Environment

  • WaterHow will California cities meet water-rationing mandates? Universities have some ideas

    By John Cook

    California is in the fourth year of an historic drought. It’s now so bad that state water authorities canceled the last monthly measurement of the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada. There wasn’t enough snow to even bother trying. The situation compelled Governor Jerry Brown to impose emergency water-conservation measures that will require a 25 percent cut in urban water use over the next year. The water footprint of the state’s higher education system is substantial: there are ten University of California campuses, twenty-three California State University campuses, and 112 California community colleges. Yet the university system is putting in place a number of measures to conserve water. Municipalities, too, will need to implement similar measures to meet the mandates and adapt to this prolonged drought.

  • WaterHow best to adapt to the U.S. water shortage?

    The water crisis in the western United States — most notably in California and Washington — may be the most severe and most publicized, but other threats to the nation’s water supply loom, says a water expert. “We have settled in places and undertaken industrial and agricultural activities largely based on water availability,” he says. “When that availability changes, we must adapt. If the change is rather rapid, we often face a crisis.”

  • HurricanesClimate change changing intensity, frequency of hurricanes

    Climate change may be the driving force behind fewer, yet more powerful hurricanes and tropical storms. Hurricanes can form when ocean waters are 79 degrees Fahrenheit or more. As the warm water evaporates, it provides the energy a storm needs to become a hurricane. Higher temperatures mean higher levels of energy, which would ultimately affect wind speed.

  • GridU.S. West's power grid must be “climate-proofed” to lessen risks of power disruption

    Electricity generation and distribution infrastructure in the Western United States must be “climate-proofed” to diminish the risk of future power shortages, according to researchers. Expected increases in extreme heat and drought events will bring changes in precipitation, air and water temperatures, air density, and humidity. the changing conditions could significantly constrain the energy-generation capacity of power plants — unless steps are taken to upgrade systems and technologies to withstand the effects of a generally hotter and drier climate.

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  • Water75 percent of L.A. County water systems vulnerable to drought, other challenges

    Despite the importance of potable water to the quality of life, economy, and ecosystems in Los Angeles County, surprisingly little is known about the 228 government and private entities which deliver water, and how vulnerable or resilient they are to withstanding pressures from droughts and climate change. Innovative maps in a Water Atlas compiled by UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation show which areas are most threatened. The Water Atlas finds that 75 percent of community drinking water systems in Los Angeles County exhibit at least one indicator of supply vulnerability due either to dependency on a single type of water source, local groundwater contamination, small size, or a projected increase in extreme heat days over the coming decades.

  • Coastal resilienceSouth Africa must start managing its retreat from the coast

    By Phoebe Barnard

    In 2015 there may remain some small uncertainties about the pace and intensity of climate change, but the inevitability of storm surges and sea level rise is not one of them. Due to the warming ocean’s thermal mass, thermal expansion, melting ice, and other complex interactions between air, land, and water, the sea level will rise significantly over the next few centuries. Even if we stopped using fossil fuels today, this is inevitable. African cities and coastlines, like the rest of the world, absolutely need natural coastal defenses: dunes, estuaries, mangroves, reefs, and coastal plains – but in many areas these defense would not be sufficient. In those areas, another approach should be considered: A managed retreat from the coast. In many places along the African coast such retreat is essential to minimize risk to coastal societies and maximize social and economic stability. And if planned properly, it can generate significant economic growth rather than chaos. The alternative is a grim scenario of treacherous coastline littered with rusting hulks of drowned and broken buildings, displaced coastal communities, and attendant impacts on health, food security, disaster risk management, and social and economic stability.

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  • Oil spillsMore assessment of dispersants used in response to oil spills needed

    Chemical dispersants are widely used in emergency responses to oil spills in marine environments as a means of stimulating microbial degradation of oil. After the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010, dispersants were applied to the sea surface and deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, the latter of which was unprecedented. S new study argues for further in-depth assessments of the impacts of dispersants on microorganisms to guide their use in response to future oil spills.

  • Coastal resilienceMarshes, reefs, beaches can bolster coastal resilience: NOAA

    Coastal erosion, storms, and flooding can reshape the shoreline and threaten coastal property. With approximately 350,000 houses, business, bridges, and other structures located within 500 feet of the U.S. shoreline, erosion is a problem many U.S. coastal communities are addressing. Coastal flooding caused by extreme weather events and sea level rise is of growing global concern. In 2012, just two coastal extreme weather events caused $68 billion in damages — Sandy accounted for $65 billions, and Hurricane Isaac for $3 billion. The resilience of U.S. coastal communities to storms, flooding, erosion, and other threats can be strengthened when they are protected by natural infrastructure such as marshes, reefs, and beaches, or with hybrid approaches, such as a “living shoreline” — a combination of natural habitat and built infrastructure, according to a new NOAA study.

  • WaterMajor food companies must adapt to growing global water risks

    Escalating water competition, combined with weak government regulations, increasing water pollution, and worsening climate change impacts, is creating unprecedented water security risks for the food industry. In California, an estimated half-million acres of farmland have already been fallowed by a prolonged drought, causing more than $1 billion of economic losses for the agriculture sector. Major U.S. food companies need to adopt far stronger practices to use limited global water resources more efficiently, according to a new report. The report ranks the U.S. thirty-seven largest food companies on how effectively they are managing precious freshwater supplies. While a relatively small number of firms are taking broad actions to manage water risks in their operations and supply chains — Unilever, Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo, General Mills, and Kellogg, among those — most have a long way to go in using water more sustainably, the report concludes.

  • Coastal resilienceSea level rise accelerated over the past two decades, research finds

    Sea level rise sped up over the last two decades rather than slowing down as previously thought, according to new research. The research corrects other studies which relied on records from tide gauges and satellites, records which have shown sea level rise to be slowing slightly over the past twenty years. This slowing down surprised scientists: As the ice sheets of West Antarctica and Greenland melt and send huge amounts of water into the ocean, climate models predicted that sea level rise would accelerate, not slow down. The new research, in which researchers used data sets generated by both tidal gauges and altimetric satellites, found, however, that the record of sea level rise during the early 1990s was too high. When adjustments are made for the initial error, the rate of sea level rise is not slowing down but accelerating, and the IPCC climate modelling proves right.

  • Coastal resilienceFlorida coastal communities’ infrastructure officials say state government ignores sea level rise

    Water officials serving communities along Florida’s 1,200-mile coastline say the state government has rejected the scientific consensus on man-made climate change. These officials are worried that unprecedented flood levels will erode their buildings, push seawater into drinking water wells, and overburden aging flood-control systems. Despite warnings from water and climate experts about risks to Florida’s cities and drinking water, deniers and skeptics of climate change science have suppressed efforts at all levels of state government to address these risks.

  • Border securityBill allowing Border Patrol activity within 100 miles of border unnecessary, damaging: Environmentalists

    The U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee last Wednesday approved S.750, a bill which would waive all laws for any Border Patrol activity within 100 miles of Arizona’s border with Mexico. Environmental organizations say that the bill, marketed as an improvement for Border Patrol’s access to public lands, is more about overreach and overkill than access, and will result in more harm to U.S. public lands, including those far from the border.

  • WaterSão Paulo water crisis shows the failure of public-private partnerships

    By Steffen Böhm and Rafael Kruter Flores

    São Paulo’s ongoing water crisis has left many of the city’s twenty million or more residents without tap water for days on end. Brazil’s largest metropolis is into its third month of water rationing, and some citizens have even taken to drilling through their basements to reach groundwater. Most commentators agree that the crisis is to blame on multiple factors, but few have questioned the role of the water company in charge: Sabesp. Just like the “natural monopolies” enjoyed by water companies in the United Kingdom, Sabesp has a publicly guaranteed monopoly, yet its profits are part-privatized — earlier this year it paid out R$252 million (US$83 million) in dividends. As is the case with other private companies, when deciding whether to make the necessary investments to prepare for possible water shortages, Sabesp has had to choose whether to safeguard the public supply or increase the value of its shares. As a result, the most essential resource of all has now become a struggle in São Paulo. Responsibility for this crisis lies with Sabesp and two decades of running water supply as a for-profit service. It is a failure of public-private partnership. As climate change and other environmental factors make water crises more likely, we better rethink the way water is managed worldwide.

  • Food securityDepletion of soil accelerates, putting human security at risk: Scientists

    Steadily and alarmingly, humans have been depleting Earth’s soil resources faster than the nutrients can be replenished. If this trajectory does not change, soil erosion, combined with the effects of climate change, will present a huge risk to global food security over the next century, warns a review paper authored by some of the top soil scientists in the country. The paper singles out farming, which accelerates erosion and nutrient removal, as the primary game changer in soil health.

  • WaterWater agencies in Sacramento, Calif. area want state water restrictions rewritten to reflect climate

    Last month, Governor Jerry Brown ordered California’s water agencies to reduce potable urban water use by 25 percent on average over 2013 levels by 28 February 2016. Leaders of Sacramento-area water agencies are now calling for a rewrite of the proposed framework to reflect climate. They argue that the framework is unfair because inland communities require far more water to achieve the same water functions as coastal communities. They also say the region is being punished for its dry heat, while coastal communities are rewarded for their moderate climate.