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Earthquake, Drought and Wildfires Ravage California
We probably can't blame the earthquake that hit California's Napa Valley this weekend on climate change. But it's one more thing that the beleaguered residents of the so-called "Golden State" have to deal with. And while we can't do much to address the fact that the state sits on geographical fault lines, other issues have a human element.
The magnitude 6.0 earthquake, which occurred early Sunday morning, is the largest to hit the state since 1989's Loma Prieta quake. It injured several hundred people.
The earthquake is understandably dominating the headlines coming out of California, while the fallout from the state's record drought is being reported almost daily.
In East Porterville in the rural San Joaquin, several hundred homes have no tap water because their wells have dried up. That's due to an exceptionally low flow in the Tule River, which fills the wells.
Volunteers and county workers are delivering bottled water provided by the county to these homes, but those deliveries are only a stop-gap solution. The area's high poverty rate makes it difficult for residents to affordable ongoing solutions, such as digging new wells.
Tulare County has been hearing from residents about their diminished water supply since February, but the trickle of calls has become a gusher. The Fresno Bee reports that nearly 1,000 people are now impacted by the dry wells.
“I grew up here. I’ve never seen this many people out of water,” Tulare County District Five Supervisor Mike Ennis told the Fresno Bee.
Up in the state's northwest corner in Trinity County, already threatened by salmon die-offs due to low water flow in the Salmon and Klamath rivers, a wildfire that started late Sunday afternoon is threatening homes in Weaverville. About 200 homes were evacuated as crews worked to build containment lines that had about 25 percent of the fire under control by this morning. But local officials said they were concerned about gusting winds and dry conditions causing the fire to flare up again.
The Redding, California newspaper the Redding Searchlight reports that four other wildfires are currently burning tens of thousands of acres in the area as well.
TckTckTck, the Global Call for Climate Action reports:
High temperatures and drought in the American West, both linked to climate change, lead to the dry conditions and tree deaths that enable more frequent and intense wildfires. The American wildfire season is getting longer, and the number of very large fires has doubled in California and many other states since the 1970s.
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By Will Sarni
It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.
The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future
We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.
"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.
One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.
Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.
Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.
These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.
We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).
We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.
We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.
Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.
Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.
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