Water

Potentially the biggest climate impact on life in California

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Heat and Harvest: Calif. Farms on a Climate Collision Course

The Midwestern corn belt isn’t the only place threatened by climate change

New pests, a shrinking water supply and rising temperatures will alter agriculture in California.

Craig Miller

Tightening water supplies, encroaching pests and dwindling winter "chill hours," vital to many crops, are just some of the climate challenges facing California farmers.

Heat and Harvest, a new series from KQED Science and the Center for Investigative Reporting looks at the multiple climate challenges confronting California farmers. It’s no trivial matter. California’s Central Valley is widely known as “the nation’s salad bowl,” and there’s more than bragging rights at stake. Ag contributes more than $30 billion a year to the state’s economy.

Previously, Climate Watch has focused on efforts in the ag sector to conserve water or lower the carbon footprint. Some farmers are trying new technologies, others are experimenting with renewable energy. But meeting climate challenges on multiple fronts will, for some farmers and ranchers, be a matter of survival.

Here are links to some previous reporting from Climate Watch, from ag’s potential role in California’s emerging cap-and-trade program for carbon emissions, to innovation on the renewable energy front and new conflicts over land use. Continue reading

Study: Urban Water Use Will Outpace Efficiency Gains

But returning to “Hollywood” showers will just make things worse

Craig Miller

Californians may want to rethink the long-established tradition of watering the sidewalk.

You installed a low-flow toilet. You take fast showers. Your yard is water-wise and drought-tolerant. And even if everyone in California were just like you, which they’re not — yet — the state would still see a significant bump in urban water demand by the end of the century. The culprit: warmer temperatures caused by climate change.

An innovative new model developed by researchers at Oakland’s Pacific Institute shows that even if California meets its current goal of reducing per-capita water usage 20 percent by 2020 — and continues to improve water efficiency at a similar rate through the end of the century — still, by 2100 the state’s urban water demand will increase by eight percent, or roughly one million acre-feet (with all other factors held constant). That’s a lot of water: enough to satisfy the current household needs of 6.7 million Californians. Continue reading

No Relief in Latest California Climate Assessment

But hope persists that we can blunt the worst impacts, if not slow down the warming

Craig Miller

The new normal? A temperature display in the Kern County town of Taft shows 105 degrees on a late afternoon in July.

Granted, it’s been a relatively cool summer in many parts of California. But state officials are saying, “Don’t get used to it.” How would you like to see the number of “extremely hot” days (105 or hotter) in Sacramento increase fivefold in the next few decades? That’s just one of many new projections from the state’s latest official climate assessment.

One hundred-twenty scientists worked on the report, entitled California’s Changing Climate (PDF). Funded by the California Energy Commission, it’s actually a portfolio of studies and contains some of the most specific warnings we’ve seen. For instance, it projects that going forward, average temperatures in the state will warm at three times last century’s pace. It’ll mean heat waves happening more often and lasting longer. Continue reading

Precipitation Trends Reveal a New North-South Split in California

“Extreme” rain and snow events happening more often in the south, less often up north

Craig Miller

Rare summer rain clouds approach a farming valley near the Coast Range, west of Bakersfield.

A new report suggests that global warming is playing out quite differently in California, depending on whether it’s north or south of San Francisco Bay.

The project, by the Environment California Research & Policy Center, studied precipitation trends between 1948 and 2011, with an eye on “extreme” events — storms that dumped unusual amounts of rain or snow on the state.

They found a dichotomy in California — but not the usual “north has all the water” split. It turns out that north of San Francisco Bay, the extreme precipitation events were happening 26% less often, but south of the Bay, they were happening 35% more often. The authors calculate that a storm that used to come along once a year on average, is happening more like once every nine months to the south, which includes the Central Coast. In fact, Santa Barbara showed the biggest increase in frequency, 72% since 1948. Continue reading

Understanding the U.S. Drought and Heatwave: Five Good Visuals

As the drought drags on, these graphics and interactives explain what’s happening

Scott Olson/Getty Images

1. “Drought’s Footprint”The New York Times

In June, more than half of the U.S. was experiencing moderate to extreme drought. How does that compare to other years? The Times’ graphic lays it out.

2. “Dried Out: Confronting the Texas Drought” — NPR, KUT and KUHF

The drought began in Texas in October of last year. Watch it grow over time, and explore a timeline that explains the root causes of the drought and how communities are responding.

3. “Flash Drought in U.S. Explained in 14 Seconds”Climate Central

Watch an animation showing the spread of the drought, from Texas and Georgia in March, to most of the Midwest and West by June.

4. Drought Impact Reporter — The National Drought Mitigation Center

This is “the nation’s first comprehensive database of drought impacts.” Submit reports of how the drought affects you, and search for drought impacts by state, whether they’re to agriculture, industry, public health or wildlife.

5. “Historic heat wave in hindsight: Hottest on record in Washington D.C., hotter than 1930″Washington Post

From the Post’s weather blog, a local, numbers-heavy analysis of the heatwave that hit Washington. With stats like “Longest period at or above 100: 7 hours on July 7 (tie with July 6, 2010 and July 21, 1930),” it’s like a Guinness Book of World Records for D.C.’s summer, and holds my usually California-focused attention.

Combatants in New CA Water War Dig In

 Opponents call Governor’s Delta plan “plumbing before policy” and “a wink and a promise”

Craig Miller

Opponents to Governor Brown's Delta plan were gathered on the Capitol steps within an hour of the announcement.

You can hear a one-hour discussion of the proposed Delta plan on KQED’s Forum.

“You’ve launched a war. We’ll fight the battle,” was the rallying cry from congressman John Garamendi, within hours of the announcement of Governor Jerry Brown’s revised plan for California’s already embattled Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Brown was flanked by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and officials of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration in rolling out a plan which Brown’s Natural Resources Agency says, “will undergo a rigorous public environmental review.” The plan’s centerpiece is a long-debated tunnel to shuttle water from the Sacramento River, north of the Delta, to the vast plumbing system that carries water to farms in the San Joaquin Valley and cities in Southern California. The conveyance is touted as a way to protect fish from the voracious pumps that fill the canals heading south. Continue reading

Water Wars May Reignite Over Massive Delta Plan

Battle lines are forming as Governor Brown prepares to roll out his proposal for the Delta

Josh Cassidy/KQED

The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta plays a crucial role in the state’s water supply.

On Wednesday, Governor Jerry Brown and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar are expected to announce a multi-billion dollar plan designed to fix California’s longstanding water war in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Their proposal for a 35-mile water tunnel is set to reignite the fight over how water is exported from the Delta. The announcement comes just months after federal and state wildlife agencies warned that the proposed version of the project could have dramatic impacts on Delta fish.

Political wrangling over the governor’s announcement has already begun. Continue reading

Drought Has Ties to La Niña, with Global Warming Assist

La Niña has been linked to historical droughts, including the Dust Bowl

By

Scott Olson/Getty Images

A cow feeds in a drought-damaged pasture as temperatures climb near 100 degrees on July 17, 2012 near Princeton, Indiana.

Driven by a combination of natural climate variability, manmade global warming, and plain old bad luck, drought conditions are so widespread in the U.S. that it’s possible to take a cross-country flight from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco — a distance of approximately 2,400 miles — without once overflying an unaffected area. With about 81 percent of the lower 48 states experiencing at least abnormally dry conditions, and 63 percent mired in moderate-to-exceptional drought, it’s becoming harder and harder to find an oasis. And the dog days of August are yet to come.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) already ranks this drought as one of the worst on record, comparable to the drought events of the 1950s. The last time there were such widespread drought conditions in the corn-growing region of the country was in 1988, and that drought cost at least $40 billion.

Given this summer’s punishing 1-2 punch of dry weather and heat, this drought is also being compared to the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s. Continue reading

Bay Area Landscape Likely to Come Up Short on Water

Facing the difference between how much water plants need, and how much they’ll get

KQED QUEST

Scientists are looking at climatic water deficit, the water plants need but don't have.

We hear a lot about how climate change will affect rainfall in California, but climate scientists are increasingly looking at a new indicator: water deficit.

“Climatic water deficit” relates to how much water plants need to survive. “It’s the difference between what a plant would use if it had the water and what is actually available,” Alan Flint, research hydrologist with the US Geological Survey, explained on Wednesday at the North America Congress for Conservation Biology.

The value combines temperature, rainfall, the soil’s capacity to hold water and how plants use water. In agriculture, farmers irrigate their crops to make up the water deficit, but plants in the natural world aren’t so lucky. Continue reading

Dry Weather Boosts Odds of Extreme Heat

A new study finds that drought in one month increases the likelihood of heat in the next

By

Sasha Khokha/KQED

As soil dries, more of the sun’s energy goes into heating the air directly, rather than evaporating moisture from the ground.

Droughts such as the one currently gripping a majority of the U.S. may dramatically increase the odds of extremely hot days, a new study found. The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, explores a dynamic that is playing out right now across the country, particularly in the Great Plains, where the severe drought is priming the atmosphere in favor of an above-average number of extremely hot days.

This occurs because of feedbacks between the ground and the air: as the soil and vegetation dry, more of the sun’s energy is able to go into heating the air directly, rather than going into evaporating moisture from plants and the soil.

With drought conditions intensifying during mid-summer, the study suggests that the U.S. may be in for particularly brutal Dog Days of August. Continue reading