California Is Turning Back Into A Desert And There Are No Contingency Plans

Drought-Public-Domain-300x204Once upon a time, much of the state of California was a barren desert.  And now, thanks to the worst drought in modern American history, much of the state is turning back into one.  Scientists tell us that the 20th century was the wettest century that the state of California had seen in 1000 years.  But now weather patterns are reverting back to historical norms, and California is rapidly running out of water.  It is being reported that the state only has approximately a one year supply of water left in the reservoirs, and when the water is all gone there are no contingency plans.  Back in early 2014, California Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency for the entire state, but since that time water usage has only dropped by 9 percent.  That is not nearly enough.  The state of California has been losing more than 12 million acre-feet of total water a year since 2011, and we are quickly heading toward an extremely painful water crisis unlike anything that any of us have ever seen before.

But don’t take my word for it.  According to the Los Angeles Times, Jay Famiglietti “is the senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Caltech and a professor of Earth system science at UC Irvine”.  What he has to say about the horrific drought in California is extremely sobering…

As our “wet” season draws to a close, it is clear that the paltry rain and snowfall have done almost nothing to alleviate epic drought conditions. January was the driest in California since record-keeping began in 1895. Groundwater and snowpack levels are at all-time lows. We’re not just up a creek without a paddle in California, we’re losing the creek too.

Data from NASA satellites show that the total amount of water stored in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins — that is, all of the snow, river and reservoir water, water in soils and groundwater combined — was 34 million acre-feet below normal in 2014. That loss is nearly 1.5 times the capacity of Lake Mead, America’s largest reservoir.

Statewide, we’ve been dropping more than 12 million acre-feet of total water yearly since 2011. Roughly two-thirds of these losses are attributable to groundwater pumping for agricultural irrigation in the Central Valley. Farmers have little choice but to pump more groundwater during droughts, especially when their surface water allocations have been slashed 80% to 100%. But these pumping rates are excessive and unsustainable. Wells are running dry. In some areas of the Central Valley, the land is sinking by one foot or more per year.

Are you starting to understand why so many experts are so alarmed?

For much more from Famiglietti, check out this 60 Minutes interview.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, essentially the entire state is suffering drought conditions right now.  And as you can see from the map below, most of the state is currently experiencing either the highest or the second-highest classification of drought…

US Drought Monitor California 2015

Nearly 40 million people live in the state of California at the moment.

What are they all going to do when the water is gone?

In some rural areas, reservoirs are already nearly bone dry.  And in other areas, the water quality has gone way down.  For example, in one Southern California neighborhood black water is now coming out of the taps…

Residents of a Southern California neighborhood are concerned about the fact that the water flowing out of the taps in their homes is the color black. That’s right; the water coming out of their faucets is indeed black — not gray, not cloudy — but black. Inky, opaque black water that the water company says is okay to drink.

Those who live in Gardena, California, are understandably skeptical when asked to consume water that strongly resembles crude oil or something emitted by a squid. The water reportedly also has an “odor of rotten eggs or sewer smell,” according to one resident.

Perhaps you don’t care about what happens to California.

Perhaps you believe that they are just getting what they deserve.

And you might be right about that.

But the truth is that this is a crisis for all of us, because an enormous amount of our fresh produce is grown in the state.

As I discussed in a previous article, the rest of the nation is very heavily dependent on the fruits and vegetables grown in California.  The following numbers represent California’s contribution to our overall production…

99 percent of the artichokes

44 percent of asparagus

two-thirds of carrots

half of bell peppers

89 percent of cauliflower

94 percent of broccoli

95 percent of celery

90 percent of the leaf lettuce

83 percent of Romaine lettuce

83 percent of fresh spinach

a third of the fresh tomatoes

86 percent of lemons

90 percent of avocados

84 percent of peaches

88 percent of fresh strawberries

97 percent of fresh plums

Without the agricultural production of the state of California, we are in a massive amount of trouble.

And of course there are other areas all over the globe that are going through similar things.  For instance, taps in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo are running dry as Brazil experiences the worst drought that it has seen in 80 years.

The world simply does not have enough fresh water left at this point, and that is why water is being called “the new oil”.  The following comes from CBS News…

It’s been said that the wars of the 21st century may well be fought over water. The Earth’s population has more than doubled over the last 50 years and the demand for fresh water — to drink and to grow food — has surged along with it. But sources of water like rainfall, rivers, streams, reservoirs, certainly haven’t doubled. So where is all that extra water coming from? More and more, it’s being pumped out of the ground.

Water experts say groundwater is like a savings account — something you draw on in times of need. But savings accounts need to be replenished, and there is new evidence that so much water is being taken out, much of the world is in danger of a groundwater overdraft.

And if scientists are right, what we are experiencing right now may just be the very beginning of our problems.  In fact, one team of researchers has concluded that the Southwestern United States is headed for a “megadrought” that could last for decades…

Scientists had already found that the Southwestern United States were at great risk of experiencing a significant megadrought (in this case meaning drought conditions that last for over 35 years) before the end of the 21st century. But a new study published in Science Advancesadded some grim context to those predictions.

Columbia University climate scientists Jason Smerdon and Benjamin Cook, and Cornell University’s Toby Ault were co-authors on the study. They took data from tree rings and other environmental records of climate from the Southwest and compared them to the projections of 17 different climate models that look at precipitation and soil moisture. When they made the comparison between past and future, they found that all the models agreed: the next big megadrought is coming, and it will be way worse than anything we’ve seen in over 1,000 years–including droughts that have been credited with wiping out civilizations.

Needless to say, along with any water crisis comes a food crisis.

Virtually everything that we eat requires a tremendous amount of water to grow.  And at this point, the world is already eating more food than it produces most years.

So what is going to happen to us as this water crisis gets even worse?

Discarded Russian submarines could cause a nuclear disaster in the Arctic

The Arctic could become a site of future turmoil, and not just because of the emerging geopolitical tensions and militarization in the region.

Beyond concerns of a frozen conflict in the icy north, there is the additional fear that the Barents and Kara Seas could become the location of a slow-motion nuclear disaster. Until 1991 the Soviet Union used the seas as a junkyard where it would dispose of its nuclear waste.

Sunken Russian Nuclear WasteGoogle

According to the Bellona Foundation, citing the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authorities (NRPA), the Soviet Union dumped “19 ships containing radioactive waste; 14 nuclear reactors, including five that still contain spent nuclear fuel; 735 other pieces of radioactively contaminated heavy machinery; 17,000 containers of radioactive waste,” and three nuclear submarines in the seas.

Disposing of nuclear waste and spent reactors at sea was actually a common practice around the world until the early 1970s. But the Soviet Union dumped a significant amount of material into bodies of water that were sometimes not that far from neighboring countries.

Three scuttled nuclear submarines are the most dangerous of the disposals for the overall safety of the region  — the K-27, the K-278, and the K-159, according to The Moscow Times. Of those, the K-27 is the one most likely to cause a Chernobyl-like event in which the casings of the reactors fail and dangerous amounts of radiation escape into the environment.

The K-27 is particularly risky, the BBC reports, due to its unique design. The submarine, which was launched in 1962, was experimentally developed with two previously untested liquid-metal cooled reactors. Soon after deployment the submarine began emitting high levels of radiation, poisoning its crew.

In 1981, the Soviet Union sunk the submarine in the Kara Sea. But the sub was scuttled at a depth of only 99 feet (30 meters), significantly below international guidelines.

The Moscow Times also reports that the K-159 and K-278 are potential causes for concern. The K-278 is at depths too deep for possible retrieval if it begins to leak radioactive material into the ocean.

The K-159, meanwhile, remains a point of contention between Russia and Norway — Oslo believes that the submarine and its potentially leaky reactor could disrupt fisheries along Norway’s northern shore.

Soviet Submarine K-159Reuters Photographer/REUTERSAn undated photo of a Russian 1960’s era November class nuclear attack submarine similar to the K-159 which sank in the Barents Sea on Saturday morning. The ageing submarine sank during a storm as it was being towed into port for scrapping and upto eight service men were feared killed, the Defence Ministry said.

“K-159 represents the biggest potential for emission, considering the levels of radioactivity in the reactors, compared with other dumped or sunken objects in the Kara Sea with spent nuclear fuel or radioactive waste,” Ingar Amundsen, the head of the NRPA told the Barents Observer.

In August 2014, the NRPA and Russian authorities conducted a joint investigation into possible nuclear leaks emanating from K-159. After the probe, Russian scientists reported that there were no signs that 800 kilograms of spent uranium fuel had begun leaking out of the submarine, Bellona reports.

National Geographic has previously reported that the chance of a leak from a nuclear submarine was miniscule in the near term, as reactors are shielded. Individual fuel rods within the reactor are then further encased in a special alloy to slow corrosion. This means that reactors should take centuries to leak into the ocean, by which time a majority of the nuclear material would have decayed.

But that assumes a level of durability that older Soviet models might not have. And a possible Russian-related environmental disaster in a contested geopolitical frontier like the Arctic could have unpredictable consequences.

Scientists warn of ‘mega-drought’ risk in western US

megadroughtLong-lasting mega-droughts could occur with increasing frequency in the western United States later this century if no action is taken to rein in climate change by curbing fossil fuel use, researchers said.

Mega-drought is defined as any drought as bad as the worst already seen in the 20th century, but lasting much longer, for 35 years or more.

The study is the first to predict that the coming intense dry spells could exceed the decades-long mega-droughts that occurred centuries ago and are blamed for the demise of certain civilizations in the late 13th century.

“I was honestly surprised at just how dry the future is likely to be,” said co-author Toby Ault, an assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Cornell University.

“I look at these future mega-droughts like a slow moving natural disaster. We have to put mega-droughts into the same category as other natural disasters that can be dealt with through risk management.”

The risks and dangers are worse today because of the larger population and greater dependence on water resources, scientists warned.

“We are the first to do this kind of quantitative comparison between the projections and the distant past, and the story is a bit bleak,” said Jason Smerdon, a co-author and climate scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, part of the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

“Even when selecting for the worst mega-drought-dominated period, the 21st century projections make the mega-droughts seem like quaint walks through the Garden of Eden.”

– ‘Unfavorable’ forecast –

Researchers applied 17 different climate models to analyze the future impact of rising temperatures on regions from Mexico to the United States and Canada.

They also projected a continued rise in emissions of the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, and looked at a scenario in which actions were taken to cut back on greenhouse gases resulting in lower emissions. Both approaches raised concern for the future.

“The results… are extremely unfavorable for the continuation of agricultural and water resource management as they are currently practiced in the Great Plains and southwestern United States,” said David Stahle, professor in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Arkansas who was not involved in the study.

Currently the western United States has been experiencing a drought for about 11 of the past 14 years.

The dry area spans California, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and Oklahoma and other parts of the region, directly affects more than 64 million people.

“Natural droughts like the 1930s Dust Bowl and the current drought in the Southwest have historically lasted maybe a decade or a little less,” said Benjamin Cook of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

“What these results are saying is we’re going to get a drought similar to those events, but it is probably going to last at least 30 to 35 years.”

The research was presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting, and published in a new AAAS online journal called Science Advances

Source of Fukushima’s nagging radioactive leak finally discovered – TEPCO

Fukushima-Leak-discovered

The source of the radioactive leak at the earthquake-stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was finally identified by the facility’s operator TEPCO

It was in January when the crew of the plant first noticed that water was leaking through to the drain on the first level of the building housing the reactor.

Engineers probed the space with a camera and found the water leakage to be near a pipe joint that connects directly to the containment vessel.

There is still water inside the containment vessel due to the ongoing flow of the coolant used to keep the stricken reactor’s temperature down.

The most likely scenario is that there’s more water in the vessel than there is in the area where the pipes enter it, the Tokyo Electric Power Company believes.

Before engineers can start decommissioning reactors 1, 2 and 3, which suffered meltdowns, they have to deal with the leakage. The coolant water comes out the other end mixed with radioactive waste. While it is possible to remove the radioactive fuel at this time, TEPCO wants to first plug the leak and fill up the space with more water as an additional measure against radiation.

TEPCO is at present trying to figure out the best strategy for plugging the leak.

The news comes just as the facility’s operator has ensured that the groundwater leakage issue (another problem) can also be solved by simply letting the water leak into the Pacific, instead of the cumbersome process of finding ways to store it, or block it from seeping into the ocean. The operation might take place by Wednesday next week.

To ensure that the water is indeed safe for release, TEPCO’s findings had to be backed up by the Japan Atomic Energy Agency and the Japan Chemical Analysis Center. What they found was that the feared presence of strontium-90 and cesium-134 and -137 was way below the health hazard threshold.

TEPCO is currently in talks with local authorities about releasing the groundwater. About 560 tons is to be released in the first round, which will only take about two hours, according to an official with the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.
But the water buildup continues, and the short-term storage tanks that TEPCO has been relying on in the past are no longer a solution, so the operator is to set up a bypass system to prevent further buildup of the other, highly radioactive groundwater.

As for the load, that’s passed the safety test, local communities have been notified and an agreement was reached on releasing it into the Pacific Ocean as soon as possible.

Two Orlando health workers ill after exposure to MERS patient

MERS in America

Tracking the spread of MERS

Two health workers at a hospital in Orlando, Florida, who were exposed to a patient with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome have begun showing flu-like symptoms, and one of the two has been hospitalized.

Officials at the Dr. P. Phillips Hospital said on Tuesday the two healthcare workers were exposed to the patient – the second confirmed case of MERS on U.S. soil – in the emergency department before it became clear that he might be infected with the virus, which is often deadly.

The second healthcare worker is being isolated in his home and watched for signs of infection.

Hospital and local health officials said at a press conference that the MERS patient, also a healthcare worker, had made a visit last week to the Orlando Regional Medical Center to accompany another person who was having a medical procedure. The MERS patient was symptomatic at the time, but did not seek treatment.

Five healthcare workers from the regional medical center and another 15 from the Dr. P. Phillips Hospital are being tested for MERS, including the two patients who have developed symptoms.

Hospital officials said they are awaiting test results to determine whether any of the exposed hospital workers have MERS.

Health officials stress that MERS is not a risk to the general public, but it does spread among healthcare workers who have close contact with infected patients.

Hospital officials said the MERS patient, who works in a hospital in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, is doing well and currently has a low-grade fever and a slight cough.

MERS, which causes coughing, fever and sometimes fatal pneumonia, is a virus from the same family as SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which killed around 800people worldwide after it first appeared in China in 2002.

There is no vaccine for MERS, and around a third of the 483known to have been infected with it in Saudi Arabia have died.

Grand Canyon runs low on water

Grand-Canyon-Runs-Dry-Drought

In this April 11, 2014 photo, low reservoir levels reveal tree stumps and a cracked lake bed in Williams, Ariz. Officials in Williams have declared a water crisis amid a drought that is quickly drying up nearby reservoirs and forcing the community to pump its only two wells to capacity.

In the northern Arizona city of Williams, restaurant patrons don’t automatically get a glass of water anymore. Residents caught watering lawns or washing cars with potable water can be fined. Businesses are hauling water from outside town to fill swimming pools, and building permits have been put on hold because there isn’t enough water to accommodate development.

Officials in the community about 60 miles from the Grand Canyon’s South Rim have clamped down on water use and declared a crisis amid a drought that is quickly drying up nearby reservoirs and forcing the city to pump its only two wells to capacity.

The situation offers a glimpse at how cities across the West are coping with a drought that has left them thirsting for water. More than a dozen rural towns in California recently emerged from emergency water restrictions that had a sheriff’s office on the lookout for water bandits at a local lake. One New Mexico town relied on bottled water for days last year. In southern Nevada, water customers are paid to remove lawns and cannot install any new grass in their front yards.

Officials in Williams jumped straight to the most severe restrictions after receiving only about 6 inches of precipitation from October to April — about half of normal levels — and a bleak forecast that doesn’t include much rain. City leaders acknowledge the move is extreme but say it’s the only way to make the city has enough water to survive.

“We knew we had to take some action to preserve the water,” Mayor John Moore said.

Reservoirs that supply residents’ taps are so low that they reveal tree stumps, plants and cracked earth once submerged by water.

Businesses are feeling the effects, too. The Grand Canyon Railway, which shuttles tourists from Williams to the national park, is using water recycled from rainfall, drained from a hotel pool and wastewater purchased in nearby Flagstaff to irrigate its landscaping and run steam engines.

Residents are praying they get some relief soon.

“I still have hope God will send us the rain,” said resident Jan Bardwell.

Communities across New Mexico also have seen their drinking water supplies dwindle in recent years due to severe drought and aging infrastructure. The town of Magdalena last summer was forced last summer to turn to bottled water after its well failed.

In the far western Texas city of El Paso, residents can’t water outdoors on Mondays. And officials have been reusing treated wastewater and investing in a major desalination plant that turns salty, unusable groundwater into a drinking source for the border city.

As Williams waits for moisture, Moore said city officials are exploring whether new wells will help secure a more sustainable water source. He said water conservation should take residents through the next couple of months until the rainy season arrives and winter returns.

In his home, Moore is taking shorter showers, flushing the toilet less often and thinking twice about dumping out water he doesn’t drink.

Other residents are using buckets to collect cold water that normally would go to waste while they wait for a hot shower, he said. Automatic shut-off devices are planned for showers at the city pool, and signs at water filling stations declare them off-limits to commercial water haulers.

Excessive water consumption could be costly under the restrictions. Residents using more than 15,000 gallons of water per month will see their bills rise by 150 percent to 200 percent. The penalty for using potable water outdoors for anything but public health or emergencies comes with a $100 surcharge that doubles for subsequent violations.

The Grand Canyon Railway poured tens of thousands of dollars into a landscape remodel last year that was watered with city taps. This year, the company had to gather that water from other sources, bringing in three rails cars to store it onsite.

It was a scenario that general manager Bob Baker didn’t see coming. “It’s drastic,” he said.

Other northern Arizona towns have less-stringent water restrictions. In Payson, residents are on a schedule for outdoor watering or washing cars. They are prohibited from putting in new grass and must choose from drought-tolerant plants for landscaping.

The goal for each person is to use no more than 89 gallons of water per day, but residents have averaged better than that at 70 to 75 gallons daily over the past decade, Mayor Kenny Evans said.

Water rates that increased decades ago allow the town to offer rebates for low-flow toilets and other water-saving devices. Payson has positioned itself well enough to extend water services to nearby communities while preaching conservation.

“We don’t have enough water to waste it,” said Evans, president of the Northern Arizona Municipal Water Users Association.

In Williams, Moore recently looked out at the reservoirs surrounding town in anticipation of a monsoon season that could help replenish them.

“We know in due time, the lakes will fill back up, the snow will come,” he said.

Little help for a million Californians on wells in historic drought

FORT BRAGG, California (Reuters) – Michael Holmes got by at his rural home near California’s rugged northern coast on a disability pension and water from a decades-old well — until the well dried up.

Holmes, 65, is among an estimated million Californians who rely on private wells, many now threatened by the state’s historic dry spell and with no direct access to a multi-million dollar state drought relief program.

“When this place was built in the 1950s, the water was three feet below the ground,” Holmes said, pointing a flashlight down the well’s long, empty shaft. “Now, the pump is down 26 feet and we’re still running out.”

These days, Holmes buys drinking water by the gallon and waits until enough water gathers to take a shower once a week.

The pump hangs an inch off the ground at the bottom of his well, and when the water comes up, it’s full of muck and minerals.

“It turns my white hair yellow,” Holmes said, tilting his head down to show.

California is still counting the number of threatened wells, in the latest sign of how the state is struggling to address and even understand the extent of the worst drought in decades.

A state report released last week showed groundwater levels in California had dropped over the past three, dry years, but focused mostly on issues faced by municipal water systems and agriculture, not well-dependent homeowners.

Governor Jerry Brown declared an emergency in January in the most populous U.S. state, requesting voluntary conservation efforts, funneling millions of dollars to farmers and municipalities, and even providing funds to help farm workers idled by the drought buy food and pay rent.

In a state where the lack of water for irrigation threatens a half-million acres of farmland, and a rapidly shrinking snow pack means less drinking water for nearly 40 million people, help was rushed to those who live within the boundaries of even the smallest municipal water districts.

Even fish got help. As river waters receded, the state trucked 30 million hatchling salmon, a record, to ease their annual migration.

The $687 million drought relief package of grants, loans and other financial assistance programs to fund solutions such as water storage and recycling projects, anti-contamination efforts and emergency water supplies, was aimed at communities in need.

But the relief plan did not include funds targeted at helping those relying on private wells to dig deeper or make other improvements.

They are not considered part of the public delivery system, and finding relief for them is more complicated, said Debbie Davis, the governor’s drought liaison to counties.

Oversight of water systems in California is limited and fractured.

Counties are responsible for oversight of private wells, she added, and it wasn’t until homeowners started calling a drought hotline in Mendocino County seeking help that state officials realized there was an extensive problem.

“For the most part, domestic well users are expected to be responsible for their own resource,” said Davis, who estimated a million people depended on wells. A working group is tracking down well owners and assessing needs, said California Natural Resources Agency spokesman Richard Stapler.

About 10 miles south of Holmes’s home in Ft. Bragg, many wells are going dry in the tiny beachside village of Mendocino, whose 900 residents rely entirely on private wells, said Roger Schwartz, president of the village’s tiny water district.

One woman in Mendocino County called the drought hotline to say she needed water to bathe her disabled husband, who was incontinent, said Brandon Merritt, a county analyst. Another family said it could not afford the $350 a private dealer was charging for a month-long supply of water.

Schwartz, of the Mendocino Community Services District, has pushed the state to offer grants or loans to help residents purchase water or dig deeper wells.

But Davis said the state will focus first on helping those who can be hooked up to existing water systems.

Such efforts would likely not help Arthur “Mark” Fontaine and his wife Ellen. They estimate it would cost $20,000 to improve the well that serves their property, which lies four miles from the nearest town and is likely too far away to be hooked up to municipal water.

Since October, they have been buying water from a broker.

“We’ve always had to conserve here,” said Ellen Fontaine, who grew up on the property, about 24 miles from Willits. “But I have not been able to do laundry here for almost two months.”

Volcano Updates Worldwide

Earlier

Sci-News.com

Underwater Volcanoes Play Role in Long-Term Climate
Sci-News.com
“People have ignored seafloor volcanoes on the idea that their influence is small – but that's because they are assumed to be in a steady state, which they're not,” said Dr Maya Tolstoy of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, who is ...

and more
Sat, Feb 07, 2015
Source: VOLCANOES

Seafloor Eruptions Triggered by Tides, Ice Ages
National Geographic
She found the eruptions tended to occur near “neap” tide, every two weeks, when the amount of seawater over the volcanoes is slightly lower than at other times. The reduced weight on the volcanoes apparently encourages small earthquakes, which can be ...

and more
Sat, Feb 07, 2015
Source: VOLCANOES

VICE News

Sea-Floor Volcanoes Play a Bigger Role in Earth's Climate Than Previously Thought
VICE News
Sea-floor volcanoes — eruptions at the bottom of the ocean typically thought of as slow, steady occurrences — actually pop up in bursts and play an integral role in climate variations, new research suggests. The eruptions — which create new sea ...

and more
Fri, Feb 06, 2015
Source: VOLCANOES

Nature World News

Underwater Volcano Flare-Ups Could Affect Climate Change
Nature World News
Underwater volcanoes are normally gentle giants, but their frequent flare-ups could affect climate change, according to new research. Triggered by short- and long-term changes in the Earth's orbit and sea levels, these volcanic flare-ups, or pulses ...

and more
Fri, Feb 06, 2015
Source: VOLCANOES

Scientific American

Undersea Volcanoes Erupt with Gravity, Shifting Earth's Climate
Scientific American
Below was the East Pacific Rise, a point in the ocean floor where continents move apart, causing magma contained in the Earth's core to rise to the surface and spew from underwater volcanoes. Into these depths, Tolstoy, a marine geophysicist with the ...

and more
Fri, Feb 06, 2015
Source: VOLCANOES

Bigger Dams Won’t Make California Greener

FOLSOM LAKE MARINA AT FOLSOM LAKE, AT 17% CAPACITY IN FEBRUARY 2014

FOLSOM LAKE MARINA AT FOLSOM LAKE, AT 17% CAPACITY IN FEBRUARY 2014

California’s northern rivers are so low that young Chinook salmon have to be trucked on their journey to the Pacific Ocean. Yet to listen to some farmers and their political allies, you would think the fish, shielded by environmental law, are doing fine, while the state’s $45 billion agricultural economy is being sucked dry by the epic drought.

Their solution: build huge tunnels, expand big dams (federally subsidized, of course) and pipe more water from the relatively wet north to the dry south. But Mother Nature is sending a different message: California can’t count on having bounties of water to meet all the claims on it.

Although some new storage plans make sense — especially small-scale, local projects and repairs to existing infrastructure — no new mammoth public works are going to draw more water from the sky. That 20th-century strategy perpetuates wasteful agricultural practices and antiquated water-rights laws. California’s water future would be better secured through measures that make the most efficient use of every drop.

Despite the recent rainstorms, the Sierra Nevada snowpack, on which much of the state will depend for water in the dry months to come, is at a quarter of its normal level. The state hopes to rely more on groundwater, but that resource has been dangerously depleted and polluted by previous droughts and overuse. Farmers, who use 80 percent of California’s water and produce almost half of all U.S.-grown fruit, nuts and vegetables, are fallowing 500,000 of the 8 million acres cultivated.

Just 38 percent of the state’s fields are watered using efficient drip- or precision-sprinkler irrigation systems, according to a 2010 survey. Farmers who have yet to switch from flooding or spraying entire fields need the nudge of loans or rebates.

Incentives are also needed to get farmers to adopt technology to improve irrigation timing. Newer systems can measure the moisture in soil, take the weather into account and even withhold water when a crop is in a drought-tolerant stage of growth. These methods can reduce energy bills and improve crop yields and quality.

If taxpayers subsidize these improvements, farmers in turn will need to refrain from using the water they save merely to expand their operations. The state should end the “use it or lose it” system for water rights that has prevailed for too long. In some cases, it makes sense for municipalities to fund irrigation improvements in exchange for the water that farmers save.

The Pacific Institute estimates that efficiency measures could reduce agricultural water use in California by 15 percent and urban use by 30 percent. The organization calculated that a package of measures producing a savings of 1 million acre-feet of water a year would require an upfront investment of $1.87 billion. By contrast, the proposed Temperance Flat dam and reservoir — which would be federally financed — would produce just 158,000 acre-feet of water yearly, at a cost of $3.4 billion. A plan supported by Governor Jerry Brown to build two tunnels beneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta would cost $25 billion.

Farmers complain they are being victimized while few city and suburb dwellers face mandatory restrictions on water use and can still enjoy their lawns and golf courses. This is a fair criticism.

Crazily, water customers in 42 California communities, including Sacramento, the state capital, still pay a flat rate. According to an analysis by the San Jose Mercury News, those places use 39 percent more water per person than the state average. Communities should charge so-called block rates for water, so that the more water a household uses, beyond a reasonable amount, the more it costs.

Localities can expand their supply by recycling more wastewater. Treated wastewater can be used for irrigating fields and landscapes, for industry and for recharging groundwater. The state already recycles about 670,000 acre-feet of treated wastewater yearly, though that’s far less than the 3.5 million acre-feet that are discharged into the Pacific.

The California Legislature should add enforcement mechanisms to a 2009 law requiring the installation of high-efficiency toilets, faucets and showerheads in commercial and residential properties by 2019. Water districts should cooperate with energy utilities to offer rebates for clothes washers that use 15 gallons of water per load instead of the 60 gallons that old machines require.

The rest of the state should follow the lead of the Metropolitan Water District, which services southern California, in paying customers to replace their lawns with plants such as salvia and agave that are adapted to the arid climate. About half the water the district sells to residences is used on landscaping.

These changes may sound minor, but in a state with more than 38 million people they add up. And they promote the goal of shared sacrifice. For all the talk of how the drought is inflaming the political divisions between cities and farms, the truth is that Californians are in this one together.

7.5 quake on California fault could be disastrous

David Richardson of CalTrans photographs a rock wall where a rockslide closed Carbon Canyon Road near Carbon Canyon Regional Park in Brea, Calif., on Saturday, March 29, 2014, after an earthquake hit Orange County Friday night. More than 100 aftershocks have rattled Orange County south of Los Angeles where a magnitude-5.1 earthquake struck Friday. Despite the relatively minor damage, no injuries have been reported

David Richardson of CalTrans photographs a rock wall where a rockslide closed Carbon Canyon Road near Carbon Canyon Regional Park in Brea, Calif., on Saturday, March 29, 2014, after an earthquake hit Orange County Friday night. More than 100 aftershocks have rattled Orange County south of Los Angeles where a magnitude-5.1 earthquake struck Friday. Despite the relatively minor damage, no injuries have been reported

Experts say a bigger earthquake along the lesser-known fault that gave Southern California a moderate shake could do more damage to the region than the long-dreaded “Big One” from the more famous San Andreas Fault.

The Puente Hills thrust fault, which brought Friday night’s magnitude-5.1 quake centered in La Habra and well over 100 aftershocks by Sunday, stretches from northern Orange County under downtown Los Angeles into Hollywood — a heavily populated swath of the Los Angeles area.

A magnitude-7.5 earthquake along that fault could prove more catastrophic than one along the San Andreas, which runs along the outskirts of metropolitan Southern California, seismologists said.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that such a quake along the Puente Hills fault could kill 3,000 to 18,000 people and cause up to $250 billion in damage. In contrast, a larger magnitude 8 quake along the San Andreas would cause an estimated 1,800 deaths.

In 1987, the fault caused the Whittier Narrows earthquake. Still considered moderate at magnitude 5.9, that quake killed eight people and did more than $350 million in damage.

Merchandise is strewn across the floor in a La Habra Walgreens following a 5.1 earthquake centered near La Habra Friday night March 28, 2014.

Merchandise is strewn across the floor in a La Habra Walgreens following a 5.1 earthquake centered near La Habra Friday night March 28, 2014.

Part of the problem with the potential damage is that the fault runs near so many vulnerable older buildings, many made of concrete, in downtown Los Angeles and Hollywood. And because the fault, discovered in 1999, is horizontal, heavy reverberations are likely to be felt over a wide area.

The shaking from a 7.5 quake in the center of urban Los Angeles could be so intense it would lift heavy objects in the air, like the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake in Northern California, where the shaking was so bad “we found an upside-down grand piano,” USGS seismologist Lucy Jones told the Los Angeles Times (http://lat.ms/1houJzW ).

That would “hit all of downtown,” Jones said. “And everywhere from La Habra to Hollywood.”

 

A car sits overturned on a highway in the Carbon Canyon area of Brea, Calif., Friday night, March 28, 2014, after hitting a rock slide caused by an earthquake. The people inside the car sustained minor injuries. A magnitude-5.1 earthquake centered in the area near Los Angeles caused no major damage but jittered nerves throughout the region as dozens of aftershocks struck into the night.

A car sits overturned on a highway in the Carbon Canyon area of Brea, Calif., Friday night, March 28, 2014, after hitting a rock slide caused by an earthquake. The people inside the car sustained minor injuries. A magnitude-5.1 earthquake centered in the area near Los Angeles caused no major damage but jittered nerves throughout the region as dozens of aftershocks struck into the night.

About 150 aftershocks, including one of magnitude-4.1, were felt since Friday night’s quake, which forced several dozen people in the Orange County city of Fullerton out of their homes after firefighters discovered foundation problems that made the buildings unsafe to enter, authorities said.

Fire crews red-tagged 20 apartment units after finding a major foundation crack, but residents have since been allowed to return. Structural woes, including broken chimneys and leaning, were uncovered in half a dozen single-family houses, which were also deemed unsafe to occupy until building inspectors clear the structures. About two dozen residents remained displaced, down from more than 80 after the initial quake.

Another 14 residential structures around the city suffered lesser damage, including collapsed fireplaces.

A water-main break flooded several floors of Brea City Hall, and the shaking knocked down computers and ceiling tiles, Stokes said.

It was not immediately clear if City Hall would reopen Monday. An email to the mayor was not immediately returned.