Water shortage and water wars in SW USA: Lessons for Komadugu-Yobe Basin

Reading the story in the article below of the imminent Austin, Texas water war one could make a projection of similar development in the Komadugu-Yobe Drainage Basin in Northeast Nigeria. This article gives an insight into the kind of conflict that develops when any part of the globe suddenly discovers that it has become a water stressed or deficient area as a result of cyclic drought or climate change.

The drought in the Southwest USA has resulted in, for example, water conflicts in California and Texas. In California, the State has put together some water conservation regulations and there have even been reported cases of water theft. It has also led to a situation in Austin, Texas where urban communities and developers have become somehow creative in the interpretation of existing water laws. What has led to this creativity is the large scale decrease in available surface water which means not enough to pump for use in the cities. The developers and the cities discovered a gap in the Water Law which gives them a chance to go after groundwater. They thus enlisted the services of a drilling company to drain part of the water of the Trinity Aquifer.

What lessons can Nigeria’s NE (Hadejia-Komadugu-Yobe Basin) (HKYB) learn from this?

At the HKYB annual floods have for many years in the past supported the diverse socio-economic activities of the area. “To millions of West Africans the river brings comfort when flowing in abundance, misery in times of drought” (Gerster, G. (1975). This applies to HKYB also. This Basin has experienced droughts – since the first sharp phase in the years 1972-73, there have been consistent shortages of rainfall in the dry areas of tropical Africa, including HKYB. A notable worsening in the drought occurred in 1983-84, and shortages have remained the general rule up to at least the recent past. These have greatly affected the major rivers. Furthermore, with the development and construction of the Tiga and Challawa Gorge Dams in Kano State, an upstream state, flow has also been reduced and occurrence of floods and groundwater recharge of the wetlands has been considerably reduced.

The construction of these dams was undertaken because of the need to meet the increasing water demand resulting from rapid urbanization and high population growth rate. However, it is believed that what accounts for the reduced river flow is not only due to the increased diversion from these dams but also poor dam operation procedures.

The Komadugu-Yobe-Basin (KYB) Trust Fund was established as a partnership between the riparian states and the Federal Government to ensure that flows can reach the downstream users and that the aquifers in the downstream areas are recharged. Some of the steps the Trust Fund plans to take include developing dam operations procedures for the Tiga and Challawa Gorge Dams. This is aimed at maximizing the benefits of the river system for both human and nature, by controlling the unwanted dry season floods.

Finally, the National Water Law is yet to be enacted and whatever loopholes it contains, concerning the management of the waters of the KYB in an integrated manner, need to be investigated and addressed. Furthermore, there seems to be little or no attention paid to the management of groundwater, not the near surface aquifer, in the agreements reached in the Basin. The question that needs to be asked is how much impacts are the FADAMA tube wells, used for irrigation, having on the downstream flow of the river system?

Though the northeast Nigeria water situation has not reached the level of that in the southwest USA, it is necessary to borrow a leaf from what is happening there.


The Southwestern Water Wars
How Drought Is Producing Tensions in Texas
WIMBERLEY, Tex. — “WE don’t want you here,” warned the county commissioner, pointing an accusatory finger at the drilling company executives as 600 local residents rose to their feet. “We want you to leave Hays County.”
Normally, my small town is a placid place nestled in the Texas Hill Country, far from controversy, a peaceful hour’s drive west of Austin. Pop. 2,582, Wimberley was founded as a mill town on a creek. Today it’s part artist colony, part cowboy town known for its natural beauty and its cool, clear springs and rivers that wind through soaring cypress trees.
But these are not normal times. The suburbs of Austin close in every year. Recently, the suburb of Buda and developers enlisted a company from faraway Houston to drain part of the Trinity Aquifer, the source of the Hill Country’s water. An old-fashioned, Western-style water war has erupted.
Across Texas and the Southwest, the scene is repeated in the face of a triple threat: booming population, looming drought and the worsening effects of climate change.
And it is a story that has played out before. It was in the Southwest that complex human cultures in the United States first arose. Around A.D. 800, the people called the “Ancient Ones” — the Mimbres, Mogollon, Chaco and other Native American cultures — flourished in what was then a green, if not lush, region. They channeled water into fields and built cities on the mesas and into the cliffs, fashioning societies, rituals and art.
Then around 1200 they all disappeared. Or so the legend goes. In reality, these cultures were slowly and painfully extinguished. The rivers dried. The fields died. The cities were unsustainable as drought stretched from years to decades, becoming what scientists today call a megadrought. Parts of these cultures were absorbed by the Pueblo and Navajo people; parts were simply stamped out.
By the time the Spanish arrived in the 16th century, so had, finally, the rain. The American, German and Polish settlers who came to Texas in the 19th century found a rich landscape, flush with water. “I must say as to what I have seen of Texas,” wrote Davy Crockett, “it is the garden spot of the world.” And so it remained, punctuated by only two long droughts.
One, at the dawn of the 20th century, wreaked ecological havoc on the overgrazed Hill Country. The second stretched from the late 1940s to the late 1950s and is still known as the drought of record. When it released its grip, a new era of feverish dam and canal building ensued in Texas, just as it already had in much of the Southwest. A dearth of rainfall, after all, is a fact in the cycle of life here. Rains come when the equatorial current of El Niño appears, and they stay stubbornly away when its twin, La Niña, reverses the course. Those grand dams and canals seemed likely to suffice.
But again, these are not normal times. Arizonans are in their 10th year of drought, despite an uptick in rainfall during last year’s monsoon season because of a single storm on a single day. And while it has been a cool, damp winter here, the clear waters of the Blanco River still look low. Officially, more than half of Texas’ 269,000 square miles are plagued by drought. Conservatively, this would make for the fifth consecutive year of drought in Texas. Meanwhile, today, the average American uses 100 gallons of water a day.
So the race to engineer a new solution is underway, and Wimberley finds itself squarely in the path. The drilling here would rely on a few landowners, whose land is beyond any water conservation district. Exploiting this gap in the patchwork of Texas water laws, the Houston company would pump five million gallons a day out of the Trinity Aquifer to the Austin suburbs of Buda and Kyle.

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