Policy and Economics

The Water Management Crisis of the Teesta River

Posted by on Jul 5, 2017 in All Posts, Featured Posts, Policy and Economics | 0 comments

The Water Management Crisis of the Teesta River

Spread the News:ShareA reduction in the Teesta River’s water flow during the non-monsoon months has impacted water levels available for irrigation, leading to ongoing disputes between Bangladesh and India. The tension between Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the Chief Minister of the Indian state of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, has led to an impasse in a water sharing agreement between the two countries, leaving both at risk as the water crisis grows. India and Bangladesh face the challenge of sharing a river, an issue which is exacerbated by glacial retreat. The Teesta River begins in the high mountains of India and flows down to lowland areas of India and Bangladesh. The Teesta supplies one-sixteenth of the water needed by India and Bangladesh for agriculture during the dry season, which runs from February to May. Due to its geography, India has been able to build dams to control or limit water flow to Bangladesh, but not vice versa. Both countries have sought an equitable division of Teesta waters in the past. In 1983, for example, a water sharing agreement was reached, dividing access to the water roughly equally by giving India 39 percent and Bangladesh 36 percent, with the remaining 25 percent unallocated. However, out of fear of water loss in the northern region of the country, the West Bengal government did not approve the treaty, and the agreement was not implemented. Since then, agreements over the Teesta have been unsuccessful. In 2010, a new agreement was drafted to grant both India and Bangladesh 40 percent of water flow at Gazaldoba Barrage in West Bengal, with the remaining 20 percent for environmental flow, a system for managing water flow below a dam to sustain freshwater, aquatic ecosystems and human livelihoods. However, the state government of West Bengal later opposed the negotiation. Ideally, a treaty between the two countries would ensure water flow during the dry season, secure water for the rest of the year in the river basin, and prevent floods and river erosion during monsoons. The Teesta normally overflows 300,000 cusecs (cubic meters per second) during monsoons, but lately the river has been exceeding 450,000 cusecs, resulting in river erosion. By 2030, Bangladesh’s water demand is expected to exceed available water supply by 21 percent in the dry season. The Teesta Barrage Project, one of the largest irrigation projects in eastern India, was designed as a network of barrages and canals in six northern districts of West Bengal intended for irrigation, hydropower generation, navigation, and flood control. During dry seasons, barrages, which are broad, low dams that use large gates to control and divert water, are meant to hold back water, but they do not contain a water reservoir facility. Only certain parts of the project have been completed, including the Teesta barrage at Galzaldoba in West Bengal, which lies 90 kilometers upstream of the Indo-Bangladesh border at Gazaldoba. Bangladesh contests that the Gazaldoba barrage, upstream of Dalia, has reduced water availability during the dry season. After the construction of these dams, large pools of stagnant water formed just upstream of the Teesta Low Dam Project, while downstream there was no water in the riverbed. These man-made hydraulic structures, dams and barrages are meant to impact the water flow and the timing of water release. Unfortunately, poor water management in India and Bangladesh has led authorities to release water at the wrong time since the barrages do not have a water reservoir facility, thereby releasing monsoon water rather than keeping it for dry seasons. Control of the water flow through the Gazoldoba Barrage in India has resulted in...

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Water Stress in the Naryn River Basin

Posted by on Jun 22, 2017 in All Posts, Featured Posts, Policy and Economics, Science | 0 comments

Water Stress in the Naryn River Basin

Spread the News:ShareAround the world, meltwater from snow and glaciers has provided surrounding communities with water for irrigation and hydropower, but climate change is altering the timing and volume of the annual water flow cycle. This issue is pressing in eastern Kyrgyzstan, where the glaciers and snowpack of the Tien Shan Mountains form the headwaters of the Naryn River, which flows westward across Kyrgyzstan before crossing the border into Uzbekistan. A recent study in the journal Water by Alice F. Hill et al. analyzed water chemistry from the Naryn River Basin to find changes in the contribution of mountain headwaters to river discharges that flow downstream to agricultural areas. Agriculture accounts for 29 percent of the country’s GDP (2010 figures) and more than half of its labor force. The study’s aim was to capture key hydrologic transitions over the diverse domain by using a hydro-chemical mixing model, known as End Member Mixing Analysis, to distill multi-variate water chemistry data from samples, in order to quantify water contributions from river discharge to agricultural areas serving larger populations. By using a remotely sensed product to quantify the rain, seasonal snow, and glacial melt inputs, the study found that when glacial ice mass decreases, it contributes less to river water supplies. Government Policies and Water Management These trans-boundary water sources have been a topic of relations between the Republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan since their independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, with water resource management poorly coordinated between the five republics. Recently, new infrastructure, such as dams and diversions, have been developed, creating problems for neighbors that live downstream. “The Kyrgyzstan government insists increased precipitation and snowmelt are to blame for natural hazards and fatalities. Scientists have yet to determine the cause of such weather anomalies in Southern Tian Shan,” said Ryskeldi Satke, a Kyrgyz journalist, in an interview with GlacierHub. “On the other hand, it was known that climate change worries experts and researchers over its impact on snow melt in the Tian Shan and Pamirs. Subsequently, more ground research and cooperation would be needed to explain weather patterns in the region.” Kyrgyzstan has over 8,000 glaciers, accounting for 4.2 percent of the country’s territory. The consumption of irrigation water for agriculture represents 94 percent of total water use, while only three percent is allocated to households and industries. Livelihoods depend on the river flow from these glaciers, which have been shrinking since the 1930s, according to research. In order to better understand the implication of the infrastructure developments, Hill and her colleagues conducted a survey in both upstream and downstream communities. They asked questions relating to changes in water availability for irrigation, food, and recreation, as well as changes in household activities, estimated income, and income structure over the last 15 years. Community Survey The researchers conducted the survey across a 440 km stretch of the Naryn River to better understand the challenges that the people of the Naryn basin face in obtaining adequate water supplies. All communities reported an overall decrease in water access over the last 15 years. Therefore, some communities installed groundwater wells, mainly in higher portions of the basin. Since the 1960s, the Toktogul district, for example, has been limited by low water availability, scarcity in lands and funds, and a lack of trust in the government. Unfortunately, farmers were not given the proper resources or equipment to build an irrigation or water distribution system, according to the study. There was a lack of government support for farmers who were unable to deal with the harsh conditions on their land, the researchers noted. Therefore, yields began to decrease and the irrigation systems deteriorated. This led the farmers and surrounding neighbors to believe...

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Glacier Countries Condemn Trump’s Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement

Posted by on Jun 19, 2017 in All Posts, Featured Posts, News, Policy and Economics, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Glacier Countries Condemn Trump’s Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement

Spread the News:ShareCountries around the world were quick to condemn Donald Trump when he announced his decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement. Unsurprisingly, small countries with glaciers, with their direct experience of climate change, have joined this round of condemnation. However, the details varied from country to country. And relatively few voices in these countries have emphasized the connection between their own experience of climate change and their opposition to Trump’s action.   Latin America The strongest reaction came from Peru, where the national government issued an official declaration on June 1, within hours of Trump’s announcement. It stated “The Government of Peru receives with concern and disappointment the announcement made by the Government of the United States of America to denounce the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.” The declaration underscored the actions of Peru in hosting a major international climate meeting that led up to the Paris Agreement, and in being the first country in Latin America to ratify it. Newspapers in Peru also expressed their condemnation. A center-left newspaper, La República, stated on June 2 that Trump “has turned his back on the world.” The more conservative El Comercio emphasized that the U.S. was isolating itself from the other nations of the world. Jesús Gómez López, the director of Peru’s Huascarán National Park, where the majority of the country’s glaciers are located, told GlacierHub, “This decision of the Trump administration is regrettable. It is a great concern that it works against progress that has been made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.” He mentioned his particular concern about the rapid loss of glaciers in tropical areas. Chile, another South American country with large glaciers, also issued an official response. On June 1, the Foreign Minister issued a statement indicating the country’s “great concern and deep disappointment.” It emphasized Chile’s vulnerability, citing floods and forest fires, and reiterated the country’s commitment to reducing its emissions of greenhouse gasses. Greenpeace Chile spoke against Trump’s decision and used the occasion to launch a petition to oppose oil exploration. The country director of Greenpeace, Matías Asun, called for a national law to protect glaciers.   Europe European nations also responded strongly to Trump’s action. In Iceland, the European country where glaciers occupy the largest proportion of the national territory, the Minister of the Environment, Björt Ólafsdóttir, expressed her disappointment with Trump’s decision on June 1. She also recognized that some states, like California, were taking independent action in alignment with the Paris Agreement. Dagur B. Eggertsson, the mayor of Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital and largest city, offered a visible response. He announced on June 2 that the city would shine green light on  Harpa–its music hall and conference center, and an iconic symbol of contemporary Iceland–as a sign of commitment to the Paris Agreement. Several Norwegians expressed their concern to GlacierHub. Marianne Lien, an anthropologist at the University of Oslo, wrote “Trump news is no longer even funny or interesting. His withdrawal from the Paris agreement is just another move in a series of events that makes the US more and more marginal in world politics, and especially regarding global climate policy. This opens up a space for others to take a lead, such as the EU and China. Perhaps Trumps withdrawal is a wake-up call to some, and could inadvertently raise even more awareness about the politics of climate change.” Rasmus Bertelsen, the Barents Chair in Politics at the Arctic University of Norway in Tromsø, linked Norway and Iceland with Sweden, Denmark and Finland. He stated “President Trump’s speech withdrawing from the Paris Agreement marks a watershed in post-World War II...

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Cruise Ships Cause Murrelets to Demur: Management and Tourism in Glacier Bay

Posted by on Jun 8, 2017 in All Posts, Featured Posts, Policy and Economics, Science | 1 comment

Cruise Ships Cause Murrelets to Demur: Management and Tourism in Glacier Bay

Spread the News:ShareWhen the U.S. National Park Service was established by the Organic Act of 1916, just over 100 years ago, it was given two mandates: to protect the natural resources in its parks, while also allowing for enjoyment of those resources. Sometimes, these mandates conflict. In a May 2017 paper in PLOS One, Timothy Marcella and his co-authors describe one such case. The paper shows that cruise ship traffic in Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve disturbs two rare seabird species, Kittlitz’s and marbled murrelets. Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, a 3.3 million acre region of water and land in Southeast Alaska’s Inside Passage, is characterized by vast tidewater glaciers and the landscape created as they recede, a succession from bare rock to mature spruce and hemlock forests. The Park provides crucial habitat for Kittlitz’s murrelets, which nest on the ground in deglaciated terrain, drawn to tidewater glaciers and the marine invertebrates and fish that live in glacial outflow. Up to 37 percent of the global population of Kittlitz’s murrelets visits Glacier Bay in the spring and summer, and as much as 95 percent breeds in Alaska, as the authors indicate. Closely related to Kittlitz’s murrelets, marbled murrelets nest in old-growth forests, crucial habitat preserved by the Park. Wildlife observers poised on the bows of cruise ships found that, in areas of the cruise track dominated by Kittlitz’s murrelets, 61 percent of all murrelets approached within 850 meters by a cruise ship showed signs of disturbance. For a seabird, this means changing from a “loafing” behavior like sleeping, preening or swimming, to either taking flight or diving. In areas of the park where marbled murrelets were more prevalent, the effect was even greater— 71 percent of birds dove or flew away. However, Scott Gende, project lead and co-author of the PLOS One paper, believes these diving and flushing behaviors aren’t necessarily harmful. Speaking from Juneau, where he and his team prepared for a cruise to study disturbance in harbor seal pups, Gende pointed out that long-term monitoring of both species suggests that their populations within Glacier Bay are stable. “If the murrelets are living on the energetic margin (having only sufficient resources for survival, and no more), one more dive could make a difference— disturbance events could equate to a population effect. If we assume that the stable numbers of murrelets over the years is reflective of their ability to forage and breed successfully in Glacier Bay, it’s not likely that the disturbance events are so egregious that it’s causing the murrelets to have lower reproductive success or survival rates,” Gende told GlacierHub. If the murrelets’ populations are healthy, is disturbing them inherently a problem? Gende doesn’t think so. “Parks are for people,” he quipped, and noted it is far easier to measure impact to a natural resource, like seabirds, than to measure the positive effect of people on the ship experiencing that resource. “People are moved by Glacier Bay, seeing wildlife— bears on the beach, whales, the scenic wilderness. That can have a profound impact on their experience of national parks,” he said. Positive experiences in national parks are important not just to individuals, but to the protection and longevity of the national park system itself, which relies on public and congressional support. “Over the years I’ve been doing this research,” Gende reflected, “I’ve talked to hundreds of people, and I’m convinced the experience they have pays dividends to recognizing values of having national parks and these protected areas in general.” In addition, the cruise ship presence in Glacier Bay directly creates an opportunity for...

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Palcacocha Icefalls Demonstrate Hazard Vulnerabilities in Peru

Posted by on Jun 6, 2017 in All Posts, Featured Posts, News, Policy and Economics, Science | 1 comment

Palcacocha Icefalls Demonstrate Hazard Vulnerabilities in Peru

Spread the News:ShareRecent Calving Events at Lake Palcacocha In the last week, calving events at Lake Palcacocha in the Peruvian Andes released masses of ice from a glacier on Mount Pucaranra. The ice fell into the lake, sending waves across the lake that destroyed infrastructure designed to prevent dangerous outburst floods. Fortunately, the waves were not high enough to overtop the moraine dam and send floodwaters downstream, where they could have taken many lives and damaged urban infrastructure. A glacial lake outburst flood from Palcacocha devastated Huaraz, the largest city in the region, in 1941, killing about 5,000 people. Other, more recent, glacier floods in the region have also been very destructive. Marco Zapata, the director of glacier research at INAIGEM, the Peruvian National Institute of Research on Glaciers and Mountain Ecosystems, spoke about the events recently in a press conference reported in the Peruvian daily El Comercio. A Spanish-language video of the full press conference is available online. Zapata indicated that the calving event occurred around 8 p.m. on May 31. The resulting waves, three meters in height, were strong enough to move and damage ten large pipes, rendering them inoperable. These pipes, known locally as “syphons,” are designed to draw water from the lake at times when its level is high; in this way, they were thought to reduce flood risk significantly. They had been a point of local pride, seen as a successful application of modern technology to protect against the dangers to which the region has long been subject. Zapata mentioned that the waves also destroyed several gauges and a sensor which measures lake levels. And the event was not an isolated one, at least according to a regional newspaper, which reported a second calving event at 5:40 a.m. on June 2. Representatives of INAIGEM and two other organizations, the National Water Authority and the local municipality of Independencia, visited the lake a few days later. They found that the workers on Pucarthe site had restored two of the drainage pipes. These officials anticipated that the other eight will soon be functional.  Zapata and the other authorities called for increased investment in infrastructure at the lake to reduce the risks of a flood. They estimated that an expenditure of US $6 million would prevent about $2.5 billion in potential damages, including a hydroelectric plant and irrigation facilities on Peru’s desert coast; it would also protect the lives of the 50,000 people who live in the potential flood zone. The Causes of the Calving Events These events were not entirely unexpected. Marcelo Somos Valenzuela, a postdoctoral fellow at the Northeast Climate Science Center at the University of Massachusetts, is the lead author of a study, published last year in the journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, which concluded “there is consensus among local authorities, scientists and specialists that Lake Palcacocha represents a glacier lake outburst flood hazard with potentially high destructive impact on Huaraz.” This paper also stated that a “small avalanche” like the ones that recently occurred are “the highest likelihood event” and that they would “produce significantly less inundation.”  Somos Valenzuela wrote to GlacierHub, “There are empirical models and hydrodynamic models which provide estimates of the height of the wave in the lake… In this case, it seems that the ice-fall was small, and 3 meters is a reasonable estimate of the wave height.” Moreover, several sources indicated high risks at this time of year. Noah Walker-Crawford, an anthropologist at the University of Manchester, spoke recently with the workers at the drainage site at the lake. He wrote to GlacierHub, “According to the people who work at the...

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Learning from a Flood-Alarm System’s Fate

Posted by on May 31, 2017 in Adaptation, All Posts, Featured Posts, News, Policy and Economics | 0 comments

Learning from a Flood-Alarm System’s Fate

Spread the News:ShareA longer version of this post appeared in the April 2017 issue of EcoAmericas. When a flood from a mountain lake threatened to swamp the town of Carhuaz in the Peruvian Andes early one morning in April 2010, Víctor Rodríguez was the only person who knew. From his hut on a plain below the mountain, he heard the jet-like rumble as a block of ice calved off a glacier and crashed into the lake. The force of the fall produced a wave that swept over the earthen dike around the water body, called Lake 513, and cascaded down the steep slope. Rodríguez watched as the water swirled across the plain, swamping the catchment for the municipal water system, where he worked as caretaker. Picking up speed as it funneled into the Chucchún River, the torrent of water carrying mud and boulders swept away crops, livestock and some buildings. But it stopped just short of the town of about 12,000 people beside the Santa River, at the foot of Peru’s Cordillera Blanca. The Destruction of an Early-Warning System With climate change increasing the threat of such hazards, the Swiss government’s development agency, a Peruvian nonprofit, and a Swiss university teamed up to develop a high-tech early-warning system. By the end of 2013, lakeside sensors and cameras were in place above Carhuaz, with relay antennae that could transmit information quickly to a command center in the municipal offices. Once its kinks were worked out, the organizers of the project hoped the system could serve as a model for other towns that lie below glacial lakes. Then disaster struck again, this time in the form of a drought. Not only was rain scarce, but an unseasonable frost damaged crops. Rumors spread among residents of the farming communities around Carhuaz that the monitoring equipment at Lake 513 was preventing clouds from forming. Early one morning last November, several hundred people from the largely indigenous communities, where traditional Andean beliefs still hold sway, trekked up to the lake and tore down the system. Within a week, it rained. The events raise questions about how to ensure that in areas where rural residents distrust technology, systems can be created to reliably warn those in the path of Carhuaz-style deluges, known as glacial lake outburst floods, or GLOFs. It also highlights tensions between growing urban areas and their rural neighbors— tensions that could deepen as dense development encroaches on agricultural land and city dwellers demand a larger share of water from threatened sources. The destruction of the Carhuaz early-warning equipment came as a shock to the system’s developers, but in hindsight, signs of discontent had been building. During workshops in 2012, residents said they felt unprotected against outburst floods like the one in 2010, says Karen Price Ríos of CARE Peru, a nonprofit development organization that has been active in the area for several years. Price worked with local communities on the three-year early warning project, which was funded by the Swiss aid agency COSUDE and supported by researchers from the University of Zurich. The researchers drew up a risk map, showing the areas in varying degrees of danger from a mudslide like that of 2010, and devised evacuation routes, marking them with signs. The centerpiece of the project was the early-warning system on Mount Hualcán. If a block of ice broke from the glacier and crashed into Lake 513, it would trigger sensors that would turn on cameras and send an alert to local officials. They could then check the images from the cameras to verify the flood and sound an alarm. The...

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