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About the Author: Sarah Goldfarb serves as DipNote's Associate Editor. Sarah will be providing information from presentations about key climate programs and scientific research at the U.S. Center at the 16th Session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-16) in Cancun, Mexico, from November 29 through December 10, 2010.
Climate variability and change pose a threat to water resources around the world. At the U.S. Center on December 7, Dr. Tom Armstrong of the U.S. Department of the Interior discussed the U.S. National Water Census, a tool focused on examining the water quantity and quality that is present in the environment and the amount that is currently withdrawn and consumed for human uses, and Dr. Jack Kaye of NASA explained how the United States is working with its international partners to provide hydrologic and water use information around the world.
The National Water Census is a nationwide system addressing the following: precipitation; evapotranspiration -- the process by which plants absorb water through their roots and emit it through their leaves; storage in reservoirs, lakes, snow, and ice; surface water; groundwater; ecological needs; water withdrawals; return flows; consumptive uses; and run-of-the-river uses. The objective of the National Census is to place technical information and tools in the hands of stakeholders, allowing them to answer two primary questions about water availability. Does the nation have enough freshwater to meet both human and ecological needs? Will this water be present to meet future needs?
Dr. Armstrong said that in the past, water was viewed as unlimited resource, but that is not the case anymore. In the United States, disputes over water rights were mainly caused by droughts in the West. However, because of climate change, water disputes are now becoming an issue for jurisdictions in the East, too.
Water is not only a domestic issue, but an international one as well. Dr. Kaye, who joined the presentation by digital video conference, said that NASA has a unique capability to provide global observations of the various components of the water cycle, and then use them to enhance global models and improve predictive capability.
Dr. Kaye described data from the GRACE satellite, which has the ability to monitor variations in all water stored on land, down to the deepest aquifers. The satellite data revealed that the water table in northwest India is declining at an average annual rate of 33 centimeters. Dr. Kaye explained that NASA uses this data to anticipate and warn of humanitarian crises. For instance, a NASA-funded project is working to enhance the Malaria and Famine Early Warning System (FEWS). According to Dr. Kaye, this project will enable an improved response and recovery from food crises and epidemics, which will ultimately reduce costs to the U.S. government and save lives.
The U.S. Department of the Interior and NASA are working to address the threat that climate variability and change pose to water resources throughout the world. Dr. Armstrong said this work is providing more information to the local stakeholder to assess not only what clean water they have, but how much they can expect for tomorrow. He said, “It's important to recognize it is not only water for drinking purposes, but also water for the environment where people live and where their quality of life resides.”
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