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Making Fresh Water Out of Thin Air

David Hertz harvesting water in Big Sur, California. Skywater 150 produces up to 150 gallons a day. The water can be stored in collection tanks for future use. 2018 (Photo courtesy Skysource/Skywater Alliance)

David Hertz harvesting water in Big Sur, California. Skywater 150 produces up to 150 gallons a day. The water can be stored in collection tanks for future use. 2018 (Photo courtesy Skysource/Skywater Alliance)

By Sunny Lewis

LOS ANGELES, California, October 25, 2018 (Maximpact.com News) – An atmospheric water generator that condenses moisture in the air, making fresh drinking water, has won the Water Abundance XPrize worth US$1.5 million. The prize went to David Hertz and Laura Doss-Hertz co-founders of the Skysource/Skywater Alliance , which produces the devices and runs one on solar power at its headquarters in Venice Beach, California.

The Water Abundance XPrize, sponsored by the Tata Group and Australian Aid, was launched in 2016 at the United Nations in New Delhi. The two-year competition was aimed at easing the global water crisis with energy-efficient technologies that harvest fresh water from the air.

To qualify for the Water Abundance XPRIZE, competitors had to extract over 2,000 liters of drinkable water from the atmosphere in a 24 hour period using only renewable resources, for less than two cents per liter.

Each Skywater model produces enough fresh water from air for a household use or emergency relief efforts, producing it “more efficiently than any other method of moisture extraction or filtration,” the company claims.

Skywater machines range from the Skywater 30, which makes up to 30 gallons of water a day, to the Skywater 300, which can produce up to 300 gallons of water a day.

The Skysource/Skywater Alliance came to be when South Florida company Island Sky Corp. creator of Skywater® technology joined forces with their West Coast distributor and business partner Skysource.org to form the Skysource/Skywater Alliance.

Richard Groden, president of Island Sky has been harvesting water from the air in Broward County, Florida since 2004.

“Water is a human right,” Groden has said. “There is an abundant, untapped source of clean drinking water in the air around us. Our technology provides a very comprehensive solution to the water crisis that will work as well in the developing world as it will in the technologically advanced areas.”

The Skywater Technology

Skywater uses a patented distillation process, where water vapor is reduced to liquid without a gain or loss of heat. Refrigeration techniques maintain a dew point within a condensation chamber, maximizing water production from whatever the atmospheric condition exists.

The higher the humidity and temperature, the more water can be produced.

After condensation, the water is filtered and treated with ozone to enhance its taste and prevent potentially hazardous micro-organisms from forming. The water can be used or stored for future use.

The winning system, called WEDEW [wood-to-energy deployed water] was created by combining two existing systems. Skywater, a large box that mimics the way clouds are formed, takes in warm air, which hits cold air and forms droplets of condensation – pure drinking water.

The water is stored in a tank inside a shipping container and connected to a bottle refill station or tap.

Because the process uses so much electricity, the designers powered it with a biomass gassifier that burns wood chips, coconut shells, or whatever cheap biomass is locally available. That makes the system hot and humid, the ideal environment to run the air-to-water machine.

As it generates power, the system produces biochar, a charcoal that can be used to enrich soil.

“There’s no restrictions whatsoever on how it’s used,” Hertz, an architect, said of the $1.5 million in prize money. “But Laura and I have committed to using it all for the development and deployment of these machines, to get them to people who need the water most,” he told the Associated Press.

According to The United Nations World Water Development Report 2016, the world could face a 40 percent global water deficit by 2030. By 2025, an estimated 1.8 billion people will be living in areas with absolute water scarcity and two-thirds of the global population living in water-stressed conditions.

Zenia Tata, vice president of Global Impact Strategy at XPrize, is enthusiastic about relieving the thirsting millions who face water scarcity. “Water is our lifeblood. With alarming water shortages impacting livelihood around the world, we are in dire need of decentralized and democratized water breakthroughs now more than ever,” said Tata.

Water, Water Everywhere in the Air

While water may be increasingly scarce in many places on Earth, at any given moment, the atmosphere contains an astounding 37.5 million billion gallons of water, in the invisible vapor phase. This is enough water to cover the entire surface of the Earth, both land and ocean, with one inch of rain, say Steven Ackerman and Jonathan Martin, professors in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Nature recycles this huge amount of water 40 times each year in an endless cycle of evaporation, condensation, and precipitation all over the planet, say Ackerman and Martin.

When it comes to drawing some of that water from the atmosphere, Skywater has many competitors in this fast-evolving field. The Water Abundance Xprize competition began with 98 teams from 27 countries. The five other finalist teams were:

JMCC WING from South Point, Big Island of Hawaii: Led by James McCanney, this team is powering the JMCC WING, LLC line of industrial atmospheric water generators with a high efficiency wind energy system, to extract water from the atmosphere. This team received a $150,000 XPrize to acknowledge the team’s ingenuity in developing a unique technological approach.

Hydro Harvest Operation of Newcastle, Australia: – Led by the University of Newcastle’s Professor Behdad Moghtaderi, the team developed a simple, energy-efficient and cost-effective device, giving communities worldwide the ability to harvest their own fresh water.

Skydra of Chicago, Illinois: Led by Jacques Laramie, Nathan Taylor, and Chris Wlezien, the team has employed a hybrid solution that utilizes both natural and engineered systems to condense water out of the air.

Uravu of Hyderabad, India: – Led by Swapnil Shrivastav, the team is developing a completely off-grid water from air device, spinning together the material sciences and solar thermal energy.

The Veragon & ThinAir Partnership of London, United Kingdom: Led by Laura Dean, the team has developed a partnership with the key objective of revolutionizing the capability of atmospheric water generators to deliver high quality, mineralized drinking water at the point of need, in an economically and environmentally sustainable manner.

Visioneering: Incubator and Stage

The Water Abundance XPrize was awarded during Visioneering 2018, XPrize’s annual gathering of philanthropists and innovators to evaluate concepts for future competitions.

“This year’s Visioneering beautifully encapsulates the full life-cycle of an XPrize with the awarding of the Water Abundance XPrize, which began as a prize concept proposed at a Visioneering just five years earlier by our trustee, Eric Hirshberg,” said Dr. Peter Diamandis, XPrize founder and executive chairman.

“It is testament to the basic premise that Visioneering is the forum where participants’ breakthrough ideas are presented, evaluated, upvoted, funded and then go on to have real-world, transformative impact,” Diamandis explained.

In addition, attendees of Visioneering 2018 deemed a “Coral Survival” prize concept, whose development efforts were sponsored by Wendy Schmidt, as the top prize design. This prize design, once funded, will launch as a future XPrize competition.

This prize concept calls for innovations that can scale coral survival 1,000-fold, taking the survival rate of new coral larvae from one in a million, to one in a thousand, helping to replenish dying coral reefs.

Anousheh Ansari, XPrize chief executive officer, said, “What particularly resonated about the coral reef presentation is the urgency with which we need to address this important issue caused by climate change before it is too late. We are committed to finding the necessary funds to capitalize and launch this competition as soon as possible.”

Featured Image: Thirsty boy enjoys water from the air in the form of rain. July 18, 2017, Saint Sulpice, Montreal, Quebec (Photo by Stéphanie Vaudry) Creative Commons license via Flickr


Innovators Find Water Scarcity Solutions

A team of Argonne National Lab researchers successfully tested the Oleo Sponge off the coast of Southern California in April 2018. (Photo by Argonne National Laboratory) Posted for media use

A team of Argonne National Lab researchers successfully tested the Oleo Sponge off the coast of Southern California in April 2018. (Photo by Argonne National Laboratory) Posted for media use.

By Sunny Lewis

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 17, 2018 (Maximpact.com News) – “We have a water crisis, which is based on increasing population, urbanization and climate disruption. And there’s unsustainable use of our water,” said Argonne National Laboratory researcher Seth Darling. “Part of addressing this is through policy solutions, but we also need new, more energy-efficient and cost-effective technologies.”

As shown this year by South Africa’s countdown to “Day Zero,” or the day the water taps are expected to run dry, water scarcity continues to be a growing problem across the globe. The current system is almost entirely dependent on rainfall.

Four billion people are facing “severe water scarcity” according to a 2016 study by Mesfin Mekonnen and Arjen  Hoekstra at the University of Twente in the Netherlands. “We find that two-thirds of the global population live under conditions of severe water scarcity at least one month of the year. Nearly half of those people live in India and China. Half a billion people in the world face severe water scarcity all year round.”

Authorities are seeking ways improve water access, building desalination plants, extracting groundwater from aquifers and reducing water leaks due to aging infrastructure. Mekonnen and Hoekstra say, “Putting caps to water consumption by river basin, increasing water-use efficiencies, and better sharing of the limited freshwater resources will be key in reducing the threat posed by water scarcity on biodiversity and human welfare.”

Now researchers are discovering innovative ways to clean water, desalinate water, even collect water on fog harps.

Darling’s new and comprehensive research paper describes some of the most advanced innovations that could improve access to clean water globally. It was released this week in the “Journal of Applied Physics,” published by the American Institute of Physics.

Darling’s focus is on understanding and controlling the interfaces between materials and water. Interfaces are what determine the performance of technologies such as water quality sensors, filtration membranes and pipes.

Adsorbents of All Kinds

Adsorption is one of the best mechanisms for cleaning water. A sorbent is a material used to absorb or adsorb liquids or gases. In the adsorption process, contaminants adhere to the surface of porous materials to maximize surface-to-volume ratio. Darling’s own labs are working on adsorbents to advance water treatment.

Highly porous activated carbon is the most extensively used adsorbent because it is abundant and inexpensive.

Zeolites, a kind of rock that can trap water within, can trap whole molecules in their 3D crystalline cage structures, enabling them to selectively bind particular compounds from water-based solutions.

There are about 40 naturally occurring zeolites, formed in both volcanic and sedimentary rocks, says the U.S. Geological Survey. Around 150 more artificial, synthetic zeolites have been designed for specific purposes, such as laundry detergent.

Polymer-based sorbents have nearly limitless flexibility in their design. To meet the demand for green chemistry and sustainable development, much research has been devoted to the design and synthesis of advanced adsorbent nanomaterials such as polymer-based sorbents for efficient adsorption, separation and purification.

“We will continue to rely on these proven technologies,” Darling said. “But there is also a pressing need for sorbents that are more effective and energy-efficient.”

In recent years, functional hydrogels have emerged as effective adsorbents for the removal of water-soluble contaminants. A hydrogel is a gel composed of polymers suspended in water. For instance, a silicone hydrogel is used to make soft contact lenses.

But for amorphous soft materials such as hydrogels, a relatively long time is required to reach a saturated state of adsorption, writes Wantai Yang and colleagues from China’s Beijing University of Chemical Technology in a paper on hydrogels from 2016. “Meanwhile,” writes Yang, “difficulties associated with the regeneration and disposal of hydrogel adsorbents constitute major obstacles for their practical application.”

Porous Membranes

Engineered porous membranes can help recover freshwater from heavily polluted groundwater and seawater, which is a critical need in developing countries and arid environments like the Arabian Peninsula.

Conventional water desalination processes rely on polymer membranes. However, unless these membranes achieve very good salt rejection, they can fall short of the needed high freshwater flux.

Now, Zhiping Lai and colleagues from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia have developed carbon-composite membranes that consist of a network of carbon fibers deposited on a porous, hollow ceramic tube.

Lai calls these membranes, “the first that can be used in all three membrane-based desalination processes, namely membrane distillation, reverse osmosis and forward osmosis.”

These membranes can simultaneously reject all the salt plus let large quantities of freshwater through their nanoscopic pores while consuming little energy. The water fluxes are up to 20 times higher than for commercial membranes.

These results come from a unique interfacial salt-sieving effect, which differs from a solution-diffusion mechanism observed in polymer membranes, explains Lai.

One side of the membrane is immersed in salt water while the other is in contact with freshwater, creating a gap between two liquid surfaces.

“Water evaporates from the salt water and quickly passes through the carbon gap before condensing at the freshwater side. Thanks to the excellent thermal conductivity of carbon fibers, most of the energy can be recovered, which reduces energy consumption by more than 80 percent,” explains Lai.

Seth Darling is a scientist at Argonne National Laboratory and a Fellow at the Institute for Molecular Engineering at the University of Chicago. 2018 (Photo courtesy University of Chicago) Posted for media use

Seth Darling is a scientist at Argonne National Laboratory and a Fellow at the Institute for Molecular Engineering at the University of Chicago. 2018 (Photo courtesy University of Chicago) Posted for media use

Reuse or Be Left Behind

Reusability is a critical characteristic for sorbent materials; it can reduce costs and increase the sustainability of a treatment process. Polymeric foam sponges are promising candidates for this approach.

Darling, who serves as director of the Institute for Molecular Engineering at Argonne National Lab, is heading a group that created the Oleo Sponge, which can soak up 90 times its weight in oil throughout the entire water column.

To create the Oleo Sponge, a patent-pending technology, the researchers implemented a technique called sequential infiltration synthesis (SIS). Using SIS, they grew metal oxide within the foam fibers to transform common polyurethane foam, found in seat cushions, into an oil adsorbent.

The metal oxide serves as the glue to which the oil-loving molecules attach.

Oleo Sponge is reusable; you simply wring the reclaimed oil into a holding tank. This cuts waste resulting from the clean-up process and enables a small amount of adsorbent to mitigate enormous spills.

The technology is the first and only option to adsorb oil and other petroleum products below the water surface. Current industry-standard technologies only address the surface.

Oleo Sponge is environmentally friendly, doing no harm to sea life, animals or the larger environment, a key advantage when compared with chemical dispersants or burning techniques that are used today.

“This technology is so important because, despite the industry’s best intentions, oil spills continue to happen, and existing cleanup methods are surprisingly inadequate,” said Darling.

“This technology has so many applications,” Darling said. “We are excited about the opportunities for other environmental remediation applications and beyond, which makes us that much more motivated to keep working on it.”

Researchers are also designing next-generation sorbents that have higher specificity – more binding power to target individual pollutants. Ideally, researchers could tailor the properties of interfaces to adsorb challenging water contaminants like nutrients and heavy metals.

Josh Tulkoff constructs a large prototype of the fog harp - a vertical array of 700 wires. Tulkoff was part of an interdisciplinary research team at Virginia Tech that discovered parallel wire arrays could increase the water collection capacity of fog nets threefold. 2018 (Photo courtesy Virginia Tech) Posted for media use.

Josh Tulkoff constructs a large prototype of the fog harp – a vertical array of 700 wires. Tulkoff was part of an interdisciplinary research team at Virginia Tech that discovered parallel wire arrays could increase the water collection capacity of fog nets threefold. 2018 (Photo courtesy Virginia Tech) Posted for media use.

Harvesting Water From Fog

Installing giant nets along hillsides and mountaintops to catch water out of thin air sounds more like folly than science. However, the technique has become an important avenue to clean water for many who live in arid and semi-arid climates.

A passive, durable, and effective method of water collection, fog harvesting consists of catching the microscopic droplets of water suspended in the wind that make up fog.

Fog nets have been in use since the 1980s and can yield clean water in any area that experiences frequent, moving fog. Fog harvesting has gained acceptance in areas of Africa, South America, Asia, the Middle East, and California.

As wind moves the fog’s microscopic water droplets through the nets, some get caught on the net’s suspended wires. These droplets gather and merge until they have enough weight to travel down the nets and settle into collection troughs below. In some of the largest fog harvesting projects, these nets collect an average of 6,000 liters of water each day.

Now an interdisciplinary research team at Virginia Tech has improved the traditional design of fog nets to triple their collection capacity.

Published in “ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces,” the team’s research demonstrates how a vertical array of parallel wires can change the forecast for fog harvesters. In a design the researchers have called the “fog harp,” these vertical wires shed tiny water droplets faster and more efficiently than the traditional mesh netting used in fog nets.

“From a design point of view, I’ve always found it somewhat magical that you can essentially use something that looks like screen door mesh to translate fog into drinking water,” said Brook Kennedy, associate professor of industrial design in the Virginia Tech College of Architecture and Urban Studies and one of the study’s co-authors. “But these parallel wire arrays are really the fog harp’s special ingredient.”

Kennedy, who specializes in biomimetic design, found his inspiration for the fog harp in nature.

“On average, coastal redwoods rely on fog drip for about one-third of their water intake,” he said. “These sequoia trees that live along the California coast have evolved over long periods of time to take advantage of that foggy climate. Their needles, like those of a traditional pine tree, are organized in a type of linear array. You don’t see cross meshes.”

And There’s More

With a desire to develop breakthrough technologies for water filtration and purification, French researchers have developed membranes with artificial channels inspired by the proteins that form the pores in biological membranes – aquaporins.

The scientists from the French National Center for Scientific Research, the largest governmental research organization in France, use an innovative spectroscopic technique.

With their new technique, they have been able to observe that, in the very restricted space in these channels, water molecules organize in a regular manner, in an oriented molecular wire structure – the water has become “chiral.” A chiral phenomenon is one that is not identical to its mirror image.

Water, via hydrogen bonds, interacts with the walls of these artificial channels. In the resulting superstructures, the molecules forming the channels transmit their chiral character to the water threads, and give the water molecules a preferred direction.

Laboratory experiments confirmed that these chiral arrangements present greater transfer properties than their non-chiral equivalents, where water forms random molecular arrangement. This discovery opens a vast area of application for water filtration and purification.

Featured Images: A young resident of Afghanistan’s Maslakh Camp for displaced persons takes a drink of water, Herat, Afghanistan. February 2, 2002 (Photo by Eskinder Debebe / UN Photo) Creative Commons license via Flickr


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Climate Change Could Shock Global Food Markets

A pile of corn purchased at Kurtkoy Market, Istanbul, Turkey, June 19, 2009 (Photo by CCarlstead) Creative Commons license via Flickr

A pile of corn purchased at Kurtkoy Market, Istanbul, Turkey, June 19, 2009 (Photo by CCarlstead) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

SEATTLE, Washington, June 13, 2018 (Maximpact.com News) – The warming climate is likely to result in increased volatility of grain prices, maize production shocks and reduced food security, finds new research published Monday in the U.S. journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”

Volatility in the global grain market creates uncertainty for farmers and agribusinesses and can lead to price spikes that reduce access to food, warn researchers at the University of Washington, Stanford University and the University of Minnesota.

Corn, or maize, is grown more widely than any other crop. Used in food, cooking oil, livestock feed and vehicle fuel, corn is essential to the lives of billions of people. Price spikes could throw poorer people into hunger.

In their study titled, “Future warming increases probability of globally synchronized maize production shocks,” lead author Michelle Tigchelaar and colleagues estimated the probability of such shocks in maize production under future climate warming.

The study used global climate projections with maize growth models to confirm previous research showing that warmer temperatures will negatively affect corn crops.

“Previous studies have often focused on just climate and plants, but here we look at climate, food and international markets,” said Tigchelaar, a UW postdoctoral researcher in atmospheric sciences.

“We find that as the planet warms, it becomes more likely for different countries to simultaneously experience major crop losses, which has big implications for food prices and food security,” she cautioned.

Under 2°C of global warming, estimated mean yields declined, and yield variability increased worldwide, particularly in the United States, Eastern Europe, and sub-Saharan Africa.

The top four corn-exporting countries – the United States, Brazil, Argentina, and Ukraine – collectively account for 87 percent of global corn exports. Currently, the probability of all four of these countries experiencing simultaneous yield losses greater than 10 percent of the present-day mean yield is negligible.

But the authors estimate that the probability of such simultaneous losses might increase to seven percent under

2°C warming and to 86 percent under 4°C warming, triggering a higher frequency of international price spikes.

“When people think about climate change and food, they often initially think about drought,” Tigchelaar said, “but it’s really extreme heat that’s very detrimental for crops. Part of that is because plants grown at a higher temperature demand more water, but it’s also that extreme heat itself negatively affects crucial stages in plant development, starting with the flowering stage and ending with the grain-filling stage.”

The authors write that their results “underscore the urgency of investments in breeding for heat tolerance.”

“Even with optimistic scenarios for reduced emissions of greenhouse gases, results show that the volatility in year-to-year maize production in the U.S. will double by the middle of this century, due to increasing average growing season temperature,” said co-author David Battisti, a UW professor of atmospheric sciences.

“The same will be true in the other major maize-exporting countries,” he said. “Climate change will cause unprecedented volatility in the price of maize, domestically and internationally.”

The authors say their results emphasize the importance of aggressive carbon dioxide emissions mitigation and also breeding crops for improved heat tolerance. Efforts to pursue new agricultural technology to ensure food security for a growing global population would be worthwhile, they say.

 Vegetable display at the farmers' market, Hollywood, Florida, April 29, 2017 (Photo by Yellow Green Farmers Market) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Vegetable display at the farmers’ market, Hollywood, Florida, April 29, 2017 (Photo by Yellow Green Farmers Market) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Vegetables Shrivel as Climate Heats Up

A separate study, also published Monday in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,” finds that the global production of vegetables and legumes could be “significantly reduced through predicted future changes to the environment.”

Led by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), this research is the first to systematically examine how increases in temperature and reduced water availability could affect the production and nutritional quality of common crops such as tomatoes, leafy vegetables and pulses.

If no action is taken to reduce the negative impacts on agricultural yields, the LSHTM researchers estimate that the environmental changes predicted for the second half of this century in water availability and ozone concentrations would reduce average yields of vegetables by 35 percent and and legumes by nine percent.

In hot settings such as Southern Europe and large parts of Africa and South Asia, increased air temperatures would reduce average vegetable yields by an estimated 31 percent.

The researchers conducted a systematic review of all the available evidence from experimental studies published since 1975 on the impacts of changes in environmental exposures on the yield and nutritional quality of vegetables and legumes. Experiments were conducted in 40 countries.

Previous research has shown that raised levels of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide could increase crop yields, but this study identified for the first time that these potential yield benefits are likely to be canceled out in the presence of simultaneous changes in other environmental exposures.

Dr. Pauline Scheelbeek, lead author at LSHTM, said, “Our study shows that environmental changes such as increased temperature and water scarcity may pose a real threat to global agricultural production, with likely further impacts on food security and population health.

“Vegetables and legumes are vital components of a healthy, balanced and sustainable diet and nutritional guidelines consistently advise people to incorporate more vegetables and legumes into their diet,” said Dr. Scheelbeek. “Our new analysis suggests, however, that this advice conflicts with the potential impacts of environmental changes that will decrease the availability of these important crops unless action is taken.”

To lessen the risks that future environmental changes pose to these crops, researchers say that innovations to improve agricultural production must be a priority, including the development of new crop varieties as well as enhanced agricultural management and mechanization.

The LSHTM study was funded by the Wellcome Trust as part of its Our Planet, Our Health program.

Dr. Howie Frumkin, who heads Our Planet, Our Health at Wellcome, said, Improvements in agricultural technology have dramatically boosted the world’s food production over the last 80 or so years. But we mustn’t be complacent. Environmental changes, including more chaotic weather patterns and a warming climate, threaten our ability to feed the world’s people.”

“Some of the most important foods, and some of the world’s most vulnerable people, are at highest risk. This research is a wake-up call, underlining the urgency of tackling climate change and of improving agricultural practices,” said Frumkin.

The authors acknowledge the limitations of the study, including the shortage of evidence on the impact of environmental changes on the nutritional quality of vegetables and legumes. The research team identified this as an area requiring more research.

Professor Alan Dangour, senior author at LSHTM, said, “We have brought together all the available evidence on the impact of environmental change on yields and quality of vegetables and legumes for the first time.”

“Our analysis suggests that if we take a business as usual approach, environmental changes will substantially reduce the global availability of these important foods. Urgent action needs to be taken,” Dangour demanded, “including working to support the agriculture sector to increase its resilience to environmental changes, and this must be a priority for governments across the world.”

Featured images: A cornfield flourishes in Pennsylvania, July 18, 2010 (Photo by fishhawk) Creative Commons license via Flickr


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Investing in Water for Life

Murray_River

Water is returned to Australia’s Murray River through a Nature Conservancy Water Sharing Investment Partnership, 2016. (Photo by Brian Richter) Posted for media use.

By Sunny Lewis

 STOCKHOLM, Sweden, September 1, 2016 (Maximpact.com) – Water scarcity is a top risk to global prosperity and ecological integrity. But creative impact investment solutions, such as Water Sharing Investment Partnerships, can shift water back to the environment, while supporting irrigated agriculture and meeting urban needs, finds new research presented during World Water Week in Stockholm.

The new study  from nonprofit The Nature Conservancy, “Water Share: Using water markets and impact investing to drive sustainability,” shows that through new approaches to water markets, the planet-wide problem of water scarcity can be managed.

The WSIP concept was created by The Nature Conservancy’s water program and impact investment unit, NatureVest, to advance the strategic trading of water-use rights within river and lake basins.

The establishment of high-functioning and well-governed water markets – in which a cap on total use is set; rights to use water are legally defined, monitored, and enforced; and in which rights can be exchanged among water users – can provide a powerful integration of public and private efforts to alleviate water scarcity,” the report states.

This model takes advantage of the motivations and incentives for trading water,” says Brian Richter, the lead scientist for the water program at The Nature Conservancy, headquartered in Arlington, Virginia with offices in 30 countries.

As water assumes a value, it provides a huge incentive for water conservation and water savings,” he said.

The Nature Conservancy launched its first Water Sharing Investment Partnership in Australia in 2015 in the Murray-Darling river basin, which drains one-seventh of the continent. As of May 2016, about A$27 million had been invested in the Murray-Darling Basin Balanced Water Fund , with a target of A$100 million within the next four years.

NatureVest plans to replicate the success of this fund in other areas of the world and is now in the process of scoping various river basins across the western United States and Latin America, where a similar model of water reallocation through investor-funded solutions can be applied.

 The Nature Conservancy is now building off its track record of using philanthropic dollars to purchase water on behalf of the environment in North America, to craft Water Sharing Investment Partnerships (WSIPs) and other water transactions and investment mechanisms to help rebalance water use in stressed basins.

 A WSIP operates within an existing water market, using investor capital and other revenue sources to acquire water-use rights.

These rights can be reallocated to nature, or sold or leased to other water users seeking more supplies, generating financial returns for investors.

The report identifies investor funded solutions, some of which may serve as the basis for a future WSIP such as long-term water trades within farming communities by establishing a complex of water sharing agreements: “…farmers’ water markets, long-term trades between farmers and cities, short-term trades within farming communities and short-term exchanges between farmers and cities.

As water assumes a value, it provides a huge incentive for water conservation and water savings,” Richter says.

Freshwater ecosystems are the most imperiled on the planet, and their condition is getting worse. More than 30 percent of Earth’s water sources are being over-exploited, some to near exhaustion.

A sense of urgency pervades the conference hall as 3,000 people from 120 countries are gathered in Stockholm this week for the 26th annual World Water Week under the theme “Water for Sustainable Growth.”

Torgny Holmgren, executive director of the organizer, Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), said, “Without reliable access to water, almost no Sustainable Development Goal will be achieved. To make that happen, we must ensure water’s centrality to the entire Agenda 2030. This will show the power water has a connector.

Water connects not only sectors, but also nations, communities and different actors. Water can be the unifying power, the enabler for progress in both Agenda 2030 and the Paris Climate Agreement,” said Holmgren.

Stockholm Mayor Karin Wanngård told delegates that cities struggle with some of the biggest problems, but also have access to powerful solutions.

We have the job growth, the universities, the creative ideas,” she said. “We also face the biggest emissions, the social problems, and housing shortage. Our participation in the struggle for sustainable solutions is key for global success. And that means a growing responsibility, a moral responsibility towards future generations and their ability to live in cities where it is possible to work, live in security, breathe the air and drink the water.

Addressing the opening session, Sweden’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallström reinforced the message that water is a connector and an enabler in realizing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 6 – clean, accessible water for all.

Successful realization of Goal 6 of the 2030 Agenda will underpin progress across many of the other goals, particularly on nutrition, child health, education, gender equality, healthy cities and healthy water ecosystems and oceans,” said Wallström.

 Angel Gurría, secretary general of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), said that water now has come to the front and center of international deliberations. “Water now has the place it needs to have in international priorities,” said Gurría.

Rose_Receives_Prize

Professor Joan Rose is awarded the 2016 Stockholm Water Prize by H.M. Carl XVI Gustaf, King of Sweden, during a ceremony in Stockholm City Hall, August 31, 2016 (Photo courtesy Stockholm International Water Institute)

Professor Joan Rose from Michigan State University received the 2016 Stockholm Water Prize on Wednesday, for her tireless contributions to global public health; by assessing risks to human health in water and creating guidelines and tools for decision-makers and communities to improve global wellbeing.

The prize, worth $150,000, was presented to Professor Rose by H.M. Carl XVI Gustaf, King of Sweden, during a ceremony in Stockholm City Hall during World Water Week.

Professor Rose said, “As an individual it is an honor and I am overflowing with gratitude. But it means even more, because it is a prize that honors water, it honors the blue planet and it honors the human condition. Therefore, I am very proud.

Rose and her team, whom she calls “water detectives” investigate waterborne disease outbreaks globally, to determine how they can be stopped and prevented.

She is regarded as the world’s foremost authority on the microorganism Cryptosporidium, an intestinal parasite that in 1993 killed 69 people and sickened more than 400,000 others who drank contaminated water in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

More than two billion people still lack adequate sanitation, and over one billion lack access to safe drinking water. Hundreds of thousands of deaths from diarrhoeal diseases each year could be prevented by improved water, sanitation and hygiene,” said Holmgren.

Joan Rose, our water hero, is a beacon of light in the quest for securing a better, healthier life for this and future generations,” he said.

Speaking of what she views as the world’s greatest water challenge, Professor Rose said, “I think it is going to be the reversal of water quality problems around the world; the algal blooms in fresh water and coastal waters, and the pollution, not just associated with humans, but also with disease outbreaks among our wildlife, like amphibians and fish. I also think reconnecting water and food security will be a major challenge. We are starting to do it but it will definitely continue to be a challenge.”

Water Facts from the United Nations:

  • Some 2.6 billion people have gained access to improved drinking water sources since 1990, but 663 million people are still without.
  • At least 1.8 billion people use a source of drinking water that is fecally contaminated.
  • Water scarcity affects more than 40 percent of the global population and is projected to rise. Over 1.7 billion people are currently living in river basins where water use exceeds recharge.
  • Of the world’s 7.5 billion people, 2.4 billion lack access to basic sanitation services, such as toilets or latrines.
  • More than 80 percent of wastewater resulting from human activities is discharged into rivers or sea without any pollution removal.
  • Every day, nearly 1,000 children die due to preventable water and sanitation-related diseases.
  • Hydropower is the world’s most important and widely-used renewable source of energy and as of 2011, represented 16 percent of total electricity production worldwide.
  • Roughly 70 percent of all water drawn from rivers, lakes and aquifers is used for irrigation.
  • Floods and other water-related disasters account for 70 percent of all deaths related to natural disasters.

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Featured Image: The Jordan River runs along the border between the Kingdom of Jordan, Israel and Palestine. The 251-kilometre (156 mile)-long river flows through the Sea of Galilee and on to the Dead Sea. (Photo by Tracy Hunter) Creative commons license via Flickr

In Search of a Water-Wise World

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The drought in Somalia has lasted for years. This image of two men carrying a water can on a dusty road was shot on December 14, 2013. (Photo by the African Union Mission in Somalia, AMISOM) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

ENSCHEDE, Netherlands, July 4, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) – Rukiyo Ahmed, 26, discovered she was pregnant just as drought began to parch her village in the East African country of Somalia. Her household lost all its livestock. When the drought intensified, Ahmed and her family had to seek relief with extended family members living in the town of Dangoroyo, 35 kilometres away.

“I was so worried that I would have a miscarriage due to the effects of the drought,” said Rukiyo. “We had so little to eat. I became very weak and could barely walk.”

This story has a happy ending. With the help of the UN Population Fund , Ahmed eventually gave birth to a healthy boy.

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China fights the advancing desert by planting trees in Inner Mongolia, May 2010. (Photo by Cory M. Grenier) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Still, water scarcity is a real and present danger for the two-thirds of the global population – four billion people – who live without enough water for at least one month of each year. Half a billion face severe water scarcity all year round, many in China, India and Africa.

Professor of water management Arjen Hoekstra and his team at University of Twente in The Netherlands have come to this conclusion after years of extensive research in a study published in the journal “Science Advances“.

“Groundwater levels are falling, lakes are drying up, less water is flowing in rivers, and water supplies for industry and farmers are threatened,” Hoekstra warns.

Until now, scientists had thought that about two to three billion people were suffering severe water scarcity. Four billion thirsty people is “alarming,” he said.

Professor Hoekstra’s team is the world’s first research group to establish the maximum sustainable “water footprint” for every location on Earth, and then investigate actual water consumption by location.

“Up to now, this type of research concentrated solely on the scarcity of water on an annual basis, and had only been carried out in the largest river basins,” says Hoekstra.

Severe water scarcity exists if consumption is much greater than the water supply can sustain. That is the case particularly in Mexico, the western United States, northern and southern Africa, southern Europe, the Middle East, India, China, and Australia.

There, households, industries and farmers regularly experience water shortages. In other areas, water supplies are still fine but at risk in the long-term, the Dutch team reports.

In the United States, 130 million of the country’s 323 million people are affected by water scarcity for at least one month of each year, most in the states of California, Florida and Texas.

Hoekstra observes that the subject of water scarcity is climbing higher and higher on the global agenda. “The fact that the scarcity of water is being regarded as a global problem is confirmed by our research,” he said. “For some time now, the World Economic Forum has placed the world water crisis in the top three of global problems, alongside climate change and terrorism.”

“All over the world,” Hoekstra said, “it is clear that the risks associated with high water consumption are being increasingly recognized. The growing world population, changes in consumer behavior, and climate change are having a significant impact on the scarcity and quality of water.”

Hoekstra’s work is confirmed by many other authoritative research teams.

About one-third of Earth’s largest groundwater basins are being rapidly depleted by human consumption, according to two new studies from the University of California, Irvine, the first to identify global groundwater loses using data from space. The data is drawn from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites flown by the U.S. National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA).

This means that millions of people are consuming groundwater quickly without knowing when it might run out, conclude the researchers, whose findings were published June 16 in “Water Resources Research.”

In the first paper, researchers found that 13 of the planet’s 37 largest aquifers studied between 2003 and 2013 were being depleted while receiving little to no recharge. In a companion paper, they conclude that the total remaining volume of the world’s usable groundwater is poorly known, with estimates that often vary widely.

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California fruit growers, farmers and ranchers are suffering through an epic drought, Coalinga, California, April 23, 2015 (Photo by ATOMIC Hot Links) Creative Commons license via Flickr

“Available physical and chemical measurements are simply insufficient,” said UCI professor and principal investigator Jay Famiglietti, who is also the senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “Given how quickly we are consuming the world’s groundwater reserves, we need a coordinated global effort to determine how much is left.”

“The water table is dropping all over the world,” said Famiglietti. “There’s not an infinite supply of water.”

A NASA study released in March finds that the drought that began in 1998 in the eastern Mediterranean Levant region of: Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Turkey, is likely the worst drought of the past 900 years.

In a joint statement, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation and the Famine Early Warning Systems Network said late last year, “El Niño will have a devastating effect on southern Africa’s harvests and food security in 2016. The current rainfall season has so far been the driest in the last 35 years.”

El Niño conditions, which arise from a natural warming of Pacific Ocean waters, lead to droughts, floods and more frequent cyclones across the world every few years.

Meteorologists say this year’s El Niño is the worst in 35 years and is now peaking. Although it is expected to decline in strength over the next six months, El Niño’s effects on farming, health and livelihoods in developing countries could last through 2018.

In Central America, El Niño conditions have led to a second consecutive year of drought – one of the region’s most severe in history,

In Africa, Abdoulaye Balde, the World Food Programme’s country director in Mozambique issued a dire warning. “Mozambique and southern African countries face a disaster if the rains do not come within a few weeks,” he said.

“South Africa is six million tonnes short of food this year, but it is the usual provider of food reserves in the region,” said Balde. “If they have to import six million tonnes for themselves, there will be little left for other countries. The price of food will rise dramatically.”

Zimbabwe declared a national food emergency this month, according to the WFP rep in the capital, Harare. Food production is just half of what it was last year, and the staple grain, maize, is 53 percent more expensive.

Water scarcity remedies range from simple conservation and efficiency, to tree planting and wastewater re-use, to highly technical and expensive facilities such as nuclear desalination plants as advocated by the International Atomic Energy Agency  that would turn seawater into freshwater.

Finding sustainable solutions to water scarcity will be the focus of the annual World Water Week in Stockholm, held this year from August 28 to September 2. Hosted and organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), this year’s theme is Water for Sustainable Growth.

Water experts, technicians, decision makers, business innovators and young professionals from more than 100 countries are expected in Stockholm to network, exchange ideas and foster innovations that could help satisfy the urgent needs of four billion people for water.

One such innovation is the world’s first certified green bond. It was just issued by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) under the Water Climate Bonds Standard, whose criteria was co-developed by SIWI and the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation.

The Water Climate Bonds Standard is a screening tool for investors that specifies the criteria that must be met for bonds to be labeled as “green” or earmarked for funding water-related, resilient, and low-carbon initiatives.

Proceeds from the SFPUC’s $240m Wastewater Revenue Bond  will fund projects in sustainable stormwater and wastewater management.


Featured image: California fruit growers, farmers and ranchers are suffering through an epic drought, Coalinga, California, April 23, 2015 (Photo by ATOMIC Hot Links) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Jordan’s Refugees Must Drink

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By Sunny Lewis

AMMAN, Jordan, March 24, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) – Jordan, one of the world’s driest countries, is dumping much of its water into the sand – allowing 76 billion liters a year to flow from broken pipes, according to an assessment by the nonprofit aid organization Mercy Corps.

“By one estimate, the amount of water lost nationwide every year could satisfy the basic needs of 2.6 million people, or more than a third of Jordan’s current population. It is a tragedy of waste,” mourns the report, “Tapped Out: Water Scarcity and Refugee Pressures in Jordan.

Published in 2014, the report outlines urgent needs and provides key recommendations to guide institutional donor efforts and policies, advisories that are even more urgent today as distressed refugees from war-torn Syria surge across the border into northern Jordan.

Since the onset of the Syrian crisis five years ago, Jordan has borne the impact of this massive Syrian refugee influx. Today, those refugees account for about 10 percent of the kingdom’s population of 6.3 million, placing severe pressure on its water resources at a difficult economic period.

The Mercy Corps report quotes former deputy prime minister of Jordan Marwan al-Muasher, who warns, “Water scarcity is an existential threat to Jordan.”

An irrigation canal in Jordan, where groundwater levels are falling a meter each year. (Photo courtesy Global Freshwater Initiative)

An irrigation canal in Jordan, where groundwater levels are falling a meter each year. (Photo courtesy Global Freshwater Initiative)

Based on interviews conducted in three northern governorates in Jordan – Amman, Mafraq, and Irbid, the areas taking the greatest number of Syrian refugees – the Mercy Corps report asks donors to invest in long-term infrastructure development, strengthen government agencies and address the nexus of conflict and conservation.

A team of Mercy Corps engineers is working to rebuild the aging water system so that both Jordanian and Syrian refugee families will have enough clean water to stay healthy. Their work has already improved access to clean water for 500,000 people in Jordan.

Ghassan “Gus” Hazboun, Mercy Corps’ Water Engineering Director, said last July that in Jordan’s northern areas the leakage can be up to 70 percent of the water that flows through the network. “So we have water that’s already been treated, already been pumped from the aquifer to far-away places, and then we lose that water in the network,” he said.

“The best thing we can do, the only way forward, is to treat the network – to fix any damage and spare the waste of water. Reclaiming that wasted water is better than finding a new source of water,” said Hazboun.

Mercy Corps started with two wells in the Zaatari refugee camp, and now has three wells there, one well in Azraq camp, and several projects in host communities.

“We recently developed a well near the border between Jordan and Syria,” said Hazboun. “The water comes here, to the water treatment and filter area. And now we are ready to build a new pump station, control building, and a 500-cubic-meter reservoir.”

“This infrastructure is very important for the northern areas, including the city of Mafraq. The water we are providing goes to all the houses and we are supplying everybody, both Jordanians and Syrians,” Hazboun explained.

The World Bank is working to increase Jordan’s water supply in a different way.

On Monday, the bank released an account of its efforts to help the Jordanian government restore ecosystems and improve people’s livelihoods in the Badia desert, which covers about 80 percent of the country.

The World Bank and the Global Environment Facility are collaborating on a US$3.3 million grant to help the government create opportunities for the nomadic Bedouin livestock breeders of the Badia and make them more resilient to climate change and water scarcity.

Through the Badia Ecosystem and Livelihoods Project, this work is focused in Mafraq and Ma’an, impoverished governorates in north and south Badia with diverse, fragile ecosystems, unique archaeology and ancient history.

Livelihoods Project partner National Center for Agriculture Research and Extension (NCARE) is establishing rangeland reserves and reservoirs of rainwater for animal drinking. A mandated rest period in the reserves is allowing endemic plants, gone for 20 years, to re-emerge.

The bank also is supporting “high-value, low-volume ecotourism” by working with the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) to establish an ecotourism corridor in Mafraq that is already attracting other donors.

The project is expanding ecotourism by strengthening RSCN’s Al Azraq wetlands reserve and the Shaumari wildlife reserve.

All this work and investment is crucially important to Jordan, one of the world’s most water-vulnerable countries, but more help is needed.

Struggling with low rainfall, limited surface water storage, excessive groundwater mining and high dependence on waters shared by neighboring countries, Jordan now must also provide drinking water to hundreds of thousands of refugees.

In view of ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa, influential countries such as the United States should consider how to help the region’s vulnerable nations steer clear of destabilizing water crises, says Professor Steven Gorelick who teaches at Stanford School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences and is a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

“Jordan is a peaceful and generous country that has absorbed hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees,” Gorelick said in January. “The U.S. is not sufficiently helping that country deal with the consequent stress of inadequate water supply.”

Countries in the Middle East and North Africa are over-pumping groundwater, he said. In Jordan, where people depend on groundwater for 80 percent of their freshwater, levels are dropping three feet (one meter) each year, and will likely be depleted by 30 to 40 percent within the next 15 years.

“Refugee migrations from conflict-torn lands and global warming-related extreme weather will likely worsen the situation,” said Gorelick.

Gorelick heads the Stanford Woods Institute’s Global Freshwater Initiative, focused on developing a comprehensive national hydro-economic model to evaluate new supply options and demand strategies.

The initiative is coordinating the Jordan Water Project, an international, interdisciplinary research effort aimed at developing new approaches for analyzing strategies to enhance the sustainability of freshwater resources in Jordan and, ultimately, arid regions throughout the world.


Featured image: Refugee child draws water in Zaatari Refugee camp in northern Jordan. Coming from a country with sufficient supply of water however, Syrian refugees are adjusting to water scarcity, especially difficult for mothers and children. (Photo by European Commission) Creative commons license via Flickr
Header image: A view of Zaatari refugee camp, where at least 80,000 refugees live, is located 10 km east of Mafraq, Jordan, June 2014. (Photo by Dominic Chavez / World Bank) Creative Commons license via Flickr