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Thursday, March 23

The Soap Opera continues

Democrat Adam Schiff (bottom left); House Intelligence Committee's chairman Devin Nunes (bottom right)

"Now anonymous government officials accuse Trump aides of giving Russians the 'thumbs up' for election hacks: New claim in growing feud over Obama administration 'snooping' on Donald"

By Ariel Zilber For Dailymail.com
PUBLISHED: 22:05 EDT, 22 March 2017 | UPDATED: 03:48 EDT, 23 March 2017
Daily Mail
  • US officials say FBI has information suggesting Trump campaign aides coordinated release of damaging info about Hillary Clinton with Russia
  • Other officials, however, say the evidence is circumstantial and it is premature to infer that collusion took place between Trump campaign and Moscow
  • The new information adds to statements made Wednesday by Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee
  • Schiff told MSNBC that the evidence into alleged links between Russia and the Trump campaign is 'more than circumstantial' 
  • Earlier Schiff ripped GOP chairman Devin Nunes for going to the White House with new information about 'incidental' surveillance of Trump associates 
  • Nunes stunned Washington by saying that President Donald Trump was right – sort of – when he said his calls were monitored by Obama 
  • Intelligence collected on his transition team was 'incidental,' meaning neither Trump nor campaign insiders were targeted.
The bitter dispute over President Trump’s claims he was wire-tapped by the Obama administration and counter-accusations that his aides colluded with Russia during the election took another twist on Wednesday night.

A CNN report said the FBI believes President Donald Trump's associates were in communication with suspected Russian operatives possibly to coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton during the election campaign.

The cable news network quotes anonymous US government officials as saying that the bureau has information that suggests links between Trump's campaign and the Russian government, though the sources stress that the evidence unearthed so far is 'not conclusive.'

The fact that the claims are being made on CNN is only likely to intensify the president's conflict with the network he has called 'fake news' and lead to further accusations that it is acting as the opposition to Trump.

And they come against the background of a bitter and now nakedly partisan dispute on the House Intelligence Committee over interactions with Russia which boiled over on Wednesday afternoon into an ugly public dispute between the Republican chair and the Democratic ranking member.

One source is cited by CNN as saying that this information is what FBI Director James Comey was referring to in his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on Monday.

Comey told lawmakers on Monday that the FBI had come across 'a credible allegation of wrongdoing or reasonable basis to believe an American may be acting as an agent of a foreign power.'

The bureau is now sifting through phone records, travel documents, and human intelligence material in an effort to conclusively determine if laws were broken by individuals with links to Trump's campaign.

The White House has denied any wrongdoing by the campaign.

'People connected to the campaign were in contact and it appeared they were giving the thumbs up to release information when it was ready,' CNN quoted one source as saying.

But other officials threw cold water on the circumstantial evidence, saying that it was premature to make inferences from the information gathered.

US intelligence agencies believe that the Russian government was behind the hacking and release of emails belonging to senior Democratic Party officials, including the senior echelons of Clinton's campaign.

There is consensus among US intelligence officials that the aim of the hacks was to aid Trump's candidacy.

Thus far, four individuals involved in Trump's campaign - former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, foreign policy adviser Carter Page, national security adviser Michael Flynn, and confidante Roger Stone - have been investigated by the FBI for alleged ties to Russia.

All of them deny any wrongdoing.

The latest revelations by CNN appear to bolster statements made earlier on Wednesday by the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

Rep. Adam Schiff told MSNBC's MTP Daily that the evidence currently in the hands of intelligence officials are 'more than circumstantial' and 'very much worthy of investigation,' though he said he could not get into specifics.

Schiff blasted his GOP counterpart, asking whether the panel's Russia probe can function after chairman Rep. Devin Nunes briefed Trump on new snooping developments.

Schiff, a California Democrat who works closely with Nunes, called the Republicans' debrief of Trump at the White House Wednesday 'deeply troubling,' and demanded the creation of an independent Russia probe.

Schiff was blindsided when Nunes went to tell Trump that intelligence intercepts picked up Trump transition members – as well as Trump himself – seeming to substantiate the president's claims this month.

'The chairman will need to decide whether he is the chairman of an independent investigation into conduct which includes allegations of potential coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians, or he is going to at as a surrogate of the White House – because he cannot do both,' Schiff fumed at a Capitol Hill press conference.

'This is deeply troubling along many levels. The most significant level is it really impedes our ability to do this investigation the way we should,' he added.

He declined to get into specifics about the documents Nunes saw – because he said Nunes hadn't shared them with him or with Republican members of the committee yet.

'We have no idea where these documents came from, whether they even show what they purport to show,' he said. He raised the possibility that Nunes brought up the information as a way to help Trump back up his Twitter claim of 19 days ago that President Obama had his phones 'tapped' at Trump Tower – something the head of the FBI and Nunes himself has said didn't happen.

His admonishment was a departure from the normally collegial panel, where the leaders are known as 'chairman' and 'vice chairman' and share the nation's top secrets.

'But even if they do, on the basis of what the chairman said, the underlying fact is still the same: There's no evidence to support the president's contention that he was wiretapped by his predecessor,' said Schiff.

'So I'm not sure what the point of this extraordinary process is. And I have to hope that this is not part of a broader campaign by the White House aimed to deflect from the [FBI] director's testimony earlier this week.'

Schiff suggested that the House Intelligence could be a casualty of Trump's tweets – bringing up an angry clash with the British government over alleged spy cooperation that the British say didn't happen.

'If the incident today is an indication that, after making the baseless claim, the president then aggravated the damage by implicating the British in a potential plot to have the British surveil him on behalf of President Obama, and now is attempting to interfere in the congressional investigation – again, with the effort of trying to provide some substance to a claim without substance – then the damage the wrecking ball of this allegation has just claimed another victim, that being our own committee,' he said.

'I only learned about this the way that all of you did, when the chairman briefed the press in advance of briefing his own committee members,' said Schiff.

Schiff also blasted Nunes in a blistering written statement. ''If accurate, this information should have been shared with members of the committee, but it has not been,' Schiff said.

'The Chairman also shared this information with the White House before providing it to the committee, another profound irregularity, given that the matter is currently under investigation. I have expressed my grave concerns with the Chairman that a credible investigation cannot be conducted this way.'

Nunes defended himself from the charges he might have acted improperly in an appearance on CNN about an hour before Schiff spoke.

He said the information 'concerned me enough to have to notify the president because it was him and his transition team that were involved in this,' he said.

'It's not fair for him not to know what's in these reports,' added Nunes.

'President-elect Trump and his team were put into intelligence reports,' Nunes told the network. He mentioned 'dozens' of intercepts. 'Clearly there was surveillance that was conducted.'

But he didn't back off his earlier statement that Trump was not subjected to wiretapping at Trump Tower.

Schiff's frustration followed Republican committee chairman Devin Nunes' decision to brief the House speaker; the CIA, NSA and FBI chiefs; the White House; and the Washington press corps about a cache of intelligence reports in his possession – without sharing them with fellow committee members.

Nunes told reporters on Capitol Hill that the US Intelligence Community collected 'incidental' information about President Donald Trump and his transition team during the three months following the 2016 election.

He said the information collected was 'legally collected' pursuant to a warrant issued by a FISA judge in a federal court, and concerned 'foreign' surveillance.

But that 'did not involve Russia or any discussions with Russians,' and there's no reason to believe anyone in Trump's circle was the target of an investigation.

The president told journalists that he feels 'somewhat' vindicated after hearing what Nunes had to say.

Trump has been fighting Democrats' charges that he lied on March 4 when he claimed Barack Obama 'wire tapped' him last year.

'I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found. I somewhat do,' he said shortly after a meeting with Nunes.

Nunes told NBC he wasn't currently able to show the information to Schiff because he and the committee don't have the documents in their possession.

He said he was waiting for an intelligence official to send over the reports, which he said he was shown by a 'source.'

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said Nunes' statements 'would appear to have revealed classified intelligence.'

Schiff refused to make the same charge when asked whether Nunes had revealed classified information.


Last night on Bill O'Reilly's show House Intelligence Committee member Peter King resolved the confusion about the type of information given to Devin Nunes. See the video at YouTube; the discussion starts at the 3:35 minute mark.

As to whether Rep Nunes did break the law by spilling the beans to President Trump, well, that's an interesting question for those who don't mind tramping about in the weeds. Here's an informed discussion of the weighty issue at Law Newz.  

By the time all is said and done, it looks as if just about everyone connected with the situation has broken some law or other, although I find it unlikely anyone's going to trial, much less jail.


Rep King explains significance of surveillance intel disclosed to Nunes

Discussion with Rep Peter King, member House Intelligence Committee, was aired March 22 on Bill O'Reilly's show; starts at 3:35 minute mark


Wednesday, March 22

"U.S. Bipartisan Bills Aim to Stop Escalation of Syrian War, Arming of Islamists"

"This is another piece of information that the CIA has previously, desperately, sought to avoid as part of its arming program."

Left and Right, US Lawmakers Unite Against Escalating War in Syria
by Jason Ditz
March 21, 2017

Bipartisan Bills Aim to Stop Escalation of War, Arming of Islamists

While the Pentagon provides plans for the Trump Administration for a major escalation of the US involvement in the war in Syria, new bipartisan legislation is being pushed in both the House and the Senate aiming to oppose the escalation and put legal obstacles in the way of it. 

[Pundita note: I don't know whether the Pentagon's plans are finalized ahead of a planned meeting today in Washington among coalition members to discuss the Syrian war/fighting Islamic State. See Voltaire Network's March 21 report, What would happen if Washington gave up on the jihad?]

Reps. Barbara Lee (D – CA) and Walter Jones (R – NC) are pushing one such bill, aiming to force Congress to debate US involvement in Syria, and to repeal the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) to prevent the administration from using it as an excuse for the operation.

With the repeal of the AUMF, the bill would also explicitly forbid the deployment of additional US ground troops to Syria without any permission from Congress. The bill is gaining some support in both parties, though past efforts to repeal the AUMF, and to try to limit the wars in Iraq and Syria, have never gained enough support to pass.

If it does get support, this might force a significant shift in policy, with the US nominally having capped their Syrian force at 503, but having closer to 2,000 by most recent estimates. This mirrors caps that were in place in Iraq, which were similarly long since blown past.

This is just one of the bills aimed at US policy is Syria, with Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D – HI) and Sen. Rand Paul (R – KY) offering a bipartisan “Stop Arming Terrorists Act,” which would forbid US government funds from being used to support al-Qaeda, ISIS, or any other terrorist group.

While that seems like common sense, the bill would effectively kill the CIA’s program to arm Syrian rebels, as many of the recipient factions are allies of al-Qaeda, or ideologically similar groups. Rep. Gabbard visited Syria shortly before the Trump inauguration, and met with President Assad.

The Gabbard bill would also require the Director of National Intelligence to provide up to date lists every six months of the individuals and groups forbidden to receive aid, either because they are terrorist groups or are working with them. This is another piece of information that the CIA has previously, desperately, sought to avoid as part of its arming program.

This bill is more likely to get some support from the Trump Administration, as President Trump had similarly argued against arming rebels repeatedly throughout the election campaign, though since the inauguration, there has yet to be a public move to end the CIA program.


"Oil prices fall on bloated U.S. crude storage"

By Henning Gloystein | SINGAPORE
March 22, 2017 - 1:09 AM ET

Oil prices dipped on Wednesday as rising crude stocks in the United States underscored an ongoing global fuel supply overhang despite an OPEC-led effort to cut output.

Prices for front-month Brent crude futures, the international benchmark for oil, were at $50.79 per barrel at 0451 GMT, down 17 cents, or 0.3 percent, from their last close.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were down 18 cents, or 0.4 percent, at $48.08 a barrel.

"Crude oil prices fell as concerns over rising U.S. inventories resurfaced," ANZ bank said on Wednesday.

U.S. crude oil inventories climbed by 4.5 million barrels in the week to March 17 to 533.6 million barrels, the American Petroleum Institute (API) said late on Tuesday.

"The American Petroleum Institutes' crude inventories stuck the knife into crude overnight, coming in at a 4.5 million barrel increase against an expected increase of 2.8 million barrels," said Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at futures brokerage OANDA in Singapore.

"If the API stuck the knife in, tonight's EIA Crude Inventory figures may twist it. A blowout above the 2.1 million barrel increase expected, may well torpedo oil below the waterline," he added.

Official U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) oil storage data is due on Wednesday.

The bloated storage comes as U.S. oil production has risen over 8 percent since mid-2016 to more than 9.1 million barrels per day (bpd), levels comparable to late 2014, when the oil market slump started.

Rising production in the United States and elsewhere, and bloated inventories, are undermining efforts led by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to cut output and prop up prices.

"OPEC's market intervention has not yet resulted in significant visible inventory draw-downs, and the financial markets have lost patience," U.S. bank Jefferies said on Wednesday in a note to clients, although it added that the cutbacks would likely start to show by the second half of the year if OPEC extends its production cuts beyond June.

Despite cuts, analysts warned of renewed or ongoing oversupply in coming years, especially as U.S. shale producers ramp up and once OPEC returns to full capacity.

U.S. bank Goldman Sachs warned its clients in a note this week that a U.S. shale led production surge "could create a material oversupply in 2018-19."

(Reporting by Henning Gloystein; Editing by Joseph Radford and Richard Pullin)



"As Groundwater Dwindles, a Global Food Shock Looms"

Center-pivot irrigation systems irrigate fields of grain in Finney County, Kansas. Each well draws hundreds of gallons per minute from the sinking Ogallala aquifer.


A 2015 study based on satellite observations showed that most of the world’s largest aquifers—21 out of 37—are being drained faster than they can refill

As Groundwater Dwindles, a Global Food Shock Looms
By Cheryl Katz
December 22, 2016
National Geographic

By mid-century, says a new study, some of the biggest grain-producing regions could run dry.

Rising temperatures and growing demands for thirsty grains like rice and wheat could drain much of the world’s groundwater in the next few decades, new research warns.

Nearly half of our food comes from the warm, dry parts of the planet, where excessive groundwater pumping to irrigate crops is rapidly shrinking the porous underground reservoirs called aquifers. Vast swaths of India, Pakistan, southern Europe, and the western United States could face depleted aquifers by mid-century, a recent study finds—taking a bite out of the food supply and leaving as many as 1.8 billion people without access to this crucial source of fresh water.

To forecast when and where specific aquifers around the globe might be drained to the point that they’re unusable, Inge de Graaf, a hydrologist at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado, developed a new model simulating regional groundwater dynamics and withdrawals from 1960 to 2100. 

She found that California’s agricultural powerhouses—the Central Valley, Tulare Basin, and southern San Joaquin Valley, which produce a plentiful portion of the nation’s food—could run out of accessible groundwater as early as the 2030s. 

India’s Upper Ganges Basin and southern Spain and Italy could be used up between 2040 and 2060. And the southern part of the Ogallala aquifer under Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico could be depleted between 2050 and 2070. (Read more about the threat to the southern High Plains.)

“The areas that will run into trouble the soonest are areas where we have a lot of demand and not enough surface water available,” says de Graaf, who presented her results last week at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco.

Farming has mushroomed across arid regions like these in the past half century. With scarce rains and few rivers and lakes, they depend on water pumped up from underground. Since 1960, excessive pumping has already used up enough groundwater worldwide to nearly fill Lake Michigan, estimates de Graaf, who projects that with climate change and population growth, future groundwater use will soar. 

She considers an aquifer depleted when its water level falls below a depth of around 300 feet, at which point it becomes too expensive for most users to pump up.

Shrinking groundwater supplies will dent the world’s food supply, says de Graaf's co-author Marc Bierkens, a hydrologist at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Bierkens points out that 40 percent of global food production now relies on irrigation with groundwater. If the amount of available groundwater were to be cut in half, for example, he estimates that farm output would drop by roughly 6 percent—reflecting the portion that’s absolutely dependent on unsustainable groundwater use.

“It’s not that the whole population will starve,” says Bierkens, “but it will have an impact on the food chain and food prices.”


Groundwater depletion affects more than food: It also damages wetlands, makes land sink, and contributes to sea-level rise.

A 2015 study based on satellite observations showed that most of the world’s largest aquifers—21 out of 37—are being drained faster than they can refill. “A number of studies point to the overuse of groundwater and the tremendous risk that our water and food security are under,” says water scientist Jay Famiglietti of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who led the satellite study. “The problem is, we don’t know how much groundwater is left.”

De Graaf’s study begins to address that problem for regional aquifers. In normal conditions, those layers of sand or porous rock are recharged by water from rain, snow, or streams seeping down through the ground. But recharge can’t keep up with today’s furious pace of pumping, especially in areas that receive little precipitation.

Agriculture is by far the leading groundwater user, and overexploitation is on the rise. The volume of groundwater depletion climbed 22 percent in the past decade, with nearly all of it going to watering crops, according to another study presented at the San Francisco conference.

Fully 20 percent of agricultural irrigation is now unsustainable, University College London researcher Carole Dalin reported. Nearly half goes to commercial crops of wheat and rice. And Pakistan, India, and the United States are responsible for two-thirds of that outsize groundwater use.

Studies like these show how today’s unsustainable practices jeopardize the future of our planet’s aquifers, says Thomas Harter, a University of California, Davis, hydrologist who studies California’s Central Valley, but was not involved in either project.

Harter, an expert on sustainable groundwater management, doubts that the Central Valley will run out of groundwater in 2030. Although the region’s aquifer has been ravaged by decades of rampant pumping—made even worse by the recent statewide drought—conservation can still help save this vital resource, he says. The state recently passed a groundwater management act requiring local water agencies to devise sustainable use plans, and giving them the authority to curtail runaway pumping.

“That doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a real threat,” says Harter. “Groundwater is sort of a black box that everybody dips into. It’s seen as a local resource, but the consequences are global.”


Mexico City used its soil backasswards. Now it's sinking fast.

Mexico City's iconic Gilded Angel of Independence, 
trying to keep her footing in a sinking city

Mexico City is drinking itself into the ground
By Jack May
March 1, 2017
City Metric
Roughly 20 per cent of Mexico City’s residents cannot guarantee that water will come out of their taps every day, and the ground is sinking by as much as nine inches a year in some suburbs. That’s the equivalent of nearly a storey a decade.
The city’s cathedral, which took more than 200 years to build, has a leaning chapel and bell tower, propped up by stone wedges to stop the whole thing crumbling down. The Gilded Angel of Independence – a local tourist hotspot and national landmark – was built with nine shallow steps leading up from the street below. As the surrounding area has sunk, an extra 14 large steps have been added as the angel is increasingly left marooned above a vanishing city.
Slanted buildings leer menacingly over pavements, their doors and windows no longer in alignment with their friends as if crudely displaced from a grotesque theme park funhouse. Terraced streets built on level ground now undulate, with wavy gables crowding up against each other in parts, and pulling away in others, while city-dwellers struggle up hilly pavements where once the path was flat.
In Iztapalapa, a suburb of approximately 2m people built on the ancient lake’s southern shores in the city’s south-east, 15 primary schools have crumbled or caved in, and a teenager was swallowed up when a gaping crack appeared in the street.
So what happened?
Jack May provides an entertaining account of how it all began but to cut to the uh, bedrock of Mexico City's problem, he delivers the clearest explanation I've come across:
Geologically insane
The city is built on two different geological foundations. Some of the ground underneath Mexico City is volcanic soil, which was fertile and used by the Aztecs for growing crops. It was also handily water-absorbent: moisture would soak in and flow to underground aquifers easily, without damaging the structure of the soil.
But when developers built on the volcanic soil and covered it in concrete and asphalt, water could no longer get through to the soil and filter through to the aquifers on which the city relies.
And other parts of the city sit on clay. This, unlike the volcanic soil, can't absorb the water, merely sandwiching it between layers of clay – like cream between layers of pastry. When the cream is sucked out, the layers of pastry crack and collapse, falling on top of one another.
And that’s what’s happened beneath Mexico City. Desperate for water in a lake basin devoid of a lake, the city has tapped into the clay soil while covering over the useful volcanic soil.
And as the city is built on a mixture of both geologies, it has sunk in an uneven, mismatched way, causing dangerous fissures, cracks, and the bizarre phenomenon of wavy, undulating streets.

It is estimated that the city has dropped 10 meters in the last century; if anything the signs are that this process is accelerating.
As to whatever happened to that famous lake -- go to the start of May's report then read on. 

I think his writing makes a good companion piece to the Guardian's truly splendid February 2014 report by Kurt Hollander, and which I've featured before, Mexico City: water torture on a grand and ludicrous scaleA grossly inefficient sewage system makes the city's tap water filthy and consigns millions to disease, will it ever improve? 


"Where has all the water gone?" Fast-depleting aquifers in USA and elsewhere

"Another USGS study that looked at aquifer depletion levels across the U.S., including Alaska and Hawaii from 1900 to 2008, also found the process of depletion is speeding up. The water loss between 2000 and 2008 represents about 25 percent of the total loss of 1,000 cubic kilometers that has taken place in the 108-year span. The amount of water we’re talking about could fill Lake Erie twice. A lot of that water pulled from the ground eventually ends up making its way to the oceans, since more water is coming in than can go out through evaporation and other means. This raises global sea levels.

"While there are 64 aquifer systems in the country, 30 of them account for 94 percent of the total withdrawals. Dennehy says the largest amount of groundwater (56,900 million gallons per day across the U.S.) is used for irrigation, followed by the public water supply, which uses 16,000 million gallons per day. Self-supplied industrial uses come in third, with 3,570 million gallons per day."

 -- From Even Without a Drought, We’re Depleting Groundwater at an Alarming Pace; July 2015; Modern Farmer

Water supply: The emptying well
By Margaret Catley-Carlson
Nature international weekly journal of science, 542, 412–413 (23 February 2017) doi:10.1038/542412a
Published online 22 February 2017

The article is Catley-Carlson's review of High and Dry: Meeting the Challenges of the World's Growing Dependence on Groundwater by William M. Alley & Rosemarie Alley
Yale University Press: 2017

It is astonishing to many that lakes and rivers account for less than one-third of 1% of global fresh water. Some 95% of unfrozen fresh water resides unsung and underground, dimly visible at the bottom of a well or gushing from a pump. Big cities such as Buenos Aires and entire countries, including Germany, depend hugely on groundwater. About 70% of it goes into irrigation, accounting for more than half of irrigated agriculture — which in turn provides nearly half of the global food basket. In large parts of India, groundwater is egregiously overdrawn. 

And everywhere, aquifers are poorly measured and managed. As a result, no scientific consensus exists on the details of this vast and vital source of fresh water — although there is consensus on the fact that we face a worldwide problem.

In High and Dry, hydrologist William Alley and science writer Rosemary Alley encapsulate the crisis in a description of the US High Plains Aquifer, which spans eight states from South Dakota to Texas. “This virtual ocean of groundwater, which accumulated over thousands of years, is being used up in decades,” they write. 

In three ways, the book provides a deep and broad understanding of groundwater use and abuse, mostly in the United States but with some international scope.

First, it abounds in case studies, many centering on grand, polarizing projects. In the early twentieth century, engineer William Mulholland fomented water wars in California by diverting the Owens River to Los Angeles; that process has ultimately led to groundwater pumping in the Owens Valley. Today, Texas tycoon T. Boone Pickens has tried to sell water from the Ogallala Aquifer to municipalities. 

In the mid-1980s, Libyan leader Mu'ammer Gaddafi masterminded the Great Man-Made River, a piping system fed by the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer, to service the country's dry reaches. 

India, the Alleys show, swiftly progressed from famine to food exporting beginning in the 1960s. That astonishing development was driven mostly by private pumps (16 million of them as of 2010) using free electricity to pull water from an ever-lower water table.

The authors also delve into Australia's Murray–Darling basin, which has been overpumped and overused, largely because of allocations based on volumes in high-water years. And they explore how water politics in apartheid-era South Africa denied non-whites adequate water rights for rural development. These stories are crucial to global understanding of current imbroglios, and they are told with verve.

The second achievement of High and Dry is its excellent distillation of aquifer science. There are clear descriptions of how geology and geography affect the depth or movement of water, the relation of aquifers to stream flow and how these stores recharge. Pollution of aquifers by pesticides, fertilizers, pharmaceuticals and arsenic is thoroughly laid out, as is arsenic poisoning, which remains slow and expensive to treat. The Alleys show how artesian wells can push pressurized water into the atmosphere and aquifer depletion can cause subsidence of metres per decade, which plays havoc with railways and sewers.

Finally, the book unpicks the tangles that impede groundwater governance. In the United States, the “secret, occult and concealed” nature of the resource, as an 1861 court ruling had it, rendered regulation impossible. US history accordingly reveals a rich tapestry of legal suits, counter suits, interstate conflicts, water theft, treaties, compacts, agreements, accords, lobbying, bullying and temporizing. 

Yet national water governance is slowly finding ways to measure and manage water use as technology and awareness grow. In the American West there are several, sometimes competing, fundamental water laws. 


I have omitted several more interesting points in the review but while Catley-Carlson closes with a few criticisms of the book, including that it's 'U.S.-centric,' from all the above it's obviously worth the read for those trying to get a handle on the threat to aquifers around the world. 

See also my recent posts on polluted surface water and groundwater:

"Not a single Indian city can provide potable tap water"
India's groundwater crisis is even worse than its surface water crisis

"80 percent of India's surface water may be polluted ..."

70-90 percent of China's water table is polluted, polluting its food supply

And from National Geographic, As Groundwater Dwindles, a Global Food Shock Looms; December 22, 2016


Tuesday, March 21

"Not a single Indian city can provide potable tap water". India's groundwater crisis is even worse than its surface water crisis

For details on the country's surface water crisis, see "80% of India’s surface water may be polluted ..."; Times of India, June 2015. Now to the groundwater crisis. I was going to highlight certain paragraphs in the following report but so many of them are critically important points that virtually the entire article would've been in boldface.  

India’s groundwater crisis is invisible — and getting worse
4:00 AM - March 22, 2017

India’s water mismanagement is enough to make one drown in despair. Today, all rivers and lakes within and near population centres are grossly polluted with organic and hazardous [chemical] pollutants. Not a single Indian city can provide potable tap water.

Interstate water disputes over river water allocations are becoming intense and widespread. And there are no signs that the situation will improve in the near future.

The reasons are many. They include decades of incompetence and indifference at central, state and municipal levels, a population expected to grow to 1.7 billion by 2050, and a mushrooming middle class eating a more protein-rich diet requiring significantly more water to produce. Laws and regulations are rarely enforced and there appears to be little appetite for better technologies.

The last truly competent water minister was K L Rao, an engineering professor who built irrigation infrastructure to improve agriculture when he was in office more than half a century ago.

If surface water conditions in the country are bad, the groundwater situation is even worse. Groundwater extraction — in other words, digging wells into aquifers (bodies of permeable rock that can contain or transmit groundwater) to collect water mainly for irrigation — has become increasingly unsustainable in the past five decades.

In many parts of India, groundwater levels are declining, some by more than 1m a year. A lack of proper wastewater treatment from domestic, industrial and mining sources have meant that groundwater is being progressively contaminated, increasing the potential health risks to humans and ecosystems. Intensive groundwater extractions will continue at least over the medium term.

The current situation has already contributed to serious economic, social, political and environmental problems. There is a rising number of river conflicts. Recurrent droughts have led to more violence, political turmoil and water rivalries between the states, the latest of which has been on the river Cauvery, between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Both states fall under the “semi-critical” groundwater extraction category.

The Ravi-Beas dispute between Punjab and Haryana is another example, with both states in the “overexploited” category. Also, declining groundwater levels in the Indus Basin will most likely fan rising tensions between India and Pakistan over water.

In order to develop policies for sustainable groundwater use, it is essential to have reliable and systematically collected data on groundwater availability, quality and use.

Sadly, Indian politicians and bureaucrats turn a blind eye to it when they can do much more to manage this important resource.

Take the monitoring of groundwater, for instance. Despite having four separate central bodies regulating groundwater, there is no single groundwater database for the entire country.

In 2016, the Standing Committee on Water Resources of the Indian Parliament finally recommended the creation of a national groundwater database that could be updated every two years. However, when this will actually happen is anybody’s guess.

Data on groundwater availability, use and quality are patchy and unreliable.

It is estimated that India uses 230–250 cubic kilometres of groundwater each year, or about one-quarter of the global groundwater use — more than the United States and China combined. More than 60 per cent of irrigated agriculture and 85 per cent of domestic water use now depend on groundwater.

This expansion in groundwater use has been mostly due to a government policy of providing free electricity to farmers, irrespective of their income levels and needs. The policy has its roots in earlier conditions set in the 1970s by foreign donors in return for loans for several agricultural development projects.

This increased food production in the short term. But it led to serious groundwater depletion and heavy losses for various State Electricity Boards in the longer term.

In 2009, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) reported that the Indus Basin is the second-most-overstressed aquifer in the world. This basin includes the states of Punjab and Haryana, which constitute India’s granaries. Nasa also noted the rate of depletion of groundwater levels in North India is about 1m every three years, 20 per cent higher than an earlier assessment by the Indian Water Ministry.

In coastal aquifers, declining levels are adding to seawater intrusion. In several states, serious health risks have arisen due to various types of geogenic contamination, including by fluoride and arsenic.

Unless urgent steps are taken to manage groundwater scientifically, India’s food, water, energy, environment and health sectors are under threat.

Nearly half of India’s employment is now in the agricultural sector.

If the current trends continue, by 2030, nearly 60 per cent of Indian aquifers will be in critical condition. Some 25 per cent of agriculture production will be at risk, along with farm jobs.

In Singapore, there have been recent efforts to determine if there are reasonable quantities of groundwater that could be sustainably used. Even under the most optimistic scenario, it is highly unlikely that enough groundwater may be available to make an appreciable difference to Singapore’s quest for water security.

For Malaysia, the situation is very different. It has undoubtedly huge groundwater potential. At present, only Kelantan uses 70 per cent groundwater in its water supply. For the country as a whole, less than 5 per cent of supply comes from this resource.

However, this is changing. Johor, for example, under its Bluewater Plan, is now mapping groundwater availability. It also proposes developing a plan for conjunctive use of surface and groundwater. As urbanisation intensifies and industrialisation accelerates, Malaysia will be using more groundwater. It is thus imperative that the country learns from India and does not repeat the same errors.

The root of the English word “rival” is from the Latin word rivalis, which means one using the same river as another. Unless India improves its groundwater management, states will be rivals for water. This does not bode well for the most populous country in the world in the post-2025 period.


Asit K. Biswas is distinguished visiting professor at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP), National University of Singapore, Singapore.

Cecilia Tortajada is senior research fellow at LKYSPP’s Institute of Water Policy, and Udisha Saklani is an independent policy researcher working in association with the institute.


"80 percent of India's surface water may be polluted ..."

"Today, these septic tanks and pit latrines have become a major contributor to groundwater and surface water pollution in many cities in the country."

By Sushmi Dey
June 28, 2015 - 04.35 AM IST
TNN via Times of India

NEW DELHI: Even as India is making headlines with its rising air pollution levels, the water in the country may not be any better. An alarming 80% of India's surface water is polluted, a latest assessment by WaterAid, an international organization working for water sanitation and hygiene, shows.

The report, based on latest data from the ministry of urban development (2013), census 2011 and Central Pollution Control Board, estimates that 75-80% of water pollution by volume is from domestic sewerage, while untreated sewerage flowing into water bodies including rivers have almost doubled in recent years.

This in turn is leading to increasing burden of vector borne diseases, cholera, dysentery, jaundice and diarrhea etc. Water pollution is found to be a major cause for poor nutritional standards and development in children also.

Between 1991 and 2008, the latest period for which data is available, flow of untreated sewerage has doubled from around 12,000 million litres per day to 24,000 million litres per day in Class I and II towns.

The database defines Class I towns as those with a population of more than 1 lakh, whereas towns with population ranging between 50,000 to 1 lakh are classified as Class II.

The report, titled 'Urban WASH: An Assessment on Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) Policies and Programmes at the National and State Level', is likely to be released next week.

According to the report, inadequate sanitation facilities, poor septage management and a near absence of sanitation and waste water policy framework are primary reasons responsible for the groundwater and surface water pollution in the country.
Experts say there are glaring gaps not just in treatment of sewerage water but also in case of water treatment itself, used in supply of drinking water as well as for kitchen use etc.

"Though there are standards, the enforcement is very low. Even the amount of water, which is treated, is also not treated completely or as per standards. And there is no civic agency accountable or punishable for that because we do not have stringent laws," says Puneet Srivastava, manager policy- Urban WASH & Climate Change at WaterAid India.

Findings of the report show nearly 17 million urban households, accounting for over 20% of total 79 million urban households, lack adequate sanitation.

"Among those with access to improved sanitation facilities, a vast majority relies on on-site sanitation systems, such as septic tanks and pit latrines. Today, these septic tanks and pit latrines have become a major contributor to groundwater and surface water pollution in many cities in the country," the report said.

However, the report acknowledges that India has of late started focusing on the problem of septage management, which is one of the most immediately implementable solutions to address urban waste water.

But there is an urgent need to focus on infrastructure as well as enforcement, says Srivastava.

"Most of the sewerage treatment plants are performing under their capacity as these utilities do not have enough money to run full capacity," says Srivastava pointing at dearth of human resource, improper management etc.
Estimates show there were 269 sewage treatment plants across the country, with 211 in Class I cities, 31 in Class II towns, and 27 in other smaller towns.

"At the policy level, sanitation was not prioritized until the early 1990s and became an important policy concern only around 2008. It was not until the inception of the National Urban Sanitation Policy (NUSP) in 2008, that urban sanitation was allotted focused attention at the national level," the report said.


70-90 percent of China's water table is polluted, polluting its food supply

"Seventy to ninety percent of China's water table is polluted.  Polluted water table, polluted food."

The quote is from Gregory Copley's March 20 discussion on the John Batchelor radio show about President Xi Jinping's planned visit with President Donald Trump, to occur perhaps as early as April.

Gregory's overview of China's food security crisis is from the 7:11 to 10:09 minute mark on the podcast for the segment.  

As to what Xi is doing about the crisis, as much as possible, which isn't saying much. Cleaning up a water table for a single small region is a very lengthy and expensive process; doing the same for a nation is an almost unthinkable undertaking. There will have to be leaps in technology to pull it off; China will need to become a large importer of food in the meantime.

For a graphic introduction to China's water pollution crisis, which hasn't gotten nearly as much attention in the international press as the air pollution, see: China admits pollution brought about 'cancer villages';  RT, February 2013.

See also As Groundwater Dwindles, a Global Food Shock Looms; National Geographic, December 22, 2016


"Natural Gas Prices Could Plunge Below $2"

By Nick Cunningham
March 14, 2017 - 5:57 PM CDT
Oil Price

" ... the side-effect of the shale comeback is an uptick in gas production."

So far this year, natural gas has performed the worst among major commodities, posting painful losses in January and February. It has rebounded somewhat in the last few weeks, but hovering around $3 per MMBtu, gas prices are still sharply lower compared to the fourth quarter.

Changes in seasonal temperatures are a pivotal factor for natural gas markets, and warmer winters mean weaker demand. Natural gas consumption spikes during winter months as millions of people crank up the heat, while consumption patterns descend into valleys in the spring and fall, with a smaller peak in the summer. A bout of warm weather during winter can upend gas demand forecasts.

And that is exactly what happened this year. According to NOAA, the U.S. just posted its second warmest February on record, dating back to when data collection began in the 19th century. Average temperatures were 7.3 degrees higher than average.

Heading into winter, natural gas analysts expected colder temperatures to help draw down on record high inventory levels. But it wasn’t to be. After mild temperatures swept across the continent for long stretches of February, natural gas spot prices crashed below $2.50/MMBtu by the end of the month, down more than a third compared to December highs.

The kicker was a shocking injection in natural gas storage levels in the last week of February – the first February increase in storage levels ever recorded. The surprise uptick in inventory levels threw demand projections off track, and it suggests that natural gas markets are heading back into a period of oversupply. Gas bulls might have hoped that prices would stay above $3/MMBtu and head towards $4/MMBtu, which would help gas drillers across the country, but that looks unlikely for the near- to medium-term. The unexpectedly weak drawdown season puts inventories back above long-run averages (see blue line in chart).


Prices have firmed up more recently as a result of a cold snap, pushing prices back to $3/MMBtu. But with winter coming to an end in the next few weeks, demand will plummet. As March comes to a close, “injection season” begins, pushing inventories back up for the rest of the year.

But there are some signs that things could actually get much worse for gas markets. According to the EIA’s new Drilling Productivity Report, gas production could jump by more than 1 percent in April, with output gains coming from the Permian Basin (+154 million cubic feet/day), the Marcellus Shale (+167 mcf/d), the Haynesville Shale (+108 mcf/d) and even the Eagle Ford (+43 mcf/d). Many of these shale basins saw production decline over the past year, so a rebound is notable – and very bearish for gas prices. The combined increase of 562 mcf/d will push gas production from the top shale basins to an all-time high.

In fact, while there is a lot of media attention surrounding the resurgence in U.S. shale oil, with a sharp rise in rig counts and a rapid rebound in production, the side-effect of the shale comeback is an uptick in gas production. Natural gas is typically produced in conjunction with oil – when oil comes out of a well, gas comes along with it. Thus, the production of “associated gas” is set to rise substantially because of the new interest in oil drilling, not necessarily because of an enormous appetite for gas drilling. So even if prices remain low, gas production should continue to ramp up.

In one startling prediction, Tudor Pickering Holt & Co. believes that natural gas production in the Permian region will rise by 25 percent, a rather staggering growth rate, but considering the drilling frenzy underway there for oil, maybe that shouldn’t come as a surprise. But the spike in gas production could send prices below $2/MMBtu, Tudor Pickering analysts say. Permian gas could come on top of an expected rise in output from the Utica and Marcellus shales in Pennsylvania and Ohio, where more pipeline capacity should open up new flows of gas to mid-Atlantic and Northeast consumers.

“It’s a real risk that a year from now that prices could be below $2,” Brandon Blossman, a managing director at Tudor Pickering Holt, said in a Bloomberg interview. “You have this unfortunate confluence of Permian production ramping right into the teeth of a lot of new takeaway capacity in the Northeast.”

It was only a few months ago that predictions of $3 to $4 gas seemed like the consensus estimate, but it is not out of the realm of possibility that gas trades 50 percent lower than that in the coming year.



"Oil Prices Fall As Markets Lose Faith In OPEC Output Cut Extension"

By Matt Smith
March 21, 2017 - 12:41 PM CDT
Oil Price

Crude prices are coming under selling pressure once again, as oversupply concerns dwarf OPEC production cut expectations. As equity markets join oil prices in charging lower, hark, here are six things to consider in oil markets today.

1) In in the aftermath of the OPEC production cut, Middle East producers have chosen to keep Asian customers well supplied, by swinging their exports east of the Suez. This is illustrated in our ClipperData below, which shows January loadings bound for Asia from Saudi Arabia and Iraq were nearly 800,000 bpd higher than October's reference level, while flows heading west of Suez to North America were up just 50,000 bpd.

This has flipped in March, however, with loadings bound for North America rising nearly 800,000 bpd versus October's benchmark, while loadings bound for Asia are down nearly 300,000 bpd. We have said before that China is such a big market participant that it 'makes the weather' - dictating global flows - and it appears to be doing so again.

China's demand for Saudi and Iraqi crude was primarily the driver behind the spike in crude loadings to Asia in January; its waning appetite in March has given way to Middle East loadings swinging west once more.



"Wall Street sinks on fears of delays to Trump tax cuts"

By Noel Randewich
6:12 PM EST

"Expectations of those tax cuts are a major reason for the 10-percent surge in the S&P 500 since Trump's election."

Wall Street fell sharply on Tuesday as investors worried that President Donald Trump will struggle to deliver promised tax cuts that propelled the market to record highs in recent months, with nervousness deepening ahead of a key healthcare vote.

The S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average lost over 1 percent in their worst one-day performances since before Trump's election victory in November.

The S&P financial index .SPSY sank 2.87 percent, its biggest daily fall since June. That added to losses in the sector since the Federal Reserve last week raised interest rates by 25 basis points and signaled it would remain on a gradual pace of hikes, a less aggressive stance than some investors expected.


Republican party leaders aim to move controversial healthcare legislation to the House floor for debate as early as Thursday. But they can only afford to lose about 20 votes from Republican ranks, or risk the bill failing, since minority Democrats are united against it.

With valuations stretched, investors see the Trump administration's struggles to push through the healthcare overhaul as a sign he may also face setbacks delivering promised corporate tax cuts. Expectations of those tax cuts are a major reason for the 10-percent surge in the S&P 500 since Trump's election.

The market is starting to get a little fed up with the lack of progress in healthcare because everything else is being put on the back burner," said RJ Grant, head of trading at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods in New York.


(Additional reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak and Sinead Carew in New York ...)



"My Mood"

My Mood at YouTube.

I haven't watched NBC4 News (WRC TV) in Washington, DC in years (I pretty much stopped watching TV in 2013). And I never knew the name of the tune they played as the sign-off theme for their Friday 6 PM newscast. But over the decades many Washingtonians had, I think, come to associate the theme with the city itself -- the best of the city, which has a life apart from politics. 

This morning I woke up thinking about the music and decided to see if I could learn its title. It's called "My Mood;" it's played by MSFB, which was comprised of about 30 studio musicians in the 1970s who helped make the legendary "Philadelphia soul sound," lush string section and all.   

Jim Vance, himself a Washington legend, an anchor on WRC News for close to half a century now, is a "Philly guy" as one YouTube commenter noted. So he might have brought the tune to the Washington newscast. Anyway it's been the show's theme song since 1980. That's a nice run for a city that has seen so many changes since that time. 

May the positive, laid-back mood created by "My Mood" return to Washington, DC, my adopted home for almost as long as the song has graced WRC Friday newscasts.  


Monday, March 20

The Trump-Russia Collusion Rumor and the Orléans Rumor

"Many Democrats have reached the classic stage of deranged conspiracists where evidence that disproves the theory is viewed as further proof of its existence, and those pointing to it are instantly deemed suspect."
-- From Key Democratic Party Officials Now Warning Their Base Not to Expect Evidence of Trump/Russia Collusion; The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald, March 16, 2017

If the quote from the Intercept article sounds familiar to longtime Pundita readers, it harks to the reaction of the residents of Orléans, France when the police categorically stated they'd received no reports of anyone in the city being kidnapped. Voila! This explained how the criminals were getting away with so many kidnappings: obviously the police were colluding with them.

But the Americans who believe the baseless conspiracy theory of Donald Trump colluding with the Russian government to undermine American democracy and the presidential aspirations of Hillary Clinton are no more deranged than the French who believed a baseless rumor about kidnappings in the city of Orléans in the 1960s.

As I took some trouble to explain in 2005, what came to be called the 
Orléans Rumor was fueled by reasonably sane people who were determined to impose a sense of order on mysterious, ominous events during a period of fear about the future of France.

Put another way, if the residents of Orléans couldn't predict the outcome of a crucial national election nor halt the threat of a Soviet invasion of Western Europe, at least they could try to solve the mystery of a spate of kidnappings in their city.

So these armchair detectives set to work with the zeal of Inspector Lestrade to explain how several young women could be kidnapped in broad daylight from women's clothing and shoe stores and spirited out of 
Orléans, to be sold into slavery in Shanghai.

City residents who tried using sarcasm to deflate the rumor quickly learned that this approach just made more fodder. For example, when the amateur sleuths couldn't figure how the kidnappers kept evading border guards, the President of the 
Orléans Jewish Committee sarcastically commented that obviously the kidnappers smuggled their victims out of France in a submarine. Voila! That explained how it was done! 

History as much repeated itself when Donald Trump sarcastically suggested that the Russians attempt to locate Hillary Clinton's missing 33,000 emails. Ah ha! Another clue that Trump was in cahoots with Russia's spy agencies!

Yet while the 
Orléans Rumor is preposterously funny in its telling there was nothing funny about where it was headed. The apparel stores where the purported kidnappings took place were owned by Jews; this fact converged with resentment about the prosperity of the city's Jews (who were actually keeping Orléans afloat financially) and uncertainties about the future. An explosive situation was building that could have resulted in tragedy if it had gone on much longer. 

Cooler heads prevailed after the French election; the schoolgirls who started the rumor confessed to their prank, and the rumormongers began publicly acknowledging that they knew of no evidence to suggest there had been kidnappings.

In addition city officials and community leaders had no reason to support the rumor; this meant that when things calmed down a little they were able to help in stamping it out.

This is not the case for the Trump-Russian Collusion Rumor because it was started by political operatives in either the Republican or Democratic camp (or both) to further agendas, and carried forward by major media and establishment figures in Washington who supported the agendas.

There is another significant difference between the two rumors, which is that the 
Orléans Rumor had a limited shelf life due to the approaching national election and secondly due to the complete absence of any evidence pointing to kidnappings. The Trump-Russian Collusion Rumor is happening in an open-ended time frame, and there is evidence of at least some contact between the Russian government and various Americans associated with Donald Trump and his presidential run. These factors aid in the rumor's continuance.

The upshot forms the basis of Glenn Greenwald's editorial, which passes along warnings that the Democratic National Party is now on a 
runaway train:
But given the way these Russia conspiracies have drowned out other critical issues being virtually ignored under the Trump presidency, it’s vital that everything be done now to make clear what is based in evidence and what is based in partisan delusions. And most of what the Democratic base has been fed for the last six months by their unhinged stable of media, online, and party leaders has decisively fallen into the latter category, as even their own officials are now desperately trying to warn.
Yet failure to stop the unfounded conspiracy theories threatens to destroy several high-level careers in Washington if not the entire Democratic Party. In that event the fall of the Democrats could easily bring down the Republican Party as well.

In short, the breakup of the American political system, unthinkable a year ago, is now a distinct possibility. Such an outcome would create even greater uncertainty for Americans who already fear the future.

Here I'll recall the circumstances that led me to write about the Orléans Rumor in 2005.  An American blogger had asked me whether I shared his belief that the greatest threat the U.S. faced was from Islamic terrorism. My account of the Orléans Rumor was by way of replying that I believed the greatest threat to the United States was going to come from inside our nation.


Sunday, March 19

The medical care of the future is already here

"Because direct primary care doesn't take insurance, there are no copays and no costs beyond the monthly fee."

Thanks, Madhu, for this great news. 

A new kind of doctor's office charges a monthly fee and doesn't take insurance — and it could be the future of medicine
By Lydia Ramsey
March 19, 2017
Business Insider

Dr. Bryan Hill spent his career working as a pediatrician, teaching at a university, and working at a hospital. But in March 2016, he decided he no longer wanted a boss.

He took some time off, then one day he got a call asking if he'd be up for doing a house call for a woman whose son was sick. He agreed, and by the end of that visit, he realized he wanted to treat patients without dealing with any of the insurance requirements.

Then he learned about a totally different way to run a doctor's office. It's called direct primary care, and it works like this: Instead of accepting insurance for routine visits and drugs, these practices charge a monthly membership fee that covers most of what the average patient needs, including visits and drugs at much lower prices.

That sounded good to him. In September, Hill opened his direct primary-care pediatrics practice, Gold Standard Pediatrics, in South Carolina.

Hill is part of a small but fast-growing movement of pediatricians, family medicine physicians, and internists who are opting for this different model. It's happening at a time when high-deductible health plans are on the rise — a survey in September found that 51% of workers had a plan that required them to pay up to $1,000 out of pocket for healthcare until insurance picks up most of the rest.

That means consumers have a clearer picture of how much they're spending on healthcare and are having to pay more. At the same time, primary-care doctors in the traditional system are feeling the pressure under the typical fee-for-service model in which doctors are incentivized to see more patients for less time to maximize profits.

Direct primary care has the potential to simplify basic doctor visits, allowing a doctor to focus solely on the patient. But there are also concerns about the effect that separating insurance from primary care could have on the rest of the healthcare system — that and doctors often have to accept lower pay in exchange for less stress.

How direct primary care works

This is an idea whose time has come.  

Given what I've heard of physicians who are leaving their practice because of the inhuman stress of complying with insurance requirements, I think many of them will happily take the lower pay.  And once patients learn there are doctors who can actually pay attention to them instead of having to enter data into a computer during the visit, they will flock to the new kind of medical care. 


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