Category Archives: Drought

How Climate Change Turns Up the Flames of Fire Season

Image result for wildfire

Image: Kent Santa Rosa Press Democrat

The wildfires raging in Northern California, which have so far torched more than 270 square miles, killed 40 people, forced thousands to flee, destroyed about 5,700 structures and spread smoke to communities for hundreds of miles around, are a burning sign of things to come.

Here in Oakland, Calif., where I’m currently working, about 50 miles south of most of the fires, I do my errands and even sit around the not-exactly-airtight apartment wearing an N95-rated respirator mask. Stores can’t keep them on the shelves. Oakland is said to have the country’s worst air this week — second only to the city of Napa and on par with a bad day in Beijing, China (as I write this,  Oaktown’s air quality index, or AQI, is 172, rated “unhealthy” by the EPA; another source, more frequently updated, is www.purpleair.com). The whole San Francisco Bay Area smells like a campfire, and not in a good way.

Many experts agree that climate change has been worsening wildfires in the western U.S. and elsewhere for years by making winters shorter and wetter and the following fire season longer and drier. Climate change also kicks up higher winds and sparks more frequent lightning. And the fires’ carbon emissions exacerbate climate change, which causes more fires, which increases climate change, and so on. It’s a deadly feedback loop. California’s historic drought capped by a soaking-wet last winter and then a hot, dry summer makes these fires a terrible case in point.

For a list of ways to help those in need, click here.

Read more:

Here’s What We Know About Wildfires and Climate Change — Scientific American (reprinted from ClimateWire)

How Climate Change Is ‘Turning Up the Dail’ on California Wildfires — CBS News

Did Climate Change Fuel California’s Devastating Fires? Probably. — MIT Technology Review

The Climate Change Fire Alarm From Northern California — Los Angeles Times

Is Global Warming Fueling Increased Wildfire Risks? — Union of Concerned Scientists

Briefing: Deadly Sonoma Fire Now Partially Contained; Oakland’s Air Quality Is 2nd Worst in Nation After Napa — East Bay Express

Climate Change Indicators: Wildfires — EPA (Hey, is that a reference to climate change on a federal government website? It’s like seeing a unicorn.)

Related posts:

California Drought: Overcoming History to Reduce SoCal Water Waste

Past, Present and Future: California’s Epic Struggle With Water

Civilization Lost: California’s 500-Year Drought Potential

A Grim Climate Change Forecast for the U.S.

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Filed under Climate Change, Drought, Natural Disasters, North America

Dubious: The Donald’s Claims About the Calif. Drought

Donald_Trump

Photo by Gage Skimore, via Wiki Commons

Trump’s Dubious Drought Claims

The candidate said California has “no drought” and that water farmers need is being used to protect a “three-inch fish”  

At a recent campaign rally in Fresno, “Trump suggested ‘there is no drought’ in California because the state has ‘plenty of water.’ But California is in its fifth year of a severe ‘hot’ drought, the kind that’s expected to become more frequent with global warming. He also said water is being shoved ‘out to sea’ to protect a ‘three-inch fish’ at the expense of farmers. But officials release fresh water from reservoirs primarily to prevent salt water from contaminating agricultural and urban water supplies.”

– Vanessa Schipani, FactCheck.org via Scientific American. Read the whole article.

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Filed under Drought, North America, Politics, Water Resources

California Drought: Overcoming History to Reduce SoCal Water Waste

LAimages

The great news for California in the winter of 2015-2016 is that El Nino-generated storms are on the increase, right? Well , that’s good news for easing the California drought, but with caveats. It’s much greater news if even more rain (and snow) fall in Northern California than in Southern California. The north has more catchment systems than the south. In other words, the north catches, saves and provides more water than the south can.

Why? Northern areas have river systems and reservoirs that redirect water to the south (mainly) via aqueducts. Moisture falling in the south and running off land is more readily fed to the Pacific Ocean, because much of the system there, especially in Los Angeles itself, is allowed and even intended to drain into the Pacific to avoid catastrophic flooding and landslides, like those seen from major storms in the 1930s and later. In other words, the massive waste of freshwater was actually a safety measure. Law was adjusted by climate. Until recently, in fact, it was illegal to capture rain on your own roof in LA. The California Water Capture Act of 2012 eased that outdated policy.

And, fortunately, on Jan. 6 the California State Water Resources Control Board approved a broad plan to capture more rain, The Associated Press reported. About $200 million will fund projects to collect rain, as part of a $7.5 billion water bond voters approved in November 2014. Los Angeles expects to collect an additional 3.3 billion gallons a year from new projects, over the roughly 10 billion it says it collects now. But even that’s a drop in the bucket compared to what SoCal could do in wet years if rainwater collection were made a genuine priority.

Related posts:

Study Finds We Vastly Underestimate Water Management’ s Depletion of Groundwater

It’s Long Past Time to Police Big Agriculture’s Water Waste

Learn more:

Much of the torrential that fell on Southern California this week flowed right into the ocean – Associated Press

Rainwater harvesting regulations state by state – Enlight Inc. blog

Building Sponge City: Redesigning LA for Long-Term Drought – Cities Project, NPR

Report: Feeding Ourselves Thirsty: How the Food Sector Is Managing Global Water Risks – Ceres (full report)

The Untapped Potential of California’s Water SupplyPacific Institute and NRDC

 

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Filed under Climate Change, Conservation, Drought, Groundwater, Law, Natural Disasters, North America, Rivers and Watersheds, Sustainability, Water, Water Resources, Water Shortage

Study Finds We Vastly Underestimate Water Management’s Depletion of Freshwater

dam-reservoir

Here’s a frightening word of the day: “evapotranspiration.” It simply refers to water lost to the atmosphere by evaporation, or after being consumed and released into the air by plant life. It wasn’t so ominous last week, but it is this week because a new study in the journal Science puts it in a new context: unsustainable human use of freshwater.

Essentially, the study finds human have used 18 percent more of the planet’s freshwater than we previously thought, because we’ve underestimated the impact of our water-management systems, such as irrigation, dams and reservoirs. They cause more water to be lost to the atmosphere than would occur naturally, effecting precipitation patterns. Gather a lot of water in one place, like a reservoir, for instance, and more of it evaporates across the greater surface area exposed to air. The researchers studied the ratio of evapotranspiration to precipitation between 1901 and 2008, finding a significant increase in the latter half of the time period.

The additional 18 percent tips our water use into the unsustainable category given the increasing human population, the researchers warn. As Chelsea Harvey writes in her article about the study in The Washington Post, “The study highlights a critical need for better monitoring of our freshwater use and the ways our management techniques can affect the water cycle, as [study co-author Fernando] Jaramillo noted that the current effects of human water management ‘are even larger and more recognizable than the effects of atmospheric climate change.’”

Read more:

Alarming research finds humans are using up far more of Earth’s water than previously thought – The Washington Post

Local flow regulation and irrigation raise global human water consumption and footprint – Science

Related posts:

World Water Day: UN World Water Development Report Warns of Global Crisis by 2030

At the Point of ‘Peak Water,’ Our Foreseeable Future Grows Shorter

Mapping the World’s Most Water-Stressed Countries

Serious Water Conservation Demands Layered Approach and Emotional Commitment

Over-Salted: The Trouble(s) With Desalination

Study: Freshwater Shortage Will Double Climate Change’s Impact on Agriculture

Unchecked Emissions Will Drain Water Resources, Warns Leaked U.N. Report

Study Describes Vast Reserves of Water Under Ocean Floors

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Filed under Agriculture, Climate Change, Conservation, Dams and Hydropower, Drought, Environment, Groundwater, Rivers and Watersheds, Science, Sustainability, Water Resources, Water Shortage

In the Media: Big Agriculture’s Unsustainable Use of Groundwater

panoramic-images-flooded-rice-paddy-fields-central-valley-california-usa

Thanks, Vice Media, for covering California agriculture and its massive and unsustainable use of groundwater during the state’s worst drought in, reportedly, 1,200 years. Watch the video. Or click on other posts, below.

Imagine you had a giant tank full of clean water, but it was running dangerously low. Imagine you knew it would take thousands of years, or more, to replenish that tank. How careful would you be with that faucet? Well, somebody’s leaving it running.

Related posts:

Curtailing Big Ag’s Water Use in California

It’s Long Past Time to Police Big Agriculture’s Water Waste

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Filed under Agriculture, Conservation, Drought, Groundwater

Curtailing Big Ag’s Water Use in California

Image: iStockPhoto.com

When drought-struck California moved to curb consumers’ use of water, I wrote about agriculture’s massive and under-regulated use of water. On Friday the state moved to cut many farmers’ use of water, in terms of some of the older rights-holders who divert water from Central Valley rivers and streams. In spring, cuts were made to thousands of junior rights holders’ usage, including many growers. This is more than the state did when it curtailed Big Ag’s water use nearly 40 years ago, in 1977, the last time it made such a move. What it hasn’t done is to move strongly to curtail the industry’s waste of the water it’s allocated to use, which is to say …  it’s allowed to use most of it (about 80 percent).

Just for “fun,” here’s an annoyingly educational reminder that most Americans make the California drought worse by eating the food grown there. That’s not to say they should forego the glorious bounty and cramp the world’s 8th largest economy, but some would argue just that, more or less. Let’s say that some of Cali’s major crops — rice, almonds, avocados — should be grown where there is ample water because they need so damn much of it. Maybe not so much compared to raising beef, but still — a lot.

Another not-fun thing: Sucking up the groundwater is making the surface of California sink faster than ever before, and it’s going to cost a lot of money as infrastructure like bridges and roads suffers damage.

Related post:

It’s Long Past Time to Police Big Agriculture’s Water Waste

Read more:

Report: Feeding Ourselves Thirsty: How the Food Sector Is Managing Global Water Risks – Ceres (full report)

California Cuts Farmers’ Share of Scant Water – The New York Times

California Move to Restrict Water Pumping by Pre-1914 Rights HoldersLos Angeles Times

Drought-Ravaged California Orders Record Water Cuts on FarmersThe Guardian

The Untapped Potential of California’s Water SupplyPacific Institute and NRDC

California Is Literally Sinking Into the GroundMother Jones

Joseph Poland of the U.S. Geological Survey used a utility pole to document where a farmer would have been standing in 1925, 1955 and where Poland was then standing in 1977 after land in the San Joaquin Valley had sunk nearly 30 feet.

Joseph Poland of the U.S. Geological Survey used a utility pole to document where a farmer would have been standing in 1925, 1955 and where Poland was then standing in 1977 after land in the San Joaquin Valley had sunk nearly 30 feet. Image: U.S. Geological Survey

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Filed under Agriculture, Conservation, Drought, Groundwater, North America, Rivers and Watersheds, Water Shortage

World Water Day: UN World Water Development Report Warns of Global Crisis by 2030

Image: UN-Water

Image: UN-Water

The way water is managed now, or not managed as the case may be, will lead to a global crisis in 15 years, a new UN report warns, unless an array of sustainable water-management practices are adopted. Within that decade and a half, the report predicts a much larger human population will have only 60% of the freshwater it needs.

Many parts of the world are suffering water stress to varying degrees now; in 15 years the stress will be more severe and more widespread, amounting to a life-threatening crisis in water-poor regions. But, as outlined in the United Nations World Water Development Report 2015, released in advance of World Water Day (today, March 22), there is hope. Read the report: Water for a Sustainable World (The report was released by UNESCO on behalf of UN-Water, or which my employer, WaterLex, is a member.)

Related posts: 

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It’s Long Past Time to Police Big Agriculture’s Water Waste

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When you observe water-stressed and drought-stricken areas around the world, you hear the same question being asked again and again: Who uses the most water? A common assumption leads people to blame the general population for its wasteful ways, heedlessly watering their lawns and washing their cars despite a water shortage. But the real answer, in most cases, is agriculture — and not by a small measure. It often accounts for 70% to 80% of total water use, and sometimes more.

Irrigation and other water uses in agriculture, especially where it is a major industry for domestic and export food production, such as California’s Central Valley, make other water uses look like drops in a bucket. According to a 2012 study by the Pacific Institute, the Golden State’s 38 million people use just 4% of its water, while agriculture, including the raising of both crops and livestock, uses 93%.

The reason this matters so much is that Big Agriculture wastes epic amounts of water and often fights efficiency measures on the basis of cost. California, to stick with that example, uses much less drip irrigation than other arid farming regions of the world. Generally, efficiency standards and enforcement are not in place, which allows massive amounts of water to leak out of systems. And much of the water used simply evaporates because it is not recaptured. This goes on while agricultural users pump out deep aquifers’ groundwater far faster than it can be restored naturally, especially in times of drought.

The types of agriculture matter for the scale of water usage, as well. California rice growers flood the fields, whereas another crop might need only sips of water, relatively speaking. Beef producers use about 2,500 gallons of water per pound (as opposed to 100 gallons of water per pound of grain).  Although costly, relocating water-intensive agriculture from water-stressed regions to places where water is most abundant would make sense. In the U.S., that might mean moving some practices from the Southwest to the Southeast. In China, it would mean moving farms  from the arid north to the wet south. But in many countries, business and political interests would keep it from happening as long as possible, and in the end, severe water shortage and escalating costs would force the issue.

Where you have a massive industry, you have a wealthy lobby with a lot of political power to influence government spending. Critics of California’s $7.5 billion drought bond known as Proposition 1, to be voted on in statewide elections on Tuesday (4 November; update — it passed by a two-to-one margin), note that it provides for new dams and water-storage measures that will benefit agriculture. But it’s not yet clear what might be asked in return. About $50 million of the $7.5 billion appears to be earmarked for agricultural efficiency. Will future measures mandate adequate technology and standards of efficiency? Ultimately, the nine-member California Water Commission will decide how funds from the Prop. 1  bond measure, if passed, will be spent.  They should know that the industries using nine-tenths of the state’s water should be doing a lot more to help ease the region’s water crisis.

Read more:

UPDATE: California Propositions 1 and 2 Sail to Resounding VictoriesSan Jose Mercury News

Prop 1: Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014 – Ballotpedia

Prop. 1, a False Framing of California’s Water CrisisSanta Barbara Independent

New Report Provides Insight to California’s Proposition 1 – Pacific Institute

Prop. 1 Aims to Relieve Drought — But Not This One – Los Angeles Times

Cows, Rice Fields and Big Agriculture Consumes Well Over 90% of California’s Water – AlterNet

Report Targets Waste, Inefficiency in Agricultural Water UseLos Angeles Times

 

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Filed under Agriculture, Conservation, Dams and Hydropower, Drought, Groundwater, Law, North America, Sustainability, Water Resources, Water Shortage

California Finally Moves to (Eventually) Limit Groundwater Pumping

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Here’s a bulletin from the “isn’t-it-too-little-too-late?” department: Despite its history of drought, including the extreme dryness of the past three years, California has been the only state in the U.S. without a groundwater management plan — until now. This week Gov. Jerry Brown signed a package of legislation that will limit how much water can be pumped from underground aquifers … eventually. The changes will begin to take effect in the 2020s, and the last piece becomes active in 2040.

In a nutshell, Senate Bill 1168 directs local water districts to create sustainable groundwater management plans; Assembly Bill 1739 says state government will step in if local management falls short; and Senate Bill 1319 delays state oversight by several years, to appease farmers who complain that regulation will hurt their businesses. Agriculture is by far the biggest user of water, and no more so than in the Golden State, which grows and sells hundreds of crops under what some would call lax regulation.

Implementation of a plan is good news, though it seems too gradual a move for such a parched state. Because of the drought, the aquifers are depleting more quickly than usual, without “recharge” (a process that takes a lot of time and precipitation even in wet periods). Anything that gives nature more of a chance to catch up is a good thing.

Read more:

Amid Drought, New California Law Will Limit Groundwater Pumping for First TimeNational Geographic

California Drought 2014: Gov. Brown Signs Landmark Groundwater Regulations To Protect State’s Dwindling Water SuppliesInternational Business Times

California Drought Crisis 2014: Massive Groundwater Loss In US West Is Causing Earth’s Crust To Lift Like An ‘Uncoiled Spring’ – IBT

Brown Signs Bill to Regulate Pumping of Underground WaterLos Angeles Times

Drought-Plagued California Stops Treating Groundwater Like Private Property – BloombergBusinessweek

California Groundwater Problems and Prospects – California Water Blog

How Ground Water Occurs – USGS

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Filed under Agriculture, Conservation, Drought, Groundwater, Law

Mapping the Spread of Drought Across the U.S.

Image: ClimateWizard.org

Image: ClimateWizard.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Slightly more than a third of the United States suffered moderate or worse drought as of July 22, and about 40% of the country has been abnormally dry in recent months, according to research cited in The New York Times. Climate change is intensifying drought and changing patterns. While the West dries out, especially California and southwestern states, more rain than usual has been falling east of the Mississippi River. Look at the mapping on NYT Interactive’s The UpShot.

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Filed under Climate Change, Drought, Environment, North America, Research, Water Resources