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Surviving a warmer world: Global forecast is 'mostly dry'
Peter N. Spotts, Christian Science Monitor
Climate change is already being blamed for altered rainfall patterns and shrinking glaciers that provide water for drinking and agriculture
...According to the latest scientific evidence, such dry spells are likely to grow more severe - as they will around the world. Global warming, climate scientists say, is changing climates from the Himalayan Mountains to the Euphrates-Tigris River Basin. Patterns of rain and snowfall are shifting significantly.
The question now becomes: How will nations and individuals adapt as Earth's climate warms? Glaciers from the Andes to the Alps are shrinking at an accelerating pace. Countries are already haggling over river rights. From 400 million to as many as 3.2 billion people face serious water shortages over the next 20 to 50 years. New Mexico, an already dry region that is getting drier, is on the front lines.
Mr. Armijo, a snow surveyor for the US Department of Agriculture, knows something is going on. Like much of the American West, the state has been in the grip of drought for years.
"We've set record lows for snowpack a couple of times in the last five or six years," he says. "For the most part, the snowpack's gone. In the last three to four weeks, we've experienced some really warm temperatures."
In early February, the UN released a report on the science behind global warming. In it, researchers expressed "very high confidence" that greenhouse-gas emissions - mostly carbon dioxide from burning coal, oil, and natural gas - have been warming the climate.
If these emissions continue to grow at their current rates, the report estimates, global average temperatures could top their 1980-2000 average by 2.3 to 4.1 degrees C. (4.1 to 7.4 degrees F.) by the end of the century. Among the warming's effects: Arid regions will dry out further. And some of the water that they do receive will come in the wrong form (rain instead of snow) or at the wrong time.
On April 6 the UN-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will release the second of its four major global-warming reports due this year. The focus: the challenges that vulnerable regions are likely to face and their options for adapting.
The new IPCC report is expected to pay close attention to warming's impact on water resources - and for good reason, says James McCarthy, professor of biological oceanography at Harvard University and past co-chairman of the 2001 IPCC working group. In the last five years, scientists have seen "a consistent record" showing a pattern of droughts alternating with strong downpours "with less opportunity for that moisture to be absorbed or retained," Dr. McCarthy says.
(5 April 2007)
An Arid West No Longer Waits for Rain
Randal C. Archibold and Kirk Johnson, NY Times
A Western drought that began in 1999 has continued after the respite of a couple of wet years that now feel like a cruel tease. But this time people in the driest states are not just scanning the skies and hoping for rescue.
Some $2.5 billion in water projects are planned or under way in four states, the biggest expansion in the West’s quest for water in decades. Among them is a proposed 280-mile pipeline that would direct water to Las Vegas from northern Nevada. A proposed reservoir just north of the California-Mexico border would correct an inefficient water delivery system that allows excess water to pass to Mexico.
In Yuma, Ariz., federal officials have restarted an idled desalination plant, long seen as a white elephant from a bygone era, partly in the hope of purifying salty underground water for neighboring towns.
The scramble for water is driven by the realities of population growth, political pressure and the hard truth that the Colorado River, a 1,400-mile-long silver thread of snowmelt and a lifeline for more than 20 million people in seven states, is providing much less water than it had.
According to some long-term projections, the mountain snows that feed the Colorado River will melt faster and evaporate in greater amounts with rising global temperatures, providing stress to the waterway even without drought. This year, the spring runoff is expected to be about half its long-term average.
...Everywhere in the West, along the Colorado and other rivers, as officials search for water to fill current and future needs, tempers are flaring among competing water users, old rivalries are hardening and some states are waging legal fights.
...“What you are hearing about global warming, explosive growth - combine with a real push to set aside extra water for environmental purpose - means you got a perfect situation for a major tug-of-war contest,” said Sid Wilson, the general manager of the Central Arizona Project, which brings Colorado River water to the Phoenix area.
New scientific evidence suggests that periodic long, severe droughts have become the norm in the Colorado River basin, undermining calculations of how much water the river can be expected to provide and intensifying pressures to find new solutions or sources.
(4 April 2007)
I wonder what the Mexicans think of the proposed reservoir project that "would correct an inefficient water delivery system that allows excess water to pass to Mexico." Isn't this a wee bit self-centered?
See the excellent article by Mike Davis in the Nation: Denial in the Desert -BA
Drugs Are in the Water. Does It Matter?
Cornelia Dean, NY Times
Residues of birth control pills, antidepressants, painkillers, shampoos and a host of other compounds are finding their way into the nation’s waterways, and they have public health and environmental officials in a regulatory quandary.
On the one hand, there is no evidence the traces of the chemicals found so far are harmful to human beings. On the other hand, it would seem cavalier to ignore them.
The pharmaceutical and personal care products, or P.P.C.P.’s, are being flushed into the nation’s rivers from sewage treatment plants or leaching into groundwater from septic systems. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, researchers have found these substances, called “emerging contaminants,” almost everywhere they have looked for them.
Most experts say their discovery reflects better sensing technology as much as anything else. Still, as Hal Zenick of the agency’s office of research and development put it in an e-mail message, “there is uncertainty as to the risk to humans.”
In part, that is because the extent and consequences of human exposure to these compounds, especially in combination, are “unknown,” the Food and Drug Administration said in a review issued in 2005. And aging and increasingly medicated Americans are using more of these products than ever.
(3 April 2007)