Water is Our Nemesis

Davos Oral Presentation 2016

Resilient Cities Require Resilient Water Resource Management

Water is our Nemesis

Garry de la Pomerai


We all recognise that fast growing Cities need a sustainable supply of usable water. However with global water resources remaining constant but its quality and  its management deteriorating, water is mankind’s nemesis. Put into context, it is established that 97.5% of all water on Earth is salt water, leaving only 2.5% as fresh water of which less than 1% (approximately 0.007% of all water on earth) is accessible for direct human uses.
Agriculture across Asia extracts nearly 80% of its’ accessible fresh water for irrigation. Industry continues to dump, disproportionately polluting vast potential water resources, necessary to sustain our growing cities. We must listen to the warnings.
“By the year 2030 the World Economic Forum calculates that there will be a 40% deficit in the available fresh water ” UNHABITAT have stated that within the next 30 years, the present urban footprint will double from what we have achieved in the last 10,000 years. In 30 years! That’s an incredulous rate of growth.
The purpose of this summary is to highlight some disturbing adverse trends, demonstrating that our present course of political, economic and educational strategy for use of water is wrong; where country States create restrictive legislation for the use of rain water in favor of utility companies’ commercial rights; millions of people within cities are presently denied access to free water, enabling the emergence of water mafias; whilst new cities continue being built with no long term water sustainability; and whilst new infrastructures are being built within some cities, their water supply meanders through archaic agricultural practices reducing that potential supply by up to 80%.
Let’s review some of the potential causations, some of the trends being witnessed.

Causation one: In order to develop a Resilient Cities strategy, we must look to where water derives from and understand how we need to build a Resilient Water Resource Management policy to support those managing the catchment and distribution of water from within the rural communities.
Reservoirs globally are drying up, primarily because their capacity cannot meet the need of water supply to satisfy cities potable water, often initially used for hydroelectric to power our cities and thirdly to irrigate our farms that feed our cities. Basically we are using beyond the capacity of our present resources, which does not have the ability to replenish fast enough.

Causation two: the next critical factor is climate change which is altering our traditional precipitation rates and the zones in which it has traditionally fallen, thus our present catchment zones and their reservoirs are becoming obsolete, neither in in right place nor capable of holding the needed capacity.
In order to build resilience, we need to adapt. Does this mean we build more large reservoirs in different locations or somehow expand the catchment zones? Maybe we need think outside of the traditional box. Maybe we need consider a multitude of alternatives, from controllable rain enhancement technologies to creating smaller community managed storage. Large reservoirs are vulnerable.
With the value and importance of water increasing annually large reservoirs simply are unsustainable to be our only source of water. They are vulnerable for a variety of reasons including; water security, easily contaminated through mistake, neglect, conflict and terrorism. The dams remain potential targets, where a large proportion of a resource is accumulated behind one manmade structure.
Equally because of the reliance upon these mega structures and the resource they withhold, when at 40% capacity and less, replenishment requires not only above average to replenish but above average replenishment due to increased depletion to serve the increasing population and industrial and agricultural water demand.
It’s a spiraling vortex leading to disaster, beyond anything we experience within any other type of natural disaster, drought within green pasture and forested lands, normally only experienced within semi-arid and desert environments. And when this happens within the back yard of our mushrooming cities, this water depletion will certainly be our nemesis.

Causation three: corrupt mismanagement and greed and political manipulation by corporates, monopolies and tycoons is an even greater threat than depletion by exhaustive use. Examples are surfacing globally, where either antiquated historical rights or present manipulative lawyers are subdividing plentiful waters away from traditional smaller land owners, isolating them from the resource that they rely upon, literally drying them out of their lands.
A good example is California’s complicated and often corrupt 100-year-old fight over water rights. And I quote “The state’s laws were designed to settle the frontier, and under the “first in time, first in right” rule, the most “senior” water claims are the last to be restricted in times of drought. This means some farmers are still able to flood their fields to grow cattle feed, even as residents of towns such as Okieville and East Porterville have to truck in water and shower using buckets”.
In todays’ society, everything has a value and to most corporates and state administrations, water as a resource cannot be offered for free. It bares a cost to service and to supply. And for corporates it’s a source of their endless seeking profits and dividends for shareholders.
We are now seeing commercialism wake up to the fact that water is the new gold.

Causation four: Water is the guaranteed WMD. Three days of zero water brings a population to its knees, 8 days guarantees mass human extermination. Whole sectors of society being purposefully held to ransom. Withdrawal of water, contamination of water and disturbingly….legislature, where already we potentially see the fledgling practices of creating legislature to support banning and fining people for using rainwater run offs, as some call it in California ‘God water’, legislature being developed and coerced into existence by individuals with hidden agendas of gaining power.
Water is the new oil and access to it is the kingpin for mega corporates or indeed individuals wishing to exert influence over government and communities. This pattern is not new but now it seems to becoming a increased trend within every nation. A trend which not reverse itself by a few placards outside city hall. It needs a comprehensive central government policy change and indeed in the long term a UN directorate, if we are to avoid water wars Armageddon.

Causation five: Some governments try using water as a political tool within sectors of urban communities by refusing to extend designed water supply infrastructure in the hope of dissuading emerging slums; this backfires and simply encourages the water mafias to take control; the same mafias already established supplying drugs and illicit materials to some sectors, whilst it is realised that all sectors need water. A golden handshake to organised crime, funding potential terrorism and anti-government propaganda.

Living within one of the harshest and most water scarce regions of the world, technically in the middle of a desert, i have been raising this awareness for 5 years now, reviewing trends and management policy and importantly trying to understand and develop the local awareness of the consequences of ill-conceived policy, ignorance and misdirection within their modern ambition of economic sustainability within naturally water alien environments.
As a case study We can learn a lot from our emerging high tech desert communities. I live in Dubai. Every litre of water needs to be produced or at least treated even when it surfaces. Its not just the seasonal challenges as experienced within North America or Europe, its daily.
Potable water has become sacrosanct with the aim only for supply to sink and wash faucets and critical industries. TSE treated sewerage effluent is predominantly used for irrigation which remains essential not only for the aesthetics of the city but for their combatting desertification and agricultural production of indigenous produce.
Regions once relying upon good aquifer water supplies are now banned from subsurface extraction and rely upon piped water across the deserts from neighboring emirates or indeed from adjoining countries. The deep aquifers are deemed now as last resort supply. But even so, cities are running dry as early as April, when temperatures are only just starting to creep towards the 50 degree highs of mid-summer.
This year we have even now started to see restriction on the supply of TSE to irrigation programs. This if frightening, as I witness tens of thousands of new villas under construction and yet more land being absorbed for planned future development.
City and national heads openly declare that they need meet that UNHABITAT prediction of doubling their urban footprint if they are to sustain economic growth. This directly conflicts with what I see within present water resource management capabilities.
And desalination is not the simple answer, because of its excessive discharges, raising local sea temperatures and destroying the local sea bed ecologies which will invite an increased abnormal growth of the desalination industries nemesis, seasonal red algae which forces the closure of ‘desal’ plants. It’s a vicious circle of decline of resources and importantly the environment.
However, even within our developed well established cities, water sustainability is far from achieved, in fact it is also slipping backwards quickly; where they are literally running out of water supply, equally for many of the same reasons we have spoken about but also because their infrastructure is old, so even if they can increase supply, the existing pipes can not take the extra pressures.
Whereas within agriculture, up to 40% of water fails to reach the plant, within cities it is estimated that between 20 and 40% of water is lost due to leaks through antiquated nets works of supply pipes. You see a pothole in the road and demand it to be fixed. When we see a puddle from a subsurface leak pipe, we ignore it, yet that’s our wasting lifeblood, leaking 24/7 potentially losing millions of litres before fixed.

“Resilient Cities require Resilient Water Resource Management. Water is our Nemesis” and as yet we really don’t understand water. We are good at joining pipes, sometimes, at engineering mechanical infrastructure to satisfy human needs, most of the time, but we still have little understanding of what the actual water needs.
That has been our fundamental mistake, taking water for granted. This approach to understand water is critical if we are to maximize this dwindling life resource.
Water has a memory. It reacts to the activities around it and its bad treatment. It reacts to the mood of the people around it. As people are 60% water, water is the dominant component of a person’s mood.
We are only just beginning to understand the real importance and effect of water upon our everyday existence beyond it being a thirst quench resource. I suspect that most of you have no idea that water relies upon magnetism to sustain its molecular structure, a critical factor if you are purport to understand water resource management.

Our goal is to recommend that in order to avoid water conflict, water mafias and water monopolies holding communities to ransom, we must review global and national short and long term strategies towards water resource management if we are to curtail human disaster, the consequences being far beyond the wildest nightmares of present administrations.
We must consider ‘water resource management’ independently within DRR, not just as a local or regional periodic adverse phenomenon such as drought and flood but as an imminent natural global catastrophe of simply “there not being enough to go around our ever increasing population”.
Thus I make recommendation to this conference, requesting the UN to strongly consider the creation of a bespoke fully funded 24/7 ‘Water Secretariat’, for the purpose of saving mankind, saving mankind from its nemesis.