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Our Daily Planet: Parched Out West, Pompeo's Climate Denials, FEMA Misses, Cities Need A Federal Hand, Drones Study the Ocean, RIP Stephen Hawking
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By: Monica Medina and Miro Korenha

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Thursday, March 15th, 2018

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Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project   Photo: Orange County Register

Western States Parched - What To Do?

Water managers throughout the west are starting to panic. Grist details the problem: in California, Colorado, and across the Southwest, the snowfall totals this year are among the lowest on record. Parts of eight states are already under “extreme” drought conditions. According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the period between Nov. 1 and Feb. 28 was at or near the warmest and driest on record for nearly every corner of the Southwest. In Arizona, the Navajo Nation has declared a drought emergency, and farmers across the West are preparing for a dry summer, In California, statewide snowpack on March 1 rivaled the lowest ever measured, just 19 percent of normalAnd there is another problem -- new data show that California water usage rates are back near where they were before the state’s five-year drought. 

Conserving water in the West is obviously more important than ever.  In Colorado, The Nature Conservancy, under a grant from the Walton Family Foundation, is enlisting farmers in a water market pilot project aimed at increasing water security throughout the Colorado River Basin.  Farmers such as the Kehmeier family -- who have some of the most senior water rights in the state -- have enrolled and are encouraged by the results.  The family is committed -- they believe that water banks and water markets are going to be “one part of the solution” for the Colorado River.

But water projects like the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project under development in the Mojave Desert of California (and funded by Apollo Capital - the same firm that lent Jared Kushner's family $184M last year) might need closer scrutiny.  An exposé in the LA Times last week, detailed the controversy surrounding the proposed $250M project that appears to be receiving unduly favorable treatment by the Trump Administration's Bureau of Land Management. The Cadiz water project is designed to store surplus water in an aquifer under its 33,000-acre desert property 200 miles east of Los Angeles that the city would use during dry periods. Among the project's flaws is that the city of Los Angeles would need to build a pipe to bring the water to the coast, not to mention that the project will draw as much as 50,000 acre-feet of water out of the aquifer. A U.S. Geological Survey estimate concluded that was as much as 25 times what could be responsibly extracted without risking the aquifer's contamination. The Cadiz estimate, the USGS said, was "not defensible."

Why This Matters: Some 40 million people in seven states (including California) depend on water from the Colorado River, and at this point, spring storms across the river’s wide drainage area would need to produce snow at more than 300 percent of the typical rate just to get back to normal for the season.  Californians and others throughout the West need to conserve water from now on -- drought is the new normal.  Waste of any kind is indefensible -- whether it is wasted water or wasted money on a boondoggle water project in the Mojave Desert.  Water banks for large users and water conservation by the public provide much better options.  

To Go Deeper:  You can read more about water banking on the Colorado River here.



Flooding in Miami's Brickell Ave last September after Hurricane Irma. Photo: Matt McClain/The WashPost

FEMA's Flood Maps Vastly Underestimate Risks 

A new study has found that FEMA's flood maps substantially underestimate flood risks and the amount of property at risk is more than double original calculations. Nearly 41 million Americans — more than three times current estimates — could face 100-year flooding, and with roughly $714 billion in property located on a 100-year floodplain, Florida is a national hotspot.

As the Miami Herald reported, the study’s authors blamed the massive miscalculation on FEMA’s patchwork of maps, which rely on local authorities to plot flood zones. The process is complicated and time-consuming, and often fraught with politics. In addition, FEMA has approved maps for less than 60 percent of the U.S. Many of those local maps also use outdated information while global models use unsophisticated technology, said co-author Kris Johnson, associate director for science and planning at the Nature Conservancy, which teamed up with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the University of Bristol to conduct the review.

The researchers noted that they weren't trying to throw FEMA under the bus but would rather like to work with the agency to make better data available for people living in flood-prone areas. 

Why This Matters: This study shows that millions of Americans don't have accurate and reliable information about flood risks where they live. Without accurate information people can't buy the insurance they need to protect themselves. 

Another problem is that FEMA's National Flood Insurance program is virtually the only source of flood insurance for more than 5 million American households and the program is been billions of dollars in debt since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. There's a lot that's broken with the system but ultimately households and businesses keep building in flood-prone areas (and these areas keep growing as a result of climate change). Johnson hopes his mapping project can "sound the alarm about continuing to build in risky areas where populations are projected to increase at an even faster pace."



 Image: Bob Al-Green via Mashable
Pompeo's Climate Change Denials

There is no denying it -- the new Secretary of State nominee, Mike Pompeo, is a climate denier.  He has repeatedly questioned climate science and opposed the U.S. participation in the Paris Accord, putting him squarely in line with President Trump and out of step with the other national security leaders in the Administration, such as Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats.  Here Is Mike Pompeo on climate change in his own words, as reported in the NY Times.
  • Pompeo told Congress last year during his Senate confirmation hearing for the C.I.A. that the notion of climate change as a top national security threat was “ignorant, dangerous and absolutely unbelievable.”
  • “There are scientists who think lots of different things about climate change,”  Pompeo said in a 2013 interview on C-Span. “There’s some who think we’re warming, there’s some who think we’re cooling, there’s some who think that the last 16 years have shown a pretty stable climate environment.”
  • Asked about the science during his CIA confirmation hearing last year, Pompeo replied that he stood by his past statements. He also said, “Frankly, as the director of CIA, I would prefer today not to get into the details of the climate debate and science.”
Interestingly, and in direct contradiction to these statements, at a hearing last month and in the annual Intelligence Assessment of Global Threats, ALL the nation's intelligence agencies warned that climate change and other environmental trends "are likely to fuel economic and social discontent—and possibly upheaval—through 2018." 

Why This Matters:  Pompeo must not have read the CIA's Intelligence Assessment too closely.  As our country's top diplomat, he will have to answer questions from our allies about how he can square his views with this assessment.  His opposition to the Paris Accord is problematic and will make it hard for the U.S. to compete with China, which is emerging as a climate leader on the global stage.  SAD.  But he will fit right in with the other climate deniers in the Cabinet: Secretary Zinke at Interior, Secretary Perry at Energy, and Administrator Pruitt at EPA.  

 Climate Change

The pier at the Boston Harbor Shipyard and Marina on March 13, 2018.  Photo: Michael Dwyer, AP
Cities Call On Feds To Help With Climate Change Impacts

As Boston digs out from its third major snowstorm in less than two weeks, a group of U.S. mayors issued a new report arguing that the challenges large urban areas will face in the 21st century –  catastrophic events like hurricanes and blizzards  – require an active and engaged federal government to help. Mayors from 21 U.S. cities including New York and Los Angeles backed a proposal calling for the federal government to better channel infrastructure funding to strengthen businesses and communities to withstand such shocks.  The report, issued by the Rockefeller Foundation-backed 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) initiative, provides a roadmap of federal policy recommendations to help protect cities as they deal with problems like increasingly extreme weather events.  And it increasingly looks like they are going to need it. This winter's weather pattern could become the norm as the Arctic continues to warm.  

A study released Tuesday in the scientific journal Nature Communications ties extreme winter weather, specifically major snowstorms in the northeastern US, to warming Arctic temperatures. The study focused on U.S. cities and looked at how severe winter weather, extreme cold and heavy snowfall related to conditions in the Arctic during and before the storms. The results found that major winter storms were two to four times more likely when the Arctic is abnormally warm. This connection was especially strong for locations in the eastern third of the US with many of the most populous cities in the country. Major cold air outbreaks and heavy snowfalls occurred more frequently in mid to late winter when the abnormally warm air was found to extend all the way up to the upper atmosphere and likely disrupt the jet stream.  "Five of the past six winters have brought persistent cold to the eastern US and warm, dry conditions to the West, while the Arctic has been off-the-charts warm," added Cohen's coauthor Jennifer Francis, a professor at Rutgers University.

Why This Matters: Over the past year, many cities have faced unprecedented climate-related challenges -- from San Juan to Houston to Boston to Santa Barbara -- they have been forced to deal with catastrophic and deadly storms.  Mayor William Peduto of Pittsburgh put it well, "We can no longer abdicate our shared responsibility to confront the difficult challenges that our communities and our country
faces. Working together federal and local government can build a more resilient and prosperous nation.”  With increasing numbers and severity of storm surges, wildfires, droughts, mudslides, floods, hurricanes, blizzards, ice and even damaging winds, we will need our federal government to provide assistance to local communities during challenging times more than ever in the future.  


Photo: Sail Drone Inc. 
Drones and Robots Help Scientists Better Understand Our Oceans 

A new breed of drones that are wind-and-solar powered sailboats fitted with cameras are helping scientists with a variety of environmental research efforts. The drones manufactured by an Alameda, California company called Saildrone are being used by NOAA instead of buoys that currently monitor El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) that impact climate and can cause both heavy rains and droughts. NOAA has also used the drones to measure fish stocks in the Bering Sea and track larger marine mammals like whales and seals and also study how the Arctic Ocean absorbs carbon dioxide. In 2015, the drones worked with the Gulf ECOGIG Research Program to locate natural oil seeps in the Gulf of Mexico. 

 Meanwhile, oceanographers and engineers from the University of Hawaii Mānoa and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) deployed three long-range autonomous underwater vehicles (LRAUVs) in the waters off Hawaii to better study ocean microbes and how these tiny organisms influence major weather events. The LRAUVs can operate in any ocean conditions while mapping the seafloor and continuously gathering information about the general conditions of the ocean with their floating sensors.

Why This Matters: We still know relatively little about the world's oceans--we've only explored 5-10% of them. Technology is helping researchers dive deeper and gather more precise measurements to better understand our planet and how it's changing. It's also making this world easier and more affordable for scientists. Take a look at this video below from Tech Insider to get a sense of just how vast our oceans really are:


Dr. Stephen Hawking 1942-2018

Dr. Stephen Hawking, the visionary physicist peacefully passed away at his Cambridge home on Wednesday at the age of 76. He was famous for his work with black holes and relativity, as well as the numerous popular science books he authored including A Brief History of TimeGrist wrote a touching eulogy to Dr. Hawking and noted that even though he dedicated his life to studying the vast universe, he urged us to take care of the planet we call home:

"Later in his life, Hawking channeled his famous intellect into averting Armageddon. “We face awesome environmental challenges: climate change, food production, overpopulation, the decimation of other species, epidemic disease, acidification of the oceans,” he wrote in an op-ed in 2016. “Together, they are a reminder that we are at the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity.”

While he predicted humans would need to find a new home on another planet to survive, he also wrote that “right now we only have one planet, and we need to work together to protect it.”

Hawking reportedly wanted his tombstone engraved with the famous equation for black hole entropy that he developed with colleague Jacob Bekenstein. “Things can get out of a black hole, both to the outside, and possibly, to another universe,” he said in a 2016 lecture. “So, if you feel you are in a black hole, don’t give up. There’s a way out.”

As Hawking once said, “Climate change is one of the great dangers we face, and it’s one we can prevent if we act now.”"

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