Sunday March 23, 2014, at a little after 8 am, the gates at Morelos Dam on the Mexico-Arizona border were opened for the first time in history for the purpose of allowing the Colorado River to flow downstream into its delta to water the plants and animals that live there. A crowd of more than 100, many from the local community, plus a handful of reporters and water workers from afar, waited just downstream.
A cheer went up when the water began to pour down, first in a trickle, and then a steady gushing flow. It took a long time for the institutions that manage the Colorado River to make this happen. Now we have the chance to see how long it takes the river to move downstream, and how far it goes. (See “Historic ‘Pulse Flow’ Brings Water to Parched Colorado River Delta.”)
Later in the day, after some excellent adobada tacos, a few of us drove downriver to look for the front of the flow. We found it about 18 river miles below the dam, cool and clear. A lot of the flow is soaking into the parched, sandy channel, and downstream progress is slow but steady. The water was cool and clear. Read more
Once the fourth largest lake in the world, Central Asia’s shrinking Aral Sea has reached a new low, thanks to decades-old water diversions for irrigation and a more recent drought. Satellite imagery released this week by NASA shows that the eastern basin of the freshwater body is now completely dry.
In 2000 (left), Asia’s Aral Sea had already shrunk to a fraction of its 1960 extent (black line). Further irrigation and dry conditions in 2014 (right) caused the sea’s eastern lobe to completely dry up for the first time in 600 years.
“It is likely the first time it has completely dried in 600 years, since medieval desiccation associated with diversion of Amu Darya [river] to the Caspian Sea,” Philip Micklin, an Aral Sea expert and a geographer emeritus from Western Michigan University, in Kalamazoo, told NASA about the sea’s eastern basin. (See “Photos: Dried Up Aral Sea Aftermath.”) Read more
But it’s more widely known as “rock snot”—mats of algae carpeting the bottoms of some rivers and lakes—and it’s quickly spreading around the globe, possibly because of climate change, a new study says.
So far, scientists say its effects on the environment are unknown, though they are concerned specifically about the impact on salmon.
The mats can cover up to 75 percent of a river bottom in some places. (See a striking picture of didymo coating a river bottom.)
As the algae spread worldwide in recent decades, including to New Zealand, South America, and the United States, scientists theorized that it was an invasive organism whose cells were hitchhiking with people as they enjoyed the outdoors.
Not so, found Joshua Kurek, a biologist at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada, and his colleagues. Read more
A Clean Water Crisis
The water you drink today has likely been around in one form or another since dinosaurs roamed the Earth, hundreds of millions of years ago.
While the amount of freshwater on the planet has remained fairly constant over time—continually recycled through the atmosphere and back into our cups—the population has exploded. This means that every year competition for a clean, copious supply of water for drinking, cooking, bathing, and sustaining life intensifies.
Water scarcity is an abstract concept to many and a stark reality for others. It is the result of myriad environmental, political, economic, and social forces. Read more
Yesterday, nations went to war for land. Today, our conflicts involve energy. And tomorrow, Brahma Chellaney writes, the battles will be about water. The award-winning author believes that Mark Twain was right when he said, “Whisky is for drinking, water is for fighting over.”
There is “blue water,” “green water,” even “virtual water.” But however labeled, water is the world’s single most important resource. Life is not possible without it. It will likely determine our future.
And it is becoming scarce. In the twentieth century, the world’s population grew by a factor of 3.8 and water use by nine. Today, with the number of people passing the seven billion mark, it should come as no surprise that more than half of humankind lives in water-stressed areas. That figure could increase to two-thirds during the next decade. Read more