TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: July 25

1. Reinventing Justice: Seventeen states are fixing prisons by using data-driven sentencing practices and focusing on keeping the most dangerous prisoners behind bars. The federal government should follow their lead.

By Nancy La Vigne, testifying before the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations

2. Social media has permanently altered our control over what we say and do. We need a new definition of “public.”

By Anil Dash in The Message, a curated collection on Medium

3. This might be the world’s last chance to rescue Ukraine.

By the editors of the Washington Post

4. Water as a weapon: the next escalation in modern warfare.

By Sarah Goodyear at Next City

5. Work local: Reimagining offices to work more like neighborhoods.

By Max Chopovsky in Harvard Business Review

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Environment

Satellites Show Major Southwest Groundwater Loss

A new report suggests that large swaths of groundwater in the Colorado River Basin have been depleted

(SAN FRANCISCO) — Groundwater losses from the Colorado River basin appear massive enough to challenge long-term water supplies for the seven states and parts of Mexico that it serves, according to a new study released Thursday that used NASA satellites.

Researchers from NASA and the University of California, Irvine say their study is the first to quantify how much groundwater people in the West are using during the region’s current drought.

Stephanie Castle, the study’s lead author and a water resource specialist at the University of California, Irvine, called the extent of the groundwater depletion “shocking.”

“We didn’t realize the magnitude of how much water we actually depleted” in the West, Castle said.

Since 2004, researchers said, the Colorado River basin — the largest in the Southwest — has lost 53 million acre feet, or 17 trillion gallons, of water. That’s enough to supply more than 50 million households for a year, or nearly fill Lake Mead — the nation’s largest water reservoir — twice.

Three-fourths of those losses were groundwater, the study found.

Unlike reservoirs and other above-ground water, groundwater sources can become so depleted that they may never refill, Castle said. For California and other western states, the groundwater depletion is drawing down the reserves that protect consumers, farmers and ecosystems in times of drought.

“What happens if it isn’t there?” Castle said during a phone interview. “That’s the scary part of this analysis.”

The NASA and University of California research used monthly gravity data to measure changes in water mass in the basin from December 2004 to November of last year, and used that data to track groundwater depletion.

“Combined with declining snowpack and population growth, this will likely threaten the long-term ability of the basin to meet its water-allocation commitments to the seven basin states and to Mexico, Jay Famiglietti, senior author on the study and senior water-cycle specialist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement.

The Colorado River basin supplies water to about 40 million people and 4 million acres of farmland in seven states — California, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming — as well as to people and farms in part of Mexico.

California, one of the nation’s largest agricultural producers, is three years into drought. While the state has curtailed use of surface water, the state lacks a statewide system for regulating — or even measuring — groundwater.

TIME California

Water Fetches Record Prices in Drought-Hit California

California Drought Water Auctions
In this May 1, 2014 photo, irrigation water runs along a dried-up ditch between rice farms in Richvale, Calif. In dry California, water is fetching record high prices. As drought has deepened in the last few months, a handful of special districts in the state's agricultural heartland have made millions through auctions of their private, underground caches that go to the highest bidders. Jae C. Hong—AP

(SAN FRANCISCO) — Throughout California’s desperately dry Central Valley, those with water to spare are cashing in.

As a third parched summer forces farmers to fallow fields and lay off workers, two water districts and a pair of landowners in the heart of the state’s farmland are making millions of dollars by auctioning off their private caches.

Nearly 40 others also are seeking to sell their surplus water this year, according to state and federal records.

Economists say it’s been decades since the water market has been this hot. In the last five years alone, the price has grown tenfold to as much as $2,200 an acre-foot — enough to cover a football field with a foot of water.

Unlike the previous drought in 2009, the state has been hands-off, letting the market set the price even though severe shortages prompted a statewide drought emergency declaration this year.

The price spike comes after repeated calls from scientists that global warming will worsen droughts and increase the cost of maintaining California’s strained water supply systems.

Some water economists have called for more regulations to keep aquifers from being depleted and ensure the market is not subject to manipulation such as that seen in the energy crisis of summer 2001, when the state was besieged by rolling blackouts.

“If you have a really scarce natural resource that the state’s economy depends on, it would be nice to have it run efficiently and transparently,” said Richard Howitt, professor emeritus at the University of California, Davis.

Private water sales are becoming more common in states that have been hit by drought, including Texas and Colorado.

In California, the sellers include those who hold claims on water that date back a century, private firms who are extracting groundwater and landowners who stored water when it was plentiful in underground caverns known as water banks.

“This year the market is unbelievable,” said Thomas Greci, the general manager of the Madera Irrigation District, which recently made nearly $7 million from selling about 3,200 acre-feet. “And this is a way to pay our bills.”

All of the district’s water went to farms; the city of Santa Barbara, which has its own water shortages, was outbid.

The prices are so high in some rural pockets that water auctions have become a spectacle.

One agricultural water district amid the almond orchards and derrick fields northwest of Bakersfield recently announced it would sell off extra water it acquired through a more than century-old right to use flows from the Kern River.

Local TV crews and journalists flocked to the district’s office in February to watch as manager Maurice Etchechury unveiled bids enclosed in about 50 sealed envelopes before the cameras.

“Now everyone’s mad at me saying I increased the price of water. I didn’t do it, the weather did it,” said Etchechury, who manages the Buena Vista Water Storage District, which netted about $13.5 million from the auction of 12,000 acre-feet of water.

Competition for water in California is heightened by the state’s geography: The north has the water resources but the biggest water consumers are to the south, including most of the country’s produce crops.

The amount shipped south through a network of pumps, pipes and aqueducts is limited by the drought and legal restrictions on pumping to save a threatened fish.

During the last drought, the state Department of Water Resources ran a drought water bank, which helped broker deals between those who were short of water and those who had plenty. But several environmental groups sued, alleging the state failed to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act in approving the sales, and won.

This year, the state is standing aside, saying buyers and sellers have not asked for the state’s help. “We think that buyers and sellers can negotiate their own deals better than the state,” said Nancy Quan, a supervising engineer with the department.

Quan’s department, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the State Water Resources Control Board have tracked at least 38 separate sales this year, but the agencies are not aware of all sales, nor do they keep track of the price of water sold, officials said.

The maximum volume that could change hands through the 38 transactions is 730,323 acre-feet, which is about 25 percent of what the State Water Project has delivered to farms and cities in an average year in the last decade.

That figure still doesn’t include the many private water sales that do not require any use of government-run pipes or canals, including the three chronicled by the AP. It’s not clear however how much of this water will be sold via auctions.

Some of those in the best position to sell water this year have been able to store their excess supplies in underground banks, a tool widely embraced in the West for making water supplies reliable and marketable. The area surrounding Bakersfield is home to some of the country’s largest water banks.

The drought is so severe that aggressive pumping of the banked supplies may cause some wells to run dry by year’s end, said Eric Averett, general manager the Rosedale Rio Bravo District, located next to several of the state’s largest underground caches.

Farther north in the long, flat Central Valley, others are drilling new wells to sell off groundwater.

A water district board in Stanislaus County approved a pilot project this month to buy up to 26,000 acre-feet of groundwater pumped over two years from 14 wells on two landowners’ parcels in neighboring Merced County.

Since the district is getting no water from the federal government this year, the extra water will let farmers keep their trees alive, said Anthea Hansen, general manager of the arid Del Puerto Water District.

Hansen estimated growers would ultimately pay $775 to $980 an acre-foot — a total of roughly $20 million to $25.5 million.

“We have to try to keep them alive,” Hansen said. “It’s too much loss in the investment and the local economy to not try.”

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Is Your Water Safe to Drink?

Water aids in digestion, helps flush out toxins, hydrates our skin, and it may help with weight loss. But do you really know what’s in the liquid you’re drinking from the tap or bottle? Here’s how to make sure your H20 is safe.

Health.com:15 Big Health Benefits of Water

Check your water quality

If you’re on city water (as most homes and apartments are), water companies are required by law to monitor the supply for contaminants and reduce them to safe levels determined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). You can request a report via your city’s website or contact the supplier via the number on your bill, says Nneka Leiba, MPH, deputy director of research at the Environmental Working Group in Washington, DC. If you have well water, the EPA recommends homeowners test wells annually for harmful solvents. You can find a reliable testing lab at water.epa.gov.

Health.com:20 Foods You Should Always Have in Your Kitchen

Invest in a filter

Even with monitoring, “There can still be trace amounts of impurities present in tap water, including things like lead that leach from household plumbing,” says Cheryl Luptowski, Home Safety Expert for NSF International, a public health certification and research foundation. Even very low levels of lead in drinking water have been linked to cognitive issues, especially in children. A pitcher with a carbon filter (like a Brita) will remove most contaminants. If your report reveals even tiny amounts of arsenic, hexavalent chromium, and perchlorates, however, consider investing in a reverse osmosis carbon filter, which is installed under your sink for a couple thousand dollars.

Health.com:12 Foods That Control Your Appetite

Health.com:14 Surprising Causes of Dehydration

Don’t assume bottled is better

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates bottled water for safety, it’s not any more pure than what’s coming out of your tap, notes the National Safety Foundation. Like city water, it simply can’t contain any contaminant at a level that exceeds maximum allowable concentrations. Drinking filtered is just as good—and eco-friendly, too.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Environment

There’s a Huge Underground Ocean That Could Explain the Origin of Seas

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Getty Images

Geologists have found a vast body of water deep below earth's surface and say it is evidence that oceans came from water inside the planet that seeped to the surface

Geologists have long mused about the origin of earth’s seas. Did water, for example, arrive from somewhere else — like on icy comets that struck the planet? Or did water come from somewhere within?

The recent discovery of a subterranean sea, deep inside earth, has scientists excited about the latter possibility.

Like something out of early 19th century playwright Jules Verne’s novel, Journey to the Center of the Earth — in which characters stumble across a massive underground basin — a team of geologists led by Steven Jacobsen from Northwestern University have found a vast body of water, three times the size of any ocean, located near earth’s core. It’s possible that water from this enormous reservoir oozed to the surface.

“It’s good evidence earth’s water came from within,” Jacobsen told NewScientist.

Jacobsen and his team used seismometers in their find, studying the speed of seismic waves to determine what lies beneath the surface. The waves slowed down upon reaching a layer of blue rock called ringwoodite, indicating that they were passing through water as well as rock. The depth of the phenomenon — 700 km below the mantle, which is the layer of hot rock underneath the surface — is also the perfect temperature and pressure for water to ooze out of the ringwoodite “almost as if it’s sweating,” Jacobsen says.

The discovery has only revealed ringwoodite beneath the continental U.S. however, so further experiments will need to be conducted to determine where else on the planet it can be found.

[NewScientist]

TIME Environment

Supreme Court Rules Against Homeowners in Toxic Water Case

Court says too much time has passed in North Carolina case for legal action against electronics company CTS Corp

The Supreme Court ruled against homeowners from North Carolina attempting to a sue an electronics company that contaminated their drinking water decades ago.

The court ruled that the state’s statute of repose, which states that a plaintiff loses the right to seek property damages 10 years after contamination occurred, should stand. The ruling is a setback for property owners in similar positions.

The case on Monday involved property owners living where CTS Corp. made electronics in 1987. The residents did not realize their water was contaminated with chemicals until 2009, the Associated Press reports. The chemicals in the water can cause health problems ranging from birth defects to cancers.

Homeowners argued that under federal environment laws, their case was still valid despite the statute of repose. The Supreme Court did not agree.

The ruling is a blow for U.S. Marines families involved in a separate case in Camp Lejeune, N.C. It’s estimated that up to 1 million people may have been exposed to contaminated groundwater over several decades in Camp Lejeune. The Associated Press says the U.S. government is relying on the same law to avoid liability for the contamination.

[AP]

 

TIME Economy

These 7 States Are Running Out of Water

California Drought
Cracks in the dry bed of the Stevens Creek Reservoir in Cupertino, Calif., on March 13, 2014. Marcio Jose Sanchez—AP

247-LogoVersions-114x57
This post is in partnership with 24/7Wall Street. The article below was originally published on 247wallst.com.

The United States is currently engulfed in one of the worst droughts in recent memory. More than 30% of the country experienced at least moderate drought as of last week’s data.

In seven states drought conditions were so severe that each had more than half of its land area in severe drought. Severe drought is characterized by crop loss, frequent water shortages, and mandatory water use restrictions. Based on data from the U.S. Drought Monitor, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the states with the highest levels of severe drought.

In an interview, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) meteorologist Brad Rippey, told 24/7 Wall St. that drought has been a long-running issue in parts of the country. “This drought has dragged on for three and a half years in some areas, particularly [in] North Texas,” Rippey said.

While large portions of the seven states suffer from severe drought, in some parts of these states drought conditions are even worse. In six of the seven states with the highest levels of drought, more than 30% of each state was in extreme drought as of last week, a more severe level of drought characterized by major crop and pasture losses, as well as widespread water shortages. Additionally, in California and Oklahoma, 25% and 30% of the states, respectively, suffered from exceptional drought, the highest severity classification. Under exceptional drought, crop and pasture loss is widespread, and shortages of well and reservoir water can lead to water emergencies.

MORE: 10 Companies Paying Americans the Least

Drought has had a major impact on important crops such as winter wheat. “So much of the winter wheat is grown across the southern half of the Great Plains,” Rippey said, an area that includes Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas, three of the hardest-hit states. Texas alone had nearly a quarter of a million farms in 2012, the most out of any state, while neighboring Oklahoma had more than 80,000 farms, trailing only three other states.

In the Southwest, concerns are less-focused on agriculture and more on reservoir levels, explained Rippey. In Arizona, reservoir levels were just two-thirds of their usual average. Worse still, in New Mexico, reservoir stores were only slightly more than half of their normal levels. “And Nevada is the worst of all. We see storage there at about a third of what you would expect,” Rippey said.

The situation in California may well be the most problematic of any state. The entire state was suffering from severe drought as of last week, and 75% of all land area was under extreme drought. “Reservoirs which are generally fed by the Sierra Nevadas and the southern Cascades [are] where we see the real problems,” Rippey said. Restrictions on agricultural water use has forced many California farmers to leave fields fallow, he added. “At [the current] usage rate, California has less than two years of water remaining.”

The U.S. Drought Monitor is produced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the seven states with the highest proportions of total area classified in at least a state of severe drought as of May 13, 2014. We also reviewed figures recently published by the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service as part of its 2012 Census of Agriculture.

MORE: The Most Polluted Cities in America

These are the seven states running out of water.

1. California
> Pct. severe drought: 100.0%
> Pct. extreme drought: 76.7% (the highest)
> Pct. exceptional drought: 24.8% (2nd highest)

California had the nation’s worst drought problem with more than 76% of the state experiencing extreme drought as of last week. Drought in California has worsened considerably in recent years. Severe drought conditions covered the entire state, as of last week. Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency earlier this year as the drought worsened. California had 465,422 hired farm workers in 2012, more than any other state. Farm workers would likely suffer further if conditions persist. The shortage of potable water has been so severe that California is now investing in long-term solutions, such as desalination plants. A facility that is expected to be the largest in the Western hemisphere is currently under construction in Southern California, and another desalination facility is under consideration in Orange County.

2. Nevada
> Pct. severe drought: 87.0%
> Pct. extreme drought: 38.7% (5th highest)
> Pct. exceptional drought: 8.2% (4th highest)

Nearly 40% of Nevada was covered in extreme drought last week, among the highest rates in the country. The drought in the state has worsened since the week of April 15, when 33.5% of the state was covered in extreme drought. According to the Las Vegas Valley Water District (LVVWD), the main cause of the drought this year has been below average snowfall in the Rocky Mountains. Melting snow from the Rocky Mountains eventually flows into Lake Mead, which provides most of the Las Vegas Valley with water. John Entsminger, head of both the LVVWD and the Southern Nevada Water Authority, said that the effects of the drought on the state has been “every bit as serious as a Hurricane Katrina or a Superstorm Sandy.”

3. New Mexico
> Pct. severe drought: 86.2%
> Pct. extreme drought: 33.3% (6th highest)
> Pct. exceptional drought: 4.5% (5th highest)

More than 86% of New Mexico was covered in severe drought as of last week, more than any state except for Nevada and California. Additionally, one-third of the state was in extreme drought, worse than just a month earlier, when only one-quarter of the state was covered in extreme drought. However, conditions were better than they were one year ago, when virtually the entire state was in at least severe drought, with more than 80% in extreme drought conditions. NOAA forecasts conditions may improve in much of the state this summer.

Visit 24/7 Wall St. to see the remaining states on the list.

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TIME cities

Portland’s E. Coli Scare Has Residents Boiling Tap Water

All tap water used for drinking, tooth brushing, cooking or ice should be boiled for at least one minute

Portland has issued a notice advising residents to boil tap water after samples taken from the city’s water system tested positive for the bacteria E. coli.

Residents are advised to boil for at least one minute any water used to drink, make ice or cook.

“While we believe at this time that the potential health risk is relatively small, we take any contamination seriously and are taking every precaution to protect public health,” Water Bureau Administrator David Shaff said in a statement.

“The chance of any health problems related to this water test result is low. If any problems occur, we would expect diarrhea,” said Dr. Paul Lewis, a county health officer.

Contamination in the water system can occur due to a loss of water pressure, a broken pipe or any conditions that expose drinking water to the elements, according to a statement from the city.

Residents will be informed when it’s ok to use water without boiling it first.

TIME weather

Entire State of California Facing Worst Drought Since Tracking Began

California Drought
Cracks in the dry bed of the Stevens Creek Reservoir in Cupertino, Calif., on March 13, 2014. Marcio Jose Sanchez—AP

The entire state of California is suffering the most intense drought since the federal government began monitoring drought levels in 2000. Wildfires in the south have burned down at least 30 homes, in an “unprecedented” intensity, climatologist Mark Svoboda said

The entire state of California is facing a “severe” drought or worse for the first time since tracking began in 2000, according to the federal U.S. Drought Monitor.

The level of drought in the state, where wildfires in the south have burned down at least 30 homes, is “unprecedented” over the past decade and a half, climatologist Mark Svoboda, from the National Drought Mitigation Center, which runs the monitor based out of Nebraska, told USA Today.

Nearly a quarter of the state is facing an “exceptional” drought, the worst possible categorization, including the entire Bay Area. Another half of the state, including Los Angeles and San Diego, is in the midst of an “extreme” drought, while the remainder of the state is in the midst of a “severe” drought, the third most dire category.

[USA Today]

TIME space

Say Hello to the ‘Club Sandwich’ Moon

Layer cake oceans may exist on Jupiter's moon Ganymede
Layer cake oceans may exist on Jupiter's moon Ganymede NASA/JPL-Caltech

Oceans Eleven? Jupiter's moon Ganymede may be home to multiple oceans, stacked in ways astronomers never knew. That, in theory, could mean extraterrestrial life, according to a report in the journal Planetary and Space Science

A century ago, the search for life in the Solar System was concentrated almost entirely on Mars, a place with polar caps, weather of some sort and, crucially, a location close enough to the Sun that liquid water might plausibly exist on its surface—an essential ingredient for biological activity. Mars is still in the picture—although more in terms of ancient than current life at the moment.

The newest excitement about alien life is instead focused in a place biology oughtn’t be—at least by the old thinking: in the frigid outer solar system. At those distant removes, where you’d think water would be rock solid, at least three moons—Jupiter’s Europa and Saturn’s Enceladus and Titan—are now known to harbor vast oceans of water miles beneath their surface, kept liquid by gravitational flexing that generates heat in the same way a wire hanger bent rapidly beck and forth will become too hot to touch.

Now comes a report in the journal Planetary and Space Science that adds Jupiter’s moon Ganymede to the list of worlds where life could be—and in this case, the ocean in question could be one of several, stacked one on top of the other and separated by layers of ice in forms that don’t exist on Earth. “We’ve had evidence for a long time that Ganymede has a subsurface ocean,” says lead author Steve Vance, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. When he and his colleagues looked at it carefully in a new modeling study, however, “things began to get weird.”

The weirdness comes from two factors. The first is that ice exists in no fewer than 15 different forms based on different crystalline structures. Most of them can exist only under a combination of high pressure and low temperature that doesn’t occur on Earth. It does in the oceans of Ganymede—the Solar System’s largest moon, which is bigger than the planet Mercury. And while regular old ice (“Ice I,” as chemists label it) floats on water, other forms sink. Scientists have believed for some time, in fact, that Ganymede’s surface is Ice I, while a denser, heavier form, Ice VI, coats the bottom of the sea, with water sandwiched in between.

A configuration like that would be bad news for biology, since scientists believe the interaction between water and rock may have provided the electrochemical energy that powered the earliest forms of life. “It’s like a sort of biochemical battery,” says JPL astrobiologist Kevin Hand, who wasn’t involved in this research. If solid ice kept water from reaching the rock, that battery couldn’t operate.

But earlier studies failed to factor in the likelihood that Ganymede’s ocean is very salty, a finding suggested by the moon’s magnetic field (salty water is a very good electrical conductor, turning the spinning moon into an electric dynamo). Salty water is also much denser than fresh, so when the moon’s internal heat melts the bottom layer of ice from below, that water doesn’t try to rise through cracks in the ice; it simply stays there. The biochemical battery can keep operating and—in theory, anyway—life might be able to eke out an existence.

The really weird part is that the interplay between salty water and ices with different crystal structures and different densities could continue upward, creating what Vance calls, in a reference that will be lost on anyone under 50, a “Dagwood sandwich” structure in Ganymede’s ocean, with alternating layers of water and ice.

Vance is quick to point out that these are modeling results, not actual observations. “These thing could occur,” he says. “We’re just laying the groundwork for what’s possible.” It will take a new mission to Jupiter to find out much more than that. The European Space Agency has one on the schedule for arrival in 2030, and NASA recently issued a call for proposals for a low-cost mission to study the subsurface ocean on Europa.

It will be a while, therefore, before we know much more about the prospects for life on these icy moons. But what we know already is making it clear that if life is as resourceful and adaptable as we think it is, it may be found in a lot more places in our own cosmic neighborhood than we ever realized.

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