China’s longstanding and intensifying water shortage threatens US supply chains

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  • Tue, Dec 07, 2021 - 06:41am



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    China’s longstanding and intensifying water shortage threatens US supply chains

To manufacture one smartphone, 3000 gallons of water are consumed in China. But China has a long-standing water shortage problem. Per capita, China has just 1/4 the global average supply. The Hill reports that so much groundwater has been pumped to offset the shortage that part of Beijing is sinking into the ground at the rate of 14 centimeters (5.5 inches) per year.

As if that’s not bad enough, China’s water shortage problem threatens the country’s energy production:

China’s water shortages are showing up most acutely in electrical power generation, where the nation’s hydroelectric and coal power producers are struggling with irregular water access. Authorities have responded to the widespread power outages by clamping down on industrial energy consumption, resulting in major disruptions to China’s manufacturers.

The uneven water availability for electricity generation has prompted China to close some industrial manufacturing plants, and put others on rolling blackouts.

And that’s where America’s supply chain comes in. The U.S. imports massive quantities of manufactured goods from China, including 70 percent of Walmart’s store merchandise, and 40 percent of the clothing sold domestically. China is also a huge producer of key industrial products that end up on American shores, like steel, aluminum and polysilicon used to make solar panels.

Embedded in the manufacturing of these products is electricity generated through unsustainable water consumption in China. And as water supplies dwindle, the net effect is fewer products coming to the U.S. at significantly higher prices.


Two tangential notes:

1. Water instability used in power generation is one reason China banned bitcoin mining earlier this year. Bitcoin miners use hydro-generated electricity whenever possible because it is nearly always cheaper than other sources. (Hydro and Bitcoin article.)

2. A similar over-extraction of ground water in California’s Central Valley – pumped to keep the key food growing region productive in the face of a decade of droughts (2015-16 article; 2021 article) – is causing large areas of the Valley to sink.

  • Tue, Dec 07, 2021 - 07:14am



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    China’s longstanding and US supply chains

We have our own issues with the Ogallala Aquifer, I met a farmer who’s wells have run dry in Northeast New Mexico, they are dry land farming and it is pretty much hit or miss every year. We are just west of the Permian Basin where fracking is the rage, just about all of the water to frack comes from farmers who have sold their water rights.

On our little ranch we have set ourselves up to scratch out a living with minimal fossil fuels, it is very much over without water.

A nice study from OSU

At some point we have a choice between food and oil.

  • Tue, Dec 07, 2021 - 02:32pm



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    California central valley


Thanks for the post and links.  We are north of Merced and currently good on ground water and OK on surface water.  Here is a brief history of our area (Stanislaus County):

In 1850, the average groundwater level was 80 feet.  This varied a tremendous amount, but provides a perspective of where we started.  In about 1895 a dam was build which provided abundant surface water.  This transformed our area from a dry land grain farming region with 1000 acre plus ranches to 10 and 20 acre plots of  fruits, nuts, and dairy.  The groundwater level rose to 0 in some areas – the surface in some areas was wet year around.  The irrigation district installed pumps to lower the water table to ~20 feet to allow tree farming.  Currently our ground water level is ~50 feet.  Not bad considering the unregulated pumping by the almond guys and the theft by the Bay area and Southern California (my perspective).

The individual that has an office next to me grew up on a citrus farm near Tulare (see map in 2021 link above).  The water districts in his area have given notice that pumping will be limited to 10 inches (that means 10 inches/acre).  It takes about 30 inches to grow citrus, so any farmer without a surface water supply will have to sacrifice 2/3 of his farm to sustain the remaining 1/3.  My best bet is that citrus prices will rise the most, followed by pistachios.  This will hit quickly and force our state leaders to make some tough choices.  The tax base in affected areas will collapse very quickly if farmers walk away from their farms.

I think this is the canary in the coal mine, and I am hopeful leaders will built dams and desal plants.  And stop building houses.  Probability of happening?  Almost zero.

My thinking has changed.  We have 10 acres.  If we choose to only water 2 acres,  we can grow more than enough food for ourselves.  That doesn’t bode well for others, but I think that is the hand we are being dealt.

  • Wed, Dec 08, 2021 - 12:00am



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    China’s longstanding

Why, just why? Why do people in the US want their goods produced by some distant country they know little about, whose language they do not speak and which culture they do not share. Why would big, rich with resources and populous country want to depend in daily situations on a very distant country. Its the biggest mystery of 21 st century.

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