How extensive is California’s drought?

A snake-like trickle of water flows underneath Lake Oroville's Enterprise Bridge — just one striking example of how much California's chronic drought is affecting the state's lakes and reservoirs.

Situated at the foot of the Sierra Nevadas in Butte County, Lake Oroville is one of the largest reservoirs in California, second only to Shasta Lake. After enduring three straight years of drought, the lake is currently only filled to 32 percent of its capacity.

In any case, the drought in California is getting serious. Phase 2 of Los Angeles' mandatory water conservation ordinance is now in effect, which means a team of water-use inspectors are tasked with enforcing water restrictions and fining water wasters. If the drought continues through fall and winter, the ordinance will move to Phase 3, which entails even stricter rules and some prohibitions.

To get a better idea of the dire situation in the Golden State, continue below for a photo comparison of water levels taken in 2011 and 2014, looking at Lake Oroville and Folsom Lake, another major California reservoir located in Sacramento County that is now filled at 40 percent of its capacity.

Bidwell Marina, Lake Oroville

Folsam Dam, Folsom Lake

Enterprise Bridge, Lake Oroville

 

‘There Will Be No Water’ by 2040? Researchers Urge Global Energy Paradigm Shift

The world risks an “insurmountable” water crisis by 2040 without an immediate and significant overhaul of energy consumption and demand, a research team reported on Wednesday.

“There will be no water by 2040 if we keep doing what we're doing today,” said Professor Benjamin Sovacool of Denmark's Aarhus University, who co-authored two reports on the world's rapidly decreasing sources of freshwater.

Many troubling global trends could worsen these baseline projected shortages. According to the report, water resources around the world are “increasingly strained by economic development, population growth, and climate change.” The World Resources Institute estimates that in India, “water demand will outstrip supply by as much as 50 percent by 2030, a situation worsened further by the country's likely decline of available freshwater due to climate change,” the report states. “[P]ower demand could more than double in northern China, more than triple in India, and increase by almost three-quarters in Texas.”

“If we keep doing business as usual, we are facing an insurmountable water shortage — even if water was free, because it's not a matter of the price,” Sovacool said. “There's no time to waste. We need to act now.”

In addition to an expanding global population, economic development, and an increasing demand for energy, the report also finds that the generation of electricity is one of the biggest sources of water consumption throughout the world, using up more water than even the agricultural industry. Unlike less water-intensive alternative sources of energy like wind and solar systems, fossil fuel-powered and nuclear plants need enormous and continued water inputs to function, both for fueling thermal generators and cooling cycles.

The reports, Capturing Synergies Between Water Conservation and Carbon Dioxide Emissions in the Power Sectorand A Clash of Competing Necessities: Water Adequacy and Electric Reliability in China, India, France, and Texas and published after three years of research by Aarhus University, Vermont Law School and CNA Corporation, show that most power plants do not even log how much water they use to keep the systems going.

“It's a huge problem that the electricity sector do not even realize how much water they actually consume,” Sovacool said. “And together with the fact that we do not have unlimited water resources, it could lead to a serious crisis if nobody acts on it soon.”

Unless water use is drastically minimized, the researchers found that widespread drought will affect between 30 and 40 percent of the planet by 2020, and another two decades after that will see a severe water shortage that would affect the entire planet. The demand for both energy and drinking water would combine to aggressively speed up drought, which in turn could exacerbate large-scale health risks and other global development problems.

“The policy and technology choices made to meet demand will have immense implications for water withdrawals and consumption, and may also have significant economic, human health, and development consequences,” the report states.

The research says that utilizing alternative energy sources like wind and solar systems is vital to mitigating water consumption enough to stave off the crisis. “Unsubsidized wind power costs… are currently lower than coal or nuclear and they are continuing to drop,” the report states. When faced with its worst drought in 2011, Texas got up to 18 of its electricity from wind power and was able to avoid the kind of rolling blackouts that plague parts of China, where existing water shortages prevent power plants from operating.

An equally important step would be to shutter “thirsty” fossil fuel facilities in areas that are already experiencing water shortages, like China and India, where carbon emissions can be significantly more impactful.

“[We] have to decide where we spend our water in the future,” Sovacool said. “Do we want to spend it on keeping the power plants going or as drinking water? We don't have enough water to do both.” More

 

China Experiment in Permaculture Offers World Hope

China is the most populous and possibly one of the most diverse nations on the planet, with a population of over 1.3 billion people and 56 ethnic groups.

What each one of those people shares with the rest of the world, regardless of political, linguistic, economic, and existential differences, is the complete and utter dependence on the ability to find food. In China’s Loess Plateau, sustained generational farming had depleted the soil, leaving in its wake a textured landscape of dust. When winds came, the dust blew into cities, compromising air quality. In the rains, it washed down the valley, depositing more of the silt that gives the Yellow River its name. In 1995, scientists and engineers surveyed the land of the Loess Plateau in an attempt to determine what was causing the once fertile belt to be a thorn in the country’s. The results of their study led to an experiment in permaculture in China that offers hope to the world.

John D. Liu, Chinese American ecologist and documentary film-maker, documented the project in an award-winning film called Hope in a Changing Climate. In the film that Liu narrates, he reports that the first thing that the scientists discovered was a causal relationship between ecosystem destruction and human poverty. Where environmental degradation is severe, the population becomes trapped in a downward spiral. Because they needed to eat to survive, generational subsistence farming had stripped the land bare in the Loess Plateau. In search of food for themselves and their flocks, farmers and their families continued to deplete the fertility of the surrounding ecosystem, further impoverishing themselves.

When scientists developed the plan to restore the ecosystem in China’s Loess Plateau, generational farmers had to be convinced that not farming was critical for their families’ long-term survival. To get buy in from the locals who did not understand how their families would eat if they were not allowed to farm, the government subsidized them and taught them how to do the work that would restore their land from a scarce dirt pit to a thriving ecosystem.

Around the world, populations are living a scarce subsistence lifestyle similar to the one that the citizens of China’s Loess Plateau used to live. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) states that besides fleeing for personal safety, the basic need for food and shelter is the primary motivation for people leaving their homes and becoming displaced. If there were a stable food supply and supportive ecosystem, then the motivation for the world’s most vulnerable populations to move, would decrease. The UNHCR reports that competition for scarce resources triggers violence. If there were a way to restore resources so that people had food and a sense of power in their lives, the fuel for much of the world’s violence would be spent.

The permaculture experiment in China indeed offers hope to the world. Working with scientists, the local population terraced slopes, they planted trees, and they penned their herds so that the trees could grow without being eaten. Soon they found that their hillsides were green. Instead of letting the rains sheet off the mountains, the terraces collected the water and fed the delicate new roots systems, transforming the arid land into a booming garden. Liu reports that since he first visited the area in 1995, the people have seen a threefold increase in income and a profound sense of hope and empowerment. More