The Waters Shall Fail – Get Prepared

If you’ve paid any attention at all to the news, you’ve heard that the west is experiencing drought conditions. People throughout the west are being asked to take shorter showers or landscape their yards in ways that conserve water. But in California, 80% of the water “taken” from the environment goes to grow food.

From pictures like these 1 showing record low water levels in rivers and reservoirs, we can see the drastic change in surface water levels.

What these pictures of surface water don’t show, however, is the loss of ground water from California aquifers, earth’s “water batteries.” California has lost an estimated 63 trillion gallons of water from her aquifers since the beginning of 2013. 2

Why does it matter? It matters because water is food. And California provides 50% of the food eaten in America.

A Year’s Supply – Gone

The average person has no idea what 63 trillion gallons of water means. So let’s calculate the amount of food that water grew in terms of feeding America.

• Water extracted from aquifers: 63 trillion (63,000,000,000,000) gallons 3
• Percentage of water used for agriculture: 80% 4
• Number of people in the United States (as of today): 318,768,000 5
• Water required to grow daily food for an American: 2,055 gallons 6
• Percentage of America’s fruits, nuts, and vegetables produced by California: 50% 7

So we can figure the number of days the amount of lost groundwater might have fed America:

63 trillion gallons / 2,055 gallons per day / 318,768,000 people = 96 days (3 months)

However the 2,055 gallons needed to produce daily food for an American is excessive. The water budget available to grow food for individuals (divided by the world population) is only 890 gallons per person. In countries like Chile and China, the amount of water required to produce the food is less than 450 gallons per day per person.

63 trillion gallons / 890 gallons per day (Global Average) / 318,768,000 people = 222 days (7 months)

63 trillion gallons / 450 gallons per day (Chile, China) / 318,768,000 people = 439 days (14 months)

So if America ate like the rest of the world, the lost water could have fed us for roughly a year. And now it’s gone. These numbers don’t include the droughts in other south-western states, such as Texas, or the excessive extraction from other aquifers, such as the Ogallala aquifer under the great plains where cattle and grain are raised. 8

When an aquifer is emptied, it takes more than one or two rainy years to replenish ground waters. For example if the Ogallala aquifer were to be completely drained, it would take 6000 years of rainfall (without human extractions) to replenish the aquifer to pre-industrial levels.

Latin America

America isn’t the only country experiencing drought conditions. This morning NPR aired a conversation with Lourdes Garcia Navarro and Carrie Kahn, discussing the impact drought is having in Mexico and South America. 9

These reporters were loathe to attribute the drought to any single cause, such as global climate change, however the impact on communities has been unequivocally dire. Examples of recent South America headlines include:

• The Worst Drought In The Last 30 Years Ignites 47,000 Forest Fires In Bolivia
• Government Begins Emergency Water Rationing In Venezuela Amid Drought
• Colombia Drought Triggers Clashes, Some Communities Say They Haven’t Seen Any Rain For Two Years
• Desperately Seeking Solutions To The Worst Drought In Decades In Brazil

In Sao Paolo, Brazil, one of the main reservoirs is expected to run dry in 3 months. In Guatamala, 170,000 families have lost almost their entire crop due to the arid conditions. Many of the areas affected by drought in Latin America are already poor. Whether poor or rich, people need water and food to survive.

Just this month, the USAID Famine Early Warning Systems Network sent an alert that four northern countries in Central America will experience rapid deterioration in food security by the first part of this year. Carrie Kahn said these countries will need humanitarian assistance comparable to the assistance required in 1998, when Hurricane Mitch devastated the region, resulting in more than 100,000 refugees coming to the U.S.

Much of Europe and Asia are experiencing water stress. A particularly striking example is the water removed from the Aral Sea, once the second largest sea in the world.

A second set of images shows that the Aral Sea has continued to decline since the 2007 satellite image shown above:

In Spain, this year’s drought conditions are projected to reduce yields for key crops like olives and olive oil to a mere 40% of harvests from prior years. 10

Africa and Drought

In 2011 an intense drought in East Africa created one of the worst humanitarian challenges of the year, causing an estimated 260,000 deaths. 11

This year drought and climate change are thought to have played a role in the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, with the stress on food resources for both humans and wild animals, like fruit bats, forcing interactions that would not have occurred otherwise. 12

The Words of Isaiah

Whenever one reads biblical forecasts of disaster, it is hard to determine which of the many bad things occuring in our past correlates with the particular prophetic vision. However it is hard not to see our day in Isaiah’s words:

And the waters shall fail from the sea, and the river shall be wasted and dried up.

And they shall turn the rivers far away; and the brooks of defence shall be emptied and dried up: the reeds and flags shall wither.

…Every thing sown by the brooks, shall wither, be driven away, and be no more.

The fishers also shall mourn, and all they that cast angle into the brooks shall lament, and they that spread nets upon the waters shall languish.

Moreover they that work in fine flax, and they that weave networks, shall be confounded.

And they shall be broken in the purposes thereof, all that make sluices and ponds for fish. 13

Prepare

In our global economy, the drought doesn’t have to be in your city to affect you. There are three things we can do as individuals to prepare ourselves:

1. Gather or maintain a year’s supply of basic food stuffs. This has been the advice from Church leaders ever since it was obvious the Mormons would be driven from Nauvoo. Today’s advice suggests that your keep 3 months of regular food at the ready, with an addition 9 months of basic material for basic sustenance (e.g., beans and grain). For more information, visit lds.org or providentliving.org.

2. Begin to eat foods that require less water. We all need to keep eating, but we can significantly reduce our personal contribution to water stress by eating foods that don’t require as much water. The Word of Wisdom gives some great tips:

• Eat meat sparingly, if at all: pork (3,300 cups per 5 oz) is less water-intensive than beef (8,500 cups per 5 oz); chicken (1,325 cups per 5 oz) is far less water-intensive than either pork or beef. 14 Definitely scale back on large cuts of meat in any case, which can lead you to eat far more than the recommended 5 oz per day.
• Avoid “hot drinks”: It takes 1100 cups of water to grow the coffee beans for a cup of joe. 15
• Avoid juices and alcohol: a cup of fruit juice, beer, or wine requires 1200 cups, 315 cups or 125 cups of water to produce, respectively. A cup of water, conversely, “costs” 1 cup of water. 16
• Eat [local] “herbs” and fruits in season. 17 And eat them whole rather than as juice. A full five servings of fruits and vegetables eaten in their natural form can easily “cost” less than 1000 cups.
• Don’t smoke. A pack of cigarettes “costs” 240 cups of water, enough water to provide 30 people enough clean drinking water for optimal health. You don’t need to smoke to survive, in fact it will harm you. Besides, harvesting tobacco is a nasty, vile, hard job. Let people make a living growing something nutritious. 18
• Reduce your consumption of “sugar and spice and everything nice.” There is nothing explicit in the Word of Wisdom about this, but the water cost of sugar, vanilla, caffeine, and chocolate adds up. Adding chocolate and sugar adds a cost of 200+ cups of water per cup of chocolate milk. A cup of cola costs ~335 cups, with 170 cups for the vanilla, 100 cups for the caffeine, and most the remaining 65 cups for the sugar.
• Again not something in the Word of Wisdom, but “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” Discarding perfectly good items so you can purchase a “green” item in its place is just wasteful. Remember the Aral Sea? Much of that water went to grow cotton, with an average global water “cost” of 18,000 cups per pound of finished cotton. If you are going to buy something to replace usable items, make sure you donate the usable items to a charity so they can be used by someone else. This goes for recycling plastic, metal and paper as well (a single sheet of paper “costs” 160 cups of water).

3. Grow a sustainable garden. There are any number of spiritual and emotional benefits of getting out in nature making food grow. Eating your stores of beans and rice is so much more palatable if you can add vegetables and herbs from your garden. But growing a garden using old school methods can waste a lot of water. Consider using techniques like aquaponics, targeted irrigation, or hydroponics to minimize water losses. Aquaponics, for example, can save 90% of the water you would need for a traditional garden.

Summary

There will be those who presume this water stuff is someone else’s problem. They will refuse to have compassion on those who find themselves in extremis, particularly those who are not from “their” country. They will continue to eat hearty meals and drink fancy beverages without regard to the water cost. They will routinely buy new things they don’t need, silver and gold, and rather than worship God or heed his messengers, they will worship the work of their own hands and the imaginings of their hearts.

But those who are wise will take stock and prepare.

Notes:

1. Shocking before and after pictures of California drought reveal extent of the dry spell, UK Daily Mail, 27 February 2014, available online at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2569919/Shocking-pictures-California-drought-reveal-extent-dry-spell-relief-way.html, retrieved 29 August 2014.
2. Adrian Antal Borsa1, Duncan Carr Agnew, Daniel R. Cayan, Ongoing drought-induced uplift in the western United States, Science, published 21 August 2014, available online at http://www.sciencemag.org/content/early/2014/08/20/science.1260279, retrieved 29 August 2014.
3. Lawrence Lewis, Western USA drought: 63 trillion gallons of groundwater lost, and the surface of the Earth is rising, Daily Kos, 22 August 2014, available online at http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/08/22/1323804/-California-drought-63-trillion-gallons-of-groundwater-lost-and-the-surface-of-the-Earth-is-rising#, retrieved 29 August 2014.
4. Alastair Leithead, California drought: Drilling deeper in the hunt for water, BBC News, California, 26 August 2014, available online at http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-28930485, retrieved 29 August 2014.
5. http://www.census.gov/popclock/<
6. Professor Arjen Hoekstra, The Water Footprint of Modern Consumer Society, 2013, review available online at http://www.amazon.com/review/R2JZK5YA1LGI64/ref=cm_cr_dp_title?ie=UTF8&ASIN=1849714274&channel=detail-glance&nodeID=283155&store=books, retrieved 29 August 2014.
7. Alastair Leithead, California drought: Drilling deeper in the hunt for water, BBC News, California, 26 August 2014, available online at http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-28930485, retrieved 29 August 2014.
8. Brad Plumer, How long before the Great Plains runs out of water?, Washington Post, 12 September 2013, available online at http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/09/12/how-long-before-the-midwest-runs-out-of-water/, retrieved 29 August 2014.
9. Garcia Navarro and Carrie Kahn, Drought Conditions Wreak Havoc On Latin America, NPR Morning Edition, 29 August 2014, available online at http://www.npr.org/2014/08/29/344193332/drought-conditions-wreak-havoc-on-latin-america, retrieved 29 August 2014.
10. Neena Rai, Spanish Drought Prompts Fears of Widespread Olive Oil Shortage: Crop From Some Farms Could Be 40% Lower Than Last Year, Says Industry Body, The Wall Street Journal, 15 August 2014, available online at http://online.wsj.com/articles/spanish-drought-prompts-fears-of-widespread-olive-oil-shortage-1408102214, retrieved 29 August 2014.
11. 2011 East Africa Drought, Wikipedia, available online at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_East_Africa_drought, retrieved 29 August 2014.
12. Angela Fritz and Jason Samenow, Will climate change worsen Ebola outbreaks? The Washington Post, 5 August 2014, available online at http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/capital-weather-gang/wp/2014/08/05/will-climate-change-worsen-ebola-outbreaks/, retrieved 29 August 2014.
13. Isaiah 19:5-10.
14. D&C 89: 12-13.
15. c.f. D&C 89: 9.
16. D&C 89:5-7.
17. D&C 89: 11.
18. D&C 89: 8.
This entry was posted in General by Meg Stout. Bookmark the permalink.

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but that Emma was right to assert she had been Joseph's only true wife.

65 thoughts on “The Waters Shall Fail – Get Prepared”

1. Though I agree with many things said in this article I also find it a bit too extreme.

I live in an area where we don’t have any kind of water shortage at all. We have plenty of water. There is no need whatsoever for me to cut back on showers or other water consuming activities. The contrary is true. Reducing my personal water consumption will have waste water to stay longer in the sewer tunnels underneath the streets. This causes all sorts of problems. Because water consumption in my area has been reduced by almost a third during the last 20 years or so the local water company has to flush waste sewer tunnels every summer with huge amounts of fresh water to keep them running.

And a saved gallon of water in my area won’t help anybody at all who has to cope with a drought in his living area.

Food CAN be another thing of course. I do eat meat only sparingly as recommended by the WoW. When I eat meat it is meat that has been produced in my own country and not somewhere in Asia or Africa. No, I’m not living in the U.S. In my country there is not a single state who has any kind of water shortage. So my meat consumption will have no impact on any drought condition. The same is true for all kinds of grains that I eat. Most of them come from my own country as well.

Many fruits and some vegetables are imported of course. They might come from areas where water shortages are indeed a problem. But just consider for a moment what will happen if everybody refuses to consume products from such areas: First of all the local economy will go down. People there will lose income and many won’t be able to sustain their families. Is that really what I want? No!

And something else: If a lot of fresh water is needed in an area where you have little rainfall or even are experiencing a drought, pumping up water from deep reservoirs or using desalination facilities is extremely expensive. This will raise the price tag of everything produced there. Increasing prices will lower consumption on the consumer side or will have consumers switch to other less expensive sources. So it is ultimately a self-regulating process.

This of course only works as long as the government is not involved. You gave the example of California. People are ask to cut back on showers and other activities that consumes a lot of fresh water. In a drought – like in California – this is of course necessary. But people did this anyway if the price of water would be flexible like in a real market environment. If water got less available and harder to get out of the earth then prices would go up and people would automatically use less water. But water prices are not flexible. They are fixed and water companies – often municipally owned companies – are most often subsidized entities. If they make a loss tax payer’s money will substitute for it.

To summarize my opinion: If you live in an area where there is no water shortage there is no need to reduce our water consumption.

2. I had the thought a few months ago that perhaps one reason things like coffee and tea are in the WoW might be because they use land and labor resources better saved for food crops that actually help sustain life, especially since so much is grown in Africa and South America where there is already so much poverty. The water element hadn’t occurred to me but it fits right into the same idea.

3. Hi Harry,

I don’t mind your opinion as long as you actually are familiar with the math and science behind water footprint and virtual water flows. For example, if you live in the UK, 75% of your water footprint exists outside your national boundaries. If you live in Canada, there are still significant portions of the country where individual river basins are stressed for water for at least a month or two each year.

Here are maps for the number of months of water stress in the Americas, Europe & Africa, and Asia & Oceania.

If you want to look at the historic amount of water scarcity for your local water basin as a function of time, check out the Water Footprint Tool This doesn’t, however, reflect the trend towards emptying aquifers or the recent drought conditions.

Since you don’t live in the US, you’re probably able to understand the direct data being published by the water footprint network, which is in metric, as used by every country in the world other than the US, Myanmar, and Liberia.

One good interactive graphic for finding you country’s actual water consumption information is found here:

SWF_InfoGraphics

You can find the total water footprint (in thousands of liters per year) and see which part is domestic use (talking to you argument about inadequate water to flush sewers), domestic agriculture, domestic industry, foreign agriculture, and foreign industry. For the US, those numbers (rounded to the nearest 0.5%) are:

08.5% – Domestic
48.0% – National Agriculture
25.0% – National Industrial
10.5% – Foreign Agriculture
08.0% – Foreign Industrial
100.0% – Total

Water is a uniquely difficult commodity to deal with, as Professor Hoekstra explains in his book. As long as people can make money from growing a product, they will continue to do so, exploiting established supply chains, without regard to the impact on local water supplies and corruption of the environment.

Another matter to consider is the expected impact of climate change. In dry areas, such as the American southwest, dry regions are projected to become even more dry. In areas that used to experience predictable and adequate rainfall, the rainfall per year will remain roughly the same, but will become more volatile, with periods of extended drought and deluge, punctuated by previously rare weather patterns such as the artic vortex patterns that chilled North America multiple times this past winter. Traditional agriculture will not be as productive in these volatile conditions, even in regions that theoretically have adequate water.

To put this matter into a different paradigm, imagine that you had a good salary, more than enough to meet your needs. You have a beloved sibling who has just lost their job due to circumstances beyond their control. Would you feel comfortable showing up at a family reunion in expensive apparel with the latest gadgets, driving a flashy car, asserting that each man or woman has earned their station in life, that you have every right to spend the abundant funds your individual merit rightly acquired, with no obligation to any other individual?

I know plenty of people who would feel comfortable being so insensitive and callous. But I hope you’re not one of them.

4. Verrrry interesting. And scary. Even though I believe in the veracity of the biblical “doomsday” prophecies, it is always scary to see them happening within my lifetime.

Thanks for the water conservation advice. I live in an area that has a history of plentiful water (I checked out the Water Footprint Tool website to to be sure) and does not produce much in terms of national or world agriculture. Now I want to shop the farmers markets or the “local” section of the natural foods store more often.

I am intrigued by aquaponics, but I know nothing about it. Can it be used for container gardening? Hanging gardens?

Can you recommend a website teaching aquaponics techniques?

5. Backyard Aquaponics in Australia has a great website and a free pdf called the IBCs of Aquaponics (IBCs are the ~300 gallon containers used to ship liquid goods, and various folks like to re-use them. Southern Aquaculture Regional Center SRAC pub 454 (SRAC 454) gives information on larger systems, like the research system used down in the University of the Virgin Islands.

There are a lot of scammers out there, who are either crooks or just ignorant. One of my passions from 2010 to 2012 was developing ways to do aquaponics for minimal cost, which led to me getting tapped to write the Complete Idiot Guide to Aquaponic Gardening (probably available in your local library – Penguin paid me up front, so I don’t get royalties and don’t mind if you don’t buy the book). I’ve personally invested several thousand dollars this year getting trained by the leading experts in the field and plan to redo my backyard system as a deep water culture system with filtration, much like the UVI system discussed in SRAC 454.

I just wish I was ready to retire – someone in my family has 200 acres of land between Saratoga Springs and Lehi with on-property hot springs (go, geothermal…). It would be a perfect situation for an aquaponics facility. Not that I’d need to cultivate 200 acres – a system that occupies well less than an acre (growing area of 1/16th an acre, more space needed for walkways and fish tanks) can produce 8 tons of tomatoes, 8 tons of basil, or 16 tons of cucumbers per year, for a small fraction of the water cost to grow using traditional techniques.

6. Dear Meg,

you wrote: “imagine that you had a good salary, more than enough to meet your needs. […] Would you feel comfortable showing up at a family reunion in expensive apparel with the latest gadgets, driving a flashy car, asserting that each man or woman has earned their station in life…”

No, I would not. But again, whether I use 30 gallons a day or 300 won’t change a bit for the lives of people living in areas where there is a shortage of water. And I certainly won’t show up at their doorsteps boosting about how much fresh water I have at home.

I live in Germany – in one of the two southern states. In all areas of Germany but especially in the south we have plenty of fresh water. Even in years with below than normal precipitation ground water is in abundance. At the border to Switzerland and Austria we have the Bodensee. It’s the second largest body of fresh water in central Europe. There is no water shortage whatsoever where I live and also nowhere else in Germany. So there is no reason here to save water in any way. We just have more than we will ever need. That is indeed a blessing not shared by many people in the world.

When it comes to indirect water consumption by farming and other activities the same will apply as long as the vegetables, grains, fruits or live stock are grown and raised in Germany or any other water rich country. As you mentioned (and I agreed) that might change when we start talking about imported goods.

In this case your opinion is that resources would be used and goods produced without regard to the impact on local water supplies and corruption of the environment.I still think that is not the case simply because a resource – water in this example – has a price tag attached to it. The more expensive a resource becomes the more expensive the products will become made by exploiting this resource. At some point products from areas without any water shortage will become less expensive and people will prefer buying them over their more expensive counterparts.

It might be or not be that climate change will make the American southwest even drier. But my water consumption here in Germany won’t change anything about it. My choices made at the grocery store might have an impact though if I preferred to by products grown or raised in the American southwest. But in this case I would certainly avoid buying such products when they become too expensive because of the high costs associated with their production in a dry climate without sufficient amounts of fresh water easily available.

I certainly appreciate and understand people when they are mindful about their environment. We are stewards of this planet given to us by our Heavenly Father. But people tend to use the emotional side of their brains when thinking about such matters. But this side of our brains is not a good “choice maker”, at least not when we talk about economical and ecological topics. Here the other more rational side of our brains is much more helpful.

7. Hi Harry,

Looking at the country data for Germany, the water footprint site says:

Average water footprint of Germany:
1426 m³/yr per capita

Part of footprint falling outside of the country:
68.8 %

Global average water footprint (for comparison):
1385 m³/yr per capita

While your personal habits are no doubt more responsible based on your representation, your water-rich region is running a 70% deficit, with the goods consumed using or polluting water from other regions of the world.

The Water Footprint website has a nice infographic showing the main water importers and exporters, and Germany is in the top five importers of virtual water. Most of the virtual water Germany imports comes in the form of crops.

8. I recently drove north from Provo, Utah to visit my brother near Portland, Oregon. I passed through southern Idaho and western Oregon which are traditionally arid regions. Most arable land seems oriented to raising livestock, either by grazing or raising hay and other cattle food. Sheep and cattle can make use of land that is not suitable for other crops. However much of the meat eaten in urban areas of America comes from corn fed feedlot cattle which is a very different process that uses crop land that could otherwise be used to feed people.
As I neared Portland driving along the Columbia River valley the landscape changed from arid to lush as the effects of the coastal climate with its higher humidity began to manifest. Many who practice permaculture have chosen to live in this region where a relatively mild climate combined with plenty of moisture make a return to living close to nature practical. After visiting my brother I drove south through western Oregon and headed toward the coast though forested mountains. Near the coast I drove through a river valley where the waters from the coastal range drain into the Pacific ocean. After staying the night in a coastal town I headed east through a river valley ideally suited to small scale agriculture and passed many family farms with varied crops. My route back to northern Utah led past Lake Shasta in northern California, a formerly impressive body of water that now barely encompasses the bottom of its extensive bed. The final leg of my trip took me across the near desert of Nevada between Reno and Wendover where even a sheep must struggle to live. One clear impression remains from my trip. Water is not distributed equally by nature and modern agricultural practices exacerbate the problem. Short term profit trumps long term conservation of resources. How can we, as individuals, make a difference? Some, such as so-called ‘permies’ have profoundly changed their lifestyles, moving to family farms where their goal is to become self sufficient. Others keep backyard chickens, grow vegetable gardens and shop mindfully. The market has responded to these trends. We can only change our own behavior, but if enough enough of us make those choices we may avoid the most painful consequences of general failure of supply that will occur if current trends continue.

9. I’m not sure the Ural Sea is a good example of drought, but both are good examples of environmental mismanagement. The only reason Lake Oroville is there at all is because it was created by man, and I think it shows how a lack of knowledge on how a dam can effect the environment over a long period of time. The Ural Sea is much more blatant in selfish mismanagement. The rivers feeding it were diverted to irrigation (rather poorly), so it’s hardly a wonder that the water level continues to go down. I don’t think it’ll ever recover, since people are too invested in the continuance of the irrigation over some distant lake.

I hope you can manage your farm before retirement. I think the hardest part to overcome in better environmental responsibility is fighting against the quick buck. To me, it’s the biggest way libertarianism and capitalism fails. (I know them’s fighting words around here, but I’m not up to arguing it. Feel free to teach, if you’d like.)

10. There was a great case study in Professor Hoekstra’s book looking at cut flowers in Kenya, where regular libertarian/capitalist forces are causing environmental damage and wild, Wild West behavior.

One approach is to ask the producers to make the investment to improve water stewardship.

The other approach is for an industry group to create a water stewardship label that allows producers to command a slightly higher price.

Both are free market, but the consumer-focused approach provides much more funding for the required improvements, and gives the crooks and water poachers a reason to align out of self-interest, which they would never do if regulated to do it by some non-consumer body.

11. Meg, I don’t have enough knowledge about this subject to have a lengthy debate, much less a lengthy conversation, but I thought you might be interested in this:

http://www.amatecon.com/etext/lpls/lpls-ch4.html

In general, people often blame “libertarianism” for problems that were really created by too much government. As I say, I don’t know enough about water policy to debate, but I will try to learn more and perhaps we can have a more detailed conversation in the months and years to come.

12. The economic power of informed consumers can be seen in the proliferation of sources for certified organic and non- GMO foods, products that were unknown or unavailable a few years ago. This is mostly a private enterprise effort. Government agriculture agencies on various s levels have often countered the effort such as in restrictions on transporting Amish originated dairy products from Pennsylvania to New York. My recent sojourn in New York City revealed a poverty of food resources. Organic and non- GMO food was either limited in variety or very expensive or both. On my recent trip through six western states I found that every grocery store I visited offered organic food at slightly elevated but still reasonable prices. New York City is known for ‘nanny state’ regulatory practices. It seems to me that informed, conscientious consumers are the best force for beneficial change.

13. Could you provide scientific footnotes for your scientific claims? The claim that a cup of fruit juice uses 10 times as much water as a cup of wine does sounds like a violation of conservation of mass.

14. Droughts come and go through the ages. There is nothing new here. What is new and exciting is the progressive development of less expensive desalination methods. In the past decade, the cost of desalinating sea water has decreased by nearly 50 percent. New technologies continue to be developed. Seventeen desalination plants are planned or under construction in California. These new plants will certainly ease the effects of cyclical droughts. Today 40 percent of the water consumed in Israel comes from desalination plants. Many arid countries in the world obtain a significant percentage of their water needs from desalination, and if memory serves me correct, the entire west coast of California borders an ocean that is not drying-up.

15. Wine vineyards aren’t irrigated as often or intensely as table fruit orchards, not by a longshot. There might also be a concentrate/reconstitution thing going on in the water calculation since with most juices sold you have the juice have it removed for storage and transport and then added back in later.

The hard thing is the power of numbers causes people to make poor assumptions. If I told you a grape vine takes 4 gallons of water a day to product 20lbs of grapes you might think 500+ gallons of water is a poor trade for 20lbs of fruit. But now how about the Cottonwood tree that consumes 40,000 gallons of water a year without providing a harvest. Should we cut down all large trees and “save” water?

I realize no one is proposing that, but you can hopefully see where these calculations go wrong. We shouldn’t be shocked and worried about the Cottonwood water usage just as we shouldn’t be shocked about a few hunted gallons for our grapes.

We’re all very unfamiliar with strange metrics like water consumption and as such can easily make poor analysis when exposed to a bit of data.

California’s issues are more resource production management and a lack of investment in growing sources, dames, etc than an extended drought. They haven’t bothered to increase their water collection and retention capabilities to match their growth and use and are seeing the consequences of a generation of neglect. And they now think turning off the sprinklers and showering less and low volume toilets will save them… I’m not opposed to those things, but when you have a supply problem conservation is a very small part of the solution.

Other cities and states around the world actively manage, invest and grow their water supplies. California doesn’t want to accept the trade off of more damns and reservoirs to save the fish or plants or landscapes from “suffering” so their residents (and the rest of us in a global market) experience the pain of their choices instead.

16. For those of you who aren’t familiar with water footprint, the numbers I cite are derived from the globally accepted water footprint accounting, which calculates the cubic meters of water required to produce a metric ton of various commercial goods. I have taken those numbers and calculated the number of cups for daily recommended servings for common food items.

Dozens of peer-reviewed scientific papers are availbe on the waterfootprint.org publications page. Water footprint includes both the traditional water calculations (for water taken from rivers, lakes, and aquifers) as well as rain water and the water required to dilute pollutants, such as nitrogen and phosphorus. I posted a primer on this several months ago, The Compassionate Mormon: Water 101.

If you wish to perform the calculations yourself, you are welcome to go to the databases and verify the numbers yourself. I am citing the results of my calculations, which I performed two years ago and posted here. The numbers are based on the information from the product databases at waterfootprint.org converted based on the weight of the recommended daily amount of the various items (variously expressed in volume (cups) and weights (oz)) derived from the myplate.gov and converted to grams based on the data on nutrition labels (such as this entry for whole milk).

I will say that my 2012 numbers are wrong for soy milk. Pure soy milk has a lower water footprint than cow milk. However because of the vanilla added (which is impossible to determine from the label), the water cost of commercial soy milk is higher than cow milk. I believe the database entry must have been for soy milk powder, but it wasn’t labelled clearly, at least in the database I used in 2012.

The publication page provides links to 183 different reports, most of them peer-reviewed journal articles. Again, these are almost all written in terms of the cubic meters of water required per metric tonne of commodity by scientists whose native language was not English.

As for the amount of water used for a product, it is a factor of the area required to grow the item, the climate where the item is grown, the supplemental irrigation provided to the item, and the amount of time required for the item to reach maturity. When we are talking about commodities higher up on the food chain, one needs to compute the water footprint for the feed consumed by the commodity en route to “harvest” or slaughter. This is why chicken has a much lower water footprint than an equivalent weight of beef (something our forebears would have known intuitively).

If you wish to understand the methodology used for producing the data, I recommend you read The Water Footprint Assessment Manual. For those of us concerned about North America, I particularly like the document The Water Footprint of Mexico in the Context of North America. It has lots of colorful graphs, interspersed with case studies with gorgeous graphics. The report was written by Spanish speakers which results in interesting reading at times (like the assertion that water use has detonated as a result of NAFTA when they meant “exploded”).

The water accounting that is now possible and required for comprehensive understanding has never been done historically. Even “experts” tend to forget to include the total impact, as when C&A did their initial assessment of the difference between the water footprint of organic cotton and conventionally grown cotton in India. In peer review, they were told they could not claim the impact due to fertilizer leachate was zero for organic farming, which had been their initial presumption. This is why there is peer review.

Modern consumer patterns are so wholly uninformed by the realities of water use that it’s like a teenager with a credit card who doesn’t realize that actual money must be used to pay off the eventual bill, or the old stereotype of an individual who doesn’t realize that the bank account might be depleted even though there are still checks in the check book.

I’ve run into all kinds of people who want to reject this message because they like paleo or soda or vanilla icecream. At the end of the day, it’s about physics (and chemistry and biology). Plants can’t grow without water. They just physically can’t. These needs don’t change just because we wish them away or happen to be ignorant of them.

17. Hi Aaron,

The water footprint calculations for water that should be available for human use reserves 80% of available hydrologic flow to maintain the existing environment (your cottonwood tree example). However precisely because water has not been well-understood, the actual water withdrawals have not been limited by conscious respect for the natural world. We have been like thieves who didn’t even realize we were stealing.

It’s not so much that I’m all dewy-eyed about nature, but we disrupt the natural environment to our peril. And when water runs out, the deaths and pain caused by either drought or civil strife aren’t going to be mitigated just because “we didn’t mean it.”

18. What was the reservoir that was moslty drained or depleted in CA because the water was used to keep the levels up in a river just so the salmon could keep running?

Has there been any studies done that connects flood control and levee building along the Mississippi and other rivers to the lower levels of aquifers in the Midwest?

It would seem logical that regular minor flooding can somewhat recharge an aquifer. But when levees are built to protect inhabited areas aound rivers, flooding occurs less often, and aquifers would get recharged less often. Is that how it actually works in real life?

A levee causes water that would have been flood-water to stay in the river and go on downstream quicker. That causes the towns downstream to receive more river water, and therefore have increased incidence of flooding. So that town builds more and higher levees, causing the next town to get even more water in the river, and the effect compounds.

Is it possible to build big enough pumps and pipelines so that when the Mississippi river and it’s tributaries are at above-normal levels, excess water can be pumped from the rivers to lakes and reservoirs far enough away, or to dry areas far enough away where the water can then be let out slowly, or spread out on dry land in a way can be used or recharge aquifers?

19. Meg,

you wrote: “It’s not so much that I’m all dewy-eyed about nature, but we disrupt the natural environment to our peril. And when water runs out, the deaths and pain caused by either drought or civil strife aren’t going to be mitigated just because “we didn’t mean it.”

Water won’t run out. Water doesn’t just go away. The amount of water in the world always stays the same. Maybe this is something we all have to realize first.

Having said this it is of course true that ground water reservoirs or surface water bodies can be emptied or pumped dry faster than they get refilled. But as I mentioned in my other postings, before this happens the costs of pumping up this water will increase up to a point where it will become economical unfeasible to further use it.

Especially in poor areas of our world agriculture is often the only mean of income for many people. If we decide to boycott products from those farmers we will often take away all their income. We might feel better because we now have a lower “water footprint”. But what we most often won’t see is how those farmers than will struggle to survive because they have lost all their income.

Everybody can and should decide for themselves what to buy or not to buy. But what tastes a little bit sour in my mouth is the moral arrogance that some people in the environmental movement (and no Meg, I don’t mean you because I don’t know you personally and therefor cannot know your motives) show.

20. I think Harry makes some decent points, and Scott makes a good point about desalination plants. Here is what history shows us: whenever the Earth faces an environmental problem, human beings either adapt or invent new technology that ameliorates the situation. In the 19th century, the air was filled with horrible coal dust in every major Western city, and the roads were filled with raw sewage and horse manure. The huge number of flies caused horrible disease.

What happened? People began using oil products, rather than coal. The horseless carriage got rid of the need for horses, and the manure and flies disappeared. Waste companies were formed to get rid of the garbage in the streets.

So, based on this history, what can we expect regarding the admittedly grim situation of water? New technologies. Meg is a huge fan of aquaponics, to which I say: “yay, a new technology that uses water more efficiently!” We will likely see more desalination plants and other technologies to make salt water potable. There is no reason not to follow most of Meg’s suggestions, but my instincts tell me that we human beings will find solutions before facing a water apocalypse.

21. For an example of the volumes of water a desalination plant can produce, the Kwinana Desalination Plant in Perth can produce roughly 5,000,000 cu ft of water a day, which is 37,000,000 gallons per year.

The water sucked out of the southwest aquifers in the past two years (even with the rainfall) was 63,000,000,000,000 gallons.

So it would take a single desalination plant like Kwinana a bit over 1,700,000 days to replace the water that has been extracted from the aquifer in the US Southwest, or 4600 years.

Desalination plants are adequate for making sure you have 12 cups of water to drink, with perhaps a few more gallons for sanitary purposes. Desalination is completely inadequate for replacing the thousand or so gallons of agricultural water required per person to grow food using traditional methods.

To Geoff and Harry, I have none of the traditional environmental motives for raising this alarm. I simply am an engineer who remembers how to do math. And because I fell in love with aquaponics a few years ago (and had a brother who came back from Afghanistan who was rigging up informal ways to reuse grey water), I started researching facts about water use.

The problem we have is that the water problem isn’t obvious enough for people to see it, the way they could see flies and raw sewage. It takes years for people to shift their habits, particularly when we’re talking something as traditional as agriculture. Yet lack of water can (and has) destroyed crops for thousands and millions of people in a single year.

We in the western world are content to imagine that this is a third world problem primarily caused by the mismanagement of third world peoples. But many of these matters are driven by consumer behavior, and it is consumers in the first world, primarily, who are creating the economic forces dictating third world behavior. Besides which, we are now seeing the impact of this lack of water in our own back yard, there in California.

22. Meg, just to be clear on what I am saying, I don’t think there is much of a difference between our positions. My point is: A)increased use of aquaponics PLUS B)changing consumer habits forced by scarcity PLUS C)desalination plants PLUS D)various unknown technologies that will be developed in the coming years EQUALS probable avoidance of catastrophe. This does not necessarily mean that aquifers will be replenished immediately, but it does mean that we avoid a water apocalypse. But notice that if we don’t adopt A+B+C+D we face an increasingly grim situation. So, I agree with you that this is something we should be concerned about and I appreciate your knowledge of the issue. I am simply pointing out that we have faced catastrophe repeatedly throughout history. Consider the fact that half the human population in Europe died during the plagues in medieval Europe. Humankind found a way around even that.

23. Harry, i think your point is that water can’t be destroyed, but you didn’t mention fresh versus salt water. Fresh water can be “destroyed” due to excess run-off into the ocean. To get that water back to fresh condition on a land mass, it has to evaporate from the ocean surface and rain down back on land, and do so in the right areas and at the right rate. rate of rainfall is important because if it comes back down too fast, it doesnt all soak in, and it just runs off into rivers and eventually back into the ocean.

Water can evaporat off land, rivers, lakes, and precipitate back to the ocean too.

So the question is, has the overall fresh water cycle in regards to any given land mass, North America fer instance, been balanced for the last few decades? The huge reduction of US aquifers points to the overall migration of fresh water -out- of the continental US out to the oceans.

I foresee some kind of recycling of river water thru a mega engineering project so at times when the Missisippi, Ohio, Missouri and other major rivers are above a minimum level needed for potable/farming/industrial/navigation uses, the “excess” might be pumped to distant places where it can be used or stored, or even allowed to be filtered through the soil back into aquifers. Or perhaps sent to artificial evaporation ponds upwind (general movement of weather systems is west to east in the continental US) of areas that need more rain.

We built an oil pipeline across Alaska. Couldn’t we build a water pipeline from Washington and Oregon, which have an over-abundance of rain, and rain runoff, to bring excess river water (that would otherwise just go into the ocean) south to California?

24. Hi Geoff,

Appreciate your clarification that we’re mostly on the same page.

When I give interviews as Chairman of the Aquaponics Association, I project that water-conservative gardens, e.g., aquaponic gardens, will become increasingly common, with the vast majority of gardeners and farmers at least incorporating some sort of hydroponics or aquaponics, even if only on a small scale. I think that because I do anticipate people adopting this technology relatively rapidly once the need becomes apparent. This kind of measure is within the control of the individual consumer.

While massive hydrological re-direction is possible, such projects tend to lead to lots of water evaporation between the original site and the eventual end of the pipeline/canal. Some internet site I tumbled upon years ago claimed that water evaporation from such pipelines could be more than 50%.

The case study in the Mexico report regarding the Cuatro Cienegas aquifer (a prehistoric aquifer that has been completely drained) was eye-opening. I don’t remember if it’s in the case study or some other articles, but when the local people realized how depleted the aquifer was and the damage to the local environment and economy, behavior changed. I think Cuatro Cienegas is no longer completely drained.

Back to the point of posting this – it’s a good thing to be prepared. With global forces and the fact that more than 50% of the world’s population now live in cities, I’m not sure how gentle the “wake up” call will be, when in occurs.

That said, I’m not a doomsday prepper. And when my husband handed me a small bowl of vanilla and deep dark chocolate ice cream tonight after reading scriptures, I didn’t yell at him for being incredibly insensitive. And the fact that we have an intact male rabbit and an intact female rabbit isn’t actually a contingency plan for emergency meat…

25. In 1966 when I first visited the banks of the Potomac near Mount Vernon I saw heaps of dead fish along the river bank. The water was toxic from industrial and agricultural runoff. Recent visits have been far more pleasant and what was once a virtual sewer has become a live stream again. Meanwhile there is a dead zone growing in the Gulf of Mexico where water from the Mississippi River, laden with agricultural chemicals, has produced an area devoid of life. The factory-like production of soy beans and corn is profitable for some but the cost in terms of fresh water and fishing is daunting. If the Potomac could be reclaimed there is hope for the Gulf but such short sighted projects as turning corn into auto fuel, supposedly a ‘green’ substitute for fossil fuels, works against recovery. Meanwhile birds are getting sliced and diced by windmills and roasted over solar collecting mirrors. The best hope may well be a conservative move to varied cropping on smaller farms that use innovative methods to save water and avoid chemical fertilizers and weed killers. This will likely mean food will be more expensive, but as people learn to eat local crops and cook in their own kitchens (yes, I know this is near fantasy) nutrition will improve. Once again it will require a better informed group of consumers to bring this about.

26. Smartgardener.com is a free garden planner website that also offers services for those who have land for a garden but don’t have the time or skills to produce their own food.

Effectively, it’s like joining a CSA, except that the produce is growing in your own yard and your personal garden assistant is doing what you can’t, up to the entire job of tilling, planting, watering, weeding, harvesting, and placing the week’s fresh produce on your porch. The founder of Smart Gardener is in California, so that will be where the services portion of their offering began a few years ago. I’m not sure where else the service is available now.

27. Apparently the decline in precipitation to replace water has been going on for several years in the Great Lakes region, which has the largest volume of fresh water in the world (21% of all fresh water). Lisa Borre wrote an article in 2013 at News Watch National Geographic to “bust myths” regarding the reasons for the the reduced levels in the Great Lakes. Lake Superior, for example, loses 29 billion gallons of water per day to evaporation (10 trillion gallons a year). Obviously in traditional past weather patterns, the evaporated water would precipitate back into the area, replenishing the lakes. But with shifted weather patterns, the evaporation has increased and precipitation isn’t returning the evaporated water back into the lake.

For fun, Lisa Borre put up another article talking about the impact of ice on evaporation. Turns out most evaporation occurs during the winter, when the lake temperature is warmer than the air (think a boiling pot of water in a cool kitchen). Evaporative losses in the summer are close to zero (think a cool water in an insulated glass on a hot day). She explains that the reduced evaporation in years when there is significant ice cover is not so much because the ice covers the water and prevents evaporation, but that the ice chills the water so the water temperature isn’t as warm and therefore is less likely to evaporate.

28. Interestingly to know whether there has really been a shift in precipitation levels and patterns around the Great Lakes. Meteorologists have certainly something to say about that. My guess is – I might be wrong about that – that precipitation levels and patterns are pretty much the same during the last 50 years or so. If the Great Lakes really lose mire water than they get back there should be a measurable decline in the sea level as well.

29. Regarding the idea that droughts come and go, basically that nature will balance things out… (and sorry if I misunderstood what was said)

I think we can take a lesson from the Dust Bowl in the 30s (and beyond). There is a good documentary on Netflix, if anyone is interested. The catastrophe was caused partially by nature, but humans played a major role in it. And we apparently have not learned much from it, because farming methods in the area have not really changed. A significant drought could cause the situation to recur.

I do believe that God is in charge, that things do not happen on earth that he does not allow to happen. But… people died in the Dust Bowl. Preventably. And those who did not die suffered immensely (many survivors continue to suffer the aftereffects of breathing that dust for years). Yes, humanity survives calamities like this. Our race is not extinguished. But that is little comfort to people who starve to death.

Why not work to prevent bad situations or be ready to handle them? A stitch in time and all that. I suppose our Heavenly Father supports that philosophy, given the emphasis the prophets put on preparedness.

30. rampant immorality abortion societal embracing of homosexuality. why are we surprised when consequences like ebola and drought popup?

31. Hi Annie,

Actually, we had a drought like the one of the dustbowl last year. The difference is that we as a society had put safety nets in place, and Brazil was happy to ship us the grains our own country didn’t produce. Last year.

N. W. Clerk,

Regarding wine (pp. 1583 & 1589 of the report you linked to).

870 m^3 is 870,000 liters and a metric ton is 1000 kg.

So this is 870 liters per kg.

A cup is 8 fluid oz, so we’ll call that 8 oz since the density of wine and water aren’t that different.

So we’re talking 870 liters per kg/2.2 lbs per kg/2 cups (8 oz) per lb (16 oz) = 197.7 liters of water per 8 ounce cup of wine. But since a liter is actually 4.23 cups, that means it takes 836 cups of water to produce a cup of wine. Still less than apple juice (1141 liters/kg) and orange juice (1018 liters/kg).

So I was wrong, but by the phrasing of your comment, I don’t think you thought I was wrong by having a number that was too low…

Of course, you know what that means. That means I need to spend a weekend verifying the numbers in my food chart. Unfortunately my next “free” weekend won’t be until 20 September.

32. Hi Winifred,

God is certainly omnipotent enough to shift things around. I enjoyed a recent story from our stake where a huge storms threatened to rain out youth conference. The storm came, but as it approached the high school where the dance concert was being performed, the storm system split and passed by, allowing the performance to proceed as planned. Some of the more technologically inclined captured screen shots of the radar data showing the phenomenon.

That said, the meteorological factors associated with the scientific projections of climate change based on anthropogenic activity can’t be linked specifically to immorality, abortion, and homosexuality. It is linked to short-sighted selfish behavior, but the physics of the problem links gross atmospheric change to the warming that is causing the climate change. Such atmospheric change is linked to behaviors such as carbon emissions from combustion engines. People who are not scientists tend to scoff, but there has been precious little scientific dispute for many years now.

There’s also the practical matter that to declare “sinners” the enemy will not help produce the change required to avert the most severe consequences.

33. Hi Harry and bookslinger,

Regarding the level of water in the Great Lakes, the water levels have been declining since roughly 1998. The article I linked to showed the levels over the past century or so, and there has been a cyclic pattern, but the variations in the past 15 years are not in line with the historical variations. Local lakes have experienced a similar decline, even though they are not connected to the Great Lakes.

When you opine that the sea level should also be declining, I don’t know what you are talking about. I usually understand “sea level” to mean the level of the ocean. That isn’t declining. Rather, it is rising, largely due to reduced ice at the poles.

Bookslinger,

The pretty picture shows all water. Available fresh water is nominally 1% of all water.

34. Meg,

I couldn’t find the article you’ve linked regarding water levels of the Great Lakes. I’m not exactly sure what article you are referring to. But I believe what you told me about the declining water levels.

You said, water levels follow a cyclic pattern. We see this behavior with many thing in nature. So no surprise to me. Only the last 15 years or so are out of line, you say. OK. Then the question is why. Earth mean temperature – as officially measured (not any kind of “real” mean temperature of course) – was steady during the last 15 years, it even became a little bit cooler. Is this trend different around the Great Lakes? I don’t know. I’m just asking. In what other ways did the climate around the Great Lakes change during the last 15 years?

Sorry about the confusion about the “sea level” I was referring to the water level of the Great Lakes. English is not my native language so sometimes I switch words unintentionally.

35. Hi Harry,

The chart was an illustration for Myth #4

If you are at all trained in statistical process measurement, you will be able to see that the nature of the water levels for the past 15 years seem to be different in nature from the previous 80 years. For example, if this was a measure of the value of your retirement fund, you would be concerned, rather than just saying “these things go up and down…”

As for the impact of climate change, generally, Here’s a good excerpt from a 2011 FOA report on Safeguarding Food Security in Volatile Global Markets. Pages 68-71 in particular talk about water-induced vulnerability and the impact of climate change.

Now, when you say that the earth mean temperature is even a bit cooler during the past 15 years, I think you are saying there is a intermediate trend line that doesn’t monotonically increase. However the details of the changes we are observing are consistent with the hypothesis that global mean temperature is experiencing an upward trend and the nature of that trend supports the hypothesis (e.g., that night temperatures aren’t as cool due to the blanketing effect of so-called greenhouse gases). This February 2014 article on the Global Temperature Trend includes a graph that both illustrates the increasing trend as well as the recent data that some have interpreted as meaning there is no actual “global warming.”

Again, when one is familiar with statistical processes, the rising trend is clear. Others, however, will seize upon any year or set of years that is cooler than the immediate previous year(s) and use this data point to claim there is no such phenomenon as global warming.

36. Meg,

I do not believe in man-made warming of the Earth’s atmosphere. I do believe however that climate is constantly changing and evolving. It has been since the creation. And will go on this way until Christ will return. This just for the record.

I’m not a trained statistical scientist. But I know a lot of scientists who agree with my assumptions about climate change.

I say the decline of Earth’s measured mean temperature is an indicator for Earth’s temperature trend going down – not only some intermediate trend. You say something else. I will not elaborate on this topic here. It would simply be off-topic. Suffice it to say that temperature data can be explained differently. They fit more than on hypothesis.

So back to the Great Lakes: The article you linked says that the water simply evaporated. Droughts and a lack of ice covering 2011-12 are mentioned. This sounds to me like some isolated however extreme events. It doesn’t indicate to me any observable long time changes going on with the climate around the Great Lakes which could be interpreted as a long-lasting trend. Over the last 15 to 20 years did the average ice covering decrease constantly? Did the mean temperatures in summer increase and the level of precipitation decrease? If so than this could be indeed a sign for a worrisome trend.

37. The article was written from the standpoint of debunking myths regarding the putative causes of the extremely low water levels in the Great Lakes. There is no controversy about whether the water levels are low. They are low. This is known fact.

Theories the author debunked included:

1) Water is low because it’s being exported in the form of bottled water.
Response – the volume of bottled water isn’t significant compared to the volume “missing” from the lakes. In fact, bottled water from other locations is shipped into the region at a great volumetric rate than the water leaving. This water goes into local sewage treatment plants and ends up in the Great Lakes, so the impact of bottled water, if anything significant, should actually be an increase in Lake levels.

2) Water is low because tankers are secretly shipping our water to China.
Response – it isn’t that tankers aren’t filling up with water at times, but to account for the missing volume, there would have to be thousands of tankers per day shipping Great Lakes water to China. And that isn’t happening.

3) Water is being diverted to other places, such as the Mississippi or the western states via secret pipelines.
Response – The missing water would require a pipeline that can transport much more water than flows over Niagara Falls per unit time. It is therefore not credible that there could be a secret pipeline siphoning water out of the Great Lakes that accounts for the missing water. As for a pipeline ot the west, it would have to be not only huge, but would rely on water running uphill (which water notoriously doesn’t do). So such a pipeline would be huge *and* consume massive amounts of energy. Hard to keep such a thing secret.

4) It’s just nature/the weather.
Response – this is where the plot of water levels for the past century came in. The water levels in the past 15 years are obviously “other” than the levels in the prior decades.

5) Nothing can be done.
Response – Ms. Borre was saying that something can be done, and was asking folks to comment on an Adaptive Management Plan for the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River Systems.

In summary, you do not believe in the climatological science that sugest there is an anthropogenic contribution to climate change, you are not conversant with statistics, and you know “a lot” of scientists who agree with you.

This discussion between us started out with you saying your personal habits and those of your country are fine as is, that you are a water-rich region that shouldn’t conserve water, and that any modifications to withdraw custom from other nations would be sufficiently deleterious to their economy that no effort should be attempted. You never did respond to the information that Germany is one of the five nations with the largest “water footprint” in external nations, that if suddenly unable to import crops, Germany would have to make do with less than 1/3 the crops it currently consumes.

Bringing this back to a religiously relevant point, Alma 32:21 provides the useful information that faith is a hope in that which is not seen which is true.

I have hope that we can take actions to avert the impact of current and projected droughts through education and discipline. This is one of many things in which I have faith. But this is a faith that requires sacrifice and hard work. I have Faith in the God who allowed Joseph to moulder in Liberty Jail and be murdered at Carthage, who though able to do anything, chooses to allow us to learn, to gain experience that will be "for our good." The God in whom I have Faith will make it possible to save all mankind, but isn't going to go around distorting reality on a massive and continual scale. I have simply documented actual, measured declining water levels that are happening on a massive scale, on the order of tens of trillion of gallons missing or lost from their traditional river basins per year. Even if there isn't an anthropogenic cause, we have a responsibility (literally an ability to respond) to act to mitigate the possible disasters that can result.

I see you asserting that you have faith that there is nothing we are doing that has any impact, nothing you can or should do, and that all issues will resolve themselves at the Second Coming of Christ.

38. Locals at Oroville seem rather less concerned about low water conditions at the lake. According to them, it is business as usual.

Local Newscast

39. It would be more interesting if they were talking to people who live there year round, or farmers who depend on the water from that lake for agriculture. I don’t think that dam generates electricity, though if it does, it would be interesting to know how things are going now that the water is too low to power electricity generation.

40. Meg,

you wrote: “In summary, you do not believe in the climatological science that sugest there is an anthropogenic contribution to climate change”

I do not believe in a certain way climatological data is being interpreted and put into a hypothesis. Yes.

You wrote: “You never did respond to the information that Germany is one of the five nations with the largest “water footprint” in external nations, that if suddenly unable to import crops, Germany would have to make do with less than 1/3 the crops it currently consumes.”

I said more than once that there is no need to conserve water in my own country. We have plenty of fresh water, more than we will ever need. I did however said – also more than once – that this fact somewhat changes if we speak about imported goods. So I think I did indeed respond.

You wrote: “I see you asserting that you have faith that there is nothing we are doing that has any impact, nothing you can or should do, and that all issues will resolve themselves at the Second Coming of Christ.”

No, that is not what I assert. I actually asked about the causes of the declining water levels of the Great Lakes. I do agree however that actions to preserve sufficient water levels (not necessarily the ones that we have now) are needed regardless of the causes of the declining levels. But proper actions demand to know the root causes of the declining water levels. Only when we know why water levels are seemingly declining can we choose to take the right steps to proper actions. I might be wrong but it seems to me that nobody knows so far why water levels keep dropping. If it was evaporation than there should be an observable cause for an increased evaporation.

And the second thing that I assert is to withstand from any kind of rush to activism. I said that way too often we use the emotional side of our brains rather than the rational side when interpreting scientific data. I can remember how the newspapers, the TV broadcasts and almost all of the scientific community where up in arms about the “dying of the woods” in the 1970’s here in Germany. It was speculated that because of to many smog in the air all the trees would certainly be dead in 2000. This was honestly discussed in the scientific community. Well, air quality did increase of course since then. But the area covered by woods increased steadily in Germany. It never declined. It’s still increasing despite the growth of cities and over 80 million people living here.

I also remember how the onset of a new ice age was discussed a few decades ago. It was discussed in the same often ideological way increasing temperatures are discussed today. All we had back then was a hypothesis and a certain way climatological data was interpreted. The same today. And then and now critics or people who hold on to another hypothesis are being ridiculed, cast out or even threatened with physical harm. And all of this because we and especially politicians use only the emotional side of our brains. Politicians do this of course to appeal to the masses. And many, many scientists are being paid by the governments to do their work. They rarely bite the hand which feeds them.

Alma 32:21 is certainly true when it comes to gospel truths. But it is a dangerous and also a cheap argument when somebody tries to bolster his or her scientific argument with it to silence people with different opinions about a scientific subject.

I don’t think we will agree about many things regarding your original article. That’s OK with me. And that’s also a good thing because different opinions about a subject will enhance the scope of thinking and will certainly increase the possibility to find truth.

41. Hi Harry,

We disagree. I’m content that I have physics and science and math on my side. You seem to be content that scientists have been wrong often enough in your experience that you can safely disregard the concerns I’ve articulated on behalf of the scientists.

I remain dissatisfied, because you refer to “a lot” of scientists and mention anecdotes, but have not provided references. So while I don’t object in principle to the idea of differing opinions, I don’t see the value of allowing all voices to have equal credibility if they don’t provide hard justification for their validity. The nature of physical reality shouldn’t be determined by democratic process, but by observation and measurement.

42. Meg,

you wrote: “The nature of physical reality shouldn’t be determined by democratic process, but by observation and measurement.”

I agree. You seem to know a lot about physics, math, statistical analysis, climatology and some other sciences. In this case you are certainly aware of the many scientists who disagree with the theory of man-made climate change and their science-based arguments. So I think there is no reason for me to lecture you about this topic or even give you references.

43. So going to Wikipedia, on the article for “List of scientists opposing the mainstream scientific assessment of global warming”, we find that “A 2013 survey of 3984 abstracts from peer-reviewed papers published between 1991 and 2011 that expressed an opinion on anthropogenic global warming found that 97.1% agreed that climate change is caused by human activity.”

Of the tiny minority who disagree, none appear to actually disagree that climate change (i.e., global warming) is occurring. The minority falls into three camps:

1) The observed warming is due to natural causes. (28 named of 3984, or less than 00.1%)

2) The observed warming is due to something unknown. (10 named of 3984, or less than 00.03%)

3) The observed warming might not have net negative impacts (3 named of 3984, or < 00.01%)

This tiny minority is mainly just questioning mankind's contribution to the increasing temperatures, not the fact that it is happening or the likely results of the warming.

Again, by failing to cite the basis for your opinion, you give the impression that there is a significant percentage of knowledgable persons who doubt climate change is happening.

44. Climate change is inevitable. 10000 years ago the Great Lakes were formed by a melting glacier. 5000yrs from now they might be dried up. The questions has always been, do what degree is the climate trending over the mid to long term, is it possible to prevent any changes or merely buy time, and is it worth the resources to do so rather than mitigate the effects through technology or migration.

I’m still convinced and any of the answers that have been offered and my opinion is adaptation is always preferable when it comes to the most expensive projects the world has ever seen that rely on predicting the future and who’s success depends on perfect angels with a financial incentive to cheat.

Now that being said, Meg it’s sad you’d rely solely on credibilty of various scientific and political communities while completely ignoring the rational arguments for why the science shouldn’t be fully trusted. As one who claims statistical knowledge I’d presume you can know how easily studies are biased/manipulated even unknowingly by various factors.

On principle, I also do not believe we should yield every argument to interpretations of data while ignoring our judgement about history etc. In other words we should not enable something aka the to the tyranny of science where arguments are ended simply by pointing to some numbers which might very well be correlations at best or products of group think at worst.

All that said, if the climate is warming it’s warming. If it’s cooling it’s cooling. People always talk about the weather. I’d just prefer to be prudent and not cause certain hardship in order to at best delay what is supposedly inevitable according get to various climate models (which haven’t been right so far anyway).

45. My last point is also key to this post. Certain hardship is be caused now because decades ago CA didn’t commit to additional reservoirs and water source growth to support a growing population. Now people look at the problem and say it’s a that change in nature that was caused by man. What is becoming a crisis is only a crisis because inaction + foolish action made it so.

We used to be in awe that we could take the wilderness, bring water to dry land and support massive projects which enable deserts to bloom. Governments used to spend money on big projects which were economically impossible for individuals and which benefited generations. Now we chastise ourselves for growth (zero does seem as if zero population is always the answer, my friend) and governments use most of its resources to redistribute immediate consumption without planning for future growth.

Answer this, how man hospitals does Obamacare call for? How many damns, reservoirs are being built? How many major roads are being built vs. simply repaired?

Our civilization I’d currently in consume mode and doesn’t plan for real growth but somehow thinks conservation and chastisement is the answer to growing populations. Nonsense. Nobody encourages us to dream big anymore and instead we dream how we can use less. That’s wise not to be wasteful, but when the population of CA doubles and instead of doubling water reservoir growth they empty them in the name of conservation I think our problems are man made indeed.

46. Meg, the 97 percent figure is completely bogus. Please see this:

http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/09/09/97-climate-consensus-denial-the-debunkers-debunked/

There are literally dozens of papers out there showing that Cook paper is very, very bad science.

There are more than 1300 peer-reviewed papers questioning the “consensus,” and people like Cook regularly ignore these papers because they are “inconvenient.”

http://www.populartechnology.net/2009/10/peer-reviewed-papers-supporting.html

The climate change debate is a very long, complex one. If we were to talk face to face I bet we would end up agreeing on many things. However, referring to the bogus Cook report does not help any reasonable discussion.

47. So I would appreciate it if folks would edit the Wikipedia article.

Perhaps it’s just shame on my for turning to Wikipedia, but the beauty of Wikipedia is that it does represent the collective efforts of everyone. So if Cook is as messed up as all that, then anyone (like anyone) can go on to Wikipedia and edit it out.

I ran down this climate change rabbit hole because I was irritated that Harry was fundamentally questioning the premise that water is becoming a fundamental concern.

At the end of the day, water resources are “shipped” around the world in the form of the final product of the thousands and millions of gallons used to grow and pruduce things, mostly food.

Some foods provide equivalent nutrition for much less investment of water.

Therefore the consumption patterns even in water-rich portions of the world impact the behavior of suppliers in water-stressed regions. So I can, but altering my personal consumption patterns, provide relief to the rest of the world.

48. From what I hear, it is much harder to remove something from Wikipedia than to add something initially. Likewise, from what I understand, something cannot just be edited out easily either. It seems that an initial submission is not usually as well vetted as edits or contradictory positions. That is why so often you see posts there with the “citation needed” note included. Stuff goes in easy, but is more challenging to then clean them up. Or so I have heard. I am no Wikipedia expert.

49. I tried to edit a Wikipedia entry on global warming once. The PC police immediately edited it back about 10 minutes later. This is a politically charged subject with a lot of money on the line for the global warming alarmists. It is very difficult to get good information in such an environment. My suggestion: every time you see a claim, just google it and look at the other side. The Cook study claims a 97.1 percent consensus? Go read the critics of the Cook study. Al Gore claims the polar bears are disappearing and that global warming will increase hurricane activity? Go read about the fact that there are actually more polar bears now and that hurricane activity is actually in a slow period. It is worth noting that there has been no global warming for nearly two decades (admitted even by the alarmists like Phil Jones) and that total ice on both poles (not just the Arctic) is just where it was three decades ago.

I understand you were responding to Harry, but I thought it was my duty to provide a bit of perspective on a subject I actually know something about. 🙂

50. And…. After the East Anglia email scandal was reported, about cooking the books and adjusting the temps retroactively, if may be that the earth is NOT warming overall anyway .

so,… There is not even concensus that there is global warming in the first place, let alone that it is man-made.

51. i think the global warming issue should be kept apart from the fresh-water issue. Aquifers -are- down in the US. I don’t see anyone challenging that.

California -has- made stupid choices in not creating new reservoirs to keep up with population growth, let alone enough reservoir capacity to ride through a natural drought. Droughts happen with or without global warming.

but its the height of either stupidity , or else evil, to blame CA’s current water situation on man-made global warming when poor decision-making in regards to not building reservoirs, and draining the ones they have to protect a few fish in a river, is clearly the major factor.

52. Meg,

you wrote: “Perhaps it’s just shame on my for turning to Wikipedia, but the beauty of Wikipedia is that it does represent the collective efforts of everyone.”

At colleges students usually get called out by their professor for using Wikipedia. That’s for a reason. While Wikipedia can be a great reference tool for quickly looking up something it is by no means a tool to be used in serious science. I don’t blame anyone though. I use Wikipedia too but have learned to be as careful as possible when using information I found on Wikipedia.

Truth – even scientific truth – is not something to be determined in a democratic process. Since anybody can edit a Wikipedia article the editors who are most persistent and unyielding will determine what we all read in an article.

Again I give you a German perspective: The German Wikipedia is one of the largest and most complete third only to the English and French Wikipedia. However it is widely known that the quality of German Wikipedia articles are bad, really bad. This is true at least for any article that is slightly political in nature. Scientific articles are said to be a little bit more reliable though.

The German Wikipedia suffered a huge lost of active editors over the past couple of years. This is mainly because of “activist” administrators and users who are constantly editing articles to fit their political bias, agenda and world view. Today the German Wikipedia is considered mostly useless when it comes to political topics.

The Wikipedia system favors people who are most persistent and have a lot of time at their hands. Those people often become privileged users or administrators and can shut out anybody with an opposing opinion. This is why a small minority of users will determine what we read on Wikipedia.

Bottom line: While the English Wikipedia is often considered a little bit more reliable than Wikipedias in other languages I would never trust anything I read on Wikipedia. Never.

53. Satellite images seem to depict an actual increase in the ice mass at the north pole. Ironically this would seem to represent an additional amount of unavailable fresh water. Meg’s scientific training was in math and physics, two areas where facts are fairly hard to jostle even if there are differences of opinion on more cosmic subjects such as the big bang. I, on the other hand, was trained in one of the many fields of science where facts are rarely solid and immovable and opinions and specious reasoning too often flourish. My professors would argue points of view with emotional zeal in front of their classes. In one exchange over the extinction of large marsupials in Australia one professor assured us that man was responsible. The other professor in the team teaching arrangement yelled from the back of the room: “Nonsense! There are no tool marks on the bones. No sane human would hunt a giant marsupial!”
“But pygmies hunt elephants in Africa,” his colleague replied.
“Pygmy hunters are insane!” He responded.
The ‘soft’ sciences rely more on consensus and prestige than the ‘hard’ sciences. Even such measurements as carbon dating and dendrochronology or tree ring dating have been fudged to fit pet theories. When I hear ‘concensus’ used as ‘proof’ of ‘global warming’ my eyes start to squint as if I smelled something too ripe to ingest. So far meteorology has had a very poor record of prediction. Meanwhile extreme devotees of Al Gore suggest that global warming sceptics should be shunned or put in jail.
This kind of hysteria feeds the wallets of profiteers. It detracts from the very real threat of drought and resultant famine from unwise water policies and the vagaries of nature.

54. I wonder at the vehemence regarding “global warming.”

Stepping back, I don’t actually care whether the temperature of the planet is being affected by anthropogenic activity.

However I do care about water usage.

I suspect that the vehemence about the focus on carbon footprint is because we are being asked to change – shift how we live our lives, shift where we live, etc.

Alas, focusing on water usage (e.g., diverting resources to grow biofuels) results in advocating for many of the same types of change. However the science of water is much more obviously a physics and math problem, the zone where, as Pat points out, I have my background.

So I’m interested to understand the reason for people’s vehement rejection of the anthropogenic global warming narrative. What change do you see being advocated by eco-profiteers that bothers you, that would go away if everyone thought like you do about the lack of anthropogenic cause for global temperatures (and the lack of impact of global temperature on weather patterns)?

And which prudent measures on an individual level make sense in the face of drought conditions experienced in those parts of the world providing us products?

55. Meg, I don’t think most people would care about the global warming issue if it had not been so heavily politicized. And you need to consider that the politics are all about controlling what people do — what kinds of cars they can drive, the price of electricity to their homes, etc. Even the most moderate AGW proponent believes government should step in to impose cap and trade or a carbon tax. Australia imposed a carbon tax a few years ago, and electricity prices went through the roof and now a new government has scrapped the carbon tax. So, AGW fanaticism has affected people in real ways.

You also need to consider that people are making big money off of the global warming hype. Al Gore made literally tens of millions of dollars, maybe more. There are thousands of scientists worldwide who can only get grants by hyping the issue and trying to scare people. And meanwhile global temperatures have been stable for nearly two decades, there have been fewer hurricanes, there has been no change in global ice coverage for three decades, etc. People are being scammed. So it does matter.

The most respected scientists recognize that global temperatures are affected by forces beyond our control: the sun, volcanoes, ocean temperatures, cloud cover, etc. The claim by AGW fanatics that we can control the climate is simply nonsensical. So if everybody thought like I do, we would have a much less contentious political environment but nothing would change in terms of the global climate because there is little human beings can do.

However, water usage is something we CAN control. In fact, the modern history of the Western United States is all about access to water. Los Angeles and Las Vegas would literally not exist as large cities without man’s efforts to bring water to these metropolises.

So, I think discussing water usage is a worthwhile pursuit, and you know more about it than most people, so I think you should continue to discuss it. I have learned more about aquaponics in the last few months than I ever would have thought possible. So in your own small way I think you are creating a worthwhile discussion. Just don’t mix the two: global warming is a contentious, political issue, and humans can do almost nothing about it. Water policy is contentious, but it needs more attention and humans can actually do something about it.

56. Meg, another thought. Bookslinger’s link on the 97 percent consensus is really quite good. It shows without a doubt that the manner of creating the “consensus” was manipulated for specific political purposes. The paper involved is very lengthy with good, sound reasoning, footnotes, etc. Yet almost nobody on the the AGW side will ever read it. I find it fascinating that people are simply unwilling to face evidence, no matter how good that evidence is, that contradicts their paradigms. This also indicates to me that “global warming” is primarily a religious movement, not a scientific movement. The prime movers behind the movement are “true believers” who hate carbon-based energy. During the 1970s, when the Earth appeared to be cooling, they said carbon-based energy was causing the cooling. Now they believe carbon-based energy is causing the warming. Notice a trend?

I have had discussions on this issue with literally hundreds of people over the years. I have noticed a bit of movement where many people who were global warming fanatics are beginning to recognize that the data is not heading that direction. But the vast majority of the people will literally refuse to look at any evidence that contradicts their religious worldview. Having a religious worldview is a wonderful thing (I am a very religious person), but you can’t try to force you religion on others, and this is what the AGW movement is about at the end of the day.