Global Water Crisis, US Eyes Canada's Great Lakes
October 26, 2012
Richard Mills / Market Oracle
The number of people living in areas affected by severe water stress is expected to increase to almost four billion people. With rapid population growth, water withdrawals have tripled over the last 50 years. In North America the major concern is over water levels in the Ogallala aquifer under the US Great Plains. Let's examine three of the most ambitious proposals to transfer large amounts of freshwater from Canada to the US.
LONDON (October 19, 2012) -- The number of people living in areas affected by severe water stress is expected to increase to almost four billion people...
• The 10 largest water users (in volume) are India, China, the United States, Pakistan, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Mexico and the Russian Federation.
• With rapid population growth, water withdrawals have tripled over the last 50 years. According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), the world population is predicted to grow from 6.9 billion in 2010 to 8.3 billion in 2030 and to 9.1 billion in 2050. At the same time, urban populations are projected to increase by 2.9 billion, to 6.3 billion by 2050. An estimated 90% of the people expected to be added to the population, by 2050, will be in developing countries, many in regions already in water stress where the current population does not have sustainable access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation
• Water withdrawals are predicted to increase by 50% by 2025 in developing countries, and by 18% in developed countries
• Water for irrigation and food production constitutes one of the greatest pressures on freshwater resources. Agriculture accounts for around 70% of global freshwater withdrawals, even up to 90% in some fast-growing economies
• Feeding everyone in 2050 could require 50% more water than is needed now
• The dietary shift from predominantly starch-based food to meat and dairy, which require more water, is the greatest to impact on water consumption over the past 30 years. Producing one kg of rice requires approximately 3,500 liters of water while one kg of beef requires 15,000 liters. Producing that one kg of meat requires as much water as an average domestic household uses over ten months (50l/person/day)
• Estimates indicate that there will not be enough water available on current croplands to produce food for the expected population in 2050 if we follow current trends and changes towards diets common in Western nations (3,000 kcal produced per capita, including 20 percent of calories produced coming from animal proteins)
The highest rates of groundwater depletion are in some of the world's major agricultural centers:
• Northwest India
• Northeastern China
• Northeast Pakistan
• California's central valley
• Midwestern United States
In North America the major concern is over water levels in the Ogallala aquifer under the US Great Plains. The Ogallala is the world's largest known aquifer having an approximate area of 450,600 square kilometers and stretches from southern South Dakota through parts of Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and northern Texas.
The Ogallala Aquifer was formed roughly 10 million years ago when water flowed onto the plains from retreating glaciers and streams of the Rocky Mountains. The Ogallala is no longer being recharged by the Rockies and precipitation in the region is only 30-60 cm per year.
In three leading grain producing states -- Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas -- the underground water table has dropped by more than 30 meters.
• In some areas the water table under the San Joaquin Valley in California has dropped nearly 10 meters
• Over use of underground water supplies in California's Central Valley has resulted in the loss of over 40 percent of the storage capacity in all the human constructed reservoirs in California.
• The huge sandstone aquifer underlying the Illinois-Wisconsin border, which supplies Chicago and Milwaukee with water, is currently overtaxed and may be depleted in the near future.
• The US uses so much of the water out of some of their river systems that nothing reaches the river's destination -- no water reaches the mouth of the Colorado River, the Ococee River in the Southeastern United States has a large stretch of the river dry on certain days, Nebraska's Platte River is drying up and so is the not so mighty anymore Mississippi.
• The US Bureau of Reclamation is forecasting next year as water-short for irrigators in the Republican River basin
Climate change is causing the Earth to warm, precipitation is shifting from the mid-latitudes to the low and high latitudes -- wet areas are becoming wetter and dry areas drier. Less rainfall in the mid-latitudes means less new water to refill the aquifers that are being depleted the fastest.
Streams, rivers and lakes are almost always closely connected with an aquifer. The depletion of aquifers doesn't allow these surface waters to be recharged -- lowering water levels in aquifers is being reflected in reduced amounts of water flowing at the surface.
Here's the bad news in a headline -- The US is Running Out of Freshwater Sources
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says at least 36 states are anticipating local, regional, or statewide water shortages by 2013, even under non-drought conditions.
"The worst drought in more than half a century baked more than two thirds of the continental United States this summer (2012) and its harsh effects continue to plague the parched cities and towns of the Great Plains.
Ask the 94,000 people of San Angelo, Texas, who are running out of water. Fast.
The city -- once known as "the oasis" of dry west Texas -- now says it only has enough water supplies to last one more year. On Oct. 16, it will enforce its highest level of emergency measures to save its water supply.
That first-ever "Drought Level III" declaration will ban any watering of lawns, golf courses and gardens, forbid fresh water use for swimming pools and close commercial car washes.
The city will also push up usage fees aiming to cut water use by at least 30 percent as it awaits a new water pipeline now under construction. The pipeline will not be available for use until mid-2013 or later." Carey Gillam REUTERS
The city of San Angelo gets its water from the 58 billion gallon, when full, Twin Buttes Reservoir or the O.H. Ivie Reservoir. Twin Buttes is at 2.5 percent capacity and the O.H. is expected to run out of water in 2013. An extreme case? Perhaps, but water shortages are real and the effects are devastating -- if you haven't got water you've got nothing.
Canada has blessed with numerous freshwater lakes and rivers -- we have seven percent of the world's renewable supply of freshwater.
There have been numerous proposals about transferring large amounts of freshwater from Canada to the United States. Following are breakdowns on three of the most ambitious plans conceived to date.
The Great Recycling and Northern Development (GRAND) Canal of North America (GCNA) was designed by Newfoundland engineer Thomas Kierans to alleviate North America's freshwater shortage problems. As Kierans originally conceived it, the GRAND Canal plans called for the damming and rerouting of northern river systems in Quebec in order to bring freshwater down into the Great Lakes where the water could then be pumped into the American Midwest and the US Sun Belt.
Fresh water run-off from natural precipitation would be collected in James Bay by means of a series of outflow-only, sea level dikes-constructed across the northern end of James Bay. These dikes would capture the fresh water before it mixes with the salty water of Hudson Bay and create a new source of fresh water equivalent to 2.5 times the flow over Niagara Falls.
The North American Water and Power Alliance (NAWPA) was designed to bring water from Alaska and northern British Columbia to the US By building a series of large dams, the northward flow of the Yukon, Peace, Liard, Tanana, Copper, Skeena, Bella Coola, Dean, Chilcotin, and Fraser rivers would be reversed to move southward into the Rocky Mountain Trench where the water would be trapped in a giant reservoir approximately 800 kilometers long.
A canal would then be built to take the water southward into Washington state where it would be channeled through existing canals and pipelines. The annual volume of water to be diverted through the NAWAPA project is estimated to be roughly equivalent to the average total yearly discharge of the entire St. Lawrence River system in Canada. The amount of water available is estimated to be enough that some would be available for use by Mexico via the Colorado River.
The Central North American Water Project (CeNAWAP) consists of a series of canals and pumping stations linking Great Bear Lake and Great Slave Lake in the NWT to Lake Athabaska and lake Winnipeg and then the Great Lakes.
A variation on the CeNAWAP is the Kuiper Diversion Scheme which links the major western rivers, the Mackenzie, the Peace, the Athabasca, North Saskatchewan, Nelson and Churchill rivers, into a mega water diversion scheme.
The principal's of these three water diversion projects are the same, except on a much grander scale, as that of the 1930s Tennessee Valley Authority or the 1950s St. Lawrence Seaway. Between them, they could supply hundreds of billions of gallons of fresh water to the parched areas of the United States, Canada, and Mexico. New areas of cultivation would be opened up, thousands of jobs would be created and new dams would supply unimaginable amounts of electricity.
Mark Twain said: "Whisky is for drinking; water is for fighting over."
Of course he also said: "I've seen a heap of trouble in my life and most of it never came to pass."
Fortunately water seems to stimulate cooperation rather than promote conflict between nations.
The issue of Canada diverting part of its fresh water resources to the US has never been on, or has long since faded off most Canadians radar screens, but the country with the world's largest economy is also the world's largest producer of corn, soybeans, and wheat. The US accounts for one in every three tons of the grains traded globally -- the United States is literally the world's bread basket.
Climate change (science says the Earth is going to continue warm and that the warming is not manmade) is going to put Canadian water back on every North American's radar screen. Is water on your radar screen?
If not, maybe they should be.
Richard is host of Aheadoftheherd.com and invests in the junior resource sector.
His articles have been published on over 400 websites, including: Wall Street Journal, Market Oracle, SafeHaven , USAToday, National Post, Stockhouse, Lewrockwell, Pinnacledigest, Uranium Miner, Beforeitsnews, SeekingAlpha, MontrealGazette, Casey Research, 24hgold, Vancouver Sun, CBSnews, SilverBearCafe, Infomine, Huffington Post, Mineweb, 321Gold, Kitco, Gold-Eagle, The Gold/Energy Reports, Calgary Herald, Resource Investor, Mining.com, Forbes, FNArena, Uraniumseek, Financial Sense, Goldseek, Dallasnews, Vantagewire, Resourceclips and the Association of Mining Analysts.
Copyright 2012 Richard (Rick) Mills -- All Rights Reserved
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