Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Water Supply Challenges For The 21st Century

May 14: The House Science & Technology Committee, Chaired by Representative Bart Gordon (D-TN) held a hearing on Water Supply Challenges for the 21st Century. Witnesses included representatives of the Water Policy Program, University of California-Santa Barbara, Bren School of Environmental Science and Management; National Research Council Water Science and Technology Board; the Institute for the Study of Planet Earth, Professor of Geosciences and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Arizona; JPMorgan Chase, US Corporate Research; and the U.S. National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) & the NOAA Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research Climate Program Office.

In an opening statement, Representative Gordon said, "The recent droughts experienced in the west and the southeast and increased competition for water supplies suggest that we must take a closer look at how we are managing our water resources. Thirty-six states expect to experience significant water shortages by 2013. Population growth, increased per capita water use, degraded water quality, and climate change have all impacted our available supplies of water. In my district, water sources have dried up and wells have run dry, and towns have been forced to implement water restrictions to deal with decreased supply. According to the Tennessee Valley Authority, the first eight months of 2007 were the driest in the last 118 years of Tennessee history.

"When severe water shortages occur, the economic impact is substantial. In 2007, the Tennessee Valley Authority was forced to shut down a nuclear reactor due to a lack of acceptable cooling water in the Tennessee River. According to a 2000 report from NOAA, each of the eight water shortages over the past 20 years from drought or heat waves resulted in $1 billion or more in monetary losses. A recent report by JP Morgan indicated that a single production interruption at a semiconductor plant could cost $200 million in lost revenue. I believe with investment in research and development, public education and better information on the status of our water supplies we can avoid the high costs, social disruption, and environmental damage associated with water shortages."

Testimony from the Bren School indicated that, "Climate models consistently indicate a warmer future for the U.S. West. Evidence of warming trends is already being seen in winter temperatures in the Sierra Nevada, which rose by almost 2 degrees Celsius (4 degrees Fahrenheit) during the second half of the 20th century. Trends toward earlier snowmelt and runoff to the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta over the same period have also been detected. Water managers are particularly concerned with the mid-range elevation levels where snow shifts to rain under warmer conditions, thereby reducing snow-water storage. California’s Department of Water Resources, along with the California Energy Commission, has been tracking the climate change science since the 1980s." Arizona State University also testified on what it called, "One of the chief potential challenges to ensuring a reliable water supply will be climate variability and climate change."

NOAA also testified on the impacts of climate change and drought and said, "Adaptive capacity to manage climate changes can be increased by introducing adaptation measures into development planning and operations (sometimes termed ‘mainstreaming’). This can be achieved by including adaptation measures in land-use planning and infrastructure design, or by including measures to reduce vulnerability in existing disaster preparedness program (such as introducing drought warning systems based on actual management needs). Major barriers to implementing adaptive management measures are adaptation itself is not yet a high priority, and that the validity of local manifestations of global climate change remains in question."

JPMorgan testified that, ". . .investors are much less concerned about water supply risks than they should be. We recently published a report contending that water-supply risks are far more important to many companies than investors believe. We also found that very few companies seem fully aware of these risks. While many companies now produce public relations brochures that tell how they are reducing water use per unit of production, almost none of these companies thoroughly assesses what we call its water “footprint,” the total usage of water in the production and consumption of its product. Investors have no way of evaluating the risk of business disruption due to water scarcity, or of comparing risks among companies."

JPMorgan also said, " I know there is a great deal of talk on Capitol Hill about federal loans or loan guarantees for new-generation nuclear plants and for coal plants with carbon capture and sequestration. Both of these technologies require very large amounts of water. I think it is important that the social cost of those large water withdrawals be reflected in the prices users pay for electricity from those plants. It’s simply bad policy for the government to be subsidizing water usage. . ."

The National Research Council testified that, ". . . problems are especially pronounced in the West and in the Southeast. Both these areas are sites of rapidly-growing populations and have been affected by climate variability, drought, and a tightening water supply picture as multiple and new users vie for changes to more traditional allocation rules and patterns. Lasting solutions to these challenges of water supply and demand balances, as well as water quality, will require creative, science-based, and economically feasible strategies. . ."

Access the hearing website for links to all testimony, a webcast and related information (
click here). [*Water, *Climate]