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Pacific Institute Insights is the staff blog of the Pacific Institute, one of the world’s leading nonprofit research groups on sustainable and equitable management of natural resources. For more about what we do, click here.

  • ca-drought-blog1

    What Californians Can Expect from the Drought

    By Peter Gleick, President

    January 16, 2014

    California has a “Mediterranean” climate, which means that each year it has a concentrated rainy season, followed by a long temperate and dry period. California’s rainy season typically runs from early October to late March, with very little precipitation outside of these months. (Figure 1 shows the average monthly rainfall for California.) It is now early 2014 and the rains have not come, for the third year in a row. While the definition of “drought” varies from place to place, it is safe to say that California is currently suffering from a severe – and by some measures, unprecedented — drought.

    Figure 1: Monthly average precipitation showing the seasonality of precipitation in different parts of California, from the iconic California Water Atlas.

    It is not too late for some big storms off the Pacific Ocean to bring relief. But the odds are against it and current meteorological conditions are not encouraging. If the rest of the winter months are dry, or even of average wetness, the state will have much less water than normal, and much less than water users want – from cities to farms to our natural ecosystems.

    We’ve had dry periods before – they are a recurring feature of our variable climate. The difficulty, expense, and pain of droughts, however, depend on two things: how severe they are and how we react. The Pacific Institute has spent many years studying the effects of droughts in California and has published several analyses of past impacts and responses (here and here).

    Based on past experience, here is (part of) what Californians can expect this year if it remains as dry as it is now. …»

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  • sci-blogs-8-20-2013

    National Geographic ScienceBlogs: Peak Water in the American West

    By Peter Gleick, President

    August 19, 2013 

    It is no surprise, of course, that the western United States is dry. The entire history of the West can be told (and has been, in great books like Cadillac Desert [Reisner] and Rivers of Empire [Worster] and The Great Thirst [Hundley]) in large part through the story of the hydrology of the West, the role of the federal and state governments in developing water infrastructure, the evidence of droughts and floods on the land, and the politics of water allocations and use.

    But the story of water in the West is also being told, every day, in the growing crisis facing communities, watersheds, ecosystems, and economies. This isn’t a crisis of for tomorrow. It is a crisis today. What is, perhaps, a surprise, is that it has taken this long for the entire crazy quilt of western water management and use to finally unravel. But it is now unraveling. …»

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  • This pond is where the people of Bissighin access water.

    Notes from the Field: Resident Says He Would Use Information from Community Choices for Water Tool to Be an Agent of Change

    By Dr. John Akudago, Senior Research Associate

    August 13, 2012 

    Jean Zoundiis a 51-year-old man from Bissighin, a community located in the Commune of Saaba, which is about 25 km East of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso. When I learned that the village was 22 km away from the Burkinabe Capital, I thought there was no need to go there to treat water since there would be running water. To my surprise, Mr. Zoundiled me to a pond that over 600 people depend on for drinking and other domestic purposes (see photo). …»

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  • CCW_biosand_filter_may_2012

    Notes from the Field: Pilot Testing the Community Choices for Water in Ghana

    By Dr. John Akudago, Senior Research Associate

    May 16, 2012

    Over the past 12 months, the Pacific Institute – in partnership with its West Africa partners NewEnergy, World Vision, Rural Aid, Pronet North, and Water and Sanitation for Africa – has been conducting learning sessions to develop the Community Choices decision support tool to help communities and NGOs make informed decisions for  their water, sanitation, and hygiene challenges. The internet-based prototype includes many field-proven technologies and is designed to empower water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) professionals and communities to choose technologies based on their responses to a set of questions that reflect cultural, socio-economic, hydrological, and religious factors. …»

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  • CCW_gofai_sahi

    Notes from the Field: Gofal Sahi Gets Excited with Community Choices for Water

    By Dr. John Akudago, Senior Research Associate

    May 8, 2012

     “When you arrived from Wa at our community, we thought you were another group coming to deceive us,” said Ms. Barakisu Yusuf. Though Gofal Sahi community has received several promises of a borehole, the government officials have never returned to fulfill the promises. She added, “We never knew we could ever get clean water in our community.”

    …»

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  • CCW_zouzugu_water_supply

    Notes from the Field: Household Water Treatment Could Improve or Maintain Access to Water Coverage

    By Dr. John Akudago, Senior Research Associate

    May 7, 2012 

    I heard the good news from the Director of Water and Sanitation for Africa, Mr. Idrissa Doucoure, at a sustainability framework workshop in Acrra, Ghana, on April 3, 2012: Ghana had achieved its Millennium Development Goal for water supply. But, Mr. Idrissa was quick to add that a high percentage of water coverage and access to an “improved source” of water today did not mean that the goal of “sustainable access to safe drinking water” has been met for the years ahead. …»

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  • Mr. Nachinab pilot-tests the alpha version of the tool with one household. Based on recommendations on where to acquire parts for the chosen technologies, households were able to get potable water to drink.

    Notes from the Field: Pilot Testing the Community Choices for Water in Ghana and Burkina Faso

    By Dr. John Akudago, Senior Research Associate

    April 12, 2012 

    After 12 months of conducting learning sessions in Ghana and Burkina Faso to develop the Community Choices for Water (CCW) tool, an alpha version of the tool has been tested in Cheshei community. The Pacific Institute and NewEnergy field staff tested the tool in the community between March 19 and 29 to examine how households could be empowered with knowledge of water treatment technologies to solve their acute water shortage challenges that compel them to drink unclean water. …»

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  • Above: Participants from the Sabtenga community participate in the learning session.

    Notes from the Field: Alpha Version of Community Choices for Water Decision-Support System to be Piloted in Ghana

    By Dr. John Akudago, Senior Research Associate

    March 12, 2012 

    Over the last year, the Pacific Institute has been conducting learning sessions in Ghana and Burkina Faso in the development and dissemination of a decision-support system to empower communities and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) practitioners to make informed choices on WASH technologies and approaches. I facilitated nine learning sessions to understand the key needs of residents, NGOs, and local governments in Ghana and Burkina Faso, and on the role that a decision-support tool could play in improving water …»

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  • Pictured Above: Mr. Abdulai Ibrahim standing in front of the stand pipes

    Notes from the Field: Multiple Use of Water Allows Disabled Man to Live Comfortably

    By Dr. John Akudago, Senior Research Associate

    December 12, 2011

    Abdulai Ibrahim lost his leg during an accident several years ago. Like many disabled persons in Ghana, Mr. Ibrahim could have been forced to beg on the street or depend on his extended family members for support. Instead, he opted to fend for himself through an innovative multiple use of water system. …»

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  • Notes from the Field: Sustainability of Supply: The Story of Community Water Associations (HIPPAMs) in Malang

    by Meena Palaniappan, Program Director
    December 4, 2011 

    Imagine if the water you were being supplied with regularly to your home suddenly began drying up? For hundreds of households dependent on community-run drinking water user associations (Indonesian, HIPPAM) in Malang, this is a new reality. As more and more water users directly access the resource, water availability is shifting, and the lack of a comprehensive water management strategy for the region has left many communities high and dry.

    HIPPAMs are common throughout Malang, and supply about 20 percent of households in the city. These HIPPAMs began in response to the lack of municipally supplied water by the city’s water utility, PDAM Kota Malang. The water utility was not supplying water to these communities either because it was an outlying or difficult to reach area, or because the cost of water from PDAM Kota Malang was perceived to be too high.

    malang_indonesia_sustainability_of_supply.jpg

    New HIPPAM leader who advocated again through the local budgeting process to drill a bore well in the community that could supply water to the hundreds of households without access.

    The first and newest HIPPAM we visited was led by a charismatic leader who along with the locality leader advocated again and again through the local budgeting process to drill a bore well in the community that could supply water to the hundreds of households without access. Finally, after six years, the Public Works department approved the project and provided a loan and equipment to drill the bore well. The water from this bore well now supplies several hundred households in the community. The community was lucky to tap into a rich underground resource that required no pump to bring to the surface. They have an abundance of water supply, and no energy costs, and are in the enviable position of being able to provide water for free to members of the community who don’t have the ability to pay for water. This HIPPAM is kind of like the nouveau water riche.

    Meanwhile in other parts of the city, other older HIPPAMs are struggling with providing water services. In the community of Wonokoyo, a 20-year-old HIPPAM has been seeing the drying up of their four water sources. Residents complain of not enough water to meet basic needs for sanitation. The community has requested that PDAM Kota Malang begin providing water services here, and are still awaiting this service. In another 20-year –old HIPPAM, the water managers have received external funds to increase their pumping of the groundwater that they rely on. When they reached a water crisis of not enough water nearly a decade ago, they received funds from an external donor to buy a new machine to increase water withdrawals from deep underground. Another HIPPAM has struggled since its inception with finding an adequate water source, and constantly having its water source dry up. People in this community complain bitterly about the lack of reliable water from the HIPPAM.

    One of the things that struck me about the struggles of these HIPPAMs was the way in which there was very little attention to protecting the sustainability of the supply of water. Once a bore well was drilled, it was pumped until dry. Paying attention to the sustainability of supply would have meant a better assessment of the natural recharge rate of the aquifer on which the community depended, developing a system to percolate water into the ground to recharge the aquifer, and ensuring that water extraction was sustainable over the long term.

    To me, the story of HIPPAMs in Malang also perfectly outlined the issue of Peak Water. Peter Gleick and I have written about the issue of Peak Water, and how despite its weaknesses as a theoretical construct it sends some important signals in the water sector. As I’ve always said, the concept of Peak Water reminds us that the age of cheap, easy-to-access water is over (similar to what Peak Oil has meant for oil). This means that to get the same water we’ve always depended on we will need to go further (more distant water sources), and pay more (stronger and more expensive pumps) to get the same water.

    What further complicates this Peak Water story is the way in which this is a cascading Peak Water effect, with each water user (HIPPAMs and PDAM Kota Malang and households) directly accessing and draining the water supply, which in turn affects the water available to other water users. This makes planning for water supply more difficult as the water used by each water user affects the amount that remains for others. Malang has a particularly interesting situation in that significant water suppliers in the city are the numerous community water associations. HIPPAMs along with PDAM Kota Malang all depend upon what is fundamentally the same resource, yet have no information about the state of the water source, or how much the other user is using.

    One of the goals of the Indonesia WATER SMS System will be to make visible these invisible linkages and connections in the water system so that there is more knowledge on the state of urban water resources: how much water there is, who is using it and how much, and what the quality is. WATER SMS will create information in a zero information urban water environment. The ultimate goal of this information shared among multiple sources will be to assist all of these water managers in better planning in the face of increasing water insecurity.

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