Tag archive for drought

TEN EXCELLENT CLIMATE STORIES/LINKS

A New York Times primer on the 17 biggest questions people ask about climate change:

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/climate/what-is-climate-change.html

A New York magazine story about climate change and the dangers of extreme heat.

http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/07/climate-change-earth-too-hot-for-humans.html

A Vanity Fair article about climate change and the danger of extreme heat.

https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/06/extreme-heat-global-warming

A Scientific American story about the great California megaflood.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/atmospheric-rivers-california-megaflood-lessons-from-forgotten-catastrophe/

A PBS Newshour primer on climate change and the civil war in Syria.

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/economy/making-sense/a-major-contributor-to-the-syrian-conflict-climate-change

Daniel Swain’s superb and popular blog on California weather: Weather West.

http://weatherwest.com/

Top Eight climate change stories in the Washington Post this year:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/04/29/here-are-our-top-8-climate-change-stories-of-2017/?utm_term=.1ff05120d9a0

New Yorker story on why facts on important matters such as climate may not change our minds.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/02/27/why-facts-dont-change-our-mind

Stories by Andrew Revkin, of ProPublica and the NYTimes, on climate:

https://www.propublica.org/people/andrew-revkin

And, for a moment of hope, a Mother Jones story on why flying is less damaging for the atmosphere than it once was:

Why Flying Home for the Holidays Might Be Greener Than Driving

 

 

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Drought over for Ojai? Not yet, but…

Much of Ventura County has now (this water year, beginning in October) reached 100% of annual rainfall. Cheri Carlson writes in the VC Star

This is the first winter since 2011 for the area to get above-average rainfall.

Much of the Ventura County has had 120 to 180 percent of normal rainfall so far this year, ranging from 10 to 21 inches.

Four cities  – Camarillo, Moorpark, Oxnard and Port Hueneme – already have recorded as much rain as they normally would get in a year.

20170207_ca_noneIn Ojai, according to the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, we have are at about 150% of normal, at over 15 inches (including over 10 inches in January). Yet look at the US Drought Monitor and it shows much of the county still in extreme drought.

As Noah Diffenbaugh of Stanford writes today in the NYTImes, this wild ride from extreme drought to extreme precipitation will not surprise climate scientists.

“The other bitter reality is that this extremely wet winter will not wash away the drought. Depending where one looks, California lost out on one to three full years of precipitation from 2012 to 2016. That is a lot of water to make up in one year, and as of last week almost half of California was still in a state of drought. The moisture deficits that have accumulated during the drought have not been seen in our lifetimes. They have caused thousands of California residents to go without running water, resulted in groundwater contamination and permanent loss of aquifer storage capacity, and have severely stressed tens of millions of trees. As a result, even after this wet year, rural communities, groundwater aquifers and forest ecosystems will still feel the effects of the drought.”

But if we’ve had 150% of normal, and we are between one and three years of water deficit, surely it’s plausible to think that a really good storm — one that might drop between 3 and 10 inches of rain over six days, putting us at over 200% of an average water year, in record-setting territory, as is forecast — might bring us nearly to normal? Such as this image (via UC San Diego)  showing water vapor smacking California repeatedly over the next week?

Sounds plausible. Let us pray for rain — with not too much flooding. Just enough extremity, but not too much.

iwv_USWC_loop

 

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Is desalination the answer for drought in Ventura County?

Although climate change was hardly mentioned in the two-hour discussion of desalination led by Ventura County supervisor Steve Bennett last Thursday at the county government center, the question of drought has clearly been very much on the minds of water officials in the county.

Even more alarming, possibly, might be an earthquake that could interrupt supplies to county residents from the State Water Project, which supplies most of the water to about 640,000 people in the county.

Said Susan Mulligan, an engineer who manages the Calleguas district that supplies most of the county, during the discussion:

“The question of an earthquake cutting us off isn’t a question of if; it’s a question of when. If 75 percent of the water [from the State Water Project] is cut off, we don’t even have health and safety water at that point.”

The quote comes from a story in the Ventura County Star by Tony Biascotti. The even-handed story stayed away from conclusions, except to point out one vexing fact. Because it will take on the order of fourteen years to permit, research, and build a seawater desalination plant — according to a study cited by Mulligan — such a plant won’t solve our current water shortage woes right now.

Bennett took an unusual and fresh approach to the water supply question: stating no position of his own, and pointing out that the county has no direct authority over water, he nonetheless brought four real experts to the podium, gave them ten minutes each to make a presentation, and then asked questions — about cost, about permitting, about alternatives, and so on. Here’s the video, from his supervisorial site.

From this reporter’s perspective, the most useful advice came from Joshua Haggmark of Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara was once dependent, as is western Ventura County now, mostly on a local watershed and reservoir (Lake Cachuma in Santa Barbara), augmented with groundwater from wells. After an on-and-off again history with a desalination plant, build in response to the last drought in the late 1980’s early 1990’s, Santa Barbara has now has all but completely exhausted Lake Cachuma. Until it really begins to rain again, if it ever does, the county now relies on a great variety of different sources, as illustrated by this slide from Haggmark’s presentation:

waterhaggmarkpresentation

 

 

 

 

The strongest proponent of desalination was Scott Maloni, a vice-president from a private company called Poseidon that has built a fairly large plant in San Diego that supplies a significant portion of the county’s water. That’s the upside: the downside is that it cost a billion dollars, and took fifteen years to construct and permit.

Two significant questions were not asked, from this reporter’s perspective. What plans, if any, does Mulligan and Calleguas have to develop some form of desalination? They clearly have a need for water for at the minimum health and safety for two-thirds of the county: What are they thinking?

Second, if as much science indicates Southern California is headed for a substantially drier future, is there any real alternative to at least some desalination? (Desalination doesn’t have to draw from the sea — it’s cheaper and easier to desalinate brackish groundwater or effluent from water treatment plants, such as in Oxnard.)

(The climate change/perpetual drought question may be a hyperobject: a fact so big and omnipresent it cannot be mentioned in local reporting. This is part of a fascinating theory being pioneered by a BBC documentarian named Adam Curtis.)

But judging from the tenor of Haggmark’s remarks about what happened in Santa Barbara, my conclusion is that water districts may not have much choice but to develop a diversity of sources to survive, including some desal. He said:

“Desalination is not going to solve all your problems, but it certainly helps to have diversity in your supplies,” said panelist Joshua Haggmark, water resources manager for the city of Santa Barbara. “You want diversity in your stock portfolio, you want diversity in your community, and water supply is the same thing.”

Interesting to hear him connect the concept of diversity to both politics and investments.

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Ojai water district “excited” by report of water in mountains

Yesterday the Casitas Municipal Water District‘s management staff and Board of Directors held a meeting and heard a “Preliminary Water Security Project Analysis” report from two consultants, including hydrogeologist Jordan Kear, who has been surveying the Ojai Valley for years for a groundwater agency, and knows its geology well. (Note: the project analysis is attached to the agenda for the meeting at the bottom of the doc).

Let me just cut to the chase: Kear identified a large geological formation called the Matilija Sandstone that contains — history indicates and the geology verifies — a substantial amount of water.

A band of sandstone runs through the coastal mountains behind Santa Barbara all the way south to the mountains behind Lake Casitas. Drilling long tunnels (or “adits”) into the rock could allow the district to recover water stored in the porous rock over eons without pumping.

Here’s a slide from the presentation. Follow Santa Ana Creek north (up) and you’ll see it almost meets the planned 10,000 foot “Central Hobo” bore line. “HoBos” stands for horizontal bores.

hobosproject

Kear estimates that the formation, which in this area is about six miles long and 2,000 feet deep, at an elevation of about 3000 feet, contains a minimum of 29,000 acre feet of decent quality mountain water, by a conservative estimate, or as much as 216,000 acre feet of water, by a liberal estimate.

That’s more water that can be stored in Lake Casitas, possibly.

The idea is that the formation will serve as a backup bank for the lake, to be called on in times of drought. The formation does recharge, Kear estimates, at 2,000 acre-feet a year on average, so if the district calls on the bank when in drought, and the formation is what it is estimated to be, that would give the water district access to a large amount of water at a reasonable price — $5.6 million per bore, or less than a $1000 per acre-foot.

Which is a bargain. The city of Ventura has estimated that state water, if available, will cost about $2000 an acre foot, and desalinated water would cost about $2400 an acre-foot, according to board member Bill Hicks.

In his presentation, Kear noted that when Santa Barbara authorities drilled into the same sandstone formation back in the 1950’s to construct the Tecolote Tunnel, they saw “an increase in flow from about 1,000 gallons per minute, to 7000 gallons per minute.” Kear believes that tunnel is an excellent proxy for the proposed HoBos.

The Board approved further investigation of the project by a unanimous vote (although it did not close the door on an “intertie” to the State Water Project with the City of Ventura, which is already working on such a plan).

After the vote, Board Member Russ Baggerly declared “This is exciting!”

A possible solution to drought-caused water panic for one community in Southern California? Yes — exciting is a fair description. Shocking might be another word.

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ON THE BRINK: SoCal faces dire, drier future

Here’s a story I spent a month or so reporting over the summer for the Ventura County Reporter: What the science is saying about the prospects for drought this century in Southern California

ON THE BRINK: Southern California faces dire, drier future

I’d like to dedicate this story to the late great climatologist Kelly Redmond, who died of cancer yesterday. Kelly was a legend in the field for his knowledge and his ability to communicate with others. (As an example, here’s a link to his Tyndall Lecture at the AGU a couple of years ago on accelerating environmental change — not just climate change). I think it’s probably the most thoughtful talk I’ve ever heard at the AGU.

Certainly, Kelly was the nicest guy this reporter ever met on the job. He took a call from me about fifteen years ago, completely out of the blue, from a complete unknown (me) working for a not very big paper, asking a great number of very naive questions about climate, and for well over an hour gave me, impromptu, over the phone, an introduction to the science. Climate 101. Amazing. When I saw him at conferences he always would chat, and always had something interesting to say. In 2012, I think it was, I saw him at a mixer at the AGU, and when I asked what’s new in the field, he said that “We [climatologists] never expected the Arctic to go over to the dark side so soon.” Jeez. I liked to say that he had a bit of the poet in him, as well as the scientist.

Miss you already, Kelly Redmond.

Will discuss the story more in days to come: here’s the cover picture.

cover-110316

 

 

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Trump denies drought exists in California

The Donald, as he is known in tabloid reporting in New York, told Californians that their drought doesn’t exist. It’s not a problem, it’s just a government snafu.

From USA Today:

California suffered one of its driest years in 2015. And last year the state hit its driest four-year period on record.

But Donald Trump isn’t sold. The presumptive GOP nominee told supporters in Fresno, Calif., on Friday night that no such dry spell exists.

Trump said state officials were simply denying water to Central Valley farmers to prioritize the Delta smelt, a native California fish nearing extinction — or as Trump called it, “a certain kind of three-inch fish.”

“We’re going to solve your water problem. You have a water problem that is so insane. It is so ridiculous where they’re taking the water and shoving it out to sea,” Trump told thousands of supporters at the campaign event.

But even if you redistributed all the water from the Sierra and the Californi Water Project, that still would not solve what a certain politician calls “the water problem” in coastal Southern California, as this map via the LA Times and the U.S. Drought Monitor from May 17th shows.

droughtincaMay172016

Chart goes from “abnorally dry” (yellow) to “exceptional drought” (brown). Red is “extreme drought,” the second worst category.

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Here comes the super-hot summer of 2016

This year has been off the charts hot. Lots of graphics to that point:

superhotstart2016

The February heat anomaly this year [as charted by NOAA] is scary to me.

february2016anomaly

Already we are in the fifth year of drought, which has only slightly lessened, and not at all in central SoCal.

droughtCAmarch2016

And now models pointed are calling for an especially hot summer on the West Coast. Oh great.

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CA leading on climate as well as water: LA Times

Yesterday the NYTimes’ lead op-ed in the Sunday Review was about how California is Winning the Drought (as discussed here a couple of days ago) from a respected author on water issues.

Today the lead op-ed in the editorial pages of the LATimes comes from a well-known expert on drought, who argues that California is leading the way for the nation when it comes to mitigating climate change damages such as drought. It’s called Get Ready for the New Normal: Dry and Drier.

If California points the way to dry times ahead, it also gives us a glimpse of how a responsible society can adjust to a warmer future. In general, the state’s individual consumers and water districts are meeting conservation goals, thanks to a range of innovations and sacrifices.

Perhaps most impressively, the state has adopted its own pioneering cap-and-trade program aimed at rolling back greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels. Emissions are capped and emitters are assigned a certain number of carbon permits. If they emit less, they can sell their extra permits in a state auction, creating incentives to cut carbon pollution.

Will cap and trade enable the state to meet its greenhouse gas goal? That’s unknown, but there is no debating its positive effect on the state treasury. In fiscal year 2015-16, the permit auction will net about $2.2 billion for mass transit, affordable housing and a range of climate-adaptation programs. And by the way, the warnings of naysayers and climate deniers that cap-and-trade would prove a drag on the economy have proved groundless.

California a “responsible society!” Doesn’t fit our flaky image does it? Columnist Joe Matthews wrote about our flaky image for Zocalo Public Square a couple of years ago, and pretty much blew it out of the water.

It’s true that in our personal lives, Californians can tend toward the unreliable. But in our work lives, we have never been flakes. If we’re social flakes, we have a good excuse: It’s because we’re working too damn hard.

While the federal government doesn’t break out productivity by state, academics have found California to be among the top places in the country in worker productivity, right up there with New York. If you want to find flakes in the workplace, try Alaska or Louisiana—or the big slacker, Texas. (No wonder Texans find so much time to criticize our business climate).

[edit]

Our state attracts more venture capital than the rest of the country combined. We lead in agriculture revenues, high-wage services, fastest-growing companies, patents and inventions (more than 20,000 a year), job creation (at least recently), initial public offerings, and (by any measure you want to use) in innovation. We’re paying more in taxes, and getting back less, than virtually every other state. If you’re reading this in another state, odds are we’re subsidizing your flakiness.

So there. Here’s the image that went with the “Winning the Drought” op-ed.

winningthedroughtimage

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It’s the fourth year of drought in CA. How are we doing?

It’s the fourth year of drought in California. We’re suffering big fires in Northern California, employment drops and spikes of poverty in the Central Valley, and asking for unprecedented conservation in Southern California. We’re also seeing huge impacts on groundwater and to wildlife statewide. We’re hurting.

But is it possible that despite our losses the state as a whole has weathered this slow-motion disaster with some grace, and possibly even shown some leadership?

So argues Charles Fishman in the NYTimes:

For California, there hasn’t ever been a summer quite like the summer of 2015. The state and its 39 million residents are about to enter the fifth year of a drought. It has been the driest four-year period in California history — and the hottest, too.

Yet by almost every measure except precipitation, California is doing fine. Not just fine: California is doing fabulously.

In 2014, the state’s economy grew 27 percent faster than the country’s economy as a whole — the state has grown faster than the nation every year of the drought.

California has won back every job lost in the Great Recession and set new employment records. In the past year, California created 462,000 jobs — nearly 9,000 a week. No other state came close.

The drought has inspired no Dust Bowl-style exodus. California’s population has grown faster even as the drought has deepened.

More than half the fruits and vegetables grown in the United States come from California farms, and last year, the third growing season of the drought, both farm employment and farm revenue increased slightly.

Amid all the nervous news, the most important California drought story is the one we aren’t noticing. California is weathering the drought with remarkable resilience, because the state has been getting ready for this drought for the past 20 years.

Fishman is talking about the changes agencies and farmers in particular have made to adapt to life in our mostly semi-arid environment, and he’s not overlooking what still must be done.

It’s the work of a man with years of experience, and a contrarian, audacious argument to be recommended.

By chance, I expect, today also a noted UC San Diego scientist named Mike Dettinger posted this:

Updated (thru 7/15) Calif “reservoirs” status plot…still 39% more water than in July 1977. http://t.co/mfwKQ1xq2v pic.twitter.com/LMp84kJHtT

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Can Las Vegas grow without limits in a drought?

Abraham Lustgarten, a top-notch reporter for the public interest site Pro Publica, a couple of years ago wrote the toughest story on fracking ever, in my limited experience.

Here's the money quote from that piece from 2012:

…in interviews, several key experts acknowledged that the idea that injection [of oilfield wastes in underground wells] is safe rests on science that has not kept pace with reality, and on oversight that doesn't always work.

"In 10 to 100 years we are going to find out that most of our groundwater is polluted," said Mario Salazar, an engineer who worked for 25 years as a technical expert with the EPA's underground injection program in Washington. "A lot of people are going to get sick, and a lot of people may die."

Lustgarten's story won a number of awards, and was nominated for the biggest award in environmental reporting. Now he's shifted his focus to water in the West, and this week published by far the most critical story I've seen on Las Vegas water chief Pat Mulroy.

Mulroy is a legend among water experts, and much admired for her ability to talk tough and get results, be it "wet water" for Las Vegas, or conservation from that city. But Lusgarten is not impressed. He takes her on for never once daring to challenge Las Vegas' central creed: development.

…an examination of Mulroy’s reign shows that, despite her conservation bona fides, she always had one paramount mission: to find more water for Las Vegas and use it to help the city keep expanding.

Mulroy wheeled and dealed, filing for rights to aquifers in northern Nevada for Las Vegas, and getting California to use less water while her city took more. She helped shape legislation that, over her time at the Water Authority, allowed Las Vegas’ metropolitan footprint to more than double. She supported building expensive mechanisms with which to extract more water for the city’s exploding needs – two tunnels out of Lake Mead and a proposed pipeline carrying groundwater from farms in the east of the state. Not once in her tenure did the Authority or the Las Vegas Valley Water District she ran beneath it reject a development proposal based on its use of water. The valley’s total withdrawals from the Colorado River jumped by more than 60 percent on her watch.

Yet even last summer — staring at the effects of growth and drought on the reservoir, where once-drowned islands were visible for the first time in as much as 75 years — Mulroy apologized for none of it. She bridled at the idea that Las Vegas or other desert cities had reached the outer edge of what their environments could support.

“That’s the silliest thing I have ever heard,” she said, her voice rising in anger. “I’ve had it right up to here with all this ‘Stop your growth.’”

It's a great story, and raises the question: How many California communities have dared to limit their growth, based on their water supply? Any?

Can't really accuse "the Water Witch" of short-sightedness and hypocrisy, of course, if she is only doing what every other thirsty community in the West is doing as well.

An example? How about growth in Phoenix, from l960 (in brown) to today (in orange). 

Phoenix-f37dac81b7e886a1aca8b2ca541964c7

From an interesting and interactive set of graphics that goes with the Killing the Colorado series.

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