Gloom Does Not Have to Mean Doom for California's Epic Drought
The water news from California keeps getting worse. Last week’s final snowpack tally from the Sierra Nevada mountains—one of the state’s key water lifelines—is “dire” and “obliterated” previous record lows, David Rizzardo, chief of snow surveys and water supply forecasting at California’s Department of Water Resources, told reporters on Wednesday.
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On the same day, Gov. Jerry Brown announced first-ever mandatory restrictions aimed at reducing the state’s urban water use by 25 percent. And yesterday a new report by the Risky Business Project forecast even worse conditions in the future for the Golden State—including hotter temperatures, increased drought, declining crop yields and rising sea levels—due to escalating climate change impacts.
Gloomy, for sure. But it doesn’t have to mean doom. Befitting its rich historic tradition, California controls its own destiny when it comes to preserving precious water resources and curbing carbon pollution—all while maintaining a healthy economy. But bold actions are needed now. “We have a choice between protecting our economy by protecting our environment—or allowing environmental havoc to create economic havoc,” says former U.S. Treasurer Secretary Robert Rubin said, a Risky Business Project co-chair in announcing last week’s “Climate Risk in the Golden State” report.
California has already shown it is up to the challenge. Its leadership in enacting strong climate policies—the state’s AB32 law being the centerpiece—and catalyzing clean energy growth is unsurpassed in the country. Clean energy jobs, rooftop solar installations, electric car sales, overall renewable energy sourcing —on all of these fronts, California, the world’s seventh biggest economy, is leading.
And the business community has openly embraced the state’s leadership, too—Apple’s $850 million project to buy 130 megawatts of home-grown solar power from First Solar, being just one of the latest examples.
The state’s water scarcity challenges are manageable, too. But again bold leadership is needed. The Governor’s new water restrictions and last year’s passage of a $7.5 billion water bond and groundwater law are critical and begin to put California on an improved path. Yet, more still needs to be done.
For example, the groundwater law needs faster implementation. With groundwater levels dropping fast, it is becoming clear that California cannot wait until 2020 to have local communities adopt groundwater management plans, as the current law calls for.
Better water-use disclosure—especially when it comes to agriculture water use –is another must, as Senator Fran Pavley is proposing in a bill this year. “Groundwater levels are dropping precipitously, especially in San Joaquin Valley,” said Heather Cooley, director of the Pacific Institute’s water program. “Yet we don’t have good data on how much groundwater is being pumped.”
Some businesses are already embracing such steps. Driscoll’s, a major berry grower based on California’s Central Coast, requires its growers in Pajaro Valley to collect and track water use data using remote sensing from groundwater pumps.
Driscoll’s is also spearheading a bold public/private partnership, the Community Water Dialogue, to develop local, watershed-based solutions to the valley’s water challenges. It’s the kind of project many experts agree are greatly needed all across the state.
“The state of California has to deal with groundwater, or we’re going to ruin this state,” said Driscoll’s CEO Miles Reiter, during a recent grower’s tour in Pajaro Valley, which gets virtually all of its water from groundwater.
Driscoll’s also joined forces last month with a half-dozen California businesses on the “Connect the Drops” business initiative, which calls for “fresh thinking, shared purpose and bold solutions” from California’s government and private sector in facing the state’s unprecedented water challenges. The Ceres-organized effort also includes diverse companies such as Coca Cola, KB Home, General Mills, Levi Strauss & Co., Gap and Symantec. These companies have come together to help bridge ongoing divisions in the state that have for years blocked progress for sustainable water policies.
Reiter, for one, says he welcomes all the attention the drought is getting.
“Everybody is worried about this, whether they admit it or not,” he said last month. “And it’s really sort of liberating to just quit arguing about if there’s a problem and (start tackling it).”
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Naomi Larsson
For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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Green groups applauded Sen. Jeff Merkley on Wednesday for introducing a pioneering pair of bills that aim to "protect the long-term health and well-being of the American people and their economy from the catastrophic effects of climate chaos" by preventing banks and international financial institutions from financing fossil fuels.