tagged w/ Overconsumption
In a dramatic reversal of fortune compared to last year, an unusually dry winter is causing the level of Lake Mead, Nevada, to decline, making water managers increasingly anxious about supplying water to the thirsty Southwest.
The latest U.S. Drought Outlook shows continued dry conditions in the Southwest are likely for the rest of the winter.
During the past three years, the level of Lake Mead has followed a boom and bust cycle, dropping to a record low in 2010 during an intense drought, then recovering during 2011 thanks to record mountain snowfall, and now dropping again in the midst of a dry winter.
According to an article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, water managers are forecasting the lake level to drop by about 13 feet due to the dry winter so far. As the newspaper reported:
"In December, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation was predicting a roughly 11-foot rise in Lake Mead over the next year. Now the bureau expects the nation's largest man-made reservoir to shed about 13 feet by January 2013.
One acre-foot equals about 326,000 gallons, which is enough water to supply two average valley homes for one year. At current consumption levels, the 2.45 million acre-foot reduction in Lake Mead's forecast since last month represents enough water to supply the entire Las Vegas Valley for a decade."
During the past 11 years, a particularly dry and warm climate has lingered in Utah, Nevada, Arizona and Southern California, leading to reduced flow along the Colorado River. In fact, scientists have already shown that the stress on the water resources in the Southwest region is consistent with the effects of a warmer climate, and that increased emissions of heat-trapping gases are linked to recent changes in river flows and winter snow pack. Adding to the region's water challenges is the fact that cities that draw water from Lake Mead, such as Las Vegas, have grown in recent years and are further taxing the water supply.
More at the linkIn a dramatic reversal of fortune compared to last year, an unusually dry winter is... more
The biggest trees in the world, known as the true ecological kings of the jungle, are dying off rapidly as roads, farms and settlements fragment forests and they come under prolonged attack from severe droughts and new pests and diseases.
Big trees may comprise less than 2% of the trees in any forest but they can contain 25% of the total biomass and are vital for the health of the whole forest. Credit: us-parks.com
Long-term studies in Amazonia, Africa and Central America show that while these botanical behemoths may have adapted successfully to centuries of storms, pests and short-term climatic extremes, they are counter-intuitively more vulnerable than other trees to today's threats.
"Fragmentation of the forests is now disproportionately affecting the big trees," said William Laurance, a research professor at James Cook University in Cairns, Australia. "Not only do many more trees die near forest edges, but a higher proportion of the trees dying were the big trees.
"Their tall stature and relatively thick, inflexible trunks, may make them especially prone to uprooting and breakage near forest edges where wind turbulence is increased," Laurance said in this week's New Scientist magazine.
Big trees may comprise less than 2% of the trees in any forest but they can contain 25% of the total biomass and are vital for the health of whole forests because they seed large areas. "With their tall canopies basking in the sun, big trees capture vast amounts of energy. This allows them to produce massive crops of fruits, flowers and foliage that sustain much of animal life in the forests. Their canopies help moderate the local forest environment while their understory creates a unique habitat for other plants and animals," Laurance said.
"Only a small number of tree species have the genetic capacity to grow really big. To grow into giants, trees need good growing conditions, lots of time and the right place to establish their seedlings. Disrupt any one of these and you lose them."
In some parts of the world, Laurance said, populations of big trees are dwindling because their seedlings cannot survive or grow. "In southern India an aggressive shrub is invading the understorey of many forests, preventing seedlings from dropping on the floor. With no young trees to replace them, it's only a matter of time before most of the big trees disappear."
According to Laurance, it is not just the biggest trees in the world that are suffering, but also the biggest in their communities. Dutch elm disease killed off many of the stateliest trees in Britain in the 1960s and 70s, and new exotic organisms and bacterial infections, often brought in from other continents via garden centers, are threatening oak, ash and other species.
Longer lasting and more intense droughts, which are becoming more frequent in many tropical areas with climate change, are also taking their toll. Studies in Puerto Rico and Costa Rica suggest that big trees also suffer more in droughts than most other organisms.
"In rainforests droughts promote surface fires that burn through leaf litter on the forest floor. Larger trees were initially thought to survive these fires but, in fact, many die two to three years later. In cloud forests, big trees use their branches and crowns to rake the mist and capture water droplets. Global warming could push clouds up to higher elevations depriving them of sources of moisture," Laurance said.
"The danger is that the oldest, largest trees will progressively die off and not be replaced. Alarmingly, this might trigger a 'positive feedback' that could destabilize the climate: as older trees die, forests would release their stored carbon, prompting a vicious circle of further warming and forest shrinkage."
more at the linkThe biggest trees in the world, known as the true ecological kings of the jungle, are... more
Photographer Peter McBride traveled along the Colorado River from its source high in the Rocky Mountains to its historic mouth at the Sea of Cortez. In this Yale Environment 360 video, he follows the natural course of the Colorado by raft, on foot, and overhead in a small plane, telling the story of a river whose water is siphoned off at every turn, leaving it high and dry 80 miles from the sea.
In the video, McBride, a Colorado native, documents how increasing water demands have transformed the river that is the lifeblood for an arid Southwest.Photographer Peter McBride traveled along the Colorado River from its source high in... more
China is running out of water and can no longer afford to irrigate its northern plains, an expert has warned.
China needs to reduce food production on its dry northern plains or aquifers will diminish to a "dire" level in 30 years, one the country's leading groundwater experts has warned.
Zheng Chunmiao, director of the Water Research Centre at Peking University, said the world's most populous country will have to focus more on demand-side restraint because it is becoming more expensive and difficult to tap finite supplies below the surface.
"The government must adopt a new policy to reduce water consumption," Zheng told the Guardian. "The main thing is to reduce demand. We have relied too much on engineering projects, but the government realises this is not a long-term solution."
Zheng's comments are based on his studies of the aquifers under the North China plain, one of the country's main wheat growing regions. He said the water table is falling at the rate of about a metre a year mainly due to agriculture, which accounts for 60% of demand.
"The water situation in the North China plain does not allow much longer for irrigation," Zheng said. "We need to reduce food production even though it is politically difficult. It would be much more economical to import."
The government will be reluctant to accept such a radical step, which could weaken the country's ability to feed itself. But it may not have a choice.
Over the past 10 years, Zheng estimates the annual water deficit in northern China at 4bn cubic metres. This is increasingly made up from underground sources, which account for 70% of water supplies. Although some aquifers remain 500 metres thick, others are emptying at an alarming rate. This has created depletion cones, the deepest of which is at Hengshui near Xizhuajiang.
Before trimming agricultural production, the government will try to improve usage efficiency. Plans are now being drawn up to measure and centrally manage the remaining resources, which are currently under the control of regional governments that often tend to draw up water unsustainably for the short-term benefit of the local economy.
The Yellow River Conservancy Commission – which has the nation's most advanced river management network – is expected to serve as a model.
"The government is considering a system similar to ours that will collect data on underground water resources and connect it to our Yellow River monitoring system," said Pei Yong, director of the water regulation division. "I think it will start three or four years from now."
Even before this begins, controls on underground water use are slowly being tightened. Well digging – once a lucrative, ubiquitous and poorly regulated business - is already feeling the pinch.
Kaifeng Well Drilling – a company in Henan – charges 100-500 yuan for each metre drilled, but it has recently laid off workers because it gets permission for only two wells a year now, compared to about 30 in the 1980s.
"Business is very bad. Many firms have had to change business," said the director, who only gave his surname, Wang. "The controls are very tight now. You only get permission to drill in areas with severe water shortages."
More at the linkChina is running out of water and can no longer afford to irrigate its northern... more
Scientists have been using small variations in the Earth’s gravity to identify trouble spots around the globe where people are making unsustainable demands on groundwater, one of the planet’s main sources of fresh water.
They found problems in places as disparate as North Africa, northern India, northeastern China and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley in California. The results are redefining the field of hydrology, which itself has grown more critical as climate change and population growth draw down the world’s fresh water supplies.
cont.Scientists have been using small variations in the Earth’s gravity to identify... more
The worst drought in the 105-year historical record of the Colorado River has opened a new era of water scarcity that is prompting state and federal water managers to evaluate never before considered options for increasing water supply and reducing demand.
The new ideas for managing the seven-state river basin, which supplies water to 30 million residents and thousands of farms, have attracted increasing attention from agricultural users and other big water interests, particularly in the upper basin states that counted on receiving more water under the region’s near-century-old water use agreement.
In Las Vegas last month, at the annual meeting of the Colorado River Water Users Association—the only organization bringing together stakeholders from each of the seven basin states—opponents and supporters made their views known during a speech by Doug Kenney, the director of the Western Water Policy Program at the University of Colorado-Boulder.
Kenney was invited to Caesar’s Palace to share the first-year findings from his study on water governance in the Colorado River Basin. His message: in a new era of water scarcity along the river—where supply and demand lines have already crossed—traditional water management practices will need to be fundamentally changed.
New options for managing the Colorado include establishing provisions for year-to-year agreements with states and farmers to avoid shortages. They also include improvements in the efficiency of river operations, or by river augmentation, which means adding new supplies from a slew of sources—some viable, some expensive, and some fanciful: desalination, river diversions, and weather modification, respectively.
“I thought it was time for someone to stand up at that meeting and start talking about the reality.”
Kenney’s governance study is just one of several such assessments—carried out by academics and federal agencies, as well as state and regional water management authorities—suggesting the need for new ways to manage water flows. The studies are providing a new legal and scientific foundation for defining existing water rights within states, clarifying laws and regulations about how shortages on the river would be handled, and evaluating options for increasing the basin’s water supply and reducing demand.
Kenney argued that the states of the upper basin—Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming—are the most vulnerable if future flows are as low as predicted because the river’s legal structure gives priority to Mexico and the lower basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada.
“I thought it was time for someone to stand up at that meeting and start talking about the reality,” Kenney told Circle of Blue. “That there’s just not any water left on that river.”
While there were no catcalls or rotten fruit, Kenney admits that some representatives from the upper basin states were not pleased to hear that water promised to them nearly a century ago under the Colorado River Compact would probably not be available in the coming decades.
cont.The worst drought in the 105-year historical record of the Colorado River has opened a... more
Biodiversity loss. Land use. Freshwater use. Nitrogen and phosphorus cycles. Stratospheric ozone. Ocean acidification. Climate change. Chemical Pollution. Aerosol loading in the atmosphere.
A team of 30 scientists across the globe have determined that the nine environmental processes named above must remain within specific limits, otherwise the "safe operating space" within which humankind can exist on Earth will be threatened. Amid some controversy, the group has set numeric limits for seven of the nine so far (chemical pollution and aerosol loading are still being pinned down). And the researchers have determined that the world has already crossed the boundary in three cases: biodiversity loss, the nitrogen cycle and climate change.
Jon Foley, director of the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment, and a leader of the group, lays out the limits and their implications for human action in an article in Scientific American's April issue.
He also discusses the issues in a podcast with our own Steve Mirsky.
Foley's team was so moved by the research effort that it put together a compelling video (see below) dramatizing the situation, generated entirely with typography, graphics and energizing music. You can learn more about the team's work at its research site, too.
Image: Earth graphic from Foley videoBiodiversity loss. Land use. Freshwater use. Nitrogen and phosphorus cycles.... more
The governors of Georgia, Alabama and Florida announce progress toward a water-sharing plan.
A recent meeting by the governors of Georgia, Alabama and Florida may help break a long-running dispute over how much water the Atlanta region can use and the source for that water.
The governors asked their negotiating teams to work out a water-sharing plan that could be presented to state legislatures for approval early next year following Tuesday’s two-hour meeting, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. No details of the potential agreement were released, and Congress will need to give final approval to any accord.
Tuesday’s action comes on the heels of a Georgia water panel’s findings that the state does not have the time or money to meet a judge’s 2012 deadline for finding new water sources for metro Atlanta. The state’s Water Contingency Task Force said in November that it would take at least eight years and a huge financial investment to replace the water being withdrawn from Lake Lanier — the federal reservoir in northern Georgia that currently supplies most of the region’s water.
In July, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson ruled that Georgia communities had been wrongly permitted to withdraw large amounts of water from the reservoir for decades, even though Congress didn’t authorize its construction for that purpose. He imposed a 2012 deadline to reduce withdrawals from the lake to 1970 levels, when the metropolitan population was one-third its current size of 5 million residents.
The water dispute has included a flurry of legal maneuvers among the states, including a long-shot effort by Georgia to rework its border with Tennessee to gain access to the Tennessee River, based on claims that the original border was improperly drawn.The governors of Georgia, Alabama and Florida announce progress toward a water-sharing... more
Oceans are warming and become more acidic, while the world economy according to some would be out of the crisis, but it will take time for employment to rise. What connection there is between these two news? a direct one, because our economic system is based on the indiscriminate exploitation of mankind and environment, and will lead to the suicide of the human species.Oceans are warming and become more acidic, while the world economy according to some... more
Right now, America's Bread Basket relies on an aquifer that's nearly drained. And, many say, it will dry up if farmers keep pumping water from it at the current rate. Devin Browne reports the government plans to pay farmers as one way to get them to cut water use.
I find it a shame that people need to be paid to do the moral thing.Right now, America's Bread Basket relies on an aquifer that's nearly... more
At four times the price of regular jeans, these jeans tell the world -"I'm four times better than you"...At four times the price of regular jeans, these jeans tell the world -"I'm... more
Sarah Palin may have seen the light - sort of - on climate change but that did not spare her from being singled out yesterday as America's environmental enemy of the year.
The Centre for Biological Diversity awarded Palin its Rubber Dodo award for her insistence - despite evidence to the contrary - that the polar bear population was rising across the Arctic. The Arizona thinktank condemned the Alaska governor as a "global warming denier".
"Governor Palin has waged a deceptive, dangerous, and costly battle against the polar bear," Kieran Suckling, the centre's director, said. "Her position on global warming is so extreme, she makes Dick Cheney look like an Al Gore devotee."
The slap comes less than a week after Palin belatedly admitted the possibility of a human factor in climate change, in her first television interview since she was chosen as John McCain's running mate.
The conversion was followed by further revelations of Palin's tenuous relationship with scientific fact. News reports yesterday said that Palin bought a tanning bed and moved it into the governor's mansion soon after her election. A few months later, in May 2007, she issued a proclamation during skin cancer awareness month urging Alaskans to take preventive measures. "Skin cancer is caused, overwhelmingly, by overexposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun and from tanning beds," she said in a press release.
McCain had skin cancers removed in 1993 and 2000, and is religious about using sun screen and wearing a hat outdoors.
Sarah Palin may have seen the light - sort of - on climate change but that did not... more
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