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water industry

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As Mark Twain supposedly observed: “Whisky is for drinking, water is for fighting over.”




Not a Drop to Drink: The Global Water Crisis

Stewart M. Patrick

The need for reliable sources of fresh water is as old as our species. What is new today is the combination of surging global demand for scarce fresh water in volatile regions of poor governance. Read More on the Internationalist »





Water in the West


Gripped by drought, America's West is rethinking how it uses water


A FEW warning signs and a rickety pier are all that remain of Overton Beach's once-busy lakeside marina. The boats have been gone since February, towed more than 30 miles (50km) to where they are in less danger of running aground. Fish-cleaning stations are now hundreds of yards from the receding shoreline. At the local rangers' station, a placard describes the Lost City, an ancient Indian settlement drowned when the Hoover Dam was built in the 1930s. That city is no longer lost: so low has the surface of Lake Mead fallen that it is re-emerging from the water.


“This is not a normal drought,” says Pat Mulroy of the Southern Nevada Water Authority. Since 2001 the flow of water into Lake Mead has been below average for all but one year. The reservoir is now less than half full. If the drought does not break in the next few years, the Las Vegas metropolis will be the first to suffer. Its 1.8m inhabitants depend on the lake for nine-tenths of their water supply. Many more victims will follow: no fewer than seven states, as well as northern Mexico, rely on the Colorado River.


Fearing that the surface of Lake Mead will soon drop below the level of one of its two pumps, Las Vegas is quickly building another. It has bought ranchland in eastern Nevada and plans to build a pipeline to bring its water hundreds of miles south. Next year it will raise the sum it pays city residents to tear up their lawns and replace them with cacti and other abstemious flora. The price of water is likely to go up


Conservation has already reduced water use in Las Vegas from a peak in 2002.  Impressively, every drop of water that enters the city's sewers is cleaned and pumped back into Lake Mead. But Ms Mulroy says that conservation alone cannot stave off a crisis on the Colorado River. She believes global warming has permanently reduced its flow. Even if it hasn't, human settlement will create an unbearable strain. The population of the seven states that depend on the river grew by 10% between 2000 and 2006, compared with 5.6% in the rest of America. And much of the growth is in the driest parts of those states. Getting more water to them will be hard. Yet finding it is easy.



Water, water everywhere


In places, the beige American West gives way to fields of vivid green, which are often kept that colour by sprinklers running in the middle of the afternoon. Farmers use the great majority of the West's water, which they get at bargain rates. Even in California, by far the most populous state in the region, four times as much water is poured onto farmland as runs out of taps or is sprinkled over lawns. Farmers in the Imperial irrigation district, east of San Diego, pay $17 per acre-foot of water (that is, enough to flood an acre of land a foot deep, equivalent to 1.2m litres). In San Diego a household that used the same amount in a year would pay $1,311.


It makes sense to grow some crops in California. No place in America so closely resembles an open-air greenhouse as does the 400 mile-long Central Valley, which produces much of the nation's fruits and nuts. In 2005 California's almond crop had an export value of $1.8 billion. More ecologically dubious, however, are the state's vast cotton and alfalfa farms. This year more than half a million acres (200,000 hectares) of what would otherwise be desert were devoted to the cultivation of rice, much of which was exported to Japan.


Farmers have history to thank for their liquid bounty. In the West, water law is founded on the principle of “first in time is first in right”—in other words, he who first diverts water from a river has the strongest claim on it. This doctrine evolved in the 19th century, in response to the needs of miners. It turns out to suit modern farmers rather well. Better still, California's landowners are allowed to drill for groundwater. Each year, over a million acre-feet more of it is pumped out of the earth than returns to aquifers.


The cities would, of course, pay much more for the farmers' water than could possibly be made growing rice. But the water is not always the farmers' to sell. Many sources belong to water districts, which require the approval of all members before a transfer can take place. Rural politicians tend to oppose the idea of letting fields turn to dust in order to fill the swimming pools of Las Vegas and Beverly Hills. And, while California has an extensive infrastructure for moving water around between users (see map), many states, including Nevada, do not.


Yet the cities' desperation, and their consequent willingness to pay top dollar for water, is speeding the development of a water market. Clay Landry of WestWater, a consulting firm, points out that cities can get hold of the stuff much more quickly by buying it from farmers than by building reservoirs and desalination plants. Water contracts are becoming more sophisticated: southern California's cities routinely buy options to guarantee supply in dry years.


Bigger steps in the same direction will be taken in the next few years. Later this month Dirk Kempthorne, the federal interior secretary, is expected to approve a plan, thrashed out by the Colorado River's dependent states, that will regulate water use in times of drought. The agreement encourages interstate trades and allows users to cut back their water use and “bank” the savings in Lake Mead or underground aquifers. It will be the most fundamental change in how the river's water is allocated since the 1920s.


The West has abused its most valuable natural resource for so long that an abrupt change for the better is unlikely. Lawsuits from farmers and environmentalists will rain down. Mexico's claim on the Colorado River must be addressed.


As Mark Twain supposedly observed: “Whisky is for drinking, water is for fighting over.”








Australian company develops clean water technology

ioteq.jpgAustralian company Ioteq has revealed a new technology that it says will sanitize water with one of the most environmentally responsible systems around.

The technology, called Isan, and revealed at last week’s AlwaysOn Venture Summit in Monterey, Calif., uses iodine instead of chlorine to clean water. Since iodine is less corrosive than the commonly used chlorine filtration process, it’s more environmentally friendly.



Further, Isan recycles iodine for use in subsequent filtrations.


Isan can be used for things like post-harvest fruit and vegetable sanitation, food processing, and waste water recycling. Ioteq has already proven the system’s viability in 150 installations in Australia and New Zealand — mostly for water recycling in agricultural environments. Water recycling was previously unfeasible because chlorine filtration requires the dumping of waste water. Ioteq says it is targeting both government and private industries with its technology.


The Isan system collects all the iodine byproducts after disinfection and loses only about two percent of the iodine between filtrations. The company says the system has several other advantages over chlorine systems. Isan works in a large variety of PHs, while chlorine is limited to a small spectrum. Iodine also has a higher kill rate on bacteria and fungi compared to chlorine. Isan also converts all captured by-products back into the original iodine, providing a closed-loop process.


However, iodine is not the only alternative to chlorine. Other water-cleaning companies use ozone and peroxyacid, and each carry their pros and cons. See our coverage of Livermore, Calif.’s Novazone, which uses ozone, for example, and which claims ozone is preferred to other disinfectants.


Ioteq has been self funded with $6 million and is seeking $5 million in VC funding from Silicon Valley firms. The company says it’s ready to bring its product to the U.S.–with California as its first market–as soon as it receives U.S. government regulatory approval and VC funding.


California’s agricultural producers use anywhere from 250 to 500 thousand gallons of water per day without the ability to recycle that water. Given California’s great water dependence, Ioteq CEO Jared Franks expects California to be lucrative.


Franks says Ioteq also has plans to enter third-world markets to provide clean water to devastated regions. He notes the technology would not only help improve water supply but would provide the ability to add iodine into the supply in areas where iodine deficiencies lead to birth defects, mental retardation, and other health problems.





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