Atlanta and downstream friends

Johanna writes*

This post offers some insight into the problems of water management in Atlanta (the capital of Georgia) and the effects of those problems on its downstream neighbors Florida and Alabama. These problems are part of a 30-year water allocation drama in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (AFC) basin.

(Map source)

In Atlanta, population growth, legal disputes, and droughts result in water scarcity. Atlanta is one of the fastest-growing urban cities in the US, relying only on surface water supplies drawn from the Chattahoochee River, the source of the Tri-state water dispute with Alabama and Florida. The litigation began in 1990 when Alabama sued the Corps to stop allocating water to Atlanta. In 2014 Florida filed a complaint in the supreme court stating that Georgia has harmed the environment downstream and a bid for equitable apportionment (background on the litigation).

All three states have different concerns about water allocation. Atlanta is  located in a water-scarce area and relies on the Chattahoochee River for 70% of its water. Georgia wants drinking water to help booming Atlanta grow but also to help farmers in the southwest of the state. Florida needs freshwater in the Apalachicola bay to sustain its multi-million-dollar oyster and shrimp industry.  Alabama is concerned about water supply for power generators, municipality supply, and other needs.

Atlanta’s excessive water withdrawal and management issues affect downstream neighbors. When Atlanta experiences drought, then it uses more Chattahoochee water, which reduces flows to the  Apalachicola bay, which kills shrimp and oysters. With less water to dilute Atlanta’s sewage and stormwater discharges, water quality falls, and salinity levels rise. Atlanta does not have the money  to fix problems, so river-water quality is deteriorating. These issues make things more difficult for downstream industrial water users, and the region is struggling to attract new businesses. (You can read more about the history of the Tri-state dispute and Atlanta’s water crisis in this book.)

How do we manage the water of the AFC basin equitably and sustainably for all three member states?

Bottom Line: Unreliable and degrading water supplies are harming downstream users. Atlanta must improve its water infrastructure and management for the sake of its water supply and the future of all three states.

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

Lagos: lacking water security

Olivia writes*

Lagos, Nigeria, is a city surrounded by water, yet for most people, obtaining it is a daily struggle. With around 65% of residents living in urban slums and an increasing population of approximately 21 million, providing water and public services is a complex obstacle that the city has yet to overcome. This post will discuss some of the logistical issues that limit water accessibility, as well as population growth as one of the causes of water shortage.

It can be argued that the growing population has been the driver of water related issues in Lagos. During the early 20th century, infrastructure was developed to supply the rapidly growing population. However, these facilities cannot support current demand, and were not maintained to a high enough standard to ensure cleanliness. One reporter found that the majority of factories in Lagos were providing water that contained contaminants and did not meet the standards of the World Health Organization. In 1980, the state created the Lagos Water Corporation to operate the existing water systems and improve public health. They are government owned and the largest water supplier in Lagos. Despite this, the LWC still only serves around 10% of the city’s residents. The remainder of the population, if lucky, purchase their water from vendors or from private boreholes. This water access is also metrocentric. This is mainly due to the poor socioeconomic conditions in Lagos as well as the antique piping that only exists in certain areas.

Men filling up jugs at borehole in Lagos

As mentioned previously, lacking infrastructure and poor facilities are also a major hindrance to water accessibility. Less than 30% of the population have access to piped water in any form, and even then, their supply is random. Power blackouts combined with the poor quality of production facilities result in very unreliable water supply. In addition to this, equipment and pipes are outdated and poorly maintained, leading to expensive leakages and breakdowns. Cracked pipes provide opportunity for contamination, leading to waterborne diseases such as cholera and chronic diarrhea. Around 80% of Lagos residents depend on informal water to fulfil their domestic needs, including for consumption. Allegedly, there have been many deaths in Lagos due to ingesting contaminated water and it is no secret that informal water is more likely to be a health risk. In 2014, an Al Jazeera reporter interviewed a member of the Lagos Water Corporation to gain a better understanding of water accessibility in the city. He stated that their main obstacle is the lack of electricity and infrastructure. In addition to this, he was concerned about the adverse environmental impacts of over abstraction of ground water. Despite this, there does not seem to be a choice for most residents.

Until supply can be increased and made accessible, the use of informal water is likely to increase and for many will be the norm.

Bottom Line: Lagos has to change, quickly. Rising population means the government needs to address its water challenge if it wants to preserve public health.

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

Cape Town: complex water pricing

Miqui writes*

Clean water is vital to human beings and is fundamental to a functioning society. It is therefore often seen as an obligation of the government to ensure that all of its citizens have sufficient access to a clean water source. Numerous people, such as activists, argue that pricing the very poor for water is unethical and assume that increasing the price of water will always harm the poor. The City of Cape Town (CoCT), South Africa, is a useful and interesting case to reflect on this assumption. This city has one of the most unequal income distributions of the world. Providing water to the poor has always been a complex issue. Especially now, because recently this city has experienced a severe water shortage. Factors that come into play are equity, water conservation, and raising enough revenue to pay for the enormous costs of water infrastructure.

Pricing the water is almost inevitable in order to prevent shortages. There are numerous different tariff options. The CoCT has chosen an increased block rate (IBR), which they label a ‘step-tariff’. This means that if the consumed volume of water increases the price of the water also increases. This price increase is done in blocks/steps (Figure 2 source). The main reason for choosing such a tariff is because the wealthy in general have a higher consumption and therefore also have a higher tariff; they pay a larger part of the total supply cost of water and vice versa in the case of the poor. Another important reason is that an increasing volumetric price makes consumers pay attention to their use. In theory, this seems like a rational option. However, the case of Cape Town exemplifies that increased block rate pricing can have some serious ramifications, which you will read about below.

The CoCT also introduced a tool called “water management devices” (WMD’s). This meter was promoted to low-income households. If such a meter was installed, the CoCT would relieve them of their historic debt. At the same time, it would reduce demand because if this device detects leaks or excessive water consumption, the water supply will be cut off. The intent was to assist low-income households. The actual result was, however, the opposite. Most low-income households are found in the townships around Cape Town. Proper water infrastructure is often lacking, and leaks are common. As a result, the actual water use could be considerably higher than the effective water use. On top of this, people with a low income generally live with more people in one household than the official standard. This also adds up to the total water consumption of a household. The above will make the water bill soar or deprive people of sufficient water in the case of a cut-off.

Another ramification with IBR was that during the recent water crisis revenue sharply decreased because households which initially had a high-volume use shifted their consumptions. Hence, they became users in a lower block rate. The loss in revenue is especially detrimental in a time where water shortages demand for expensive investments in the water infrastructure. Coping with the decreases in revenue and to further incentivize the conservation of water, block rates increased tremendously (1st block +200%)(see fig.1). Low-income/volume users were particularly affected because they have less room to reduce consumption.

Bottom Line: The IBR is, arguably, not a proper price mechanism for the city of Cape Town. There are many different options, but pricing will always stand in the shadow of the huge historic inequality.

For more about the pricing of water: The Paradox of Water Pricing.

For more about Cape Town’s history of inequality and its water management: Water governance and justice in Cape Town: An overview

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

Rome’s ration running out

Irene writes*

Ancient Rome’s water engineered infrastructures were based on the assumption that water was abundant and accessible. Those infrastructures, built in third century BC, still carry large volumes of water into the city. Growing water scarcity will be the biggest threat to the planet in the next decade. Despite Rome being the only city, out of all European capitals, with a sustainable water supply system, namely the water table recharging faster than the city can use, Italy is still projected to be under high water stress (40-80%) by 2040.

While Italy is hit by a drought in July 2017, Rome undergoes an unprecedented event: shutting down its public drinking fountains. More than a problem of water quantity, that action symbolized the transition from an era of abundance to an era of scarcity. On top of the drought itself, major issues are threatening Rome’s prosperous waters: pollution, poor quality streams and aquifers, natural levels of dissolved elements and compounds, subsidence and salinization, and groundwater flooding. Neglect of water management has been the main alert of approaching scarcity. The real problem will not be drinking water per se but the waste of water caused by leakages in the pipeline system. These supply problems are triggering losses up to 47.9% of the withdrawn water volumes.

The city of Rome depends on Aqueduct Peschiera for 70% of its total supply of 1,4 million m³ per day (9,000 liters a second) in normal conditions. The water is withdrawn in the Acea infrastructure of Cittaducale, on the lower slope of the mountain where the aqueduct is born. This is one of the biggest hydrological systems in the world dedicated exclusively to spring water. The impact of water rationing is causing millions in agricultural damages that, as a domino effect, are driving farmers out of business. Moreover, according to charities like the Red Cross, rationing water poses a major threat to homeless people and a growing number of migrants.

Politicians ordered the utility Acea to stop withdrawing water from Lake Bracciano, a recreational lake which, despite being just 8% of Rome’s water supplies, it is still a major source of drinking water for the city. Although Acea had promised to work to repair water pipes in order to avoid rationing of water, Environment Minister Gian Luca Galletti said “we cannot waste anymore time”.

In order to fight future water scarcity, the focus needs to be redirected to fixing infrastructure. To do that, lessons should be learned from the Ancient Roman engineers. Solutions like private rain water harvesting, recycling water in public fountains, or rethinking their infrastructure system will help avoiding major shortages in the future.

Bottom line: The drought period of 2017 was a wake-up call, not just for the Eternal city but for every city around the world coping with a changing climate, to re-think their water management strategies. Rome might lose its role as a model of sustainable water supply. If Rome cannot manage its abundant resources, how will other cities cope? Rome must act to reverse its water mismanagement.

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

A threatened groundwater source

Lenaide writes*

Imagine living in a city located on top of the largest groundwater source and longest river in France, but to also have both of these sources be under the threat of scarcity. That it is the current state of Beaugency, France.

Beaugency has two water sources: the Beauce aquifer, which I will focus on in this blogpost and the Loire river, which I will only briefly mention at the end.

The aquifer, covering about 10 000 km2, is referred to as the water tower of the department, as it provides water to about 1 million inhabitants. Since the beginning of the 1990s, special attention for its care and sustainable use has been given to it as there was a major drought, forcing regulations to be put in place. However, these did not last, and thirty years later here we are with falling water levels and deteriorating water quality .

The aquifer provides drinking water for citizens and water for irrigation (mostly) and industrial uses. (For more info on the extraction, specific uses, and historical regulations imposed check out this website.)

Climate and agriculture threaten the Beauce groundwater.

The region Centre-Val de Loire (where Beaugency is located) is known for its lack of rain. Since the aquifer recharges with winter rains, a lack of rain impedes replenishment. Strong winds also reduce water supply by increasing evapotranspiration (see this PDF for more details).

Climate change changed rainfall occurrence and intensity. Altered and unreliable rainfall makes replenishment inconsistent. Average temperatures have also increased, and in the summer, there have been droughts leading to strict regulations.

The second problem I will mention is linked with agriculture. There has been an increase in population, meaning that more production is needed to meet the demand and needs of the people. Because of this increase in demand on irrigation systems, more water is used, adding to pressures from increased domestic use from the aquifer.

Additionally, there is a major problem regarding pesticide/herbicide aquatic pollution. In 2015, over half of all the groundwater sources tested in the region surrounding Beaugency had traces of either pesticides or herbicides. Some levels are dangerous, especially from forbidden herbicides (see this PDF for more info).

Finally, the river Loire is also under stress due to the same reasons affecting  the aquifer. Climate change causing extreme heat events and reducing the amount of rain which leads to a reduction of the flow which can lead to future shortages, and reduces the efficiency of the nuclear powerplant relying on the river flow. Agricultural runoff laden with more pesticides and herbicides also pollutes the river, leading to health concerns.

Bottom line: The increased intensity of climate change impacts, ever-growing population demanding more food, and poor management of water resources puts both the aquifer and the river under major threat. Action is needed to protect them.

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

The water crisis in Port au Prince

Helena writes*

Port au Prince is currently dealing with a serious water crisis due to poor management and unequal distribution of water. Several stakeholders, namely the private sector and La Direction Nationale de l’Eau Potable et de l’Assainissement, are involved in the development of water supplies. As there is enough water available in Haiti, there is a better future that can be achieved, but for that better governance, collaboration and improvement of water infrastructures will be needed.

Unequal distribution and poor management [pdf] are the main reasons why Haiti is facing a water crisis. After the 2010 earthquake and the recent cholera epidemic, an urgent improvement in water services was needed [pdf] to respond to the increasing demand for water.  Arising from the lack of action from the part of the government, the private sector had to take over the water supplies and sanitation [pdf] in the capital of the country, Port au Prince. As Port au Prince is going through unplanned urbanization and rapid growth, the private sector was facing quite a challenge regarding the organisation of water supplies in this city. However, even if the situation was tough, the private sector succeeded to meet the needs of a significant part of the population as it is currently providing water to 57% of the citizens of the capital.

There is not only the private sector that is involved in the water management of Port au Prince. La Direction Nationale de l’Eau Potable et de l’Assainissement (DINEPA), which was established by the Haitian government in 2009, also plays an important role in water management. The motives of DINEPA are assuring safely managed sanitation services, making sure that the private sector has the ability to meet the increasing demand and encourages collaboration with several authorities to establish the needed legal and regulatory framework [pdf].

The lack of water management leading to poor water infrastructures resulted in severe degradation of water quality [pdf] over the past decades. When water quality decreases significantly, water becomes contaminated and can lead to the outbreak of infectious diseases such as an epidemic of cholera. In Port au Prince, the degradation of water quality was due to the contamination of the aquifer Plaine du Cul de Sac, which is providing up to 60% water to the city [pdf]. The situation got worse as the share of the population having access to water over the past 20 years has fallen by 4 percent. Now only 58% of the population has access to water services, and 30% of these water structures are in a poor state.

The World Bank is asking the government and more specifically DINEPA to take action.

In addition to the lack of water management, Port au Prince is facing serious inequalities when it comes to the distribution of water. DINEPA and the World Bank initiated in 2015 a project called “Budget Programme par Objectifs” to fight unequal distribution. This project aims to improve water sanitation and improve access to clean water for everybody. This initiative illustrates that collaboration amongst stakeholders will help to solve the crisis Port au Prince is currently experiencing. This will help to attain the aimed objectives namely a sustainable service, equal access and distribution and efficient governance. Finally, regular maintenance and daily supervising of water supplies [pdf] will also improve the situation by ensuring a better quality of the water.

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

Flooding due to water scarcity

Eleonora writes*

Jakarta sits on a swamp, the Java sea is on the north shore, and thirteen rivers flow through it. Currently the news is swamped with images of a flooding even as the city suffers water scarcity. This man-made shortage of clean drinking water results from faulty infrastructure and contamination. Let’s break the paradox down.

The city has always been prone to flooding but the risk is increasing due to the fact that the city is sinking. North Jakarta has sunk 2,5 m in the last 10 years. The floods have become more severe due to both climate change, which results in heavier rain and sea level rise, and the sinking of the city. Jakarta is sinking due to excessive extraction of its underlying groundwater reserves. Over 60% of the city’s population relies on groundwater, especially in underdeveloped neighbourhoods.

The population relies on groundwater for two reasons: faulty infrastructure and contaminated rivers. The piped network of Jakarta only reaches 60% of the city, mainly in wealthier neighbourhoods. Even more so, the tap water in Jakarta is not drinkable due to contamination from bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms, heavy metals, pesticides, chemicals and microplastics. Richer citizens drink bottled water. Others boil their water or, even though they might have the rare access to pipes, use community groundwater wells. This explains how 40% of the city lacks the water infrastructure, but 60% depends on groundwater for their water. The remaining residents without piping depend on alternative water supplies. The lack of pipes results in people illegally obtaining their water.

The rivers flowing through the city are too contaminated to supply fresh water. Part of the problem of contamination is the absence of waste services, which means residents dumping their waste into rivers that are already contaminated. The city’s largest water source is the Jatiluhur dam on the Citarum river, which is often referred to as the most polluted river in the world. It is polluted due to locals dumping their household waste into the river and around 2000 industrial factories disposing their wastewater directly into the river. The river water causes diseases and rashes, making it an unsafe water source. Hence, people are pumping their water directly from the ground; indirectly causing the city to flood.

Table 1. The industry type contaminating the Citarum river

Bottom line: Polluted rivers and faulty infrastructure cause freshwater scarcity in Jakarta, making 60% of Jakarta residents rely on groundwater. This results in the groundwater reservoirs being depleted and therefore the city is sinking rapidly. The newly submerged city now endures more severe flooding as a consequence of human actions: climate change, faulty infrastructure and pollution.

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

Sydney’s struggle: Water ore coal?

Amy writes*

Drought. Wildfires. Rising population. The future of Sydney’s water is at serious threat, so why has the Government extended a mining company’s contract to mine under Sydney’s ‘protected’ water catchment area? The recent wildfires that devastated an area of Australia the size of the US states of Vermont and New Hampshire combined showed the world the force that is climate change. The wildfires damaged 30% of the Warragamba Dam, which provides 80% of Greater Sydney’s drinking water. The threat to Greater Sydney’s water supply is clear, yet the Government and mining company continue to degrade and deplete water supplies through the practice of longwall mining.

South32 is the mining company in question. Their longwall mining machines cut away at a wall of coal one row at a time. The process creates a pressure differential causing land to twist, warp and buckle. Water flows down through cracks into aquifers, often draining creeks, swamps and other waterways. Even if water returns for a short period, the presence of many hard metals severely reduces its quality, never mind the fall in quantity.

Unsurprisingly, Water NSW (responsible for supplying the state’s water) as well as local environmental groups such as Protect Our Water Alliance (POWA) oppose mining underneath the protected catchment area, yet this has not prevented the Government from extending contracts. The Subsistence Environmental Management Plan (SEMP) requires monitoring for a minimum of one year prior to mining in order to establish a base-line of environmental values in the area but scientists say this time frame is too small whilst the negative consequences continue for many years after mining has stopped. In this face-off between coal and water, it is concerning to watch the Government favour the former, though perhaps not surprising when the country’s Prime Minister advocates ‘hazard prevention’, otherwise known as deforestation.

South32’s response to criticisms are comical. Through offsetting potential subsidence-related impacts to upland swamps, using remediation techniques which have continually failed to rehabilitate, and proposing water quality improvement actions like fire management (i.e. deforestation), the company claims that the project will actually have a net beneficial effect on water quality. Unbelievable!

Ironically, mining companies may be able to exploit coal reserves underneath the catchment area but individuals are prohibited from entering the protected region, meaning that the true impact of longwall mining is  unknown to outsiders. Even so, experience abroad provides no grounds for optimism. Impacts of subsidence are long-lasting and cases in the United States have seen both surface and groundwater hydrology permanently affected. Contrary to the belief held by some of those in favour of mining, streams rarely heal naturally.

As South32 waits for approval for a contract extension until 2048, it is vital that water is valued as it should be, especially in a nation frequently overwhelmed by drought. While costs to the colliery are obvious in terms of lost production, surely there is no comparison when compared to the value of water and ecological integrity for Greater Sydney.

Bottom line: Sydney’s water scarcity issues might have been accelerated by consequences of climate change, but it is puzzling that mining’s harmful impacts on scarcity are not more strongly considered. Whilst residents and businesses face Level 2 water restrictions, there is no justification for allowing longwall mining to continue under the ‘protected’ water catchment.

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