Tag Archives: drought

Close to Home: What new climate report says. It’s urgent

Carl Mears, PRESS DEMOCRAT

Carl Mears is lead author for the Climate Science Special report: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume I, U.S. Global Change research Program

As was recently reported in The Press Democrat, the U.S. government recently released the first volume of the Fourth National Climate Assessment. As one of the 51 authors of the report, (and the only one from the private sector), I was relieved that there was no political interference in the writing and editing process. The report accurately represents the conclusions of the expert scientists on the writing team.

The report is 477 pages of fairly technical reading, so I doubt that most people are ready to read it cover to cover. But I can summarize it in just three sentences:

— Global warming is happening now.

— It’s caused by human activities, mostly emission of carbon dioxide.

— And the consequences are beginning now

— and becoming increasingly serious as the warming continues.

These statements are not the personal opinions of the writing team. Every “key finding” in the report is defended by a “traceable account” that describes the scientific reports we read and synthesized to reach that conclusion.

Since this column is titled “Close to Home,” I thought I’d highlight several new findings that are of special concern to Californians and residents of Sonoma County.

Our report is the first to address sea level rise while considering troubling new results about the stability of ice sheets in Antarctica. By 2100, the expected range of sea level rise is between one and four feet. But because we do not know exactly how the ice in Antarctica will respond to warming oceans, a sea level rise of eight feet cannot be ruled out. This amount of sea level rise would flood a lot of low-lying land around the San Francisco Bay, including significant parts of downtown Petaluma.

Much of California depends on the Sierra snowpack to store water. New, more advanced climate models are able to predict the state of the spring time snow in the Sierra. Unless we begin to curtail carbon dioxide emissions soon, warming temperatures will lead to rising snow levels and more wintertime precipitation will fall as rain in the Sierra Nevada. Under the assumption of continued high carbon dioxide emission, the snow levels increase by more than 1,000 feet, leaving much of the mountain region north of Interstate 80 snow free at the end of the winter.

The water that should flow down the rivers in July and August comes much earlier in the year, threatening vital infrastructure such as dams and levees and reducing the amount stored for summer use.

Another consequence of warming temperature is the drying of soil and vegetation during our long, dry summers. Last month’s tragic fires bring the threat of wildfire to the forefront of our attention.

Because of dryer summer conditions, and the large swaths of dead trees killed by the warmer, more stressful climate, our report concluded that wildfires will increase over the entire western United States, a trend that has already been measured in almost every region of the West.

Drier conditions will also increase the need for irrigation, even as our state’s capacity to store water is reduced by the dwindling snowpack.

So, what should people do with this information?

Get informed and involved with organizations that work on policy solutions. While personal commitments such as riding your bike to work are good, they must also be supported by deeper systemic changes to our energy system. These changes cannot be achieved by individuals acting in isolation.

Read more at: Close to Home: What new climate report says. It’s urgent

Filed under Climate Change & Energy

What a new report on climate science portends for the West

Maya L. Kapoor, HIGH COUNTRY NEWS

[But] the root causes of these symptoms remain societal and personal choices that lead the average American to burn more than twice as much fossil fuel as the global average. As California Gov. Jerry Brown and others have demonstrated, the West also could lead the way in addressing these root causes. See the website for the We Are Still In coalition.

The complexity of climate change means it’s hard to trace simple lines from cause to effect in daily life, much less plan for the future. That’s one reason the federal government updates its National Climate Assessment every four years — to provide lawmakers, policymakers and citizens with the information they need to plan everything from urban infrastructure, to insurance programs, to disaster readiness. After the third NCA came out in 2014, the world experienced three of the warmest years on record. In the same time the United States, along with 167 other signatories, agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to keep global temperatures below a dangerous tipping point.

But after last December’s presidential election, the odds of the U.S. willingly contributing to international climate change solutions dwindled. At this year’s United Nations climate conference, the Trump administration — which previously announced plans to withdraw from the international climate agreement — says it will promote fossil fuels and nuclear energy.

All of which makes the fourth NCA seem even more urgent. After all, the U.S. emits more greenhouse gases per person each year than almost every other country in the world. Last week, the government released the first part of its 2018 assessment. Focusing on the science of climate change, the report describes how greenhouse gas emissions are affecting the U.S. already and will continue to do so in future if we continue on the current trajectory.

Here are the takeaways for the West:

Read more at: What a new report on climate science portends for the West — High Country News

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Sustainable Living

Scientists see climate change in California’s wildfires

Debra Kahn  & Anne C. Mulkern, SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN

As wildfires engulf nearly 170,000 acres of Northern California wine country, questions are swirling about the role of climate change in causing damage of historic proportions.

The fires, which started late Sunday night in the hills of Napa and Sonoma counties, quickly ballooned to 22 separate conflagrations in eight counties, killing at least 21 people by Tuesday evening. The Tubbs Fire, in Sonoma County, has been responsible for at least 11 deaths so far, making it the sixth-deadliest fire in state history. Nearly 300 people are still reported missing and 25,000 have been evacuated in Sonoma County alone, with more than 3,500 homes and businesses destroyed.

Strong winds were responsible for the fires’ quick incursion into urban areas, but months of record-high temperatures, preceded by heavy rainfall last winter, also fueled the destructive power of the fire that burned through the region, climate experts said.

Read more at: Scientists See Climate Change in California’s Wildfires – Scientific American

Filed under Climate Change & Energy

Salmon season flops: Drought years cut North Coast fishing

James Dunn, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL

Soon after the commercial salmon season opened on Aug. 1, Chris Lawson steered his 53-foot boat named Seaward out of the marina at Bodega Bay into ocean waters where he figured chinook salmon would travel. He spent the day trolling, his lines carefully prepared to entice the spirited, iridescent fish.

There were plenty of salmon, but mostly two-year-olds too small for a commercial fisherman to keep.

Lawson shook off nearly 100 short fish from his lines and kept just seven longer than the minimum size — 27 inches. He snagged $9 a pound for 63 pounds, yielding $567 for the day’s work before fuel expenses and pay to one crew member, who gets 20 percent.

Local stores, including Andy’s in Sebastopol and Whole Foods markets, sell fresh salmon for $22 to $30 a pound. Cut into fillets, a 9-pound fish yields roughly half that in final product.

“Seven hours, we had seven fish,” Lawson said. “You make a little bit of money. There were a lot of short fish,” said Lawson, interviewed alongside his boat on Aug. 10. “It looks better for next year. Recreational guys are having an OK season.” Their size limit is smaller.

“We’re just harassing the shorties,” said Lawson, who has fished for 41 of his 56 years. “Let ‘em be.”Some fishermen “are hurting so they’ll bring them in anyway,” Lawson said. “They need a paycheck.”

The salmon season off Sonoma and Marin coastlines was severely trimmed this year. Usually it starts in May and the best fishing months go through July. But the 2017 season just started in August and runs to the end of September. On Sept. 1, the minimum commercial size drops an inch to 26 inches, according to California’s Dept. of Fish and Wildlife.

Read more at: Salmon season flops: Drought years cut North Coast fishing | The North Bay Business Journal

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Sonoma Coast, Wildlife

Governor Jerry Brown declares drought over in California

Dale Kasler and Christopher Cadelago, THE SACRAMENTO BEE

The drought officially ended in most of California on Friday, but state officials vowed to clamp down on wasteful water use and impose a long-term conservation program that could create friction with urban water users.

Following a deluge of wet weather that left reservoirs brimming and the Sierra snowpack bulging, Gov. Jerry Brown declared an end to a drought that brought California some of the driest periods in recorded history.

But the governor warned the state’s groundwater supplies remain perilously low in some areas, and the state will continue to forbid Californians from hosing off sidewalks, watering their lawns during or immediately after rainfalls, and other wasteful practices. Municipalities will have to keep reporting their monthly water usage. With climate change threatening to make future droughts worse, Brown and others called on Californians to remain cautious about water usage.

“The next drought could be around the corner,” Brown said in a prepared statement.

Dry weather began in earnest in early 2012. It wasn’t until January 2014, with conditions worsening, that Brown declared a state of emergency and the drought officially began. Friday’s decision rescinds that declaration, as well as most drought-related executive orders he issued when the drought reached its zenith in 2015.

Brown lifted the drought order in every county except Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Tuolumne, where the governor said emergency drinking water projects will continue to help communities where wells have gone dry. The state will also continue fighting the bark beetle outbreak that has killed millions of trees weakened by drought.

Read more at: Gov. Jerry Brown declares drought over in California | The Sacramento Bee

Filed under Sustainable Living, Water

Sonoma County Forests, Part Three: An uncertain future

Arthur Dawson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Among individual species there will [also] be winners and losers. Redwoods are expected to remain stable in the western half of the county, but decline in places more distant from the coast. Douglas fir shows a similar pattern. The biggest loser may be Oregon or Garry oak. The real winner may not be a tree at all, but chamise, a shrubby chaparral species.

To look into the future of forests in Sonoma County requires finding a similar time in the past — or at least one as close as possible. And for that, scientists have turned to studying minute specks of pollen at the bottom of Clear Lake.

“When considering the future of our forests,” says Professor David Ackerly of UC Berkeley, “the closest analogy for the present moment was the warming at the end of the last ice age, 14,000 years ago.” Pollen preserved in sediment at the bottom of Clear Lake recorded a dramatic change at that time from conifer-dominated forests to oak woodland. That transition took place over 4000 years, as temperatures rose about 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

Today the Earth is heating up many times faster and, depending on who you talk to, warming over the coming century could match the rise after the ice age. Changes in rainfall are also expected for Sonoma County, although it’s uncertain whether we’ll see more precipitation or less. But even with more rain, warmer overall temperatures may increase evaporation to the point where less water will be available to plants. The timing of rainfall is important, too — a few torrential storms bank less soil moisture than the same amount falling slowly and steadily over the winter months. Soil moisture is an important factor controlling where trees can grow.

In this scenario, the survival of living things depends upon their ability to adjust to the changes more quickly than in the past. Animals are lucky ­— they can move to other locations; individual trees and plants are stuck to one spot. In the short term, many are already shifting their yearly cycles — the beginning of spring, as marked by budding and flowering, is two weeks earlier than it was 50 years ago. Long-term, trees move between generations, their seeds spread by wind, water, gravity and animals to more suitable places.

Read more at: Sonoma County’s forests face uncertain future | The Press Democrat

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Forests, Habitats

Worst salmon season in eight years projected in California 

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

California fishermen are bracing for the worst salmon season in eight years, one so grim that many will likely sit the season out completely.

Years of drought and unfavorably warm ocean conditions that existed when this year’s potential crop of king salmon was young have reduced the adult population to the lowest level forecast since 2009, when projections were so pathetic both sport and commercial salmon seasons were canceled.

Some hope that abundant winter rainfall and last year’s welcome spring rains will help restore next year’s salmon fishery to something approximating full strength. But until then, “we have one more bad drought hangover year to work through,” said John McManus, executive director of the Golden Gate Salmon Association.

“It looks horrible,” said Bodega Bay fisherman Lorne Edwards, who may skip what would be his third season in a row.

The recreational salmon fishery opens to California sport fisherman on April 1 every year and would normally open to the commercial fleet May 1.

But it will be several weeks yet before the season schedule is set, based on complex modeling and statistical projections aimed at estimating the number of adult salmon waiting in the ocean for the signal to swim upstream and spawn throughout the intensively managed West Coast fishery off California, Oregon and Washington states.

Analysts weigh a host of factors, including the previous year’s landings, the number of adult salmon found dead after spawning and the number of fish set aside for Native American tribes to catch. State and federal biologists consider each distinct natural and hatchery salmon population and their historic distribution in the ocean to determine where and when sport fishers and trollers are allowed to drop their lines in a given year.

Read more at: Worst salmon season in eight years projected in California | The Press Democrat

Filed under Sonoma Coast, Wildlife

San Joaquin Valley continues to sink because of groundwater pumping, NASA says

Joseph Serna, LOS ANGELES TIMES

California’s San Joaquin Valley continues to sink at an alarming rate because of groundwater pumping and irrigation, according to a new study by NASA. Ground levels in some areas have dropped 1 to 2 feet in the last two years, creating deeper and wider “bowls” that continue to threaten the vital network of channels that transport water across Southern California, researchers say.

The findings underscore the fact that even as record rain and snow have brought much of California out of severe drought, some parts of the state will probably struggle with water problems for years to come.

Despite a new series of storms that battered California this week, state water regulators decided Wednesday to maintain drought restrictions for at least a few more months as they continue to assess recovery.

Researchers said subsidence has long been a problem in parts of California. “But the current rates jeopardize infrastructure serving millions of people,” said William Croyle, acting director of the state Department of Water Resources. “Groundwater pumping now puts at risk the very system that brings water to the San Joaquin Valley.”

Subsidence occurs when water is removed from underground aquifers and the surrounding soil collapses on itself. Even if the underground water is replenished, subsided basins can’t hold as much water as they did previously.

Read more at: San Joaquin Valley continues to sink because of groundwater pumping, NASA says – LA Times

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Water

Drought recedes as North Coast rivers, reservoirs swell from storms 

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A historic drought that parched the landscape and turned water conservation into a civic duty already seemed a distant memory on the North Coast when a series of powerful storms slammed into California over the weekend, dumping enough moisture to swamp lake- and streamside buildings that stood high and dry at the peak of the drought.

With local reservoirs now filled past capacity for this time of year and the Russian River still swollen with runoff, the U.S. Drought Monitor said Thursday that more than 41 percent of California — including the whole northern part of the state — is officially drought-free, a marked and gratifying shift from the weeks and months leading up to the new year, when even seasonally wet winter weather was not yet enough to declare the drought over.

Sonoma County Water Agency spokesman Brad Sherwood said Thursday that’s all changed.

“We always said that if we got above-average rainfall in consecutive years that we’d be sitting good,” Sherwood said, “and this series of storms definitely put the drought out, without a doubt.”

Read more at: Drought recedes as North Coast rivers, reservoirs swell from storms | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water

Op Ed: California salmon on the brink of disaster

Brian Geagan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sen. Dianne Feinstein just handed the future of California salmon and our fishing economy over to the Trump administration.

During the closing hours of this year’s session, Feinstein worked with congressmen representing big growers in the Central Valley to stick a knife in one of Sen. Barbara Boxer’s greatest accomplishments and also into California’s salmon and coastal communities.

Over the past two years, Boxer painstakingly crafted a bipartisan bill to fund water projects nationwide, a rarity in the age of a gridlocked Congress. That bill included restoration projects for Lake Tahoe and the Great Lakes, funding for the lead contamination disaster in Flint, Michigan and other worthy provisions.

At the last minute, Feinstein, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Central Valley growers conspired to stick an anti-salmon rider on that bipartisan bill. That’s right. Feinstein forced Congress to decide whether to help Michigan children suffering from lead poisoning or California salmon and coastal communities.

Because of this double-dealing, Boxer was forced to lobby — unsuccessfully — against her own bill. This was the last thing she did before leaving the Senate after 24 effective years in office. We should all thank Boxer for her passionate work for California.

Feinstein’s bill gives the incoming administration authority to waive protections for San Francisco Bay and Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta salmon that federal judges and biologists have found to be based on the best information available today. Under President Donald Trump, those weakened rules could result in a disaster for salmon and the jobs that rely on healthy salmon runs.

If you have any doubt about where Trump stands on California’s environment and fishing industry, last June — after the driest four years in state history — he said that there is “no drought” in California. He’s already promised to gut protections for California’s keystone salmon runs to deliver more water to the Central Valley grower who supported him.

Trump and Feinstein appear not to know, or care, that the rivers that flow into the delta and bay support the most important salmon runs south of the Columbia River. Sonoma County is doing a great deal to protect local salmon, but most of the salmon caught off the California and Oregon coasts come from the bay and the delta. Feinstein’s legislation allows Trump to devastate those salmon runs.

Read more at: Close to Home: California salmon on the brink of disaster | The Press Democrat   Brian Geagan is a recreational fisherman and Healdsburg resident.

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable Living, Water, Wildlife