Groundwater overused across the globe

The Freshwater Society blog publishes a digest of important regional, national and international articles and research on water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to read the articles in their entirety where they originally were published.

Groundwater is being overused
Humans are over-exploiting underground water reservoirs in many large agricultural areas in Asia and North America, sucking up water faster than nature can replenish it, according to a recent inventory of global aquifer use.

In a study published in the journal Nature, scientists mapped the “groundwater footprint” of 15 major agricultural regions, including California’s Central Valley. The analysis, which gave spatial representation to rates of water extraction, concluded that the global groundwater footprint was 3.5 times greater than the size of all aquifers combined.

The heavy consumption of groundwater was driven by a handful of areas, according to lead author Tom Gleeson, a civil engineering professor at McGill University in Montreal.

The areas included the Upper Ganges in India and Pakistan, western Mexico, northern Saudi Arabia, Iran, the High Plains of the United States and the North China Plain. Although 80% of the world’s aquifers had a calculated footprint that was smaller than their actual size, these major agricultural regions contributed to a global deficit.
–The Los Angeles Times

Wisconsin takes comment on 5,300-cow dairy 
The DNR has opened public comment on a proposed ‘super dairy’ near the town of Saratoga. The Golden Sands Dairy would be home to 5,300 cows on 8,000 acres of land. The proposal also calls for 49 high capacity wells to irrigate and water the herd and the cropland to feed them. Comments on the farm’s environmental impact statement will be taken through September 21, and you can find out more online.
–WSAU Radio

MPCA Bottle Buyology exhibit promotes recycling 
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s State Fair exhibit this year will examine the 1.5 billion plastic bottles Minnesotans use – and mostly discard without recycling – each year.  Learn more about the MPCA’s Eco Experience planned for the fair.

Carbon credits encourage harmful gases 
When the United Nations wanted to help slow climate change, it established what seemed a sensible system. Greenhouse gases were rated based on their power to warm the atmosphere. The more dangerous the gas, the more that manufacturers in developing nations would be compensated as they reduced their emissions.

But where the United Nations envisioned environmental reform, some manufacturers of gases used in air-conditioning and refrigeration saw a lucrative business opportunity. They quickly figured out that they could earn one carbon credit by eliminating one ton of carbon dioxide, but could earn more than 11,000 credits by simply destroying a ton of an obscure waste gas normally released in the manufacturing of a widely used coolant gas.

That is because that byproduct has a huge global warming effect. The credits could be sold on international markets, earning tens of millions of dollars a year.
–The New York Times

MPCA tests Minnesota River
The lowest summertime flow on the Minnesota River in 24 years is providing a rare opportunity: to compare water quality under similar conditions two decades apart.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has been testing the metro end of the river to see whether the oxygen content may have reached dangerously low levels after seven recent months of drought and the second-hottest July on record in the Twin Cities. It’s the first test of its kind since 1988, the last time the river flow in July and August was so meager.

“We still haven’t seen a fish kill, so that’s good news,” said Glenn Skuta, water monitoring manager for the MPCA.

Workers were testing 21 miles of the river last week, from where it enters the Mississippi River at Fort Snelling to near Valley Fair in Shakopee. Test results, which won’t be known for several weeks, will be compared with those from 1988, another legendary hot and dry year.
–The Star Tribune

Research pushes climate change argument
The percentage of the earth’s land surface covered by extreme heat in the summer has soared in recent decades, from less than 1 percent in the years before 1980 to as much as 13 percent in recent years, according to a new scientific paper.

The change is so drastic, the paper says, that scientists can claim with near certainty that events like the Texas heat wave last year, the Russian heat wave of 2010 and the European heat wave of 2003 would not have happened without the planetary warming caused by the human release of greenhouse gases.

Those claims, which go beyond the established scientific consensus about the role of climate change in causing weather extremes, were advanced by James E. Hansen, a prominent NASA climate scientist, and two co-authors in a scientific paper published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
–The New York Times

Beverage firms invest in protecting water 
Fifty miles outside the nation’s fourth-largest city is a massive field of waist-high grass, buzzing bees and palm-size butterflies, just waiting to be ripped up by an entrepreneur. Rather than develop this pristine remnant of coastal prairie, vast enough to house more than 300 football fields, the Dr Pepper Snapple Group is investing hundreds of thousands of dollars to ensure it remains untouched.

The project is part of the company’s $1.1 million investment in the Nature Conservancy, designed to benefit five Texas watersheds — including Nash Prairie outside of Houston — from which its bottling plants draw water.

The money will go toward preservation work, such as reseeding the grass, to restore and expand an ecosystem that once covered 6 million acres from southwestern Louisiana through Texas. The projects will improve water quality and quantity by preserving the prairies’ sponge-like attributes. But for Dr Pepper and other beverage companies engaged in similar work, the impetus is their bottom line — conserving water guarantees long-term access to the most crucial ingredient in their products.
–The Associated Press