Flags

Egypt & Ethiopia: Nile Cooperation at last?

By Patrick Keys 

UPDATE – “The Dragon and the Nile” exploring China’s role in Nile geopolitics

(This is Part V, of Water Security Blog’s series on post-Mubarak Water Security, the previous posts are: 1. Mubarak’s Fall and the Future of the Nile Basin; 2. Egyptian Water Security vs. Ethiopian Development; 3. Egypt’s Jonglei Canal Gambit; and, 4. Egyptian Saber-rattling and a White Nile Coalition)

This series on Egyptian water security has explored the hydrology, diplomatic relations with upstream riparians, and potential infrastructure changes to White Nile and Blue Nile streamflow. The emphasis has been on the relationship between Egypt and Ethiopia, because as evidenced in the second post in the series, Egypt receives the majority of its Nile streamflow from the Blue Nile. This final post seeks to summarize the series and briefly explore a few potential scenarios for what the future may hold.

What have we learned?

As the upstream riparians of the Nile River are finally planning to use their water, specifically Ethiopia, Egypt’s water security is uncertain. However, as the details of the Millennium Dam are becoming evident, Egypt and Ethiopia have exchanged strong words; but so far, only words. It seems unlikely to me that the nations in the Nile would resort to violence, simply because it would (a) inflame existing instability, and (b) the international repercussions would likely be swift. Furthermore, recent news indicates that Egypt is more willing to cooperate than previously thought.

What is most likely is the continued development of Ethiopian water resources. If this is so, we can expect to see Egypt continuing to pursue alternative/ back-up strategies to ensure that it receives the flow it needs for agriculture, municipal, and industrial purposes.

The perspective of this series has been that of “what are the impacts of X on Egypt’s water security” and relatively scant attention has been paid to “whether or not X is appropriate.” The development of Ethiopian water resources, both for hydropower and agriculture, is to be considered an important step forward towards modernization. Given the ambition and the potential of Ethiopian water resources, important strides could be made towards providing food, energy, and jobs to the current residents of Ethiopia, many of who live in poverty.

Future scenarios

These are speculative scenarios for how Egypt’s water security may proceed, focusing on Egypt’s relationship with Ethiopia.

Scenario 1: War on the Nile

by Kobus Savonije, Picasa

Let it be known that this is considered very unlikely. If armed conflict was to emerge, it would likely begin with Egypt striking first, and would cost Egypt resources as well as potentially contribute to additional instability. Furthermore, if Egypt were to attack, it loses the moral high-ground that it is trying hard to cultivate with the international community, as it has tried to cast itself as somewhat of a  victim.

However, instability can often lead to the emergence of nationalist sentiments, and the seeking for a rallying cause. This fall, assuming democratic elections take place, it is possible that one ore more candidates may try and take advantage of this cause.  Mohamed Elbaradei, a strong contender for the Egyptian Presidency, has already indicated he can use strong language towards Israel, so it should be considered a possibility that he can direct that rhetoric towards other nations which threaten Egyptian interests.

Though I do not think this is likely, this scenario is potentially catastrophic and warrants consideration, if for no other reason, to illustrate what should not be allowed to happen.

Scenario 2: White Nile Coalition

Sudanese and Egyptian flags from “One Step Forward”

This was described in the previous post , regarding a potential collaboration among the White Nile Riparians. This was evidenced by Egyptian officials visiting White Nile nations (Uganda, South Sudan, and Sudan), and the promises made (e.g. South Sudanese development funds) and partnerships forged (e.g. Ugandan “tabling” of ratification of the Entebbe Agreement).

If Egypt successfully forms this White Nile Coalition, as a counter to Ethiopian control of the Blue Nile, then it is likely  that the chief impacts would be in the form of non-violent hostility, such as trade tariffs, trade embargoes, or marginalization in the international community.

Scenario 3: Egyptian & Ethiopian Cooperation

This is rarely suggested in either News reports or more thorough analyses; however, I think there is a strong case to be made for cooperation between Egypt and Ethiopia. Egypt is much richer than Ethiopia, with a more diversified economy. Ethiopia has the potential to store a great deal more water in the Blue Nile, which could have further benefits to downstream nations in terms of preparing for and adapting to changes in streamflow.

Cooperation would also provide an opportunity for Egypt to monitor construction of new dams along the Blue Nile, and play a role in the negotiations of when and how these dams are filled. Hostility would not be likely to produce the same willingness to share this type of information.

Recent news indicates that it is looking increasingly likely that Egypt will pursue a strategy of cooperation. Egyptian Ambassdor to Ethiopia, Tarik Ghoneim, said Thursday: “Everything is on the table.” He says Egypt’s new government wants to start discussions with all nine Nile countries about using waters in the best interest of all.

The long-term impact of this “willingness to negotiate” will be measured by Egypt’s willingness to participate in international treaties, specifically the Entebbe Agreement/Comprehensive Framework Agreement. I predict that Egypt will seek only bilateral cooperation with Ethiopia, and avoid larger agreements because there is more sacrifice associated with a broader agreement.

Conclusions

The final message of this series, though not apparent at first, appears to be a positive one of cooperation. Though the news mentioned above is less than a day old, it suggests that Egypt is seeking a balanced and regionally productive approach to managing transboundary issues.  Rest assured, however, that updates to Egyptian Nile relations will be explored as they arise, here on this blog.

What’s next?

Center pivot irrigation in Sahara, from Wikipedia

In exploring the relationship between Egypt and its dependence on the Nile River, interesting questions have arisen. Among these, what has been interesting to me is the foreign acquisition of land resources for the purposes of food security (or biofuels security). This land acquisition, also known as “land-grabs”,  is taking place quickly, in a less-than-transparent manner, and is concentrated in Africa. Given that large-scale appropriation of water for irrigation can be disastrous for downstream users (see inflows of the Colorado river to Mexico) it is worth exploring the potential impacts of irrigating these land acquisitions relative to changes in streamflow.

This will be the topic of the next series. “Global Land-grabs and Irrigation.” Gathering the necessary information for this will take a bit of time, so please be patient!

IS Alvand (F-71) 1977

Egyptian Saber-rattling and the White Nile Coalition

By Patrick Keys 

(This is Part IV of Water Security Blog’s series on post-Mubarak Water Security, the previous posts are: 1. Mubarak’s Fall and the Future of the Nile Basin; 2. Egyptian Water Security vs. Ethiopian Development; and 3. Egypt’s Jonglei Canal Gambit.)

Photo by Nabil Omar, from Wikipedia

Over the last few weeks, the Egyptian leadership has moved further and further away from Mubarak style diplomacy, towards a more active and “in-your-face” style diplomacy. In the first post we asked what the post-Mubarak regime would look like, and whether they would be more amenable to upstream riparians and the Entebbe Agreement, or whether they would take a more hawkish stance. The verdict is in, and they are not only more hawkish in speech, but appear to be more hawkish in behavior.

As of this morning (April 8, 2011) Egypt looks to be cementing relationships along the White Nile to act as a buffer to unilateral Ethiopian development along the Blue Nile. This is both strategic and necessary on Egypt’s part to ensure that when the “Great Millennium Dam” is constructed, and filling, that Egypt continues to have an adequate flow in the Nile. Furthermore, by cementing relationships with upstream riparians, this blog is arguing that Egypt may be in the process of forming a “White Nile Coalition” that can act as a nested interest group within the larger Nile basin.

Outside of Nile Basin policy, Egypt is taking a hardline stance against Israeli activity (by making overt threats related to Gaza), and reversing the more-or-less frozen ties with Iran. The implications of these developments on Nile Basin water security are limited, save for the importance of acquiring regional allies, that are of strategic geopolitical importance.

This post seeks to summarize the current flurry of News reports, unpack some of these issues, and provide some analysis on where things are headed.

Egypt strengthening ties with White Nile Riparians

All signs suggest that Egypt is not resting while the Entebbe Agreement (a.k.a. the Comprehensive Framework Agreement) inches closer to becoming a fully fledged International Treaty. A recent Newsvision article seems to suggest that Uganda may hold-off on ratifying the Entebbe Agreement until Egypt undergoes its post-Mubarak transition. The article is quoted below:

“Museveni said Uganda was willing to wait for Egypt to reorganise herself before she could ratify.”

If this is true, then Uganda may be much closer to Egypt than earlier assumed. Also, it begs the question: What did Egypt offer in exchange for this delay? It would be foolish to think that Uganda is doing this out of generosity, and thus the details for this agreement between the two nations are important.

Photo from Wikipedia

This comes closely on the heels of another high level visit by interim Egyptian leadership to the new country of South Sudan, as discussed in the previous post here. In short, Egypt’s stated interests were to help South Sudan develop economically, including restarting the Jonglei Canal project to drain the Sudd wetlands (depicted above).

All of this points to a concerted effort on the part of Egypt to cement relations along the White Nile, likely towards the goal of forming either a formal or informal coalition. Though its unlikely that the purpose of this coalition would be for military purposes, it is not unreasonable to think that this group could serve exclusionary purposes, including favorable trade agreements or development assistance among coalition nations.

Current Egyptian regime more volatile than predecessor

The hawkish activity within the Nile basin is mirrored by hawkish activity outside the basin. A trademark of the Mubarak regime was regional stability, both in the regime’s maintenance of diplomatic ties with Israel and with the broader Middle East North Africa (MENA) region. In general, there was very little saber-rattling.

Photo from Wikipedia

Not so anymore. Recent news reports suggest that on various fronts, Egypt may be ramping up its military rhetoric as well as strengthening ties with regional nations that have a track record of anti-Israel rhetoric- specifically Iran. In February, for the first time sinze 1979, Egypt allowed to Iranian boats through the Suez Canal, including the Iranian warship Alvand. Though this does not mean Egypt wants a war, it is apparently comfortable with Iranian boats floating right next to Israel (a country that Iran has in the past threatened directly).

Photo from Wikimedia

Several days ago, Mohammed Elbaradei – a former International Atomic Energy Agency inspector (IAEA), Professor, and Nobel laureate – met with Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, President of Iran. This wouldn’t be terrible on its own, however a recent soundbite from Elbaradei is reason for pause. Elbaradei is quoted as saying: “In case of any future Israeli attack on Gaza – as the next president of Egypt – I will open the Rafah border crossing and will consider different ways to implement the joint Arab defense agreement.”

Photo from Wikipedia

So, what constitutes an attack? What does “implement the joint Arab defense agreement” actually mean? Boots on the ground? Since the Muslim Brotherhood does not have the power that many news outlets suggest (for more on that read this), Elbaradei is a very realistic candidate for future president. Now, it could be that he is bulking up his “tough-talk” street-cred to cozy up to the current interim Egyptian military leaders, or, he could actually be quite hawkish. Time will tell.

Positive outcome?

This increase in aggressive rhetoric could be interpreted as a bad omen. Many in the MENA region and beyond are frightened that these words are drum-beats for a war march. However, I think there is a great deal of room for optimism, primarily because the question of an actual war between Arab nations and Israel would draw in other allies that have enormous stake in the stability of the region, specifically the US and China. Why? Oil (obviously).

Photo from Wikipedia

Actions speak louder though, and actions by these global powers are being taken. This is evidenced by China sending its special envoy for Middle East affairs, Wu Sike, to Israel, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon and Qatar, in an effort to encourage the Peace Process. China has no desire for Middle Eastern tensions to actually erupt into violence, because it would threaten the pace of their development – which isn’t  an option for the Communist regime. Rising fuel prices in China would foment existing discontent and could lead to unrest similar to what we have seen in many Arab nations. China will do everything it can to avoid this.

It is also worth noting that China is beginning to act like a global power, perhaps even inadvertently preparing to wear the mantle of the (emerging global superpower. That, however, is fodder for another post…

What does it mean for Water Security in the region?

This blog is about water security, not international security in general, so what does this mean for the Nile Basin? In general, this increased hawkishness by Egypt means that the ratification of the Entebbe Agreement will likely move more slowly, especially as this White Nile Coalition takes shape.

For Ethiopian development, particularly for the Great Millennium Dam, it means that a more unified White Nile could make trade and other international activity more difficult. Since the Great Millennium Dam costs 4.8 billion USD, equal to 95% of the Ethiopian governments fiscal year 2011 budget, Ethiopian is very nearly going “all-in.”

I predict that China will step up its efforts to mediate relations in the basin for the simple reason that it has made a significant investment in the hydrological future of Ethiopia, specifically in its hydropower (dam) infrastructure. These investments are likely not a generous act on behalf of the Chinese, but almost certainly related to the fact that China’s food security will require massive imports of cereals and other crops in the coming decades, and Ethiopia’s abundant water resources make it a viable candidate for this necessary agricultural expansion.

Photo by Steve Evans, from Wikipedia

That prediction should of course be taken with a grain of salt, given how quickly things on the ground change.

Also, I’ve been trying to tell you what to expect from “upcoming posts”, but seeing as how Current Events have called me to the other topics, I’ll just say that expect more on this topic soon.

If you have comments, thoughts, or reactions, please feel free to share them, and please keep them in the spirit of furthering the discussion, because I will reject comments that are outwardly hostile, especially if they are hostile to specific nations or peoples.

The QANAT April 11 to April 18

CHINA & SE ASIA DROUGHT

“The situation has worsened with the severe drought plaguing northern Vietnam, which has driven many farmers to seek work in China, said Fan Qi, head of Fangchenggang City’s border police.” Illegal immigration from Vietnam surges, China Daily, April 12

“More than 250,000 people are short of drinking water in the sparsely populated Chifeng City of north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.” Drought affects 250,000 people in N China’s Chieng, China Daily, April 12

“…no bathing or tooth brushing for weeks; clouds of flies crawling on the bed sheets, along the edges of bowls, and over the latrines; green vegetables a rarity in their diet. These are the realities of daily life for more than 24,000 students and teachers.” Drought takes heavy toll on boarding schools, China Daily, April 15

The snowstorm on Monday and Tuesday hitting many parts of Heilongjiang Province, damaged more than 90,000 seedlings in the province. Direct economic losses were estimated at almost 600 million yuan…” China agriculture hammered by spring extreme weather, China Daily, April 14

“A peasant plows his farmland after welcome rains in Huangping county in drought-plagued Guizhou province on April 13.” Rainfall quenches thirsty land in SW China, China Daily, April 14

DESALINATION

“Systems using carbon-free energy are also being trialled: nuclear desalination in the United Arab Emirates, solar power in Australia, and biodiesel from plants — with cooking fats also slated as a future possibility — at a desalination plant built by Thames Water in London.” Global water crisis sparks surge in desalination, Mail & Guardian Online, March 31

“There is ample scientific evidence that the impact of the effluents from the desalination plants on the seawater environment increase the seawater temperature, salinity, water current and turbidity…” S.Africa looks to sea to meet growing water demand, Reuters, April 16

DAMS & INFRASTRUCTURE

“In coming years there will be extreme scarcity of water in Rawalpindi and Islamabad and the construction of new dams in the region is imperative to overcome this looming danger..” Water scarcity looms large: Construction of Dadocha Dam in doldrums, Daily Times, April 12

“The diversion won’t resolve the water supply problem of the most-at-need people in the sertao, because they are geographically so spread out,” argues Joao Suassuna, a long-time critic. Brazil’s huge river diversion program divides opinion, BBC News, April 12

“”The future of one of the world’s last great rainforests is at stake. The outcome of this fight could determine much beyond Borneo’s borders too, as environmental scientists become increasingly alarmed at the effect deforestation taking place here is having on the world’s weather.” Spears versus bulldozers in Borneo, Al Jazeerah, April 16

INDIAN MONSOON & FOOD

“…the dip in the Kharif output of rice might trigger an upward spiral of foodgrain prices and conveyed the Centre’s action plan to counter a rise in rates.” 246 districts in 10 states drought-hit: Peshawar, Times of India, April 18

“Monsoon forecasts for India are keenly watched by traders and analysts as the south Asian nation, one of the world’s top producers and consumers of sugar, wheat, rice and edible oils, depends on rains to irrigate 60 percent of its farms.…” Western forecasts signal good monsoon in India,
Reuters, April 14

POST-DISASTER RESPONSE

“The first of 50,000 earthquake victims that officials fear are most threatened by Haiti’s looming rainy season were relocated Saturday as nonprofit groups scrambled to receive them.”Haitians relocated to new camps as rains loom, AP, April 12

“…conclusion was made based on water sample tests from three underground water levels in Gyegu Town after the earthquake by a group of environmental experts from the China Environmental Monitoring Station.” Underground water in China’s quake zone safe; emergency wells to be drilled, http://english.people.com.cn/90001/90776/90882/6954746.html People’s Daily, April 18

Drought in the Mekong River Basin

The last week has seen an eruption of chatter and concern over the low flows in the Mekong River, and the impacts on downstream Riparian nations, specifically Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

First and foremost, the current drought conditions are not isolated to the Mekong Basin. The Southwestern Chinese provinces of Guizhou and Yunnan have experienced unprecedented drought (as I have been following on this blog). The drought has led to widespread crop-failure, and subsequent famine risk.   I find the amount of blame being placed on China surprising and perhaps inappropriate.  Admittedly, China’s dams are likely holding some of the water back that would normally flow down the Mekong as some of the articles point out below.  The Chinese officials in these (and other) articles continue to reference their use of water in terms of the “average flow” of the Mekong, but given that current conditions are not “average” the abstraction from the river should be compared to actual, current Mekong flow.

It is very promising to hear and read that the MRC is successfully convening a summit of all six riparians, something which has not happened for over a decade.  Certainly, the downstream riparians will need China to be a part of a coordinated Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) plan.  In a water scarce future, with increasing demands for agriculture, fisheries, electricity and transport, the downstream riparians comprising the current MRC members  .  This basin may serve as interesting basin in which downstream riparians will seek other key points of leverage with which to influence China’s hydrologic policy, possibly involving other regional or global actors to help provide pressure for China to cooperate.



A particular glitch in the current web-coverage of the Mekong situation is the number of Chinese dams on the Lancang, or upper Mekong River. Above, you can see a graphic originally provided by International Rivers. I have edited the colors used to indicate the dams (changing the three colors used to denote different categories of construction status from dark blue, black and white, to yellow, red and green). I also edited the inset map to clarify the location of this part of the Mekong.

Hopefully, this map will help to provide some clarity as Chinese hydroelectric projects move forward.

Here is a collection of articles from the region and beyond examining the current situation in the Mekong River basin:
“… the filling of the Xiaowan dam’s reservoir happens to coincide with the onset of the current drought and the subsequent drop in downstream flows.”  For whom the mighty Mekong flows, Bangkok Post, March 31

“…poverty in the GMS (Greater Mekong Subregion) remains high, with average GDP per capita of less than $2 per day.” Mekong countries working hard by slowly to lift regionBangkok Post, March 31

“…the growing crisis has spurred a diplomatic discussion and the first summit meeting of the six riparians in the 15-year history of the Mekong Commission.” The coming crisis over the Mekong — unconstrained development, natural droughts, and climate change, SF Gate, April 3

“Song said the runoff volume of Lancang River accounts for only 13.5 percent of that of the Mekong River.  The runoff of Mekong River mainly comes from the middle-and-lower Mekong basin, amounting to 86.5 percent.” China to boost co-op with downstream Mekong countries, China Daily, April 4

Chinese officials dismissed concerns that their waterwords had affected downstream countries… “At present, we only use a tiny part of the average flow of the Lancang…” China Dam Plans raise Mekong fears, Financial Times, March 31
NOTE:  I would like to point out that the Financial Times article seems somewhat misleading, because it gives the impression that the drought hit areas of SW China, including Yunnan and Guizhou, are hydrologically linked to the Mekong River basin.  Although these regions are experiencing the same climatological drought conditions, they are not hydrologically linked since they are within separate watersheds.

The QANAT: March 29 – April 4

[For extensive coverage of the drought in Guizhou and Yunnan go to the China Daily’s SW Drought HQ]

“In the past several decades, the State has been giving priority to water projects on major rivers and in major grain producing areas, but has neglected building water facilities in mountain and hill areas that do not grow grain.” State should get their feet wet, China Daily, March 29

Villagers work to construct a water tank in the drought-plagued Hechi city of Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region…” Villagers work around the clock for water, China Daily, March 29

“It was the first rain I have seen since last October, but it only lasted for about three hours from 3 am to 6 am this morning…” Rain falls on drought plagued Yunnan, China Daily, March 29

” In the worst-case scenario, there would be no water supply. A dry spell will also emerge in North China, where spring drought occurs in nine out of every 10 years…[senior drought relief official]”Warning of worst case scenario, China Daily, March 29

“About one-tenth of Mongolia’s livestock, an estimated 4.5 million animals, have perished leaving herders desperate for food and other emergency relief.” Red Cross appeals for Mongolia aid, Al Jazeerah, March 29

“Shares in state-owned Chongqing Water jumped 74 percent in Shanghai on Monday, well ahead of market predictions for a gain of around 25 percent …” Chongqing Goes Kaching in its Shanghai Debut, New York Times, March 29

“”Normal” has little meaning in Sakai today. Kenya is struggling to emerge from a drought that put 4 million on food aid last year and saw at least 10 million facing starvation, the highest levels in two decades…” The Struggle of Farming a Land Where ‘Normal’ Has Lost Its Meaning, New York Times, March 29

“… The drought has lingered in southwest China for months, affecting 61.3 million residents and five million hectares of crops …” Aerial view of drought-hit areas in SW China, People’s Daily, March 31

“The central government allocated drought-relief funds totaling more than 4.1 billion yuan ($600 million) to Yunnan, Guizhou, Guangxi, Chongqing and Sichuan province in southwestern China …” Southwest China in Drought Emergency, People’s Daily SW Drought HQ, March 31

“…the green-plant coverage in Gaosha town area has exceeded 3 million square acres, turning the previous 1.2 million-acre desert area into a green one…” “Green wall” helps curb desertification, People’s Daily, March 31

“Nazarbayev for the first time fully endorsed the position of Uzbek leader Islam Karimov’s administration, which maintains that no hydropower facilities should be built in so-called upstream countries until international feasibility studies are completed.” Nazarbayev makes diplomatic trade-off with Karimov, Eurasianet.org, March 18

NPR’s Mekong Series

 

Recently NPR’s Michael Sullivan and photographer Christopher Brown traveled from the source of the Mekong River in China to its outlet in the South China Sea.
They split up the journey based on the countries the river passes through, going from China, to Myanmar, to Laos & Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
The five articles are an excellent overview of the Mekong River and cultures, history, and economic transitions that it passes through.  There are also many interesting themes that I have pulled out.
CHINESE COLONIALISM
It is clear that China is expanding its regional hold through modern economic colonialism in new Tibetan towns, vice-industries (prostitution, casinos, drugs) in Myanmar, Laotian construction contracts, and acquisition of Thai rice crops.
Some parts of the Mekong are welcoming this expansion of influence, while others are more wary.  The economic benefits of Chinese wealth spreading out positively effect the expansion of tourism, gambling, and demand for resources such as timber and food (both from farm and fish).  However, the externalities of these activities, including untreated sewage and trash dumped into the river from expanding cities, and the loss of resource wealth carried north on barges to China.
These issues will inevitably influence the stance of the Mekong River Commission which I suggest is a useful organization for uniting the downstream riparians to have a dialogue with China.

 

POPULATION PRESSURE
The message of population pressure is clear throughout this article, from the expansion of Han Chinese towns into the Mekong headwaters of the Tibetan Plateau, to Cambodian Tonle Sap fisherman who are overfishing juvenile fish before they spawn.
The consequences of population pressure are also clearly evident: rapidly depleting fisheries, disease burden from HIV/AIDS, inadequate water resources for farming, and pollution of the river.
These issues are only likely to expand as all of these nations are growing, and China has even begun to export its own population, both officially and unofficially, to satellite cities throughout the downstream Riparians
FOOD SECURITY

It seems evident that throughout the basin, food security is currently, and will grow to be, a major basin-wide issue.  China is currently the biggest, and richest, game in town.  And it is a large purchaser of food and fish from many of the downstream countries.

As the section on improvements in river transport infrastructure suggest, there is a strong likelihood that China’s appetite (literally) will cause the Mekong’s water resources to flow upstream back to China, in the form of fish, rice, and other food crops.
It remains to be seen whether these dynamics will be sustainable in the long-run, with downstream farmers and fisherman increasingly exporting crops to China, rather than selling to local, domestic markets.
DROUGHT
It should be noted that although this article does not discuss the current drought, the 2010 drought has been covered in many articles, including this recent piece on the Mekong River running dry, and my recent post.  With the increased climate variability induced by climate change, the historical range of variability may not necessarily be relied upon into the future.
SUMMARY
This is an excellent snap shot of the current economic, cultural, and resource situation throughout the basin.  What it lacks in facts and figures, it makes up for in useful anecdotes that add necessary detail and texture to a complex basin.

What are the alternatives?

Peter Gleick recently posted some remarks regarding dam building Southern California.  Find his post at Circle of Blue here.  I agree with his perspectives on the need for fiscal responsibility when it comes to these mega-projects of the Central Valley Project in California (seen on the right).  Especially when the beneficiaries are the same farmers who still owe money on previous enormous public works projects.

However, I am curious about alternatives to dams.  He says

“It won’t solve agriculture’s more fundamental challenges. It won’t restore our Delta ecosystems. It won’t satisfy new urban demands. In the end, the massive new infrastructure proposed for public financing would be an expensive distraction from real solutions.”

Okay.  Of course I believe you.  But, I’m left wondering what are “agriculture’s more fundamental challenges?”  Is it water use efficiency?  Is it crop choice?  Is it entrenched dogma about water rights?

Also, what are the “real solutions” you mention?

Clarification on these points could help facilitate a more productive discussion about how to move forward.