Tag Archives: farming

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 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