Category: Drought


Geoengineering side effects could be potentially disastrous, research shows

Comparison of five proposed methods shows they are ineffective, alter weather systems or could not be safely stopped
Geoengineering techniques need more study, says science coalition

Geoengineering the planet’s climate: even when applied on a massive scale, the most that could be expected is a temperature drop of about 8%, new research shows. Photograph: Nasa/REUTERS

Large-scale human engineering of the Earth’s climate to prevent catastrophic global warming would not only be ineffective but would have severe unintended side effects and could not be safely stopped, a comparison of five proposed methods has concluded.

Science academies around the world as well as some climate activists have called for more research into geoengineering techniques, such as reflecting sunlight from space, adding vast quantities of lime or iron filings to the oceans, pumping deep cold nutrient-rich waters to the surface of oceans and irrigating vast areas of the north African and Australian deserts to grow millions of trees. Each method has been shown to potentially reduce temperature on a planetary scale.

But researchers at the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, Germany, modelled these five potential methods and concluded that geoengineering could add chaos to complex and not fully understood weather systems. Even when applied on a massive scale, the most that could be expected, they say, is a temperature drop of about 8%.

The potential side effects would be potentially disastrous, say the scientists, writing in Nature Communications. Ocean upwelling, or the bringing up of deep cold waters, would cool surface water temperatures and reduce sea ice melting, but would unbalance the global heat budget, while adding iron filings or lime would affect the oxygen levels in the oceans. Reflecting the sun’s rays into space would alter rainfall patterns and reforesting the deserts could change wind patterns and could even reduce tree growth in other regions.

In addition, say the scientists, two of the five methods considered could not be safely stopped. “We find that, if solar radiation management or ocean upwelling is discontinued then rapid warming occurs. If the other methods are discontinued, less dramatic changes occur. Essentially all of the CO2 that was taken up remains in the ocean.”

 

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LiveScience

 

 

 

Diagram of geoengineering ideas
A diagram of the geoengineering projects people have proposed to combat climate change. The laws surrounding such projects are still uncertain.
Credit: Diagram by Kathleen Smith/LLNL

 

Current schemes to minimize the havoc caused by global warming by purposefully manipulating Earth’s climate are likely to either be relatively useless or actually make things worse, researchers say in a new study.

 

The dramatic increase in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution is expected to cause rising global sea levels, more-extreme weather and other disruptions to regional and local climates. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that traps heat, so as levels of the gas rise, the planet overall warms.

 

In addition to efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, some have suggested artificially manipulating the world’s climate in a last-ditch effort to prevent catastrophic climate change. These strategies, considered radical in some circles, are known as geoengineering or climate engineering.

 

 

Many scientists have investigated and questioned how effective individual geoengineering methods could be. However, there have been few attempts to compare and contrast the various methods, which range from fertilizing the ocean so that marine organisms suck up excess carbon dioxide to shooting aerosols into the atmosphere to reflect some of the sun’s incoming rays back into space. [8 Ways Global Warming is Already Changing the World]

 

Now, researchers using a 3D computer model of the Earth have tested the potential benefits and drawbacks of five different geoengineering technologies.

 

Will it work?

 

The scientists found that even when several technologies were combined, geoengineering would be unable to prevent average surface temperatures from rising more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) above current temperatures by the year 2100. This is, the current limit that international negotiations are focused on. They were unable to do so even when each technology was deployed continuously and at scales as large as currently deemed possible.

 

“The potential of most climate engineering methods, even when optimistic deployment scenarios were assumed, were much lower than I had expected,” said study author Andreas Oschlies, an earth system modeler at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany.

 

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International Law Encourages Use of Geoengineering Weather Modification

 

 

Derrick Broze

According to a new study due to be published in 2014, Geoengineering field research is not only allowed, it is encouraged.

The study was authored by Jesse Reynolds at Tilburg Law School in the Netherlands. Reynolds researched the legal status of geoengineering research by analyzing international documents and treaties.

Geo-engineering is the science of manipulating the climate for the stated purpose of fighting mad made climate change. These include Solar Radiation Management (SRM), the practice of spraying aerosols into the sky in an attempt to deflect the Sun’s rays and combat climate change.

According to a recent congressional report:

“The term “geoengineering” describes this array of technologies that aim, through large-scale and deliberate modifications of the Earth’s energy balance, to reduce temperatures and counteract anthropogenic climate change. Most of these technologies are at the conceptual and research stages, and their effectiveness at reducing global temperatures has yet to be proven. Moreover, very few studies have been published that document the cost, environmental effects, socio-political impacts, and legal implications of geoengineering. If geoengineering technologies were to be deployed, they are expected to have the potential to cause significant transboundary effects.

In general, geoengineering technologies are categorized as either a carbon dioxide removal (CDR) method or a solar radiation management (SRM) method. CDR methods address the warming effects of greenhouse gases by removing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. CDR methods include ocean fertilization, and carbon capture and sequestration. SRM methods address climate change by increasing the reflectivity of the Earth’s atmosphere or surface.

Aerosol injection and space-based reflectors are examples of SRM methods. SRM methods do not remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, but can be deployed faster with relatively immediate global cooling results compared to CDR methods.“
Reynolds’ study will be published in the Journal of Energy, Climate and the Environment around the same time that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change presents its Fifth Assessment Report. The study continues the calls for an international body to regulate the controversial weather modification techniques.

Some believe the answer is international agreement for international tests but low-risk domestic research should continue to assist in the overall decision of what to do with geoengineering.

One of the many dangers of manipulating the weather are the loss of blue skies. According to a report by the New Scientist, Ben Kravitz of the Carnegie Institution for Science has shown that releasing sulphate aerosols high in the atmosphere would scatter sunlight into the atmosphere. He says this could decrease the amount of sunlight that hits the ground by 20% and make the sky appear more hazy.

 

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Yale University

 

09 Jan 2014: Report

Solar Geoengineering: Weighing
Costs of Blocking the Sun’s Rays

With prominent scientists now calling for experiments to test whether pumping sulfates into the atmosphere could safely counteract global warming, critics worry that the world community may be moving a step closer to deploying this controversial technology.

by nicola jones

In 1991, Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines erupted in one of the largest volcanic blasts of the 20th century. It spat up to 20 million tons of sulfur into the upper atmosphere, shielding the earth from the sun’s rays and causing global temperatures to drop by nearly half a degree Celsius in a single year. That’s more than half of the amount the planet has warmed

Studies have shown that such a strategy would be powerful, feasible, fast-acting, and cheap.

due to climate change in 130 years.

Now some scientists are thinking about replicating Mount Pinatubo’s dramatic cooling power by intentionally spewing sulfates into the atmosphere to counteract global warming. Studies have shown that such a strategy would be powerful, feasible, fast-acting, and cheap, capable in principle of reversing all of the expected worst-case warming over the next century or longer, all the while increasing plant productivity. Harvard University physicist David Keith, one of the world’s most vocal advocates of serious research into such a scheme, calls it “a cheap tool that could green the world.” In the face of anticipated rapid climate change, Keith contends that the smart move is to intensively study both the positive and negative effects of using a small fleet of jets to inject

“Mount

Arlan Naeg/AFP/Getty Images
The 1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption lowered temperatures nearly half a degree Celsius.

sulfate aerosols high into the atmosphere to block a portion of the sun’s rays.

Yet even Keith acknowledges that there are serious concerns about solar geoengineering, both in terms of the environment and politics. Growing discussion about experimentation with solar radiation management has touched off an emotional debate, with proponents saying the technique may be needed to avert climate catastrophe and opponents warning that deployment could lead to international conflicts and unintended environmental consequences — and that experimentation would create a slippery slope that would inevitably lead to deployment. University of Chicago geophysicist Raymond Pierrehumbert has called the scheme “barking mad.” Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki has dismissed it as “insane.” Protestors have stopped even harmless, small-scale field experiments that aim to explore the idea. And Keith has received a couple of death threats from the fringe of the environmentalist community.

Clearly, there are good reasons for concern. Solar geoengineering would likely make the planet drier, potentially disrupting monsoons in places like India and creating drought in parts of the tropics. The technique could help eat away the protective ozone shield of our planet, and it would cause air pollution. It would also do nothing to counteract the problem of ocean

Some worry that solar geoengineering would hand politicians an easy reason to avoid emissions reductions.

acidification, which occurs when the seas absorb high levels of CO2 from the atmosphere.

Some worry that solar geoengineering would hand politicians an easy reason to avoid reducing greenhouse gas emissions. And if the impacts of climate change worsen and nations cannot agree on what scheme to deploy, or at what temperature the planet’s thermostat should be set, then conflict or even war could result as countries unilaterally begin programs to inject sulfates into the atmosphere. “My greatest concern is societal disruption and conflict between countries,” says Alan Robock, a climatologist at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

As Keith himself summarizes, “Solar geoengineering is an extraordinarily powerful tool. But it is also dangerous.”

Studies have shown that solar radiation management could be accomplished and that it would cool the planet. Last fall, Keith published a book, A Case for Climate Engineering, that lays out the practicalities of such a scheme. A fleet of ten Gulfstream jets could be used to annually inject 25,000 tons of sulfur — as finely dispersed sulfuric acid, for example — into the lower stratosphere. That would be ramped up to a million tons of sulfur per year by 2070, in order to counter about half of the world’s warming from greenhouse gases. The idea is to combine such a scheme with emissions cuts, and keep it running for about twice as long as it takes for CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere to level out.

Under Keith’s projections, a world that would have warmed 2 degrees C by century’s end would instead warm 1 degree C. Keith says his “moderate, temporary” plan would help to avoid many of the problems associated with full-throttle solar geoengineering schemes that aim to counteract all of the planet’s warming, while reducing the cost of adapting to rapid climate change. He estimates this scheme would cost about $700 million annually — less than 1 percent of what is currently spent on clean energy development. If such relatively modest cost projections prove to be accurate, some individual countries could deploy solar geoengineering technologies without international agreement.

‘The thing that’s surprising is the degree to which it’s being taken more seriously,’ says one scientist.

The idea of solar geoengineering dates back at least to the 1970s; researchers have toyed with a range of ideas, including deploying giant mirrors to deflect solar energy back into space, or spraying salt water into the air to make more reflective clouds. In recent years the notion of spraying sulfates into the stratosphere has moved to the forefront. “Back in 2000 we just thought of it as a ‘what if’ thought experiment,” says atmospheric scientist Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science, who did some of the first global climate modeling work on the concept. “In the last years, the thing that’s surprising is the degree to which it’s being taken more seriously in the policy world.”

In 2010, the first major cost estimates of sulfate-spewing schemes were produced. ‎ In 2012, China listed geoengineering among its earth science research priorities. Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s summary statement for policymakers controversially mentioned geoengineering for the first time in the panel’s 25-year history. And the National Academy of Sciences is working on a geoengineering report, funded in part by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

Solar geoengineering cannot precisely counteract global warming. Carbon dioxide warms the planet fairly evenly, while sunshine is patchy: There’s more in the daytime, in the summer, and closer to the equator. Back in the 1990s, Caldeira was convinced that these differences would make geoengineering ineffective. “So we did these simulations, and much to our surprise it did a pretty good job,” he says. The reason is that a third factor has a bigger impact on climate than either CO2 or sunlight: polar ice. If you cool the planet enough to keep that ice, says Caldeira, then this dominates the climate response.

 

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Geoengineering could bring severe drought to the tropics, research shows

Study models impact on global rainfall when artificial volcanic eruptions are created in a bid to reverse climate change
Layers of Volcanic Dust in the Earth's Atmosphere following eruption of Mount Pinatubo, Philippines

A view from the space shuttle Atlantis of three layers of volcanic dust in the Earth’s atmosphere, following the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines. Photograph: ISS/NASA/Corbis

Reversing climate change via huge artificial volcanic eruptions could bring severe droughts to large regions of the tropics, according to new scientific research.

The controversial idea of geoengineering – deliberately changing the Earth’s climate – is being seriously discussed as a last-ditch way of avoiding dangerous global warming if efforts to slash greenhouse gas emissions fail.

But the new work shows that a leading contender – pumping sulphate particles into the stratosphere to block sunlight – could have side-effects just as serious as the effects of warming itself. Furthermore, the impacts would be different around the world, raising the prospect of conflicts between nations that might benefit and those suffering more damage.

“There are a lot of issues regarding governance – who controls the thermostat – because the impacts of geoengineering will not be uniform everywhere,” said Dr Andrew Charlton-Perez, at the University of Reading and a member of the research team.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, is the first to convincingly model what happens to rainfall if sulphates were deployed on a huge scale.

While the computer models showed that big temperature rises could be completely avoided, it also showed cuts in rain of up to one-third in South America, Asia and Africa. The consequent droughts would affect billions of people and also fragile tropical rainforests that act as a major store of carbon. “We would see changes happening so quickly that there would be little time for people to adapt,” said Charlton-Perez.

Another member of the research team, Professor Ellie Highwood, said: “On the evidence of this research, stratospheric aerosol geoengineering is not providing world leaders with any easy answers to the problem of climate change.”

 

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President Barack Obama, left, speaks during a roundtable with community leaders including California Gov. Jerry Brown, and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., at San Luis Water Facility in Firebaugh, Calif., Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, regarding the ongoing drought. Photo: Jacquelyn Martin, AP / AP

President Barack Obama, left, speaks during a roundtable with community leaders including California Gov. Jerry Brown, and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., at San Luis Water Facility in Firebaugh, Calif., Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, regarding the ongoing drought. Photo: Jacquelyn Martin, AP
SFGate

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Obama Uses Backdrop of California Drought to Pitch $1 Billion Climate-Change Fund

Rep. Nunes calls it “ludicrous,” considering the state’s drought-resistant irrigation system is neutered by “excessive regulations and lawsuits by environmental extremists.”

by
Bridget Johnson

Bio

“The changing climate means drought, fire, storms, and floods will be costlier and harsher,” Obama said while surveying a farm in Los Banos, accompanied by Gov. Jerry Brown, Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, and Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.).

The administration announced a series of actions anchored in the departments of Agriculture and Interior intended to combat the longstanding economic effects of the drought in the nation’s breadbasket, including $5 million in additional assistance to California through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program that “helps farmers and ranchers implement conservation practices that conserve scarce water resources, reduce wind erosion on drought-impacted fields and improve livestock access to water” and $5 million in targeted Emergency Watershed Protection Program assistance to the most drought-impacted areas of California “to protect vulnerable soils.”

The White House also announced that $60 million has been made available through the USDA’s Emergency Food Assistance Program to food banks in California and 600 summer meal sites would be established in drought stricken areas. The USDA is “making $3 million in grants available to help rural communities that are experiencing a significant decline in the quality or quantity of drinking water due to the drought obtain or maintain water sources of sufficient quantity and quality.”

 

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Obama to Announce Aid for Drought-Stricken California

FRESNO, Calif. — President Obama arrived in the heart of California’s parched farmland on Friday afternoon to offer tens of millions of dollars in federal assistance to the state, where the lack of rain and snow this winter has left it grappling with the severest drought in its modern history.

Meeting with farmers and ranchers here in Fresno — where electronic signs along highways flash entreatingly to drivers, “Serious drought. Help save water” — Mr. Obama was expected to pledge $183 million from existing federal funds into drought relief programs for California. Though the announcement, made earlier in the day by the White House, won cautious support in this region, Mr. Obama also pressed ahead with the more difficult task of enlisting rural America in his campaign on climate change by linking it to the drought.

The president was accompanied on his tour by the state’s top Democrats, a show of solidarity that underscored the emerging partisan battle over the management of the drought in the nation’s most populous state and the source of half of the country’s fruits and vegetables.

Seated at the center of a horseshoe table at a water district building where he met with community leaders, Mr. Obama spoke of the difficulties of dealing with the drought in the face of California’s intricate water politics, which has traditionally cleaved along regional lines and which has often become mired in epic court battles.

“Water has been seen as a zero sum game: agriculture against urban, north against south,” he said. “We’re going to have to figure out how to play a different game.”

“We can’t afford years of litigation and no real action,” he added.

Mr. Obama also spoke of climate change, drawing links to the drought as well as hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean. Mr. Obama was expected to announce that he intends to ask Congress for $1 billion in new funding for a “climate resiliency” program to help communities invest in research, development and new infrastructure to prepare for climate disasters.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency a month ago. But many communities had already imposed water restrictions, and more than a dozen remain at risk of running out of water within a couple of months. For the first time in its 54-year history, the State Water Project, the main municipal water distribution system, said it is unable to provide water to local agencies, including farmers.

Water scarcity has forced cattle ranchers to sell portions of their herds. Farmers have left hundreds of thousands of acres of agricultural land go fallow.

Democrats and Republicans have been dueling with separate drought bills. Much of that rivalry has focused on the Central Valley — not only because it is California’s breadbasket, but it also represents, in an overwhelmingly Democratic state, a rare battleground between Republicans and conservative Democrats.

Ryan Jacobsen, executive director of the Fresno County Farm Bureau and a Fresno Irrigation District board member, said that Mr. Obama’s announcement was “a great start, though it won’t fix long-term issues.” The Central Valley, he said, needs major upgrades in water infrastructure and needs the federal authorities to release more water from the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta, north of here.

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KTVB.COM

Farmers: Obama’s drought relief efforts lacking

Associated Press

Posted on February 14, 2014 at 7:03 PM

Updated today at 7:06 PM

 

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — Farmers in California’s drought-stricken Central Valley said the financial assistance President Barack Obama delivered on his visit Friday does not get to the heart of California’s long-term water problems.

Amid one of the driest years in the state’s recorded history, Obama came to the Fresno area to announce $100 million in livestock-disaster aid, $60 million to support food banks and another $13 million toward things such as conservation and helping rural communities that could soon run out of drinking water.

Obama told reporters in the rural town of Firebaugh, where he met with community leaders, that he wasn’t about to wade into California water politics. Yet the president gently warned California’s leaders to find common ground rather than thinking of water as a “zero-sum game.”

“We’re going to have to figure out how to play a different game,” Obama said. “If the politics are structured in such a way where everybody is fighting each other and trying to get as much as they can, my suspicion is that we’re not going to make much progress.”

In his three-hour visit to the Central Valley, Obama also toured a farm in Los Banos to see the drought’s impact firsthand.

Another farmer, Sarah Woolf, a partner with Clark Brothers Farming, said anything will help, but the federal government needs to better manage the state’s water supplies so farmers have enough during future droughts like the current one.

“Throwing money at it is not going to solve the problem long-term,” she said.

The Central Valley produces nearly one-third of the nation’s fruits and vegetables, and Fresno County leads the nation in agriculture. Ryan Jacobsen, executive director of the Fresno County Farm Bureau, estimated that 25 percent of the county’s irrigated land will go unplanted this year.

The drought has caused Democrats and Republicans in Congress to propose dueling emergency bills. Led by Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, the House passed one that would free up water for farmers by rolling back environmental protections and stop the restoration of a dried-up stretch of the San Joaquin River that once had salmon runs.

Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer proposed their own version that pours $300 million into drought-relief projects without changing environmental laws. The bill would allow more flexibility to move water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to farms in the south and speed up environmental reviews of water projects.

 

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- Jon Queally, staff writer

Almost half (47%) of all U.S. wells are being developed in regions with high to extremely high water stress. This means that more than 80 percent of the annual available water is already allocated to municipal, industrial and agricultural users in these regions. (Source: Ceres)The irony of fracking: It destroys the natural resource it needs most. The tragedy for those living nearby fracking operations: That natural resource is the fresh—and increasingly scarce—water supply on which they, too, depend.

And not only does fracking—or hydraulic fracturing—demand enormous amounts of fresh water no matter where it takes places, a troubling new study released Wednesday found that a majority of places where the controversial drilling technique is most prevalent are the same regions where less and less water is available.

Overlay the regions where most of the fracking is being done in North American with the places experiencing the most troubling and persistent water resource problems and the resulting picture becomes an alarm bell as politicians and the fossil fuel industry continue to push fracking expansion as the savior for the U.S. and Canada’s energy woes.

According to the report, Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Stress: Water Demand by the Numbers (pdf), produced by the non-profit Ceres investor network, much of the oil and gas fracking activity in both the U.S. and Canada is happening in “arid, water stressed regions, creating significant long-term water sourcing risks” that will strongly and negatively impact the local ecosystem, communities, and people living nearby.

“Hydraulic fracturing is increasing competitive pressures for water in some of the country’s most water-stressed and drought-ridden regions,” said Ceres President Mindy Lubber, in announcing Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Stress: Water Demand by the Numbers. “Barring stiffer water-use regulations and improved on-the-ground practices, the industry’s water needs in many regions are on a collision course with other water users, especially agriculture and municipal water use.”

Richard Heinberg, senior fellow of the California-based Post Carbon Institute and author of a recent book on the “false promise” of the fracking industry, says the irony of the study’s findings “would be delicious if it weren’t so terrifying.”

“Nationally,” according to Heinberg, “only about 50 percent of fracking wastewater is recycled. Billions of gallons of freshwater are still taken from rivers, streams, and wells annually for this purpose, and—after being irremediably polluted—this water usually ends up being injected into deep disposal wells. That means it is no longer available to the hydrological cycle that sustains all terrestrial life.”

Click here to look at Ceres’ interactive map on fracking and water use.

The study drew on industry data detailing water usage from from 39,294 oil and gas wells from January 2011 through May 2013 and compared that information with “water stress indicator maps” developed by the World Resources Institute (WRI).

What it found:

Over 55 percent of the wells hydraulically fractured were in areas experiencing drought and 36 percent overlay regions with significant groundwater depletion – key among those, California which is in the midst of a historic drought and Texas, which has the highest concentration of shale energy development and hydraulic fracturing activity in the U.S.

Specifically:

In Texas, which includes the rapidly developing Eagle Ford and Permian Basin shale plays, more than half (52 percent) of the wells were in high or extreme high water stress areas. In Colorado and California, 97 and 96 percent of the wells, respectively, were in regions with high or extremely high water stress. Nearly comparable trends were also shown in New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

Among hundreds of hydraulic fracturing companies whose water use was evaluated, those with the highest exposure to water sourcing risk are Anadarako (APC), Encana (ECA), Pioneer (PXD) and Apache (APA). Most of the wells being developed by each of these companies are in regions of high or extreme water stress. The top three service providers, Halliburton, (HAL) Schlumberger (SLB) and Baker Hughes (BHI), handled about half of the water used for hydraulic fracturing nationally and also face water sourcing risks.

Although water use for hydraulic fracturing is often less than two percent of state water demands, the impacts can be large at the local level, sometimes exceeding the water used by all of the residents in a county.

“It’s a wake-up call,” Professor James Famiglietti, a hydrologist at the University of California, Irvine, told the Guardian. “We understand as a country that we need more energy but it is time to have a conversation about what impacts there are, and do our best to try to minimise any damage.”

The irony of the latest findings, explained Heinberg in an email to Common Dreams, is based on the fact that “much of the fracking boom is centered in the western United States—Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, and California—which just happens to be drying up, likely as a result of climate change. And that climate change, in turn, is happening because we’re burning fossil fuels like oil and natural gas.”

Heinberg observed that the Ceres report is largely written from the standpoint of the oil and gas companies—using much of their data—and directed at those who may be invested or would like to invest in the continuation or proliferation of the industry. However, he indicated, detailing the increasing difficulties the industry and its investors are likely to experience in sourcing water for their operations is still valuable for those opposed to fracking.

“In California, where I live,” he said, “we’re experiencing a 500-year drought. The grape-wine industry here in Sonoma County is facing disaster. Farmers in the Central Valley are weighing whether to plant at all this year. The fact that California’s Democratic governor [Jerry Brown] wants to spend what little water we have on fracking—which will only make our climate problems worse—makes the report frighteningly relevant.”

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Police officers Eric Baade, left, and Daren Prociw ride across the bed of Folsom Lake.

Researchers have documented multiple droughts in California that lasted 10 or 20 years in a row during the past 1,000 years.

SAN JOSE, Calif. — California’s current drought is being billed as the driest period in the state’s recorded rainfall history. But scientists who study the West’s long-term climate patterns say the state has been parched for much longer stretches before that 163-year historical period began.

And they worry that the “megadroughts” typical of California’s earlier history could come again.

Related: California says it won’t be able to fill water demand

Through studies of tree rings, sediment and other natural evidence, researchers have documented multiple droughts in California that lasted 10 or 20 years in a row during the past 1,000 years — compared to the mere three-year duration of the current dry spell. The two most severe megadroughts make the Dust Bowl of the 1930s look tame: a 240-year-long drought that started in 850 and, 50 years after the conclusion of that one, another that stretched at least 180 years.

“We continue to run California as if the longest drought we are ever going to encounter is about seven years,” said Scott Stine, a professor of geography and environmental studies at Cal State East Bay. “We’re living in a dream world.”

California in 2013 received less rain than in any year since it became a state in 1850. And at least one Bay Area scientist says that based on tree ring data, the current rainfall season is on pace to be the driest since 1580 — more than 150 years before George Washington was born. The question is: How much longer will it last?

A megadrought today would have catastrophic effects.

California, the nation’s most populous state with 38 million residents, has built a massive economy, Silicon Valley, Hollywood and millions of acres of farmland, all in a semiarid area. The state’s dams, canals and reservoirs have never been tested by the kind of prolonged drought that experts say will almost certainly occur again.

Related: Water war fought underground

Stine, who has spent decades studying tree stumps in Mono Lake, Tenaya Lake, the Walker River and other parts of the Sierra Nevada, said that the past century has been among the wettest of the last 7,000 years.

Looking back, the long-term record also shows some staggeringly wet periods. The decades between the two medieval megadroughts, for example, delivered years of above-normal rainfall — the kind that would cause devastating floods today.

The longest droughts of the 20th century, what Californians think of as severe, occurred from 1987 to 1992 and from 1928 to 1934. Both, Stine said, are minor compared to the ancient droughts of 850 to 1090 and 1140 to 1320.

What would happen if the current drought continued for another 10 years or more?

Without question, longtime water experts say, farmers would bear the brunt. Cities would suffer but adapt.

The reason: Although many Californians think that population growth is the main driver of water demand statewide, it actually is agriculture. In an average year, farmers use 80 percent of the water consumed by people and businesses — 34 million of 43 million acre-feet diverted from rivers, lakes and groundwater, according to the state Department of Water Resources.

“Cities would be inconvenienced greatly and suffer some. Smaller cities would get it worse, but farmers would take the biggest hit,” said Maurice Roos, the department’s chief hydrologist. “Cities can always afford to spend a lot of money to buy what water is left.”

Roos, who has worked at the department since 1957, said the prospect of megadroughts is another reason to build more storage — both underground and in reservoirs — to catch rain in wet years.

In a megadrought, there would be much less water in the Delta to pump. Farmers’ allotments would shrink to nothing. Large reservoirs like Shasta, Oroville and San Luis would eventually go dry after five or more years of little or no rain.

Farmers would fallow millions of acres, letting row crops die first. They’d pump massive amounts of groundwater to keep orchards alive, but eventually those wells would go dry. And although deeper wells could be dug, the costs could exceed the value of their crops. Banks would refuse to loan the farmers money.

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KABC LOS ANGELES KABC LOS ANGELES

Published on Jan 31, 2014

As the drought deepens, California’s Department of Water Resources said today it will provide no more water from the state water project to the 29 agencies that use it. KABC’s Michael Linder reports.

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California drought: State Water Project will deliver no water this summer

Posted:   01/31/2014 01:10:58 PM PST | Updated:   a day ago

At Folsom Lake, Calif.,  the boat ramp is several hundred yards  from the water’s edge, January 2014.

At Folsom Lake, Calif., the boat ramp is several hundred yards from the water’s edge, January 2014. (Rich Pedroncelli / AP)

For the first time in its 54-year history, the State Water Project, a backbone of California’s water system, will provide no water to urban residents or farmers this year because of the severe drought, state officials said Friday.

The announcement does not mean that communities will have no water this summer. But it does mean that every region is largely on its own now and will have to rely on water stored in local reservoirs, pumped from underground wells, recycled water and conservation to satisfy demand.

Silicon Valley and parts of the East Bay — particularly residents of Livermore, Pleasanton and Dublin, who receive 80 percent of their water each year from the State Water Project — will feel the impact the most in the Bay Area.

Hardest hit, however, will be the state’s huge agriculture industry.

“We expect hundreds of thousands of acres of land in the Central Valley to go unplanted,” said Paul Wenger, president of the California Farm Bureau Federation. “That will cause severe economic problems in our rural regions — loss of jobs and economic activity, with all the heartache that entails.”

The state’s decision to turn off its main spigot will be re-evaluated every month and could change if California sees significant rainfall in February, March and April, state water officials said at a Friday morning news conference.

Still, the news highlighted how California is in uncharted territory this year. Last year was the driest in the state’s recorded history back to 1850. The Sierra Nevada snowpack is at 15 percent of normal, even after a storm this week. And January set more records for lack of rainfall.

“Today’s action is a stark reminder that California’s drought is real,” said Gov. Jerry Brown. “We’re taking every possible step to prepare the state for the continuing dry conditions we face.”

Bay Area impact

The State Water Project, approved by voters in 1960 and a key legacy of former Gov. Pat Brown, the governor’s late father, is a massive system of 21 dams and 701 miles of pipes and canals that moves water from Northern California to the south. It essentially takes melting snow from the Sierra Nevada, captures it and transports it from Lake Oroville in Butte County through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta all the way to San Diego. In doing so, it provides drinking water for 23 million people from Silicon Valley to the Los Angeles basin and irrigates about 750,000 acres of farmland.

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Wine stocks could run dry as devastating drought in California threatens harvests and forces farmers to plant fewer crops

  • Officials ban access to vast reservoir to try to protect dwindling supplies
  • State would need snow and rain every other day from now until May to restore water levels
  • Ghost town submerged since 1950s revealed as reservoir runs low

By Daily Mail Reporter

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As a drought tightens its grip on California, farmers in the Golden State are fearing harvests of almonds, oranges and grapes could be lost.

The state’s famed vineyards and other farms will be further affected by the decision yesterday to not send water from a vast reservoir system to local agencies in spring.

The unprecedented move means water supplies for 25 million people, and irrigation for one million acres of farmland, will be forced to look to other sources.

Run dry: A boating speed limit buoy stands out on the dry bed of Black Butte Lake last month

Run dry: A boating speed limit buoy stands out on the dry bed of Black Butte Lake last month

The announcement was timed to give farmers more time to determine what crops they will plant this year and in what quantities.

Farmers and ranchers throughout the state already have felt the drought’s impact, tearing out orchards, fallowing fields and trucking in alfalfa to feed cattle on withered range land.

Without deliveries of surface water, farmers and other water users often turn to pumping from underground aquifers. The state has no role in regulating such pumping.

‘A zero allocation is catastrophic and woefully inadequate for Kern County residents, farms and businesses,’ Ted Page, president the Kern County Water Agency’s board, said in a statement.

‘While many areas of the county will continue to rely on ground water to make up at least part of the difference, some areas have exhausted their supply.’

…..

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By Anthony Sagliani, Meteorologist
January 30, 2014; 5:38 AM
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As severe to extreme drought continues to grip much of California, the first significant storm since early December is bearing down upon the state.

A persistent ridge of high pressure that has been stationed over the western United States for the last several months has crumbled during the past couple of days.

This has allowed a storm track that had been sending storms into far northern Canada to dive southward, right into the Pacific Northwest and California.

While the widespread sunshine and warmth of the last few weeks may be over for now, the change in weather is marked by very beneficial, drought-easing rain and snow, especially in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Elevations above 8,000 feet can expect snowfall amounts to exceed at least 2 feet through Friday evening. Winds will gust over 90 mph across the higher ridges.

Lower elevations, such as Lake Tahoe, can expect snowfall amounts to range from 6-12 inches through Friday.

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Image: Chicago skyline
Scott Olson / Getty Images
The Chicago skyline rises above the icy edge of Lake Michigan on Monday. The Midwest has been especially hard-hit by winter weather this month.

Why are the Midwest and the Southeast stuck in a deep freeze, while Alaska is suffering a perilous thaw this winter? The woes associated with this month’s unseasonably cold and warm temperatures all go back to the same root cause: a high-pressure ridge that’s been locked in for weeks over the American West. And if you think this winter’s weather is bad, just wait till this summer’s droughts kick in.

“A lot of this is connected,” said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Neb. “As we’re seeing, the warmth and dryness in the West has implications all the way up to Alaska and also in areas to the east.”

The long-lasting ridge causes a kink in the jet stream, sending warm marine air from the Pacific up into Alaska and bringing cold Arctic air down into America’s heartland.

The effects are brutal: Midwesterners and Easterners already have suffered through a couple of cold waves, and this week’s big chill is disrupting air travel and spreading misery across a region stretching from Texas to Minnesota to the Carolinas. Meanwhile, Alaska’s thaw has triggered a mammoth avalanche, cutting off road access to the port of Valdez and stoking fears of flash floods.

Worries in the West
The locked-in ridge is having a more insidious effect on the West. Precipitation has been scarce — so scarce that there’s a drought emergency in California and wildfire warnings in Oregon. In January!

Is it possible that this year’s drought and fire season will be even worse than last year’s? “The current water year, which started in October, is one of the driest on record that we’ve ever seen,” Fuchs told NBC News. “Even if we had near-record moisture from here on out, it would still be tough to make up the deficit.”

Image: MODIS photos

NASA via Cliff Mass
Two pictures from NASA’s Aqua satellite tell the tale for this year’s drought conditions in the western United States. The photo at left is Jan. 20, 2013. The photo at right is from Jan. 20, 2014. “Wow … what a difference,” says Cliff Mass, a weather researcher at the University of Washington.

Last year at this time, drought conditions were in effect for 54 percent of California’s land area, Fuchs said. Currently, 94 percent of the state is feeling the drought. “What’s happening in the western third of the U.S. is a strong, developing situation,” Fuchs said.

Read More and Watch Video Here

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Driest California in 500 Years?

SAN FRANCISCO—Weird things are happening in California. Bears, normally hibernating at this time of year, have climbed out of their caves to search for food. Some visitors to Tahoe are renting bikes, not skis.

As the East Coast digs out from its latest snow dump, Californians can only look on enviously. Here, the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the state’s great water-supply source, stands at a scary 13 percent of normal. California suffered its driest year on record in 2013, but what’s yet to come is even more terrifying. Federal forecasters predict that the drought will continue or intensify through at least April—by which time, the “rainy” season will be over.

The Golden State should probably be panicking more than it is. Reservoir levels are falling, but only a few cities, including Sacramento and the Sonoma County town of Healdsburg, have mandated water-use reductions. Both have instituted cuts on the order of 20 percent for every household. Governor Jerry Brown has asked everyone to make voluntary cuts, but as drought-stricken Midland, Texas, learned a few years ago, voluntary never quite does it. (An only-in-California water-saving tip I’ve seen: go around in the buff, to save on the need to wash clothes.)

The problem is a huge atmospheric ridge of high-pressure that’s been hovering off the coast for an unprecedented 13 months. Storms can’t break through, so they go around and over it. The really worrying part, as the Christian Science Monitor explained this week, is that the longer the ridge hangs around, the sturdier it gets. Nobody knows when it will disband. (And no, we also don’t yet know if all this is linked to climate change, but California will doubtless be glad to trumpet a connection.)

“This could potentially be the driest water year in 500 years,” says B. Lynn Ingram, a University of California at Berkeley paleoclimatologist.

Assuming the drought continues, it’s going to have huge and complex effects. Among them:

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Rainwater harvesting: dismissed by Texas voters but embraced by business

australia drought

Lake Eucumbene in Old Adaminaby, Australia. Rainwater collection played a key role in getting several Australian cities through their recent ‘millenium drought’. Photo: Mark Nolan/Getty Images

Texas voters last night approved the creation of a water bank expected to fund nearly $30bn in water infrastructure projects in the coming decades. The passage of Proposition 6 means the state will begin putting its 2012 State Water Plan – which calls for more than $50b in spending on new water infrastructure by 2060 – into action.

The project list is heavy on big new pipelines and reservoirs (including a controversial $3.3bn reservoir in East Texas to service the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex 170 miles away), and also features agricultural conservation and municipal water reuse projects.

But advocates of rainwater collection say a key tool for water security is missing from the plan. “Rainwater harvesting was not recommended as a water management strategy to meet needs since the volume of water may not be available during drought conditions,” the plan states.

Rainwater harvesting – one of the most efficient ways of reducing water demand and related infrastructure costs, according to Tamim Younos, president of Virginia’s Cabell Brand Center – has gained popularity in recent years. To protect themselves from water shortage or price increases, some of the world’s largest companies – such as Walmart, Home Depot, and TD Ameritrade – have been installing their own projects.

While Texas offers a number of incentives for rainwater harvesting, including allowing governmental districts to exempt such systems from property taxes, inclusion of the practice in the State Water Plan would have certainly accelerated the trend.

Rainwater collection played a key role in getting several Australian cities through their recent “millennium drought“. But the practice routinely gets overlooked in the United States, as underlined by the Texas plan.

David Crawford, founder of Virginia-based Rainwater Management Solutions, attributes the limited US rollout to resistant utilities, relatively low water costs, a confusing melange of local codes and ignorance about the practice.

“There’s these municipalities that say, ‘Oh, no, we don’t want you to flush our toilets with rainwater because we’ll lose budget money on it,’” Crawford said. “The reality of it is they don’t have the water to sell in many cases.”

Corporate rainwater collection rises

In May, online brokerage TD Ameritrade Holding Corporation consolidated five offices in Omaha, Nebraska, into a single $250m, 12-story tower expected to receive the LEED Platinum certification.

Along with an abundance of natural lighting, solar-heated hot water, and wind-powered parking lot lights, the building boasts a rainwater harvesting system that waters the landscaping and flushes the toilets. All together, the green measures cut building maintenance costs in half, claims spokesperson Kim Hillyer.

“Anytime you move 2,000 people into one location you worry about how many natural resources you’re going to drain, and if we can limit that then we’ve done our job in being a good community partner,” Hillyer said.

Box stores with large roofs and significant landscaping also appear to be a natural fit for rainwater harvesting, which typically involves collecting rainwater from rooftops, storage in large tanks, and filtration and pumping for non-potable needs. The American Water Works Association estimates that 80% of the typical commercial building’s water use goes to non-potable uses, such as flushing toilets, watering landscaping, and for cooling and processing water.

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Rising Temperatures Challenge Salt Lake City’s Water Supply

Dell Creek in Parley’s Canyon, is a source of water for Salt Lake City. A new study shows how climate change is likely to affect the various creeks and streams that help slake Salt Lake City’s thirst. (Credit: Patrick Nelson, Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities)

Nov. 1, 2013 — In an example of the challenges water-strapped Western cities will face in a warming world, new research shows that every degree Fahrenheit of warming in the Salt Lake City region could mean a 1.8 to 6.5 percent drop in the annual flow of streams that provide water to the city.

By midcentury, warming Western temperatures may mean that some of the creeks and streams that help slake Salt Lake City’s thirst will dry up several weeks earlier in the summer and fall, according to the new paper, published today in the journal Earth Interactions. The findings may help regional planners make choices about long-term investments, including water storage and even land-protection policies.

“Many Western water suppliers are aware that climate change will have impacts, but they don’t have detailed information that can help them plan for the future,” said lead author Tim Bardsley, with NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder. “Because our research team included hydrologists, climate scientists and water utility experts, we could dig into the issues that mattered most to the operators responsible for making sure clean water flows through taps and sprinklers without interruption.”

Bardsley works for the CIRES Western Water Assessment, from the NOAA Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City. For the new paper, he worked closely with colleagues from the city’s water utility, the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory and the University of Utah.

The team relied on climate model projections of temperature and precipitation in the area, historical data analysis and a detailed understanding of the region from which the city utility obtains water. The study also used NOAA streamflow forecasting models that provide information for Salt Lake City’s current water operations and management.

The picture that emerged was similar, in some ways, to previous research on the water in the Interior West: Warmer temperatures alone will cause more of the region’s precipitation to fall as rain than snow, leading to earlier runoff and less water in creeks and streams in the late summer and fall.

“Many snow-dependent regions follow a consistent pattern in responding to warming, but it’s important to drill down further to understand the sensitivity of watersheds that matter for individual water supply systems,” said NCAR’s Andy Wood, a co-author.

The specifics in the new analysis — which creeks are likely to be impacted most and soonest, how water sources on the nearby western flank of the Wasatch Mountains and the more distant eastern flank will fare — are critical to water managers with Salt Lake City.

“We are using the findings of this sensitivity analysis to better understand the range of impacts we might experience under climate change scenarios,” said co-author Laura Briefer, water resources manager at the Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities. “This is the kind of tool we need to help us adapt to a changing climate, anticipate future changes and make sound water-resource decisions.”

“Water emanating from our local Wasatch Mountains is the lifeblood of the Salt Lake Valley, and is vulnerable to the projected changes in climate,” said Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker. “This study, along with other climate adaptation work Salt Lake City is doing, helps us plan to be a more resilient community in a time of climate change.”

Among the details in the new assessment:

  • Temperatures are already rising in northern Utah, about 2 degrees Fahrenheit in the last century, and continue to climb. Summer temperatures have increased especially steeply and are expected to continue to do so. Increasing temperatures during the summer irrigation season may increase water demand.
  • Every increase in a degree Fahrenheit means an average decrease of 3.8 percent in annual water flow from watersheds used by Salt Lake City. This means less water available from Salt Lake City’s watersheds in the future.
  • Lower-elevation streams are more sensitive to increasing temperatures, especially from May through September, and city water experts may need to rely on less-sensitive, higher-elevation sources in late summer, or more water storage.
  • Models tell an uncertain story about total future precipitation in the region, primarily because Utah is on the boundary of the Southwest (projected to dry) and the U.S. northern tier states (projected to get wetter).
  • Overall, models suggest increased winter flows, when water demand is lower, and decreased summer flows when water demand peaks.
  • Annual precipitation would need to increase by about 10 percent to counteract the stream-drying effect of a 5-degree increase in temperature.
  • A 5-degree temperature increase would also mean that peak water flow in the western Wasatch creeks would occur two to four weeks earlier in the summer than it does today. This earlier stream runoff will make it more difficult to meet water demand as the summer irrigation season progresses.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Colorado at Boulder.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.


Journal Reference:

  1. Tim Bardsley, Andrew Wood, Mike Hobbins, Tracie Kirkham, Laura Briefer, Jeff Niermeyer, Steven Burian. Planning for an Uncertain Future: Climate Change Sensitivity Assessment toward Adaptation Planning for Public Water Supply. Earth Interactions, 2013; 17 (23): 1 DOI: 10.1175/2012EI000501.1
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