Archive for October, 2015

CLIMATE CHANGE

October 29, 2015
CA: Joshua Tree National Monument, Mohave Desert, near Hidden Valley with Joshua tree ("Yucca brevifolia")

CA: Joshua Tree National Monument, Mohave Desert, near Hidden Valley with Joshua tree (“Yucca brevifolia”)

CLIMATE CHANGE:
It evaporates freshwater supplies, threatens desert trees; and spreads venomous species

NWNL has spent 8 years documenting how climate change degrades the sustainability of our watersheds. Loss of vegetation disrupts ecosystems and their capacity for freshwater retention. The introduction of new species within watersheds due to warmer temperatures disrupts the fragile balance of biodiversity and water supply. Two items in today’s news from California indicate such worrisome patterns are intensifying – in oft-unexpected ways.

“The Desert Southwest and the Arctic are being ripped apart by climate change faster than anywhere else, because they are North America’s most extreme ecosystems,”
Kieran Suckling, Executive Director of The Center for Biological Diversity.

Thousands of species are at risk because of the threat of climate change, especially in extreme ecosystems. An iconic species of the Mohave Desert, the Joshua tree is a unique, twisted and spikey tree resembling something out of a Dr. Seuss book; but it is threatened by climate change. Yes, we are learning that climate change is putting charismatic species like polar bears, rhinos and monarch butterflies on the unfortunate list of endangered species. But, how often do we consider whether plant life is endangered and whether trees are affected by the changes happening in their environment?

Studies have found that fewer young Joshua trees than ever are surviving in California’s popular Joshua Tree National Park. Over time, older Joshua trees have adapted to their dry environments by developing a shallow network of roots to help them collect water. Because of their rooting habits, they require only one good rainstorm every other year to survive. But the seedlings haven’t had time to develop their roots. Thus in today’s 5- year drought they are struggling to thrive in the desert and not as likely to replace the older trees (Osha Gray Davidson, National Geographic).

Not only is climate change threatening vegetation globally, but it is also introducing invasive species to new environments. One recent example is the arrival of red crabs and venomous sea snakes on the beaches of Southern California (Daniel Swain, The California Weather Blog).

USA California:  Carpenteria, Central Coast, Santa Barbara Channel of the Pacific Ocean, beach at a "king Tide" low tide,

USA California: Carpenteria, Central Coast, Santa Barbara Channel of the Pacific Ocean, beach at a “king Tide” low tide,

Disappearing Joshua trees and yellow-bellied snakes found on Oxnard CA beaches are just two of the many “canaries in the mine ” we are witnessing. Their message for us is that a sustainable future, freshwater supply and web of biodiversity all depend on global conservation, perhaps best defined as forbearance.

Educate yourself and others. Be mindful. Use your voice.

By: Jenna Petrone

Sources:
The California Weather Blog
National Geographic

Lion Populations to Decline by Half

October 28, 2015

 

East Africa, Kenya, Mara River Basin, lioness with cubs

East Africa, Kenya, Mara River Basin, lioness with cubs

Lions are currently considered “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, but if upcoming assessments change their status to “endangered” they will be considered at “a very high risk of extinction in the wild”.  Scientists estimate that a mere 20,000 lions are left in all of Africa and that number will be halved in 20 years.

NWNL would like to honor these majestic animals by sharing some of our favorite lion images from our expeditions. We hope that recent public outrage over the death of Cecil, will draw attention to the plight of the African lion and boost conservation efforts.

Read related articles in the NY Times and on BBC World News.

(Click on thumbnails to enlarge.)

Kenya: Maasai Mara Game Reserve, head of large-maned male lion lying in grasses

Kenya: Maasai Mara Game Reserve, head of large-maned male lion lying in grasses

Posted by Jasmine Graf, Associate Director of No Water No Life.

A Cinderella Story: Las Vegas isn’t a Water Hog

October 20, 2015
Nevada: Boulder City, river bed, Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Nevada: Boulder City, river bed, Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Mention of water usage in Las Vegas prompts most people to roll their eyes in exasperation. I saw this last week during a lecture on mega-droughts presented to an audience of environmentalists. Few realized that, rather than being the “ugly sister” of wise water consumption, Las Vegas – even with all casinos, glitz and fountains galore – is Cinderella’s fairy godmother waving a wand of solutions for arid communities.

This still-growing Nevada city is coping better than California with drought conditions, despite differences in the sources of their water supplies. Las Vegas draws from Lake Mead, the Colorado River reservoir dammed by Hoover Dam and known for the recreation it affords. California’s water users depend on aqueduct delivery of surface water (including the Colorado River) and groundwater reserves.   But, nevertheless, their droughts elicit the same fears of the economic consequences of not having enough water.

USA: Southern California, CA Drought Spotlight 3-Rte 66 Expedition, Parker Dam (hydrodam across Colorado River that also siphons water for Colorado Aquaduct to Los Angeles for Metropolitan Water District), signage

USA: Southern California, Parker Dam (hydrodam across Colorado River that siphons water for Colorado Aqueduct to Los Angeles via the Metropolitan Water District)

Californians – and all those never thought of Las Vegas as being an environmental trendsetter – would do well to take heed of what’s happening in Las Vegas. The Economist Magazine (August 8, 2015, p 23-24) neatly summarized the ways southern Nevada has preemptively and quite successfully addressed water availability issues.

Las Vegas has banned front lawns. Now xeri-scaping with cactus, yucca plants and interesting desert rocks has become fashionable.

USA California, Santa Barbara, Firescape Garden by firestation on Stanwood

Examples of xeri-scaping.

 

Las Vegas golf courses are now watered sparingly by “brown water.”  New dramatic views of desert scenery offer intriguing contrasts beyond the greens.

Example of a golf course with only greens irrigated.

A golf course after 4 years of drought with only its greens irrigated.

Facing the reality of desert resources, Las Vegas now treats and recycles water used in homes, pools and fountains back to Lake Mead. Furthermore, if homeowners use more than their allotted amounts of water (per a tiered scale), they are charged at higher rates. Yet California’s arcane regulations discourage and in some places dis-allows scaled water-pricing incentives so as to reduce water consumption.

Perhaps Las Vegas is ahead of California because the Colorado River Basin is entering its 16th year of drought and California is only in its 5th year of record-breaking drought. Things aren’t always what we think. Solutions can come from surprising sources.

El Nino, despite its attendant floods and mudslides, may replenish California’s surface water resources; but geology teaches us it will be many years or decades before its groundwater resources will be restored. Additionally, history teaches us that El Nino is often followed by that drought-maker, La Nina. So – as fairy tales teach us – the frog may become a prince and the casino’s scullery maid may become  stewardship’s “Belle of the Ball.” California, look towards Las Vegas!

USA: Southern California, road sign on local 15 on north side of Mohave River

USA: Southern California, road sign on local 15 on north side of Mohave River

For another comparison of  states’ differing management of groundwater and Colorado River water, read this blog post by Meg Wilcox (of Ceres) for National Geographic (Sept 25, 2015) on Arizona’s tight water management of large-scale vegetable farms versus that of California. Wilcox quotes one Arizona farmer as saying: “We track water like we do financial statements.”

Blog Post by Alison M. Jones, Director of No Water No Life.

Drought and Flooding increases CA Levees risk of failure

October 16, 2015
USA: California, Sherman Island, on north shore of Sacramento Delta, levee

California, Sherman Island, on north shore of Sacramento Delta, levee

Almost 5 years of drought, now combined with recent rainfall-induced flooding, has weakened California’s levees. Culprits are soil cracking that allows water seepage, soil-strength reduction, land subsidence and erosion, all of which NWNL observed on its California Spotlight expeditions in 2014 and 2015. Fifty-five percent of California’s levee systems are now in danger of failing in the event of a flood or an earthquake. If the levees fail, water quality could be compromised for over 23 million people.

Levees are sand and clay earthen embankments which regulate water levels and protect dry land from floods. More research, risk science, community education and stakeholder collaboration are crucial to improving levee resilience.

Related article in Science Magazine: https://grgusyd.files.wordpress.com/2015/08/vahedifard-et-al-2015_ca-drought-levees_science.pdf

USA: California, Arbuckle, irrigation drainage ditch, levee

California, Arbuckle, irrigation drainage ditch, levee

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