500 Year Low in Sierra Snowpack

Multi-Century Evaluation of Sierra Nevada Snowpack

Comparison photos of Sierra Nevada snowpack in 2010 and 2015

These images captured by NASA’s Aqua satellite show the difference between snow cover in 2010—the last year with average winter snowfall in the region—and 2015 across the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Credit: NASA/MODIS

The 2015 record low snowpack level in California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range is unprecedented in comparison to the past 500 years, according to a new paper published in Nature Climate Change(link is external). In their examination of paleoclimate tree-ring based records dating back to 1500, scientists from the University of Arizona, University of Arkansas, and NCEI’s Paleoclimatology Program expect that the current snowpack low has a strong likelihood of occurring only once every 500 years and only once every 1,000 years below 7,000 feet. Such an exceptional low level poses significant challenges to California, which receives over 30% of its yearly water supply from Sierra Nevada snowpack.


Water Recycling, Down the Drain

Carolyn Lochhead for the SF Chronicle does an admirable job of following California politics.  Here she takes a look at a crucial measure to help the drought ridden west, and why it is not coming on-line.

Water recycling may be one of the most promising sources of new water for California, but you’d never know it in Washington.

At half the cost of desalinating sea water, recycling municipal wastewater could create an estimated 1.1 million acre-feet of new water in California. That’s roughly twice as much water as $9 billion in new dam proposals would deliver to the state in a year.

The new reclaimed source would come from purifying water that currently is used once to take a shower or wash clothes or flush a toilet and then cleaned by a wastewater treatment plant and dumped in the ocean. Conservative Orange County is the technology’s poster child.

Yet amid one of the worst droughts in California’s modern history, the Obama administration this year asked Congress for $20 million for water recycling, to be spread across the entire 17-state West. That’s one-fifth the amount the administration targeted on livestock disaster assistance to California ranchers as part of its drought response, using funds under its discretion.

But tapping even that puddle of money is proving difficult because of a Republican ban on earmarks, which will allow no member of Congress to authorize spending on a new recycling project.

SF Chron Sept 7, 2015

Saving Water

Water ConservationA good page at SFWater.ORG with some ideas about water saving.  Clearly, home use of water is a small part of the problem.  Psychologically, however, doing everything we small users can do helps organize the necessary pressure against the big wasters.


Water Watch: Saudi Arabia Sends a Warning

Very interesting report at revealnews.org about the big money exploitation of Saudi aquafers — now depleted and disaster looming.


A decade ago, reports began emerging of a strange occurrence in the Saudi Arabian desert. Ancient desert springs were drying up.

The springs fed the lush oases depicted in the Bible and Quran, and as the water disappeared, these verdant gardens of life were returning to sand.

“I remember flowing springs when I was a boy in the Eastern Province. Now all of these have dried up,” the head of the country’s Ministry of Water told The New York Times in 2003.

The springs had bubbled up for thousands of years from a massive aquifer system that lay underneath Saudi Arabia. Hydrologists calculated it was one of the world’s largest underground systems, holding as much groundwater as Lake Erie.

So farmers were puzzled as their wells dried, forcing them to drill ever deeper. They soon were drilling a mile down to continue tapping the water reserves that had transformed barren desert into rich irrigated fields, making Saudi Arabia the world’s sixth-largest exporter of wheat.

… A Saudi banker turned water detective put together the pieces in 2004 and published the now seminal report “Camels Don’t Fly, Deserts Don’t Bloom.” Elie Elhadj’s investigation revealed the culprit: Wealthy farmers had been allowed to drain the aquifers unchecked for three decades.

Beginning in the late 1970s, Saudi landowners were given free rein to pump the aquifers so that they could transform the desert into irrigated fields. Saudi Arabia soon became one of the world’s premier wheat exporters.

And, as to California?

For the past two years, stories similar to Saudi Arabia’s have been bubbling up in the Central Valley, which produces about 10 percent of America’s agriculture. Wells are going dry, farmers are forced to chase water ever deeper underground, and the ground is sinking.

California scientists warn that they have little idea how much groundwater is left, or how long it would take aquifers to refill even if all the pumping stopped now.

Some California aquifers have been so depleted by irrigated farmland that the state is now pumping water that trickled down more than 20,000 years ago. Rainwater won’t recharge these ancient aquifers. When it’s gone, it’s gone – at least for the next 800 generations or so.

Read All 

California Water Madness

A golf course in Sun City Palm Desert next to the original barren earth.

A golf course in Sun City Palm Desert next to the original barren earth.

Good article, great photos, about California water, NYTimes

We already know the Sierra Nevadas got nada, BUT NOW, you can’t depend on the Rocky Mountain snow pack to wet yer whistle, either….

Drought-weary Californians can’t expect much encouragement from mountains elsewhere in the West: Snow that fills the Colorado River is lagging, too, officials said Friday.

The snowpack in the Colorado and Wyoming valleys where the river originates now ranges from 51 to 79 percent of normal, said Brian Domonkos, Colorado supervisor of the U.S. Department of Agriculture snow survey, which monitors snowfall and water availability.

The Colorado River supplies water to about 40 million people and 6,300 square miles of farmland in seven states, including California.

The Desert Sun

Oysters on Acid

Billions of baby oysters in the Pacific inlets here are dying and Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington is busy spreading the bad news.

“It used to be the canary in the coal mine,” Mr. Inslee said in a recent interview. “Now it’s the oyster in the half shell. You can’t overstate what this means to Washington.”

Oysters Under Acid

Oysters On Acid

Mr. Inslee, who is campaigning for his agenda across the state this summer with oyster farmers in tow, is trying to position himself as America’s leading governor in the climate change fight. But Mr. Inslee does not have the support of the majority of the Washington State Senate, particularly those conservative lawmakers from the rural inland … NY Times: Davenport

This is a strangely snarky report on Inslee using out of state money to get his ideas out — after out-of-staters have poured billions into the political troughs to do just the opposite, deny and define down the dangers of climate change.  In this year of WW I centenary it’s like complaining about French taxi drivers carrying soldiers to the front after the Germans have poured across the border….

For more, here’s a Science Daily article:

Marine researchers have definitively linked the collapse of oyster seed production at a commercial oyster hatchery in Oregon to an increase in ocean acidification.

Water Woes Not Only Drought Related: Try Toledo

Update: So the emergency is declared over. Until the next time.

“The City of Toledo issued an urgent water advisory early Saturday morning. The advisory is still in effect as of Sunday.

“City of Toledo residents and regional residents (including portions of Lucas, Wood, Fulton and Monroe counties) who receive water from the city are asked to not drink city water until further notice, including water that has been boiled. Water should also not be given to pets.

Water for these areas originates in Lake Erie and that lake has been the sump for all manner of human created waste-run offs for years — which, it turns out, are a fine fertilizer for blue-green algae, which produced the micro-toxins now threatening the populace.

Toledo Free Press

lake erie algae

What goes around, as is said, comes around.

Says Collin O’Mara of the National Wildlife Federation.

there’s a systemic challenge that we face here in the Great Lakes that’s actually much bigger than this one crisis. And unfortunately this crisis could just be the tip of the iceberg unless we begin to address it.”

It’s more than just run-off from industry and farmers’ fields, but run-off from fertilizer individual people use on their lawns, the overuse of manure and more, as well as affected by natural causes. The consequences affect not only residents but wildlife, fisheries, businesses such as charter boats, tourism and more.

Of course, a crisis like this is also an opportunity to ask questions, primarily what have US Congressional Representatives and US Senators from Ohio done about the first line of defense for a) testing the water and b) having muscle to b.1) get it cleaned up and b.2) getting at the cause?

I’m always curious because the EPA — Federal and Ohio– are always such whipping boys for the ‘leave-me-alone crowd’  What is to be done, and who should do it?  Who should pay?  Curious observers want to know.

As does at least one columnist at the Toledo Blade

I spoke Saturday with Frank Szollosi, who is the point man for the Great Lakes with the National Wildlife Federation but is from and still lives in Toledo. He told me that there has been a 37 percent increase in rainfall in this region since 1958 and “farming practices and waste water infrastructure have not kept up.” Fertilizer runoff and factory farms, he said, are not problems of Toledo’s making. His conclusion: “We are enduring the result of system failure.” He said the system has not changed as the climate has. And that, until agribusiness must comply with the same rules the rest of us must comply with, our water will be compromised. We need our farmers in order to eat. But we need a system that protects the water supply. He told me, “This happened last night, but it didn’t happen overnight.”

Blade: Burris

And, I know it’s not pleasant, but the phosphorous in the water is coming from somewhere.  If campers were shitting up stream in our river they’d be told to stop — not just given a suggestion. No negotiation: stop!

Researchers largely blame the algae’s resurgence on manure and chemical fertilizer from farms that wash into the lake along with sewage treatment plants. Leaky septic tanks and stormwater drains have contributed, too. Combined, they flush huge amounts of phosphorus into the lake.

Environmental groups and water researchers have been calling on Ohio and other states in the Great Lakes region to drastically reduce the amount of phosphorus flowing into the lake. Ohio lawmakers this past spring took a step toward tackling the algae problem when they enacted a law requiring most farmers to undergo training before they use commercial fertilizers on their fields.But they stopped short of mandating restrictions on farmers.

The International Joint Commission, an advisory agency made up of Canadian and U.S. officials, said last year urgent steps are needed to reduce phosphorus applied to fields, suggesting among other things that states ban the spread of manure on frozen or snow-covered ground.


Thirsty? Swallow Spit

California is not alone in its water wars, nor the nearest to outright armed stand-offs.  All through the South West the situation is dire, and the scaffolding of agreements from which decisions are to be made, looking increasingly rickity.


Just outside this minuscule farm town, Frank DeStefano was feeding a 500-acre cotton crop with water from the Brazos River 16 months ago when state regulators told him and hundreds of others on the river to shut down their pumps. A sprawling petrochemical complex at the junction of the Brazos and the Gulf of Mexico held senior rights to the river’s water — and with the Brazos shriveled, it had run short.

State regulators ordered Mr. DeStefano and others with lesser rights to make up the deficit. But they gave cities and power plants along the Brazos a pass, concluding that public health and safety overrode the farmers’ own water rights.

Now Mr. DeStefano and other farmers are in court, arguing that the state is wrong — and so far, they are winning.

…In southern Texas, along the Gulf coast southwest of Houston, the state has cut off deliveries of river water to rice farmers for three years to sustain reservoirs that supply booming Austin, about 100 miles upstream.


In Nevada, a coalition ranging from environmentalists to the Utah League of Women Voters filed federal lawsuits last month seeking to block a pipeline that would supply Las Vegas with groundwater from an aquifer straddling the Nevada-Utah border.


In Colorado, officials in the largely rural west slope of the Rocky Mountains are imposing stiff restrictions on requests to ship water across the mountains to Denver and the rest of the state’s populous eastern half. Fearing for their existence, Colorado farm towns on the Arkansas River have mobilized to block sales of local water rights to Denver’s fast-growing suburbs.


In Arizona, activists and the federal government are fighting plans to tap groundwater used by a vast housing development — a move that would reduce the water level of a protected river.


Kansas accuses Colorado and Nebraska of allowing their farmers to divert Kansas’ share of the Republican River, which flows through all three states.

And the Rules?

In Texas, landowners own the groundwater beneath their property, but a neighbor pumping groundwater from the same aquifer can siphon it away without penalty.

The Arizona court battle over a proposed housing development hinges on the still-murky question of whether the state can allow the builder to pump groundwater that sustains a river that is under federal control.

The prevailing law on rivers and streams is all too clear: The earlier someone stakes a claim on a stretch of water, the more bulletproof that owner’s right to it.

“If you’ve got the oldest claim on that river, you get to use that water regardless of what you’re using it for — agriculture, industry, whatever,” said Gabriel Eckstein, a professor at Texas A & M University School of Law and a lawyer with Sullivan and Worcester. “That’s regardless of whether you’re doing it efficiently, regardless of whether it’s the highest use.”

Meanwhile, large segments of our elected decision makers are spending precious hours and court time on whether your marriage threatens my marriage or whether the poor are poor because they won’t work…

Paying Attention to the Water… NY Times: Wines

When the Deregulation Chickens Come Home to Roost in North Carolina

 Wet coal ash from the Dan River earlier this month. The spill coated the river bottom 70 miles downstream and threatened drinking water and aquatic life. Credit Gerry Broome/Associated Press

Wet coal ash from the Dan River earlier this month. The spill coated the river bottom 70 miles downstream and threatened drinking water and aquatic life. Credit Gerry Broome/Associated Press

Last June, state employees in charge of stopping water pollution were given updated marching orders on behalf of North Carolina’s new Republican governor and conservative lawmakers.

“The General Assembly doesn’t like you,” an official in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources told supervisors, who had been called from across the state to a drab meeting room here. “They cut your budget, but you didn’t get the message. And they cut your budget again, and you still didn’t get the message.”

From now on, regulators were told, they must focus on customer service, meaning issuing environmental permits for businesses as quickly as possible. Big changes are coming, the official said, according to three people in the meeting, two of whom took notes. “If you don’t like change, you’ll be gone.”

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We hope, when all the tallies are done, it will be the folks who hate regulation so much, who ‘will be gone.”

That West Virginia Spill? Try Formaldehyde

“A West Virginia state official told a legislative panel on Wednesday that he “can guarantee” residents are breathing in formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, nearly three weeks after a massive chemical spill contaminated the water supply for more than 300,000 residents.

Scott Simonton, a Marshall University environmental scientist and member of the state Environmental Quality Board, told the panel that he had found formaldehyde in local water samples and was alarmed by the lack of information regarding the lingering impacts of the spill on public health, the Charleston Gazette reported.

“It’s frightening, it really is frightening,” Simonton said. “What we know scares us, and we know there’s a lot more we don’t know.””

Think Progress/Climate