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Lyceum 2021 | Together Towards Tomorrow

Water scarcity affects every continent, including North America.

Water use is growing globally at more than twice the rate of population increase in the last century, and an increasing number of regions are reaching the limit at which water services can be sustainably delivered, especially in arid regions. This panel will discuss how we tackle the critical problems presented by water stress, with a focus on integrated water resources management.



Paul Bauman
Principal Geophysicist, BGC Engineering Inc.

Jared Abraham
Geologist & Geophysicist, Aqua Geo Frameworks LLC

Kevin Kinnear
Attorney & Mediator, Kinnear, LLC

Facilitator: Bart Jordan
Regional Business Development Manager, Seequent


30 min

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Video transcript

(inspirational epic music)

<v ->Hi, on behalf of Seequent</v>

I’d like to welcome everybody

to today’s panel discussion on water scarcity.

My name is Bart Jordan,

and I’m the Business Development Manager

for Seequent North America.

As facilitator for today’s panel discussion,

I’m thrilled to welcome our panel experts.

With us today, we have Kevin Kinnear,

attorney and mediator at Kineer, LLC,

Paul Bowman at Principle Hydrogeologist

and Geophysicist at BGC Engineering,

and Jared Abraham, geologist

and geophysicist at Aqua Geo Frameworks.

Thank you gentlemen, for joining us

and sharing your insights.

With the demand on our clean water resources

increasing to sustain

a rapidly growing population around the world,

we’re finding it more imperative than ever to manage,

and protect our water resources

and to find new and creative ways to ensure water security

for generations to come.

Joining me today are three individuals who have dedicated

their careers to finding solutions to these problems.

We have a couple of questions for you guys today,

and please join in if you have more to say on this subject.

So I’m going to start with Jared

and the question is

what practices are being deployed

to actively manage our water resources?

<v ->I may not include everything.</v>

I’ve been exposed to quite a bit.

One of the main things that I’ve seen

and mostly in the Western United States

and Australia is a controlling

on how much of the water resources can be utilized by users.

Those users being agriculture, industry,

oil and gas extraction.

And to that end,

much of the kind of technology and development

that technology paralleled with the management scenario

is trying to get a better idea of how much do they have,

how much groundwater resources are there?

Much of the surface water is fairly easy

to measure and understand, but how much is in the ground

has really been a stretch

for a lot of the resource managers

that I’ve been exposed to.

It started with actually measuring how much people pump

and many people find that shocking that

that has received a lot of conflict.

And you know, how much can I pump out of my well?

My pump’s being metered.

Sometimes that’s done through, you know,

remote recording systems.

Sometimes it’s done through internet or cell phone linkup.

So that’s been really

a big change in how they can develop that.

There’s been over the decades,

a lot of use in groundwater models,

understanding kind of where the water goes,

how much is used and how’s it flow?

How do we see returns to streams

and a better understanding of the interconnection

between groundwater and surface water?

Much of my work has been focused in the past 15 years

on trying to get at the idea of, well,

how much is in the groundwater

and where are those connections

to surface water or recharge areas?

So I would really summarize kind of

what’s the active manages,

it’s really to try to put a number on

how much water is available in the groundwater,

how that’s connected to the surface water

and metering the uses.

<v ->Excellent, thank you Jared.</v>

Next one is for Paul.

Paul, what is the role of

managed aquifer recharge for ensuring water security?

<v ->Well, right now the fact of the matter is</v>

the role of managed aquifer recharge is very small.

It’s only a tiny percentage

of water use in the world that draws

from managed aquifer recharge.

And first of course,

very briefly what is managed aquifer recharge?

An aquifer is a geological body that can hold water.

And from which we can withdraw water.

Artificial recharge or industrial recharge

as we’ve called it in the past,

is putting water into those aquifers.

Replacing those especially drained aquifers

with additional water resources.

Really what’s changed is the term managed aquifer recharge

indicating that we have to manage the quantity,

the pumping the source, the quality of the water

and it’s happening.

It’s happening in many countries in the world,

I believe over 100 countries from South Africa

to Israel, to the United States, to Canada, South America,

but it’s happening at a very small rate.

And it’s certainly critical

in the long-term because we’re draining our aquifers.

Many aquifers have been pumped

beyond the point of sustainability.

And we’ve actually seen that really

for the first time on a global scale,

only the last few years from the GRACE satellite data,

the continuous gravity modeling and monitoring of the earth.

It’s shown that about two-thirds of the U.S. aquifers

have already been pumped at

or beyond their points of sustainability.

So we’re pumping too much water, too fast.

The world’s population is growing.

And so much of this wastewater

of our water is going into the ocean.

So managed aquifer recharge has to play a critical role

in most countries in the world in the future,

we really have no choice, although so far,

it’s actually a very small role

in the worldwide scheme of water use.

<v ->Kevin, the next one’s for you.</v>

The question is,

are there changes in behavior or legislation

that can help manage our water resources?

<v ->One of the big changes that happened in Colorado</v>

with the passage of our primary water act in ’69

was the integration of groundwater and surface water.

So that legislatively

and administratively they’re tied together

and having a system that forces a water user

to measure and model and show the impacts

of their groundwater project on surface water

was an important first step.

And that’s required a great deal of deliberation

and planning for water projects.

And what that’s also leading to now is, you know,

under kind of the integrated water management approaches,

weighing the benefits and costs

in a more holistic sense of things like storage, right?

We have to think about the importance of storage in an arid

or semi-arid region, of course,

and especially where your water cycle,

the hydrologic cycle is so pointed,

where you have a quick runoff,

you need to capture water and store it.

Going back to the aquifers in Colorado,

we call it aquifer storage and recovery.

That’s becoming something that the legislature wanted

the state water officials to investigate.

And so we’ve been modeling

and doing aquifer storage and recovery projects now

for the past decade, mostly in the last five years.

So there, we had the legislature

talking to water administration officials

and having them come up with ideas

on how to manage this interaction

of groundwater and surface water.

And how do we manage this resource?

As Paul and Jared indicated, it’s dwindling,

and we have aquifers that are not recovering,

and we’ve been fortunate that for in this state,

that for the last 50 years, 60 years,

we’ve treated groundwater as surface water

for purposes of looking at injury and impacts

and have been planning.

But the other side is on demand.

You know, when you look at this balance

that you asked about, you know,

what else do we need to do to manage the resource

and address shortages?

And that’s where legislatively,

and even from a market perspective,

we start to look at working on the demand side.

So having communities that are planned with

minimal outdoor irrigation or, you know,

storm water collection systems

in a limited capacity and other, you know,

demand side policies that both local and statewide

and even marketing, you know,

there’s a community in Arvada, Colorado

that purposefully marketed itself as a low water use

environmentally friendly community,

where everybody is afraid that what you’re talking about is,

you know, rocks and cactus, you know,

they had quit that with zeroscaping

and it’s a big mental hurdle to overcome.

So having someone brave enough to enter the market

and actually market this water saving community

was another step that just is a very recent development

that you’re seeing in more places in the west.

And I think part of that as a result of looking at,

you know, what’s happening.

You have two cities in Utah in the past year

that put a moratorium on development

because they don’t have water.

To my knowledge,

that’s the first time that’s happened in the United States.

<v ->Thanks Kevin, that’s fantastic.</v>

And I think Jared wanted to add as well.

<v ->Yeah, thank you, Mark.</v>

What I’ve seen with some of the resource districts

that we’ve worked with moving kind of the behavior

and the legislation on how to control this is

many of the irrigation districts

kind of promised everyone water

when they originally developed.

And as the allocations are being changed from year to year,

you’re seeing from a far cry of

you’re taking my water away to just as Kevin alluded to,

there are some areas where there’s no more development

and you’re seeing this change both at the state level

and the local district levels

of where they’re saying we need to look at some of this.

And as Paul clearly alluded to,

the managed aquifer recharge

is a very small point of how much is going on right now.

There are some projects, you know,

in North America, Australia, and Africa, for sure.

And I think there’s a few,

even in Europe, in more arid regions of Europe,

but there is a positive behavior

as these things are stopping the economic development

or the crops in the areas.

So it’s slowly coming along,

but it’s really only pushed by a stimulus

and a negative stimulus at that.

That’s from what I’ve been seeing.

<v ->And actually the next question is for Jared.</v>

I think you partially answered this already,

what incentives are we providing to ensure

the right behaviors?

<v ->I can maybe add a little bit</v>

and I’d like to hear what the other panel members say.

The best incentive that I’ve seen

for some of the large areas of agriculture is

if you don’t do what these boards have decided

we’re going to cap off your wells.

And it sounds a bit,

almost kindergarten in the way some of this

discipline has happened,

but, you know, one example has opened

a lot of people’s ideas on how they need to come together,

to try to figure out how to provide a positive outcome

in their area.

Some of the other incentives I’ve seen

is by reducing some of the crop watering,

which has an impact on some of the nitrate,

that they will actually provide additional allocations

for fields in areas of irrigation.

I think that’s a positive way

of kind of moving to the water users.

You know, in the U.S.

I can’t speak as much to Canada and other areas,

there has also been, you know,

looking at runoff and groundwater protection

through the soil conservation programs and local districts.

And by doing some of these augmentation sorts of systems,

they are seeing some positive impact

from their constituents.

I’d be interested to hear what Paul

and Kevin would have to say.

<v ->I can add a bit to that.</v>

You know, in terms of incentives and disincentives,

you know, there’s of course,

several aspects of sectors of where

these users are coming from.

Regarding domestic use

there’s a clear disincentive that’s known that’s factual,

that we know about,

and that’s simply charging more for water.

Canada water is very cheap.

And in many parts of Canada, it’s very abundant.

And we use a lot of water.

We use about 330 liters a person per day

on average in Canada.

And in some parts of Canada, we use much more.

And then if you start throwing in embodied water,

for instance, Canadians bringing,

say watermelons from Mexico in the middle of January,

some of the numbers come up to the

literally thousands of liters,

4,000 or 5,000 liters per person per day.

So simply charging more for water

is one way to reduce water use in the domestic sector.

And that’s been very clear in Europe for instance.

I think Denmark has one of the highest charges

for water in Europe,

and one of the lowest per capita uses of water.

Similarly, in the economics of agriculture,

which of course is,

is the biggest user in most areas of water,

charging more from water simply makes some higher use

more crops, higher water use crops, uneconomic,

enforces farmers to change on water use.

And of course, we all know the examples

of many places in California,

where certain types of trees and vegetables

or fruits are grown, that are just tremendous water users

and are only economic because of agricultural subsidies

or subsidies directly to irrigation.

And finally, in Canada,

and I don’t know

if this is the situation assessment in Canada,

watersheds, large watersheds, for instance,

the South Saskatchewan River watershed

have actually been closed to additional water use.

So the water is simply limited.

There is a cap.

So water rights can be traded.

Water can be reduced.

Water rights can be bought from other users,

domestic users, land users,

but the actual water drawn from watershed is limited

and can no longer be increased in a never-ending fashion.

So these are three examples of how water can be limited.

<v ->Yeah, and so, from my perspective</v>

on kind of the legal and policy side,

I’ve seen a number of different approaches to,

you know, your carrots or sticks to modify behavior.

And in the irrigation realm, you know,

you have the Colorado model where water rights

are real property interests

and can be bought and sold apart from the land.

And so the market

tends to have a fairly strong impact on behaviors.

But one of the things that has happened in Colorado

is the fear of having a senior water right.

That if you go to live it with an efficient irrigation system,

you might be deemed to abandon a part of your water right.

And they’re therefore losing some value.

So again, the legislature stepped in and said, no,

the value of your water rights

since it’s based on consumptive use will not be affected

if you go to a drip or high efficient irrigation system.

In other areas,

you have more communal irrigation like Sekiya’s,

and, you know, common owner ditch,

not on the pure business model of a mutual ditch company,

where there are shares and they’re sold and bought,

but more of the, the Sekiya model

or the model that was set up

by the early Mormon settlers in Utah,

where it’s a communal ditch.

And there you actually have peer pressure to a point too,

which is probably as good as

an economic stick to encourage appropriate water use.

But that’s been going on in those areas

that follow that model for decades

and in the case of the Sekiyas for centuries.

But the other thing that’s happening is

you’re getting some participation economic incentives

to start using and build in low water use

facilities and structures,

and, you know, trying to expand the pie, if you will,

of what you can do with a fixed amount of water,

when you have over appropriated basins,

like you do all over the west,

and in many parts of Spain and Southern France,

you have these stresses that require, you know,

the types of economic incentives sometimes

and penalties, in other cases, to either encourage people,

to modify their approach to water use

or penalize them for not.

Tiered rate structures are probably the most common example.

And I completely agree with Paul’s comment that water is

at least in the United States,

I don’t know what water rates are

in other parts of the world,

but in the United States, water is way too cheap.

It’s the most valuable resource we have,

and it costs nothing compared to what its real value is

for people to turn on their tap

and drink a glass of water or flush the toilet.

And so you’re seeing more aggressive

rate structures where they’ll start bumping up rates

per thousand gallon much sooner,

and the steps are much bigger,

so that you’re getting really penalized for being wasteful,

or having a large irrigated lawn

that requires a lot of water.

And that type of rate structure

has probably been the most common approach

to modifying behavior on a individual basis.

And I think there’ve been mixed results.

I think there are people,

and this comes back to

one of the integrated water management principles

of fairness or equity,

and in Colorado water is essentially run by markets.

And so, even these tiered rate structures are, you know,

affect people in different ways.

So there might have to be some alterations to that because,

you know, you have people who are wealthier, who don’t care,

I’ll go ahead and pay $20,000 a month

to irrigate my acre and a half of beautiful lawn

and other people who are struggling to pay, you know,

their $50 a month water bill

and are letting their lawns die.

So that’s, probably, you know,

if there’s going to be discussion about equity

and there hasn’t really been

in the United States that I’m aware of,

then the tiered rate structure

and the kind of penalization of if you will,

bad water use behavior

is probably something that’ll have to be looked at

in a little more detail.

<v ->Alright, so then the next question is for Paul</v>

and the question is

what stands in the way

of properly managing our water resources?

<v ->Yeah, that’s a great question.</v>

And there’s a lot of pieces to that,

but I guess I’d say starting at the top,

and perhaps referring

back to some of the points Kevin mentioned

and some of the measures that have been put in place here

and there and in this state and that state

and locally regarding control of water resources,

certainly one of the underlying problems,

I believe everywhere in North America,

certainly in Canada

and probably everywhere in the world

is an integration of the various bodies

and coordination that control water.

I mean, from up north

I look down the on States and I see two of the States.

And certainly until recently had some of the weakest

controls on groundwater use were two of the states

that had the greatest stresses on groundwater,

Texas and in California.

And here in Canada, water is largely

managed by the individual provinces.

So you have 10 provinces and three territories

with completely different water strategies

and tactics of management and different priorities.

And then of course, even within those provinces,

then you have local controls on counties and municipalities.

So certainly governance

is a tremendous problem in North America.

And then you look at other parts of the world,

and I’m thinking for instance, in South America

and in Africa, and in the middle east for instance,

it’s a very much of a free for all.

I mean, you could, you know,

you could potentially point to places like Syria or Yemen

where you could say poor governance of water

quite legitimately say poor governance of water,

poor control of water,

poor equitable distribution of water rights

was a principle cause of the civil wars,

both presently going on in Syria

and in Yemen as an underlying source of tension

throughout much of the water stress world.

So that’s one just governance.

And then a second one is simply our scientific knowledge,

which you could also tie back to governance

and so much of the world,

and, I don’t just mean Africa or South America,

but even right here in Canada,

our aquifers are poorly mapped.

You know, there’s a tremendous, for instance,

in Western Canada there’s a tremendous amount of resources

focused on contamination,

largely in support of the regulatory environment

to keep the oil and gas industry going,

to keep the mining industry going.

But in terms of the water resources

that the provinces depend on,

in fact, most aquifers

and certainly aquifers that are not under an industrial use

are very, very poorly mapped out.

Where I am right now in the East Kootenays

in the Columbia Valley,

one of the largest river systems in North America,

is certainly a prime example.

So yeah, those are two places to start.

Better scientific, better mapping,

simply understanding of the resources we have

both in terms of not only quantity,

the geometry of the aquifers, but quality is as well.

There’s natural contaminants

that are also poorly understood.

For instance, naturally occurring fluoride,

naturally occurring arsenic

that are very common in many aquifers

in Western Canada and North America, but poorly mapped.

And then the poor and disparate and many,

and perhaps most would say inequitable

regulatory government environment

that’s fragmented from top,

let’s say a federal level to bottom,

to a municipal level and everything in between it,

and certainly country to country as well,

and Canada and the U.S. are a prime example,

where we share multiple aquifers

and vast water resources,

both surface water and groundwater.

<v ->Excellent, thank you Paul.</v>

Jared is going to add to the conversation as well.

<v ->Thank you, Bart and Paul,</v>

and I completely agree with your assessment.

I thought I’d give the group an example

a bit on the governance side of what stands in the way.

Kevin probably remembers the floods 2013, September of 2013,

the 100 year storm that Colorado received.

And so this had a huge input of surface water

into the Platte river system, specifically the South Platte

And as that water moved downstream into Nebraska,

specifically, some areas that

I’ve had a lot of experience working in,

one of the ideas that we had tried or suggested is using

some of the irrigation canals during times of floods

to recharge the aquifers with this extra water.

And Kevin knows a lot about this

concept of foreign water and extra water sort of ideas.

And so you take the floodwaters,

you divert them into the irrigation system

in a time when typically you wouldn’t run irrigation water,

and in some areas you’ll get recharge

as those irrigation channels leak.

Well in 2013, that occurred,

but due to sort of the governance of the irrigation canals

and how those are managed, the natural resource districts,

the states, the multi-state impact, no one had said, well,

we should open this canal at this time.

This will give us the maximum recharge.

So it ties both things in.

One; multilevel control, as Paul pointed to,

governance; who’s going to decide

when to open those gates on the irrigation canals

to buffer the flood and utilize that extra water

and not a clear knowledge of where the best places

to put that water in.

So it ties all three of those into this barrier,

to some of the water management.

We had extra water,

and we didn’t really utilize it

the way we should have in 2013.

<v ->Thank you very much Jared.</v>

The next question is for Kevin.

And the question is what are the long-term consequences of

current conditions on food security

and farm viability in North America?

<v ->If there’s a continued failure to coordinate</v>

how more and more scarce water resource is managed,

you’re going to have a situation where, like, in Colorado,

you know, a lot of farmers are going to sell their water rights

to the cities that have the money,

the developers that have the money to buy them

and follow their land.

And a lot of that’s already gone on in Colorado,

where there is an active market

for what is a real property interest.

And so you have a lot of acreage

being taken out of irrigation

and therefore out of production.

And clearly that’s going to have a impact on, you know,

long-term yield and sustainability of agriculture

in this area.

What’s interesting to me is you also now have

some of these same water quantity fights,

as opposed to water quality fights

happening in the Southeast.

You know, the tri-state disputes with Florida, Georgia,

and Alabama have been dealing with water allocation

and water quantity.

And, you know, it’ll be interesting to see

if they have some of these same fights

or not even fights,

but management difficulties

between kind of the urban municipal type use

and agricultural uses.

Although I, you know,

it’s my understanding that agricultural irrigation

is not widely used in east of the hundredth meridian

but that may change when you

already are having new fights over water allocation.

And I think you look at what’s happening

with the Colorado River basin

and the impact of that is likely to have

on the agricultural practices in Southern California,

where there are you know, avocados and almond trees

are being irrigated from the Colorado River.

And, you know, Lake Mead had its first emergency call

this summer for the lower basin states.

Powell may be impacted in the next year or two.

And you may have a river basin call or you know,

I know that they’ll go back into mediation

to talk about how they do that,

but there clearly is going to be a long-term impact

on how much water Nevada, Arizona, California,

all of the Colorado River basin states

are going to be able to

access that water or the water that they’re accustomed to.

And it’ll have a dramatic impact on,

especially the crops in California,

which is such a major economic driver for them.

<v ->Kevin, Paul, and Jared, thank you guys so much</v>

for joining us and sharing your insights.

This has been such a great session,

such great learning from my point.

And I want to thank you for your time

and thank you for your insights.

This has been very valuable.

(inspirational epic music)