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-final

    Infographic: What to Expect from California’s Drought

    By Paula Luu, Communications Manager

    January 24, 2014

    While our weather-beaten friends in the Midwest and Northeast braced for near-record low temperatures and polar vortex snowstorms, Californians rang in the New Year with a rainless January.  2013 had gone down as the driest calendar year (since we began keeping record of rainfall 119 years ago), so it was no surprise when Gov. Jerry Brown officially declared a drought emergency on January 17. The governor’s official statement has changed the state’s political climate — drawing more public attention to the growing need for improved management and expanded climate policies. The impacts of water shortages are widespread, affecting everyone from consumers to farmers.

    Last week, Pacific Institute President Peter Gleick wrote about what Californians could expect from the drought. To build on that blog, I’ve created an infographic that further explains what California’s dry future could look like. You can share the infographic by linking to



    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. The views and opinions expressed in these blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect an official policy or position of the Pacific Institute.

    • Twitter
    • Facebook
  • ©Kelli Brosnahan

    Sink Spit and Shockers: Communications in the Water World

    By Nancy Ross, Communications Director

    August 6, 2013

    Confession: It’s only a couple years ago that I started turning off the tap while I brushed my teeth. Why so late? Muscle memory – because I learned how to brush my teeth standing on a little step stool with the faucet running. And I grew up in a Hudson River town, when knee-deep snow and plentiful rainfall were the norm, and I never thought about needing to use water wisely. …»

    • Twitter
    • Facebook
  • 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.


    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.

    • Twitter
    • Facebook
  • Bottled and Sold: What’s Really in Our Bottled Water

    My new book on bottled water is out, at last. “Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water” (Island Press, Washington) has apparently (according to reports from my secret field agents) started appearing in book stores. You’ve been able to order it online for a while through Island Press, Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, and other places.

    There are some great stories in the book: here is a little one, about what’s sometimes found in our bottled water.

    You don’t find what you don’t look for. This maxim holds true for arms control, as Ronald Reagan noted. And it holds true for contaminants in bottled water. One would think and expect that bottled water would be cleaner than our tap water. But is it?

    The system for testing and monitoring the quality of bottled water is so flawed that we simply have no comprehensive assessment of actual bottled water quality. Don’t misunderstand me. The inadequacies of U.S. rules for testing bottled water do not mean that bottled-water quality is poor. If bottled water was monitored as consistently, frequently, and accurately as tap water, the evidence might show that it was just as good, or even better on average, than tap water. Given how much consumers pay for it, we certainly have the right to expect it to be better.

    But we’re just not looking carefully enough. And the bad news is that when we do actually look, we find evidence that there are potentially serious quality problems with bottled water, lurking just under the cap. Even worse, outside of the U.S. (where sometimes bottled water really needs to be better than tap water) there is growing evidence that bottled water quality can be terrible.

    Most of our tap water is completely safe; most of our bottled water is probably completely safe. But to know for sure, we must look carefully. And when we do actually look, we sometimes find more than we bargained for. The most famous example is when Perrier was discovered in 1991 to be contaminated with benzene. But this example is not the only one.

    Water Number: More than 100. After months of requests and two Freedom of Information Act requests to the US Food and Drug Administration (which regulates some bottled waters), I got a list of recalls of bottled waters in the U.S. Combined with other research, I ultimately compiled a list of more than 100 bottled water recalls, affecting millions of bottles of water.

    This list (posted here) includes a remarkable list of contaminants. In addition to the benzene found in Perrier, bottled water has been found to contain mold, sodium hydroxide, kerosene, styrene, algae, yeast, tetrahydrofuran, sand, fecal coliforms and other forms of bacteria, elevated chlorine, “filth,” glass particles, sanitizer, and in my very favorite example, crickets.


    Yes, crickets. In 1994, a bottler in Nacogdoches, Texas issued a recall for sparkling water found to be contaminated with crickets. The water was distributed in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia and the recall notice wasn’t issued until seven months after being bottled and distributed, making it unlikely that consumers were notified in time to avoid buying the contaminated bottles. Maybe they thought it was a bonus, like that worm in tequila, or the weird things sometimes found in flavored vodkas.

    However you feel about crickets, my guess is you don’t want them in your bottled water. (Photo: Steve Jurvetson from Menlo Park, USA)

    In addition to bottled-water quality, the book talks about advertising and marketing, weird bottled waters claims, disappearing water fountains, conflicting and weak laws protecting consumers, and the growing revolt against bottled water. I’ll post a few more times in the coming months about some of these issues. But if you want the whole story, get the book!

    Peter Gleick 

    (posted at the San Francisco Chronicle’s SF GATE, from England, where I’ve been grounded by the volcano)
    April 17 2010 at 08:00 AM

    Purchase a copy of the book from Island Press.

    Bottled Water Recalls Summary Table

    Learn more about bottled water.


    • Twitter
    • Facebook
  • SFGate: Flushing Water and Money Down the Drain

    By Peter Gleick

    This essay was originally printed in the San Francisco Chronicle on October 12, 2006.

    Exciting developments in the high-efficiency toilet market may sound like an oxymoron. But installing these water-efficient fixtures throughout California could free up more water than any proposed reservoir or water-supply project – with none of the adverse environmental consequences and at a tiny fraction of the economic or political cost. Recognizing this potential, the Assembly and Senate passed AB2496, a bill that would have paved the way in the coming years for the adoption of new, high-efficiency toilets throughout the state. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, however, vetoed the bill, and in doing so flushed away enough high-quality potable water to meet the needs of millions of Californians.

    Inefficient toilets in California waste a tremendous amount of water and money. The Pacific Institute, the institute I co-founded to research and analyze issues on development, environment and security, estimates that replacing existing toilets with high-efficiency models could save California more than 130 billion gallons of water every year. That is more water than we get from Hetch Hetchy reservoir, enough to satisfy the needs of approximately 1.5 million California residents.

    The water we are flushing is water that we already capture in reservoirs or draw from rivers, transport across the state and purify to drinking-water standards. Once used, this water must be treated and disposed. These processes are expensive and often energy intensive — 19 percent of California’s electricity is consumed by water systems to pump, clean, heat and treat water — yet we continue to flush unnecessarily precious water down our toilets. Saving water and reducing the generation of wastewater could save consumers hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

    California used to be the leader in the area of water conservation and efficiency. More than a decade ago, we pioneered the move toward water-efficient fixtures in our homes and industries. As a result, our population and economy have continued to grow while total water demands have leveled off. Indeed, we use less water today per person in California than we did more than 50 years ago — a fact that most Californians, and indeed most water policymakers, don’t know or appreciate. These improvements in water-use efficiency have eliminated the need for expensive and controversial new supply projects, reduced the damage to our ecosystems, and saved vast sums of money. But we’ve let our lead slip away.

    Water use is starting to creep back up because of the failure of our leaders to continue to apply well-understood technologies and policies to reduce wasteful and inefficient uses. The progress we have made will ultimately be overwhelmed by a growing population if efforts are not made to further reduce wasteful practices.

    Many state leaders on both sides of the aisle — including U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. — still fail to recognize California’s conservation and efficiency potential and regularly call for the construction of new reservoirs or new subsidies for expensive ocean desalination plants. Not only would any new reservoir be costly and environmentally controversial, no proposed reservoir could possibly yield as much water as AB2496 would have freed up. And given desalination’s extremely high operating and electricity costs – to say nothing of its impact on local marine ecosystems – it makes no sense to produce expensive desalinated water just to flush it down inefficient toilets.

    In his veto message, the governor stated that we need to study these toilets more. Yet we already know that they are standard in Australia, Japan and other countries. Dozens of models from a wide range of manufacturers have been extensively tested here as well and many of them perform better than toilets already on the market.

    A rational water policy requires that we make the best use of the scarce and valuable water we have. That will require that California return to its position of national leadership in the area of water efficiency and conservation, not just in our homes, but in our industries and on our farms. The Pacific Institute has found that California can actually cut its wasteful use of water by 20 percent in the next 25 years with expected population growth, a healthy agricultural sector and a vibrant economy. We won’t get there if the governor vetoes the steps we’re trying to take in that direction.

    Peter H. Gleick, Ph.D, is president of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security, a nonpartisan Oakland-based think tank. He is a MacArthur Fellow.



    • Twitter
    • Facebook