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 ( 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 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

Twin Satellites Track Global Freshwater Trends

Cataract Falls, Mount Tamalpais, California March 1, 2009 (Photo by Alan Grinberg) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Cataract Falls, Mount Tamalpais, California March 1, 2009 (Photo by Alan Grinberg) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

GREENBELT, Maryland, May 17, 2018 ( News) – Earth’s wet land areas are getting wetter and dry areas are getting drier due to a range of factors, including human water management, climate change and natural cycles.

In a first-of-its-kind study, scientists have combined an array of NASA satellite observations of Earth with data on human activities to map locations where freshwater is changing around the globe and to determine why.

The study was published Wednesday in the journal “Nature.

Matt Rodell analyzes GRACE data at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. (Photo by Bill Hrybyk / NASA) Public domain

Matt Rodell analyzes GRACE data at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. (Photo by Bill Hrybyk / NASA) Public domain

A team led by Matt Rodell of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, used 14 years of observations from the U.S./German-led Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) spacecraft mission to track global trends in freshwater in 34 regions around the world.

To understand why these trends emerged, they needed to pull in satellite precipitation data from the Global Precipitation Climatology Project, NASA/U.S. Geological Survey Landsat imagery, irrigation maps, and published reports of human activities related to agriculture, mining and reservoir operations.

Only through analysis of the combined data sets were the scientists able to get a full understanding of the reasons for Earth’s freshwater changes as well as the sizes of those trends.

Launched in 2002 as a joint mission with NASA and the German Aerospace Center <>, the identical twin GRACE satellites weighed Earth’s fresh water from space. The satellites respond to changes in Earth’s gravitation field that signal shifts in the movement of water across and under Earth’s surface.

“This is the first time that we’ve used observations from multiple satellites in a thorough assessment of how freshwater availability is changing, everywhere on Earth,” said Rodell.

“A key goal was to distinguish shifts in terrestrial water storage caused by natural variability – wet periods and dry periods associated with El Niño and La Niña, for example – from trends related to climate change or human impacts, like pumping groundwater out of an aquifer faster than it is replenished,” he said.

“Accurate accounting of changes in freshwater availability is essential for predicting regional food supplies, human and ecosystem health, energy generation and social unrest,” the authors write. “Groundwater is particularly difficult to monitor and manage because aquifers are vast and unseen, yet groundwater meets the domestic needs of roughly half of the world’s population and boosts food supply by providing for 38 percent of global consumptive irrigation water demand.”

“Nearly two-thirds of terrestrial aquatic habitats are being increasingly threatened, while the precipitation and river discharge that support them are becoming more variable. A recent study estimates that almost five billion people live in areas where threats to water security are likely – a situation that will only be exacerbated by climate change, population growth and human activities,” the authors state, concluding, “The key environmental challenge of the 21st century may be the globally sustainable management of water resources.”

Twin satellites launched in March 2002, made detailed measurements of Earth's gravity field which are leading to discoveries about gravity and Earth's freshwater systems that could have far-reaching benefits to society and the world's population. Artist's concept of Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech) Public domain

Twin satellites launched in March 2002, made detailed measurements of Earth’s gravity field which are leading to discoveries about gravity and Earth’s freshwater systems that could have far-reaching benefits to society and the world’s population. Artist’s concept of Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech) Public domain

“What we are witnessing is major hydrologic change,” said co-author Jay Famiglietti from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “We see a distinctive pattern of the wet land areas of the world getting wetter – those are the high latitudes and the tropics – and the dry areas in between getting dryer. Embedded within the dry areas we see multiple hotspots resulting from groundwater depletion.”

“GRACE is not looking at the ground,” says Famiglietti, now at the University of California-Irvine. “It’s feeling the ground.”

Famiglietti commented that while water loss in some regions, like the melting ice sheets and alpine glaciers, is clearly driven by warming climate, it will require more time and data to determine the driving forces behind other patterns of freshwater change.

“The pattern of wet-getting-wetter, dry-getting-drier during the rest of the 21st century is predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change models, but we’ll need a much longer dataset to be able to definitively say whether climate change is responsible for the emergence of any similar pattern in the GRACE data,” he said.

But the GRACE satellite observations alone cannot tell Rodell, Famiglietti and their colleagues what was causing the apparent trends.

“We examined information on precipitation, agriculture and groundwater pumping to find a possible explanation for the trends estimated from GRACE,” said co-author Hiroko Beaudoing of Goddard and the University of Maryland in College Park.

For instance, although pumping groundwater for agricultural uses is a significant contributor to freshwater depletion throughout the world, groundwater levels are also sensitive to cycles of persistent drought or rainy conditions.

Famiglietti noted that such a combination was likely the cause of the groundwater depletion observed in California’s Central Valley from 2007 to 2015, when decreased groundwater replenishment from rain and snowfall combined with increased pumping for agriculture.

Southwestern California lost four gigatons of freshwater per year during the same period. A gigaton of water would fill 400,000 Olympic swimming pools.

A majority of California’s freshwater comes in the form of rainfall and snow that collect in the Sierra Nevada snowpack and then is managed as it melts into surface waters through a series of reservoirs. When natural cycles lead to less precipitation and cause diminished snowpack and surface waters, people rely on groundwater more heavily.

Downward trends in freshwater seen in Saudi Arabia also reflect agricultural pressures. From 2002 to 2016, the region lost 6.1 gigatons per year of stored groundwater. Imagery from Landsat satellites shows an explosive growth of irrigated farmland in the arid landscape from 1987 to the present, which may explain the increased drawdown.

The team’s analyses also identified large, decade-long trends in terrestrial freshwater storage that do not appear to be directly related to human activities. Natural cycles of high or low rainfall can cause a trend that is unlikely to persist, Rodell said.

An example is Africa’s western Zambezi basin and Okavango Delta, a vital watering hole for wildlife in northern Botswana. In this region, water storage increased at an average rate of 29 gigatons per year from 2002 to 2016. This wet period during the GRACE mission followed at least two decades of dryness. Rodell believes it is a case of natural variability that occurs over decades in this region of Africa.

The successor to GRACE, called GRACE Follow-On, a joint mission with the German Research Centre for Geosciences , currently is at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California undergoing final preparations for launch no earlier than May 22.

Featured Image: Dust storm heading for Mungeranie, South Australia January 31, 2010 (Photo by Sydney Oats) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Week for a Water Wise World

Argentina's President Mauricio Macri has developed the country’s first National Water Plan to protect Argentine clean water sources like this stream in Mendoza Province in the western central part of the country. (Photo courtesy Mendoza Government Press)

Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri has developed the country’s first National Water Plan to protect Argentine clean water sources like this stream in Mendoza Province in the western central part of the country. (Photo courtesy Mendoza Government Press)

By Sunny Lewis

STOCKHOLM, Sweden, August 29, 2017 ( News) – Cool, clear, delicious water – there’s no substitute for the one substance on which all life depends. Yet, often there is too little clean water, or too much. These problems, and their solutions, are in the spotlight right now at World Water Week in Stockholm.

Organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute, the theme of this year’s week-long conference, August 27-September 1, is “water and waste: reduce and reuse.”

“World Water Week is a key meeting place for the water and development community; it is here that we come together and make sure that the very best ideas are brought forward,” said SIWI’s Executive Director, Torgny Holmgren.

More than 3,000 participants from 130 countries have come to Stockholm to learn about new research results, share experiences, discuss progress in the implementation of the Global Sustainable Development Goals, and together try to find new ways to meet the world’s growing water challenges.

In his welcoming speech Holmgren said it will be challenging but necessary to change large-scale water consumption patterns.

“The week’s theme, Water and waste: Reduce and reuse, really touches the very core of our daily lives,” said Holmgren. “To reduce, some drastic changes will be necessary – especially by the main water users, including industries, energy producers and the agriculture sector.”

Changes are also needed in how we think about reuse of water, he said. “Rather than presenting us with a problem, we can view waste as an asset also becoming a business opportunity.”

Sweden’s Minister for Environment, Karolina Skog told the audience that sustainable and efficient management of water and wastewater profoundly touches “all aspects of human life; economic growth, sustainable development, sustainable city planning, circular thinking in industry and in production, energy saving, good quality of our water and, last but not least, it is crucial for health and for a sustainable environment.”

This year, an astronaut is among the speakers at World Water Week. Physicist Christer Fuglesang, a Member of the Sweden’s Royal Academy of Science and a European Space Agency astronaut, was first launched aboard the STS-116 Space Shuttle mission on December 10, 2006, making him the first Swedish citizen in space. He has participated in two Space Shuttle missions and five spacewalks, giving him a unique perspective on planet Earth.

Fuglesang described the intricate water reuse systems that are essential to space missions. Water enables food to be grown on board space ships, ensures a drinking water supply for the crew, and helps to inform research into optimized water efficiency on Earth.

Stephen McCaffrey, 2017 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate and a professor in water law, spoke of the need for water cooperation and water diplomacy.

He told World Water Week attendees that although the ingredients for potential water conflicts do exist, such as higher population pressure, climate change, and much of the world’s fresh water being shared by two or more countries, studies show that water sharing is much more likely to lead to cooperation than conflict.

H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, patron of the Stockholm Water Prize, will present the 2017 Prize, which includes a US150,000 award, to Distinguished Professor of Law Stephen McCaffrey, McGeorge School of Law, at the Royal Banquet in Stockholm City Hall on August 30.

Professor McCaffrey was named 2017 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate “for his unparalleled contribution to the evolution and progressive realization of international water law,” the selection committee said. He is the only lawyer ever to receive the prestigious Stockholm Water Prize.

Since 1977, McCaffrey has served on the faculty of the University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, California. He was Special Rapporteur for the International Law Commission’s work on The Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses, 1985-1991.

Professor McCaffrey has been acting as legal counsel to governments in several negotiations concerning international watercourses.

The cases include watercourses in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. Although he has experienced first-hand the potential conflicts over freshwater resources, he remains an optimist, pointing to studies that have shown that shared fresh water is generally a catalyst for cooperation rather than conflict.

“I believe nobody who studies, researches or practices in the field of transboundary water management, water law or diplomacy could be unaware of Professor McCaffrey’s contribution to the conceptual and practical elaboration of the many legal concepts and principles that we now take for granted,” said Holmgren.

There’s no doubt that we need all the expertise we can get to keep clean water flowing in the right proportions to everyone in need.

More than two billion of the world’s 7.5 billion people are living in countries with excess water stress, according to a May 2017 report by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals –Economic and Social Council.

Water stress means more than 25 percent of total renewable freshwater resources is withdrawn to meet ongoing needs. Northern Africa and Western Asia experience water stress levels above 60 percent, which indicates the strong probability of future water scarcity, Guterres warns in the report.

Flooding is the opposite, but even more serious problem, as the dramatic water rescues in Texas from the catastrophic floods from Hurricane Harvey this week painfully demonstrate.

The connections between water stress, flooding and climate change are among the many issues subject to in-depth review at World Water Week. Some are:

Water and climate: Climate change is to a large extent water change. Water disasters account for more than 90 percent of the natural disasters in the world and climate-driven water hazards, water scarcity and variability pose risks to all economic activity, such as food and energy production, manufacturing and infrastructure development, as well as political stability. This is true for both high and low income countries. Resilience to climate change requires adaptive water management and robust water infrastructure to keep ecosystems healthy.

Water as connector between the SDGs and the Paris Agreement: In the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the water and sanitation SDG (Goal 6) links across all the other 16 Goals with a great number of water related targets in the overall Agenda; making water a key underlying factor and entry point for the successful implementation of the entire 2030 Agenda.

Drinking water and sanitation: The global water and sanitation crisis is mainly rooted in poverty, power and inequality, not in physical water scarcity, say World Water Week organizers. “It is, first and foremost, a crisis of governance. Poor resources management, corruption, lack of appropriate institutions, bureaucratic inertia, and insufficient capacity lie in many places behind the lack of sustainability of services, which also undermine the arrival of new investments.”

Water security: To manage the global rise in demand for water and to increase water productivity, incentives for using water more effectively are necessary. Water needs to be given its true value for production purposes in the energy, industry and agriculture sectors.

On pricing of water and valuing water: Water needs to be better valued. Some parts of this value can easily be reflected in a price, others cannot. So, water pricing needs to be complemented with laws, standards and an increase in public awareness. World Water Week organizers point to the need to make sure that basic water services are affordable to the poorest people, respecting the human right to water and sanitation

Innovative financing and green bonds: Billions in sustainable and climate smart financing will be needed for both supplying water and treating waste water, but an investment in climate-proof infrastructure today will be offset by a future reduced need for emergency response measures to counter floods and droughts.

Water cooperation: Development needs cooperation. Cooperation over transboundary waters would spur regional development, improve resilience to climate change, and decrease the risk of geopolitical hostility. The political aspects of transboundary cooperation cannot be neglected if real progress is to be made.

Water and migration: Researchers and policymakers are increasingly seeking to explain migration and refugee flows in terms of water scarcity, often perpetuated by climate change. The links between water challenges and climate change increase  uncertainty. While they are not the main causes of large-scale population migration, they are “push factor multipliers” together with social, economic, and political factors.

Water and faith: Water has profound symbolic meaning in many religious and local traditions, yet water stress is acute in many parts of the world where faith is a central aspect of individual and community identity. The role of Faith Based Organizations becomes crucial given their presence and influence in local communities.

Resolving these problems takes skill, cooperation and patience, and also lots of money. In a new report launched today at World Water Week, the World Bank estimates how much it will cost.

“Reaching the Sustainable Development Goal of access to safely managed water and sanitation services by 2030 will require countries to spend $150 billion per year,” the report states, “a fourfold increase in water supply, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) investments compared to what is spent today. This is out of reach for many countries, threatening progress on poverty eradication.”

The report, “Reducing Inequalities in Water Supply, Sanitation, and Hygiene in the Era of the Sustainable Development Goals,” suggests that a turnaround in the way countries manage resources and provide key services is required, starting with better targeting to ensure they reach those most in need, and tackling inefficiencies to make sure public services are sustainable and effective.

Guangzhe Chen, senior director of the Water Global Practice of the World Bank, said, “Millions are currently trapped in poverty by poor water supply and sanitation, which contributes to childhood stunting and debilitating diseases such as diarrhea. To give everyone an equal chance at reaching their full potential, more resources, targeted to areas of high vulnerability and low access, are needed to close the gaps and improve poor water and sanitation services. This report provides a roadmap for closing that gap.”

This report provides policymakers with a baseline and guidance on how to better target investments to ensure that basic water and sanitation services reach the poorest communities and households.

A lot depends on whether a person lives in a city or in a rural area. Across the 18 countries studied, 75 percent of people who lack improved sanitation live in rural areas, and only 20 percent of rural inhabitants have access to improved water.

Over two years in the field, the research teams found that:

  • In Nigeria, over 60 percent of the rural population live more than 30 minutes away from a working water source.
  • In Indonesia, only 5 percent of urban wastewater is safely treated and disposed of, and children living in communities with open defecation during the first 1,000 days of life are 11 percentage points more likely to be stunted.
  • In Bangladesh, E. coli was present in about 80 percent of water taps sampled, a similar rate to water scooped up from ponds.
  • In Ecuador, 24 percent of the rural population drinks contaminated water; 21 percent of children are stunted and 18 percent are underweight.
  • In Haiti, access to improved drinking water sources has declined in the last 25 years; access to improved sanitation is stagnant at 33 percent; and the number of households with access on premises to improved water has decreased from 15 to 7 percent.

Rachid Benmessaoud, World Bank country director in Nigeria, warned, “Water and sanitation services need to improve dramatically, or the consequences on health and well-being will be dire. Today, diarrhea is the second leading cause of death in children under 5. Poor children also suffer from intestinal diseases, which together with under-nutrition and infections contribute to stunting. We are risking the futures of our children: their potential is being stymied by unequal or uneven access to the services they require to thrive.”

To download the 18 WASH Poverty Diagnostics reports click here

Another multi-lateral bank has a bold and encouraging word for those concerned about water and sanitation issues.

The Inter-American Development Bank, which is co-organizing Latin America’s contributions to World Water Week says, “Latin America and the Caribbean has the potential to lead a revolution in the management of wastewater as a resource by reusing it in agricultural and industrial activities, and by promoting circular economy models. The region can do all this while striving to meet Sustainable Development Goal 6 – to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all – by the year 2030.”

Today 77 percent of all people in Latin America and the Caribbean lack access to safe sanitation. Only an estimated 28 percent of the wastewater collected by public sewers receives some kind of treatment before being discharged to the environment.

In Argentina, for instance, a country of 44 million people, 8.2 million lack access to drinking water and 20 million to sanitation. Investment needs to cover this access gap are estimated at US$21 billion.

Waste water treatment in Argentina is estimated at 20 percent. Most water utilities do not cover operational costs and struggle to provide quality services.

The country has been recently struck by extreme weather events that showcase the need for better water resources management.

To tackle these challenges, the new administration headed by President Mauricio Macri developed the country’s first National Water Plan. The plan is based on four pillars: access to water and sanitation; water and food; water and energy; and adaptation to extreme weather events.

Argentina’s plan advances a new regulatory framework that will help water utilities improve their financial situation. The new authorities are also promoting innovation and private sector participation that will help overcome these challenges.

The lack of water is one of the main constraints to agriculture in more than 60 percent of Argentina, and it is worse in places without access to electricity, according to Macri’s office.

To correct the water deficit in some regions, specialists from the National Institute of Industrial Technology developed technologies for access to groundwater through pumps that run on solar energy. The pumps, located more than 10 meters deep, have been installed in 22 communities across the country.

This small step forward illustrates that creative solutions to water scarcity do exist. This week in Stockholm, more than 3,000 experts are looking for ways to keep the creativity flowing.

Featured Image: Physicist Christer Fuglesang, a Member of the Sweden’s Royal Academy of Science and a European Space Agency astronaut, addresses conference attendees at the opening plenary, August 28, 2017 (Photo courtesy Stockholm International Water Institute) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Banks Feel Pipeline Pressure Points


Some 300 environmental justice activists gathered in front of the White House to protest the Army Corps Of Engineers approval of an easement allowing construction of the last leg of the Dakota Access pipeline, February 8, 2017 (Photo by Stephen Melkisethian) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

SEATTLE, Washington, February 14, 2017 ( News) – In a unanimous vote Tuesday, Seattle City Council punished Wells Fargo Bank for investing in the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline by taking away about $3 billion in city business annually.

Passage of the measure starts a bidding process aimed at finding a new bank to hold the city’s operating budget, ending an 18 year relationship with Wells Fargo, where total deposits added up to more than $1 trillion last year.

 Acknowledging the move is “a drop in a very big bucket,” Seattle Council member Debra Juarez said, “The City must trust the practices and integrity of the institutions that handle our public funds. Council wants to strengthen the City of Seattle’s policies for conducting City business with partners that are committed to fair business practices.

The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), which is nearly complete except for an easement to cross the Missouri River, would carry up to 570,000 barrels a day of oil fracked from shale 1,170 miles from western North Dakota to pipelines in Illinois.

The Dakota Access Pipeline under construction

The Dakota Access Pipeline under construction, July 1, 2016 (Photo by Lars Plougmann) Creative Commons license via Flickr

On Wednesday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted the easement needed to complete the US$3.8 billion pipeline, terminating the Environmental Impact Statement process ordered by former President Barack Obama.

More court challenges and demonstrations against the project are expected.

 Now that the easement has been issued, construction can start at once, but pipeline builder Energy Transfer Partners has not made its schedule public.

 During his first week in office, President Donald Trump ordered the Army Corps to move the pipeline forward over months of objections from thousands of protesters from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, many other tribes and their supporters across the country, including thousands of military veterans.

Camps were established, demonstrations were held and many hundreds of protesters have been arrested, some violently.

Calling themselves water protectors, the protesters fear that the pipeline, to be routed under Lake Oahe half a mile north of sovereign tribal territory, could spring a leak, polluting their drinking water and that of millions of people downstream.

The pipeline was originally routed under the Missouri River north of Bismark, the capital of North Dakota, but the route was changed after the city objected to the risk of an oil spill into the river, source of drinking water for the 67,000 Bismark residents.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said Tuesday, “Today’s reversal on the environmental impact statement by the Army Corps is clearly a political decision made with complete disregard for the impacts of the Dakota Access Pipeline on tribal lands and the environment. Setting such a dismissive and careless precedent continues a historic pattern of violating tribal treaty rights.”

Complete disregard for tribal rights and interests sets a dangerous course not only for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, but also has the potential to reverberate throughout Indian Country. This action also shows no respect for the right to clean drinking water for all. We, as allies, must add our voices and put a stop to this injustice.

The tribe continues to fight this battle in court and the City of Seattle continues to stand behind them,” said Mayor Murray. “We will not stand by as tribal citizens are treated as second class communities.

Within the United States, tribes are sovereign nations. The essence of tribal sovereignty is the ability to govern and to protect and enhance the health, safety, and welfare of tribal citizens within tribal territory, explains the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI).

Tribal governments are responsible for a broad range of governmental activities on tribal lands, including education, law enforcement, judicial systems, health care, environmental protection, natural resource management, and the development and maintenance of basic infrastructure such as housing, roads, bridges, sewers, public buildings, telecommunications, broadband and electrical services, and solid waste treatment and disposal.

Seattle is not the only U.S. city ready to move its accounts from Wells Fargo because the bank has loaned close to $500 million for the pipeline’s construction.

After the January 11 Santa Fe, New Mexico City Council meeting, Mayor Javier Gonzales signaled with a tweet that his city might abandon its four-year long banking relationship with Wells Fargo because of its part in financing construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Mayor Gonzales tweeted, “Great to hear tonight from so many citizens passionate about #NoDAPL and asking city to find a new bank. I share concerns, will push for broader bidding process this yr, incl. local options. We can/should find better ways to manage funds.

On January 24, Mayor Gonzales tweeted his opposition to President Trump’s executive order to push pipelines forward. “The actions on DAPL, Keystone lock us into unsustainable energy strategies, threaten Native sovereignty, delay economic boom in green tech.

Now, a San Francisco tech startup devoted to socially responsible investing is making it easier for individuals to divest from companies backing DAPL.

OpenInvest’s chief strategy officer Joshua Levin told CBS San Francisco that his five-month-old company has designed a feature that automatically pulls from an investor’s portfolio companies funding the pipeline, as well as the energy companies that will benefit from it. The portfolio is then automatically rebalanced with new investments.

Levin said OpenInvest built the algorithms and launched the feature just days after President Trump issued his executive order directing approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Wells Fargo is by no means the only bank providing funding to the controversial pipeline.

There are 17 banks directly funding pipeline construction: Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ, BayernLB, BBVA Compass, BNP Paribas, Citigroup, Crédit Agricole, Norway’s largest bank DNB ASA, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the Dutch ING Group, Intesa Sanpaolo, Mizuho Bank, the French corporate and investment bank Natixis, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation, Société Générale, SunTrust Robinson Humphrey and TD Bank, in addition to Wells Fargo.

The 17 banks involved in directly financing the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the many others providing credits to the companies behind the project, continue to be targeted by campaigners demanding an end to their support for the project.

Activists this week showed up at bank headquarters in New York, Montreal, Munich, Madrid, Amsterdam, San Francisco and elsewhere, demanding the withdrawal of the 17 banks involved in the construction loan to Energy Transfer Partners.

More actions are planned for next week in Washington, DC, and Palo Alto, California. A full list of ongoing #NoDAPL 2017 actions click here 

Over 700,000 people have signed one of six petitions demanding that the banks financing the Dakota Access Pipeline withdraw their support of the project. This number includes individuals who collectively report having over US$2.3 billion invested in these banks through checking, mortgage, and credit card accounts, which they are ready to divest if the banks continue financing DAPL. Thousands have already closed their accounts at those banks, removing over US$55 million.

In December, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other Indigenous leaders requested that each of these banks meet with tribal representatives to hear their concerns.

The deadline for banks to respond to the Tribe’s meeting request was January 10. To date, four banks have declined: BayernLB, BNP Paribas, Mizuho Bank, and Suntrust.

Six banks have not responded at all: Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, BBVA Compass, ICBC, Intesa Sanpaolo, Natixis, and Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation.

Seven banks have met or agreed to meet with the Tribe and its allies: Citi, Crédit Agricole, DNB, ING, Société Générale, TD, and Wells Fargo.

In fact, in November, the largest bank in Norway, DNB, announced that it has sold its assets in the Dakota Access pipeline.

The news follows the delivery of 120,000 signatures gathered by Greenpeace Norway and regarding DNB’s investment in the pipeline urging the bank and other financial institutions to pull financing for the project.

DNB recently indicated that it is reconsidering the loan it provided, which amounts to 10 percent of the pipeline’s total funding.

Energy Transfer Partners said Wednesday, “With the receipt of the easement, ETP expects to complete approximately $2.6 billion of committed debt financing and equity transactions within the next several days, including access to the remaining $1.4 billion of the previously announced $2.5 billion project financing for Dakota Access and $1.2 billion from the closing of the previously announced sale by ETP of a minority interest in the Bakken Pipeline to MarEn Bakken Company LLC.

But the indigenous water protectors and their allies are not prepared to accept this outcome and have pledged to continue their resistance to the pipeline.

Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II said, “By attempting to fast track DAPL, President Trump has made it clear that his priorities lie with his wealthy contributors rather than the public interest. Banks now have an opportunity to take a stand against this reckless assault on our treaty rights and water, or be complicit and continue to lose millions.”

Dallas Goldtooth, Keep It In the Ground Campaigner, Indigenous Environmental Network, had this to say. “President Trump wishes to fast-track the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline, against federal law and tribal treaty rights. Indigenous nations and communities will not be the sacrifice zones for President Trump’s fossil fuel regime.

We must remind the investors of this pipeline,” said Goldtooth, “that they, via their financing, are threatening the lives of water protectors and it’s time to be held accountable for that.

From the water protectors’ Sacred Stone Camp Ladonna Bravebull Allard said, “I want the banks to know that the power of their investment comes from the people, and the people are saying we have the right to water, and we will stand for the water. Stop investing in destruction of the Earth.”

Billboard- 970x250-min-min

 Maximpact’s consultant network has a wide range of environmental experts that can help your organization.  Find capacity services at Maximpact Advisory and help your NGO and increase the capacity of your organization to influence society. Contact us at info(@) and tell us what you need.


Jordan’s Refugees Must Drink


By Sunny Lewis

AMMAN, Jordan, March 24, 2016 ( 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

Israel, Jordan, Palestine Unite for Jordan River


By Sunny Lewis

TEL-AVIV, Israel, October 23, 2015 (Maximpact News) – The Jordan River, famous in story and song, unique in its natural wealth, is now threatened by excessive water diversion and contamination.

In this arid region torn by many differences and struggles, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from Israel, Jordan and Palestine are working together to restore the Jordan River – unity forged on the anvil of fear for their life-giving waterway.

The river flows 251 kilometres (156 miles) to the Dead Sea from sources in the Anti-Lebanon Mountains that divide Syria from Lebanon. Israel and the Palestinian territories border the river to the west, while the Golan Heights and Jordan lie to its east.

The Jordan River is an important water resource for Israel and for Jordan. Israel’s National Water Carrier, completed in 1964, delivers water from the Sea of Galilee to the Israeli coastal plain. Jordan receives water from Israel since the 1994 Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty through a pipeline from the Sea of Galilee.

Though the Jordan River is depleted and polluted, its water is desperately needed by migrants fleeing the Syrian civil war. Some 600,000 have settled in dry and water-scarce Jordan, including 150,000 that have made their home in Za’atari, the world’s second largest refugee camp.

Ecopeace Middle East, formerly Friends of the Earth Middle East, has been working with its NGO counterparts to ensure restoration of the river.

In June, the NGOs invited politicians and decision makers from the three countries to an international conference, “Planning for Our Shared Future: Public Release of NGO Regional Master Plan for Sustainable Development in the Jordan Valley.” Read full report here

There at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Dead Sea, Jordan under the patronage of the Jordanian Minister of Water Dr. Hazim al Nasser, the first-ever integrated regional NGO Master Plan for rehabilitation of the Jordan River was introduced.

“From a Palestinian perspective the Master Plan helps advance a two state solution with an independent Palestine prospering in the West Bank of the Jordan Valley due to full access and riparian rights to both water and land resources in the valley. All sides will gain when independence and integration lead to economic prosperity,” said Nader Khateeb, EcoPeace Middle East Palestinian co-director.

Government officials, too, participated. Ayoub Kara, Israel’s deputy minister of regional cooperation, told conference delegates, “The Jordan River is not a normal river. It is one of the most important rivers in the world. It is in the hearts of 100s of millions of people around the world. The project for developing the Jordan River is a responsibility not just for our region but for the whole world.”

“Agricultural, economic, rural and touristic projects as well help form a peaceful interaction,” said Kara. “We have to, today, find every way possible to protect and develop the natural treasures that God has given us, including the Dead Sea.”

“I call upon you to put politics aside so the cooperation will allow us to be able to enhance the environment and economy,” said Kara. “Our cooperation will be the secret to success.”

The conference marked the conclusion of a three-year program funded by the European Union. It gathered many high-level government officials from Jordan, Palestine and Israel, international diplomatic representatives, development agency representatives, and environmental experts to discuss the advancement of the program from planning to implementation.

The Master Plan was presented according to its seven strategic planning objectives:
  1. Pollution Control
  2. Sustainable Water Management and River Rehabilitation
  3. Sustainable Agriculture
  4. Jordan River Basin Governance
  5. Ecological Rehabilitation
  6. Sustainable Tourism and Cultural Heritage Development
  7. Urban and Infrastructure Development

The Master Plan identifies 127 specific regional and national projects or “interventions,” related to the strategic planning objectives, with a total investment value of US$4.58 billion through the year 2050.

The conference concluded with clear support from government representatives to continue the work presented in the Master Plan and to advance its interventions to secure sustainable development and prosperity in the Jordan Valley.

Mira Edelstein, Jordan River Projects Coordinator with EcoPeace Middle East, said the three governments are cooperating with the NGO efforts.

“The current turmoil makes regional cooperation at the government level even more difficult, yet there is work going on in a parallel basis,” she said, pointing to projects in all three countries.

In Palestine, Jericho is expanding the sewage network of the city.

In Israel, the Drainage Authority is conducting river bank rehabilitation work.

And the Jordan Valley Regional Council is completing a new lookout at the area of the proposed Jordan River Peace Park.

Government agencies in each of the three countries contributed much to the process of formalizing the Master Plan.

“The Jordan Valley Authority, has greatly contributed to the development of the Master Plan. Data collection and support with identifying projects would not have happened without their involvement, support and assistance,” said Edelstein.

The Jordanian Ministry of Municipal Affairs demonstrated the “political will to work with Israel and Palestine on water and environmental issues,” she said. The Ministry of Agriculture expressed its willingness to support the master plan.

Jordan’s Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Water and Irrigation both supported the consultants with data for the baseline study and report, the environmental status of the Valley, the sources of pollution and their measures to control and mitigate these impacts on the Jordan Valley.

At the June conference, Secretary General of the Jordan Valley Authority Eng. Saad Abu Hammour said in a statement, “The projects articulated in the master plan are important for Jordan, in particular those that deal with wastewater and solid waste management.”

Among the priorities of the Jordanian Ministry of Water and Irrigation is the implementation of these projects through donor agencies and the Jordanian government, said Hammour.

Funding negotiations are ongoing, said Edelstein of Ecopeace Middle East. “We are focused on an additional investment plan and moving forward a financial strategy. We will hold meetings in London, Brussels and Washington D.C. on financing issues,” she said.

The Palestinian Water Authority has repeatedly expressed support for the Master Plan project, and so have the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Planning, and the Ministry of Local Government and Local Councils, who are directly responsible for the Palestinian municipalities along the Jordan Valley.

Dr. Mohammed Hmaidi, CEO of the Palestinian Water Council said, “The Palestinian delegation came from five different governmental institutions and that shows, that just like Jordan and Israel, we are interested in this conference, its recommendations, and outcomes.”

“The Master Plan is in harmony with the Palestinian policies and expectations,” said Hmaidi. “We do have national strategies and plans, and the proposed interventions do not contradict with these plans and priorities. There are a number of initiatives that can be implemented as of tomorrow.”

In Israel, there already was a National Master Plan for the Israeli section of the River, so the Israelis were seeking acceptance of the regional vision.

Adi Ashkenazi, director of the Economic Research Division of Israel’s Ministry of Regional Cooperation, said, “The most important thing that we learned from what we saw here is the great willingness and the commitment of the people that came here from all parties – the Palestinians, the Jordanians, and also ours, our people in Israel – to rehabilitate this river.”

Edelstein said the most urgent need is funding for specific “interventions” that are identified in the Master Plan that can move forward immediately, needing about US$500 million.

“With the continued instability throughout the region, the Jordan Valley effort is a real ‘Marshal Plan’ effort that could be a model for regional integration for the whole region,” she said. “If we do not counter 50% youth unemployment in the Jordan Valley, we should not be surprised to see increased radicalization in the region.”

Award-winning journalist Sunny Lewis is founding editor in chief of the Environment News Service (ENS), the original daily wire service of the environment, publishing since 1990.

Featured image: Boys enjoy a dip in the Jordan River as a break in a dusty, desert day. (Photo by Hannah Temple under Creative Commons license via Flickr)
Header image: The Jordan River is a muddy trickle near Jericho, near the Dead Sea. (Photo by Derek Winterburn under Creative Commons license via Flickr)