Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

May 1, 2012

Water challenges and US national security

Filed under: Futures — by Christopher Bellavita on May 1, 2012

Time out for a moment from our regularly scheduled cyber issues and al Qaeda commentary for a word from the future, sponsored by the U.S. Intelligence Community.

Global Water Security is a report published in February by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.  The 30 page intelligence “product” is available here.

The document tries to answer the following question (for the State Department): How will water problems (shortages, poor water quality, or floods) impact US national security interests over the next 30 years?

Here is the Report’s answer:

During the next 10 years, many countries important to the United States will experience water problems—shortages, poor water quality, or floods—that will risk instability and state failure, increase regional tensions, and distract them from working with the United States on important US policy objectives. Between now and 2040, fresh water availability will not keep up with demand absent more effective management of water resources. Water problems will hinder the ability of key countries to produce food and generate energy, posing a risk to global food markets and hobbling economic growth. As a result of demographic and economic development pressures, North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia will face major challenges coping with water problems.

The Report mostly focuses on the relationship between water security and US global interests.  But the future of water has domestic implications also.

Although most of the Colorado River originates in the basin’s upper states (i.e., Colorado, Utah, Wyoming), a 1922 Colorado River Compact allocates most of the water to the lower states (i.e., California, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico).

Unfortunately, the agreement was based on data from the unseasonably wet five years prior to 1922, estimating the average flow to be 17.5 million acre-feet (maf). The actual average flow over the last 100 years has been nowhere near this number, averaging about 13 maf, with high variability ranging from 4.4 maf to over 22 maf.

A 2009 study by the University of Colorado projects that all reservoirs along the Colorado River—which provide water for 27 million people—could dry up by 2057 because of climate change and overuse. More recently, drought and low Lake Mead water levels have resulted in a multi-billion dollar plan to build a 285-mile pipeline to pump groundwater to the Las Vegas area from as far away as Snake Valley, which straddles the Nevada-Utah state line.

A 1944 agreement between the United States and Mexico stipulates the terms of water-sharing between the two countries, with water delivery obligations on each side.

The Colorado and Rio Grande Rivers, as well as their major tributaries, are covered in the agreement. The agreement allows the United States access to tributary contributions from Mexican rivers, and no Mexican access to contributions from US tributary rivers, and therefore many view the agreement as unfair. Delayed water deliveries, and even efforts to reduce canal water leakage, have occasionally complicated broader relations but have not been a major source of stress.

Not yet anyway.

Thanks to Dr. James Tindall for telling me about this report.


Share and Enjoy:
  • Digg
  • Reddit
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Google Bookmarks
  • email
  • Print
  • LinkedIn


Comment by Arnold Bogis

May 1, 2012 @ 12:28 am

I have to admit I’m a little hurt. Practices generally considered sexually “different” or even “deviant” by some, openly acknowledged by MI6 as practiced by an agent, isn’t break enough from cyber or Al Qaeda issues?!?

I’ll just have to try harder next week…

Comment by Christopher Bellavita

May 1, 2012 @ 12:47 am

You are of course right, Arnold. I apologize. I might hope we would consider my inadvertent slip water under the bridge, but given today’s topic, such a comment would be inappropriately deviant.

If secrecy is contagious, maybe the IC’s effort to be more visible and strategically influential can also spread.

Comment by Arnold

May 1, 2012 @ 1:08 am

No need to apologize. My “hurt” was not so deep…

Water is absolutely a serious issue. I just could not resist the easy joke. So it is more appropriate that I should apologize…

Though in all seriousness, one day it would be interesting if some groups attempted to truly rate threats- WMD vs climate change vs water scarcity vs economics, etc..

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 1, 2012 @ 4:58 am

Try rating the MAD COW and Prion Disease threat. By the way SCOTUS has been involved in over 25 key water resource rulings. And the Obama Administration after indicating revision of the 1983 Principles and Standards for Water Resource Projects making it applicable to all US government water projects not just the USACOE projects retreated in the face of an adverse NAS study of its proposed revisions. The 1983 standards gutted an earlier effort by the Carter Administration to rationalize water resource projects and to add to the distress the REAGAN Administration eliminated all the non-statutory River Basin Commissions.
The CARTER Executive Orders [11988 on flood plain management and 11990 on Wetlands] remain obsolete and drastically in need of updating. The Obama Administration has also dodged that update after releasing a draft revision of 11988 that undercut the Carter EO.

And just so all understand there are actually two different water laws in the USA. And eastern and western version. In the east, riparian owners have obligations to downstream users. In the west first come first serve with no obligations to almost anyone not first in line on consumption.

And of course all major aquifers in the USA continue to be drained for many reasons, but primarily agricultural consumption.

Comment by Dan O'Connor

May 1, 2012 @ 9:53 am

With only 1-2% of the world’s water being found potable (based on your source), this natural resource over a short period of time will have greater and greater emphasis place on it. Wars are fought over it.

The main conflicts in Africa during the next generation could be over access to water. In Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power and Civilization, journalist Steven Solomon argues that water is surpassing oil as the world’s scarcest critical resource. We will need Canada more and more as our population grows and our current usage habits remain unabated.

Agriculture is the largest human use of water. The irony is our use of chemical fertilizers area accumulated in water run-off and they find their way into our water way creating large dead zones. Aquatic and marine dead zones are probably caused by an increase in chemical or petrol nutrients (particularly nitrogen and phosphorus) in the water, known as eutrophication. Dead zones are hypoxic (low-oxygen) because the chemicals in the run off encourage algae to grow, sucking oxygen from the water thereby starving the rest of the ecosystem.

Reports vary, but the United States discards upwards of 50% of its grown and manufactured food annually…that means half of the water used to irrigate, nourish, and sustain it is lost as well. One pound of beef requires 1800 gallons of water. One T shirt (cotton) requires 713 gallons of water. Fracking, aquifer depletion, and population concentrations greatly affect water consumption.

Arid urbanization is also a huge driver in water consumption. The West has some of the highest per capita domestic water use, largely because of landscape irrigation. Per capita domestic water use varied from 51-US-gallon (190 L) per day in Maine to 189-US-gallon (720 L) per day in Nevada.

And we use about 25 gallons of water/day to operate our toilets. There is still debate on the efficacy of gray water vs fresh water for use in sanitation, agriculture, top soil nitrification but I am not sure why.

Energy extraction, conversion, and delivery is also affected by water and the lack thereof. So when all is said and done water will continue to have increased value and it is that value that will bring conflict in the future.

From The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Coleridge:

“Water, water every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water every where,
Nor any drop to drink.”

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 1, 2012 @ 11:17 am

Canadians beware! It is not the XL pipeline that is a problem but Texans eyeing the fresh water of the GREAT SLAVE LAKE!

Comment by John Comiskey

May 1, 2012 @ 8:29 pm

Cyber cyber everywhere but still there will be thirst.

HLS ubber alles would not be complete without environmental security to include climate change and depleting water resources.

I ask my undergraduate and graduate HLS students what will be tomorrow’s threat. Cyber …cyber they say. HLS ubber alles-ism leaves little room to cover ….well everything. Thus far, I have done little more than mention the water threat in class. I’m glad that the IC put water-threats on the radar screen and it is befitting that this blog follows cyber week.

I asked my on-line students in one class to reply to an optional extra-credit discussion board last week. (10 out of 16 responded). I asked them how I might improve the on-line class. Five of the ten said I should assign less (or no) reading and provide more videos.

Is there a water security version of Homeland?
See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJoEz38T1uo

Comment by Water Related Issues and Global Stability

May 2, 2012 @ 7:09 am

PWC is a Vancouver based waste water and wqater purification company which has teamed up in collaborative effort with other Canadian and US companies to address not only “water related issues” but to offer shelter/housing which locals can build which benefits the local village w/each home offering solar application and yes, rainwater retention system. Affordable, small homes which are earthquake resistent! A dream for so many…yes, a dream when water is not so easily available and shabby housing is at the wrath of natural calamity and the corrupt public servant!

I was introduced to William Danshin, President of Pure Water Corporation (www.deferum.com) many years ago as a gentleman with the proven competencies and technology to address a host of requirements from waste water to water purification and even to drip irrigation and just about any solution and when making inquiry to his PWC global team associates, they advised that nearly 1 billion fellow humans on earth have little or no access to even a clean glass of water today in 2012!

How absurd and abusive these governments are and a UN which has failed to assure that governments, so corrupt, at least make sure that every child has a clean glass of water. Danshin and his team have shown me the technology to clean up even a dirty puddle and my colleagues in Inda speak of children drinking and not knowing what they are drinking and sometimes die from trying to drink water which they hope is safe….

While this Goldman Sachs administration brings in Palestinians and now has US troops in at least four countries on the African continent, I became interested in “water” three decadws ago when in a meeting in Jerusalem, a discussion ensued by Arab members who voiced their concern that the next wars would be fought over water! It was then I began asking questions and some European business folks suggested I make contact w/a North American firm and suggested Danshin known for his compassion towards those who have far less than those of us who go to the kitchen sink and not even thinking about it, but a safe, clean glass of water!

Nearly 1 billion – yes, 1 billion people do Not have access to a clean glass of water…that is ridiculous – it is a travesty in an era when Asians and Europeans and we here in North America have so much. Where is the Vatican’s role in helping resolve this tragedy.

Back to my meeting three decades ago in Jetusalem, it was then when I heard that the next War could break out because of water and today in 2012, given global demographics and the fact that there is indeed conflict as a result of quarreling over water and this elitist and arrogant corruption inherent from our “beltway bandits” to every country and with a quick look to the failures in Haiti, a small island whioch could actually grow crops and export them and a good people who are still adversely affected not by Mother nature, but by rampant corruption more than three yaers after such calamity struck w/earthquake…..

There are many waste water and water purification companies like Danshin’s..many folks who understand how to teach folks how to manufacture and rebuid a village after natural disaster and there is the Will to help folks, yet the hurtles to secure monies to address such “humanitarian” issues and most importantly – “water” – indeed from talking to many folks globally who are in the water business and to various officials in countries particularly in Africa, the Sudan, Egypt and other, boundaries, stone walls and control of water might just set off the spark to a War which many will be surprised by when the convenience to a clean glass of water is at their kitchen faucet and they know little other about a problem which is very serious and should of been addressed long ago….

Another example of a water related issue…US coal companies are at the hand of environmentalists to clean up their mining ops..soem mining op[s affecting local communities even here in the US and the qualoty of water. There are so many issues related to “water” and hopefully more folks like Danshin can bring simple technology as well as the latest stae-of-the-art technology to clean water and bring safety to all those who use this precious commodity each day.

There is not enough written about water related issues and how important the issue of “water” is to mankind and even to keeping the peace among neighbors and to thwart regional unrest causeed by challenges of water rights for example. You can imagine if there are some unpleasant times between neighbors in Mexico and southwestern US residents re water, you can imagine the challenges many folks have in other parts of the world.

A much needed topic to discuss and relevant to global challenges and security….

Christopher Tingus

Comment by Raye Nickas

June 5, 2012 @ 4:19 pm

It’s onerous to find educated folks on this matter, however you sound like you realize what you’re talking about! Thanks

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>