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Snippets

Are suburban corporate campuses falling out of fashion? NRDC staff blog predicts an increase in smart growth.  Lonely Planet surveyed travelers to find a list of the top 20 walking cities.  Grist readers nominated 10 additional cities that didn’t make the original Lonely Planet list. A study commissioned by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations finds that roughly one third of the food produced for human consumption every year gets lost or wasted.

Tracking Water Resources in Real Time

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Image credit: SEBAL North America

According to a recent press release, scientists at SEBAL North America, located in Davis, California, are tracking real-time consumption of water by crops, cities, and natural ecosystems using satellites.

This new technology, applicable to water management needs globally, reduces substantial uncertainties in traditional approaches, greatly increasing confidence in water management decisions. Grant Davids, the company’s president, notes the broad range of applications of SEBAL for water managers. “Water consumption is usually the most important yet often most poorly quantified water management parameter. More accurate and spatially discrete estimates of consumptive use lead to improved water management over a wide range of conditions, from local to basin scales and from historical analysis for planning to real-time operations decision support.”

The company will be providing weekly maps showing water use for the Central Valley. The company also makes image overlays that can be opened in Google Earth to allow users to look more closely at water use in specific areas. Maps and data can be found on the SEBAL website.

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The Next Million Acre Feet of Water

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Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Pacific Institute has released a report on how to find the next million acre feet of water in California.  As with energy in California, which now has the “loading order”, the conclusion is that conservation and efficiency efforts can achieve water savings for less cost than building new or expanding existing supplies.

An overview of some of the water-efficient practices discussed in the report:

Water savings are available through a wide variety of water-efficient practices in the urban and agricultural sectors. In the urban sector this includes replacing old, inefficient devices with high-efficiency models, as well as lawn conversion, residential metering, and rate structures that better communicate the value of water. In the agricultural sector, best water management practices include weather-based irrigation scheduling, regulated deficit irrigation, and switching from gravity or flood irrigation to sprinkler or drip irrigation systems. Here, we focus on well documented, cost-effective approaches that are already being used in California. We emphasize efficiency improvements rather than behavioral changes because the latter are less easily quantified. Nonetheless, experience in Australia, Colorado, and California in recent years shows that changing water use behavior can also provide very fast and inexpensive savings in emergencies, with long-term benefits.

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A  full copy of the report can be found here.

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NRDC Report on Climate Change, Water and Risk

Image: NRDC

The Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) has released a study, conducted on their behalf by Tetra Tech, which examined the effects of climate change on probable future water supply and demand in the United States. One of the main findings of the study is that one-third of the U.S. counties (> 1,100 counties) will likely face water shortages by 2050.

The full report is available as a PDF here.

The Water Supply Sustainbility Index developed by Tetra Tech for the report can be viewed interactively in Google Earth – a link to the data can be found on the NRDC’s website here. You can also turn on and off markers for which counties are top producers of different crops to get a sense of the potential impact of the water shortages. It looks like this (the green dots indicate that the county is one of the top 100 counties for producing vegetables):

The NRDC also released a one-page overview of water shortage risk and crop value in at-risk counties by state (as a PDF here). According to the overview of California’s risk due to climate change:

Percent of CA counties at risk of water shortages: 83%

Total number of CA counties at risk: 48

Total number of CA counties at extreme risk: 19

Total number of CA counties at high risk: 17

Total number of CA counties at moderate risk: 12

The value of all the crops being producing in at-risk CA counties (in $1,000s): $21,585,354

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Virtual Water

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This post is part of our definitions series on “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

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Virtual water (also referred to as embodied water) is the volume of fresh water used to produce a product at the location of production. This concept of virtual water applies to everything we use or buy, such as clothes, electronics, food, and building materials. For example, the average virtual water associated with 1 egg would be 53 gallons.

(For those familiar with energy issues, this is similar to embodied energy.)

The creator of the virtual water concept, Professor John Anthony Allan, was initially researching agricultural water issues in the Middle East and concluded that the region could survive with scarce water because it was importing large amounts of “virtual water” embedded in its food imports.

You can hear a podcast of Professor Allan’s seminar on virtual water here.

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What exactly does “sustainability” mean? How about “green”, “eco” or “environmentally friendly”? The truth is that these terms are just vague enough to mean many different things to many different people. With the staggering array of “green” products, ‘lifestyles’ and concepts being promoted by marketers and environmentalists alike (as well as the necessary coining of new terms to match new ideas) our definition series aims to make sense of the rising tide of “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

Noelle’s Links – 6/3/10

Interesting tidbits from my web travels…

The Green Products Innovation Institute is a non-profit that kicked off in May that provides guidance on the manufacture of safer products. The group offers the new “Cradle to Cradle” certification. Read Triplepundit‘s coverage of the launch.

Visit the Green Product Innovation Institute’s site here.

Read about Jerry Glover, Agroecologist, working towards the establishment of perennial crops that could be the next agricultural revolution, at National Geographic.

In case you haven’t seen one of the many tech blogs buzzing about this one yet, check out the Prepeat Printer as covered byGeek.com. The Prepeat is a rewritable printer from Japan’s Sanwa Newtec that uses special plastic sheets that can be written and erased up to a thousand times each. The machine is prohibitively expensive at $US 5,500 and a set of sheets will set you back thousands more. A laudable achievement, but plastic sheets? Discuss…

Foodshed

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This post is part of our definitions series on “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

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Essentially, a “foodshed” is a way to conceptualize the total system of food production from farm to table. This includes the various intermediate stages of processing, packaging, preparation and travel before a good reaches its final destination. Similar to a watershed (the system of rivers, streams and aquifers that define a regions’ water supply) one can discuss the impacts of factors such as pesticides, delivery systems and resource efficiency within a foodshed. However, unlike a watershed which is more or less constrained by local topography, a modern American foodshed is limited only by consumer choice and the behavior and/or regulation of industry and agriculture.

See the American Farmland Trust’s study on the San Francisco bay area’s foodshed

Related terms

Locavore: A person who strives to eat primarily locally sourced/produced/grown foods.

CSA (Community Supported Agriculture): A food supply model whereby individuals receive produce and goods directly from the farm that produces them. Consumers assume a portion of the farmer’s risk by buying subscriptions for a prescribed period of time. This allows farmers to effectively manage financial resources with less impact from weather fluctuations and other circumstantial losses. In return, subscribers benefit from receiving  a variety local, seasonal produce and sharing in high yields. Finally, because CSA’s tend to grow a wide range of foods for their subscribers, organic methods of soil management, including crop-rotation is often practiced.

See the Ecology Center’s list of bay area CSAs

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What exactly does “sustainability” mean? How about “green”, “eco” or “environmentally friendly”? The truth is that these terms are just vague enough to mean many different things to many different people. With the staggering array of “green” products, ‘lifestyles’ and concepts being promoted by marketers and environmentalists alike (as well as the necessary coining of new terms to match new ideas) our definition series aims to make sense of the rising tide of “eco-lingo” and technical terms.