Water History

Significant Figures by Peter Gleick

Category archives for Water History

The end of the rainy season in California is arriving in a few weeks, and the April 1st snowpack measurement, which is a key indicator of water conditions, is tomorrow. As we approach the dry spring and summer months, the scope and severity of California’s drought will become more apparent, but it is already clear…

In the last few months, as the severe California drought has garnered attention among scientists, policymakers, and media, there has been a growing debate about the links between the drought and climate change. The debate has been marked by considerable controversy, confusion, and opaqueness. The confusion stems from the failure of some scientists, bloggers, reporters,…

It is time to recognize the serious California drought for what it is: a bellwether of things to come; a harbinger of even more serious challenges to California water resources allocation, management, and use. The drought could end next month. It could go on for more years. But it will not be the last drought…

California has a “Mediterranean” climate, which means that each year it has a concentrated rainy season, followed by a long temperate and dry period. California’s rainy season typically runs from early October to late March, with very little precipitation outside of these months. (Figure 1 shows the average monthly rainfall for California.) It is now…

In the 20th century, water policy seemed easy: figure out another source of water to satisfy some projected demand, and find the money to build it. The money was almost always federal “pork barrel” funding for big water projects, or occasionally state bond financing. The vast number of dams built in the United States (see the…

Peak Water in the American West

  It is no surprise, of course, that the western United States is dry. The entire history of the West can be told (and has been, in great books like Cadillac Desert [Reisner] and Rivers of Empire [Worster] and The Great Thirst [Hundley]) in large part through the story of the hydrology of the West,…

For some time now, proponents of the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” have claimed there was little or no evidence of real risk to groundwater. But as the classic saying goes: “the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” of a problem. And the evidence that fracking can contaminate groundwater and drinking…

With Matthew Heberger. This is a version of a post from the blog “Pacific Institute Insights“ How much water is there in America’s rivers, and where is it? Perhaps unsurprisingly, people have little sense of how their local water resources compare in size to other water resources. “Is that a big river? A little river?”…

There is a long history of conflicts over water – the Pacific Institute maintains an online, searchable chronology of such conflicts going back 5,000 years. There were dozens of new examples in 2012, in countries from Latin America to Africa to Asia.  (A full update for 2012 has been posted.) Access to water and the…

The Colorado River, recently named America’s most endangered river, supports millions of people in the American Southwest and northwest Mexico and helps irrigate millions of acres of land. It is shared by seven states in the U.S. and Mexico, through a complex series of legal agreements and treaties. Yet every drop of water on the river…