Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Great Change: Taking Our Carrots to Paris

The Great Change: Taking Our Carrots to Paris:

“Leave the sticks to others. We are carrot people." If we had one do-over for our presentation at the Paris COP21 Climate Su...

The Great Change: Taking our carrots to Paris. By Albert Bates

If we had one do-over for our presentation at the Paris COP21 Climate Summit, it would have been to bring along a voice recorder so we could have a better recollection of our talk. Caught up in the moment, trying to make non-functioning audio, video and skype connections work, and quickly, the idea of recording slipped by. We have only what we can pull from our feeble memory, so here we go.

Than it was our turn to take to the microphone and give a rousing close about the weaknesses of the proposed treaty, the cost of 20-years delay, and the need now to go beyond zero and take more carbon from the atmosphere than is being emitted. “Emissions reductions will not save us now,” we said, “but photosynthesis can.” We pointed to the sources and sinks, saying the atmosphere was passing its pollutants and heat to the oceans but the oceans were already overwhelmed. Only vegetation and soil remained as viable sinks. As climate warms further, as it must, they too will be stressed and absorption will diminish. Time is of the essence. We showed our slide from Exxon's recent report saying that the world will still be 85% dependent on fossil fuels in 2040. They base their conclusion on images such as this one, and assume that everyone would just as soon exchange the bullocks and handmade plow for a large horsepower tractor.

Actually, that method of plowing is obsolete. It releases gigatons of greenhouse gases from the very place where we can still safely store them — in the soil. That style is being replaced with a suite of tools that produce more food per land area and net sequester more carbon every year, build soil, store water, and increase the resiliency of land to withstand storms, floods and droughts. Our tools include no-till organic farming, agroforestry, aquaponics, keyline design, holistic management, remineralization, biochar from biomass energy production, and permaculture. According to recent report by the UN Commissioner on Human Rights, “ecoagriculture” is the ONLY way we are going to feed the population of the world by 2040. Then we need to go beyond that and perform what Mark Shepard calls “restoration agriculture,” building back the web of life and returning us to a garden planet. Click on the link below for the complete blog.




Friday, August 28, 2015

Humus depletion induced by climate change?

The yields of many important crops in Europe have been stagnating since the 1990s. As a result, the input of organic matter into the soil — the crucial source for humus formation — is decreasing.

Scientists from the Technical University Munich (TUM) suspect that the humus stocks of arable soils are declining due to the influence of climate change. Humus, however, is a key factor for soil functionality, which is why this development poses a threat to agricultural production — and, moreover, in a worldwide context.

In their study, which has been published in Science of the Total Environment (2015), scientists from the Technical University Munich (TUM) evaluated the crop yield statistics for EU countries compiled by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) since the 1960s. The yields for the three most important cereal crops, wheat, barley, and corn, have been stagnating in Central and Northern Europe for 20 years. “The stagnation in yields has only been statistically verifiable for a few years,” explains Dr. Martin Wiesmeier from the TUM Chair of Soil Science in Freising-Weihenstephan and first author of the study. This finding coincides with those of other studies, which confirm that crop yields, particularly in the case of cereals, are falling throughout the world.

“Due to the strong link between crop yields and the input of organic substances into the soil, the stagnation in yields must also have an impact on the humus stocks in the soil,” says TUM scientist Wiesmeier, “particularly in the context of the steady rise in temperatures.” Given that rising temperatures cause higher levels of humus decomposition while, at the same time, the supply of organic substances is stagnating, a depletion of humus must be expected in the long term.

Climate change and changes in EU agricultural policy as possible causes?

The cause of the yield stagnation has not yet been explained but is probably due to a variety of factors: “Following the introduction of new priorities with the joint EU agricultural policy of the 1990s, among other things, less fertilizer was used and leguminous plants were often omitted from crop rotation cycles,” explains Wiesmeier’s co-author Dr. Rico Hübner from the Chair for Strategic Landscape Planning and Management, also in Weihenstephan. “Few authors have discussed this as a reason for the stagnation in crop yields,” he notes.

However, the changes in climatic conditions arising from climate change could represent a far more important factor here: i.e. temperatures that increasingly exceed the optimum level for plant growth, like those experienced this summer, shifts in the vegetation periods, and more frequent droughts. “This inevitably leads to stagnation in crop biomass production and reduced inputs of organic matter into the soil,” says Wiesmeier.

Moreover, livestock numbers in Europe have also declined significantly since the 1980s. “The spreading of organic fertilizer, another important source of organic matter, is also falling as a result,” adds Wiesmeier.

Early signs of a reduction in humus stocks due to the stagnating harvest yields can already be observed. Initial indications of humus depletion in arable soil have been observed in almost all EU countries in recent years.

Interdisciplinary research group

While many previous studies predicted a future increase in humus levels as a result of climate change, based on their current findings, the TUM scientists are critical of this assumption: If the input of organic matter stagnates, soil will lose some of its humus in the long term. “If this trend continues, it could have negative impacts on soil fertility and water storage capacity,” concludes TUM scientist Wiesmeier. “This, in turn, could ultimately result in poorer harvests — a vicious circle,” he adds.

To counteract the problem, agriculture needs to make far greater use of positive measures for the promotion of humus formation. “These include the diversification of crop rotation, the application of green manure and winter greening to reduce soil erosion, optimized soil cultivation, organic farming, agroforestry, and leaving crop residues on fields,” explains Hübner. The study authors also consider that interdisciplinary research on the causes of yield stagnation and humus depletion is essential, “as a single discipline alone cannot solve this problem.”

Story Source:

The above post is reprinted from materials provided by Technical University of Munich (TUM).



Sunday, July 5, 2015

New NASA data show how the world is running out of water

The world’s largest underground aquifers – a source of fresh water for hundreds of millions of people — are being depleted at alarming rates, according to new NASA satellite data that provides the most detailed picture yet of vital water reserves hidden under the Earth’s surface.

Twenty-one of the world’s 37 largest aquifers — in locations from India and China to the United States and France — have passed their sustainability tipping points, meaning more water was removed than replaced during the decade-long study period, researchers announced Tuesday. Thirteen aquifers declined at rates that put them into the most troubled category. The researchers said this indicated a long-term problem that’s likely to worsen as reliance on aquifers grows.

Scientists had long suspected that humans were taxing the world’s underground water supply, but the NASA data was the first detailed assessment to demonstrate that major aquifers were indeed struggling to keep pace with demands from agriculture, growing populations, and industries such as mining.

“The situation is quite critical,” said Jay Famiglietti, senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California and principal investigator of the University of California Irvine-led studies.

Underground aquifers supply 35 percent of the water used by humans worldwide. Demand is even greater in times of drought. Rain-starved California is currently tapping aquifers for 60 percent of its water use as its rivers and above-ground reservoirs dry up, a steep increase from the usual 40 percent. Some expect water from aquifers will account for virtually every drop of the state’s fresh water supply by year end

The aquifers under the most stress are in poor, densely populated regions, such as northwest India, Pakistan and North Africa, where alternatives are limited and water shortages could quickly lead to instability.

The researchers used NASA’s GRACE satellites to take precise measurements of the world’s groundwater aquifers. The satellites detected subtle changes in the Earth’s gravitational pull, noting where the heavier weight of water exerted a greater pull on the orbiting spacecraft. Slight changes in aquifer water levels were charted over a decade, from 2003 to 2013.

“This has really been our first chance to see how these large reservoirs change over time,” said Gordon Grant, a research hydrologist at Oregon State University, who was not involved in the studies.

But the NASA satellites could not measure the total capacity of the aquifers. The size of these tucked-away water supplies remains something of a mystery. Still, the satellite data indicated that some aquifers may be much smaller than previously believed, and most estimates of aquifer reserves have “uncertainty ranges across orders of magnitude,” according to the research.

Aquifers can take thousands of years to fill up and only slowly recharge with water from snowmelt and rains. Now, as drilling for water has taken off across the globe, the hidden water reservoirs are being stressed.

“The water table is dropping all over the world,” Famiglietti said. “There’s not an infinite supply of water.”

The health of the world’s aquifers varied widely, mostly dependent on how they were used. In Australia, for example, the Canning Basin in the country’s western end had the third-highest rate of depletion in the world. But the Great Artesian Basin to the east was among the healthiest.

The difference, the studies found, is likely attributable to heavy gold and iron ore mining and oil and gas exploration near the Canning Basin. Those are water-intensive activities.

The world’s most stressed aquifer — defined as suffering rapid depletion with little or no sign of recharging — was the Arabian Aquifer, a water source used by more than 60 million people. That was followed by the Indus Basin in India and Pakistan, then the Murzuk-Djado Basin in Libya and Niger.

California’s Central Valley Aquifer was the most troubled in the United States. It is being drained to irrigate farm fields, where drought has led to an explosion in the number of water wells being drilled. California only last year passed its first extensive groundwater regulations. But the new law could take two decades to take full effect.

Also running a negative balance was the Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plains Aquifer, which stretches across the southeast coast and Florida. But three other aquifers in the middle of the country appeared to be in relatively good shape.

Some groundwater filters back down to aquifers, such as with field irrigation. But most of it is lost to evaporation or ends up being deposited in oceans, making it harder to use. A 2012 study by Japanese researchers attributed up to 40 percent of the observed sea-level rise in recent decades to groundwater that had been pumped out, used by humans and ended up in the ocean.

Famiglietti said problems with groundwater are exacerbated by global warming, which has caused the regions closest to the equator to get drier and more extreme latitudes to experience wetter and heavier rains. A self-reinforcing cycle begins. People living in mid-range latitudes not only pump more water from aquifers to contend with drier conditions, but that water — once removed from the ground — also then evaporates and gets recirculated to areas far north and south.

The studies were published Tuesday in the Water Resources Research journal.

Famiglietti said he hoped the findings would spur discussion and further research into how much groundwater is left.

“We need to get our heads together on how we manage groundwater,” he said, “because we’re running out of it.” More



Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Groundwater from aquifers important factor in food security

Thirsty cities, fields and livestock drink deeply from aquifers, natural sources of groundwater. But a study of three of the most-tapped aquifers in the United States shows that overdrawing from these resources could lead to difficult choices affecting not only domestic food security but also international markets.

University of Illinois professors of civil and environmental engineering Ximing Cai and Megan Konar, along with graduate student Landon Marston and Lehigh University professor Tara Troy, studied groundwater consumption from three main systems. Reliance on these aquifers intensified so much from 2000 to 2008 that it accounted for 93 percent of groundwater depletion in the U.S. They published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The U.S. Geological Survey identifies the Central Valley aquifer in California, the High Plains aquifer in the Great Plains states, and the Mississippi Embayment aquifer in the lower Midwest as being managed unsustainably, which means that is being extracted from the aquifer faster than it is replenishing.

"Deep groundwater is like natural gas. If you use it, it takes a while to recharge," Cai said. "Unsustainable usage means the water table is lowered, which makes it more difficult and more expensive to pump water since we have to keep going deeper. It also affects ecosystems associated with the water table, such as streams and wetlands."

The researchers tracked water consumption from the aquifers to see where the water was going, both in terms of geography and usage. For example, when water was used to irrigate a crop, the researchers tracked where those crops were shipped.

"When we think of water, we think of direct water, the water that comes out of our faucets. But we actually use a lot of embodied water in our everyday lives – the water footprint to produce a product," Konar said. "We looked at the water implicitly being transferred between states and countries in the products."

The researchers found that the vast majority – 91 percent – of embodied groundwater from these three aquifers stayed within the U.S. The remaining 9 percent was exported internationally. They identified the states most heavily reliant on each aquifer, and the breakdown of what was produced using water from each aquifer. For example, the largest percentage of water from the High Plains aquifer irrigated grains, while the largest contribution from the Central Valley aquifer in California went to producing meat. See the infographic for the detailed findings.

The researchers hope that having detailed information on how aquifer water is used, and the complex economic and environmental implications of that use, can help policy makers in their decisions about water resource management.

"The issue here is the tradeoffs. That's the difficulty for the decision makers," Cai said. "There is a tradeoff between the environment and economic profit, and there is a trade-off between the current use and future use. The environment is affected, the food markets are affected, the resources for fisheries are affected. That helps the decision makers understand the issue. I think this information is also important for the public to understand the issue."

The researchers feel that the study is also important for international leaders, as any decisions will affect global food production and prices. Although the international exports represented a small percent of the overall water consumption, the exported goods account for a large market share in the countries that import them, the study found.

Next, the researchers plan to study major watersheds in the U.S. to gain a more comprehensive picture of natural water resources in the United States. They are interested in detailing water use under variable conditions, both in terms of economic and environmental impact.

"Managing water resources for the future is especially important because future rainfall patterns are going to be more variable, with more droughts predicted," Konar said. "As we're seeing in California, they were really lucky to have aquifers to rely on during a drought. We don't want to deplete these aquifer supplies, so that when we get into these drought situations, we have some emergency backup." More

More information: "Virtual groundwater transfers from overexploited aquifers in the United States" PNAS 2015 ; published ahead of print June 29, 2015, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1500457112


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Century of Water Shortage Ahead? Lake Mead Drops Below Rationing Line For First Time in Its History.

Lake Mead Drops Below Rationing Line For First Time in Its History.

1075 feet. That’s the water level Lake Mead must stay above before mandatory multi-state water rationing goes into effect. A level just 25 feet above the highest intake pipe used to supply cities across the Desert Southwest. Last night water levels at the key national water storage facility fell below that hard line to 1074.99 feet — a record low never before seen in all of its history.

If water levels remain below the 1075 foot mark through January of 2016, then a multi-state rationing will go into effect (with most acute impacts for Arizona and Nevada). A rationing that will have serious consequences for desert cities across the Southwest, cities like Las Vegas which rely on Lake Mead for so much of their water.

Despite Lake Mead hitting the 1075 hard line, it appears that rationing may be forestalled through 2016. It’s a silver lining of all the severe summer storms that have rolled through the Colorado River Basin this spring and summer — pumping up water flows to Lake Mead and Lake Powell. A flush of much needed moisture that will, hopefully, prevent water rationing from going into effect during 2016. But prospects for the future, despite this temporary respite, are starting to look a bit grim.

Risk of Future Megadrought

The trend set in place by a human-forced warming of the Desert Southwest has resulted in an increasing number of dry years. The added heat forces water to evaporate more rapidly. So even when it does rain an average amount, moisture levels still fall. The result is not only an increase in single year droughts, but an increased risk of decadal droughts (called megadroughts).

As the years progress and more of the impacts of human-forced global warming become apparent, the drought impacts and severe drought risks are only expected to rise. For according to a recent Cornell University report (2014) the chance of a 10 year drought for the US Southwest under a moderate warming scenario (RCP 4.5) is 50% this century (greater for states like Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada — see graphic below). The chances of a 30 year drought range from 20-50 percent depending on the severity of the human greenhouse gas emission. More


Parched Caribbean faces widespread drought, water shortages

The worst drought in five years is creeping across the Caribbean, prompting officials around the region to brace for a bone dry summer.

From Puerto Rico to Cuba to the eastern Caribbean island of St. Lucia, crops are withering, reservoirs are drying up and cattle are dying while forecasters worry that the situation could only grow worse in the coming months.

Thanks to El Nino, a warming of the tropical Pacific that affects global weather, and a quieter-than-normal hurricane season that began in June, forecasters expect a shorter wet season. That means less rain to help refill Puerto Rico's thirsty Carraizo and La Plata reservoirs as well as the La Plata river in the central island community of Naranjito. A tropical disturbance that hit the U.S. territory on Monday did not fill up those reservoirs as officials had anticipated.

Puerto Rico is among the Caribbean islands worst-hit by the , with more than 1.5 million people affected by the drought so far, according to the U.S. National Drought Mitigation Center.

Tens of thousands of people receive water only every third day under strict rationing recently imposed by the island government. Puerto Rico last week also activated National Guard troops to help distribute water and approved a resolution to impose fines on people and businesses for improper water use.

The Caribbean's last severe drought was in 2010. The current one could grow worse if the hurricane season ending in November produces scant rainfall and the region enters the dry season with parched reservoirs, said Cedric Van Meerbeeck, a climatologist with the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology.

"We might have serious water shortages ... for irrigation of crops, firefighting, domestic consumption or consumption by the hotel sector," he said.

The Caribbean isn't the only area in the Western Hemisphere dealing with extreme water shortages. Brazil has been struggling with its own severe drought that has drained reservoirs serving the metropolis of Sao Paulo.

In the Caribbean, the farm sector has lost more than $1 million in crops as well as tens of thousands of dollars in livestock, said Norman Gibson, scientific officer at the Trinidad-based Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute.

On St. Lucia, which has been especially hard hit, farmers say crops including coconuts, cashews and oranges are withering.

"The outlook is very, very bad," said Anthony Herman, who oversees a local farm cooperative. "The trees are dying, the plants are dying ... It's stripping the very life of rivers."

Officials in Cuba say 75 percent of the island is enduring a drought that has killed cattle and destroyed thousands of hectares (acres) of crops including plantains, citrus, rice and beans. Recent heavy rains in some areas have alleviated the problem some, but all 200 government-run reservoirs are far below capacity.

In the nearby Dominican Republic, water shortages have been reported in hundreds of communities, said Martin Melendez, a civil engineer and hydrology expert who has worked as a government consultant. "We were 30 days away from the entire water system collapsing," he said.

The tourism sector has also been affected.

Most large hotels in Puerto Rico have big water tanks and some recycle wastewater to irrigate green areas, but many have curtailed water use, said Frank Comito, CEO of the Florida-based Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association.

Other hotels have cut back on sprinkler time by up to 50 percent, said Carlos Martinez of Puerto Rico's Association of Hotels. "Everybody here is worried," he said. "They are selling water tanks like hot cakes ... and begging God for rain."

Guests at Puerto Rico's El Canario by the Lagoon hotel get a note with their room keys asking them to keep their showers short amid the water shortage. "We need your cooperation to avoid waste," says the message distributed at the front desk of the hotel in the popular Condado district.

At the Casa del Vega guesthouse in St. Lucia, tourists sometimes find the in their rooms turned off for the day, preventing them from taking a shower. "Even though we have a drought guests are not sympathetic to that," hotel manager Merlyn Compton said. More


Monday, June 22, 2015

Society will collapse by 2040 due to catastrophic food shortages, says Foreign Office-funded study

A scientific model supported by the [UK's] Foreign Office has suggested that society will collapse in less than three decades due to catastrophic food shortages if policies do not change.

The model, developed by a team at Anglia Ruskin University’s Global Sustainability Institute, does not account for society reacting to escalating crises by changing global behaviour and policies.

However the model does show that our current way of life appears to be unsustainable and could have dramatic worldwide consequences.

Dr Aled Jones, the Director of the Global Sustainability Institute, told Insurge Intelligence: "We ran the model forward to the year 2040, along a business-as-usual trajectory based on ‘do-nothing’ trends — that is, without any feedback loops that would change the underlying trend.

"The results show that based on plausible climate trends, and a total failure to change course, the global food supply system would face catastrophic losses, and an unprecedented epidemic of food riots.

"In this scenario, global society essentially collapses as food production falls permanently short of consumption."

The model follows a report from Lloyds of London which has evaluated the extent of the impact of a shock scenario on crop production, and has concluded that the "global food system is under chronic pressure."

The report said: "The global food system is under chronic pressure to meet an ever-rising demand, and its vulnerability to acute disruptions is compounded by factors such as climate change, water stress, ongoing globalisation and heightening political instability. More


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

To fight desertification, let's manage our land better

Every year, we lose 24 billion tons of fertile soil to erosion and 12 million hectares of land to desertification and drought. This threatens the lives and livelihoods of 1.5 billion people now.

In the future, desertification could displace up to 135 million people by 2045. Land degradation could also reduce global food production by up to 12% and push world food prices up by 30%. In Egypt, Ghana, Central African Republic, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Paraguay, land degradation could cause an annual GDP loss of up to 7%.

Pressure on land resources is expected to increase as populations grow, socio-economic development happens and the climate changes. A growing population will demand more food, which means that unsuitable or especially biodiverse land will be claimed for farming and be more vulnerable to degradation. Increased fertilizer and pesticide use related to agriculture will increase nutrient loading in soils, causing eutrophication and declines in fertility over time. Climate change will also aggravate land degradation—especially in drylands, which occupy 40% of global land area, and are inhabited by some 2 billion people. Urban areas, which are located in the world’s highly fertile areas, could grow to account for more than 5% of global land by mid-century.

Unless we manage our land better, every person will rely on just .11 hectares of land for their food; down from .45 hectares in 1960.

So how do we manage land better?

It will all come down to what we do with our soil, which is the most significant natural capital for ensuring food, water, and energy security while adapting and building resilience to climate change and shocks. The soil’s nutrient cycling provides the largest contribution (51%) of the total value (USD33 trillion) of all ‘ecosystem services’ provided each year. But soil’s important function is often forgotten as the missing link in our pursuit of sustainable development.

We must invest in applicable solutions that are transformative, and can be scaled up. Climate-smart agriculture is an alternative approach to managing land sustainably whilst increasing agricultural productivity. It includes land management options that sequester carbon and enhance resilience to climate change. Proven climate-smart practices such as agroforestry, integrated soil fertility management, conservation agriculture, and improved irrigation can ensure that land is used optimally, restored and managed in a manner that maximizes ecological, economic and social benefits.

But climate-smart agriculture requires conducive policy frameworks, increased investment, and judicious policy management. Rural poverty is often a product of policies that discriminate against small landholders, forcing them off the land, creating sub-optimal land use outcomes, and long term degradation. Secure land rights are necessary for climate-smart agriculture, providing incentives for local communities to manage land more sustainably. In Rwanda, for instance, land tenure reform rapidly doubled investment in soil conservation, with even larger increases for plots managed by female farmers.

Second, there is need for increased national investment in climate smart agriculture. For technologies such as conservation agriculture that require substantial up-front investment in machinery and other inputs, schemes such as those involving payment for ecosystem services may be more effective in promoting CSA technology adoption. For technologies such as agroforestry systems, innovative finance mechanisms that help farmers bridge the period between when trees are planted, mature and generate income can be decisive.

Third, in some cases, direct public investment in landscape restoration and rehabilitation can bring about sizeable livelihood benefits and create better conditions for attracting further investments by farmers and communities. The China Loess Plateau is a well-documented success story of landscape restoration. Similar experiences are happening in Ethiopia, Kazakhstan and Senegal.

Fourth, a number of improved land management technologies are knowledge-intensive, and promoting their adoption will require training. Conservation agriculture for instance entails sophisticated combinations of no-tillage, residue management, use of cover crops, and other activities and practices that many farmers have limited experience with. The knowledge base of local land management practices can also be improved through targeted capacity development programs.

Many demand-side interventions can strategically break the adoption barriers associated with climate-smart practices. These include: providing farmers with improved weather forecasting, weather-indexed crop insurance, and measures to reduce production variability such as drought-tolerant crops, deep-rooted crops, and irrigation. These should be combined with supply-side measures such as lowering trade barriers to increase national and regional market size, improving road and rail infrastructure to lower transport costs, and improving market information systems to increase farmers’ access to markets.

Lastly, public support is as crucial as the amount of support to fully realize the productivity, adaptation, and mitigation benefits in agriculture. Public support that focuses on research, investments in improved land management, and land tenure rather than on input support is generally more effective, benefits more farmers, and is more sustainable in the long run.

Actions to reduce the negative impacts of land degradation and desertification must indeed go hand in hand with interventions that eradicate poverty and address inequality. Without them, we will not end poverty and boost shared prosperity. More


Monday, April 20, 2015

Turning Ethiopia's desert green

A generation ago Ethiopia’s Tigray province was stricken by a famine that shocked the world. Today, as Chris Haslam reports, local people are using ancient techniques to turn part of the desert green.

People performing their 20 days of compulsory community labour

In the pink-streaked twilight, a river of humanity is flowing across Tigray’s dusty Hawzien plain. This cracked and desiccated landscape, in Ethiopia’s far north, occupies a dark corner of the global collective memory. Thirty years ago, not far from here, the BBC’s Michael Buerk first alerted us to a biblical famine he described as “the closest thing to hell on earth”.

Then Bob Geldof wrote Do They Know It’s Christmas? - a curious question to ask of perhaps the world’s most devoutly Christian people - and thereafter the name Tigray became synonymous with refugees, Western aid and misery. The Tigrayan people were depicted as exemplars of passive suffering, dependent on the goodwill of the rest of the planet just to get through the day without dying.

But here, outside the village of Abr’ha Weatsbaha, I’m seeing a different version. From all directions, streams of people are trickling into that human river. You hear them before you see them - some chatting excitedly, others singing hymns - as they converge on a viciously steep valley at the edge of the plain. They were summoned before dawn by horns, an Old Testament echo calling every able-bodied man and woman over 18 years of age to report for the first of 20 days of compulsory community labour. Their job, quite simply, is to tame the desert.

“This is how the Axumite kings got stuff done 2,000 years ago,” says my guide Zablon Beyene. “With the same tools, too.

By 10 in the morning, some 3,000 people have turned up. Using picks, shovels, iron bars and their bare hands, they will turn these treacherous slopes into neat staircases of rock-walled terraces that will trap the annual rains, forcing the water to percolate into the soil rather than running off in devastating, ground-ripping flash floods.

“Sisters are doing it for themselves,” says Kidane, a pick-wielding Amazon whose arched eyebrow suggests I might want to put down my camera and do some actual work. Brothers, too: from strapping, sweat-shiny youths to Ephraim, a legless old man who clearly ignored the bit about being able-bodied and sits on his stumps, rolling rocks downhill to the terrace builders.

Overseeing this extraordinary effort is 58-year-old Aba Hawi, Abr’ha Weatsbaha’s community leader. Short, pot-bellied and bearded, he darts from one side of the valley to the other, barking orders into his mobile phone, slapping backs and showing the youngsters the proper way to split half-ton boulders. Rumour has it that Aba Hawi once took up arms to fight for Tigrayan independence, but these days he prefers to describe himself as “just a farmer”.

Either way, his tireless leadership has brought a miraculous transformation to this sun-blasted land. In just a decade, entire mountains have been terraced. Once you had to dig 50ft (15m) down to find water. Now it’s just 10ft, and 94 acres (38 hectares) of former desert have been transformed into fertile fields. Families are now reaping three harvests a year from fields of corn, chillis, onions and potatoes. Free-range grazing for sheep, goats and cattle has been banned, allowing new forests of eucalyptus and acacias to take root, and Aba Hawi is particularly keen to show me what he’s done with the deep flash-flood canyons that rive the plain.

We take a long, hot hike to a vast pool of cool, green water held back by a huge hand-built dam. “We’ve built 85 of these check-dams so far,” says Aba Hawi, “and you can see how they work. These mini-reservoirs fill up during the rains and are fed by groundwater in times of drought. Now, every farmer has a well.” He tosses a handful of dust into the wind. “Ten years ago, that was our land.” Then he points at a shimmering blue flash in the reeds. “Now look: we’ve got malachite kingfishers living in the desert.”

But success brings its own problems. Abr’ha Weatsbaha is now facing an immigration problem as people from neighbouring valleys clamour for their share of Aba Hawi’s oasis.

“They shouldn’t need to come here,” he says. “Every district in Tigray is supposed to be using compulsory community labour for terracing but, well…” he shrugs with just a tad of false modesty… “not all community leaders are so, er, committed.”

And as fear of starvation fades, Aba Hawi faces new demands.

“People want electricity now,” he sighs.

I’m interested in his views of where God comes into all this. After all, this valley was once the physical definition of the term “Godforsaken.”

Aba Hawi disagrees. “God was here when the land was bad,” he says. “And he’s still here. But God will only help those who help themselves.” More


Monday, March 23, 2015

Climate change blamed as erratic downpours hit Pakistan’s harvests

Late rains were unusually heavy this year, say local farmers, affecting winter crops of wheat, oilseed and potato.

Anxious farmers in Pakistan waited for weeks for the rains to arrive – but when the skies finally opened, the downpour was so intense it destroyed crops and put the harvest in jeopardy.

"We weather scientists are really in shock, and so are farmers, who have suffered economic losses due to crop damage," says Muzammil Hussain, a weather forecasting scientist at the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD).

"The wind from the southeast has carried moisture from the Arabian Sea. Normally, the northeast wind brings rain during winter, and the southeast wind brings monsoon rains in summer. But the pattern has changed this year because of what is believed to be global warming."

Farmers across much of Pakistan plant winter crops of wheat, oilseed and potato late in the year and wait for rains to water the land.

This year, the rains arrived more than three weeks late and were unusually heavy, accompanied by violent hailstorms. Along with the rains, temperatures also dropped.

Ibrahim Mughal, chairman of the Pakistan Agri Forum, says excessive moisture due to heavy bouts of late rain is likely to lead to outbreaks of fungus on crops, and production could be halved.

"If the rains come a month ahead of the harvesting time [April to mid-May], it is always disastrous," he says. "It can hit production for a crop such as wheat by between 20% and 30%, and if the rain is accompanied by hailstorms and winds then the losses can escalate to more than 50%."

Arif Mahmood, a former director general at PMD, says the onset of winter across much of Pakistan is being delayed by two to three days every year, and there is an urgent need for farmers to adapt to such changes.

"Over recent years, winter has been delayed by 25 to 30 days, and also the intensity of the cold has increased, which has affected almost every field of life − from agriculture to urban life."

This year has also been marked by abrupt changes in temperature. Ghulam Rasul, a senior scientist at PMD, says big swings in temperature are likely to add to the problems being faced by millions of farmers in Pakistan.

"The average temperature during the first two weeks [of March] was between 11 and 13 degrees Celsius, but now it’s on a continuous upward trend and has reached 26˚C over the space of two days," he reports.

"The winter rains in the north and central area of Pakistan, and the sudden rise and fall in temperature, are related to climate change."

Serious damage

Similar storms and late winter rains have also caused serious damage across large areas of northern India.

The states of Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra – the two most populous states in the country – have been particularly badly hit.

In Maharashtra, snow and landslides have blocked roads and cut off towns and villages.

In Uttar Pradesh, there are fears that more than 50% of the wheat crop has been lost in the eastern part of the state. More

This article was produced by the Climate News Network

For the Pakistan Metorlogical Department to claim be shocked by this event says to me that they have obviously not been following the global climate change discussion. Farming methods and water control and harvesting will have to change to mitigate the changing climate. Permaculture farming methods would be a good place to start. See http://permaculturenews.org/about-permaculture-and-the-pri/ Editor


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

FAO Reports Address Disaster Risk Management in Fisheries and Aquaculture

March 2015: The Fisheries and Aquaculture Department of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) has published a number of reports addressing climate change vulnerability in fisheries and aquaculture based on six regional studies, and disaster risk management (DRM) in fisheries and aquaculture in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the wider Caribbean region.

The report titled ‘Climate Change Vulnerability in Fisheries and Aquaculture: A Synthesis of Six Regional Studies' came about due to the scarcity of information on climate impacts on the sector, with FAO launching six regional case studies to fill the information gaps and provide guidance towards adaptation planning. The case studies, which were undertaken in the Lake Chad Basin, the Caribbean, the Mekong Delta, the Benguela Current, the Pacific Island countries and territories, and Latin America, aimed to: define vulnerability to climate change by understanding potential impacts, sensitivities to such changes and adaptive capacity; identify knowledge gaps in assessing vulnerability; and identify strategies for, and provide policy guidance in reducing vulnerability to climate change.

The other publications focus specifically on DRM and adaptation in the Caribbean. A regional report from a workshop held in Kingston, Jamaica, from 10-12 December 2012, on formulating a strategy, action plan and programme for fisheries and aquaculture, addresses: resilience building and the reduction of vulnerabilities; the regional trend towards adaptation; the development of a regional DRM framework; and regional initiatives in advancing DRM and adaptation. The workshop recommended finalizing and implementing a strategy, action plan and programme proposal in order to strengthen regional and national cooperation, and develop capacity in addressing climate change impacts and disasters in fisheries and aquaculture.

Another document describes a series of local, national and regional programme proposals for the Caribbean. The strategy and action plan publication discusses: mainstreaming climate change adaptation strategies into sustainable development; promoting the implementation of specific adaptation measures to address regional vulnerabilities; promoting actions to reduce emissions through fossil fuel reduction and conservation, and transitioning to renewable and cleaner energy sources; promoting actions to reduce the vulnerability to the impacts of climate change in CARICOM countries; and promoting efforts to gain social, economic and environmental benefits from managing forests in the Caribbean. More

[Publication: Climate Change Vulnerability in Fisheries and Aquaculture: A Synthesis of Six Regional Studies] [Publication: DRM and Climate Change Adaptation in the CARICOM and Wider Caribbean Region: Formulating a Strategy, Action Plan and Programme for Fisheries and Aquaculture] [Publication: DRM and Climate Change Adaptation in the CARICOM and Wider Caribbean Region: Programme Proposals] [Publication: DRM and Climate Change Adaptation in the CARICOM and Wider Caribbean Region: Strategy and Action Plan]


Monday, March 9, 2015

Police will “guard” the water for those who can pay for it, while we die of thirst."

So says a protester walking though the streets of Sao Paul as water service is being drastically cut due to a relentless drought in Brazils most populous state. The 20 million people that live in Sao Paulo, Brazil have run out of water and things are starting to get ugly really fast.

Secretly recorded, Paulo Massato, the metropolitan director of the São Paulo state-run water utility, said that people might have to flee the city. "There's not enough water, there won't be water to bathe, to clean," says Massato. Fears of what comes next has begun and thousands took to the streets recently walking from the poor neighborhoods and marching past wealthy residential towers most of which have their own water tanks, to the Bandeirantes Palace in Morumbi, where the official residence of the governor (State of Sao Paolo Geraldo Alckmin) is located.

A demonstrator holds up a bucket with a sign reading "Water, Yes," in reference to water rationing in Sao Paulo January 29, 2015. Residents of Brazil's largest city, Sao Paulo, could soon only have running water two days a week. (REUTERS/Nacho Doce)

São Paulo, along with 93 smaller localities around Brazil, is facing drastic water shortages that could mean up to five days a week without running water starting in April. The mega-city’s largest reservoir, which supplies about 30 percent of the 20 million people living in the metropolitan region, is currently at only 5.1 percent of its capacity. It’s all the result of a severe drought that has extended throughout Brazil’s Southeastern region, and could soon lead to water rationing for as much as 40 percent of the population.

Aside from practical residential concerns, the shortage has affected industry and agriculture across the region, including the production of hydroelectricity, a key component of Brazil’s power grid. Even the carnaval is threatened—celebrations have been cancelled in some dry municipalities and the Río samba groups are altering their choreography to eliminate traditionally prominent water us.

The latest must-have item in the city is a rainwater cistern. A local group created in October, Cisterna Já, teaches city residents how to make their own mini-cisterns, allowing them to cut back on increasingly expensive and scarce public water supplies.

Consumption in the metropolitan region has already been reduced by a quarter, according to the president of Sabesp, the city’s water utility. Yet the main water loss culprit isn’t long showers, but rather leaky pipes. In order to address the problem, he explained in a recent op-ed, about 64,000 kilometers of buried pipes would have to be replaced.

Experts say they are concerned there is little practical preparation for upcoming shortages and argue that few relevant policy measures are being put into place.

The roots of the water shortage can be traced back to deforestation and industrialization across the region, according to Marcos Sorrentino, a professor of education and environmental policy at the University of São Paulo. A lack of political will to address the problem has led São Paulo to maintain a system of wasteful water distribution and consumption, and the city has missed opportunities to implement water saving and reuse technologies, Sorrentino says.

Residential water use only accounts for an estimated 6 percent of water usage in the region, which means that even if Paulistas stopped bathing altogether they won’t be able to resolve the “crisis de agua,” as it’s called locally. “Agriculture and industry, the biggest consumers, are only now being mobilized to commit to reducing consumption,” says Sorrentino.

A recent study found that 95 percent of businesses, industries, hospitals and hotels in the state of São Paulo don’t have a water supply contingency plan. “Lack of water will certainly compromise the operations of places that depend on the public water system,” says Rodnei Domingues, the study’s coordinator.

Sorrentino is particularly concerned about the drought’s impact on food prices, and notes that there have already been several water shortage-related protests. “The discontent of the population of the cities in which rationing has started is very large and it is not difficult to predict effects on public health and the expansion of urban violence,” he says.

The drought began last austral summer (December to February), when São Paulo state received about one-third to half of its usual amount of rain during what should have been its wettest season. In the seven months since, rainfall has been about 40 percent of normal. Across southeastern Brazil, production of key crops like coffee and sugar are in steep decline, and citizens are facing periodic outages in the water supply—even as news agencies report that local water authorities have not instituted conservation measures.

“The climate of the region is seasonal, with a rainy summer and a dry winter, and the drought has extended through the current dry season and the past rainy season,” noted Marcos Heil Costa, climate scientist at the Universidade Federal de Viçosa. “To make things worse, the onset of the rainy season—which usually happens in late September or early October—has not happened yet.”

“For the last rainy season, the pattern [of reduced rainfall] has been observed in the past, though the intensity was unprecedented this year,” Costa added. “For the dry season, coincidence or not, it looks exactly like what has been predicted by IPCC for a warmer climate. And it is now clear that our policies on management of water resources are unsustainable. No city in southeast Brazil seems prepared to handle a drought like this one. It is a mix of a lack of preparation for low levels of rain and a lack of environmental education in the population. Most people continue to use water as if we were in a normal year.” More


Friday, March 6, 2015

Water for Life Voices' Exhibition in UN Headquarters to highlight progress during the Water Decade

Water for Life Voices' Exhibition in UN Headquarters to highlight progress during the Water Decade

Date: 9 March to 14 April 2015 - Place: UN Headquarters, New York, United States

Organiser: UN-Water Decade Programmeon Advocacy and Communication (UNW-DPAC)

Achieving the Water for Life Decade’s goals has needed sustained commitment, engagement, cooperation and investment from all. As the Decade is officially drawing to a close in 2015, the UN-Water Decade Programme on Advocacy and Communication (UNW-DPAC)wants to show how people’s efforts have contributed to its success. To this end, the Water for Life Voices campaign has gathered the voices of those whose life has changed over the last 10 years due to water and sanitation. Selected contributions from the campaign will form the exhibition at the UN Headquarters from 9 March to 14 April 2015. It is hoped that the exhibition will bring the voices of beneficiaries of water programmes over the Decade and highlight the human aspect of water programmes, and thus help support the inclusion of such considerations into the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). As Josefina Maestu, Director of the Office to support the Water for Life Decade, explains: "This exhibit brings the lives and voices of the beneficiaries of water programmes right into the halls of the UN General Assembly. It serves as a reminder to the UN’s top decision makers of just how much impact their work has had on people over the last Decade. It should also show visitors how much has been done, and how much there is yet to do to ensure continued development and progress for all the world’s peoples."

>> Access the Water for Life Voices website!

>> More on the Water for Life Voices campaign



Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Climate change key in Syrian conflict – and it will trigger more war in future

Climate change was a key driver of the Syrian uprising, according to research which warns that global warming is likely to unleash more wars in the coming decades, with Eastern Mediterranean countries such as Jordan and Lebanon particularly at risk.

Experts have long predicted that climate change will be a major source of conflict as drought and rising temperatures hurt agriculture, putting a further strain on resources in already unstable regimes.

But the Syria conflict is the first war that scientists have explicitly linked to climate change. Researchers say that global warming intensified the region’s worst-ever drought, pushing the country into civil war by destroying agriculture and forcing an exodus to cities already straining from poverty, an influx of refugees from war-torn Iraq next door and poor government, the report finds.

“Added to all the other stressors, climate change helped kick things over the threshold into open conflict,” said report co-author Richard Seager, of Columbia University in New York.

“I think this is scary and it’s only just beginning. It’s going to continue through the current century as part of the general drying of the Eastern Mediterranean – I don’t see how things are going to survive there,” Professor Seager added.

Turkey, Lebananon, Israel, Jordan, Iraq and Afghanistan are among those most at risk from drought because of the intensity of the drying and the history of conflict in the region, he says. Israel is much better equipped to withstand climate change than its neighbours because it is wealthy, politically stable and imports much of its food. Drought-ravaged East African countries such as Somalia and Sudan are also vulnerable along with parts of Central America – especially Mexico, which is afflicted by crime, is politically unstable, short of water and reliant on agriculture, Prof Seager said.

The conflict in Syria began in spring 2011 and has evolved into a complex multinational war that has killed at least 200,000 people and displaced millions more, according to the Columbia study, which appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It was preceded by a record drought that ravaged Syria between 2006 and 2010.The paper says the timing is unlikely to be a coincidence, citing a recent interview with a 38-year old farmer in Mohasen, an agricultural village in the north east of Syria.

Asked if the conflict was about the drought, Faten – a female farmer who did not want to give her last name – said: “Of course. The drought and unemployment were important in pushing people towards revolution. When the drought happened, we could handle it for two years, and then we said, ‘It’s enough’,” the report said.

The study combined climate, social and economic data relating to the so-called Fertile Crescent, spanning parts of Turkey and much of Syria and Iraq, where agriculture and herding are thought to have started 12,000 years ago and continue to be crucial.

The region has warmed by between 1 and 1.2C since 1900, reducing rainfall in the wet season by an average of 10 per cent. In addition to the warming – which has found to be caused by human greenhouse gas emissions – Syria has had to contend with rapid population growth, from 4 million in the 1950s to 22 million now.

The ruling al-Assad family encouraged water-intensive export crops such as cotton, while illegal drilling of irrigation wells dramatically depleted groundwater that might have provided valuable reserves, the report said. The drought’s effects were immediate. Agriculture production, which typically makes up a quarter of Syria’s economy, plummeted by a third.

In the hard-hit northeast, livestock herds were practically obliterated, cereal prices doubled and nutrition-related diseases among children increased dramatically. As many as 1.5m people fled from the country to the city.

“Whether it was a primary or substantial factor is impossible to know, but drought can lead to devastating consequences when coupled with pre-existing acute vulnerability,” said lead author Colin Kelley, who did the work at Columbia but is now the University of California, Santa Barbara.

The pressure exerted by climate change is even more dangerous because it comes against a backdrop of rising populations and growing scarcity of resources, experts say.

With demand for basic commodities such as wheat and copper set to soar over the next two decades, relatively small shocks to supply risk causing sudden price rises and triggering “overreactions or even militarised responses”, the Chatham House think-tank has warned.

Furthermore, while the effects of rising population and global warming may be felt hardest among the poorer countries most affected by climate change, the impact will be felt worldwide.

Global trade is so interconnected that no importer of resources is insulated from the problems of key exporters – a fact of concern to the UK, which imports 40 per cent of its food and a high proportion of fossil fuels and metals, the think-tank warns. More


Monday, March 2, 2015

As the River Runs Dry: The Southwest's water c

LAS VEGAS – The patroller stopped his water district truck and grabbed his camcorde "Here we go," he said, sliding from the cab and pointing his lens at the fine spray of water and rainbow rising from pop-up sprinklers on the lawn of a low-slung ranch home.

Central Arizona Project Canal

"Thursday," he spoke, recording the day as evidence. No watering allowed on Thursdays.

Welcome to the future, where every drop of Colorado River water is guarded and squeezed. Only here, in the city that gets 90 percent of its water from the fickle and fading river, the future is now.

The vast and highly urbanized Southwest, built on the promise of a bountiful river propped up by monumental dams, is up against its limits. Already tapped beyond its supply, the river is now threatened by a warming climate that shrinks its alpine source.

To support fast-growing urban populations in a time of dwindling supply, the Southwest is due for rapid and revolutionary changes.

A region that uses two-thirds of its water outdoors, and mostly for agriculture, will have to find ways of sharing and boosting efficiency — a shift that many experts believe will mean city dwellers paying to upgrade rural irrigation systems.

Cities such as Phoenix and Las Vegas, which have reduced their per-person water usage through better landscaping and appliances, will have to do better. They lag behind Los Angeles, whose growing population, by necessity, uses no more water than it did 40 years ago.

Water suppliers from Denver to San Diego will spend billions of dollars to squeeze more out of each drop, and to clean and use wastewater and salt water. It means a future of higher water bills, further promoting conservation.

Problem can't be deferred

"We're in a drought," water patroller Robert Kern said after hanging a warning notice on the home's doorknob. Two more violations and the water district will fine the owner $80.

"Everyone has to do their part."

Residents in this part of town — known as Zone C to the Las Vegas Valley Water District — may only water on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from fall through spring. They're freer to soak their grass at will in summer, when the withering heat demands it.

The cooler months are for austerity, to give the plummeting water levels behind Hoover Dam a break. The river's massive storage tub, Lake Mead, is draining.

The Colorado isn't all that we thought it would be when we divvied up the rights in the Roaring '20s. Most years, it gives less than it once did, and there are more users taking from it.

A 2012 government study of supply and demand predicted a 2060 annual shortfall of nearly a trillion gallons — enough to cover the sprawling city of Phoenix 9 feet deep or to supply 6 million Southwestern households for a year.

How the Southwest's leaders, farmers and lawn waterers respond will help decide how many millions of people this drying corner of the continent can sustain in the next century.

Throughout this year, The Arizona Republic will examine the twin stresses of climate change and population growth, and ways to ensure reliable water for the next generation of Southwesterners.

"This is not one of the problems you can defer and let your grandkids deal with," said Doug Kenney, a University of Colorado law professor.

Last year, the Arizona Department of Water Resources published a "strategic vision" for the coming century. The department stopped short of calling the state's current situation a "crisis," but said Arizona is at a "crossroads" and needs to decide on actions to secure new water.

Many potentially costly steps for metro Phoenix were included: conservation, treated water recycling, watershed forest thinning, cloud seeding and seawater desalination among them.

Kenney chairs the newly formed Colorado River Research Group, an independent group of 10 river and climate experts from regional universities. This winter, they made a simple recommendation that would have sounded outlandish in the past century.

Use no more water.

Cities will have to grow within their means, through conservation and by paying farmers to save and transfer water, he said. When the river already falls short of supplying everyone who has a legal right to it, there's no sensible way of taking more from it.

"If everyone takes what they're legally entitled to," Kenney said, "the system crashes."

That's true even if the wetter 20th century hydrology repeats. But that's not what the big water suppliers are expecting.

Actual flow of Colorado River versus water promised for Southwest

Agreements have promised 16.5 million acre-feet of water annually to come out of the Colorado River for use by Western states and Mexico. But in many years, the actual flow of the Colorado has been lower than what’s promised, which is marked by the solid line. The 110 year average is shown by the dotted line.

"In my opinion, the future of the Colorado Basin is a future where we have less water than we have right now," said John Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

"The future of the Colorado Basin also has less grass."

But it won't be just the urban lawns that attract scrutiny. Farmers from Wyoming to Mexico — by far the biggest users of the river — will have to back off on hay production

They'll also have to embrace expensive but efficient drip irrigation, Entsminger said. Urban water users will help pay for that through higher rates.

"Everybody's going to have to figure out how to do the same or more with less water."

Robert Kern, a Waster Water Investigator for the Las Vegas Valley Water District, documents a watering restriction violation in a west-central Las Vegas neighborhood. Las Vegas residents are only allowed to water on assigned days, Kern issued a warning to the homeowner.

At Lake Mead, America's most voluminous water impoundment when it was full and a lifeline to everyone from Phoenix to San Diego, the crisis has already arrived.

Lake Mead Water Level

Desiccated palm trees flap over the cracked and peeling shell of a resort hotel at Echo Bay Marina at the northern end of the lake, the tattered banners of a man-made oasis now drained and vacant. Dormant boat docks lie stacked against each other.

To nearby innkeeper Chris Wiggins, it's a sign of government mismanagement.

"Climate change?" he scoffed. "That's the biggest joke."

You don't have to believe in a climate connection to recognize the risks in doling out on paper more water than a river can give.

"In the lower basin, we use more water than in a normal year we receive," said Chuck Cullom, Colorado River program manager for the Central Arizona Project, whose canal pumps water to Phoenix and Tucson.

"Even absent the drought we would still be facing a declining Lake Mead."

A sustained regional drought that started in the late 20th century shrank the reservoir to its record low by last summer. Federal officials say there's a 1-in-4 chance it will sink low enough — to 1,075 feet above sea level — by next year that Arizona will have to cut back substantially on what it takes from the river.

After that, the government projects, the odds are better than even — about 60 percent — for a declared shortage and restrictions in 2017.

The reservoir has fallen by more than 100 feet since 2000. Its stored water, paired with upriver sister reservoir Lake Powell, is at about half-capacity.

The water's retreat is a slow-blooming crisis that many have seen coming for years. Some communities have used the time to curb their thirst.

Los Angeles residents use 129 gallons a day each. That's stingier than the 160-gallon average in Phoenix, whose use rate has nonetheless plummeted in recent years.

Now, though, even conservation-minded Los Angeles is following the unlikely lead of a gaudy, electrified billboard for sustainability. Still ridiculed in some corners as a wasteful and whimsical boomtown in the desert, metro Las Vegas has nonetheless turned its precarious relationship with the river into a powerful incentive to cut back.

Southern Nevadans use 212 gallons a day, which is more than their counterparts in either Los Angeles or Phoenix. But they also return almost 40 percent of that to the river as treated and reusable wastewater, making their net usage rate 124 gallons.

They have slashed usage steeply and deeply, by more than 100 gallons in about a decade.

Las Vegas has cut use of the river by nearly a third in a 12-year period that saw its metro population grow by 25 percent.

Vegas did it by regulating outdoor watering, and by paying $205 million — up to $2 a square foot — to entice people to remove lawns and "embrace living in the Mojave Desert," Entsminger said.

That was crucial, because in 2002, Nevada was using more than its legal entitlement to the river.

Now Los Angeles is following, paying homeowners even more money to strip lawns.

For decades, the Colorado River hasn't typically flowed as high as it did about a century ago, when Congress authorized impounding it at what would become Hoover Dam.

Climate scientists say there's a strong chance it never — or rarely — will again. Yet unlike in those pioneering days of last century, more than 30 million people and several billion dollars in farm production are now counting on a river that is so tapped that in most years it no longer reaches the sea.

What's left after the U.S. uses most of the water is diverted to farmers in Mexico.

"The Colorado River Compact appears to have been negotiated during an unusually wet period," said Connie Woodhouse, a University of Arizona geosciences professor who has studied historic flows on the river. "I don't think anyone would argue with that."

The 1922 agreement split the river's flow between upper- and lower-basin states, with the divide just upstream of Grand Canyon, at Lees Ferry. In the first few decades of the 20th century, an average approaching 17 million acre-feet — each acre-foot gushing 326,000 gallons, 51/2 trillion gallons in all — flowed past Lees Ferry every year.

For most of the past 90 years, though, the average flows have sagged below even the 15 million acre-feet that the states legally share, let alone the 1.5 million owed to Mexico by treaty.

The enormous but shrinking reservoirs at Lake Mead and Lake Powell, capturing spikes in runoff during occasional wet years, have forestalled shortages. The flow was 20 million acre-feet in 2011, and just half that in 2013.

That Colorado, Wyoming and Utah weren't using their full shares also postponed a reckoning.

Until now.

The drought that started in 2000 and sent the reservoir holdings plunging is a preview of expected dry spells unprecedented in recent centuries, Woodhouse said. Temperatures are higher than those of the last century's droughts, compounding the intensity.

"The (rising) temperatures are only going to exacerbate conditions that we would normally expect under natural conditions," she said.

There are lots of reasons to think the droughts of coming decades will be worse than anything we've ever experienced — regardless of whether there's any change in precipitation.

The first is that as the region warms, the trees and plants using the snowmelt will need and tap more of it before it ever reaches the river or pipes.

The next and arguably bigger threat is that the warmth will melt snow faster or even make it fall instead as rain. Either change will lead to more evaporation and less seepage into the soils that, in turn, release water to streams feeding the river.

Four years ago, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation — the Southwest's federal water managers — crunched all of the climate model projections for the Colorado River watershed and determined the average outlook was for a river pumping 9 percent less water through the region by 2050.

There is always a chance that monstrous snowstorms and winter rains will bring enough new winter precipitation to offset the warming's worst effects, said Jeff Lukas, climate scientist with the University of Colorado's Western Water Assessment team.

"Increasing flow isn't precluded," he added. "It just appears to be less likely."

Past warm spells, etched as living history in the West's tree rings and lake beds, indicate that where there's heat there's often stinging drought, according to Woodhouse's work.

She co-authored a 2010 study using regional tree rings from an unusually long and hot medieval drought to project that each increase of a degree Celsius results in a decrease in Colorado River flows of between 2 percent and 8 percent.

Most of the region already has warmed by more than a degree on average in the past quarter-century, according to last year's U.S. National Climate Assessment. Further warming of at least a couple of degrees in a few decades and up to 5 degrees by 2100 is expected even if global carbon emissions are substantially reduced.

The medieval drought, in its worst decade, baked the river down to about two-thirds of what the U.S. and Mexico draw out of it today.

The drought lasted 60 years, but it was not as hot as today. So it seems the next time there's a repeat of whatever natural phenomena conspired back then to produce such a long, dry spell, the river will be even drier.

Since Woodhouse's study, a team of 14 university and government researchers has conducted what Woodhouse calls the "best synthesis" of existing climate and flow models — with jaw-dropping, if imprecise, predictions.

The river's flow probably will drop between 5 percent and 35 percent in response to warming by midcentury, according to that team, which published a January 2014 report in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

Lukas' University of Colorado colleague, snow researcher Jeffrey Deems, said there's reason to believe the bureau's predicted 9 percent reduction in flow is optimistic.

Already, the Rocky Mountain snowpack is melting three to six weeks earlier than before American settlement of the region, Deems' studies have found, because dust drifting up from grazing lands and other disturbances collects solar heat on the snow's surface. Today's snowmelt is measured by direct observation and compared with computer models of older trends.

Without emissions curbs, Deems said, his modeling and others project flows slashed by about a fifth on average by midcentury.

"Even if it's only 9 percent," he said, in a nod to the Bureau of Reclamation study, "that's a huge shock to any overallocated system."

A 9 percent reduction would roughly equal the 1.5 million acre-feet that Arizona is allowed to pump through CAP's 336-mile canal every year.

But that's a midcentury outlook with lots of climate variables. What about the near-term effects of the existing drought?

If the government declares a Lake Mead shortage because the water drops below the mandated trigger elevation of 1,075 feet — the 58 percent probability that managers have projected by 2017 — then Arizona would lose 320,000 acre-feet every year that the water is so low.

An acre-foot of water is about the amount two Southwest families use each year. So the loss would be about three times the potable water that Tucson Water pumps to customers each year. But it's not the cities and their residents who will suffer first or most.

CAP was built largely to fuel growth in metropolitan areas of Arizona. The farmers who have used what until now was excess water have the lowest legal priority. Some of them will voluntarily cut back on watering hay and other crops this year, in an effort to help keep Lake Mead from falling.

In December, CAP signed an agreement with the Bureau of Reclamation and water providers for Southern California and Nevada to save 740,000 acre-feet over the next three years, and to keep it in Lake Mead. Each of those organizations would sacrifice water or improve efficiency.

Arizona, with the most to lose from a shortage, is responsible for the largest share: 345,000 acre-feet.

Of that, the deepest cuts — nearly half — will come out of farm irrigation districts. But CAP will pay those farmers $5 million.

"It could actually protect us (from shortage) for a couple of years, and that would more than repay our efforts." said Cullom, CAP's Colorado River program manager.

But in the same agreement, the states predicted that these savings might be only half the job of restoring reliable water by 2019. So they also will join Denver Water in sponsoring $11 million in pilot programs that other customers can use to suppress their needs — some of it perhaps for farm upgrades such as drip irrigation or laser field leveling.

If Lake Mead drops another 25 feet after the first shortage, central Arizona would lose nearly a third of what it draws off the Colorado. Farmers there would get nothing from the river, and cities such as Phoenix, Mesa and Scottsdale could start to lose some of the canal water they're now leasing from Indian tribes.

Best to act now, Cullom said, and reload Lake Mead.

"It's like a scene from 'Jaws,' when one of the characters says, 'We need a bigger boat,' " he said. "We're trying to find ways to get a bigger boat."

Some water managers and politicians have mused about importing the solution, from the Great Lakes or the Mississippi River Basin by pipe, or even from Alaska by ship. But the U.S. Interior Department effectively called those schemes pipe dreams, in a study of options for the Southwest.

For one thing, other states may guard their resources as jealously as Arizona would covet them in a water-strapped future. The Great Lakes states even have a compact prohibiting export, and it is being invoked to prevent a Wisconsin county that touches on the drainage from piping water over the line.

Also, the costs, both environmental and financial, caused the Obama administration to reject the idea. Pumping water from the Missouri River to Denver would cost 21/2 times the predicted price to conserve the same amount within the Southwest.

Conservation probably can provide only a third of the new water needed in 50 years.

Environmentalists generally have recommended starting there, though, and then adding treatment plants to clean salt from used irrigation water and return it to the river. Utility managers are also looking to add costlier, more energy-intensive seawater desalination, which could reduce coastal cities' reliance on the river.

An old car on the Baker Ranch near Baker, Nev.

The biggest sponge out there, though, is agriculture. Its use of two-thirds of the Colorado's bounty offers future urban residents a tantalizing buffer for growth — or a water grab — if it can be reallocated.

About a third of the Colorado River's annual flow goes just to alfalfa, pasture and other forage for livestock, according to a 2013 analysis of farming in the 256,000-square-mile watershed, conducted by the Pacific Institute.

Much of that grass is flood-irrigated, putting to work water that farmers earned through settlement claims under a "use it or lose it" system that predates the West's urban population explosion.

The institute modeled other options for ranchers — modern irrigation equipment and a more judicious schedule for watering — and projected a potential savings of 1 million acre-feet a year.

Farmers won't give up water if they think it means losing their rights to it, and to the income it can bring them, said Kenney, the University of Colorado law professor. But states are free to change the laws, to ditch "use it or lose it." They can ensure that farmers and rural areas are compensated.

Kenney expects change to come, and city dwellers to pay up, as the Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District is doing in an experimental program that gives 33 farmers $750 per acre per year for three years to cut and fallow some citrus orchards.

"Scarcity drives innovation," he said.

Back in Las Vegas, water patroller Robert Kern spotted a wet sidewalk near the first violator he nabbed. It wasn't a sprinkler, though. What grass the lawn had was yellowed and crisp.

"I had to mow her lawn the other day because I was afraid there'd be a fire," said a neighbor, Danny Hinchcliffe, standing on his own dewy grass.

Kern climbed from the truck, knelt to find moss growing in a slight but steady stream of water flowing from a broken underground pipe. He attached another warning to her doorknob.

Hinchcliffe said his own yard used to be rock, but he switched to grass because it helped cool his home and keep down the electric bill.

Reminded that his grass blades shouldn't be glistening with water on a day when sprinkling is banned, he said his landscaper likely hadn't had a chance to adjust his timer for the season.

But he didn't get a citation.

Kern can't issue a warning or a ticket unless he actually sees the water spraying.

"Our biggest thing is education," he said. "Without the water, we're not going to be here.

"We're in the middle of a desert." More