Posts tagged with ‘drought’
The drought in the southwest continues to worsen:
Every so often there comes an image that really brings home the West’s damnable dryness. There was that photo of California’s disappearing Folsom Lake, for instance, and now there’s this: a map showing how much rain must fall in one month to end the reigning drought.
The map, tweeted out by NOAA, is an illustration in impossible outcomes. (It’s dated for June, though with practically no rainfall in California since then it’s safe to assume it still applies.) Though the northern and southeastern parts of the state would require a relatively modest-sounding 3 to 6 inches of rain to escape drought, the parched Central Valley (where so much of America’s food is grown) needs a biblical dousing of 12 to as much as 15 inches. To put that in perspective, 15 inches of liquid precipitation is equal to 12.5 feet of snow.
Now here’s the probability of that rain bomb happening: zero. Forecasters see drought in July not slacking off but persisting or intensifying, according to this outlook from the Climate Prediction Center:
It’s going to get worse, too.
How long will it take before people start moving east, where the rain is?
The officials of the Central Arizona Project — that manages the 336 mile water system of Lake Mead and pipelines to various Arizona cities, like Tucson and Phoenix — are attempting to deal with declining water in the middle of a desert. And they have few options, given the projections for continued drought and desertification. They have starrted — for the first time — to raise the prospect of cutting water to the cities, formerly never contemplated, officially:
The mere prospect of a shortage in Arizona cities, now raised publicly for the first time, is but a proxy for the rising concern among many experts over a longer-term water crisis across the entire Southwest. States along the lower Colorado River use much more water than flows into the lake in an average year, a deficit that upstream states shouldered for decades by opening their reservoir sluices to release more water.
But the drought has all but ended that practice, and Lake Mead has begun a sharp decline; the principal upstream reservoir, Lake Powell, now holds only 42 percent of its capacity, and Lake Mead about 45 percent.
If upstream states continue to be unable to make up the shortage, Lake Mead, whose surface is now about 1,085 feet above sea level, will drop to 1,000 feet by 2020. Under present conditions, that would cut off most of Las Vegas’s water supply and much of Arizona’s. Phoenix gets about half its water from Lake Mead, and Tucson nearly all of its.
As a practical matter, neither the states nor the federal government can allow major cities to run dry. But because the lakes’ water levels drop faster the lower they get — the canyons holding their water are V-shaped — Arizona officials say governments must act soon to stave off that worst-case scenario.
Under an accord negotiated in 2007, the lower Colorado states have already laid out cuts in water deliveries for every 25-foot drop in Mead’s level, down to 1,025 feet above sea level. For example, Arizona farmers are expected to lose some of their allotment when the lake falls below 1,075 feet.
But lake levels lower than 1,025 feet are uncharted territory. “We have a plan to deal with less severe shortages, but we need to start coming up with a plan to avoid deeper shortages, or to figure out how to deal with the impacts that will come,” said Tom Buschatzke, an assistant director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources.
I get a kick out of the statement ‘As a practical matter, neither the states nor the federal government can allow major cities to run dry’. That’s preposterous. Of course they can, and on a practical level, shouldn’t there be a discussion of what has happened in other parts of the world where desertification is happening? The people move away, because they can’t raise crops or feed animals.
Of course, here in America, people live fairly divorced from the land’s capacity to provide food (which is an element of our insanity, frankly), but the physics of the situation are fairly stark. Water is extremely heavy. It is impractical to pump it up hill or over long distances. So the idea that the government would be able to desalinate on the Pacific and pump desalinated water from, say, San Diego to Phoenix is nuts. And there is no kay known to science to reliably create more rain.
We will wind up relocating the people, and letting the land go to desert. There’s plenty of water in Detroit, for example.
From the Siberian Times:
Forest fires arrive early as Siberia sees record high temperatures — New evidence of climate change as blazes come six weeks early in 2014.
By 2 April, 17 forest fires had been registered across 2,000 hectares. Among the areas now at risk after a faster-than-usual snow melt are the south of Siberia to the territory of the Far Eastern Federal District, to Baikal and the Amur regions.
'It was the hottest April 1 on record for several western Siberian cities, including Novosibirsk, Tomsk, Kemerovo, Barnaul and Gorno-Altaysk,' said Renad Yagudin, of the Novosibirsk meteorological service. 'The average temperature in Russia increased 0.4 degrees every ten years. Overall, the temperature in the area is 6.5-16.2 degrees Fahrenheit (2-9 Celsius) higher than the record set in 1989.'
Some parts of Russia have shown even more extreme warming. In the Arctic, south Chukotka and Kamchatka regions temperatures rose 150 to 200 per cent more than in the rest of the country, reported RIA Novosti.
The great boreal forests of Siberia and Canada are dying faster than predicted.
In the US, the new dustbowl:
Topsoil blew into a dark cloud that swept across the flat landscape of southeast Colorado once again Monday afternoon. Footsteps leave dust in loose pockets and grit in the teeth of those who speak. The land pays a bigger price. After nearly four years of deep drought, wind-churned dust has become a slow-moving natural disaster. Comparisons to the Dust Bowl are no longer hyperbole — they’re accurate.
"The dust storms we had here a week or so ago are just about as bad as I’ve ever seen," Joe Rosengrants said. The 79-year-old farmer and rancher is part of a family that has worked the land in Baca County since 1910.
It will soon all be desert, all the way into Mexico and west to California.
And Sri Lanka has a killing drought and high temperatures, too:
Agriculture in the north has come to a complete stop because of the lack of rain, an expert said this week as climatologists warned the current seasonal positioning of the sun directly over the island is intensifying the protracted heatwave.
Last week’s sporadic thundershowers might not soothe the scorched lands and hot conditions are expected to prevail.
Director (Forecasting) of the Meteorology Department, S.R.Jayasekare, said the worst affected areas are Vavuniya, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Moneragala, Mannar, Puttalam and Kurunegala, where the temperature ranged from 35-38C. On Friday, Mattala recorded the highest temperature of 37.7C.
37.7º C = 99.86º F.
Recent experience suggests that the productivity of farmland won’t decline gradually as the world grows warmer. World food prices stopped their long secular decline around 2007 and have been on a roller-coaster ride since. More volatile weather patterns promise to bring sharp disruptions to agricultural production that can cause spikes in food prices.
“There is a rigorous correlation between food price spikes and urban unrest,” said Andrew Holland, who studies climate change at the American Security Project, a research group in Washington. “There was a food price spike in 2008, and you can see unrest spread throughout Africa. And there’s a relatively clear line that leads from the food price spike in 2010 tounrest in the Middle East and the Arab Spring.”
Instability spreads easily. When rice prices jumped in 2007, big producers like India and Vietnam banned exports to protect their domestic markets, while importers like Bangladesh, Nigeria and Iran went out on the market to hoard as much grain as they could. The combination wreaked havoc in commodity markets.
Since then big food importers, like China, Saudi Arabia and South Korea, have tried to insulate themselves from future food shortages by buying or leasing agricultural land in places like Sudan, Madagascar and Uzbekistan. The strategy is still to be tested in a situation in which Africa or Central Asia were to suffer itself shortages of grain.
“I have run some war game scenarios,” Mr. Holland said. “The tendency becomes very quickly for a country to look after its own interests.”
Government and scientific data show that destructive sweep of wildfires covered an annual average of seven million acres in the 2000s, twice the totals of the 1990s. Michael Kodas, who is writing a book on modern firefighting, wrote in On Earth magazine last year that scientists believe that number will rise 50 percent or more by 2020.
Yet in fiscal 2013, more than $1.7 billion, or 38 percent of the Forest Service’s budget, was to be devoted to firefighting in general, with $537.8 million — a slight reduction from the previous year — specifically allocated for wildland fires. The Interior Department’s appropriation for wildland firefighting was $276.5 million, a slight increase over the previous year.
But the federal budget sequester eliminated $28 million from the Forest Service budget, although Interior’s remained nearly level. This occurred even though both agencies overspent 2012 budgets of similar size, and though federal firefighters are often first responders, working alongside their state colleagues during blazes like the Yarnell Hill fire.
“The Forest Service is being treated as a firefighter of last resort,” Dr. Pyne said. This, he added, “is not what the agency was set up for, and it’s not financed for it.”
Dr. Allen said that what was different in the recent fires — hotter, more enveloping — is that they are killing far more trees. “We’re seeing the size of postfire treeless patches merging into thousands of acres,” he said, “sometimes many thousands of acres.”
That could permanently transform much of the Arizona landscape as grasslands and shrubs fill in the empty space.
There are no climate deniers on the fire line.
Basically the Mojave will expand to include all of south and central California, and the entire Colorado River basin. And people will move.
In My California Dream: The California Territory, I outline a scenario where California is returned to direct federal control after social services are no longer being provided.
Michael Wines, An Underground Pool Drying Up
Portions of the High Plains Aquifer are rapidly being depleted by farmers who are pumping too much water to irrigate their crops, particularly in the southern half in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Levels have declined up to 242 feet in some areas, from predevelopment — before substantial groundwater irrigation began — to 2011. (via An Underground Pool Drying Up - Graphic - NYTimes.com)
The great drought is making ‘ranching’ beef cattle unaffordable. I put ‘ranching’ in quotes because it sounds old-timey, and conceals the fact that it’s industrial agriculture, based on low-cost oil, abundant water, cheap fertilizer, cheap grain, and the beneficence of the US Department of Agriculture. And now that water is getting scarce — and likely to remain scarce for decades — the system is falling apart.
However, some ranchers are doing pretty well, principally because the reverted to native grasses in the fields, and are raising grass-fed, not grain-fed, beeves:
Stephanie Strom, A Long Drought Tests Texas Cattle Ranchers’ Patience and Creativity
[…] the Prices have had to buy hay to feed their cows during only two weeks in the last three years. Their animals graze the “bunch grasses” that were native throughout the prairie when the buffalo roamed and that Mr. Price reintroduced on his ranch after admiring their resilience on a small patch of virgin prairie left on his property.
Those grasses, which grow to five or six feet tall, have long roots that can tap into water far underground. Though they live a long time, when such grasses die, the roots deteriorate, helping to aerate the land for better water penetration. The thicker, taller grasses also create a kind of webbing that slows runoff, keeps sediment out of lakes and tanks, and creates shade that protects lower growing grasses and helps the ground retain water.
At times, Mr. Price rotates his cattle twice a day to give the grasses a chance to recover. He has not had to cull his herd, maintaining about 200 head throughout the drought, though he has not replaced cows as quickly as he would have if rainfall patterns were more normal.
He also has developed another source of revenue: hunters from Dallas and Fort Worth who pay to shoot the quail that like to nest in the bunch grasses on his land.
The Prices have won several awards for their land management practices. “I believe this is the best way to do it, not just for profit but also for sustainability,” Mr. Price said. “But every ranch is a specific entity with its own resources — its own shade, its own water.”
Asked whether he thought the Texas cattle industry would ever recover its former glory, Mr. Price thought for a moment. “We’re all very concerned about the decline in cattle numbers and also about the losses of infrastructure, feedlots and slaughtering facilities,” he said.
Reminds me of Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm in Virginia, who has been advocating grass-fed cattle for decades as the best way to convert sunlight into protein. It requires more human interaction — moving the cattle from one field to another to allow the grasses to recover — but less of all other artificial inputs.
The recovery of the grouse speaks volumes about the recovery of the grasslands. In a few years, the only ranchers left in the dry lands will be the ones that fall back on tending the grasses, and using the cattle to fertilize them, with a valuable by-product: beef.