The Rivers, Too, Are Dying

Posted March 15th, 2006 in Blog Comments Off on The Rivers, Too, Are Dying

From Margaret Swedish: 

New studies reveal the extent to which the rivers of the world are drying up or are “seriously depleted,” a result of deterioration due to human water use patterns and to global warming.  The United Nations is preparing to release a new report this week warning governments of the extent of the crisis and the threat this poses for humans and animals.

The Rio Grande and the Colorado River are prime examples in this country of what is happening in many parts of the world. 

The stories linked to above are from the March 12 edition of London’s The Independent.  Since you have to pay to view these articles, I have included some excerpts below: 

From: Death of the World’s Rivers 

Disaster warning from UN as investigation reveals half of the planet’s 500 biggest rivers are seriously depleted or polluted.

    The world’s great rivers are drying up at an alarming rate, with devastating consequences for humanity, animals and the future of the planet.

    The Independent on Sunday can today reveal that more than half the world’s 500 mightiest rivers have been seriously depleted. Some have been reduced to a trickle in what the United Nations will this week warn is a “disaster in the making.” … 

    Adding to the disaster, all of the 20 longer rivers are being disrupted by big dams. One-fifth of all freshwater fish species either face extinction or are already extinct… 

     This week an influential UN report will officially warn the world’s governments of an “alarming deterioration” in the planet’s rivers, lakes and other freshwater systems. Klaus Toepfer, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, told the IoS yesterday that the state of the world’s rivers is “a disaster in the making.”

    The UN’s triennial World Water Development Report, compiled for an international conference in Mexico City which opens on Thursday, warns that “we have hugely changed the natural order of rivers worldwide,” mainly through giant dams and global warming. Some 45,000 big dams now block the world’s rivers, trapping 15 per cent of all the water that used to flow from the land to the sea. Reservoirs now cover almost 1 per cent of land surface.

    The UN report says that demand for them “will continue to increase,” but recommends that they should be barred from the world’s remaining, undammed “free-flowing” rivers.

     Global warming is endangering even the rivers that have largely escaped damming.

    The relatively untamed Amazon was hit by its most serious drought on record last autumn. And salmon are dying in Alaska’s Yukon River – the world’s longest undammed watercourse – because its waters are getting too hot… 

 From: Rivers: a drying shame    The delta of the great Colorado River – where once it swept into the Gulf of California – used to be the most wonder-filled wetland in the whole North American continent.

    Some 400 species of plants and animals – including jaguars, beaver and the world’s smallest dolphin- thronged its 3,000 square miles of wetlands, lagoons and tidal pools. The local people made a good living fishing its teeming waters. Now it has become a forbidding desert of salt flats and giant heaps of dead clamshells. The fishing boats have been long since beached; the destitute people have to seek what work they can in wheat fields and tortilla factories far away.

    The reason for the transformation is not hard to find. Not a drop of the mighty river which once carved the Grand Canyon now flows through the delta to the sea. It has all been used upstream – to slake the thirst of cities such as Tucson, Arizona, feed fountains in Las Vegas, green golf courses and irrigate farmland. Such water as remains in the delta has flowed in from the sea.

    It is much the same story in that other great river of the American south-west, the Rio Grande. This does not merely fail to reach the sea: it disappears for much of its length. The atlases tell us it is one of the 20 longest rivers in the world, but in reality it stops some 800 miles inland at El Paso, Texas, which takes all its water. For the next 200 miles or so there is just a dribble of sewage in its old river bed, and even this often dries up in summer…

  The UN-backed World Commission on Water for the 21st Century reported: “More than one half of the world’s major rivers are being seriously depleted and polluted”.

    There are two main culprits; abstraction of water for rivers – usually after damming them – and global warming.

    The world has, on average, built two giant dams a day, every day, for the past 50 years. Now 45,000 of them span the world’s rivers. Every one of the world’s 20 longest rivers is encumbered by them.

    In many ways it all began on the Colorado, 70 years ago, with the Hoover Dam, the great symbol of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. Today, the dams intercept more than a third of the world’s freshwater as it flows towards the sea and at any one time are holding back 15 per cent of it.

    The UN’s triennial World Water Development Report, published for a international conference in Mexico City this week, cautions that damming has “hugely changed the natural order of rivers worldwide.” It goes on: “Humanity has embarked on a huge ecological engineering project with little or no preconception – or indeed full present knowledge – of the consequences. We have sought to redesign and impose a new order on natural planetary systems, built over aeons of time.”

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