Lake Mead, Lowest Level Ever

Lake Mead, well known to Colorado River rafters as the terminus of their great three week adventure, and not so well known to millions as the source of their water, is reaching a record this week, and probably not stopping there.

The last time Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the United States, reached maximum capacity was 1983. This week the lake, located along the Colorado River near Las Vegas, Nevada, is expected to reach a new milestone — its lowest point ever.

Formed by the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead has been suffering for years as an expansive drought across the West, coupled with rising temperatures and populations, has overstressed the massive man-made body of water. According to forecasts from the federal Bureau of Reclamation, water levels will fall this week to their lowest since it was first filled in 1937. The lake, which provides water for 20 million people across the Southwest has been losing water for over a decade and is currently at about 40 percent capacity.

Climate Progress

Bathtub Ring of Once High Water at Lake Mead

Bathtub Ring of Once High Water at Lake Mead

Among those who will be affected as the lake shrinks more and more will be plenty of climate change deniers, who in their wisdom, will blame the federal government for conspiratorially siphoning off millions of gallons of water for nefarious purposes and depriving Mr. and Mrs. Ostrich of their right to get what they want!

Can’t we start a class-action suit for damages caused by obstinate idiocy?

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And the American southwest of course is only a small part of the problem.  A 2013 comprehensive study by the National Academy of Sciences says what’s ugly now is only going to get uglier.

…even modest climate change might drastically affect the living conditions of billions of people, whether through water scarcity, crop shortages or extremes of weather.

The group warns that water is the biggest worry. If the world warms by just 2 °C above the present level, which now seems all but unavoidable by 2100, up to one-fifth of the global population could suffer severe shortages.

“Water and all that relies on it, from food to sanitation and public health, is an emblematic aspect of climate change whose urgency people tend to instantly understand,” says Schellnhuber.

Regions most at risk from water scarcity include parts of the southern United States, the Mediterranean and the Middle East. By contrast, India, tropical Africa and high latitudes in the Northern Hemi­sphere can expect to receive more water in a warming world.

drought conditions are likely to become more frequent and severe in some parts of South America, western and central Europe, central Africa and Australia, another project team reports3.

Uncertainty, adds Schellnhuber, is no excuse for inaction. “Those who might say, ‘Come back when you’ve narrowed down the risk’ should be reminded that climate change is a treacherous gamble,” he says. “We don’t quite know the odds, but the chance of losing heavily might be a lot bigger than many tend to think.”

Nature dot com


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.

Texas:

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.

Nevada

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.

Colorado

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.

Arizona

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

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


Drought and Desalinization

Even as we bask in a Northern California smirr, not quite a rain, the multi-year drought that threatens to turn the Central Valley from a fruit basket to archeological site continues.  Desperate minds turn to the ocean: there’s an awful lot of water there! How to get and use it?  Desalinization has been used on naval ships for decades – potable,barely, but certainly good for showers and washing down decks.  What’s the situation of large-scale terrestrial projects?  Here’s a brief, recent, report from Grist.

Enter the ongoing construction of 17 desalination plants across the state. A $1 billion plant being built in Carlsbad, Calif., expected to be ready by 2016, will pump 50 million gallons of drinkable water out of the ocean daily — making it the largest such facility in the Western Hemisphere. Another project underway near San Francisco (a discount at only $150 million) could supply 20 million of the 750 million gallons of water guzzled daily in the Bay Area by 2020.

Desalination involves sucking up seawater and pushing it at high pressure through a series of very thin membranes, to strip away the salt and ocean gunk. Water purists (ha) know it as reverse osmosis. It’s not an ideal process, since it uses an enormous amount of energy to turn about two gallons of seawater into one gallon of potable water, plus there are the aforementioned ocean gunk leftovers, but it does keep working rain or shine.

I didn’t know so many were in progress, albeit with delays and frustrations.  Given the increase in population, even with lots of water savings, many more plants would be needed if the drought continues.

Weaning So Cal off water imported from other areas would mean building a Carlsbad-scale plant every four miles along the coast, which adds up to 25 plants just between San Diego and L.A.


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.”

Read All

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

 


West Virginia Toxic Chemical Spill as Jon Stewarts Spews It


Water Situation in W Va Continues Serious

The bad thing is that 5,000 some gallons of a coal-treating chemical spilled into the West Virginia’s public water system.  The odd thing is that no one seems to know how toxic the stuff is.  A few people have been admitted to hospital with nausea, eye irritation or difficulty breathing — but from what exposure is not known.  So, the default position is full scale shut down of using the water — which brings its own health problems.

You’d sure think, with intake valves for the water company just downstream from the chemical storage, someone would long ago have calculated amounts, levels, risks and mitigation.

Officials said that up to 5,000 gallons of an industrial chemical used in coal processing seeped from a ruptured storage tank into the Elk River, just upstream of the intake pipes for the regional water company.

Authorities struggled to determine how much danger the little-known chemical, MCHM, or 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, posed.

“We don’t know that the water is not safe, but I can’t say it is safe,” said Jeff McIntyre, president of the West Virginia American Water Company, which supplies most of the household water in the area. “The only appropriate use for this water is toilet flushing.”

The chemical, which smells like licorice, can cause headaches, eye and skin irritation, and difficulty breathing from prolonged exposures at high concentrations, according to the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists.

NY Times

From Think Progress: The 6 Most Terrifying Things About the Spill

1. No one knows when water will be safe to drink again.

2. No one knows when the leak started or how much has leaked into the Elk River

3. The water company has had no contact with Freedom Industries, the company that manufactures the spilled chemical

4. There is no standard process for testing the toxicity of the spilled chemical in water.

5. It’s unclear just how dangerous the diluted chemical is to drink or breathe.

6. The chemical may have leached into the soil.

So, how is it that permits have long been issued if #5 is true?

 


Fracking: Banks, Insurers Not So Sure

  • When Benjamin [a Pennsylvania real estate broker] fills out an appraisal for a lender, he has to note if there is a fracked well or an impoundment lake on or near the property. “I’m having to explain a lot of things when I give the appraisal to the lender,” he says. “They are asking questions about the well quite often.”
  • Lawyers, realtors, public officials, and environmental advocates from Pennsylvania to Arkansas to Colorado are noticing that banks and federal agencies are revisiting their lending policies to account for the potential impact of drilling on property values, and in some cases are refusing to finance property with or even just near drilling activity.
  • Last month, a landowner in Madison, N.Y., was surprised when their insurance company refused to renew their homeowners policy because there is a conventional gas well on their property.
  • “Whether you are the homeowner trying to get homeowners insurance or the neighbor [to a fracking site] who is trying to refinance, there are just so many tentacles to this. I don’t think people are grasping all the impacts of natural gas drilling.”

Grist and more at the Akron Beacon

firewater-e1372175548407


California Climate Change Report

David Perlman, the long time San Francisco Chronicle science writer, has a sobering front-page article about climate change in California.  The California Environmental Protection Agency has released a 240 page “Indicators of Climate Change in California” report detailing 36 of them.  OMG!  The press release for the report captures the danger:

Key findings of the report include:
  • Temperatures:  The state’s high, low and average temperatures are all rising, and extreme heat events also have increased in duration and frequency. The rate of warming has accelerated since the mid1970s, and night time (minimum) temperatures have increased almost twice as fast as maximum (daytime) temperatures.
  • Wildfires:  The number of acres burned by wildfires has been increasing since 1950.The size, severity, duration and frequency of wildfires are greatly influenced by climate. The three largest fire years on record in California occurred in the last decade, and annual acreage burned since 2000 is almost twice that for the 1950-2000 period.
  • Water: Spring snow melt runoff has decreased, indicating warmer winter temperatures and more precipitation falling as rain rather than snow. Earlier and decreased run off can reduce water supplies, even when overall rainfall remains the same. This trend could mean less water available for agriculture, the environment and a growing population.
  • Coast and Ocean: A number of indicators reflect physical and biological changes in the ocean, impacting a range of marine species, including sea lions, seabirds and salmon. And data for Monterey Bay shows increased carbon dioxide levels in coastal waters, which can harm shell-forming organisms and have impacts throughout the marine food chain.
  • Species Migration: Certain plants and animals have responded to habitat changes influenced by warming. For example, conifer forests in the Sierra Nevada have been moving upslope and certain small mammals in Yosemite National Park have moved to higher elevations compared to the early 1900s.
The Springs fire continues to grow on May 3, 2013 near Camarillo, California.

The Springs fire continues to grow on May 3, 2013 near Camarillo, California.

For the full report see here.  A summary is here.  For a May Scientific Consensus on Maintaining Humanity’s Life Support Systems in the 21st Century, see here.

 

 


Snowpack Outlook Grim for Water Needs

There’s a reason Climate Change is the biggest ‘tag’ on this blog (see Tags in right column.)  It is the biggest concern we should all have. Bigger than who the president is.  Way bigger than who the General slept with. [I am reminded of John Goodman's line in Flight when he comes to see his buddy Denzel Washington, in the hospital with grievous wounds:  Hey, I brought you some stroke magazines!]  The world as we know it is en-route to the biggest changes in the shortest time Homo Sapiens has ever been around for.  No kidding.

David Perlman, as he has so often, contributes a column that should be pasted over every Californian’s kitchen sink.

Calif. snowpack outlook grim for water

The future of water for drinking and irrigation looks increasingly bleak throughout California and the world’s northern regions as the changing global climate shrinks mountain snowpacks and speeds early runoffs, Stanford researchers forecast.

Decreases in winter snowpacks are likely to be most noticeable during the next 30 years and will continue to shrink through the century, according to an analysis of future climate trends by a team of specialists led by Noah Diffenbaugh at Stanford’s Department of Environmental Earth System Science.

“One clear result is that western North America shows the most rapid and largest response to the continued emissions of greenhouse gases when it comes to early snowmelt and spring runoff,” Diffenbaugh said.

The result, he and his colleagues say, will be less runoff water for irrigation during the season when California’s high-value crops need it most for growing, and also more early springtime flooding that can strain dams and reservoirs before the water reaches lowland cities.

Read all:

You could also watch Discovery Channel’s “On Thin Ice,” with David Attenbourough at both poles, showing what climate change is doing to ice, snow and water there.

The Wilkins Ice Shelf, a 200-meter thick sheet of floating fresh water ice larger than Jamaica, started to break up in 2008.