Water roundup: new books & reports on groundwater and security

Over the weekend I mentioned a new (open access) book on Water, Society, and Technology.

There are a couple of other new resources to be had, both from (or related to) work by the OECD.

The first is the new report “Securing water, sustaining growth” from the Global Water Partnership and the OECD, led by World Bank economist Claudia Sadoff and coauthored with numerous folks at Oxford and the GWP. You can download the full report by visiting this webpage.

A second book, also open access, is on groundwater and agriculture: Dry wells, rising stakes. You can download the book in French or English here. Here’s the short blurb on it: “Groundwater has provided great benefits to agriculture irrigation in semi-arid OECD countries, but its intensive use beyond recharge in certain regions has depleted resources and generated significant negative environmental externalities. The report provides a characterisation of the diversity of groundwater systems, reviews policies in OECD countries, and proposes a package of recommendations to ensure that groundwater can sustain its services to agriculture and contribute to climate change adaptation.”

Running Dry: Water, People, and the Planet in Marathwada, India

This is a very interesting series on water problems in Marathwada, India. Well worth the read, and certainly important for understands the broader interconnections and logics affecting people and water.

Trevor Birkenholtz – Recentralizing groundwater governmentality: rendering groundwater and its users visible and governable

A very good review of issues in groundwater governance now available (for free!) from WIREs Water. PDF is here.

Recentralizing groundwater governmentality: rendering groundwater and its users visible and governable
Trevor L. Birkenholtz

ABSTRACT: Groundwater use, particularly for agricultural purposes, has exploded globally. This was driven by the advent of deep tubewell groundwater lifting technology, state-led incentives for its adoption and de facto groundwater regulatory regimes around the world that by and large gave landowners the right to pump unlimited amounts of groundwater. As a result, many parts of the world are now facing severe groundwater overdraft. This has prompted calls for new forms of decentralized governance specific to groundwater, which has been dominated historically by institutions and policies created to manage surface water. This article makes three interrelated arguments about this regulatory shift. First, the rapid growth of energized groundwater extraction has created an unstable configuration of state actors, groundwater users, abstraction technologies, and flows of water and power. Second, given this heterogeneous assemblage, the dispersed character of groundwater extraction, and its rapid decline, attempts to craft groundwater specific governance are leading to innovations in rendering groundwater and hence its users visible and governable. In turn, this is setting in motion new kinds of groundwater governmentalities as state and civil society institutions attempt to rein in this system. So that third, rather than this leading to truly decentralized groundwater governance, we instead are witnessing a resurgence of the ‘resource-state’ and the recentralization of policies and institutions that attempt to control decentralized groundwater users and ecologies. These are working to dispossess existing users rather than engage them in the policy-making process. The article concludes with avenues for future research on understanding specific ‘groundwater governmentalities’.

Grounding water policy

The oil spill I mentioned earlier in Alberta is still on-going. I think we’re at about 3 months now estimates from a few days ago have the leak at about 1.2 million gallons. And counting.

The problems with this leak have a lot to do with the sort of mining technology being used and, clearly, some unpredictable factors nobody foresaw. But it also raises some concerns over groundwater law and policy that are finding traction elsewhere.

Here are a few of the things I’ve seen recently that caught my eye. The first is by Cynthia Barnett (who wrote Blue Revolution, which is a great book on water if you’ve not seen it) and can be read here. It covers a lot of ground – literally – and is a nicely written piece that considers ground water issues around the world.

51jllnVHJOL._SL500_AA300_Another is a recent blog post by Michael Campana at Oregon State University on groundwater monitoring in the U.S. He is the ‘aquadoc’ and has a number of good posts on groundwater, including reference to a forthcoming book on groundwater and conflict by his colleague Todd Jarvis.

Mike also linked to a 2013 report (PDF) on a framework for developing a monitoring system that might be of interest to some.

Water and oil don’t mix, except in groundwater

This past week has been strikingly bad for oil spills in Canada. The horrendous loss of life with the explosion of rail cars in Lac-Megantic was compounded by 5.7 million litres of oil being dumped.

In Alberta, it has recently come to light that what sounds like an in situ mining project has now leaked tens of thousands of barrels of oil into the surrounding ecosystem with no sign of abating just yet. This sort of spill is a very serious kind because there is no off switch.

The reason there is no off switch is because in situ mining projects in the oil sands superheat steam to liquefy bitumen underground and then push the slurry out under considerable pressure. So the only way for the spill to stop is for the pressure to go down, which is not something anybody has control over at this point.

Meanwhile, oil and water are mixing all throughout the groundwater and surface water areas affected. And are doing so under a category of industrial activity that Canada’s federal government no longer regulates through environmental assessments but which amounts to 80% of oil sands activity. Whoops.

Recently, Postmedia news started a new series on oil spills in Alberta and one of the most eye-popping stats is that there has been an average of 2 spills per day for the past 37 years. If you are a research type, you might be interested in the open data made available on where and when those spills took place. If you are not, then a big excel spreadsheet is probably not that interesting.

I’m on my way to Alberta this week to spend time back in my home province.