Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Water By the Numbers – California Canary in the Coal Mine

While different regions across the United States have responded to global warming in different ways – from flooding to losing coastal land mass to fire and droughts – California’s plight is particularly dramatic. Given its size and place in America’s economic and food chain, what happens in California dramatically impacts the other 49 states. From soup to nuts, from high tech to fashion and culture, California still leads the pack. But as fires rage in the forests and the hills, as crops – particularly water-sucking nut trees die where they stand and grapes on the withered vines – dry up and blow away, jobs are lost, and the California economy shudders.
Even those who have made their millions or billions are “inconvenienced” as their mega-estates are now being told to let those massive lawns turn brown, the fountains turned off and to replace their stunning landscaping with drought-resistant alternatives. Hard to feel sorry for them, but there are lots of people down the economic ladder who are suffering much worse. Farmers have been sucking down groundwater, sometimes illegally to let their long-standing trees survive, the loss of all that liquid support beneath now threatens buildings above – a harsh reality in the Bakersfield area where this subsidence might be as much as a couple of inches a year.
At the end of August, a body of specialized scientific experts – from that National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the University of California (both the Irvine and Davis campuses) – reviewed the hard numbers and published some of their result in Nature. The Patch (August 29th) summarizes some of those results. On a hard economic basis, California’s drought this year has inflicted $2.2 billion in measurable losses, killing 17,000 jobs along the way. 12 million trees are gone. The state has doubled water usage since 1950 has doubled, just as projections for future years tell us that water supplies will be further impaired. Effectively, the recent drought has cost California a full year’s worth of rainfall!
“The experts say ‘overuse and obsolete management of scarce water resources are exacerbating the current drought’s impacts. Past leaders legislated for and invested in measures and infrastructure to boost supplies as demand grew. Now the state is nearing its water limits and can no longer simply build its way out.’
“The scientists predicted that the state’s drought is a ‘harbinger of things to come around the world, wherever population and industries are growing.’
“They called for ‘more studies and legislative consideration of the human impacts on water stress caused by urbanization, greenhouse-gas emissions and food and energy production, as well as for policy and management practices more suitable to prosperous economies and developed water systems.’
“The authors praised the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014 as a ‘major breakthrough for sustaining groundwater,’ but lamented that it “is expected to take decades.’
“They criticized legislation approved last month by the House of Representatives that aims to ‘offer some drought relief to Californian farmers and growers at the cost of protecting endangered fish.... Such dramatic policy responses may have irreversible impacts such as the extinction of native fishes.’”
California has also been impacted by the El Niño/La Niña oceanic weather cycles, which have exacerbated the overlay of man-induced climate change. “El Niño is the warm phase of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (commonly called ENSO) and is associated with a band of warm ocean water that develops in the central and east-central equatorial Pacific (between approximately the International Date Line and 120°W), including off the Pacific coast of South America. El Niño Southern Oscillation refers to the cycle of warm and cold temperatures, as measured by sea surface temperature, SST, of the tropical central and eastern Pacific Ocean. El Niño is accompanied by high air pressure in the western Pacific and low air pressure in the eastern Pacific. The cool phase of ENSO is called ‘La Niña’ with SST in the eastern Pacific below average and air pressures high in the eastern and low in western Pacific. The ENSO cycle, both El Niño and La Niña, causes global changes of both temperatures and rainfall.” Wikipedia. El Niño’s is the current cycle.
So bottom line, California not only has to get used to the current state of impaired water availability, it can expect the cycle will continue to deteriorate water availability a whole lot more. And the country better be prepared for an accelerated upward cycle of food commodities, with California leading the way.
I’m Peter Dekom, and we are now paying through the nose for our abuse of the resources and environment we inherited.

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