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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.

  • Dead fish at the Salton Sea

    Another Grim Day for the Salton Sea

    By Michael Cohen, Water Program Senior Research Associate

    July 3, 2013

    California Governor Jerry Brown signed the state budget last Thursday. Unfortunately, the governor line-item vetoed funding for the Salton Sea Financial Assistance Program (FAP), a program requested and strongly supported by the Pacific Institute and other organizations. The Institute has written extensively about the Salton Sea’s current and future problems. In four and a half years, rapid and extreme reductions in the volume of water flowing into the Salton Sea will cause catastrophic ecological changes and will very likely lead to widespread dust storms, adversely affecting human health in both the Imperial and Coachella valleys. We desperately need programs like the FAP to direct funds to local habitat and air quality management projects that can be built quickly and cheaply, to offset some of these impacts and to demonstrate what can be accomplished at the Salton Sea.

    Instead, we get more delay. …»

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  • Sustainability Standards Systems

    Voluntary Sustainability Standards and Public Policy – Where Is It Headed?

    By Mai-Lan Ha, Corporate Sustainability Research Associate

    July 1, 2013

    Today, when you enter a supermarket, hardware store, or shop online you are besieged by a variety of labels and stamps claiming products are Fair Trade Certified, certified by the Rainforest Alliance Network, Utz Certified, SA8000 certified, FSC certified amongst many others. The proliferation of voluntary sustainability standards systems has led to questions about their tangible impacts and how to eliminate some of the “noise” of overlapping standards. Yet, a more fundamental question needs to be answered: what should be the role or relationship of voluntary sustainability standards systems to public policy processes toward meeting sustainability objectives? …»

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  • blog-photo-voice-thumb-6-26-2013

    ‘Hood Reporters: Unlocking the Power of Photos to Engage Youth in Building Healthier Communities

    By Catalina Garzón, Community Strategies for Sustainability and Justice Program Director

    June 27, 2013

    We’ve all heard the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”  Harnessing and reclaiming the power of photographs is at the heart of a participatory research tool called photo-voice. Photo-voice combines picture-taking and story-telling to identify issues of concern in a community, document community conditions, and generate solutions to create healthier communities.

    Through our partnership with Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ), we use photo-voice to engage young people in promoting innovative solutions that address the root causes of violence in their communities.  CURYJ is a community-based organization in Oakland, California that builds the leadership of young people directly impacted by the criminal justice system and their family members as positive forces for change in their communities. …»

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  • blog-akudago1-6-25-13

    Improving Access to Water and Sanitation: Is the Answer Individual Behavioral Change?

    By Dr. John Akudago, Senior Research Affiliate 

    June 25, 2013 

    Born and raised in rural Africa where I spent my youthful life, open defecation was not only the norm but preferred to outhouses that were poorly ventilated and unbearably hot. We did not understand the consequences of exposing human waste around our houses. At that time, the best practice for sanitation and hygiene was to use a hoe to excavate the ground and bury our feces during the farming season so that the food we grew in the wild did not get contaminated. …»

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  • american-rivers-map-featured

    American Rivers: A Graphic

    By Peter Gleick, President and Matthew Heberger, Research Associate

    June 26 Update: Several astute readers have pointed out that the western portion of our map looked a little, well, funny. It has been decades since some rivers had flows of the magnitude shown, due to dams and diversions. Indeed, our map shows modeled runoff, which represents unimpaired flows, and does not take these developments into account. Here is a new map, where river symbols are proportional to the “gage-adjusted flow,” which takes into account real-world observations. Note the thinning of the Colorado River as it makes its way south, due to withdrawals for cities and farms. Also note the drying of some of the West’s main rivers—long stretches of the Salt, Pecos, Canadian, Rio Grande, and San Joaquin Rivers virtually disappear as their flow drops below 1,000 cfs as a result of withdrawals for human use.

    Caption: Major rivers of the 48 contiguous United States, scaled by average flow where river symbols are proportional to the “gage-adjusted flow.” The symbols drawn here have widths proportional to the square root of the rivers’ estimated average annual discharge. Only rivers with discharge above 1,000 cfs are shown. Data from NHDPlus v2. Background map by ESRI. Map projection: Albers equal-area conic. Prepared by Matthew Heberger (2013)*. Full size map here.

    …»

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  • In 2012, 53% of Global 500 companies responding to CDP Water Disclosure reported that they have experienced detrimental water-related impacts to their business in the last five years.

    Shared Risk, Shared Interest: Corporates and Their Role in Sustainable Water Management

    By Peter Schulte, Research Associate

    June 18, 2013 

    Businesses around the world are making the strategic decision to invest in water-use efficiency and wastewater treatment in their operations. From a business perspective, these efforts reduce operational costs, help alleviate reputational damage due to harmful impacts on ecosystems and communities, and manage risks related to insufficient water supplies. However, many businesses are increasingly going beyond these “inside the fencelines” efforts to encourage more sustainable water management throughout their supply chain and the watersheds outside their factory gates.  They do so by facilitating water-use efficiency and pollution reduction measures of other actors in their watersheds; advocating for efficient, equitable, and ecologically sustainable water policies and practices at the local, national, and international scales; investing in public water infrastructure expansions or upgrades; and a variety of other approaches. …»

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  • grand-ethiopian-renaissance-dam-millennium-dam-reservoir

    National Geographic ScienceBlogs: The Promise and Threat of Ethiopia’s Dam on the Nile: 21st century Water Conflicts

    By Peter Gleick, President

    June 2, 2013 

    The Nile River – river of legend – is not just a river in Egypt. It is the lifeblood of 11 different African nations and the longest river in the world, extending over 6,500 kilometers long and draining a watershed of over 3 million square kilometers. The eleven nations that share the Nile are Egypt, Ethiopia, the Sudan and South Sudan, Kenya, Eritrea, the DR of Congo, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi, and Rwanda.

    The river is really two major rivers: the White Nile and the Blue Nile, which meet near Khartoum and become the mainstem of the Nile, flowing north to Egypt and the Mediterranean.  The White Nile originates in the highlands of the Great Lakes region of Rwanda and Burundi. The Blue Nile originates in the Lake Tana region of Ethiopia. Of all of the water that reaches Egypt, the majority comes in the Blue Nile.

    Over the past centuries, indeed over the past millennia, the waters of the Nile have been captured and harnessed by the people of Egypt, who depended initially on the ebb and flow of the river for recession agriculture, and in modern times, on hydropower and irrigation waters pulled from the massive Aswan Dam or from downstream diversion systems. By some estimates, 97% of all of Egypt’s water comes from the Nile, and to say that the nation is critically dependent upon it – with a population of more than 80 million people — is an understatement.

    Continue reading. 

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  • Hoerling-graphic-Syria-In-Brief-2

    National Geographic ScienceBlogs: Syria, Water, Climate Change, and Violent Conflict

    By Peter Gleick, President

    June 10, 2013 


    There is a long history of conflicts over water – the Pacific Institute maintains an online, searchable chronology of such conflicts going back 5,000 years. There were dozens of new examples in 2012, in countries from Latin America to Africa to Asia.  (A full update for 2012 has been posted.) Access to water and the control of water systems have been causes of conflict, weapons have been used during conflicts, and water systems have been the targets of conflict.

    One especially disturbing example of a major conflict, with complicated but direct connections to water, has developed over the past two years: the unraveling of Syria and the escalation of massive civil war there. Syria’s political dissolution is, like almost all conflicts, the result of complex and inter-related factors, in this case an especially repressive and unresponsive political regime, the erosion of the economic health of the country, and a wave of political reform sweeping over the entire Middle East and North Africa region. But in a detailed assessment, Femia and Werrell noted that factors related to drought, agricultural failure, water shortages, and water mismanagement have also played an important role in nurturing Syria’s “seeds of social unrest” and contributing to violence.

    Continue reading.

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  • 2013-06-06-Population_curve

    Huffington Post: The Most Important Day of the 21st Century

    By Peter Gleick, President

    June 6, 2013 

     

    One day, sometime around the middle of this century, during the lifetime of people now alive, the population of the planet will be smaller than it was the day before. Global population growth is slowing, will level off, and one remarkable day, decline. …»

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  • water-rates-design-basics-cover

    California Water Rates and the “New Normal”

    By Juliet Christian-Smith, Senior Research Associate

    June 6, 2013

    California is facing new challenges to sustainable water management, particularly when it comes to water rate-setting. The twin pressures of increasing water costs (driven by everything from deteriorating infrastructure to climate change) and decreasing water demand (associated with the economic recession and conservation and efficiency improvements) are often known as the “new normal.” This “new normal” means that many water service providers are experiencing a gap between the cost of providing water services and the prices that customers pay. In order to maintain fiscal solvency, many water service providers are increasing water prices and/or changing water rate structures. …»

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