Monday, December 29, 2014

Rising Temperature / Falling Grain Production

This one's for the "plants will grow better with more C02" crowd: A new study finds that wheat production will likely fall by 6% for every 1 °C increase in global temperatures. Wheat is one of the most important food crops in the world, and we'd be smart to keep it happy.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Wells Dry, Fertile Plains Turn to Dust

HASKELL COUNTY, Kan. — Forty-nine years ago, Ashley Yost’s grandfather sank a well deep into a half-mile square of rich Kansas farmland. He struck an artery of water so prodigious that he could pump 1,600 gallons to the surface every minute.

Last year, Mr. Yost was coaxing just 300 gallons from the earth, and pumping up sand in order to do it. By harvest time, the grit had robbed him of $20,000 worth of pumps and any hope of returning to the bumper harvests of years past.

“That’s prime land,” he said not long ago, gesturing from his pickup at the stubby remains of last year’s crop. “I’ve raised 294 bushels of corn an acre there before, with water and the Lord’s help.” Now, he said, “it’s over.”

The land, known as Section 35, sits atop the High Plains Aquifer, a waterlogged jumble of sand, clay and gravel that begins beneath Wyoming and South Dakota and stretches clear to the Texas Panhandle. The aquifer’s northern reaches still hold enough water in many places to last hundreds of years. But as one heads south, it is increasingly tapped out, drained by ever more intensive farming and, lately, by drought.

Vast stretches of Texas farmland lying over the aquifer no longer support irrigation. In west-central Kansas, up to a fifth of the irrigated farmland along a 100-mile swath of the aquifer has already gone dry. In many other places, there no longer is enough water to supply farmers’ peak needs during Kansas’ scorching summers.

And when the groundwater runs out, it is gone for good. Refilling the aquifer would require hundreds, if not thousands, of years of rains.

This is in many ways a slow-motion crisis — decades in the making, imminent for some, years or decades away for others, hitting one farm but leaving an adjacent one untouched. But across the rolling plains and tarmac-flat farmland near the Kansas-Colorado border, the effects of depletion are evident everywhere. Highway bridges span arid stream beds. Most of the creeks and rivers that once veined the land have dried up as 60 years of pumping have pulled groundwater levels down by scores and even hundreds of feet.

On some farms, big center-pivot irrigators — the spindly rigs that create the emerald circles of cropland familiar to anyone flying over the region — now are watering only a half-circle. On others, they sit idle altogether.

Two years of extreme drought, during which farmers relied almost completely on groundwater, have brought the seriousness of the problem home. In 2011 and 2012, the Kansas Geological Survey reports, the average water level in the state’s portion of the aquifer dropped 4.25 feet — nearly a third of the total decline since 1996.

And that is merely the average. “I know my staff went out and re-measured a couple of wells because they couldn’t believe it,” said Lane Letourneau, a manager at the State Agriculture Department’s water resources division. “There was a 30-foot decline.”

Kansas agriculture will survive the slow draining of the aquifer — even now, less than a fifth of the state’s farmland is irrigated in any given year — but the economic impact nevertheless will be outsized. In the last federal agriculture census of Kansas, in 2007, an average acre of irrigated land produced nearly twice as many bushels of corn, two-thirds more soybeans and three-fifths more wheat than did dry land.

Farmers will take a hit as well. Raising crops without irrigation is far cheaper, but yields are far lower. Drought is a constant threat: the last two dry-land harvests were all but wiped out by poor rains.

In the end, most farmers will adapt to farming without water, said Bill Golden, an agriculture economist at Kansas State University. “The revenue losses are there,” he said. “But they’re not as tremendously significant as one might think.”

Some already are. A few miles west of Mr. Yost’s farm, Nathan Kells cut back on irrigation when his wells began faltering in the last decade, and shifted his focus to raising dairy heifers — 9,000 on that farm, and thousands more elsewhere. At about 12 gallons a day for a single cow, Mr. Kells can sustain his herd with less water than it takes to grow a single circle of corn.

“The water’s going to flow to where it’s most valuable, whether it be industry or cities or feed yards,” he said. “We said, ‘What’s the higher use of the water?’ and decided that it was the heifer operation.”

The problem, others say, is that when irrigation ends, so do the jobs and added income that sustain rural communities.

“Looking at areas of Texas where the groundwater has really dropped, those towns are just a shell of what they once were,” said Jim Butler, a hydrogeologist and senior scientist at the Kansas Geological Survey.

The villain in this story is in fact the farmers’ savior: the center-pivot irrigator, a quarter- or half-mile of pipe that traces a watery circle around a point in the middle of a field. The center pivots helped start a revolution that raised farming from hardscrabble work to a profitable business.

Since the pivots’ debut some six decades ago, the amount of irrigated cropland in Kansas has grown to nearly three million acres, from a mere 250,000 in 1950. But the pivot irrigators’ thirst for water — hundreds and sometimes thousands of gallons a minute — has sent much of the aquifer on a relentless decline. And while the big pivots have become much more efficient, a University of California study earlier this year concluded that Kansas farmers were using some of their water savings to expand irrigation or grow thirstier crops, not to reduce consumption.

A shift to growing corn, a much thirstier crop than most, has only worsened matters. Driven by demand, speculation and a government mandate to produce biofuels, the price of corn has tripled since 2002, and Kansas farmers have responded by increasing the acreage of irrigated cornfields by nearly a fifth.

At an average 14 inches per acre in a growing season, a corn crop soaks up groundwater like a sponge — in 2010, the State Agriculture Department said, enough to fill a space a mile square and nearly 2,100 feet high.

Sorghum, or milo, gets by on a third less water, Kansas State University researchers say — and it, too, is in demand by biofuel makers. As Kansas’ wells peter out, more farmers are switching to growing milo on dry land or with a comparative sprinkle of irrigation water.

But as long as there is enough water, most farmers will favor corn. “The issue that often drives this is economics,” said David W. Hyndman, who heads Michigan State University’s geological sciences department. “And as long as you’ve got corn that’s $7, then a lot of choices get made on that.”

Of the 800 acres that Ashley Yost farmed last year in Haskell County, about 70 percent was planted in corn, including roughly 125 acres in Section 35. Haskell County’s feedlots — the county is home to 415,000 head of cattle — and ethanol plants in nearby Liberal and Garden City have driven up the price of corn handsomely, he said.

But this year he will grow milo in that section, and hope that by ratcheting down the speed of his pump, he will draw less sand, even if that means less water, too. The economics of irrigation, he said, almost dictate it.

“You’ve got $20,000 of underground pipe,” he said. “You’ve got a $10,000 gas line. You’ve got a $10,000 irrigation motor. You’ve got an $89,000 pivot. And you’re going to let it sit there and rot?

“If you can pump 150 gallons, that’s 150 gallons Mother Nature is not giving us. And if you can keep a milo crop alive, you’re going to do it.”

Mr. Yost’s neighbors have met the prospect of dwindling water in starkly different ways. A brother is farming on pivot half-circles. A brother-in-law moved most of his operations to Iowa. Another farmer is suing his neighbors, accusing them of poaching water from his slice of the aquifer.

A fourth grows corn with an underground irrigation system that does not match the yields of water-wasting center-pivot rigs, but is far thriftier in terms of water use and operating costs.

For his part, Mr. Yost continues to pump. But he also allowed that the day may come when sustaining what is left of the aquifer is preferable to pumping as much as possible.

Sitting in his Ford pickup next to Section 35, he unfolded a sheet of white paper that tracked the decline of his grandfather’s well: from 1,600 gallons a minute in 1964, to 1,200 in 1975, to 750 in 1976.

When the well slumped to 500 gallons in 1991, the Yosts capped it and drilled another nearby. Its output sank, too, from 1,352 gallons to 300 today.

This year, Mr. Yost spent more than $15,000 to drill four test wells in Section 35. The best of them produced 195 gallons a minute — a warning, he said, that looking further for an isolated pocket of water would be costly and probably futile.

“We’re on the last kick,” he said. “The bulk water is gone.” More



Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Water Resource Management- New Publication 2014

Department of Organic Food Quality and Food Culture, University of Kassel and Department of Archaeology and Heritage Management, Rajarata University, Sri Lanka are pleased to announce about the publication of their new research paper, titled "Water Resource Management in Dry Zonal Paddy Cultivation in Mahaweli River Basin, Sri Lanka: An Analysis of Spatial and Temporal Climate Change Impacts and Traditional Knowledge" in the Special Issue "Changes in precipitation and impacts on regional water resources", Climate Journal International.

The paper may be accessed at

Abstract: Lack of attention to spatial and temporal cross-scale dynamics and effects could be understood as one of the lacunas in scholarship on river basin management. Within the water-climate-food-energy nexus, an integrated and inclusive approach that recognizes traditional knowledge about and experiences of climate change and water resource management can provide crucial assistance in confronting problems in megaprojects and multipurpose river basin management projects.

The Mahaweli Development Program (MDP), a megaproject and multipurpose river basin management project, is demonstrating substantial failures with regards to the spatial and temporal impacts of climate change and socioeconomic demands for water allocation and distribution for paddy cultivation in the dry zone area, which was one of the driving goals of the project at the initial stage. This interdisciplinary study explores how spatial and temporal climatic changes and uncertainty n weather conditions impact paddy cultivation in dry zonal areas with competing stakeholders' interest in the Mahaweli River Basin.

In the framework of embedded design in the mixed methods research approach, qualitative data is the primary source while quantitative analyses are used as supportive data. The key findings from the research analysis are as follows: close and in-depth consideration of spatial and temporal changes in climate systems and paddy farmers' socioeconomic demands altered by seasonal changes are important factors. These factors should be considered in the future modification of water allocation, application of distribution technologies, and decision-making with regards to water resource management in the dry zonal paddy cultivation of Sri Lanka. More



FAO ‘Pocketbook’ Highlights Environment, Food Security, Nutrition Links

17 November 2014: The world produces more food than it needs, leaving deep resource footprints in terms of carbon emissions, environmental degradation and land and water use, yet it is off track in achieving the World Food Summit (WFS) target of reducing the number of hungry people by 2015, according to ‘Food and Nutrition in Numbers.'

The publication from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) provides a "pocketbook" compendium on the global state of nutrition.

FAO released the compendium in advance of the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN 2), which convenes on 19-21 November 2014, in Rome, Italy. The meeting is expected to adopt a declaration on nutrition and a framework of action on guidance for national policy commitments.

The pocketbook provides global, regional and national level data on the impacts of food systems, with the aim of highlighting the external aspects of nutrition. It addresses a range of topics on nutrition and health, including micronutrient deficiencies, obesity, non-communicable diseases (NCDs), food prices and trade. It also includes food security indicators and indicators on links between the environment, health and nutrition and data on agriculture-related carbon emissions and land use.

Data included in the publication provide "the starting point for evidence-based food policy analysis and for getting a more complete picture of health and environmental impacts associated with nutrition," emphasized Josef Schmidhuber, FAO's Statistics Division. Schmidhuber underscored "how much more food agriculture has produced over the past decades," but said that "what is equally remarkable is that in this world of plenty, we still have 800 million who don't consume enough calories and 2 billion who don't eat well."

FAO's Nutrition Division Director, Anna Lartey, highlighted the importance of nutrition in development, stressing that countries that do "not pay attention to the nutrition of its citizens will pay dearly in health costs and loss of productivity and this can significantly reduce its economic development." [UN Press Release] [UNRIC Press Release] [Publication: Food and Nutrition in Numbers] [IISD RS Coverage of ICN 2]




Saturday, November 8, 2014

Ocean acidification tops the annual list of important stories ignored by the mainstream media

Our oceans are acidifying — even if the nightly news hasn't told you yet.

As humanity continues to fill the atmosphere with harmful gases, the planet is becoming less hospitable to life as we know it. The vast oceans absorb much of the carbon dioxide we have produced, from the industrial revolution through the rise of global capitalism. Earth's self-sacrifice spared the atmosphere nearly 25 percent of humanity's CO2 emissions, slowing the onslaught of many severe weather consequences.

Although the news media have increasingly covered the climate weirding of global warming — hurricane superstorms, fierce tornado clusters, overwhelming snowstorms, and record-setting global high temperatures — our ocean's peril has largely stayed submerged below the biggest news stories.

The rising carbon dioxide in our oceans burns up and deforms the smallest, most abundant food at the bottom of the deep blue food chain. One vulnerable population is the tiny shelled swimmers known as the sea butterfly. In only a few short decades, the death and deformation of this fragile and translucent species could endanger predators all along the oceanic food web, scientists warn.

This "butterfly effect," once unleashed, potentially threatens fisheries that feed over 1 billion people worldwide.

Since ancient times, humans fished the oceans for food. Now, we're frying ocean life before we even catch it, starving future generations in the process. Largely left out of national news coverage, this dire report was brought to light by a handful of independent-minded journalists: Craig Welch from the Seattle Times, Julia Whitty of Mother Jones, and Eli Kintisch of ScienceNOW.

It is also the top story of Project Censored, an annual book and reporting project that features the year's most underreported news stories, striving to unmask censorship, self-censorship, and propaganda in corporate-controlled media outlets. The book is set for release in late October.

"Information is the currency of democracy," Ralph Nader, the prominent consumer advocate and many-time presidential candidate, wrote in his foreword to this year's Project Censored 2015. But with most mass media owned by narrow corporate interests, "the general public remains uninformed."

Whereas the mainstream media poke and peck at noteworthy events at single points in time, often devoid of historical context or analysis, Project Censored seeks to clarify understanding of real world issues and focus on what's important. Context is key, and many of its "top censored" stories highlight deeply entrenched policy issues that require more explanation than a simple sound bite can provide.

Campus and faculty from over two dozen colleges and universities join in this ongoing effort, headquartered at Sonoma State University. Some 260 students and 49 faculty vet thousands of news stories on select criteria: importance, timeliness, quality of sources, and the level of corporate news coverage.

The top 25 finalists are sent to Project Censored's panel of judges, who then rank the entries, with ocean acidification topping this year's list.

"There are outlets, regular daily papers, who are independent and they're out there," Andy Lee Roth, associate director of Project Censored, told us. Too many news outlets are beholden to corporate interests, but Welch of the Seattle Times bucked the trend, Roth said, by writing some of the deepest coverage yet on ocean acidification.

"There are reporters doing the highest quality of work, as evidenced by being included in our list," Roth said. "But the challenge is reaching as big an audience as [the story] should."

Indeed, though Welch's story was reported in the Seattle Times, a mid-sized daily newspaper, this warning is relevant to the entire world. To understand the impact of ocean acidification, Welch asks readers to "imagine every person on earth tossing a hunk of CO2 as heavy as a bowling ball into the sea. That's what we do to the oceans every day."

Computer modeler Isaac Kaplan, at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration office in Seattle, told Welch that his early work predicts significant declines in sharks, skates and rays, some types of flounder and sole, and Pacific whiting, the most frequently caught commercial fish off the coast of Washington, Oregon, and California.

Acidification may also harm fisheries in the farthest corners of the earth: A study by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme outlines acidification's threat to the arctic food chain.

"Decreases in seawater pH of about 0.02 per decade have been observed since the late 1960s in the Iceland and Barents Seas," the study's authors wrote in the executive summary. And destroying fisheries means wiping out the livelihoods of the native peoples of the Antarctic.

Acidification can even rewire the brains of fish, Welch's story demonstrated. Studies found rising CO2 levels cause clown fish to gain athleticism, but have their sense of smell redirected. This transforms them into "dumb jocks," scientists said, swimming faster and more vigorously straight into the mouths of their predators.

These Frankenstein fish were found to be five times more likely to die in the natural world. What a fitting metaphor for humanity, as our outsized consumption propels us towards an equally dangerous fate.

"It's not as dramatic as say, an asteroid is hitting us from outer space," Roth said of this slowly unfolding disaster, which is likely why such a looming threat to our food chain escapes much mainstream news coverage.

Journalism tends to be more "action focused," Roth said, looking to define conflict in everything it sees. A recently top-featured story on CNN focused on President Barack Obama's "awkward coffee cup salute" to a Marine, which ranks only slightly below around-the-clock coverage of the president's ugly tan suit as a low point in mainstream media's focus on the trivial.

As Nader noted, "'important stories' are often viewed as dull by reporters and therefore unworthy of coverage." But mainstream media do cover some serious topics with weight, as it did in the wake of the police officer shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. So what's the deciding factor?

As Roth tells it, corporate news focuses on "drama, and the most dramatic action is of course violence."

But the changes caused by ocean acidification are gradual. Sea butterflies are among the most abundant creatures in our oceans, and are increasingly born with shells that look like cauliflower or sandpaper, making this and similar species more susceptible to infection and predators.

"Ocean acidification is changing the chemistry of the world's water faster than ever before, and faster than the world's leading scientists predicted," Welch said, but it's not getting the attention is deserves. "Combined nationwide spending on acidification research for eight federal agencies, including grants to university scientists by the National Science Foundation, totals about $30 million a year — less than the annual budget for the coastal Washington city of Hoquiam, population 10,000."

Our oceans may slowly cook our food chain into new forms with potentially catastrophic consequences. Certainly 20 years from now, when communities around the world lose their main source of sustenance, the news will catch on. But will the problem make the front page tomorrow, while there's still time to act?

Probably not, and that's why we have Project Censored and its annual list: More



Ground water depletion driving global conflicts - NASA scientist

ROME, Nov 7 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Global ground water supplies, crucial for sustaining agriculture, are being depleted at an alarming rate with dangerous security implications, a leading scientist said.

Cracked ground of the Atibainha dam Brazil

"It's a major cause for concern because most of the places where it (ground water depletion) is happening are major food producing regions," James Famiglietti, a University of California professor who conducts research for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), said in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"India is the worst off, followed by the Middle East, and the U.S. is probably number three ... the Chinese, particularly on the north China plain, are more water limited than people believe."

Famiglietti's conclusions are based on his latest research paper "The global ground water crisis" published in the journal Nature Climate Change last month.

The study uses analysis of satellite images to warn that ground water in many of the world's largest aquifers is being exploited at a far faster rate than it can be naturally replenished.

Farming accounts for more than 80 percent of the United States' water use, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the figures are similar globally.

Famiglietti has been called to the Pentagon a number of times to discuss the potential impact of groundwater scarcity with leading military planners.

Water-related conflicts are already happening, he said, and security experts are bracing for more.

"In 90 percent of the world where there are violent conflicts, there are water scarcity issues," he said.

Water scarcity has been one component driving Syria's civil war, he said. The agricultural sector lacks sufficient water to farm, and a "young generation of unhappy farmers moved to the city and conflict ensued".

Oil-rich, water scarce countries in the Gulf currently rely on desalinated sea water for much of their water consumption.

Some analysts suggest that more countries will embrace energy-intensive desalination, particularly using nuclear technology, if current trends continue.

Famiglietti said this would not be a good option, as it requires too much energy, and won't be able to efficiently provide the volumes of water needed for large-scale agriculture.

Governments first need to acknowledge there is a problem, he said, and then factor scarcity into pricing, while investing in conservation and new technologies to promote efficiency. More


Thursday, November 6, 2014

AGWA Launches Toolkit for Climate Change Adaptation in Water Resources Management

4 September 2014: The Alliance for Global Water Adaptation (AGWA) and partners have launched a manual for dealing with uncertainty under climate change by applying climate-informed decision-making to water resource management, project design and risk evaluation.

The manual was launched in a seminar held during World Water Week, on 4 September.

‘Beyond Downscaling: A Bottom-Up Approach to Climate Adaptation for Water Resources Management' is the result of two years' work by AGWA, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), US Army Corps of Engineers, University of Massachusetts and RTI International, among others.

It provides practical guidelines for practitioners and project coordinators for risk-based decision making and adaptation of water systems by using a bottom-up approach. The book aims to “provide an alternative approach contributing to improvement in the quality and effectiveness of water resources management planning and project design under climate variability and change uncertainty.”

The manual covers: AGWA's approach to sustainable water management; climate change impacts on water resources; mainstreaming adaptation into water resources management; key tools for supporting climate risk assessment; and approaches to identifying adaptation strategies for water projects. It also makes the case for moving beyond down-scaling global climate models, to a bottom-up approach to climate adaptation in the water sector, and presents a framework for an AGWA-supported adaptation approach.

The approach supported by AGWA, inter alia: recognizes the need to integrate climate adaptation into existing decision-making processes; advocates for bottom-up approaches to vulnerability assessment; supports the use of “systematic decision trees based on existing water resources management approaches”; stresses the importance of creating flexible decision pathways; and emphasizes the integration of flexible governance mechanisms into water resources management.

Speaking at the launch, Marcus Wijnen, Senior Water Resources Management Specialist, World Bank, noted that the book is “work in progress,” and invited stakeholders to provide feedback. More

The 2014 World Water Week took place from 31 August-5 September, in Stockholm, Sweden. [AGWA Publication Webpage] [Publication: Beyond Downscaling: A Bottom-up Approach to Climate Adaptation for Water Resources Management] [Video of Launch]







Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Who Will Feed China

Twenty years ago, Lester Brown published an article in World Watch magazine entitled "Who Will Feed China?" A year later, he followed with a book of the same name.

The article and book generated an enormous outcry from China and dozens of conferences, seminars, and studies, as he writes in his autobiography, Breaking New Ground.

"In 1994 I wrote an article for the September/October issue of World Watch magazine entitled "Who Will Feed China?" The late August press conference releasing it generated only moderate coverage. But when the article was reprinted that weekend on the front of the Washington Post’s Outlook section with the title "How China Could Starve the World," it unleashed a political firestorm in Beijing. …

The World Watch article attracted more attention than anything I have ever written. In addition to appearing in our magazine’s five language editions—English, Japanese, Chinese (Taiwan), German, and Italian—it also appeared in abridged form in many of the world’s leading newspapers, including the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and the International Herald Tribune. It was syndicated internationally by both the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times. Among the other major news organizations covering the analysis were the Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal, including the Asian edition. …

One of the most interesting responses was in Washington, DC, where the National Intelligence Council, the umbrella over all the U.S. intelligence agencies, analyzed the effect of China’s growing demand for grain on world agriculture and any security threats that it might pose. A panel of prominent researchers, led by Michael McElroy, then head of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard, produced a first-rate study of several hundred pages. …

Meanwhile, within China, every few weeks another study was released attempting to demonstrate why my analysis was wrong. These critiques came from such disparate sources as a scientist from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, an official from the Ministry of Agriculture, and an independent academic scholar. Not long after, an enterprising Chinese publisher took a copy of the original World Watch magazine article and a collection of the critiques of it and published them in a book entitled The Great Debate Between Lester Brown and China. …

Over time, China’s leaders came to both appreciate and acknowledge how Who Will Feed China? had helped change their thinking. A late 1998 issue of Feedstuffs, a weekly agribusiness newspaper, quotes Lu Mai, an agricultural economist and senior fellow at a government think tank in Beijing, as saying, "Brown seems to have been accorded guru status in high places. ‘He’s like the monk from outside who knows how to read the Bible.’" …

Lester proved prescient in his analysis. China is a leading importer of grain and it imports a staggering 60 percent of all soybeans entering world trade—and it looks like it will continue. The problem is not so much population growth, but China’s rising affluence, which is allowing its population to move up the food chain, consuming more grain-intensive livestock, poultry, and farmed fish.

Janet Larsen, EPI’s director of research, wrote last year on the Chinese purchase of Smithfield, the world’s leading pork producer. She has also written on how China’s meat consumption has grown to double that of the United States where meat consumption is falling.

Essentially, twenty years later, we are still wondering who will feed China?

Lester has written a number of articles over the last dozen years about China, which are available on Earth Policy Institute’s website. Below are some highlights. More



Thursday, September 4, 2014

Henan’s Big Drought. Is This From The South–North Water Transfer Project?

Mainland media reported that, since this summer, Henan Province rainfall is 60 percent less than usual over the same period since 1951, which is the lowest value over the same period of history. Pingdingshan City's main water source, Baiguishan reservoir water level is even lower than the dead water of 97.5 meters.

Henan Zhecheng County Shuangmiao Village Ms. Li, “over the entire summer it did not rain. The crops are dry. We are not allowed to irrigate the crops. If I use the well water, I probably cannot even have drinking water."

Droughts have had a serious impact on local agriculture.

Ms. Li, "most places basically have no harvest. Individual crops can be harvested a little, but there is not much. If one place can harvest 40 percent, that’s the best.''

Hubei Province is rich in water during the main flood season this year. But rainfall in most areas decreased by more than 20 percent. 111 small reservoirs and over 50,000 ponds dried up; over 600 reservoirs are below the dead water level; Hanjiang River downstream water level dropped. Danjiangkou reservoir water level is only 142.77 meters on August 19. This is far below the SNWTP planned water level of 170 meters.

For this major disaster, the authorities explained that the drought is caused by a variety of climatic reasons. They claimed that, even if the current trend of precipitation is "north flood south dry", it is still to "transfer water from south to north" to fill the gap of an especially severe water shortage in Beijing.

But the villagers in drought regions have different thoughts.

Ms. Li, " we all think it is due to the SNWTP. In previous years, it was not as dry as in these years."

Villagers discussed and believe that, SNWTP leads the Han River, the Yangtze River and the Yellow River water back and forth; the Three Gorges Reservoir also caused natural flowing rivers to change direction. Poor circulation, and loss of groundwater resources are also very serious. It has a massive impact not only to the surrounding geological environment, but also caused imbalances to the water, clouds, rain, and natural circulation system leading to a severe drought.

Living in Germany, water resources expert Wang Weiluo, has published many articles about Jiang Zemin who to "supply water to the 2008 Beijing Olympics", hastily approved and launched the SNWTP in 2001. It introduced one billion cubic meters of water annually to Beijing, with diversion channels crossing more than 700 natural rivers in Central China. The project completely

broke the law of nature of these rivers; There is a serious engineering problem, even bigger than the Three Gorges, and the threat is to a wider area.

Beijing electrical engineer Mr. Tian, "in principle there is a problem, because it is not that the south is high, the north is low, and it naturally flows across. It is to artificially add a number of processes, which undermines the law of nature. I think this may be even worse than the Three Gorges Dam."

Problems have been reported recently about SNWTP by the media. When the Diversion project tested the water on July 3 for the first time, the media exposed that the water source from Danjiangkou Reservoir exceeded the nitrogen content, and was seriously polluted. The official also acknowledged that water quality for nitrogen and phosphorus exceeded the standards. However he stressed that it would naturally degrade through long-distance transportation.

In late July, the mainland media also reported that SNWTP led to a decrease in the Han River water level. Due to the reduced water flow the fish were unable to spawn by end of July, while in previous years they had finished spawning. Yicheng city located by the Han River was without water three times since last year, the longest time was 48 hours.

In addition to the environmental damages, Beijing electrical engineer Mr. Tian pointed out that the drain from SNWTP is likely to outweigh the benefits.

Mr. Tian, "this unnatural process takes a lot of energy and wastes a lot of water. Introduce ten percent water, and finally arriving in Beijing, maybe even not two percent will get there."

SNWTP has three water diversion routes, namely the east, middle and west line. Of which the middle and east lines cost amounted to 500 billion yuan, 2.5 times larger than the Three Gorges Project. The East line is pumped from the Yangtze River to Tianjin, Qingdao and Yantai direction. The Midline is from Danjiangkou Reservoir as a division of Yangtze tributary the Han River, in Beijing’s direction; The West line is from the upper Yangtze River to the Yellow River water diversion. The East line started in December 2002, until December 8, 2013 the water went through. The Midline started in December 2003, is expected to have water through in October 2014. The West Line has not been started yet. More


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

California’s New Groundwater Legislation Is Unfair. The Governor Should Sign It Anyway.

In California, the score is now: Drought 1, Farmers 0. After years of shockingly dry conditions, fallow fields, freeloading salmon, and forced livestock sales, the state’s legislature has finally taken action.

On Friday, California lawmakers approved a historic measure that would regulate groundwater for the first time in state history. California was the only Western state without controls on the amount of water taken from wells. Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to sign the legislation later this month.

The legislation, which is really three separate bills, intends to limit overpumping by directing local agencies to construct their own "groundwater sustainability plans," with fines for violations. There are also provisions for the state to usurp local plans if they continue to result in groundwater depletions after 2025. A $7.5 billion water bond, another major effort at expanding the state’s already vast water storage and delivery infrastructure, was previously agreed upon and will be placed in front of voters on the November ballot.

The measures were passed hours before the legislative session came to a close, drawing the ire of state agricultural interests, which will likely be most affected by the new rules. The contentious final votes came not along Republican-Democratic lines but a rural-urban divide, with a bipartisan contingent from the agriculturally rich Central Valley staunchly opposed. In California, farmers use more than 80 percent of the state’s water. They’re also the most productive in the nation, leading the way in growing everythingfrom asparagus to walnuts. Farmers there deserve to get the majority of the state’s water, a resource they’ve molded into a multibillion dollar industry that feeds each of us every day. The problem is, there’s currently no real incentive to save dwindling aquifers there, as huge subsidies continue to tempt big agriculture into water-intensive crop choices. Last week’s actions by the state legislature are an attempt to change that.

Despite what essentially amounts to an unjust loss of water rights for Central Valley landowners, the bill should be celebrated. Without a legislative step of this magnitude, it’s only a matter of time before agriculture in its current form becomes impossible in California. Farmers must adapt to a future with less water, and there’s no time like the present.

Earlier this year, I wrote extensively about California water issues in a Slate series called the Thirsty West. On my drought-themed road trip, I met rancher and Tulare County Deputy Agricultural Commissioner Gavin Iacono and Central Valley almond farmer Benina Montes. This week, I spoke with both of them again by phone to gauge their initial reaction to the new regulations.

Iacono says the Central Valley has turned into an arms race of drilling for water. "It’s amazing in just my commute each day, how many well rigs I see out and around. It’s a one- to two-year wait to get a well crew in. I know people that are on a waiting list for four or five different well companies."

According to Montes, the new rules may help make things fairer. As it is currently, he says, "If you’ve got more money, you can go deeper. It’s like, ‘Great, you win.’ "

The drought has hit Iacono hard. This year, he sold his cattle herd because there was no hay left to feed them. Friends are starting to talk about leaving. "More and more, we’ve thought of it, too," he says.

He’s worried—with good reason—that the drought in California may just be getting started. New research led by Cornell University calculated up to a 50 percent chance of a 35-year megadrought later this century. Lead author Toby Ault told the university’s press office that "with ongoing climate change, [the current drought in the West] is a glimpse of things to come. It’s a preview of our future."

Said Iacono, "If that’s true, none of us will survive out here."

Still, Iacono says he has mixed feelings on the new rules. "If they limit how much [groundwater] you can use, that will dictate what crops you can grow. It’s going to lower your property value, and potentially your ability to use the land." He continued, "When you’re legislated out of something that’s been in your family for generations, it’s hard to stomach when you have other people telling you what you can and can’t do."

In the meantime, farmers like Montes are flying a bit blind. Montes pumps vast quantities of water each year for her family’s almond orchard, but has taken steps to try to be as efficient as possible, using drip irrigation and organic management methods. The new legislation should help encourage more farmers to adopt water-saving practices like these.

Montes repeated a groundwater analogy she overheard at a recent Farm Bureau meeting: "Right now we have a bank account, but you don’t really know how much is there. We can’t keep making withdrawals forever." She continued, "It’s hard, because nobody likes being told what to do, but we gotta protect it." More





Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Grain Harvest Fact Sheet

With grain providing much of the calories that sustain humanity, the status of the world grain harvest is a good indicator of the adequacy of the food supply.

Lester Brown

More than 2 billion tons of grain are produced each year worldwide, nearly half of it in just three countries: China, the United States, and India.

Corn, wheat, and rice account for most of the world’s grain harvest. Whereas rice and most wheat are consumed directly as food, corn is largely used for livestock and poultry feed, and for industrial purposes.

Global grain consumption has exceeded production in 8 of the last 14 years, leading to a drawdown in reserves.

Population growth is the oldest source of increasing grain demand. In recent years, the annual growth in grain use has doubled, largely a result of increased use for fuel ethanol and livestock and poultry feed.

In 2013, the United States harvested more than 400 million tons of grain. Of this, 129 million tons (30 percent) went to ethanol distilleries.

Rising yields are the key to expanding the grain harvest as there is little unused cropland. Since 1950, over 93 percent of world grain harvest growth has come from raising yields.

The global grain area planted per person has shrunk from about half an acre (0.2 hectares) in 1950 to a quarter acre (0.1 hectares) in 2013.

At 10 tons per hectare, U.S. corn yields are the highest of any major grain anywhere. In Iowa, some counties harvest up to 13 tons per hectare.

Global average grain yields more than tripled from 1.1 tons per hectare in 1950 to 3.5 tons per hectare in 2013. However, yield growth has slowed from 2.2 percent a year between 1950 and 1990 to 1.4 percent in the years since.

In France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, wheat yields have been flat for more than a decade. The story is similar for rice in Japan and South Korea.

World fertilizer use climbed from 14 million tons in 1950 to 181 million tons in 2013. But in many countries, fertilizer use has reached diminishing returns.

Since 2007, the world has experienced three major grain price spikes. The U.N. Food Price Index indicates that grain in 2014 was twice as expensive as in 2002–04.

Rising global temperatures threaten the world’s major food crops; the “rule of thumb” is that each 1-degree-Celsius rise in temperature (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) above the growing season optimum can cut productivity by at least 10 percent. More


Saturday, August 9, 2014

Which Ocean Species Will Outlast the Rising Acidity of Seawater?

Many of the projected effects of climate change on the world’s oceans are already visible, such as melting polar ice caps and rising sea levels. But invisible changes may be the most threatening to human food sources, beginning with the tiny species like plankton that inhabit the bottom of the oceans’ food chain.

Strength in numbers: A satellite’s view
of billions of E. huxleyi, blankets of tiny
plankton floating off the east coast of
southern England. Credit: NASA

As emissions from human activities increase atmospheric carbon dioxide, they, in turn, are modifying the chemical structure of global waters, making them more acidic.

Many researchers have speculated that most aquatic species won’t be able to adapt in time to survive the acidification that has already begun, but there are some who are more optimistic. One of them is Jennifer Sunday, a postdoctoral ecologist and evolutionary biologist at Canada’s Simon Fraser University.

“You hear people say species aren’t going to adapt in time,” she explained in an interview, “but I just knew that we don’t really know that. This really motivated me to start thinking about a study to test this. We can and did put some science and data to this question.”

Sunday and her team published a review earlier this year in Trends in Ecology and Evolution, aiming to help researchers improve their chances of finding potential survivors. It suggests that more studies should focus on identifying species with enough genetic variety to produce a mutant that can adapt.

Sunday feels that the better researchers get at searching for adapters, the more will be found.

The process that creates this risk is swift and globe-spanning. Oceans absorb roughly a quarter of the rising CO2 emissions from the atmosphere, so as that concentration increases, the oceans absorb more of the gas. In the past 150 years, human-induced climate change has changed the ocean acidity from roughly pH 8.3 to pH 8. (In the pH scale, 1 is most acidic, 7 is neutral and 14 is basic, or least acidic).

“It’s anywhere from 10 to 100 times faster than anything we’ve seen over the last million years,” said Richard Feely, a chemical oceanographer and senior researcher with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “That’s just according to our good records.” And acidity is only expected to rise.

“By the end of this century,” Feely said, “projections are an increase by another 100 to 130 percent.”

Which tiny sea creatures can win the lottery?Changes in pH levels can have massive effects on marine life, a fact that has led many scientists to believe that most species can’t withstand large increases in acidification. When CO2 mixes with ocean waters, it binds calcium molecules that are usually free for marine creatures to build shells. The more acidic waters can also corrode existing shells.

Sunday isn’t the first to try and isolate survivor species. Several teams worldwide have already been exploring the potential of marine life species to adapt to predicted climate changes.

In 2009, a European team published their research on the tiny circular plankton Emiliania huxleyi, made up of light-reflecting mineralized calcium ovals. These tiny plankton sometimes float in populations so large, they’ve been spotted from outer space.

Looking at strains of the plankton under varying CO2 levels, researchers found that while some plankton had difficulties forming their shells when the water was more acidic, others did not, causing researchers to speculate that the plankton might be able to use another form of calcium to substitute in shell making. Other studies have shown that certain species thought incapable of evolving quickly can, in fact, rapidly adapt.

Evolution is like a lottery. The faster a species reproduces, the greater the number of unique ticket combinations it creates in the genes of its offspring. For species that produce the right genetic mutation, their number is drawn and the prize is survival.

“This is particularly important when you want to look at a species’ ability to cope with change,” said Jennifer Pistevos, a master of research student at the Marine Biological Association, who studied clone populations of Celleporella hyalina, a tiny organism she found to have an amazing ability to reproduce in both more acidic and warmer water conditions.

“Faster reproduction rates give us a chance to see how vulnerable a species is,” Pistevos said.

In 2012, Sunday and colleagues spanning three continents reviewed past studies, and based on this work, propose future research dedicated to efforts to locate adapters by incorporating more experimental evolution into the studies.

Experimental evolution identifies members of a species born with the winning genetic ticket instead of those who can come up with the correct number during their lifetime. Being born with the winning ticket means these individuals may be able to ride the acidifying tides in the kind of time frame needed—which is immediately.

Questions that can’t be answered in the labSunday and her team also suggest more work should consider a species’ response to multiple environmental changes, such as increased temperature and oxidation levels, as well as multiple stages of life. Currently, many studies only follow a species at a specific point in its members’ lives, such as infancy. Without tracking an organism over its life span and in a complicated and changing environment, it’s hard to say whether observed changes will translate into overall survival.

Although Sunday sees her work as laying the groundwork for less pessimistic predictions of the future fate of marine life, not everyone agrees that the approach is realistic. Aran Mooney, a biologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute who studies the effects of ocean acidification on Atlantic long-fin squid larvae, said some methods Sunday recommends are not practical for studying all species.

“Overall, the review is very good for us,” he said. “The authors point out some great goals and the limitations we face.” But for species like squid, Mooney said, Sunday’s suggestions are unlikely to be used.

“Measuring squid evolution in the lab might be doable to some extent,” Mooney said, “but it isn’t really possible to raise multiple generations or even young to adult—[they] don’t do all that well in captivity.”

Though Sunday agreed that predicting exactly how oceans will look in the future remains hard, researchers are starting to look in the right places. “The question just seemed too difficult before,” she said. “We wanted to put our advice out there so people could see it’s not impossible for species to adapt in time.”

“I do predict some species will adapt,” concluded Sunday, “but not all. Ultimately, it’s pretty shocking to think we’ll be losing species and it will be because of us.” More

The third in a series. To see the first two parts, click here and here.