Category Archives: Water Resources

Majority of European Alpine glacier melt occurred prior to 1875

Sigl, M., Abram, N. J., Gabrieli, J., Jenk, T. M., Osmont, D., and Schwikowski, M.: 19th century glacier retreat in the Alps preceded the emergence of industrial black carbon deposition on high-alpine glaciers, The Cryosphere, 12, 3311-3331,, 2018.

“Starting around AD1860, many glaciers in the European Alps began to retreat from their maximum mid-19th century terminus positions, thereby visualizing the end of the Little Ice Age in Europe. Radiative forcing by increasing deposition of industrial black carbon to snow has been suggested as the main driver of the abrupt glacier retreats in the Alps. The basis for this hypothesis was model simulations using elemental carbon concentrations at low temporal resolution from two ice cores in the Alps.”

“Our study reveals that in AD1875, the time when rBC ice-core concentrations started to significantly increase, the majority of Alpine glaciers had already experienced more than 80% of their total 19th century length reduction, casting doubt on a leading role for soot in terminating of the Little Ice Age.”

Does watershed protection lower the cost of drinking water treatment?

Price JI, Heberling MT. The Effects of Source Water Quality on Drinking Water Treatment Costs: A Review and Synthesis of Empirical Literature. Ecological Economics 2018 Sep 3;151:195-209. doi: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2018.04.014.

Watershed protection, and associated in situ water quality improvements, has received considerable attention as a means for mitigating health risks and avoiding expenditures at drinking water treatment plants (DWTPs). This study reviews the literature linking source water quality to DWTP expenditures. For each study, we report information on the modeling approach, data structure, definition of treatment costs and water quality, and statistical methods. We then extract elasticities indicating the percentage change in drinking water treatment costs resulting from a 1% change in water quality. Forty-six elasticities are obtained for various water quality parameters, such as turbidity, total organic carbon (TOC), nitrogen, sediment loading, and phosphorus loading. An additional 29 elasticities are obtained for land use classification (e.g., forest, agricultural, urban), which often proxy source water quality. Findings indicate relatively large ranges in the estimated elasticities of most parameters and land use classifications. However, average elasticities are smaller and ranges typically narrower for studies that incorporated control variables consistent with economic theory in their models. We discuss the implications of these findings for a DWTP’s incentive to engage in source water protection and highlight gaps in the literature.

Global models underestimate decadal water storage trends

Bridget R. Scanlon, Zizhan Zhang, Himanshu Save, Alexander Y. Sun, Hannes Müller Schmied, Ludovicus P. H. van Beek, David N. Wiese, Yoshihide Wada, Di Long, Robert C. Reedy, Laurent Longuevergne, Petra Döll, and Marc F. P. Bierkens. Global models underestimate large decadal declining and rising water storage trends relative to GRACE satellite data. PNAS January 22, 2018. 201704665;

Assessing reliability of global models is critical because of increasing reliance on these models to address past and projected future climate and human stresses on global water resources. Here, we evaluate model reliability based on a comprehensive comparison of decadal trends (2002–2014) in land water storage from seven global models (WGHM, PCR-GLOBWB, GLDAS NOAH, MOSAIC, VIC, CLM, and CLSM) to trends from three Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite solutions in 186 river basins (∼60% of global land area). Medians of modeled basin water storage trends greatly underestimate GRACE-derived large decreasing (≤−0.5 km3/y) and increasing (≥0.5 km3/y) trends. Decreasing trends from GRACE are mostly related to human use (irrigation) and climate variations, whereas increasing trends reflect climate variations. For example, in the Amazon, GRACE estimates a large increasing trend of ∼43 km3/y, whereas most models estimate decreasing trends (−71 to 11 km3/y). Land water storage trends, summed over all basins, are positive for GRACE (∼71–82 km3/y) but negative for models (−450 to −12 km3/y), contributing opposing trends to global mean sea level change. Impacts of climate forcing on decadal land water storage trends exceed those of modeled human intervention by about a factor of 2. The model-GRACE comparison highlights potential areas of future model development, particularly simulated water storage. The inability of models to capture large decadal water storage trends based on GRACE indicates that model projections of climate and human-induced water storage changes may be underestimated.

Unverifiable Stream Water Quality Models: Believe it or Not!

Islam MMM, Iqbal MS, Leemans R, Hofstra N. Modelling the impact of future socio-economic and climate change scenarios on river microbial water quality. International journal of hygiene and environmental health. 2017 Dec 4. pii: S1438-4639(17)30408-X. doi: 10.1016/j.ijheh.2017.11.006.

Microbial surface water quality is important, as it is related to health risk when the population is exposed through drinking, recreation or consumption of irrigated vegetables. The microbial surface water quality is expected to change with socio-economic development and climate change. This study explores the combined impacts of future socio-economic and climate change scenarios on microbial water quality using a coupled hydrodynamic and water quality model (MIKE21FM-ECOLab). The model was applied to simulate the baseline (2014-2015) and future (2040s and 2090s) faecal indicator bacteria (FIB: E. coli and enterococci) concentrations in the Betna river in Bangladesh. The scenarios comprise changes in socio-economic variables (e.g. population, urbanization, land use, sanitation and sewage treatment) and climate variables (temperature, precipitation and sea-level rise). Scenarios have been developed building on the most recent Shared Socio-economic Pathways: SSP1 and SSP3 and Representative Concentration Pathways: RCP4.5 and RCP8.5 in a matrix. An uncontrolled future results in a deterioration of the microbial water quality (+75% by the 2090s) due to socio-economic changes, such as higher population growth, and changes in rainfall patterns. However, microbial water quality improves under a sustainable scenario with improved sewage treatment (-98% by the 2090s). Contaminant loads were more influenced by changes in socio-economic factors than by climatic change. To our knowledge, this is the first study that combines climate change and socio-economic development scenarios to simulate the future microbial water quality of a river. This approach can also be used to assess future consequences for health risks.

Oroville Dam Spillway Repaired? or Not?

“The California Department of Water Resources acknowledged this week that many cracks have appeared in the new concrete of the Oroville Dam spillway, which cost over $500 million to repair.” click here

Pollutant Loading from Low-Density Residential Neighborhoods, Califorina

Bale AE, Greco SE, Pitton BJL, Haver DL, Oki LR. Pollutant loading from low-density residential neighborhoods in California. Environmental monitoring and assessment. 2017 Aug;189(8):386. doi: 10.1007/s10661-017-6104-2.

This paper presents a comparison of pollutant load estimations for runoff from two geographically distinct residential suburban neighborhoods in northern and southern California. The two neighborhoods represent a single urban land use type: low-density residential in small catchments (<0.3 km2) under differing regional climates and irrigation practices. Pollutant loads of pesticides, nutrients, and drinking water constituents of concern are estimated for both storm and non-storm runoff. From continuous flow monitoring, it was found that a daily cycle of persistent runoff that peaks mid-morning occurs at both sites. These load estimations indicate that many residential neighborhoods in California produce significant non-storm pollutant loads year-round. Results suggest that non-storm flow accounted for 47-69% of total annual runoff and significantly contributed to annual loading rates of most nutrients and pesticides at both sites. At the Southern California site, annual non-storm loads are 1.2-10 times higher than storm loads of all conventional constituents and nutrients with one exception (total suspended solids). At the Northern California site, annual storm loads range from 51 to 76% of total loads for all conventional constituents and nutrients with one exception (total dissolved solids). Non-storm yields of pesticides at the Southern California site range from 1.3-65 times higher than those at the Northern California site. The disparity in estimated pollutant loads between the two sites indicates large potential variation from site-to-site within the state and suggests neighborhoods in drier and milder climates may produce significantly larger non-storm loads due to persistent dry season runoff and year-round pest control.

Brackish Groundwater in the United States a Viable Water Supply

Stanton, J.S., Anning, D.W., Brown, C.J., Moore, R.B., McGuire, V.L., Qi, S.L., Harris, A.C., Dennehy, K.F., McMahon, P.B., Degnan, J.R., and Böhlke, J.K., 2017, Brackish groundwater in the United States: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1833, 185 p.,

For some parts of the Nation, large-scale development of groundwater has caused decreases in the amount of groundwater that is present in aquifer storage and that discharges to surface-water bodies. Water supply in some areas, particularly in arid and semiarid regions, is not adequate to meet demand, and severe drought is affecting large parts of the United States. Future water demand is projected to heighten the current stress on groundwater resources. This combination of factors has led to concerns about the availability of freshwater to meet domestic, agricultural, industrial, mining, and environmental needs. To ensure the water security of the Nation, currently [2016] untapped water sources may need to be developed.

Brackish groundwater is an unconventional water source that may offer a partial solution to current and future water demands. In support of the national census of water resources, the U.S. Geological Survey completed the national brackish groundwater assessment to better understand the occurrence and characteristics of brackish groundwater in the United States as a potential water resource. Analyses completed as part of this assessment relied on previously collected data from multiple sources; no new data were collected. Compiled data included readily available information about groundwater chemistry, horizontal and vertical extents and hydrogeologic characteristics of principal aquifers (regionally extensive aquifers or aquifer systems that have the potential to be used as a source of potable water), and groundwater use. Although these data were obtained from a wide variety of sources, the compiled data are biased toward shallow and fresh groundwater resources; data representing groundwater that is at great depths and is saline were not as readily available.

One of the most important contributions of this assessment is the creation of a database containing chemical characteristics and aquifer information for the known areas with brackish groundwater in the United States. Previously published digital data relating to brackish groundwater resources were limited to a small number of State- and regional-level studies. Data sources for this assessment ranged from single publications to large datasets and from local studies to national assessments. Geochemical data included concentrations of dissolved solids, major ions, trace elements, nutrients, and radionuclides as well as physical properties of the water (pH, temperature, and specific conductance). Additionally, the database provides selected well information (location, yield, depth, and contributing aquifer) necessary for evaluating the water resource.

The assessment was divided into national-, regional-, and aquifer-scale analyses. National-scale analyses included evaluation of the three-dimensional distribution of observed dissolved-solids concentrations in groundwater, the three-dimensional probability of brackish groundwater occurrence, and the geochemical characteristics of saline (greater than or equal to 1,000 mg/L of dissolved solids) groundwater resources. Regional-scale analyses included a summary of the percentage of observed grid cell volume in the region that was occupied by brackish groundwater within the mixture of air, water, and rock for multiple depth intervals. Aquifer-scale analyses focused primarily on four regions that contained the largest amounts of observed brackish groundwater and included a generalized description of hydrogeologic characteristics from previously published work; the distribution of dissolved-solids concentrations; considerations for developing brackish groundwater resources, including a summary of other chemical characteristics that may limit the use of brackish groundwater and the ability of sampled wells producing brackish groundwater to yield useful amounts of water; and the amount of saline groundwater being used in 2010.