Tag Archives: acidification

The BLOB

groundwater

Water is a contentious issue in the Western US. Not until this year did California start regulating the usage of underground resources. The aquifers and surface water are the same systems. The point is there is far less water available than was previously thought. Four hard years of drought have frightened farmers in the Central Valley and caused rationing in many places in the State. The bulk of the water supplying Southern California comes from the Colorado River, just renegotiated, via the town of Needles input, which serves several states. This water is allocated by Paul Matuska, Water Conservation and Accounting Group – Manager, from Colorado, at the US Bureau of Reclamation.

Ground water is theoretically already allocated before it reaches underground. This spring, California’s water agency reported that half of the States’ local authorities were not complying with the law. California’s new groundwater legislation now does require local authorities to develop sustainable groundwater plans by 2020. The resistance was so fierce by the agriculture industry that it barred any State attempt to count the groundwater withdrawals. How can one manage what is not measured? Arizona is in more dire straits than California. Lake Mead is at it’s lowest level since the construction of Hoover Dam.

There are many ways now that the water source is mismanaged: farming subsidies for water intensive crops (almonds), leaky infrastructure and allowing individual farmers to draw, without regulations, from the underground sources on their own land. The two sources, above ground and underground need to be connected.

map

This is where climate change is so drastically affecting this resource. The warming temperatures do not allow for adequate snow-pack that provides water throughout the summer in a gradual method, feeding streams and reservoirs. The warming of the Pacific Ocean, this year four degrees above normal, has created a caldron of sorts. The frequent storms reaching powerfully damaging results, just recently in Mexico with Hurricane Patricia, the third strongest in history world-wide.

maine_blob0413

The Naysayers to this trend do not heed the science. The warm weather and dry climate have created a “Blob” (a large mass of warm water in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of North America) in the Pacific. This has disrupted the food web of marine life, pushing tropical fish up to Alaska and creating a algal sea blooms. The Blob has rendered shellfish toxic, shutting down fisheries in Washington, Oregon and California. And sadly, a closure of this writers’ favorite food, Dungeness crabs.

El Nino

The predicted El Nino affects weather world-wide, from droughts in Australia to Africa – their worst in forty years! The storms will become more potent over time. The combination of El Nino, The Blob and climate change has caused acidification and the bleaching of coral throughout the world, killing reefs and habitat for many marine species. Hawaii is the most affected. The oceans expand with heat; this will result in a growing level of local flooding, costing much more than the purported cost by many conservatives to “doing business as usual.”

coral

The meteorologist who gave them name Blob, at NOAA’s cooperative institute at the University of Washington, Nicholas Bond, feels “that this will have monstrous implications. Hey… this is the consequence of messing around with the climate.”

Aftermath of Hurricane Patricia, Mexico

Aftermath of Hurricane Patricia, Mexico

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The Demise of Bivalves and Shell Creation

oyster new york

 

The acidification of Oceans is well documented.  Many species are unable to survive the increase of acid occurring so the ability of the Oceans to absorb carbon dioxide is radically diminishing.  One of the drastic affects of this process is the inability of the bivalves to create shells.  This was exacerbated by the National Park Service’s decision to close a very important supplier in Northern California of these delicate creatures, Drakes Bay Oyster Farm-the largest of the lot and provider of up to forty percent for the other companies.  In 2013, they raised eight million oysters.  An oyster can filter up to forty gallons of water a day.

Kevin Lunny, owner of federaaly closed Drakes Bay Oyster Company

Kevin Lunny, owner of federally closed Drakes Bay Oyster Company

After much litigation and pubic outcry, Drakes Bay Oyster Company will close this year after eighty years in existence.  It does reside on federal lands.  All the other suppliers, most notable is the Hog Island Oyster Company on Tomales Bay, depend on them.  Drive up Route One any weekend day, and the road is congested with cars parked cheek to jowl up the entire coastline.

Publisher enjoying the spoils of Drake's Bay Oysters. Photo by Shaun Fenn

Publisher enjoying the spoils of Drake’s Bay Oysters. Photo by Shaun Fenn

Like New York, documented in the wonderful book Oysters, San Francisco was awash in oysters as the settlers arrived.  They were a mainstay in the diets, including being sold from carts on the streets, but before too long they were depleted by overfishing. Oysters began to be ‘seeded’ by the mid-1850s.  This hatchery process is very delicate and concentrated in the Pacific Northwest, starting with microscopic larvae, it has become a very scientific process.

Acidification of nautilus seashells

Acidification of nautilus seashells

Humans are dumping seventy million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every day.  Oceans absorbs about a third of it.   The Ocean is now thirty percent more acidic than it was two hundred years ago.  It is not the acid that prevents the oysters from growing shells, but the concomitant lack of carbonate ions in the water.  They need these ions to build their shells.  This is compounded in the Pacific Ocean by the upwelling of water that has spent 30 – 50 years in depths that have absorbed more carbon dioxide from decomposition in the Ocean.

Ocean Acidification diagram

Ocean Acidification diagram

When oysters are grown in the vats as larvae, adding pH-raising chemicals can control water conditions.  But when it is time for them to be set out in the Ocean for one to two years to mature, they are vulnerable to the vagaries of the conditions.  Seeds are now at a premium and the suppliers cannot meet the demand. One of the largest, Whiskey Creek, produces only 25% of its demands despite the buffering of the pH.  Furthermore, the seeds are much less healthy and fewer survive to maturity.

Gutting0007

Woman shucking oysters on the waterfront

UC Davis Bodega Marine Lab partnered with Hog Island in 2012 to collect data on the water conditions. This author grew oysters in Tomales Bay for a few years in a community program with the intention of starting a commercial fishery.  The governmental restrictions were too onerous to overcome.  In contrast to Marin County, Humboldt County, to the north, is assisting farmers to develop fisheries; in fact Hog Island is starting a hatchery there now.

17 vintage postcard italy fishing boat catania

In only fifteen years, according to the respected publication, Nature, acid levels will increase to a level of no retreat that will not be able to support oysters, as well as other shellfish – clams, mussels and snails.  If India continues to dig deeper for dirty coal without regard to emissions as they have stated, and the GOP win their battle for the XL Pipeline shipping sludge that is twenty percent more polluting while taking three gallons of water for one gallon of sludge to produce, stripping forests – the conditions of the fisheries will be extinct by 2050.

Oyster feast. Photo by Kim Steele

Oyster feast. Photo by Kim Steele

The West Without Water

Water Sortage Central Valley

Water Shortage, Central Valley, CA, photograph by Kim Steele

I have been concerned of the scarcity of water for many years. In fact, the images illustrating this posting were shot several years ago while trying to place an article in various publications about the handling of the limited water supply in the West.  To no avail.

Aquaducts

Aquaducts, photograph by Kim Steele

Fisheries have also played a factor in the distribution of water to the Central Valley as well.

Sacramento Delta Water Controls

Sacramento Delta Water Controls, photograph by Kim Steele

The water crisis has become so acute that several entire counties in the Central Valley, the breadbasket of the United States, will receive NO water this entire year.

Harvesting Tomatoes Central Valley (Winters) CA

Harvesting Tomatoes Central Valley (Winters) CA, photograph by Kim Steele

Some farmers elect not to plant, but the nut trees needing water each year and are dying. California is one of the few states that does not monitor the underground water supply.

The aquifer of the central United states is sharply diminishing.  Places like Las Vegas are  a misguided effort to bring water to a desert.  Los Angeles started the trend at the turn of the Century.  Concerns were  expressed from the beginning, see this publication from the Department of Water and Power in the 1930’s.

Department of Water and Power, 1928 – Nature39 pages
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Grand Coulee Dam

Grand Coulee Dam, photograph by Kim Steele

The West Without Water documents the tumultuous climate of the American West over 20 millennia, with tales of past droughts and deluges and predictions about the impacts of future climate change on water resources. Its authors ask the central questions of what is “normal” for the West, and whether the relatively benign climate of the past century will continue into the future. Their answers are derived by merging climate and paleoclimate research from a wide variety of sources. Although the  cycles of drought have been experienced for thousand of years, much to the aplomb of the nay-sayers climate change.  In fact, there was a monstrous drought for fifty years in the Medieval period.  1976 was also a very severe drought period. So there have been these fluctuations, but the consumption of the water we do have is about 10% above our annual supply. Unfortunately, the book does not address other contributing factors, like the acidification of the Pacific Ocean which  shapes our weather here in California and the United States, creating the La Nina, and El Nino which is due this winter.
More here.
B. Lynn Ingram, Professor, Earth & Planetary Science and Geography,
UC Berkeley; Co-author, The West Without Water
Frances Malamud-Roam, Senior Environmental Planner and Biologist, Caltrans; Co-author, The West Without Water
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Shasta Dam, photograph by Kim Steele

Shasta Dam, photograph by Kim Steele