Friday, June 16, 2017

Blue Revolution : Rethinking water on a thirsty planet Nature Conservancy Summer 2017

This issue of the Nature Conservancy magazine, that obviously focuses on water, covers topics of water management generally, river management more specifically, drought recovery, and proactive urban water management. The issue gives a reader a clear understanding of the priorities of the Nature Conservancy and their international scope. From projects on the Magdalena river in Columbia, the Ogooue river in Gabon, the Yangtze river in China, and the Colorado river in the United States, the Nature Conservancy has developed a comprehensive program of water management.

The Water for Life article gives a worldview of water management. Giulio Boccaletti, the author,  stated his premise as, "No nation has managed to achieve prosperity without first delivering "water security"--without developing the infrastructure, institutions and practices needed to manage droughts and floods and to ensure a consistent water supply" (p. 22). Boccaletti acknowledged the existence of water insecurity in developed, developing, and under-developed nations. He explained the essentials of each element of water security listed above.  Regarding infrastructure, he included the natural and constructed--the water ecosystems of "rivers, watersheds, wetlands, floodplains, and aquifers" (p. 24) as well as the water collection, treatment, and distribution infrastructure. The industry that posed the most challenge, agriculture, uses approximately 70 percent of the global fresh water. Boccaletti cited institutional changes that increase security and reduce risk--(1) water markets, such as those in Australia, (2) the careful planning and placement of hydropower plants and dams that interrupt the natural flow of river deltas and beaches, and (3) the protection of watersheds, especially those near urban and heavily populated areas. Boccaletti ends the article with these thoughts, "we have promising models to follow--if we remember to invest not only in engineering but also in the engine of life itself" (p. 25).

Lisa Bramen, author of the article "Saving Great Rivers," claimed that river ecosystems suffer from more damage than other ecosystems. Beginning with the state of the Colorado river in the United States, Bramen listed the cities that rely on the river, the power generated from it, and the aquatic life that depends on it. Because of these dependencies, the river fails to flow to its historical terminus, the Gulf of California.  In addition to the Colorado River, the article describes the relatively pristine river of Gabon, the Ogooue, the threatened river of Magdalena of Colombia from forestation and mine pollution, the Irrawaddy river in Myanmar, where construction of dams and hydropower plants endanger the country's productive fresh fish resources, and the Yangtze river in China, where the government, after its construction of the Three Gorges Dam, sought to restore once prolific fish species--the black, grass, silver, and bighead carp. By carefully planning the construction of dams, hydropower plants, and reservoirs that fragment rivers, and by seeking to reduce agricultural nutrients and salt run-off and the pollutants from mining and other industrial efforts, planners can reduce threats to water resources. Informing clients of the science underpinning sound decision making and offering clients the tools to understand the logic behind the decisions,  the Nature Conservancy more fully exposes the consequences of options and final decisions through their "Saving Great Rivers" and "Hydropower by Design" programs.

Regarding drought management, the article by Julian Smith, The Big Dry, recounts effects of drought on the Murray-Darling basin, the area that "supports almost two-thirds of Australia's irrigated farmland, which grows everything from cotton and cereals to livestock and wine grapes" (p. 40). During the drought, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority managed the buying and selling of farmers assets, their water rights, thereby establishing a water market. The water market did not eliminate contentions between farmers, conservationists, and native groups. To reduce friction, in 2015 The Nature Conservancy and others organized "the world's first impact investment fund to buy and sell water rights with the goal of restoring important wetlands. . . In its simplest sense, private investors buy transferable water rights that can be leased or sold to irrigators throughout the basin. . . The key. . . is how the arrangement turns weather fluctuations from threat to opportunity" (p. 43).

The final article covered here, Liquid Assets" explains how five cities "invest in upstream conservation to improve water quality for their residents" (p. 46). The five cities, Sao Paulo, Nairobi, Albuquerque, San Antonio, Savannah, have employed efforts to prevent deforestation, erosion, and nutrient and salt run-off from agriculture at the headwaters of their supply. Such projects require funding. The Nature Conservancy developed an initiative in 2000, the water fund, to facilitate these efforts. The initial one, in Quito, Ecuador, and the 29 subsequently seek to accomplish conservation goals. In Quito, the municipal water supplier contributes to the fund annually by allocating 2 percent of its budget. The water fund concentrates its funds on upstream conservation rather than downstream water treatment.

The three articles discussed clearly illustrate the increasingly collaborative nature of water management. The Nature Conservancy has partnered with nations, municipal water providers, investment firms, scientists and planners to understand how individuals best preserve our most fundamental asset.  

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