In last week’s blog, Scarcity on a Global Scale, I talked about the water scarcity challenges impacting every corner of the world—from developing nations to international powerhouses like China and India. We all know the decisions made by our neighbors, allies, and competitors in adjacent continents or half a world a way will inevitably impact our own, local water resource management plans and decisions.
And when it comes to China—a country we’ve been watching with a wary eye for several years now—water scarcity may not be just one more hurdle on the race to the top of the international food chain, it could very well become the insurmountable obstacle.
In a new article for Yale Environment 360, a publication of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, journalist Christina Larson discusses China’s startling lack of water resources and the increasingly tense relationship between those resources and the country’s unquenchable thirst for energy development.
“But the nation’s push to develop fossil fuel alternative sources has so far ignored a basic fact—western China simply lacks the water resources needed to support major energy development,” writes Larson.
China’s first conundrum involves the distance between its energy sources and its energy needs. As Larson points out, this situation mirrors similar scenarios in the US—with energy demand existing along the industrialized coast and energy sources lying deep in the heartland—and as such, both countries are tasked with finding ways to efficiently deliver that power where it’s needed most.
“Transporting coal from western mines over long distances—via railroad or truck, or by barges drifting down the Yangtze River—is a costly, troublesome undertaking,” explains Larsen, adding that, in addition to cost, adverse weather conditions make long-distance energy delivery complicated and precarious.
Much like the country’s “Five-Year Plan” for water (www.forbes.com/sites/jackperkowski/2012/04/23/quenching-chinas-thirst-for-water), China’s leadership has developed a five-year plan for its energy infrastructure. As Larson explains, this five-year energy plan includes increasing coal production and replacing deliver of coal by rail car with the installation of “high-voltage, cross-country transmission lines.”
But Larson warns that the plan does not account for the environmental impact of increasing coal production, including—significantly and unavoidably—the water intensive aspect of coal production.
“In expanding coal-industry bases in west China,” writes Larson, “one crucial challenge has so far received far less attention than it deserves: Coal-based industries are massively water-intensive.”
“In fact,” continues Larson parenthetically, “coal mining, coal-based power generation, and petrochemical processing together account for more than one-fifth of China’s total water usage.” [emphasis added]
Adding an additional wrinkle—most of China’s western frontier is bone-dry desert. As Professor Wang Xiumjun, head of a joint climate change research team for Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography and the University of Maryland, so succinctly puts it, “There’s not much water to spare.”
As Larson illustrates, Jennifer Turner—director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s China Environment Forum—categorizes this conflict as another aspect of the water/energy nexus we are all familiar with and warns about the impact of this relationship on China’s already-compromised water resource reserves. Turner points out that water conservation is increasing important because “with climate change, China is already losing water every year.”
Larson quotes Sun Qingwei, climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace China (and former government scientist from the western Gansu Province), regarding the unintended environmental consequences of China’s western coal expansion.
“There is not enough water to support a lot of industry and coal operations in western China,” reiterates Sun. “If water resources are exploited by the coal industry, that will lead to land degradation and desertification. And the livelihood of local communities is damaged.”
But local communities are not the only potential casualties. Draining local resources in an already-water-scarce region can result in significant alternation of the local ecology and landscape—think dust bowl and species collapse. You can also add increased GHG emissions, displacement of the citizenry, and reduced agricultural yields to the mix. All of these ingredients combined seem to point to only one outcome—catastrophe.
Upcoming Forester University Webinars
May 2nd, 2012
Limitations of Commonly Found Construction Site Sediment Control BMPS
Are your temporary BMPs reliable? Join Jerald S. Fifield and Tina R. Evans for the third installment of our advanced Sediment and Erosion Control Master Class Series and the second part of our Effective Sediment Containment Systems Series, Limitations of Commonly Found Construction Site Sediment Control BMPs, exploring temporary BMPs, their limitations (e.g., barrier BMPs), and the principals and practice in assessing and evaluating the effectiveness of barrier BMPs.
May 3rd, 2012
How to Conduct a Water Audit and Avoid the Pitfalls
Avoid the water auditing pitfalls! Join Troy Aichele, LEED AP (O+M) of Aichele and Associates LLC for How to Conduct a Water Audit and Avoid the Pitfalls on Thurs., May 3rd to learn the step-by-step process of performing a water audit; the key information, tools, equipment, rebates, and typical pitfalls in performing successful audits; and learn how to use a custom plumbing fixture water audit spreadsheet. Learn how to successfully conduct your own water audit and avoid common water auditing pitfalls to ensure your audit goes smoothly.
May 17th, 2012
Effective LID Stormwater Reduction
Improve your stormwater reduction through effective low impact design (LID). Join Douglas Beyerlein, P.E., P.H., D.WRE to explore the different types of LID (e.g., green roofs, rain gardens / bioretention, impervious runoff dispersion, etc.), how they work
May 31st, 2012
How to Calculate Water Audit Payback Periods and Write Water Audit Reports
Maximize your payback! Join Troy Aichele, LEED AP (O+M) of Aichele and Associates LLC for How to Calculate Water Audit Payback Periods and Write Audit Reports on Thurs., May 31st addressing the most essential skill in water auditing: how to calculate payback period and incorporate it effectively in your water audit report. Within this discussion, Aichele will explore how to calculate water audit improvement periods using a custom-built payback spreadsheet calculator; how to calculate use rates; how to incorporate savings, rebates and utility increases into your payback calculations; and how to write a water audit report letter incorporating water audit results and payback periods.
April 18th, - May 25th, 2012
Sediment and Erosion Control
Master Class Series
Join industry expert and bestselling author Jerald S. Fifield, Ph.D., CISEC, CPESC and Tina R. Evans, PE, CISEC for a comprehensive 6-part online master class and workshop series (0.9 CEUs / 9 PDHs) exploring the ins and outs of effective sediment and erosion control plan design and review based on Fifield’s recently released 3rd edition of the bestselling manual Designing and Reviewing Effective Sediment and Erosion Control Plans (included in your Master Class Series package).
April – May 2012
Water Auditing Master Series
Learn the ins-and-outs of water auditing! Join 2010’s Speaker of the Year, Troy Aichele, LEED AP (O+M) of Aichele and Associates LLC for the Water Auditing Master Series, a 3-part webinar/webcast series focusing on getting you up-to-speed on the key attributes, uses, and opportunities in water auditing, as demonstrating step-by-step how to conduct a water audit, avoid the pitfalls, calculate payback periods, and incorporate these into your reports.
* Water Auditing 101: Introduction to Water Auditing
* How to Conduct a Water Audit and Avoid the Pitfalls
* How to Calculate Water Audit Payback Periods and Write Water Audit Reports