Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District

We inspire and partner with our community to protect the natural resources and agricultural future of our District.

Storm Water, Long a Nuisance, May Be a Parched California’s Salvation

The winter rains finally arrived in Southern California, bringing drenching relief in recent days to a part of the nation suffering one of the worst droughts in history. But the El Niño storms brought something else as well: a reminder of lost opportunity, on display in this coastal city, as millions of gallons of storm water slipped down the usually dry Los Angeles River and out into San Pedro Bay.

After a year in which Californians cut water use by 25 percent, storm water has become the next front in what amounts to a fundamental restructuring of Southern California’s relationship with its intricate water network. More than 200 billion gallons of storm water, enough to supply 1.4 million households for a year, could be captured statewide — but instead end up spilling down sewers and drains and into the ocean, as was on display Thursday, in the hours after the rainfall ended, at the spot where the Los Angeles River ends here.

Nowhere is the disparity felt more than in parched Los Angeles, with its short winters and its overwhelming reliance on water imported from Northern California and the Colorado River. For nearly a century, since deadly floods in 1938 killed 97 people, engineers have focused on ways to flush storm water safely out of Los Angeles as quickly as possible. Now, officials want to capture that water.

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Source:  Adam Nagourney, The New York Times, February 19, 2016

New limits on California well-drilling sought

An irrigation pipe disconnected from a Fresno cotton field.

Warning that a drought-driven surge in well drilling is causing the earth to sag and imperiling long-term water supplies, a California senator wants to place more stringent limits on new wells.

In an effort sure to inflame ever-sensitive disputes over water rights, Senate Bill 1317, by Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, would have people hoping to sink new wells in strained basins obtain conditional use permits and furnish proof that a new well would not have “undesirable impacts” like causing the earth to sink or dropping water levels too low. It would halt new wells in critically overdrafted basins, of which there are currently 21 across the state.

Local governments could avoid those requirements by passing their own limits – no easy matter, given the intensity of fights over access to water and property rights.

“We have to recognize that there are serious problems now in some groundwater basins,” Wolk said in an interview. Local governments “need to take responsibility for their critically overdrafted basins.” She added, “and if they don’t, we will.”

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Source: Jeremy B. White, The Sacramento Bee, February 19, 2016

Water, Security, and Conflict: Violence over Water in 2015

Since its founding in 1987, the Pacific Institute has worked to understand the links between water resources, environmental issues, and international security and conflict. This has included early analytical assessments (such as a 1987 Ambio paper  and this one from the journal Climatic Change) of the risks between climate change and security through changes in access to Arctic resources, food production, and water resources, as well as the ongoing Water Conflict Chronology – an on-line database, mapping system, and timeline of all known water-related conflicts. In 2014, an analysis of the links between drought, climate change, water resources, and the conflict in Syria was published in the American Meteorological Society journal Weather, Climate, and Society.

The Chronology includes incidences of violence over water resources going back 5,000 years to myths, legends, and recorded history in ancient Sumeria and Mesopotamia. This week, the Institute released the 2015 update, bringing the number of recorded conflicts to nearly 370, from every populated region of the world. The full list can be found here.

Eleven new examples from 2015 have been added, along with some from previous years that other researchers and readers have brought to our attention. The Chronology includes conflicts over access and control of water resources, attacks on water infrastructure during wars and regional violence, the use of water as a weapon, and terrorist attacks where water systems or users were explicitly targeted.

In 2015, the key locus of conflicts was, perhaps unsurprisingly, the current Middle East, where years of civil war, ethnic and religious violence, and ideological conflicts have taken a harsh toll. Among the countries with entries in 2015 are Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Afghanistan, including cases involving the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in exactly the same region of Mesopotamia as entries from 2500 BC. Examples involving Russia, the Ukraine, Somalia, and Colombia were also added in 2015, along with some new earlier instances, including a new entry for 1904 from the brutal suppression of the Herero people of German South-West Africa (modern-day Namibia).

Among the most disturbing trends in 2015 was the intentional and unintentional targeting of water infrastructure in several of the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and the Ukraine, attacks on water pipelines and water supply systems in Syria and Iraq, and the use of major dams as weapons of war in Iraq. In other parts of the world, however, we also saw several instances of violence over access to water, from low-level fights among land owners to the deaths of thousands in Yemen in armed fights over wells and other water access points.

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Source:  Peter Gleick, Science Blogs, February 17, 2016

The Likelihood of Recent Record Warmth

2014 was nominally the warmest year on record for both the globe and northern hemisphere based on historical records spanning the past one and a half centuries1,2. It was the latest in a recent run of record temperatures spanning the past decade and a half. Press accounts reported odds as low as one-in-650 million that the observed run of global temperature records would be expected to occur in the absence of human-caused global warming. Press reports notwithstanding, the question of how likely observed temperature records may have have been both with and without human influence is interesting in its own right. Here we attempt to address that question using a semi-empirical approach that combines the latest (CMIP53) climate model simulations with observations of global and hemispheric mean temperature. We find that individual record years and the observed runs of record-setting temperatures were extremely unlikely to have occurred in the absence of human-caused climate change, though not nearly as unlikely as press reports have suggested. These same record temperatures were, by contrast, quite likely to have occurred in the presence of anthropogenic climate forcing.

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Source:  Michael E. Mann, Stefan Rahmstorf, Byron A. Steinman, Martin Tingley and Sonya K. Miller, Scientific Reports 6, Article Number 19831, Published online: January 25, 2016.

Sierra Snows Ease, But Won’t End California Drought

Californians hope two months of plenty of snow could ease the 4-year drought. But Living on Earth’s Emmett Fitzgerald reports that high snowfalls in the Sierra Mountains this winter won’t end the water problems and the state needs to manage the resource creatively and efficiently for the foreseeable future.

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Source:  Living on Earth, February 12, 2016