Arquivo da tag: Califórnia

California levees’ vulnerability (Science Daily)

Date:
August 25, 2015
Source:
Mississippi State University
Summary:
With the ongoing extreme drought in California posing a threat to the state’s levee systems, there is an urgent need to invest in research regarding the vulnerabilities of critical infrastructure under extreme climatic events. Experts warn that current drought conditions pose “a great risk to an already endangered levee system.”

A Mississippi State University assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering is the lead author on a letter published last week [Aug. 21] in Sciencemagazine.

Farshid Vahedifard, an MSU faculty member since 2012, is lead author on the letter titled “Drought threatens California’s levees.”

The letter discusses the threats that ongoing extreme drought poses on California’s levee systems and highlights an urgent need to invest in research regarding the vulnerabilities of these systems under extreme climatic events. Earthen levees protect dry land from floods and function as water storage and management systems, the letter states. Vahedifard points to a 2011 report by the California Department of Water Resources which says that over 21,000 kilometers of earthen levees deliver approximately two-thirds of potable water to more than 23 million Californians and protect more than $47 billion worth of homes and businesses from flooding.

However, current drought conditions pose “a great risk to an already endangered levee system,” the authors warn. Drought conditions — and particularly drought ensued by heavy rainfall and flooding — may cause similar catastrophic failures in California’s levee systems as seen in 2008 along river banks of the Murray River at the peak of Australia’s Millennium Drought and in 2003 in the Netherlands’ Wilnis Levee.

Vahedifard, who completed a second master’s degree and his doctoral work in civil engineering at the University of Delaware after completing previous academic work in Iran, said the commentary is important because there is very little information published about the effect of drought on the performance of critical infrastructures. The civil engineer who specializes in geotechnical engineering added that the National Levee Database shows that only around 10 percent of U.S. levees are rated as “acceptable,” with the rest being rated as “minimally acceptable” or “unacceptable,” indicating that the levee has a minor deficiency or the levee cannot serve as a reliable flood protection structure, respectively.

In California, a vast quantity of levee systems are currently rated as “high hazard,” meaning they are in serious danger of failing during an earthquake or flood event. This indicates that the resilience of these levee systems is a major concern without even considering the effects of the ongoing extreme drought, Vahedifard said. Prolonged droughts threaten the stability of levee systems by inducing soil cracking, increased water seepage through soil, soil strength reduction, soil organic carbon decomposition, land subsidence and erosion, he explained.

“When you have a marginal system, then you just need the last straw to create a failure,” Vahedifard said.

He began research related to climate change and its impact on critical infrastructure with his colleague AghaKouchak, a hydrologist, since 2013. They hypothesized that California’s current extreme drought will accelerate the ongoing land subsidence — or sinking. Recently, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology published a report that shows the Central Valley is undergoing an unprecedented subsidence period of as much as two inches per month in some locations. “This is exactly what we predicted, that this drought would lead to increased land subsidence,” Vahedifard said. The danger, he explained, is that it increases the risk of water rising over the top of the levees.

“At MSU, I have been working on quantitatively assessing the resilience and vulnerability of critical infrastructure to extreme events under a changing climate. While several large-scale studies have been conducted to evaluate various aspects and implications of climate change, there is a clear gap in the state of our knowledge in terms of characterizing uncertainty in climate trends and incorporating such findings into engineering practice for planning and designing critical infrastructure,” Vahedifard said.

“An improved understanding of the resilience of critical infrastructure under a changing climate indisputably involves many authoritative and complex technical aspects. It also requires close collaboration between decision makers, engineers, and scientists from various fields including climate science, social science, economics and disaster science. Community engagement and public risk education also are key to enhancing the resilience of infrastructure to climate change,” he added.

“The impacts of climate change on infrastructure pose a multi-physics problem involving thermo-hydro-mechanical processes in different scales. Further research can help communities and decision makers toward developing appropriate climate change adaptation and risk management approaches,” he said.

He emphasized that design and monitoring guidelines may need to be modified to ensure resilient infrastructure against extreme events under a changing climate.


Journal Reference:

  1. F. Vahedifard, A. AghaKouchak, J. D. Robinson. Drought threatens California’s leveesScience, 2015; 349 (6250): 799 DOI: 10.1126/science.349.6250.799-a
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California Drought Is Made Worse by Global Warming, Scientists Say (New York Times)

Visitors along the recessed shores of Beal’s Point in California’s Folsom Lake State Recreation Area. A new study has found that inevitable droughts in California were made worse by global warming. CreditDamon Winter/The New York Times 

Global warming caused by human emissions has most likely intensified the drought in California by 15 to 20 percent, scientists said on Thursday, warning that future dry spells in the state are almost certain to be worse than this one as the world continues to heat up.

Even though the findings suggest that the drought is primarily a consequence of natural climate variability, the scientists added that the likelihood of any drought becoming acute is rising because of climate change. The odds of California suffering droughts at the far end of the scale, like the current one that began in 2012, have roughly doubled over the past century, they said.

“This would be a drought no matter what,” said A. Park Williams, a climate scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University and the lead author of a paperpublished by the journal Geophysical Research Letters. “It would be a fairly bad drought no matter what. But it’s definitely made worse by global warming.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also reportedThursday that global temperatures in July had been the hottest for any month since record-keeping began in 1880, and that the first seven months of 2015 had also been the hottest such period ever. Heat waves on several continents this summer have killed thousands of people.

Dry grassland south of the El Dorado Freeway near Folsom, Calif. The study credited human-caused climate change for between 8 percent and 27 percent of the state’s soil moisture deficit. CreditDamon Winter/The New York Times 

The paper on the California drought echoes a growing body of research that has cited the effects of human emissions, but scientists not involved in the work described it as more thorough than any previous effort because it analyzed nearly every possible combination of data on temperature, rainfall, wind speed and other factors that could be influencing the severity of the drought. The research, said David B. Lobell, a Stanford University climate scientist, is “probably the best I’ve seen on this question.”

The paper provides new scientific support for political leaders, including President Obama and Gov. Jerry Brown of California, who have cited human emissions and the resulting global warming as a factor in the drought. As he races around his battered state, from massive forest fires to parched farms, Mr. Brown has been trying to cajole the Republican presidential candidates into explaining what they would do about climate change.

“To say you’re going to ignore that there’s a huge risk here, the way we’re filling the atmosphere with heat-trapping gases, is folly, ignorance and totally irresponsible,” Mr. Brown said Thursday in a telephone interview. “And virtually the entire Republican Party in Congress is saying exactly that. It’s inexplicable.”

Several Republican presidential candidates, including Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Gov. John R. Kasich of Ohio, do acknowledge that climate change poses risks, but they are skeptical of the way Mr. Obama has gone about trying to limit emissions, with a planexpected to force the shutdown of many coal-fired power plants.

Chris Schrimpf, a spokesman for Mr. Kasich, said Thursday that political leaders confronting questions about climate change “can’t stick their heads in the sand and pretend it isn’t happening. Instead we need to be about the business of taking action, but action that doesn’t throw the economy and jobs out the window at the same time.”

However, many of the leading Republican candidates are openly skeptical of climate science and play down the risks. In response to a letter from Mr. Brown asking about their plans, several of the candidates retorted last week that California should be building more dams to store water for future droughts. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas said that “alarmists” about global warming were trying to gain “more power over the economy and our lives.”

report this week by researchers at the University of California, Davis, projected that the drought would cost the California economy some $2.7 billion this year. Much of that pain is being felt in the state’s huge farming industry, which has been forced to idle a half-million acres and has seen valuable crops like almond trees and grape vines die.

As climate scientists analyze the origins of the drought, they have been tackling two related questions: What caused the dearth of rain and snow that began in 2012? And, regardless of the cause, how have the effects been influenced by global warming?

The immediate reason for the drought is clear enough: For more than three years, a persistent ridge of high pressure in the western Pacific Ocean has blocked storms from reaching California in the winter, when the state typically gets most of its moisture. That pattern closely resembles past California droughts.

Some scientists have argued that the ocean and atmospheric factors that produced the ridge have become somewhat more likely because of global warming, but others have disputed that, and the matter remains unresolved.

On the question of the effects, scientists have been much clearer. Rising temperatures dry the soil faster and cause more rapid evaporation from streams and reservoirs, so they did not need any research to tell them that the drought was probably worse because of the warming trend over the past century. The challenge has been to quantify how much worse.

The group led by Dr. Williams concluded that human-caused climate change was responsible for between 8 and 27 percent of the deficit in soil moisture that California experienced from 2012 to 2014.

But, in an interview, Dr. Williams said the low number was derived from a method that did not take account of the way global warming had sped up since the 1970s. That led him and his colleagues to conclude that climate change was most likely responsible for about 15 to 20 percent of the moisture deficit.

Since 1895, California has warmed by a little more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit. That increase sounds small, but as an average over an entire state in all seasons, scientists say, it is a large number. The warmer air can hold more water vapor, and the result is that however much rain or snow falls in a given year, the atmosphere will draw it out of the soil more aggressively.

“It really is quite simple,” said Richard Seager, a senior climate scientist at Lamont and a co-author on the Williams paper. “When the atmosphere is as warm as it is, the air is capable of holding far more water. So more of the precipitation that falls on the ground is evaporated, and less is in the soil, and less gets into streams.”

Dr. Williams calculated that the air over California can absorb about 8.5 trillion more gallons of water in a typical year than would have been the case in the cooler atmosphere at the end of the 19th century. The air does not always manage to soak up that much, however, because evaporation slows as the soils dry out.

How much more California will warm depends on how high global emissions of greenhouse gases are allowed to go, but scientists say efforts to control the problem have been so ineffective that they cannot rule out another 5 or 6 degrees of warming over the state in this century, a level that could turn even modest rainfall deficits into record-shattering droughts.

For politicians like Mr. Obama and Mr. Brown, the emerging question is whether Americans will awaken to the risks and demand stronger action before emissions reach such catastrophic levels.

“I don’t think climate change is anywhere near the issue that it’s going to be, but the concern is rising in the public mind,” Mr. Brown said Thursday. “The facts can’t be concealed forever.”

California drought causing valley land to sink (Science Daily)

Date:
August 20, 2015
Source:
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Summary:
As Californians continue pumping groundwater in response to the historic drought, the California Department of Water Resources has released a new NASA report showing land in the San Joaquin Valley is sinking faster than ever before, nearly 2 inches (5 centimeters) per month in some locations.

Total subsidence in California’s San Joaquin Valley for the period May 3, 2014 to Jan. 22, 2015, as measured by Canada’s Radarsat-2 satellite. Two large subsidence bowls are evident, centered on Corcoran and south of El Nido. Credit: Canadian Space Agency/NASA/JPL-Caltech

As Californians continue pumping groundwater in response to the historic drought, the California Department of Water Resources has released a new NASA report showing land in the San Joaquin Valley is sinking faster than ever before, nearly 2 inches (5 centimeters) per month in some locations.

“Because of increased pumping, groundwater levels are reaching record lows — up to 100 feet (30 meters) lower than previous records,” said Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin. “As extensive groundwater pumping continues, the land is sinking more rapidly and this puts nearby infrastructure at greater risk of costly damage.”

Sinking land, known as subsidence, has occurred for decades in California because of excessive groundwater pumping during drought conditions, but the new NASA data show the sinking is happening faster, putting infrastructure on the surface at growing risk of damage.

NASA obtained the subsidence data by comparing satellite images of Earth’s surface over time. Over the last few years, interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR) observations from satellite and aircraft platforms have been used to produce maps of subsidence with approximately centimeter-level accuracy. For this study, JPL researchers analyzed satellite data from Japan’s PALSAR (2006 to 2010); and Canada’s Radarsat-2 (May 2014 to January 2015), and then produced subsidence maps for those periods. High-resolution InSAR data were also acquired along the California Aqueduct by NASA’s Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar (UAVSAR) (2013 to 2015) to identify and quantify new, highly localized areas of accelerated subsidence along the aqueduct that occurred in 2014. The California Aqueduct is a system of canals, pipelines and tunnels that carries water collected from the Sierra Nevada Mountains and Northern and Central California valleys to Southern California.

Using multiple scenes acquired by these systems, the JPL researchers were able to produce time histories of subsidence at selected locations, as well as profiles showing how subsidence varies over space and time.

“This study represents an unprecedented use of multiple satellites and aircraft to map subsidence in California and address a practical problem we’re all facing,” said JPL research scientist and report co-author Tom Farr. “We’re pleased to supply the California DWR with information they can use to better manage California’s groundwater. It’s like the old saying: ‘you can’t manage what you don’t measure’.”

Land near Corcoran in the Tulare basin sank 13 inches (33 centimeters) in just eight months — about 1.6 inches (4 centimeters) per month. One area in the Sacramento Valley was sinking approximately half-an-inch (1.3 centimeters) per month, faster than previous measurements.

Using the UAVSAR data, NASA also found areas near the California Aqueduct sank up to 12.5 inches (32 centimeters), with 8 inches (20 centimeters) of that occurring in just four months of 2014.

“Subsidence is directly impacting the California Aqueduct, and this NASA technology is ideal for identifying which areas are subsiding the most in order to focus monitoring and repair efforts,” said JPL research scientist and study co-author Cathleen Jones. “Knowledge is power, and in this case knowledge can save water and help the state better maintain this critical element of the state’s water delivery system.” UAVSAR flies on a C-20A research aircraft based at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center facility in Palmdale, California.

The increased subsidence rates have the potential to damage local, state and federal infrastructure, including aqueducts, bridges, roads and flood control structures. Long-term subsidence has already destroyed thousands of public and private groundwater well casings in the San Joaquin Valley. Over time, subsidence can permanently reduce the underground aquifer’s water storage capacity.

“Groundwater acts as a savings account to provide supplies during drought, but the NASA report shows the consequences of excessive withdrawals as we head into the fifth year of historic drought,” Director Cowin said. “We will work together with counties, local water districts, and affected communities to identify ways to slow the rate of subsidence and protect vital infrastructure such as canals, pumping stations, bridges and wells.”

NASA will also continue its subsidence monitoring, using data from the European Space Agency’s recently launched Sentinel-1 mission to cover a broader area and identify more vulnerable locations.

DWR also completed a recent land survey along the Aqueduct — which found 70-plus miles (113-plus kilometers) in Fresno, Kings and Kern counties sank more than 1.25 feet (0.4 meters) in two years — and will now conduct a system-wide evaluation of subsidence along the California Aqueduct and the condition of State Water Project facilities. The evaluation will help the department develop a capital improvement program to repair damage from subsidence. Past evaluations found that segments of the Aqueduct from Los Banos to Lost Hills sank more than 5 feet (1.5 meters) since construction.

NASA and the Indian Space Research Organisation are jointly developing the NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) mission. Targeted to launch in 2020, NISAR will make global measurements of the causes and consequences of land surface changes. Potential areas of research include ecosystem disturbances, ice sheet collapse and natural hazards. The NISAR mission is optimized to measure subtle changes of Earth’s surface associated with motions of the crust and ice surfaces. NISAR will improve our understanding of key impacts of climate change and advance our knowledge of natural hazards.

The report, Progress Report: Subsidence in the Central Valley, California, prepared for DWR by researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, is available at: http://water.ca.gov/groundwater/docs/NASA_REPORT.pdf (14 MB)

Warming climate is deepening California drought (Science Daily)

Scientists say increasing heat drives moisture from ground

Date:
August 20, 2015
Source:
The Earth Institute at Columbia University
Summary:
A new study says that global warming has measurably worsened the ongoing California drought. While scientists largely agree that natural weather variations have caused a lack of rain, an emerging consensus says that rising temperatures may be making things worse by driving moisture from plants and soil into the air. The new study is the first to estimate how much worse: as much as a quarter.

Drought in California. Credit: © Tupungato / Fotolia

A new study says that global warming has measurably worsened the ongoing California drought. While scientists largely agree that natural weather variations have caused a lack of rain, an emerging consensus says that rising temperatures may be making things worse by driving moisture from plants and soil into the air. The new study is the first to estimate how much worse: as much as a quarter. The findings suggest that within a few decades, continually increasing temperatures and resulting moisture losses will push California into even more persistent aridity. The study appears this week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

“A lot of people think that the amount of rain that falls out the sky is the only thing that matters,” said lead author A. Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “But warming changes the baseline amount of water that’s available to us, because it sends water back into the sky.”

The study adds to growing evidence that climate change is already bringing extreme weather to some regions. California is the world’s eighth-largest economy, ahead of most countries, but many scientists think that the nice weather it is famous for may now be in the process of going away. The record-breaking drought is now in its fourth year; it is drying up wells, affecting major produce growers and feeding wildfires now sweeping over vast areas.

The researchers analyzed multiple sets of month-by-month data from 1901 to 2014. They looked at precipitation, temperature, humidity, wind and other factors. They could find no long-term rainfall trend. But average temperatures have been creeping up–about 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit over the 114-year period, in step with building fossil-fuel emissions. Natural weather variations have made California unusually hot over the last several years; added to this was the background trend. Thus, when rainfall declined in 2012, the air sucked already scant moisture from soil, trees and crops harder than ever. The study did not look directly at snow, but in the past, gradual melting of the high-mountain winter snowpack has helped water the lowlands in warm months. Now, melting has accelerated, or the snowpack has not formed at all, helping make warm months even dryer according to other researchers.

Due to the complexity of the data, the scientists could put only a range, not a single number, on the proportion of the drought caused by global warming. The paper estimates 8 to 27 percent, but Williams said that somewhere in the middle–probably 15 to 20 percent–is most likely.

Last year, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration sponsored a study that blamed the rain deficit on a persistent ridge of high-pressure air over the northeast Pacific, which has been blocking moisture-laden ocean air from reaching land. Lamont-Doherty climatologist Richard Seager, who led that study (and coauthored the new one), said the blockage probably has nothing to do with global warming; normal weather patterns will eventually push away the obstacle, and rainfall will return. In fact, most projections say that warming will eventually increase California’s rainfall a bit. But the new study says that evaporation will overpower any increase in rain, and then some. This means that by around the 2060s, more or less permanent drought will set in, interrupted only by the rainiest years. More intense rainfall is expected to come in short bursts, then disappear.

Many researchers believe that rain will resume as early as this winter. “When this happens, the danger is that it will lull people into thinking that everything is now OK, back to normal,” said Williams. “But as time goes on, precipitation will be less able to make up for the intensified warmth. People will have to adapt to a new normal.”

This study is not the first to make such assertions, but it is the most specific. A paper by scientists from Lamont-Doherty and Cornell University, published this February, warned that climate change will push much of the central and western United States into the driest period for at least 1,000 years. A March study out of Stanford University said that California droughts have been intensified by higher temperatures, and gives similar warnings for the future.

A further twist was introduced in a 2010 study by researchers at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. They showed that massive irrigation from underground aquifers has been offsetting global warming in some areas, because the water cools the air. The effect has been especially sharp in California’s heavily irrigated Central Valley–possibly up to 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit during some seasons. Now, aquifers are dropping fast, sending irrigation on a downward trajectory. If irrigation’s cooling effect declines, this will boost air temperatures even higher, which will dry aquifers further, and so on. Scientists call this process “positive feedback.”

Climatologist Noah Diffenbaugh, who led the earlier Stanford research, said the new study is an important step forward. It has “brought together the most comprehensive set of data for the current drought,” he said. “It supports the previous work showing that temperature makes it harder for drought to break, and increases the long-term risk.”

Jonathan Overpeck, co-director of the Institute of the Environment at the University of Arizona, said, “It’s important to have quantitative estimates of how much human-caused warming is already making droughts more severe.” But, he said, “it’s troubling to know that human influence will continue to make droughts more severe until greenhouse gas emissions are cut back in a big way.”


Journal Reference:

  1. A.P. Williams et al. Contribution of anthropogenic warming to California drought during 2012–2014Geophysical Research Letters, 2015 DOI: 10.1002/2015GL064924

With San Diego again drought-ridden, 1915 ‘Rainmaker’ saga is revisited (L.A. Times)

As California is finding out, drought can make people — and their governments — do things that might otherwise be unthinkable.

Take the San Diego of 1915.

With their small city beset by drought, civic leaders hired “moisture accelerator” Charles Hatfield, who claimed to have a secret formula of chemicals to produce rain.

“It was a disaster,” said Rick Crawford, supervisor of special collections at San Diego’s central library.

For $10,000, Hatfield promised to produce enough rain to fill the city’s depleted reservoirs. The otherwise fiscally conservative City Council agreed — although one councilman called the idea “foolishness.”

Charles Hatfield

Charles Hatfield scans the skies for signs of rain. The debate continues over whether he was a fraud or a man who had discovered an early forerunner to modern cloud-seeding. (Gordon Wallace / Los Angeles Times)

————
FOR THE RECORD:
San Diego “rainmaker” case: An article in the June 1 California section about San Diego’s hiring in 1915 of “rainmaker” Charles Hatfield was accompanied by a historic photo of Hatfield on the ladder of a 20-foot tower, which was identified as one he had built east of San Diego. He did build such a tower for San Diego, aimed at “wringing moisture from the air”; however, the photo was of another tower, in Coalinga, Calif., in 1924.
————

Hatfield and his younger brother built a 20-foot tower in the deep woods east of the city and began what one city official would later call “an incantation aimed at wringing moisture from the air.” Smoke drifted skyward.

What followed in January and early February of 1916 was a downpour — 30 inches of rain by some estimates.

Mission Valley flooded. The San Diego River jumped its banks. Farms, homes, bridges and businesses were swept away. Little Landers, a farming commune, was destroyed. Two dams were damaged and a third failed. Estimates of the deaths range from a dozen to 50.

Hatfield, who had done other rainmaking chores, decided to flee.

“Fearful of being lynched by angry farmers, Hatfield ‘got out of Dodge,’ as the saying goes, leaving town during the night,” wrote Dan Walker in his “Thirst for Independence: The San Diego Water Story,” published in 2004. “He never received his $10,000.”

When the waters receded, Hatfield returned and filed a lawsuit. Litigation dragged on for years, not settled until the San Diego County Superior Court rejected it in 1938.

From the “Hatfield Flood” came a legend that has endured for decades, inspiring books, historical reviews, at least two country-western songs and, very loosely, the 1956 movie “The Rainmaker” starring Burt Lancaster and Katharine Hepburn.

The debate continues over whether Hatfield was a fraud or a man who had discovered an early forerunner to modern cloud-seeding.

With San Diego again gripped by drought, the Hatfield saga is getting renewed notice: a display curated by Crawford in the special collections section of the downtown library and a short docu-drama on the Travel Channel.

Then, as now, San Diego was deeply concerned that its meager amount of native water will not sustain its population. By the late 19th century, San Diego officials were determined to capture as much rain runoff as possible. “We were building more dams than anybody in the world,” Crawford said.

A business organization called the San Diego Wide Awake Improvement Club demanded that the City Council do more to keep San Diego from withering with thirst.

When drought left the reservoirs at a low ebb, the council was ready to take a chance, even if it meant spending lots of money. The means have changed but not the motive; as Walker’s book suggests, the quest for water “independence” never ends in San Diego.

Modern-day officials have bet on an expensive deal for water from the Imperial Valley and a $1-billion desalination plant being built in Carlsbad.

In 1915, officials were taken with an impeccably dressed, politely earnest transplant from Kansas, the son of a devout Quaker family.

Charles Hatfield spoke in scientific terms and promised to work for free unless he could fill the Morena reservoir. He talked of having successfully using his rainmaking technique in Alaska, Los Angeles County, the San Joaquin Valley, Texas and Hemet. He had studied the works of other rainmakers, including the so-called Australian Wizard, and was familiar with the popular book “Elementary Meteorology.”

At first, San Diego rejoiced at the rain: “Rainmaker Hatfield Induces Clouds To Open,” read one headline.

Then concern set in, followed by distress and then horror as the water roared westward, unstoppable. The San Diego River, usually a few dozen yards wide, was calculated to be a mile in width.

“It seemed the rains would never end and the damage would never stop mounting,” historian Thomas Patterson wrote in a 1970 article for the San Diego History Center. “Great trees tumbled root over branch. Sticks of lumber, railroad ties and parts of houses floated crazily.”

Just what Hatfield did at his tower near Lake Morena is unclear.

Some accounts indicate he set the chemicals on fire and let the smoke drift upward.

Shelley Higgins, who later served as a Superior Court judge, wrote in his book “The Fantastic City of San Diego” that he went by the tower and saw Hatfield “shooting bombs” into the air.

The controversy and litigation did not hurt Hatfield’s career. Offers to make rain came from farmers and others throughout the Midwest and Texas.

The library exhibit includes a letter in 1920 from a New York-based sugar company begging Hatfield to come to Cuba. In 1929 he answered a plea from officials in Honduras to produce rain to douse a forest fire.

The Depression ended Hatfield’s rainmaking career; Dust Bowl farmers could not afford his services. He went back to his original trade: selling sewing machines.

Hatfield died in 1958 at age 82 and was buried in Glendale — never having revealed his chemical formula.

tony.perry@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATsandiego

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times

FOR THE RECORD

June 5, 8:50 a.m.: A previous version of the photo caption misidentified the tower built by Charles Hatfield as being the one east of San Diego. The photo is of a similar tower in Coalinga, Calif., in 1924.

Say a prayer for rain? Interfaith ceremony gives it a try (L.A. Times)

June 20, 2015 9:50 PM

Bedeviled by drought, Great Plains settlers in the early 1890s developed a keen interest in rainmaking.

With funds appropriated by Congress, Gen. Robert St. George Dyrenforth set off gunpowder explosions in Texas under the theory that they could trigger friction and generate nuclei to produce moisture. When his test runs came up dry, disillusioned farmers and ranchers dubbed him “General Dryhenceforth.”

At a mosque in parched, sunny Chino on Saturday evening, roughly 500 people of many faiths and ages gathered to try a less concussive tack to end the Golden State’s four-year drought.

Praying for rain

People of different faiths gather at the Baitul Hameed Mosque in dry, sunny Chino to pray for an end to California’s drought. (Rick Loomis, Los Angeles Times)

Invoking the power of prayer, they beseeched God, Buddha, Allah, Yahweh, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva to make it rain, already.

“Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the Universe, the Compassionate, the Merciful, the Master of the Day of Judgment,” Imam Mohammed Zafarullah recited in Arabic to male congregants on colorful prayer rugs outside the Baitul Hameed Mosque, about 40 miles east of Los Angeles. “There is no god but Allah Who does what He wishes. O Allah, Thou art Allah, there is no deity but Thou, the Rich, while we are the poor. Send down the rain upon us and make what Thou sendest down a strength and satisfaction for a time.”

The interfaith Prayer for Rain, sponsored by the Los Angeles chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, had its seed in a Friday sermon that Dr. Ahsan M. Khan, president of the sect’s Los Angeles East chapter, heard on a visit to the headquarters mosque in London. The caliph, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, shared anecdotes of African villages where people accepted Islam after witnessing results when the local imams offered the Arabic prayer for rain.

With San Diego again drought-ridden, 1915 'Rainmaker' saga is revisited

With San Diego again drought-ridden, 1915 ‘Rainmaker’ saga is revisited

When Khan returned to Southern California, he proposed that members of the local mosque give it a try. Wearing a white sheet under a blistering sun, Zafarullah led the mosque’s congregants in their first-ever rain prayer in early May. Inspired, they decided to extend an invitation to other religious institutions for a collective event during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

“Prayer for rain is actually common across different faiths,” said Khan, 38, an ophthalmologist with Kaiser.

Californians have been praying for rain for a while now. Early last year, the state’s Catholic bishops called for divine intervention and asked people of all faiths to join in prayers for rain as reservoirs dipped to historic lows.

“May God open the heavens, and let his mercy rain down upon our fields and mountains,” said the prayer composed by Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento.

Not long after, in March 2014 — days after Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state drought emergency — the first San Juan Intertribal rain dance was held in San Juan Bautista.

Alas, as bare mountaintops and shrinking reservoirs attest, the pleas of bishops and California Indians went unanswered.

That was no surprise to Michael Shermer, founder of the Skeptics Society. He dashed cold water on the whole idea that prayer, no matter how many faiths were involved, would make a difference.

“I think it’s ridiculous, of course,” he said. “This often happens not only with religions but also with con men during droughts in the 19th century and the Dust Bowl years.”

The Rev. Michael Miller, the priest at St. Margaret Mary Church in Chino, was more optimistic about the power of prayer to bring rain. He said he “was full of gratitude to the imam for calling us together” for Saturday’s ceremony.

He noted that all three of the world’s monotheistic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — originated in the desert. “Water,” he said, “is important biologically and spiritually.”

After the ceremony, the members of the different faiths — Muslim, Roman Catholic, Mormon, Buddhist, Sikh, Christian Scientist — adjourned to a courtyard for a communal dinner.

Joe Sirard, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard, cheered them on in an interview days before the event.

“I’d recommend they pray for a strong El Niño this winter,” he said. “We need all the help we can get.”

martha.groves@latimes.com

Twitter: @MarthaGroves

California’s Snowpack Is Now Zero Percent of Normal (Slate)

By Eric Holthaus MAY 29 2015 2:56 PM

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A stump sits at the site of a manual snow survey on April 1, 2015 in Phillips, California. The current recorded level is zero, the lowest in recorded history for California. Photo by Max Whittaker/Getty Images

California’s current megadrought hit a shocking new low this week: On Thursday, the state’s snowpack officially ran out.

At least some measurable snowpack in the Sierra mountains usually lasts all summer. But this year, its early demise means that runoff from the mountains—which usually makes up the bulk of surface water for farms and cities during the long summer dry season—will be essentially non-existent. To be clear: there’s still a bit of snow left, and some water will be released from reservoirs (which are themselves dangerously low), but this is essentially a worst-case scenario when it comes to California’s fragile water supply.

zero_percent_CAsnowpack

This week’s automated survey found California’s statewide snowpack had officially run out. California Department of Water Resources

The state knew this was coming and has been working to help soften the blow—but they’re fighting a losing battle. Bottom line: 2014 was the state’s hottest year in history, and 2015 is on pace to break that record. It’s been too warm for snow. Back in April, Gov. Jerry Brown enacted the state’s first-ever mandatory water restrictionsfor urban areas based mostly on the abysmal snowpack. In recent days, the state’s conservation efforts have turned to farmers—who use about 80 percent of California’s water.

With a burgeoning El Niño on the way, there’s reason to believe the rains could return soon—but not before October or November. The state’s now mired in such a deep water deficit that even a Texas-sized flood may not totally eliminate the drought.

Welcome to climate change, everyone.

Water – 60 minutes (CBS)

VIDEO

Lesley Stahl reports on disturbing new evidence that our planet’s groundwater is being pumped out much faster than it can be replenished

The following is a script of “Water” which aired on Nov. 16, 2014, and was rebroadcast on May 31, 2015. Lesley Stahl is the correspondent.

Last fall, we brought you a story about something that has made headlines ever since — water. 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.

California is now in its fourth year of a record-breaking drought. This past winter was the hottest and driest since the state started keeping written records. And yet, pay a visit to California’s Central Valley and out of that parched land you’ll see acre upon acre of corn, almond trees, pomegranates, tomatoes, grapes. And what makes them all possible: water. Where do you get water in a drought? You take it out of the savings account: groundwater.

[Jay Famiglietti: When we talk about surface water, we’re talking about lakes and rivers. And when we’re talking about groundwater, we’re really talking about water below the water table.]

Jay Famiglietti, an Earth sciences professor at the University of California, Irvine, is a leading expert on groundwater.

Jay Famiglietti: It’s like a sponge. It’s like an underground sponge.

He’s talking about the aquifers where groundwater is stored — layers of soil and rock, as he showed us in this simple graphic, that are saturated with water and can be drilled into, like the three wells shown here.

Lesley Stahl: You can actually pump it out of the crevices?

Jay Famiglietti: Imagine like trying to put a straw into a sponge. You can actually suck water right out of a sponge. It’s a very similar process.

Sucking the water out of those aquifers is big business these days in the Central Valley. Well driller Steve Arthur is a very busy man.

Steve Arthur: All the farmers, they don’t have no surface water. They’ve got to keep these crops alive. The only way to do that is to drill wells, pump the water from the ground.

Lesley Stahl: So it’s either drill or go out of business?

Steve Arthur: Yes.

So there’s something of a groundwater rush going on here. Arthur’s seven rigs are in constant use and his waiting list is well over a year. And because some wells here are running dry, he’s having to drill twice as deep as he did just a year or two ago. This well will cost the farmer a quarter of a million dollars, and go down 1,200 feet — about the height of the Empire State Building.

“If we’re talking about a deeper aquifer, that could take tens or hundreds of years to recharge.”

Lesley Stahl: Are you and are the farmers worried that by going that deep you are depleting the ground water?

Steve Arthur: Well, yes, we are depleting it. But on the other hand, what choice do you have? This is the most fertile valley in the world. You can grow anything you want here. If we don’t have water to grow something, it’s going to be a desert.

He said many farmers think the problem is cyclical and that once the drought ends, things will be okay.

Lesley Stahl: Now when they take water out and it rains…

Jay Famiglietti: Yes.

Lesley Stahl: …doesn’t the water go back down there?

Jay Famiglietti: These aquifers near the surface, they can sometimes be replenished very quickly. If we’re talking about a deeper aquifer, that could take tens or hundreds of years to recharge.

Figuring out how much is being depleted from those aquifers deep underground isn’t easy. Hydrologist Claudia Faunt took us to what looked like someone’s backyard shed, where she and her colleagues at the U.S. Geological Survey monitor groundwater levels in the Central Valley the way they always have — by dropping a sensor down a monitoring well.

grace3.jpg

Lesley Stahl: So this is a well.

Claudia Faunt: This is a well. So we have a tape here that has a sensor on the end.

Lesley Stahl: Oh, let me see.

The Geological Survey has 20,000 wells like this across the country.

Lesley Stahl: It’s a tape measure.

Claudia Faunt: It’s a tape measure.

Lesley Stahl: How will you know when it hits water?

Claudia Faunt: It’s going to beep.

By comparing measurements from different wells over time, they get the best picture they can of where groundwater levels stand. She unspooled and unspooled, until finally…

[Beep]

Lesley Stahl: Oh.

It startled me, as did the result: a five-foot drop in just one month.

Claudia Faunt: Right now, we’re reaching water levels that are at historic lows, they’re like…

Lesley Stahl: Historic lows?

Claudia Faunt: Right. At this site, water levels have dropped about 200 feet in the last few years.

Gathering data from holes in the ground like this has been the only way to get a handle on groundwater depletion. That is, until 2002, and the launch of an experimental NASA satellite called GRACE.

Lesley Stahl: What does GRACE stand for?

Mike Watkins: So GRACE stands for gravity recovery and climate experiment.

Mike Watkins is head of the Science Division at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. He was the mission manager for the latest Mars rover mission and he is the project scientist for GRACE.

Mike Watkins: So the way GRACE works is it’s two satellites.

Lesley Stahl: Two?

Mike Watkins: They’re actually measuring each other’s orbit very, very accurately.

What affects that orbit is gravity.

Mike Watkins: As the first one comes up on some extra mass, an area of higher gravity, it gets pulled away…

Lesley Stahl: It goes faster.

Mike Watkins: …from the second spacecraft.

water10.jpg

And that’s where water comes in. Since water has mass, it affects the pull of gravity, so after the first GRACE satellite approaches an area that’s had lots of heavy rain for example, and is pulled ahead, the second one gets there, feels the pull and catches up. The instruments are constantly measuring the distance between the two.

Mike Watkins: Their changes in separation, their changes in their orbit are a little different this month than last month because water moved around and it changed the gravity field just enough.

So GRACE can tell whether an area has gained water weight or lost it.

Lesley Stahl: So GRACE is like a big scale in the sky?

Mike Watkins: Absolutely.

GRACE can also tell how much water an area has gained or lost. Scientists can then subtract out the amount of rain and snowfall there, and what’s left are the changes in groundwater.

Lesley Stahl: It’s kind of brilliant to think that a satellite in the sky is measuring groundwater.

Mike Watkins: It is fantastic.

Jay Famiglietti: I thought it was complete nonsense. There’s no way we can see groundwater from space.

Jay Famiglietti started out a skeptic, but that was before he began analyzing the data GRACE sent back. The first place he looked was India. He showed us a time-lapse animation of the changes GRACE detected there over the last 12 years. Note the dates on the lower right. The redder it gets, the greater the loss of water.

Lesley Stahl: Oh, look at that.

He calculated that more than half the loss was due to groundwater depletion.

Jay Famiglietti: And this is a huge agricultural region.

“So we’re talking about groundwater depletion in the aquifers that supply irrigation water to grow the world’s food.”

Lesley Stahl: Have they been doing the same kind of pumping…

Jay Famiglietti: Yes.

Lesley Stahl: …that we’re seeing in California?

Jay Famiglietti: Yes.

Lesley Stahl: It got so dark red.

Jay Famiglietti: Yeah, that’s bad.

His India findings were published in the journal “Nature.” But as he showed us, India wasn’t the only red spot on the GRACE map.

Jay Famiglietti: This is right outside Beijing, Bangladesh and then across southern Asia.

He noticed a pattern.

Jay Famiglietti: They are almost exclusively located over the major aquifers of the world. And those are also our big food-producing regions. So we’re talking about groundwater depletion in the aquifers that supply irrigation water to grow the world’s food.

If that isn’t worrisome enough, some of those aquifer systems are in volatile regions, for instance this one that is shared by Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey.

Jay Famiglietti: Turkey’s built a bunch of dams. Stored a bunch of water upstream. That forces the downstream neighbors to use more groundwater and the groundwater’s being depleted.

Lesley Stahl: Oh my.

Jay Famiglietti: We’re seeing this water loss spread literally right across Iran, Iraq and into Syria and down.

Lesley Stahl: It’s progressive.

“So the ground basically collapses or compresses down and the land sinks.”

Famiglietti, who’s now moved to the jet propulsion lab to work on GRACE, has started traveling around the world, trying to alert governments and academics to the problem, and he isn’t the only one who’s worried.

A 2012 report from the director of National Intelligence warned that within 10 years “many countries important to the United States will experience water problems … that will risk instability and state failure…” and cited the possible “use of water as a weapon or to further terrorist objectives.”

Lesley Stahl: Water is the new oil.

Jay Famiglietti: It’s true. It’s headed in that direction.

And what about our own food-producing regions, like California’s Central Valley, which produces 25 percent of the nation’s food. What is GRACE telling us there?

Lesley Stahl: 2008.

Jay Famiglietti: Right.

Lesley Stahl: ’09.

Jay Famiglietti: And now things are going to start to get very red.

Lesley Stahl: 2010.

GRACE is confirming what the geological survey well measures have shown, but giving a broader and more frightening picture, since it shows that the rainy years are not making up for the losses.

Lesley Stahl: ’14. Dark red.

Lesley Stahl: That’s alarming.

Jay Famiglietti: It should be.

water9.jpg

So much groundwater has been pumped out here that the geological survey says it’s causing another problem: parts of the valley are literally sinking. It’s called subsidence.

Claudia Faunt: So the ground basically collapses or compresses down and the land sinks.

Lesley Stahl: The land is sinking down.

She said at this spot, the ground is dropping several inches a year.

Claudia Faunt: And north of here, it’s more like a foot per year.

Lesley Stahl: That sounds like a lot, a foot a year.

Claudia Faunt: It’s some of the fastest rates we have ever seen in the valley, and in the world.

She says it’s caused damage to infrastructure: buckles in canals and sinking bridges. Here the land has sunk six feet. It used to be level with the top of this concrete slab.

Lesley Stahl: And this is because of the pumping of the groundwater?

Claudia Faunt: Yes.

Lesley Stahl: Is there any limit on a farmer, as to how much he can actually take out of this groundwater?

Claudia Faunt: Not right now in the state of California.

Lesley Stahl: None?

Claudia Faunt: As long as you put it to a beneficial use, you can take as much as you want.

But what’s beneficial to you may not be beneficial to your neighbor.

Lesley Stahl: When you dig a well like this, are you taking water from the next farm?

Steve Arthur: I would say yeah. We’re taking water from everybody.

Lesley Stahl: Well, is that neighbor going to be unhappy?

Steve Arthur: No. Everybody knows that there’s a water problem. Everybody knows you got to drill deeper, deeper. And it’s funny you say that because we’re actually going to drill a well for that farmer next door also.

“I can’t believe how brave I am. 45 minutes ago, this was sewer water.”

Making things worse, farmers have actually been planting what are known as “thirsty” crops. We saw orchard after orchard of almond trees. Almonds draw big profits, but they need water all year long, and farmers can never let fields go fallow, or the trees will die.

But with all the water depletion here, we did find one place that is pumping water back into its aquifer.

Lesley Stahl: Look, it really looks ickier up close.

We took a ride with Mike Markus, general manager of the Orange County Water District and a program some call “toilet to tap.” They take 96-million gallons a day of treated wastewater from a county sanitation plant — and yes, that includes sewage — and in effect, recycle it. He says in 45 minutes, this sewage water will be drinkable.

Mike Markus: You’ll love it.

Lesley Stahl: You think I’m going to drink that water?

Mike Markus: Yes, you will.

They put the wastewater through an elaborate three-step process: suck it through microscopic filters, force it through membranes, blast it with UV light. By the end, Markus insists it’s purer than the water we drink. But it doesn’t go straight to the tap. They send it to this basin and then use it to replenish the groundwater.

Jay Famiglietti: It’s amazing. Because of recycling of sewage water, they’ve been able to arrest that decline in the groundwater.

Lesley Stahl: All right. I’m going to do it. I’m going to do it.

grace8.jpg

All that was left was to try it. To tell the truth, it wasn’t bad.

Lesley Stahl: I can’t believe how brave I am. Forty-five minutes ago, this was sewer water.

Mike Markus: And now, it’s drinkable.

He says it’s a great model for big cities around the country. But it’s not the answer for areas like the Central Valley, which is sparsely populated and therefore doesn’t produce enough waste. So at least for now, it’s continuing withdrawals from that savings account.

Lesley Stahl: Will there be a time when there is zero water in the aquifer for people in California?

Jay Famiglietti: Unless we take action, yes.

California has taken several actions. Last month, Governor Brown mandated a 25 percent cut in water use by homes and businesses. And the state also enacted a law that for the first time takes steps toward regulating groundwater. But the law could take 25 years to fully implement.

Drought Frames Economic Divide of Californians (New York Times)

COMPTON, Calif. — Alysia Thomas, a stay-at-home mother in this working-class city, tells her children to skip a bath on days when they do not play outside; that holds down the water bill. Lillian Barrera, a housekeeper who travels 25 miles to clean homes in Beverly Hills, serves dinner to her family on paper plates for much the same reason. In the fourth year of a severe drought, conservation is a fine thing, but in this Southern California community, saving water means saving money.

The challenge of California’s drought is starkly different in Cowan Heights, a lush oasis of wealth and comfort 30 miles east of here. That is where Peter L. Himber, a pediatric neurologist, has decided to stop watering the gently sloping hillside that he spent $100,000 to turn into a green California paradise, seeding it with a carpet of rich native grass and installing a sprinkler system fit for a golf course. But that is also where homeowners like John Sears, a retired food-company executive, bristle with defiance at the prospect of mandatory cuts in water use.

“This is a high fire-risk area,” Mr. Sears said. “If we cut back 35 percent and all these homes just let everything go, what’s green will turn brown. Tell me how the fire risk will increase.”

The fierce drought that is gripping the West — and the imminent prospect of rationing and steep water price increases in California — is sharpening the deep economic divide in this state, illustrating parallel worlds in which wealthy communities guzzle water as poorer neighbors conserve by necessity. The daily water consumption rate was 572.4 gallons per person in Cowan Heights from July through September 2014, the hot and dry summer months California used to calculate community-by-community water rationing orders; it was 63.6 gallons per person in Compton during that same period.

Now, California is trying to turn that dynamic on its head, forcing the state’s biggest water users, which include some of the wealthiest communities, to bear the brunt of the statewide 25 percent cut in urban water consumption ordered by Gov. Jerry Brown. Cowan Heights is facing a 36 percent cut in its water use, compared with 8 percent for Compton.

Other wealthy communities that must cut 36 percent include Beverly Hills and Hillsborough, a luxury town in Silicon Valley. Along with Compton, other less wealthy communities facing more modest cuts include Inglewood, which has been told to reduce its water consumption by 12 percent over what it was in 2013.

The looming question now, with drought regulations set to be adopted next month, is whether conservation tools being championed by this state — $10,000-a-day fines for water agencies, higher prices for bigger water users or even, in the most extreme cases, a reduction in water supplies — will be effective with wealthy homeowners. Since their lawns are more often than not tended to by gardeners, they may have little idea just how much water they use.

Gail Lord in her garden in Cowan Heights, which is facing a 36 percent cut in its water use.CreditMonica Almeida/The New York Times 

As it is, the legality of conservation — the practice of charging higher water rates to people who consume more for big water use — came under question when a court ruled that a tiered-pricing system used by an Orange County city ran afoul of the State Constitution and sent it back to allow the city to try to bring it into compliance.

“The wealthy use more water, electricity and natural gas than anyone else,” said Stephanie Pincetl, the director of the California Center for Sustainable Communities at the University of California, Los Angeles. “They have bigger properties. They are less price sensitive. So if you can afford it, you use it.”

“Then it becomes a moral question,” she said. “But lots of wealthy people don’t pay their own bills, so they don’t know what the water costs.”

Brown Lawns vs. Lush Ones

In Compton, where residents often pay their bills in cash or installments, lawns are brown and backyard pools are few or empty. In Cowan Heights, where residents are involved in a rancorous dispute with a water company over rate increases, water is a luxury worth paying for as homeowners shower their lush lawns and top off pools and koi ponds.

IN THEIR OWN WORDS

The Times asked Californians for their thoughts on the drought and how it affects them.

John Montgomery, Oak Park : “It doesn’t matter whether you are conservative or liberal, a religious fundamentalist or a raging athiest, rich or poor, we all need drinking water, and we all eat things that need water to grow to be very simple about it.”

Stephen Babatsias, Los Angeles: “Rich neighborhoods with lush gardens, like Hancock Park, are still as rich and lush looking as before, filled with oxygen and opulent foliage. Everything looks and feels the same so far.”

Edie Marshall, Davis: “Call it fatalistic, but why should I try even harder when so many have done little or nothing? I’m not going to cut back on my showers while rich people in southern California have nice lawns”

Kathleen Naples, Avalon: “Catalina Island has a desal plant with old diesel generators which could be updated and co-generation could be used. Edison runs it very poorly. This is a tourist economy, so tourists waste water and residents are fined and suffer shut-offs.”

Cheryl Trout, Palm Desert: “We are in a 5,000 home golf course community, which has recycled it’s waste water since it was built for watering golf courses and community landscaping. It would be nice if that water could also be used for individual yards. More communities need to switch to this model.”

Daniel Sawyer, San Bernardino: “I am pretty conscientious about water, energy, and waste, so I appreciate this official acknowledgement of the problem. I foresee a lot of Californians paying fines and fees because they will recklessly continue to waste water despite Governor Brown’s orders.”

“Just because you can afford to use something doesn’t mean you should,” said Aja Brown, the mayor of Compton, as she sat in her second-floor office with windows overlooking the light-rail Blue Line tracks that cut through town. “We’re all in this together. We all have to make sure we consume less.”

Hints of class resentment can be heard on the streets of Compton.

“I have a garden — it’s dying,” said Ms. Barrera, the housekeeper, as she left the water department at Compton City Hall, where she had just paid a $253 two-month water bill. “My grass is drying. I try to save water. In Beverly Hills, they have a big garden and run laundry all the time. It doesn’t matter.”

Rod Lopez, a contractor from Compton who tends to homes here and along the wealthy Newport Beach coast, said he was startled at the different attitudes he found toward water consumption in communities just 30 miles apart.

“I work in Newport Beach: I see water running all day long,” he said. “We’ve gotten so tight over here. Everything is irrigated over there. They may get fined for it — they don’t care. They have the money to pay the fines.”

Compton and Cowan Heights, which is 10 miles from Disneyland, could hardly be more different, and it is not only a matter of water. The median household income in Compton is $42,953, and 26 percent of the population lives below the poverty line; 67 percent of the population is Hispanic. In North Tustin, the census-designated community that includes Cowan Heights, the median household income is $122,662, and less than 3 percent of the population lives below the poverty line; 84 percent of the population is white.

Since the first homes sprang up in Cowan Heights in the 1950s in what had been hilly horse pastures, water and money have made this neighborhood of doctors, lawyers and wealthy retirees bloom. Even as the drought has worsened and water rates have climbed, residents have continued consuming hundreds of gallons a day and paying — albeit with more than a little grousing — water bills that have soared to $400 or $500 a month.

Many people say they are trying to use less: They are capping their sprinkler systems, installing expensive new drip-watering systems or replacing their thirsty lawns with starkly beautiful desert landscapes. But they can also afford to buy their way out of the drought, assuming that fines will be the primary punishment for those who do not conserve, and that the water will keep flowing for those who can pay.

Some Cowan Heights residents say their neighbors have enough money not to pay heed to rising prices, and are content to let their landscapers use as much water as necessary to keep their homes in bloom. Landscapers’ trucks are parked around nearly every twisting road, tending to avocado and lemon trees, plush lawns, and riots of purple hibiscus and scarlet bougainvillea.

“They don’t even think about it,” said Gail Lord, a resident who keeps a blog cataloging the gardens around Cowan Heights.

Salvador Garcia, a gardener, mowed a lawn in Compton, where 26 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and which is already using less water by financial necessity.Credit Monica Almeida/The New York Times 

On Deerhaven Drive, Craig Beam and his wife saw their water-scarce future after a landscaper stomped at the base of their Chinese elm and declared the roots hollow and parched. “Nobody’s going to go broke around here paying their water bills,” Mr. Beam said.

Still, in a sign that even the wealthy have their limits, the drought is exacerbating a dispute between Cowan Heights residents and their for-profit water provider, the Golden State Water Company, offering a glimpse of fights to come as local water agencies impose higher prices to meet California’s new conservation mandates. The neighborhood is bristling with lawn signs reading, “Stop the Water Ripoff!”

Calculating Costs

Residents complain their water bills have soared as Golden State Water imposed a three-tier pricing system that charges more for higher water use, the kind of conservation pricing that state water regulators are championing. The company is now seeking to add a fourth, even higher price tier. “Golden State Water’s rates reflect the true cost to operate and maintain the water system,” said Denise Kruger, a senior vice president of the company.

That has not appeased water users.

Ms. Lord and her husband, Alan Bartky, outside their home in Cowan Heights, where the median household income is $122,662. CreditMonica Almeida/The New York Times 

“Water is a necessity of life,” said Mr. Sears, the retired food-company executive, whose bimonthly water bills regularly run $400 or $500 but went as high as $756 last September. “It should not be sold as a commodity.”

Thirty miles away, the economy in Compton is on the upswing as this region comes out of the recession. Still, Compton Boulevard, the axis around which the 127-year-old community was settled, is filled with reminders of the poverty and crime that are still here: Check-cashing stores and bail bondsmen. Many homes have gates over their windows.

Compton has a storied history of gang wars and has produced some of the bigger names in rap music, including Kendrick Lamar and Ice Cube. The unemployment rate in Compton was 11.8 percent in February, compared with 6.7 percent statewide. (There are no comparable numbers for Cowan Heights, since it is an unincorporated region.)

This city is a neat grid of postage-stamp-size front lawns, many of them brown or choked with weeds. There are few pools or ornamental fountains in this part of the county; the fountains in front of City Hall have been turned off.

After not budging for 25 years, water prices began rising in 2005 and have increased about 93 percent since then. The city, which has 81,963 water consumers, has also set up a two-tiered system to charge heavier users more, though it remains to be seen if that and other tiered systems will be challenged in the wake of the court ruling in Orange County last week. A typical water bill here is $70 a month.

Alysia Thomas with her daughter Raven and son Darian outside their home in Compton, where a typical water bill is $70 a month. Credit Monica Almeida/The New York Times 

“To me the issue is keeping down the cost,” said Ms. Thomas, 41, the stay-at-home mother. “Conservation is a cost-saving thing for me.” She leaned over the fence of her home that she shares with her husband and children, looking over her compact patch of lawn that surrounds her home and another small cottage, where her mother lives.

Chad Blais, the deputy director of public works at Compton, said people often paid their water bill in cash or pleaded for an extension. “We do have a large community that is month-to-month on their pay,” he said. “They don’t have a high water usage mainly because they can’t afford it. They’ll call and tell us they’re choosing to pay for food or medicine.”

Under Governor Brown’s 25 percent statewide reduction order, about 400 local water agencies are responsible for cuts ranging from 4 percent to 36 percent. Water companies are limiting how often people can water their yards — twice a week for Golden State customers — and barring them from washing down pavement or using drinking water to wash a car.

If water providers cannot get customers to conserve enough voluntarily, they can resort to financial penalties: Golden State said it would fine offenders in Cowan Heights and other communities it serves $500 a day.

California’s water-control board has zeroed in on Cowan Heights and its 5,399 water customers as some of the most spendthrift water users. The benchmark measurement from last summer put it high on the list of 94 water districts that must cut their water use by 36 percent under the proposed new rules.

Compton residents often pay their water bills in cash or installments at City Hall.Credit Monica Almeida/The New York Times 

“It is somewhat of an outlier,” Toby Moore, the chief hydrogeologist for Golden State Water, said of Cowan Heights. “There’s been a lot of investment into those properties, so water use is higher to address the landscaping of those properties.”

Some people in Cowan Heights are planning to let their lawns go brown, though more out of a spirit of conservation than economic necessity.

“We’ll replace that with rocks,” said Dr. Himber, the neurologist, as he and his landscaper walked the grounds.

Ms. Lord, the blogger, walked around her home, tucked amid flower-splashed hillsides behind a stately automated gate, and surveyed her roses with a fatalistic eye. “Doomed,” she said, nodding at the flowers, blooming wedding-white and dance-hall pink. “Doomed.”

‘A Bad Message’

About 80 percent of the water in this state is used by agriculture, so the amount of water that might be saved by cuts in wealthy and relatively sparsely populated areas will not be large.

But the disparity in behavior is a matter of concern among state water regulators, as is the worry that high prices will not have the same kind of impact on water use in, say, Cowan Heights as they might in Compton.

“That is the challenge,” said Jeffrey Kightlinger, the general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which provides water for about 19 million people. “We are finding it works with 90 percent of the public. You still have certain wealthy communities that won’t bother. And the price penalty doesn’t impact them. It sends a bad message.”

David L. Feldman, who studies water policy at the University of California, Irvine, said a big risk for state water regulators would be if the public concluded that water-conservation policies were “falling disproportionately on those who are less able to meet those goals.”

Ms. Barrera, the housekeeper, said she had thought she was doing her part, and she spoke of the lush gardens and sweeping pools she sees in Beverly Hills.

“I’m using a lot less,” Ms. Barrera said. At that, she glanced down at the just-paid water bill she was still holding in her hand. “But I guess it’s not enough.”

California’s terrifying climate forecast: It could face droughts nearly every year (Washington Post)

March 2 2015

Not long ago, scientists at NASA and two major universities warned of an inevitable “megadrought” that will parch the southwestern United States for 35 years, starting around 2050. By then, a new study says, Californians should be fairly accustomed to long, harsh and dry conditions.

Over the past 15 years, temperatures have been rising in the Golden State, resulting in annual periods of extreme and blazing heat, while the cycle of low and moderate precipitation cycles have not changed since 1977. That means that it’s far more likely that extreme heat years will coincide with dry years.

[NASA: A ‘megadrought’ will grip U.S. in the coming decades]

That’s a recipe for drought, the authors said. Mix searing heat with little to no rain and snow, then bake.

Unlike other climate studies that sound an alarm for impact far into the future, the Stanford University study led by associate professor Noah Diffenbaugh pored through historical data from the U.S. National Climatic Data Center to explain current conditionsand concluded that California should get used to it. It was published Monday afternoon in the journal of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Diffenbaugh and two graduate students at Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy an Environmental Sciences explored the role temperature has played in California’s drought for 120 years. Between 1896 and 1994, climate patterns in the state created a 50 percent chance that a year of extremely warm temperatures would merge with a year of moderately dry conditions. But between 1995 and 2014, extreme temperature years were so common that their chance of combining with dry years increased to 80 percent.

The forecast is negative, but not necessarily the outlook, the authors said. California has opportunities to manage its risks with smart water policies that use precipitation to bank ground water so that farms, which use 77 percent of the state’s water, can survive. The statewide water use is similar to what it was 40 years ago, meaning that even though the population has exploded to 33 million, Californians share about as much water now as they did in the 1970s.

State officials can learn from advanced water management practices already in use in the Middle East in nations such as Saudi Arabia and Israel.

“California was already on the cusp, where 100 percent of the years are not only warm but severely warm,” said Diffenbaugh, a senior fellow at Stanford’s university’s Woods Institute for the Environment. “When a low precipitation year occurs with warm conditions, it’s twice as likely to result in drought.”

[Tropical forests may be vanishing even faster than previously thought]

As part of the study, the researchers also observed the impact of greenhouse gases from human activity — carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane from power plants, vehicles, factories and other sources — on temperature and precipitation, Diffenbaugh said. Graduate students Daniel Swain and Danielle Touma were co-authors for the study.

“A lot of this paper is about greenhouse gas emissions that have already happened,” Diffenbaugh said. “Really what California is experiencing is the cumulative emissions of greenhouse gases globally. And the United States has been responsible for a large fraction. Historically the United States has been responsible for a quarter of the emissions and the European Union another quarter.”

Even if world governments that are sharply divided over the approach to lowering greenhouse gas emissions somehow managed to reach a consensus, California will still feel the heat well into the future, Diffenbaugh said.

[How dust leaves the Sahara and floats to Amazon forest]

California, the nation’s most populous state, is suffering one of its worst droughts ever, fueled by the exact conditions cited  in the study — record-low precipitation and record-high heat. The lowest calendar year of precipitation on record in the state happened between 2013 and 2014, and 2014 was the hottest year in California history.

Earlier scientific research suggests that the extremely dry and hot period between 2012 and 2014 might be the worst in a millennium, the study said. But even that can’t hold a candle to the droughts expected 35 years from now. Scientists at NASA and at Cornell and Columbia universities said climate models used for a study released two weeks ago show 80 percent chance of an extended drought between 2050 and 2099, lasting more than three decades if world governments fail to act aggressively to mitigate the effects of climate change.
North America has experienced so-called megadroughts before, during the 12th and 13th centuries. But those were caused by natural changes in weather patterns that give megadroughts a 10 percent chance of forming at any time. The harsh future drought will be the result of human-caused warming.

An international panel of leading climate scientists said in 2013 that the planet is warming at an accelerated pace and found with 95 percent certainty that human activity is the cause. The past three decades have been the hottest on the planet since 1850. Carbon concentrations in the atmosphere have increased 40 percent since then, and carbon, methane and nitrous oxide are at levels unprecedented in at least 800,000 years.

“With climate change, the likelihood of a megadrought goes up considerably,” said Toby R. Ault, an assistant professor in the department of Earth and atmospheric sciences at Cornell, one of the co-authors. Benjamin I. Cook of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Jason E. Smerdon of  Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory were the other authors for that study.

After 2050, there is “overwhelming evidence of a dry shift,” Ault said, “way drier than the megadroughts of the 1100s and 1200s.” The cause, Smerdon continued, “is twofold, reductions in rainfall and snowfall. Not just rainfall but soil moisture … and changes in evaporation that dry out the soil much more than normal.”

Leading to the theorized megadrought, California is likely to experience a series of micro droughts, researchers say.

[West’s historic drought stokes fears of water crisis]

A third study published three years ago had similar findings. The research is newly published, but its findings are not dramatically different from similar studies in the past. Beverly Law, a specialist in global change biology at Oregon State University’s College of Forestry, co-authored a study of megadroughts three years ago.
It showed that a drought that affected the American West from 2000 to 2004 compared to conditions seen during the medieval megadroughts. But the predicted megadrought this century would be far worse. Law said the NASA study confirmed her previous findings.

“We took the climate model . . . and compared” two periods, 2050 to 2099 and 1950 to 1999, she said. “What it showed is this big, red blotch over Southern California.”

The West without Water: What Can Past Droughts Tell Us About Tomorrow? (Origins)

vol. 8, issue 6 – march 2015

by  B. LYNN INGRAM

Editor’s Note:
Almost as soon as European settlers arrived in California they began advertising the place as the American Garden of Eden. And just as quickly people realized it was a garden with a very precarious water supply. Currently, California is in the middle of a years-long drought and the water crisis is threatening the region’s vital agricultural economy, not to mention the quality of life of its people, plants, and animals. This month B. Lynn Ingram, Professor of Geography and Earth & Planetary Science, examines how a deep historical account of California’s water patterns can help us plan for the future.


The state of California is beginning its fourth year of a serious drought, with no end in sight.

The majority of water in the western United States is delivered by winter storms from the Pacific, and over the past year, those storms were largely blocked by an enormous ridge of high pressure. A relatively wet December has given way to the driest January on record, and currently over 90 percent of California is in severe to exceptional drought.

The southwestern states are also experiencing moderate to severe drought, and this comes on the heels of a very dry decade. This long drought has crept up on the region, partly because droughts encroach slowly and they lack the visual and visceral effects of other, more immediate natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, or tsunamis.

Meteorologists define drought as an abnormally long period of insufficient rainfall adversely affecting growing or living conditions. But this bland definition belies the devastation wrought by these natural disasters. Drought can lead to failed crops, desiccated landscapes, wildfires, dehydrated livestock, and in severe cases, water wars, famine, and mass migration.

Although the situation in the West has not yet reached such epic proportions, the fear is that if it continues much longer, it could.

Lake Powell, in 2009, showing a white calcium carbonate “bathtub ring” exposed after a decade of drought lowered the level of the reservoir to 60 percent of its capacity. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.)

In California, reservoirs are currently at only 38 percent of capacity, and the snowpack is only 25 percent of normal for late January. Elsewhere in the Southwest, Lake Powell, the largest reservoir on the Colorado River, is at 44 percent of capacity.

The amount of water transported through irrigation systems to California’s Central Valley—the most productive agricultural region in the world—has been reduced to only 20 percent of customary quantities, forcing farmers to deepen groundwater wells and drill new ones.

Over the past year, 410,000 acres have been fallowed in this vast agricultural region that provides 30 percent of all the produce grown in the United States and virtually all of the world’s almonds, walnuts, and pistachios. As California dries up, food prices might well rise across the nation.

The question on everyone’s mind is when will this dry period finally come to an end and rainfall return to normal—and just what is normal for the U.S. Southwest when it comes to rain?

And with a growing and more urban population and an ever-changing climate, will we ever be free from the threat of long dry periods, with their disruptive effects on food production and the plants and animals that rely on water to survive?

A glance into the history of the Southwest reminds us that the climate and rainfall patterns have varied tremendously over time, with stretches of drought many decades longer than the one we are experiencing now.

Long dry stretches during the Medieval centuries (especially between 900 and 1350 CE) had dramatic effects on the native peoples of the Southwest (the ancestral Pueblo, Hohokam, and Sinagua), including civilizational collapse, violence, malnutrition, and forced social dislocation.

These earlier Americans are a warning to us.

The past 150 years, which we have used as our baseline for assumptions about rainfall patterns, water availability for agriculture, water laws, and infrastructure planning, may in fact be an unusually wet period.

Let’s look at the past few hundred years first and then explore the region’s climate in geological time.

Recent Droughts and the Arid Regions of the United States

John Wesley Powell stands as one of the most extraordinary scientists and explorers in America in the second half of the 19th century.

In 1869 he became the first white man to lead an expedition down the Colorado River and through the Grand Canyon, a feat all the more remarkable considering Powell had lost most of his right arm during the Civil War.

Ten years later, Powell published Report on the Lands of the Arid Regions of the United States, a careful assessment of the region’s capacity to be developed.

In it, Powell argued that very little of the West could sustain agriculture. In fact, his calculations suggested that even if all the water in western streams were harnessed, only a tiny fraction of the land could be irrigated.

Further, Powell believed that growth and development ought to be carefully planned and managed, and that boundaries drawn for new western states ought to follow watersheds to avoid inter-state fighting over precious water resources.

When Powell presented his findings to Congress, politicians howled. Powell found himself denounced by pro-development forces, including railroads and agricultural interests.

Prescient as Powell’s study has proved to be, it was almost entirely ignored at the time.

Instead, those development boosters responded to Powell’s data about the aridity of the west with a novel climatological theory: “Rain follows the plow.” They insisted that agriculture could cause the rains to fall, so like magic the more acres brought under cultivation the more rain farmers would enjoy.

The years surrounding the turn of the 20th century turned out to be unusually wet across much of the region. Hopeful pioneers continued to flock to the West, despite the visible signs of aridity.

They still do. The past century and a half in California and the West has been a period of steady population growth. And today the U.S. Southwest is the fastest-growing region in the United States (which itself is the world’s fourth-fastest-growing nation).

The Dirty Thirties and Beyond

The relatively wet period of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries gave way to drought in the late 1920s with the start of the Dust Bowl—now considered to be the United States’ worst climate tragedy.

The years between 1928 and 1939 were among the driest of the 20th century in the American West. This drought had particularly severe effects on California’s developing agricultural industry that were only mitigated by the extensive pumping of groundwater that eventually caused the ground surface in California’s Central Valley to drop by several feet.

Donner Lake, Sierra Nevada Range, California (Photo taken by B. Lynn Ingram).

In the 20th century, the single driest year (rivaling the 2013-2014 water year) was the drought of 1976-1977, extending across the entire state of California and into the Northwest, the Midwest, and the Canadian Prairie region north of Montana.

In California, precipitation levels dropped to less than a quarter of average. Reservoirs dropped to one-third their normal levels, and 7.5 million trees in the Sierra Nevada weakened by drought succumbed to insect related diseases, fueling massive wildfires. Snowfall was extremely sparse, forcing ski areas to close.

The following decade, another six-year drought occurred from 1987 to 1992, and while no single year was as severe as the drought of 1976-1977, the cumulative effects were ultimately more devastating. Annual precipitation attained only 50 percent of the 20th century average, with far-ranging impacts.

In the Sierra Nevada, water-stressed trees suffered widespread mortality from pine bark beetle infestations. Reduced stream flow caused major declines in fish populations, affecting commercial and recreational fisheries by lowering populations of Chinook salmon and striped bass.

By the fourth year of the drought, reservoir storage statewide was down 60 percent, causing a decline in hydroelectric power generation and the imposition of water restrictions including a decrease in agricultural water delivery by 75 percent.

Farmers relied more on groundwater, with private well owners deepening existing wells or drilling new ones. In the San Joaquin Valley, 11 million acre-feet more groundwater was extracted than could be replenished naturally, further lowering already low groundwater levels.

Measuring Droughts over Geological Time

As bad and worrisome as these more recent historical droughts in California and the West were, they pale in comparison to events uncovered in the geological record.

In recent years, earth scientists have been discovering that the climate and weather in the West over the past 100 to 150 years represents only a narrow part of the full range of climate in the region.

By peering deeper into Earth’s history—the past centuries and millennia—the frequency and magnitude of extreme climate events like drought can be better understood.

The evidence comes in various forms, such as mud from the bottom of lakes and ponds, microscopic organisms living in the oceans, bubbles frozen in glaciers, pencil-thin wood cores drilled from trees, and salts precipitating in dried-up lake bottoms.

A cut section of a Giant Sequoia trunk from Tuolumne Grove, Yosemite National Park, California, showing AD dates of fires (photo courtesy of Thomas Swetnam, Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, University of Arizona).

One of the earliest records of past climate change comes from the rings of the long-lived Douglas fir. Trees are particularly effective recorders of climate because they respond every year to conditions of temperature and precipitation, responses recorded in the growth rings of their trunks.

In a landmark study during the early 1940s, a 600-year record of Colorado River flow using Douglas firs revealed several sustained periods of low water flow and these periods recurred with some regularity.

The reconstruction showed a particularly severe drought in the late 1500s, a drought lasting over a decade that has since shown up in multiple records from throughout the West.

These records also reveal that the driest single year over the past millennium (even drier than the parched 1976-1977 drought) occurred in 1580 CE. Trees across the West either had a narrow ring, or even a missing ring, that year.

Looking at an even broader picture, evidence from the past 10 millennia—a relatively warm era since the last Ice Age, which we call the Holocene—informs us that the severity of past extreme events (including droughts and floods) far exceeds those experienced over the past century and a half.

One of the longest dry periods for California and the West occurred during what is known as the mid-Holocene climatic optimum, a time when much of the earth experienced warmer than average conditions from about 4,500 to 7,500 years ago.

In the American West, there are numerous clues showing that this time period was drier than average for upwards of 1,400 years. These climate extremes caused significant human dislocations and forced native populations to migrate from the desert interiors of the West to the coastal regions.

The Tools for Uncovering Climate History

One of the most vivid clues for understanding the patterns of past drought in the West was revealed in Lake Tahoe toward the end of the Great Dust Bowl of the mid-1930s. At that time, Tahoe’s water level dropped fourteen inches, exposing a mysterious clustering of tree stumps sticking up from the water’s surface along the lake’s southern shore.

These trees attracted the attention of Samuel Harding, an engineering Professor from the University of California, Berkeley. Harding discovered that the trees were large, with trunks as wide as three feet in diameter, and appeared to be firmly rooted in the lake bottom.

Harding reasoned that the trees had grown in this location for a long time to attain such sizes, and since they were now submerged in over twelve feet of water, he surmised that at some time in the past the lake level had been much lower.

Frances Malamud-Roam, B. Lynn Ingram, and Christina Brady coring a small oxbow lake in the Sacramento Valley, California. (Photo taken by Anders Noren, University of Minnesota, LaCore curator.)

After collecting cores through their trunks, he counted up to 150 rings, concluding that it was a dry spell of over a century that caused the lake level to drop, allowing the trees to grow along the former shoreline.

Harding had to wait two decades before he could date this drought, after the invention of radiocarbon dating in the 1950s. Radiocarbon measurements of the outermost rings of the tree stumps showed that these trees died approximately 4,800 years ago.

Decades later, more evidence emerged from Lake Tahoe during another of California’s droughts in the late 1980s, when the lake’s surface dropped again, exposing even more tree stumps.

This time, it was an archaeologist, Susan Lindstrom, who noticed the tops of trees sticking out of the water along Tahoe’s southern shore. Donning scuba gear, Lindstrom was able to find fifteen submerged tree stumps that had escaped Harding’s attention, some measuring up to three and a half feet in diameter.

The radiocarbon dates from this much larger population of trees refined and extended the boundaries of the mid-Holocene drought, moving the beginning to as early as 6,290 years ago, and the ending to 4,840 years ago.

These stumps, located deeper in the lake, showed that the lake level had dropped by even more than Harding originally thought – by more than 20 feet. Lindstrom and other researchers have since located tree stumps in more places around the shores of Lake Tahoe and in other Sierran lakes.

Sediment core taken by Frances Malamud-Roam and B. Lynn Ingram from beneath San Francisco Bay, California. (Photo taken by B. Lynn Ingram.)

Geologists have also discovered more evidence from sediment cores taken from beneath lakes revealing the wide extent of this drought—across California and the Great Basin.

The archaeological records show that native populations migrated from the inland desert regions to the California coast at this time, likely in search of water and other resources during this prolonged drought.

Another dry millennium began about 3,000 years after the mid-Holocene drought ended. Evidence for this prolonged drought was found throughout California and the West.

One study, conducted in my laboratory at UC Berkeley, examined sediments accumulating beneath the San Francisco Bay estuary. These sediments contain information about precipitation over the entire drainage basin of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers—an area that covers 40 percent of California.

Frances Malamud-Roam and Anders Noren coring marsh sediments adjacent to San Francisco Bay (Photo taken by B. Lynn Ingram)

Rivers draining the Sierra Nevada Range and Central Valley flow through San Francisco Bay and out the Golden Gate to the Pacific Ocean. In the Bay, fresh river water meets and mixes with the incoming ocean water, producing a range of salinity: fresh at the Delta, saline in the Central bay near the Golden Gate, and brackish in between.

Organisms growing in the Bay record the salinity in their shells, which then sink to the bottom and are preserved in the sediments. We took sediment cores from beneath the Bay and analyzed the chemistry of the fossil shells, allowing us to reconstruct past salinity, and therefore past river flow.

These studies showed that droughts lasting over a decade occurred regularly over the past two millennia, at intervals of 50 to 90 years. The cores also revealed a period of high salinity that began about 1,700 years ago and ending about 700 years ago, suggesting another prolonged drought.

We conducted a related study with Professor Roger Byrne in the Geography Department at UC Berkeley, coring the tidal marshlands surrounding the bay to assess the impact of this drought on this ecosystem.

These marshes have grown up around the edges of San Francisco Bay for the past 5,000 years or so, forming peat. The marsh peats contain fossil plants and chemical evidence for past periods of wetter and drier conditions in the watershed.

A drought in the watershed, if prolonged and severe, can cause higher salinity downstream in the estuary as the inflow of fresh water drops. In response, salt-tolerant species in the marshes expand further inland toward the Delta and the fresh water species retreat. Conversely, unusually wet winters generate fresher conditions in the estuary, leading to an expansion of freshwater-adapted species.

We analyzed the pollen and plant remains, carbon chemistry of the peats, and diatoms—the microscopic phytoplankton that grow in the marshes and produce tiny silica shells.

All of this evidence showed that the average freshwater inflow to San Francisco Bay was significantly lower than today’s levels for a thousand years, between 1,750 and 750 years ago.

The peak of this low-inflow interval, with freshwater flows 40 percent below average levels, occurred approximately 900 to 1,200 years ago, during a time when global temperatures were high, known as the Medieval Warm Period.

Mono Lake, showing calcium carbonate “tufa tower” formations that originally formed beneath the lake but are now exposed after the water level dropped. The eastern flank of the Sierra Nevada range is shown in the background. (Photo by D. J. DePaolo.)

Evidence for this drought was also discovered in an ancient lake situated east of the Sierra Nevada. Geography Professor Scott Stine analyzed the sedimentary sequences in Mono Lake, delineating patterns of alternately higher and lower lake levels for the past 4,000 years.

Mono Lake experienced an extended low stand that began about 1,600 years ago, dropping to an even lower level 700 to 1,200 years ago. During the 1980s drought, Stine also discovered large tree stumps submerged in Mono Lake.

Much like the tree stumps discovered in Lake Tahoe, these submerged trees indicated that at one time the lake was so small that its shoreline was several tens of feet lower than the present shoreline, when the trees now underwater could grow on dry ground. Stine went on to discover similar submerged tree stumps in lakes, marshes, and rivers throughout the central and southern Sierra Nevada Range.

By counting their growth rings, Stine determined that they had lived up to 160 years. Based on the amount the lake level dropped, he calculated that the average annual river flows in the region were only 40 to 60 percent of what they were in the late 20th century.

Radiocarbon dates of the outer growth layers of these tree stumps revealed that these trees clustered around two distinct periods, now known as the “Medieval Megadroughts”: CE 900 to 1100 and CE 1200 to 1350.

An ancient tree stump submerged in the West Walker River, eastern Sierra Nevada. (Photo courtesy of D. J. DePaolo.)

Across North America, tree-ring studies indicate that climate conditions over the past two millennia became steadily more variable (shifting between drier and wetter periods), with especially severe droughts between CE 900 and 1400.

These records show that over half the American West suffered severe drought between CE 1021 and CE 1051, and from CE 1130-1170, CE1240-1265 and CE 1360-1382.

The warm and dry conditions of the Medieval period spawned larger and more frequent wildfires, as recorded in the trunks of Giant sequoias—the massive redwoods growing in about 75 distinct groves along the mid-elevations of the western Sierra Nevada. These spectacular trees can live up to 3,200 years or more, and have exceeded 250 feet in height and 35 feet in diameter.

Thomas Swetnam, the current Director of the Laboratory of Tree Ring Research at the University of Arizona, discovered that the trees carry scars on their annual growth rings that indicate past fires in the region.

Swetnam sampled giant sequoias from five groves between Yosemite National Park and Sequoia National Park, far enough apart that individual fires could not have spread from one grove to the next. He dated the trees using ring-width patterns, and recorded the fire scars contained within annual rings.

His analysis reveals that during the Medieval period, from 1,200 to 700 years ago, an average of thirty-six fires burned every century.

During the centuries preceding the Medieval period (from about 1,500 to 1,200 years ago) and immediately following it (from about 700 years ago to the current century), the fire frequency was substantially lower, with an average of 21 fires per century.

The Human Costs of Droughts Then and Now

The archaeological record suggests that the extended periods of drought in the Medieval era caused severe hardship for both coastal and inland peoples— particularly the ancestral Pueblo communities—as dwindling resources increased disease, malnutrition, and warfare. Long inhabited sites were abandoned as the desperate populations wandered in search of new water sources.

Ancient pueblo cliff dwelling at Mesa Verde, southwestern Colorado. (Photo taken by B. Lynn Ingram)

Much of what archaeologists know about the ancestral Pueblo comes from pueblo and cliff dwellings from the four corners region, including Chaco Canyon in northwestern New Mexico, Mesa Verde in southwestern Colorado, and Canyon de Chelly in northeastern Arizona.

Chaco Canyon in New Mexico was the site of one of the most extensive of the ancestral Pueblo settlements. At its peak, during the 11th and early 12th centuries CE, Chaco Canyon had great pueblos the size of apartment blocks housing hundreds of residents in large, high-ceilinged rooms.

These settlements were supported by agriculture, allowing people to settle in one place year-round. Most of the farming depended on annual rains, supplemented by water from nearby streams and groundwater.

But over time, the climate became increasingly arid and unpredictable. The ancestral Pueblo farmers were forced to build an extensive system of diversion dams and canals, directing rainwater from the mesa tops to fields on the canyon floor, allowing them to expand the area of arable land.

The population in the four corners region swelled throughout the 11th and 12th centuries CE—but then collapsed.

Another ancient society, the Hohokam, lived in central Arizona near the confluence of Arizona’s only three rivers, the Gila, Verde, and Salt. The Hohokam civilization thrived in central Arizona for a thousand years, building an extensive network of integrated canal systems, capable of transporting large volumes of water long distances.

At their peak, an estimated 40,000 Hohokam lived in Arizona, but they suddenly vanished in the mid-15th century.

Montezuma’s Castle, a cliff dwelling occupied by the Sinagua, located just north of Camp Verde in central Arizona. (Photo by B. Lynn Ingram.)

In northern Arizona, between Phoenix and Flagstaff, the Sinagua culture also thrived during this period. As the climate turned drier, they built cliff dwellings in central Arizona, suggesting that resources became scarce, forcing them to build fortified dwellings with hidden food storage areas. The Sinagua also disappeared about the same time as the Hohokam.

All of these societies were flourishing prior to a rather abrupt collapse. The archaeological record of the last decades of the ancestral Pueblo in Chaco Canyon abounds with signs of suffering.

Skeletal remains show signs of malnutrition, starvation and disease; life spans declined and infant mortality rates increased. Evidence of violence, possibly warfare, was found in mass graves containing bones penetrated with arrowheads and teeth marks, and skulls bearing the scars of scalping.

Piles of belongings were found, apparently left behind as the people abandoned their settlements and fled, some to live in fortified hideouts carved in the cliff faces, protecting their hoarded food from enemies.

The unusually dry climate of the Medieval period also appeared to have tested the endurance and coping strategies of even the well-adapted native populations in California.

The skeletal remains show that life in the interior of California was particularly difficult, as the drought severely reduced sources of food (nuts, plants, deer, and other game). Settlements along rivers were abandoned, and trade between inland and coastal groups broke down. As water supplies dried up, conflicts – even battles – between groups arose over territory and food and water resources.

The Watery Lessons of the Past

The “Medieval Drought” serves as a model for what can happen in the West. It also provides an important impetus for water sustainability planning. And the hardships suffered by the first human inhabitants in the West provide important lessons.

For instance, during extended periods of abundant moisture, some societies experienced rapid population growth, leaving them vulnerable to collapse when the climate inevitably turned dry again.

Modern societies in the West have followed a similar path over the past century— after a century of fairly abundant moisture, the population in this region has exploded (and become more urbanized).

Modern engineering has allowed the exploitation of all available water sources for human use, and western water policy has favored water development for power, cities, and farms over sustainability of the environment and ecosystems.

These policies have allowed populations to grow to the limit that this region can support, leaving us vulnerable during extended drier conditions.

The longest six-year droughts experienced by the West over the past century are meager by comparison, despite the extreme hardship they brought to the region.

In fact, in the context of the longer-term climate history, the 20th century actually stands out as one of the wettest over the past 1,300 years, yet the droughts of the mid-1920s, 1977 and the late 1980s caused immense hardship for our society, based as it is upon heavy water usage.

In addition, future changes in the global climate will interact with the natural cycles of drought in California and the West in ways that are difficult to predict. Climate models predict that warming will likely make the extreme events, particularly floods and droughts, even larger and more frequent.

Some of these impacts have already begun. Over the past two decades, warming and an earlier start of the spring season have caused forest fires to become more frequent and intense.

A warmer climate will also bring less precipitation that falls as snow. The American West depends on snow-bearing winter storms for a natural water reservoir. This snow begins melting in the late spring, and continues into the summer, filling streams, lakes, and reservoirs that sustain natural ecosystems throughout the dry summer months.

The snow pack supports cities and irrigated agriculture, providing up to 80 percent of the year’s water supply across the West. As the region warms, the snow that does fall will melt faster and earlier in the spring, rather than melting during the late spring and summer, when it is so critically needed.

The message of past climates is that the range of “normal” climate is enormous—and we have experienced only a relatively benign portion of it in recent history. The region’s climate over the past decade has been dry when compared to the 20th century average, suggesting a return to a drier period.

This past year was also the warmest on record in the American West, and the ten hottest years on record occurred since 1997. The position of inhabitants of the West is precarious now and growing more so.

As we continue with an unsustainable pattern of water use, we become more vulnerable each year to a future we cannot control. It is time for policy makers in the West to begin taking action toward preparing for drier conditions and decreased water availability.


Read more from Origins on Water and the Environment: The World Water CrisisThe River JordanWho Owns the Nile?The Changing ArcticOver-Fishing in American WatersClimate Change and Human Population; and the Global Food Crisis.


Suggested Reading

Benson, L., Kashgarian, M., Rye, R., Lund, S., Paillet, F., Smoot, J., Kester, C., Mensing, S., Meko, D. and Lindstrom, S., 2002. “Holocene Multidecadal and Multi-centennial Droughts Affecting Northern California and Nevada.” Quaternary Science Reviews 21, 659-682.

Bradley, R.S., Briffa, K.R., Cole, J., Hughes, M.K., and Osborn, T.J., 2003. “The climate of the last millennium.” In: Alverson, K, Bradley, R.S., and Pedersen, T.F. (Eds.), Paleoclimate, Global Change and the Future, Springer Verlag, Berlin, pp. 105-49.

Brunelle, A. and Anderson, R.S., 2003. “Sedimentary charcoal as an indicator of late-Holocene drought in the Sierra Nevada, California, and its relevance to the future. “ The Holocene 13(1), 21-28.

Cayan, D. R., S. A. Kammerdiener, M. D. Dettinger, J. M. Caprio, and D. H. Peterson, 2001. “Changes in the onset of spring in the Western United States.” Bull. Am. Met. Soc., 82, 399-415.

Fagan, B., 2003. Before California: an Archaeologist Looks at Our Earliest Inhabitants. Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc, Lanham, MD. 400 p.

Gleick, P.H. and E.L. Chalecki. 1999.” The impacts of climatic changes for water resources of the Colorado and Sacramento-San Joaquin river basins.” Journal of the American Water Resources Association, Vol. 35, No. 6, pp.

Hughes, M.K. and Brown, P.M., 1992. “Drought frequency in central California since 101 B.C. recorded in giant sequoia tree rings.” Climate Dynamics 6,161-197

Ingram, B. Lynn and Malamud-Roam, F. (2013) The West without Water: What past floods, droughts, and other climatic clues tell us about tomorrow. UC Press, 256 pages.

Ingram, B. L., Conrad, M.E., and Ingle, J.C., 1996. “A 2000-yr record of Sacramento-San Joaquin River inflow to San Francisco Bay estuary, California.” Geology 24, 331-334.

Lightfoot, K., 1997. “Cultural construction of coastal landscapes: A middle Holocene perspective from San Francisco Bay.” In: Erlandson, J. and Glassow, M. (eds), Archaeology of the California Coast during the Middle Holocene, 129-141. Series, Perspectives in California Archaeology 4, Institute of Archaeology, Univ. of California.

Malamud-Roam, F. and B.L. Ingram. 2004. “Late Holocene d13C and pollen records of paleosalinity from tidal marshes in the San Francisco estuary.” Quaternary Research 62, 134-145.

Stahle, D. W., Cook, E. R., Cleaveland, M. K., Therrell, M. D., Meko, D. M., Grissino-Mayer, H. D., Watson, E., and Luckman, B., 2000. “Tree-ring data document 16th century megadrought over North America.” EOS Transactions of the American Geophysical Union 81 (12), 121-125.

Stine, S., 1990. “Past Climate At Mono Lake.” Nature 345: 391.

Stine, S., 1994. “Extreme and persistent drought in California and Patagonia during mediaeval time.” Nature 369: 546-549.

Swetnam, T.W. 1993. “Fire history and climate change in Giant Sequoia groves.” Science 262, 885.

Atmospheric rivers, cloud-creating aerosol particles, and California reservoirs (Science Daily)

Date: January 17, 2015

Source: University of California, San Diego

Summary: In the midst of the California rainy season, scientists are embarking on a field campaign designed to improve the understanding of the natural and human-caused phenomena that determine when and how the state gets its precipitation. They will do so by studying atmospheric rivers, meteorological events that include the famous rainmaker known as the Pineapple Express.

An atmospheric river reaches the San Francisco Bay Area, Dec. 11, 2014. Credit: University of Wisconsin

In the midst of the California rainy season, scientists are embarking on a field campaign designed to improve the understanding of the natural and human-caused phenomena that determine when and how the state gets its precipitation. They will do so by studying atmospheric rivers, meteorological events that include the famous rainmaker known as the Pineapple Express.

CalWater 2015 is an interagency, interdisciplinary field campaign starting January 14, 2015. CalWater 2015 will entail four research aircraft flying through major storms while a ship outfitted with additional instruments cruises below. The research team includes scientists from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, NOAA, and NASA and uses resources from the DOE’s Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Climate Research Facility — a national scientific user facility.

The study will help provide a better understanding of how California gets its rain and snow, how human activities are influencing precipitation, and how the new science provides potential to inform water management decisions relating to drought and flood.

“After several years in the making by an interdisciplinary science team, and through support from multiple agencies, the CalWater 2015 field campaign is set to observe the key conditions offshore and over California like has never been possible before,” said Scripps climate researcher Marty Ralph, a CalWater lead investigator. “These data will ultimately help develop better climate projections for water and will help test the potential of using existing reservoirs in new ways based on atmospheric river forecasts.”

Like land-based rivers, atmospheric rivers carry massive amounts of moisture long distances — in California’s case, from the tropics to the U.S. West Coast. When an atmospheric river hits the coast, it releases its moisture as precipitation. How much and whether it falls as rain or snow depends on aerosols — tiny particles made of dust, sea salt, volatile molecules, and pollution.

The researchers will examine the strength of atmospheric rivers, which produce up to 50 percent of California’s precipitation and can transport 10-20 times the flow of the Mississippi River. They will also explore how to predict when and where atmospheric rivers will hit land, as well as the role of ocean evaporation and how the ocean changes after a river passes.

“Climate and weather models have a hard time getting precipitation right,” said Ralph. “In fact, the big precipitation events that are so important for water supply and can cause flooding, mostly due to atmospheric rivers, are some of the most difficult to predict with useful accuracy. The severe California drought is essentially a result of a dearth of atmospheric rivers, while, conversely, the risk of Katrina-like damages for California due to severe ARs has also been quantified in previous research.”

For the next month or more, instrument teams will gather data from the NOAA research vessel Ronald H. Brown and two NOAA, one DOE, and one NASA research aircraft with a coordinated implementation strategy when weather forecasters see atmospheric rivers developing in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California. NASA will also provide remote sensing data for the project.

“Improving our understanding of atmospheric rivers will help us produce better forecasts of where they will hit and when, and how much rain and snow they will deliver,” said Allen White, NOAA research meteorologist and CalWater 2015 mission scientist. “Better forecasts will give communities the environmental intelligence needed to respond to droughts and floods.”

Most research flights will originate at McClellan Airfield in Sacramento. Ground-based instruments in Bodega Bay, Calif., and scattered throughout the state will also collect data on natural and human contributions to the atmosphere such as dust and pollution. This data-gathering campaign follows the 2009-2011 CalWater1 field campaign, which yielded new insights into how precipitation processes in the Sierra Nevada can be influenced by different sources of aerosols that seed the clouds.

“This will be an extremely important study in advancing our overall understanding of aerosol impacts on clouds and precipitation,” said Kimberly Prather, a CalWater lead investigator and Distinguished Chair in Atmospheric Chemistry with appointments at Scripps Oceanography and the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UC San Diego. “It will build upon findings from CalWater1, adding multiple aircraft to directly probe how aerosols from different sources, local, ocean, as well as those from other continents, are influencing clouds and precipitation processes over California.”

“We are collecting this data to improve computer models of rain that represent many complex processes and their interactions with the environment,” said PNNL’s Leung. “Atmospheric rivers contribute most of the heavy rains along the coast and mountains in the West. We want to capture those events better in our climate models used to project changes in extreme events in the future.”

Prather’s group showed during CalWater1 that aerosols can have competing effects, depending on their source. Intercontinental mineral dust and biological particles possibly from the ocean corresponded to events with more precipitation, while aerosols produced by local air pollution correlated with less precipitation.

The CalWater 2015 campaign is comprised of two interdependent efforts. Major investments in facilities include aircraft, ship time, and sensors by NOAA. Marty Ralph, Kim Prather, and Dan Cayan from Scripps, and Chris Fairall, Ryan Spackman, and Allen White of NOAA lead CalWater-2. The DOE-funded ARM Cloud Aerosol Precipitation Experiment (ACAPEX) is led by Ruby Leung from PNNL. NSF and NASA have also provided major support for aspects of CalWater, leveraging the NOAA and DOE investments.

New insights into predicting future droughts in California: Natural cycles, sea surface temperatures found to be main drivers in ongoing event (Science Daily)

Date: December 8, 2014

Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Summary: Natural oceanic and atmospheric patterns are the primary drivers behind California’s ongoing drought. A high pressure ridge off the West Coast (typical of historic droughts) prevailed for three winters, blocking important wet season storms, with ocean surface temperature patterns making such a ridge much more likely.


Folsom Lake. Top photo taken in 2011, bottom taken in 2014. Credit: CA Dept. of Water Resources

According to a new NOAA-sponsored study, natural oceanic and atmospheric patterns are the primary drivers behind California’s ongoing drought. A high pressure ridge off the West Coast (typical of historic droughts) prevailed for three winters, blocking important wet season storms, with ocean surface temperature patterns making such a ridge much more likely. Typically, the winter season in California provides the state with a majority of its annual snow and rainfall that replenish water supplies for communities and ecosystems.

Further studies on these oceanic conditions and their effect on California’s climate may lead to advances in drought early warning that can help water managers and major industries better prepare for lengthy dry spells in the future.

“It’s important to note that California’s drought, while extreme, is not an uncommon occurrence for the state. In fact, multi-year droughts appear regularly in the state’s climate record, and it’s a safe bet that a similar event will happen again. Thus, preparedness is key,” said Richard Seager, report lead author and professor with Columbia University’s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory.

This report builds on earlier studies, published in September in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, which found no conclusive evidence linking human-caused climate change and the California drought. The current study notes that the atmospheric ridge over the North Pacific, which has resulted in decreased rain and snowfall since 2011, is almost opposite to what models project to result from human-induced climate change. The report illustrates that mid-winter precipitation is actually projected to increase due to human-induced climate change over most of the state, though warming temperatures may sap much of those benefits for water resources overall, while only spring precipitation is projected to decrease.

The report makes clear that to provide improved drought forecasts for California, scientists will need to fully understand the links between sea surface temperature variations and winter precipitation over the state, discover how these ocean variations are generated, and better characterize their predictability.

This report contributes to a growing field of science-climate attribution-where teams of scientists aim to identify the sources of observed climate and weather patterns.

“There is immense value in examining the causes of this drought from multiple scientific viewpoints,” said Marty Hoerling, report co-author and researcher with NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory. “It’s paramount that we use our collective ability to provide communities and businesses with the environmental intelligence they need to make decisions concerning water resources, which are becoming increasingly strained.”

To view the report, visit: http://cpo.noaa.gov/MAPP/californiadroughtreport.

Study: California drought is the most severe in at least 1,200 years (Washington Post)

 December 4 at 3:40 PM

The current drought in California is the worst the state has seen in at least 1,200 years, according to a recent study published by the American Geophysical Union.

Scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and the University of Minnesota reconstructed California’s temperature and precipitation history back to 800 A.D. using tree ring data. Hidden in this millennium of data they found as many as 66 dry periods of at least three to nine years. In the entire 1,200 year period they studied, there were only three droughts that were similar in nature to the current drought.

Though none have been as severe as what California has seen in the three years since 2012. Not even the historic droughts of the late 1970s, nor the late 1980s. The study also found that 2014 was the worst single drought year in the past 1,200 years, and that approximately 44 percent of California’s 3-year droughts have gone on to last another year, or longer.

Interestingly, California’s current lack of rainfall is not unprecedented in the 1,200-year record. The study concludes that the current drought was a result of both below-average precipitation and record-breaking high temperatures, and that the latter could have intensified the drought by about 36 percent.

This week has been particularly rainy one for California, which is being blasted by a series of storms that are channeling moisture into the state. San Francisco has seen over 3.5 inches of rain since Monday, compared to 2013, when they only received 0.35 inches in the whole month. They’re average rainfall for the entire month of December is 4.03, so the city is well on it’s way to at least making par. Los Angeles has racked up over 1.5 inches of rain so far this month, where the December average is 2.05.

However, much, much more rainfall is needed to put a dent in the drought.

Fifty five percent of California remains in an “exceptional drought” as of Thursday — the most severe classification on the scale used by the U.S. Drought Monitor, and 100 percent of the state remains in at least a moderate drought. Many of the state’s critical reservoirs remain well below their historical average.

While this week’s rain and snow will be a step in the right direction, California still has a long way to go to reach total drought abatement. As of October, the National Climatic Data Center was estimating that most of California’s central valley as well as Northern California would need anywhere from 18 to 21 inches of precipitation over the next six months to end the drought.

This week’s rains will be beneficial, but they won’t be nearly enough.

Leaked: The Oil Lobby’s Conspiracy to Kill Off California’s Climate Law (Bloomberg Business Week)

November 25, 2014


Looking south over Los Angeles and the 101 Freeway, with the morning haze and smog on Jan. 28

Photograph by David Bro/Zuma Press

Looking south over Los Angeles and the 101 Freeway, with the morning haze and smog on Jan. 28

You remember Fillmore. He’s the resident hippie of Radiator Springs in the Pixar blockbuster Cars. Much to the chagrin of his neighbor, Sarge the Army Jeep, Fillmore greets each new day with Jimi Hendrix’s Woodstock rendition of A Star Spangled Banner—“respect the classics, man”—and is quick with a conspiracy theory about why biofuels never stood a chance at America’s gas pumps. Perfectly voiced by the late, great George Carlin, Fillmore has a slight paranoiac edge, as if his intake of marijuana may exceed what’s medically indicated.

Well, as they say, it’s not paranoia if they really are out to delay, rewrite, or kill off a meaningful effort to reduce the build-up of carbon in the Earth’s atmosphere. A Powerpoint (MSFT) deck now being circulated by climate activists—a copy of which was sent to Bloomberg Businessweek—suggests that there is a conspiracy. Or, if you prefer, a highly coordinated, multistate coalition that does not want California to succeed at moving off fossil fuels because that might set a nasty precedent for everyone else.

Created by the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), one of the most powerful oil and gas lobbies in the U.S., the slides and talking points comes from a Nov. 11 presentation to the Washington Research Council. The Powerpoint deck details a plan to throttle AB 32 (also known as the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006) and steps to thwart low carbon fuel standards (known as LCFS) in California, Oregon, and Washington State. Northwest Public Radio appears to have been the first to confirm the authenticity of the deck, which Bloomberg Businessweek did as well, with WSPA spokesman Tupper Hull.

Specifically, the deck from a presentation by WSPA President Catherine Reheis-Boyd lays out the construction of what environmentalists contend is an elaborate “astroturf campaign.” Groups with names such as Oregon Climate Change Campaign, Washington Consumers for Sound Fuel Policy, and AB 32 Implementation Group are made to look and sound like grassroots citizen-activists while promoting oil industry priorities and actually working against the implementation of AB 32.

The deck also reveals how WSPA seized on a line from a California Air Resources Board memo that the cap-and-trade program for gas and diesel that goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2015, may affect gas prices in order to launch an ad campaign warning of a “hidden” gas tax that devious Sacramento pols are sneaking through.

“The environmental community is used to sky-is-falling analysis from fossil fuel interests in response to clean energy initiatives, so that part isn’t surprising,” says Tim O’Connor, a senior attorney at the Environmental Defense Fund, to whom I sent the deck for comment. “But it’s eye-opening to see the lengths [the WSPA] has gone to push back rather than move forward. I don’t think anybody knew how cross-jurisdictional, cross-border, and extensive their investment is in creating a false consumer backlash against [climate legislation].”

In California, O’Connor points out, “we have 70 percent voter approval on clean energy alternatives, so it’s offensive and atrocious they’re using these supposed everyday citizens—who are really paid advertisers—to change the public discourse.”

Reheis-Boyd’s Powerpoint deck, entitled “WSPA Priority Issues,” starts by announcing that these are the “the best of times.” Crude oil production in the U.S. is higher than it has been since 1997, with imports subsequently reduced to a 20-year low, according to the American Petroleum Institute. The next six slides describe why these are also “the worst of times” and include images of demonstrators protesting the Keystone XL oil pipeline, demanding government action on climate change, and pictures of professor-cum-activist Bill McKibben and billionaire Tom Steyer, with the latter quoted as saying he wants to “destroy these people”—i.e., people like the members of WSPA.

Then there’s a slide with all the different groups that WSPA has funded to make it seem as if there’s a broad group in three states opposing a series of initiatives to reduce carbon pollution from fossil fuels. The most clever of these is the “Stop the Hidden Gas Tax!” campaign. Who, after all, wants that?

“Let me be clear,” says Hull, the WSPA spokesman. “We did not oppose AB 32 when it passed. We believe it’s good to have the reduction of greenhouse gases as a goal. We support that goal.” In the years since, he says, “hundreds of pages of regulations have been added to what had been a page-and-a-half document, and we do object to many of the additions.” What’s more, Hull says, “we have a legitimate concern over what will happen when the cap-and-trade program goes into effect for gas and diesel.”

Coping with water scarcity: Effectiveness of water policies aimed at reducing consumption evaluated (Science Daily)

Date: October 23, 2014

Source: University of California, Riverside

Summary: Southern California water agencies have turned to new pricing structures, expanded rebate programs and implemented other means to encourage their customers to reduce consumption. Some of those policies have greatly reduced per capita consumption, while others have produced mixed results.


As California enters its fourth year of severe drought, Southern California water agencies have turned to new pricing structures, expanded rebate programs and implemented other means to encourage their customers to reduce consumption.

Some of those policies have greatly reduced per capita consumption, while others have produced mixed results, according to a report published in the UC Riverside School of Public Policy journal Policy Matters. The journal is published quarterly by the School of Public Policy, and provides timely research and guidance on issues that are of concern to policymakers at the local, state, and national levels.

Water policy experts Kurt Schwabe, Ken Baerenklau and Ariel Dinar reviewed some of their recent research that was presented at a UCR workshop on urban water management in June 2014. Schwabe and Baerenklau are associate professors and Dinar is professor of environmental economics and policy. The workshop highlighted efforts by Southern California water agencies to promote water conservation, relevant research findings by UC faculty, and challenges that remain to further reduce water demand.

“California is a water-scarce state and needs to have policy tools to deal with scarcity whether in drought years or otherwise,” Dinar said. Water policy research in the School of Public Policy focuses on strategies that agencies and California can take to help reduce vulnerability to drought.

Water utilities throughout California are working to satisfy a 2010 state mandate to reduce per capita urban water demand 20 percent by 2020. Reducing residential water demand is an appealing response to water scarcity as approaches such as building more storage and conveyance systems have become increasingly expensive, the authors wrote in “Coping with Water Scarcity: The Effectiveness of Allocation-Based Pricing and Conservation Rebate Programs in California’s Urban Sector.”

“Reducing residential water demand is also attractive given it is a local solution to relieving water stress with seemingly much recent success,” they wrote.

Efforts to reduce water demand by changing behavior fall into two categories: price and non-price, the researchers said. Price-based approaches focus on adjusting the price of water while non-price approaches include other demand-management strategies such as the use of water-conserving technologies and conversion of lawns to drought-tolerant landscape, often promoted with rebates, and mandatory restrictions.

“Price-based instruments for water management … have proven to be very effective when compared to non-price instruments,” the researchers found.

One such instrument is the “water budget,” which has been adopted by more than 25 Southern California water agencies in recent years. Water budgets typically are defined as an indoor allocation based on the number of people in the house and an outdoor allocation based on the amount of irrigable land, special needs, and local weather conditions, according to the report. The sum of the indoor and outdoor allocations is a household’s water budget. Staying within that budget is deemed efficient use. Water use that exceeds a household’s budget is considered inefficient, and is priced at a higher rate to encourage conservation.

“Recent empirical evidence within southern California suggests that this sort of pricing structure can be very effective for reducing residential water demand while securing the financial cash-flow of the water utility,” the researchers reported.

Non-price efforts to reduce water consumption have not been as effective, however. For example, the researchers refer to a study of 13 groundwater-dependent California cities in which modest water price increases were more effective and more cost-effective than promoting technology standards to curb water consumption.

Some studies have found that rebate programs, in particular, have shown smaller-than-expected water savings, the researchers said in the report. For example, studies show that low-flow showerheads tend to result in longer showers and frontloading washing machines result in more cycles.

“This does not mean that such measures should be abandoned, but rather suggests that achieving real water savings in a cost-effective manner requires more research and partnerships between agencies and the research community to find an optimal mix between these two approaches,” the researchers said.


Journal Reference:

  1. Kurt Schwabe, Ben Baerenklau, and Ariel Dinar. Coping With Water Scarcity: The Effectiveness of Allocation-Based Pricing and Conservation Rebate Program in California’s Urban Sector.. Policy Matters, Volume 6, Issue 1, 2014 [link]

National Science Foundation: Record California Drought Directly Linked To Climate Change (Climate Progress)

BY JOE ROMM

POSTED ON SEPTEMBER 29, 2014 AT 2:59 PM

NSF: “The drought crippling California is by some measures the worst in the state’s history.” CREDIT: NOAA

A Stanford study funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) confirms a growing body of research that finds “The atmospheric conditions associated with the unprecedented drought in California are very likely linked to human-caused climate change.”

The NSF news release, headlined, “Cause of California drought linked to climate change,” explains:

Climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh of Stanford University and colleagues used a novel combination of computer simulations and statistical techniques to show that a persistent region of high atmospheric pressure over the Pacific Ocean–one that diverted storms away from California–was much more likely to form in the presence of modern greenhouse gas concentrations.

Unprecedented droughts often combine a reduction in precipitation with higher temperatures that increase evaporation, leaving soil parched. As the NSF notes in this case, “Combined with unusually warm temperatures and stagnant air conditions, the lack of precipitation has triggered a dangerous increase in wildfires and incidents of air pollution across the state.”

We know, of course, that global warming is making heat waves longer and stronger and more frequent, which in turn makes droughts worse everywhere. But climate change is also causing reduced precipitation in many regions, such as the Mediterranean and southwestern United States. This double whammy from carbon pollution means we’ll be seeing more and more dangerous record droughts.

California’s 3-year drought has reached epic proportions. The L.A. Times reported last week, “Drought has 14 communities on the brink of waterlessness.”

Here’s the most recent Drought Monitor for the state:

20140923_CA_trd

So what is the proximate cause of the reduced precipitation over California? New studies suggest that increases in sea surface temperatures are not the cause of the drying. The NSF study, however, explains:

Scientists agree that the immediate cause of the drought is a particularly tenacious “blocking ridge” over the northeastern Pacific — popularly known as the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge, or “Triple R” — that prevented winter storms from reaching California during the 2013 and 2014 rainy seasons.

Blocking ridges are regions of high atmospheric pressure that disrupt typical wind patterns in the atmosphere.

The NSF study analyzed “the period since 1948, for which comprehensive atmospheric data are available.” Researchers “found that the persistence and intensity of the Triple R in 2013 were unrivaled by any previous event.” Stanford’s Bala Rajaratnam then “applied advanced statistical techniques to a large suite of climate model simulations.”

Finally, researchers looked at two sets of models — one set that duplicated the current climate, in which carbon pollution is warming the atmosphere, and the other set in which carbon pollution levels were comparable to those just before the Industrial Revolution.

The researchers found that the extreme heights of the Triple R in 2013 were at least three times as likely to occur in the present climate as in the preindustrial climate.

They also found that such extreme values are consistently tied to unusually low precipitation in California, and to the formation of atmospheric ridges over the northeastern Pacific.

Prof. Rajaratnam concluded, “We’ve demonstrated with high statistical confidence that large-scale atmospheric conditions similar to those of the Triple R are far more likely to occur now than in the climate before we emitted large amounts of greenhouse gases.”

This matches the finding in an April study that “there is a traceable anthropogenic warming footprint in the enormous intensity of the anomalous ridge during winter 2013-14, the associated drought and its intensity.” The lead author of that study, Dr. Simon Wang of the Utah Climate Center, told me in an email earlier this year, “I personally think that the debate over global warming leading to stronger blocking has passed. The ongoing challenge is how we predict WHEN and WHERE those blocking will happen and affect WHICH region.”

Indeed, as I’ve reported, scientists a decade ago not only predicted the loss of Arctic ice would dry out California, they also precisely predicted the specific, unprecedented change in the jet stream that has in fact caused the unprecedented nature of the California drought.

In fact, a growing body of evidence — documented by Senior Weather Channel meteorologist Stu Ostro and others — that “global warming is increasing the atmosphere’s thickness, leading to stronger and more persistent ridges of high pressure, which in turn are a key to temperature, rainfall, and snowfall extremes and topsy-turvy weather patterns like we’ve had in recent years.”

Bottom Line: Human activity has made droughts longer and stronger in many places, including California. If we continue on our current path of unrestricted carbon pollution, we will be sharply increasing the chances of civilization-threatening mega-droughts here and abroad.

California water witches see big business as the drought drags on (The Guardian)

Dowsers, sometimes known as ‘water witches,’ are in high demand in drought-stricken California, where four dry years find farmers and vintners taking desperate measures

Mary Catherine O’Connor

Monday 15 September 2014 07.00 BST

VIDEO:

Sharron Hope has been a dowser since 1997. Markedly cheaper than hiring a hydrogeologist – which can cost as much as $50,000 – Hope OFFERS her services for around $500 a consultation. Video: Mary Catherine O’Connor

Outside of a farmhouse on a 1,800-acre organic dairy farm near Oroville, California, Sharron Hope bends over a printout of a Google Earth map, holding a small jade Buddha pendant. The map shows a small section of the farm to the east, and Hope is hunting for water. As the pendant swings, she notes a subtle change in motion that, she says, indicates she has found some.

Is there any significance to the jade? No, she says, I just like it. Plus, she adds, “I figure Buddha’s gotta know.”

Hope is a water dowser, or someone who uses intuition, energy VIBRATIONS and divining rods or pendulums to mark the best spots for wells.

As California rounds the corner towards a four-year historic drought, many farmers and vintners have become completely reliant on groundwater. After divvying surface water allotments to satisfy urban, ecosystem and industrial needs, farmers in many parts of the state received little or no irrigation water from state agencies this year. In a normal year, allotments would cover roughly two-thirds of farmers’ needs.

1Sharron Hope, a water dowser in California, uses a jade pendant to locate underground water on a map. Photograph: Mary Catherine O’Connor

Under these severe drought conditions, the success or failure of a well can mean the success or failure of a farm or vineyard, so before the drill bit hits the dirt, landowners need an educated guess as to where to find the most productive well site on their property. To get that, they can call in a professional hydrogeologist, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars – or they can drop a fraction of the cost on a dowser, such as Hope.

Despite a distinct lack of empirical evidence regarding dowsers’ efficacy, demand is high and dowsers’ phones are ringing off the hook.

“I’ve gotten far more calls this year from farmers looking for a water dowser than in most years,” says Sacramento-based Donna Alhers, who heads the Sierra Dowsers, a chapter of the American Society of Dowsers.

Water dowsers from around the state are also seeing a spike in demand. “I’m getting a lot of calls from people whose wells have run dry,” Hope says.

Where did dowsing come from?

The exact origins of dowsing are murky, but its roots can be traced back as far as the Middle Ages. The practice, sometimes used by miners and fortune seekers, was reportedly condemned in the 16th century as the work of the devil.

Today, dowsers hail from one of two camps. Some have agrarian backgrounds, and learned the practice from ancestors who used it to locate good sites for wells on their own or their neighbors’ farms. The second group hails from the New Age movement and tend to be devotees of a wide range of mystical practices and “energy work”.

Traditionally, dowsing has been used not just to find groundwater, but also minerals and natural gas. Many dowsers claim they can dowse anything, from lost items or pets to criminals on the lam. You name it, they say they can divine it.

Hope began dowsing for water in 1977 after learning about the practice from Walter Woods, a science teacher at Butte College, where she was a STUDENT. Woods had learned dowsing from his father, a farmer, and eventually became a well-known authority on dowsing. He authored a widely read dowsing primer, Letter to Robin, and served as president of the American Society of Dowsers.

Woods taught Hope to scan for signs of groundwater by observing the landscape and looking for signs like deer trails. “Deer have magnetite in their pineal gland [an endocrine gland in the brain]. As water moves underground, electrons are stripped out and move to the surface,” Hope says. “Deer can sense it and tend to walk along that vein of underground water toward a spring.” Dowsing is based on the premise that humans can tap into that energy, too, using instruments such as branches and pendulums.

Energy marks the spot

After Hope finishes with the map, she heads out to the spots she has marked, walking the land and searching for very faint energy markings over the landscape, which she’ll use more talismans to locate.

She begins a general scan of the area with a forked pine branch, holding the ends in her hands and sweeping it through the air. Despite scientific evidence, Hope believes that the branch she holds channels the energy emitted by submerged water. Once she homes in on the most promising region (which matches, as it turns out, the area she had marked on the map) she TRADES the branch for what are known in the dowsing world as “L-rods”, two long metal bars with a short handle and long extension, forming an L.

2Sharron Hope works as a dowser in California’s CENTRAL VALLEY. Here she uses a pine branch to lead her to to a potential well site. Photograph: Mary Catherine O’Connor

Hope holds these in front of her, with her elbows at 90 degrees, and walks slowly up – and then laterally along – the rise. As the long ends of the bars begin to fall away from each other, she stops.

The energy moving up from the groundwater, she says, creates a field that L-rods respond to. This, she says, marks the edge of the underground stream. She then traverses the hillside, down slope, and stops again when the bars cross in front of her. This, she explains, marks the spot where two veins of groundwater cross over each other, making it a potentially very productive well site.

“I have goosebumps,” Hope says with a smile. “I feel the energy moving up from the ground.”

Although Hope and other dowsers often refer to underground veins and streams, USGS hydrologist Ralph Health, in a highly cited report on groundwater basics, says the vast majority of groundwater is found in relatively still aquifers. Swiftly moving streams are quite rare.

Water, water everywhere

Out in the field, Hope locates three possible well sites in roughly 30 minutes. She decides that the third is the best option, even though she doesn’t think it has the strongest flow rate, because it is relatively shallow at 200 feet (about 61 meters) below ground and is the most accessible and FLAT option. Daley stakes the spot and the dowsing is done. Daley is now awaiting drilling permits, and once those come through, she’ll call in a local driller.

“I have about 90% accuracy,” Hope claims, meaning that 90% of the sites she recommends produce water.

This actually isn’t that surprising, hydrogeologists say. “Dowsers may seem convincing, but when [their practice is] exposed to scientific review, groundwater is very prevalent, so it’s hard to miss it when you drill a well,” says Ted Johnson, chief hydrogeologist for the Water Replenishment District of Southern California and president of the board of the Groundwater Resources Association of California. “When you use science to site a well, you can test for quality, depth and how long [the flow] will last.”

To site a well, hydrogeologists will review driller well logs from the Department of Water Resources and geologic maps that show areas of alluvial soils, under which groundwater is most likely to accumulate. To really zero in on well sites, they drill a test well, which produces cuttings of the various strata. They then test for each layer’s ability to transport water. It’s a time-consuming and expensive process.

Because a landowner is unlikely to hire both a dowser and a hydrogeologist to see who finds the best-producing well (though that could make for some mildly entertaining reality television), the two groups coexist and generally ignore each other, aside from tossing verbal jabs.

“I’m a scientist and I’ve been trained on scientific principles, and that’s what I use [to locate groundwater],” says Tim Parker, a hydrogeologist and independent consultant based in Sacramento. “There’s no scientific evidence that dowsing is more effective than random chance.”

Of cash and crops

So why are so many farmers turning to dowsers instead of hydrologists? Part of it’s probably the money: dowsers might charge $1,000 (Hope charges most of her clients around $500, and less for a small residential well), while a big consulting firm costs $10,000 to $50,000, Johnson says. “All a farmer cares about is getting the groundwater,” he says.

But Cynthia Daley, who hired Sharron Hope to dowse for a well on her dairy farm, says it’s not about costs. “Dowsing is based on energy and it is something that the scientific community has not embraced, but I’m not arrogant enough to think science knows everything – and I am a scientist; I have a PhD,” she says.

Whether farmers and vintners are using dowsers merely as a result of their relative affordability or out of a strong belief in the practice is hard to, well, divine. What is clear is that the popularity of dowsing is growing, not just in the CENTRAL VALLEY, but throughout the state.

Daley, who has degrees in animal science with a doctorate in endocrinology, is a professor in the College of Agriculture at nearby California State University at Chico, where she runs an organic dairy program. She is developing an organic dairy operation on her property, which is why she’s drilling wells. “Everyone I know who has had wells put in around here has used dowsers.”

Many more wells are springing up. State agencies from counties around California are issuing twice – and sometimes three times as many – well drilling permits this summer than last summer, according to the Associated Press.

Keeping Marc Mondavi busy

Marc Mondavi, grandson of Napa Valley WINE pioneer Cesare Mondavi and a longtime dowser, says that he can’t keep up with the demand: “I’m doing anywhere from two to four projects a week and I’m backlogged, and drillers around here are backlogged for three to five months.”

Mondavi uses dowsing not only as a revenue stream, but also as a means of marketing his own brand, The Divining Rod. He doesn’t shy away from the name “water witch”, a term other dowsers consider pejorative. His daughter Alycia Mondavi even made a short promo VIDEO CALLED “My Dad is a Witch.”

He acknowledges it’s hard not to strike groundwater, but says that using his intuitive dowsing skills allows him to find the best spots, especially as the drought depletes the water table. “No matter where you drill, you might hit [a flow of] four gallons per minute,” he says. “In those areas maybe I can find eight to 10 gallons per minute.”

The dowsing divide might persist for decades to come, but there is plenty of indisputable evidence that groundwater is being overtaxed as the drought drags on. Amplifying the problem of groundwater scarcity, policy experts say, is a lack of regulation. That looks likely to change. Governor Brown is expected to sign one of three separate groundwater regulation bills currently sitting on his desk.

Some agriculture groups, including the Agriculture Council of California and Blue Diamond Growers, have rallied against the bills, saying they will drive up costs for already cash-strapped farmers and deny long-held water rights.

But Daley says groundwater is too important to remain unchecked. “We have to regulate it. It’s a very important resource.”

Until that happens, however, sun-baked farmers will keep digging for rain.

Mary Catherine O’Connor is an independent reporter and co-founder of Climate Confidential.

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California drought similar to historic drought in Texas (Science Daily)

Date: February 10, 2014

Source: Texas A&M University

Summary: The worst drought ever to hit California could rival the historic 2011 drought that devastated Texas, says a Texas A&M University professor.

Mojave Desert, California. The worst drought ever to hit California could rival the historic 2011 drought that devastated Texas. Credit: © Tomasz Zajda / Fotolia

The worst drought ever to hit California could rival the historic 2011 drought that devastated Texas, says a Texas A&M University professor.

John Nielsen-Gammon, professor of atmospheric sciences who also serves as Texas’ State Climatologist, says the current drought in California is so far comparable in many ways to the 2011 Texas drought, the worst one-year drought in the state’s history that caused more than $10 billion in damages and led to numerous wildfires and lake closings.

“This is the third year of California’s drought and it is on pace to be as dry as Texas was in 2011,” Nielsen-Gammon, a California native who grew up in the San Francisco area, explains.

“However, because our severe drought year came at the beginning of the drought, reservoirs across much of the state were full. In California, reservoir levels were low to begin with.

“In addition, they are dealing with environmental flows through the Sacramento Delta that weren’t explicitly laid out until a few years ago.”

Weather patterns for both states appear similar, he adds.

“The same ridge that has kept California dry has also been keeping Texas dry,” he notes. “As the pattern changes, California is finally getting some rain and snow and the chances for precipitation in Texas are increasing as well.”

California’s drought is especially worrisome because the state produces about one-half of the country’s fruits, vegetables and nuts. It is the No.1 agricultural state in the U.S.

The 2011 drought devastated Texas farmers and ranchers, and lake levels were down as much as 50 feet in some lakes while several West Texas lakes completely dried up.

Numerous Texas cities set heat records in 2011, such as Wichita Falls, which recorded 100 days of 100-degree heat, the most ever for that city. Dallas also set a record with 70 days of 100-degree heat.

Texas’ drought is now in its fourth year, Nielsen-Gammon says, and about 52 percent of Texas is still in some form of drought status, ranging from moderate to exceptionally dry.

“January was unusually dry with an average of only about one-half an inch of precipitation statewide,” he adds.

“Reservoir levels have actually declined at a time when they should be rising. So the drought is still here. In fact, the prevalence of drought in Texas has not dropped below 40 percent since 2010 when this drought first started.”

The Texas Panhandle area has been especially hard hit.

“The past three calendar years have been among the driest three on record for the Panhandle,” he notes. “Dalhart shattered its record with just 20.54 inches total in 2011-2013.

“This current drought started with more intensity than the drought of 1950-56, the driest on record. We again have a generally warm Atlantic Ocean, and that tends to mean dry conditions. An El Nino (warmer water in the tropical Pacific Ocean) might develop later this year, but it’s still a little too early to say.”

Satellites show ‘total’ California water storage at near decade low (Science Daily)

Date: February 3, 2014

Source: UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling

Summary: Updates to satellite data show that California’s Sacramento and San Joaquin River basins are at near decade-low water storage levels.

Updates to satellite data show that California’s Sacramento and San Joaquin River basins are at near decade-low water storage levels. These and other findings on the State’s dwindling water resources were documented in an advisory report released today from the UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling (UCCHM) at the University of California, Irvine.

Responding to Governor Jerry Brown’s recent declaration of a drought emergency in California, a team of UCCHM researchers has updated its research on the state’s two largest river basins, and the source of most its water. The region also encompasses the Central Valley, the most productive agriculture region in the country. The Central Valley depends entirely on the surface and groundwater resources within the river basins to meet its irrigation needs and to produce food for the nation.

Using satellite data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) mission, the researchers, led by UCCHM Director and UC Irvine Professor Jay Famiglietti, found that as of November 2013, total water storage in the river basins — the combination of all of the snow, surface water, soil moisture and groundwater, and an integrated measure of basin-wide water availability — had declined to its lowest point in nearly a decade. GRACE data for the record-dry 2013-2014 winter months were not yet available for analysis.

The data show particularly steep water losses between November 2011 and November 2013, the early phase of the current drought. Famiglietti and fellow UCCHM researchers estimate that the basins have already lost 10 cubic kilometers of fresh water in each of the last two years — equivalent to virtually all of California’s urban and household water use each year. “That’s the steepest decline in total water storage that we’ve seen in California since the GRACE mission was launched in 2002,” Famiglietti said.

The researchers noted that snowpack, surface water and soil moisture storage in the river basins were all at their lowest points in nearly a decade, illustrating a growing threat to groundwater supplies in the Central Valley, and highlighting the urgent need to manage them sustainably. Groundwater is typically viewed as a strategic reserve that supplements sparse surface water supplies in times of drought.

By combining their satellite-based estimates of 10 years (October 2003 — November 2013) of Central Valley groundwater storage changes with long-term estimates of groundwater losses from the U. S. Geological Survey, the researchers noted that steep declines in groundwater storage are typical during droughts, when Central Valley farmers are forced to rely more heavily on groundwater to meet irrigation demands.

The advisory report underscores that the rates of declining groundwater storage during drought almost always outstrip rates of groundwater replenishment during wet periods, and raises fears about the impact of long-term groundwater depletion on sustaining a reliable water supply in the current, record-setting drought. The team’s previous 2011 study estimated that the Central Valley lost 20 cubic kilometers of groundwater during the 2006-2010 drought.

Historically, drought conditions and groundwater depletion in the Central Valley are responsible for widespread land subsidence, reductions in planted acreage, higher food costs and ecological damage.

Famiglietti notes that if the drought continues “Central Valley groundwater levels will fall to all-time lows.” Stephanie Castle, a UCCHM researcher who contributed to the report, believes that groundwater supplies should be more actively managed. Castle states that “the path of groundwater use that we are on threatens the sustainability of future water supplies for all Californians.” She noted that several communities within the state are on track to run out of water within the next few months.

Download the report at http://www.ucchm.org/publications