Archive for the 'NWNL–Spotlight–CA Drought' Category

Global Drought Threats – New Jersey Up Next?

October 25, 2016

jones_160925_ca_5749Stanislaus National Forest at the Yosemite N.P. entryway. Trees are dying by the thousands here due to the nexus of drought, high temperatures, fires, and pine bark beetle infestation. 

By Christina Belasco, NWNL Project Manager

When Americans hear the word “drought” these days, they may instantly envision a scene of a heat-scorched, fire-ridden California. Of course this is for good reason – the California drought is entering its sixth year, and shows no sign of stopping in the southern part of the state.

NWNL has just completed its 5th CA Drought Spotlight expedition, covering 1,300 miles from the headwaters within Yosemite and Kings Canyon N.P to the Central Valley to coastal estuaries. It is clear that water consumption patterns and habits must change. NWNL witnessed the devastation of the Rey Fire, Loma Fire, Rim Fire and others that have heavily impacted California’s forests.

NWNL also witnessed homes in East Porterville that still do not have access to running water for the 3rd year straight due to groundwater depletion and lack of piping.

 

USA California, No Water No Life CA Drought Expedition # 5,Here is a “bathtub ring” typically found in California reservoirs, showing significant drops in water levels due to drought and overuse. 

Another stark example of a region filled with drought woes is Northeastern China, where climate change is causing extreme desertification, despite some governmental efforts to reduce the trend. Villages are being pushed out, and have been for decades now, as the desert continues to creep eastward at a rate of 1,300 square miles per year.

Such examples of extreme drought worsened by climate change seem like an unbelievable scenario, things that happen in far off places, other worlds. Many Americans on the East Coast could never imagine this happening in their own backyard.

 

jones_160930_ca_7656

Usually a healthy, flowing river, the Kaweah River in Tulare County, CA is now a dried-up riverbed. 

However, green trees and rain aren’t sure signs that water supply is plentiful. In fact most people don’t treat their water as if it is a finite resource, which it is. The truth is that the effects of climate change are everywhere. They are happening here right now.

Fourteen New Jersey counties are now in a drought warning. Reservoir levels, stream flows and groundwater levels are showing signs of depletion across the state.

What can we do about this?

Besides just reducing personal water usage, NJ citizens are pressuring Governor Christie to act and pass legislation for the Water Supply Master Plan. This master plan includes recommendations for balancing the amount of used water with the amount of replenished water. This would ensure that there will be enough water for the private sector, agriculture, residents and the environment.

Websites like njwatersavers.rutgers.edu are advocating for water awareness and sustainability across the state, and have information on how to directly help.

NWNL urges East Coast citizens to think of the impacts of drought before it comes barreling towards them at full speed. Acting preventatively, and taking a can-do approach to climate change, are some of the best ways we can work together to change our unsustainable habits and save the planet for future generations.

 

 

FREE Hydro-graphics that You Can Use and Share!

March 2, 2016

No Water No Life created these photo-messages as a quick visual means of raising awareness of the value and vulnerability of our freshwater resources. Download and share them with others!

(click images to view larger)

View more Hydro-graphics here.

Hydro-graphics designed by Jenna Petrone.

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

Gathering Momentum

December 16, 2015

A STRONG PUSH…
In Paris this month 195 countries tackled climate change together, due to increased public awareness.
TO KEEP MOVING…
Climate change is still in question, NOT out of the question!
AND PAYING ATTENTION.
Climate change is invisible, but its causes and effects are visible.

Photography has been a critical tool in communicating the dire need for the cooperation and progress that began at Paris COP21.

Let’s all continue this conversation and purposefully work to create a world that sustains itself with recycling and renewable energy sources.

 

Ethiopia: Lower Omo River Basin, Kotrouru, a Kwego village, three generations: infant, a pregnant mother, older woman, standing on bank overlooking Omo River

Ethiopia: Three generations in Omo River Basin

This problem isn’t for another generation. It has serious implications for how we live right now.” -Anonymous

USA: Washington, Columbia River Basin

USA: Washington, Columbia River Basin

One reason people resist change is that they focus on what they have to give up, rather than on what they have to gain. -Anonymous

Missouri: St Genevieve, Route 61, flooded corn, field during Mississippi River flood of 1993

Missouri: Mississippi River Basin, Flood of 1993

Activism is the rent I pay for living on the planet.
-Alice Walker, American author

Canada: Alberta, Columbia Icefields, retreating Athabasca Glacier

Canada: Alberta’s retreating Athabasca Glacier

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

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

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

WE ALL LIVE IN A WATERSHED

September 16, 2015

Definition of WATERSHED (aka, “river basin” or “drainage”): Land that drains water via rivers and streams into 1 waterbody (ocean, lake, river…) Like a sink, a watershed leads water downward toward a common drainage point.

WATER CONNECTS ALL

September 4, 2015

No Water – No Life!

Let’s protect it!

Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Theme: Connected.

– Posted by Jasmine Graf, NWNL Associate Director

Freshwater supports all terrestrial biodiversity

August 7, 2015

BiodiversityFreshWater

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NWNL Hydro-graphics are created by Jenna Petrone.

Dealing with California’s 4-year drought

May 19, 2015

The End of California?” is the headline of Timothy Egan’s New York Times op ed piece for May 3. “California,” he says, “from this drought onward, will be a state transformed.… The Golden State may recover, but it won’t be the same place.”

As dire as that sounds, an aggressive statewide effort – to use water more efficiently, reuse wastewater and capture lost stormwater – could save enough water to serve 20 cities the size of Los Angeles every year, according to a new analysis released by the Pacific Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Now in its fourth year of drought, the state’s reservoirs are running low, lakes are turning into mud puddles, some rivers will go completely dry. The drought led to the death of 12.5 million trees in California forests last year, greatly increasing the danger of wildfires. The Sierra snowpack was only 5 percent of normal in April, following the driest winter on record.

Governor Jerry Brown ordered the first mandatory statewide water rationing for cities in early April.

Finding solutions to California’s water problems is no simple matter – but we must keep trying to find innovative and technological answers to better usage practices. Eighty-two percent of this large and varied state was in extreme or exceptional drought last November, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

California 4-year drought map

California 4-year drought map, 2011–2015.
Source: National Drought Mitigation Center.

Value of CA water & farming

Eighty percent of the water used in California goes to farms, and nearly a fifth of the state’s energy use goes toward moving the water around, including pumping it over the mountains to Los Angeles.

Low-value crops have become uneconomical to farm in areas where water has become scarce and expensive. California’s Central Valley, through which the San Joaquin flows, grows 40% of U.S. fruits and 80% of the world’s almonds. These are high-value cash crops, but they need a lot of water. Ten percent of California’s water supply is used for almonds alone – many of which are exported overseas. Only the richest corporate farmers can survive in this drought.

Environmental effects

Last September, CNN columnist John D. Sutter wrote about his 417-mile trip down the San Joaquin River, designated by American Rivers as the United States’ “most endangered” river in 2014. As Sutter says, “Depending on what happens soon, it could become a river reborn, or a drainage ditch.”

The San Joaquin has federal protection, yet it is a river that is broken. Within living memory it was packed with an estimated 200,000 to 500,000 spring-run salmon. But now it is so over-drawn that a 40-mile stretch in its midsection is always dry. The migration route has been destroyed.

The Central Valley has increasingly high levels of groundwater pollution, some so bad that some people can’t drink from the tap. The extremely high rates of poverty in the Central Valley are also increasing since the lack of water for farms means fewer agricultural jobs are available. Access to the river is largely forbidden because it’s lined by private property; some people don’t even know it dries up not far from there.

Subsidence during this drought has been documented at nearly one foot per year near Los Banos due to excessive withdrawals of the groundwater. Still-expanding orchards of profitable almonds and fruit trees need water year round, not just during fruiting season – thus creating higher demands for irrigation and negating the former ability of Central Valley farmers of tomatoes and other seasonal vegetables to fallow their lands during droughts such as this.

Dry wells

In August, the Tulare County Office of Emergency Services had 12-gallon-per person rations of bottled water delivered, where at least 182 of the 1,400 households in East Porterville reported having no or not enough water. Because dry wells on private property are rarely reported, the real number is likely far greater, according to the state.

The problem was partly due to the shallowness of some residential wells that are replenished by groundwater from the Tule River. The drought has greatly lowered river flows. The state Department of Water Resources reported in November that more than 1,480 domestic well failures in 36 counties had been reported, more than half in Tulare County.

Water resources & water rights

Further complicating the situation is the complex set of appropriations that determine California’s century-old water rights laws. Competing interests are vying for an increasingly dwindling resource.

The State Water Resources Control Board has warned water rights holders to expect restrictions on their right to divert water from rivers and streams. On April 27, 2015, the Board announced it had approved a petition to allow transfers of water south of the Delta to needy water districts, including the Kern Tulare Water District and the The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD).

Several water districts south of the Delta, including MWD, which serves the coastal and most heavily populated portions of Southern California from Ventura County to San Diego County, are offering $700 an acre-foot to water agencies in the Sacramento Valley.

Problems with oil field wastewater

Last summer, state officials abruptly shut down 11 waste-injection wells in Kern County after the federal EPA found that the state had allowed companies to drill more than 170 waste-disposal wells into aquifers suitable for drinking or irrigation. Hundreds more wells inject wastewater into lower-quality aquifers that could have been used with more intense treatment. Most of the waste-injection wells are in the Central Valley. One farmer near Bakersfield blames oil companies for tainting the aquifer that used to feed his cherry trees. 3500 dying trees had to be removed, damaged by high levels of salt and boron in the water.

In Kern County, Chevron recycles 21 million gallons a day of waste water from oil fields, using various filtering methods to remove oil and chemicals. Chevron sells the treated water for about $30 an acre-foot, about half the open-market rate, to farmers who use it on about 10 percent of Kern County’s farmland. Though the program is two decades old, there are new concerns about crops raised with oil field water. Acetone and methylene chloride have been found in water moving through the irrigation canals from Chevron’s plant to farmers’ fields. Farmers can smell the petrochemicals in the irrigation water and trust that microorganisms in the soil are removing the toxins, but it’s unclear how much is removed and how much makes its way into the food chain.

In April, the Central Valley water authority notified all oil producers of broader testing requirements under California’s new fracking disclosure regulations requiring oil companies to tell the state which chemicals they use in oil-extraction processes so that testing agencies will know what to test for. Oil producers must submit their reports by June 15.

Solutions

As mentioned, the Pacific Institute and NRDC reported that California could save up to 14 million acre-feet of water a year. Their June 2014 report (PDF) summarizes the problem: California’s water supply strategy has been based on reservoirs for surface waters and on wells to tap the aquifers. Even in wet years, the rivers are over-allocated. Overdrafting of groundwater is so severe the subsidance of the land has damaged public roads and even water-delivery canals.

Green Infrastructure (GI): The good news is that there are opportunities to save 11 to 14 million acre-feet of water through cost-effective strategies that are technically feasible and more resistant to drought than the current system, and are compatible with healthy river basins and groundwater management. A series of issue briefs by Pacific Institute summarize the trends and the potential for improvements in agricultural and urban water conservation and efficiency, water reuse and stormwater capture.

A study of green infrastructure (PDF) by experts from The Dow Chemical Company, Shell, Swiss Re, and Unilever, working with The Nature Conservancy, finds that constructed and natural resources can be successfully used to replace gray infrastructure treatment plants. The study used two constructed wetlands for treating industrial wastewater, and found that initial capital expenses were significantly lower than for conventional gray infrastructure; operating expenses were minimal; energy requirements were significantly lower, carbon footprint and energy costs were reduced; and operational performance was satisfactory, being 100% compliant upon startup and for over 15 years in one case. These constructed wetlands also provide habitat for deer, bobcats, fish and birds, and educational opportunities for local schools.

Desalination: For coastal communities desalination is another source of fresh water. But because this process is energy intensive and the concentrated brine must be carefully disposed of, it comes at a high price. Researchers are now working on three new desalination technologies that require less energy.

Market Pricing: What is water’s economic value? Should the price of water be set by the free market? Water from a desalination plant opening soon near San Diego will cost about $2,000 per acre-foot, about what some almond farmers are paying to keep their trees alive. For the average California household using 360 gallons of water a day, that would come to $67 a month. Would that be too much to pay?

Market pricing would encourage conservation and investment in water-saving technologies, and make development of new infrastructure more cost-effective.

But water is an essential resource. In a water market, how can the needs of poor public districts be met when they could be outbid by rich and politically powerful communities?

Whatever the winning solutions turn out to be, California will be a state transformed.

—RW

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