennessey — Napa needs the State Water Project (SWP). What’s troubling is that Napa is unlikely to get its SWP entitlement of 21,900 acre-feet of water. In 2020, Napa was allocated 0% of its entitlement.

Napa has increased investment in recycled water to reduce its scarcity risk, but their ability to help has been underpinned by farmers stockpiling municipal water during non-peak seasons. Recycled water can serve as a great boon with huge access to wealth willingness to buy at a higher cost of production, but it does not bode well for decreasing long term demand. Similar to the implementation of drip irrigation systems, many farmers like the Walt’s have used the enhanced efficiency of high cost technologies to expand crop areas, which threatens biodiversity and watershed stability.

Bottom Line: The response to the Napa River watershed’s growing water scarcity has not yet adapted to the loss of state entitlements. The continued expansion of vineyards has reduced oak tree populations, which are key to holding groundwater.

* Please help my Water Scarcity students by commenting on unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data sources, or maybe just saying something nice 🙂

Drought and downpours in Santiago

Melissa writes*

From shortages to excesses, water presents unique challenges in the Santiago Metropolitan Region (MR) of Chile where nearly half of the country’s population resides. Two seemingly contrasting problems, droughts and downpours, are at fault.

Urban and rural communities in the MR face a future in which the growing demand for potable water contrasts with a decline in water resources (Nunez, 2019). Extreme heat waves combined with precipitation rates that have declined by 20 to 30% in the past two decades, have led to chronic water shortages. Right now, the MR is suffering from the driest decade in recorded history.

The above factors clash with an already existing allocation problem. An estimated 20 aquifers are over-allocated in the MR, signifying that the rights to pump groundwater exceed the availability of water resources. Diminishing groundwater supplies are leaving the country’s agricultural economy and rural communities more and more vulnerable to drought (Becerra et al., 2019).

Furthermore, the Maipo watershed is in a “critical state of conservation”, with less than 1% under formal protection. As a key player in the regional economy, the basin supplies water for mining and energy production, irrigates more than 90% of the basin’s agricultural area and supplies 80% of Santiago’s drinking water.

Unfortunately, the increasing temperatures and the decreasing rainfall make the waters of the Maipo Basin among the most vulnerable resources to climate change. By 2070, the basin is projected to suffer a 40% reduction in water flow due to decreased precipitation and glacial retreat. Precipitation in the MR’s Andes mountains has decreased by 3 cm per 10 years, according to the Chilean Antarctic Institute. This has led to 8.54 to 15.14 gigatonnes of glacial retreat, an amount which would have been “enough to meet all of Chile’s water needs for the next 14 years”.

Ironically, as the country faces a future of water scarcity, the risk of flooding in Santiago is expected to increase each year mainly due to urbanisation, loss of vegetation and above-average temperatures (Becerra, 2019). Floods not only cause major economic losses, they also disrupt water supply, compromise water quality, increase health risks, and significantly damage infrastructure (Kerstin Krellenberg et al., 2013).

When compared with the averages from 1912 to 1999, the MR has seen a 22% increase in floods and almost six times more landslides per year between 2000 and 2017. To provide an example, in 2017, a mere 5 mm of rain in Santiago caused calamitous floods and landslides that cut off water to more than six million people. Technically, 5 mm is considered a moderate shower, so why were the floods so severe? First, fires that had been raging in the MR in previous weeks caused severe deforestation, eliminating large amounts of trees that help retain water and reduce erosion. Second, the parched soil from the prolonged drought had lost its absorptive capacity and even became hydrophobic (water-repelling) (Herrera, 2019).

These pressing water problems are likely to become even more complex when paired with population growth, urbanisation and climate change (Becerra et al., 2019).

Bottom Line: As Santiago prepares itself for a future with more people, less water, and more flooding, it will become increasingly vital for water users, legislators and regulators to work together to manage water resources in a sustainable way.

* Please help my Water Scarcity students by commenting on unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data sources, or maybe just saying something nice 🙂

Paying more for less in Lima

Monserrat writes*

In 2010, the UN General assembly and the Human Rights Council declared water a fundamental right. Yet according to SEDAPAL, the state-owned water company, 7% of Lima’s population still lacks access to a basic water service. This figure corresponds to roughly 800,000 people. However, other sources, including the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program, indicate that over one million citizens are not connected to the capital’s water utility network. Most of them live in informal settlements on the outskirts of the city.

The inequality that besets the wealth distribution of the capital crosses into the water market, which likewise sees a severe disparity in the tariffs set by the municipal utility. Middle and upper-class citizens connected to the water network pay only one-sixth as much as the poor who, lacking service, must buy their water from trucks for 15 soles (4 USD) per cubic meter.

The inverse relationship between socioeconomic status and water price may seem incoherent – perhaps even more when considering SEDAPAL’s efforts to build an altruistic image by subsidizing water for “lower-income families.” How it fails to address the essential needs of the truly poor while providing financial aid to those with access to the water and sanitation network raises the question of whether their social concern is genuine or a marketing-scheme developed counteract its rising unpopularity over unstable service across districts and regular tariff increases over the past years? Granted, while a new emergency decree was passed last year for SEDAPAL to provide 38 million soles (10 million USD) worth of free water to those relying on the trucks, this program does not solve the problem of slum inhabitants without basic services depending on donations.

So why does it just not extend its piping system to these areas?

It is first necessary to understand the nature of the informal settlements. Their emergence is due to the highly centralized development of the country, which has led to an increasing overflow of migrants seeking better life quality, employment, and education opportunities in the capital. The lack of urban planning meant all newcomers have been automatically directed to the hills surrounding Lima. Alongside their financial situation and the lack of incentives to formalize, this led to ‘invasions’ of land owned by others, leaving squatters with a place to live, but no right to live there.

Homes are poorly built, lacking stable walls, let alone adequate piping. Since they don’t have the capital, they cannot pay the costs of a reliable water connection. Additionally, regional water authorities argue that even if the state intended to extend services to these areas, it would be unsafe due to the the rough terrain of the settlements.

Bottom Line: Sometimes land-squatting is voluntary, seen as a way to evade property costs and taxes; sometimes it’s the only choice. Regardless, the costs that result from informal settlements far exceed any advantages. Combined with the poor urban planning and water management, this ultimately condemns the slum-dwellers to choose between spending most of their income on clean water or taking risks by turning to contaminated sources. Both perpetuate the poverty cycle.

* Please help my Water Scarcity students by commenting on unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data sources, or maybe just saying something nice 🙂

Deep wells and deeper pockets

Jan writes*

When you think of Arizona, a state which has experienced over 20 consecutive years of drought, luscious green vegetation is most likely not the image that first springs to mind. However, as time has passed this description is becoming increasingly true. Arizona has a thriving agricultural sector, contributing $23.3 Billion to the state’s economy, but this comes at a large price. As a desert state, agricultural puts large pressure on its water resources and, for this to be maintained, the state needs to be smart with its water use.

Arizona’s attempts to regulate water use go back to the 1980s when the Groundwater Management Act was introduced. It was seen as a critical piece of legislation to secure the sustainability of Arizona’s groundwater sources. Through the establishment of Active Management Areas (AMAs), the act aims to stabilise water extraction to the level of “safe yield”, which is where groundwater is extracted only as fast as it is replenished. AMAs exist in five of the most populated areas of Arizona where water levels are monitored to help achieve the goals of the 1980 Act. These AMAs have been successful in decreasing groundwater withdrawals, but the legislation is flawed. AMAs only cover quite a specific area of the state so fail to paint an accurate picture of what is going on in rural areas as well as being unable to monitor water use on private lands. Consequently, hydrologists lack data on progress across much of the state.

The shortcomings of the Groundwater Management Act have left Arizona’s water resources vulnerable to exploitation such as by big agricultural corporations. Arizona state law permits landowners to extract as much groundwater as they want if they have the resources to drill deep enough to reach the rapidly decreasing aquifers. This is increasingly expensive, meaning that it is only an option for large corporations, and is having horrendous consequences for water levels.

One of the most extreme cases is in Willcox, a town situated in an area with no surface water so agriculture must draw water from underground sources. Riverview, a large agriculture firm, operates Coronado Farms in the Willcox basin which grows crops to feed its 75,000 animals. This is a water-intensive business, and Arizona’s climate adds stress. Groundwater levels have been dropping, which means deeper wells and even deeper pockets. This is not a problem for a large corporation like Riverview, but the exploitation of the aquifers has left locals wondering if water will flow when they turn on their taps.

The relaxed water regulations are too appealing for outside corporations; for instance, Saudi Arabian dairy company Almarai bought farms in La Pez County to grow alfalfa, one of the most water intensive crops, to export to Saudi Arabia to feed cattle. In this case, this company is using the groundwater sources for a product which is not used within the state. But what the state loses in terms of water, they ultimately gain in money. Arizona gets such great financial benefits from its agricultural sector that addressing the weakness of the 1980 legislation doesn’t seem particularly appealing.

Bottom Line: The 1980 Groundwater Management Act is inadequate in ensuring sustainable levels of groundwater and it is being exploited, particularly by large agricultural corporations. However, the Arizona state government is unwilling to amend this because of the financial benefits to their economy.**

* Please help my Water Scarcity students by commenting on unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data sources, or maybe just saying something nice 🙂

** Note from DZ: I’ve asked Jan to look into the size of AZ’s agricultural sector compared to the state’s overall economy, which appears to be around $330 billion/year.  If true, then agriculture (at around 7 percent) is using a lot of water for quite a small amount of economic benefits.