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California’s Drought: The New Normal
Gov. Jerry Brown has officially declared a drought in the state of California. Californians are being asked to reduce their personal water usage by 20 percent in 2014, projected to become the driest year on record.
Scientific projections regarding climate change suggest that these dry conditions could become the new normal. The drought proclamation formally recognizes that "extremely dry conditions ... may continue beyond this year and more regularly into the future." This calls for permanent and fundamental changes in our behavior.
Here are five ways to get started:
1. Reduce leaks: As a homeowner or renter, the best way to determine if you have a leak is to turn off all taps and see if the dials still turn on your water meter. If they do, you have a leak. You are usually responsible for leaks from the meter to your property. We also need to address leaks on a district or city scale. The average California city leaks 8 to 10 percent of its water because of old pipes underground, wasting not only water but the embedded energy used in pumping and treating our water. Let your elected officials know that they need to make our community drought-proof by reducing leaks.
2. "California-friendly" gardening: Does your front lawn look suspiciously like the verdant lawns and gardens on Downton Abbey? There are more appropriate landscape choices for dry and sunny California. During dry conditions, many will let their lawns die back, but sprinkler systems eventually creep back on. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's Cash for Grass program offers $1.50-$2 per square foot for residents who install plants that thrive in dry conditions and don't require constant watering and mowing.
3. Check the toilet: A little-known law takes effect this year requiring the replacement of all water-wasting toilets. Check your tank by putting vegetable dye into the tank and wait to see if it shows up in the bowl. These silent leaks add up and can be easily fixed with replacing flapper valves or new high efficiency 1.2-gallon toilets.
4. Embrace greywater: Greywater systems capture the household water you use (excepting toilet and kitchen water). The systems can now be legally used in California within certain guidelines. This water can be reused for irrigation, saving it from being dumped into the stormdrain.
5. Harvest rainwater: Save the rainwater that would otherwise run off your roof then down a stormdrain, and reuse it for garden watering, yard usage, or vehicle and car washing. Many cities offer rain barrels or cisterns at a discount.
The drought underscores the need to address pervasive issues with California water management: contaminated and over-pumped groundwater supplies, lack of meters for agricultural entities, missed opportunities for stormwater capture and use, and wastewater recycling and direct potable reuse. Local water supply projects such as water reuse and recycling, have gotten short shrift in Sacramento compared with costly engineered options such as the diversion tunnels.
California Coastkeeper Alliance is part of a coalition that is evaluating long-term solutions to water management in California, and exploring a more integrated path forward on water issues. California Waterkeeper organizations are taking action to implement local solutions. Get the local perspective on the drought declaration from San Diego Coastkeeper and Los Angeles Waterkeeper.
You can find more information on water conservation strategies at Save Our Water.
Special thanks to Connor Everts, longtime California Coastkeeper Alliance partner and executive director of the Southern California Watershed Alliance, for his efforts on this piece.
Visit EcoWatch’s TIPS page for more eco-tips.
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Last week, the Peruvian Palm Oil Producers' Association (JUNPALMA) promised to enter into an agreement for sustainable and deforestation-free palm oil production. The promise was secured by the U.S. based National Wildlife Federation (NWF) in collaboration with the local government, growers and the independent conservation organization Sociedad Peruana de Ecodesarrollo.
The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.
"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.
The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.
"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."
The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.
"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."
Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.
Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.
That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.
Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.
If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.
"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."
To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.
"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."
Leaked documents show that Jair Bolsonaro's government intends to use the Brazilian president's hate speech to isolate minorities living in the Amazon region. The PowerPoint slides, which democraciaAbierta has seen, also reveal plans to implement predatory projects that could have a devastating environmental impact.
Last week we received positive news on the border wall's imminent construction in an Arizona wildlife refuge. The Trump administration delayed construction of the wall through about 60 miles of federal wildlife preserves.