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Conservation Science for a Healthy Planet

Tag Archive: california

  1. Fire Ecology’s Lessons for a More Resilient Future

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    • In the wake of California wildfire’s mass destruction, ecologists see radical hope in regeneration.


    ….There is no silver lining to a fire like those that struck Sonoma and Napa counties in October, or the still-burning Thomas Fire in Southern California, which has burned 281,900 acres to become the largest California wildfire in modern recorded history. But for people like Willie and Erik Ohlsen, an ecological designer and director of the Permaculture Skills Center in Sebastopol, the North Bay fires are a wake-up call, a chance to proactively address the way the plants and animals of Northern California, and most of the Golden State, have co-evolved with fire—and to rebuild these communities with fire in mind.

    Others go further, saying that poor planning and land management practices turned a natural feature of chaparral landscapes into a catastrophic force, leaving in its wake $3 billion in estimated damages. The city of Santa Rosa alone has already blown through $5 million from their general fund to fight the fires and the massive recovery effort has just begun…

    Fight Fire with Fire

    ….Sasha Berleman, a fire ecologist with the Audubon Canyon Ranch (ACR), an environmental conservation and education organization headquartered at Bouverie Preserve in the Sonoma County town of Glen Ellen. “All of our plant communities depend on fire as part of their life-cycle,” says Berleman. “Many of them depend on fire that occurs more frequently than we’ve allowed it to burn.”

    Native Americans knew this, Berleman says, and used fire to manage landscapes for food and textile production. As David Carle writes in Introduction to Fire in California, indigenous California tribes set fire to the landscape to reduce the threat of wildfires to their villages, to stimulate the sprouting of the stick-straight dogbane stems needed for basketry and tools, to control insects, fungus, and pathogens, and to encourage the growth of seeds.

    …Last May, Berleman conducted a few initial small, prescribed burns to reduce the fuel load on grasslands on the preserve. An early, informal assessment showed that these areas burned less intensely than other parts, and helped moderate the fire’s progression….

    “Fire can’t be prevented, it can only be postponed,” says Berleman. She advocates for two solutions to future fire threats.

    • First, an “all hands on deck” cooperative approach to fuels treatments on private and public land: prescribed fire, broadcast burning, mechanical thinning, and grazing.
    • Second, improved public education on the integral role of fire in California ecosystems. Recently, the state provided her funding to establish a highly trained, interagency fire crew to implement technically approved prescribed fuels treatments and controlled burns on private land in Sonoma County starting in the fall of 2018…

    Grazing: Land Management’s Missing Link?

    grazing is the missing link in managing rangelands for fire safety. For centuries, the California landscape was populated by large grazing animals like deer and elk, but those populations have severely declined with widespread human settlement. “If you don’t graze, it creates tinder,” says Hoff.

    Did Poor Planning Increase the Fire’s Devastation?

    ….The question of land use and development in areas with high fire risk has also come up regularly. Gaye LeBaron, a columnist for the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, wrote in the Washington Post about how Santa Rosa ignored nature’s warning by developing thousands of homes within the same footprint as the infamous Hanly Fire of 1964. The difference, wrote LeBaron, is that back then, “there were very few houses in the area that burned. As the city limits extended and the population increased by 135,000, the open land in that earlier fire corridor became a destination for developers.”

    …“Bigger homes, closer together is a recipe for more fuel on the landscape,” says Gregory L. Simon, an associate professor of geography and environmental sciences at the University of Colorado and author of Flame and Fortune in the American West. “In my opinion, we shouldn’t be building homes in areas of high fire risk at all. It’s not a matter of building fire-safe construction or zoning in certain ways. Simply because of the loss of life involved and the risk to first responders….

  2. California’s water saving brings bonus effects- electricity savings and GHG reductions

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    • The decrease in water usage translated into a significant electricity saving of 1,830 gigawatt hours (GWh) resulting in GHG emissions saved of 524,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), the equivalent of taking 111,000 cars off the road for a year.
    • water conveyance and use accounts for 19 per cent of total electricity demand and 32 per cent of total non-power plant natural gas demand state-wide

    January 11, 2018 IOP Publishing read full ScienceDaily article here

    Water-saving measures in California have also led to substantial reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and electricity consumption in the state.

    Measures to cut water use by 25 per cent across California were implemented in 2015, following a four-year drought in the state that caused the fallowing of 542,000 acres of land, total economic costs of $2.74 billion, and the loss of approximately 21,000 jobs.

    The UC Davis researchers found that, while the 25 per cent target had not quite been reached over the one-year period — with 524,000 million gallons of water saved — the measures’ impact had positive knock-on effects for other environmental objectives.

    In California, the water and energy utility sectors are closely interdependent. The energy used by the conveyance systems that move water from the wetter North to the drier and more heavily populated South — combined with utility energy use for treatment and distribution, end-user water consumption for heating, and additional pumping and treatment — accounts for 19 per cent of total electricity demand and 32 per cent of total non-power plant natural gas demand state-wide….

    Edward S Spang, Andrew J Holguin, Frank J Loge. The estimated impact of California’s urban water conservation mandate on electricity consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Environmental Research Letters, 2018; 13 (1): 014016 DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/aa9b89

  3. California: The Flood That Could Change Everything [must read esp. if you live in CA]

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    • California is spending billions to protect the millions at risk of a megaflood, but thanks to climate change, it’s too little too late.

    • California’s megaflood isn’t the stuff of fantasy flicks, it’s based on a 200-plus page piece of science that tested the limits of what was humanly possible in disaster prediction eight years ago known as the ARkStorm scenario… designed with an explicit purpose in mind: to objectively quantify and qualify the California’s threat of a coming flood that only a small group of niche scientists knew the bounds of at the time.
    • Climate change is increasing the chances that not only will these rare flood events become the norm in California, but that in the decades to come they could be even more intense than the one predicted here.

    By Eric Zerkel December 2017  read full Weather Channel article here

    ….The water will linger for days, weeks and in some places months. By the time it subsides the final toll will redefine the word catastrophe: More than $850 billion in damages (adjusted for inflation), more than four times costlier than Katrina, the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. More than a million people forced to flee their homes in one of the largest evacuations in U.S. history, and many who return will return to nothing.

    This is California’s megaflood, a catastrophe not seen in a lifetime, but one scientists, disaster experts and officials know is coming in a warming world. No one knows when it will come, but it has happened in centuries past, and these are just some of its scientifically predicted and realistic impacts in modern day California. 

    Now climate change is increasing the chances that not only will these rare flood events become the norm in California, but that in the decades to come they could be even more intense than the one predicted here.

    California’s once-in-centuries catastrophe is no longer a future problem. Billions of dollars of local, state and federal action to bolster the state’s outdated flood protections have come too late and isn’t enough to protect the millions of Californians currently at risk of such an event and the millions more who will be at risk in the decades to come.

    Californians are playing climate catch-up in a state that’s ground zero for climate change’s future megafloods…..

    ….June’s water bond, the California Drought, Water, Parks, Climate, Coastal Protection, and Outdoor Access For All Act of 2018, calls for another $4 billion in bonds for statewide parks and water projects, but only $1.3 billion of that is allocated for water projects, and further, only $550 million of it is set aside specifically for flood protection and repair.

    Of that $550 million, $350 million is designated to the DWR for flood management in the Central Valley, including $50 million specifically set aside for levee repairs in the San Joaquin and Sacramento Deltas.

    Some $100 million is available for grants for “stormwater, mudslide, and other flash-flood-related protections” and another $100 million for grants for “multibenefit projects in urbanized areas to address flooding” statewide.

    But the bill’s primary goal is investment in parks, particularly in communities without access to parks, leaving flood protection as a footnote. The bill’s author, Kevin De León called it “the single largest investment in the history of the United States to park-starved communities.”

    The proposed November bond, drafted by the former deputy secretary of the state Natural Resources Agency, Jerry Meral, aims to be “complementary” to the June ballot measure and “make sure that no critical problem was totally ignored,” filling in some of the gaps of flood protection funding from the June bond.  …

    The Flood That Could Change Everything

    Source: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, California Department of Water Resources (2013)

    The Flood That Could Change Everything


    The Flood That Could Change EverythingThis January 1862 photo shows floodwaters along K Street looking west from 4th street in Sacramento after the Great Flood of 1861-62. (California State Library, DWR)

    The Flood That Could Change Everything

    Changing Climate, Changing Floods

    Climate change’s expected increase in temperatures and extreme precipitation will combine to produce more epic floods in California. This graphic shows how warmer temperatures will melt snowpack quicker and dump more rain and less snow on mountain ranges, leading to more prolific floods. Source: California Department of Water Resources 2017

    The Flood That Could Change Everything

    One of the 23,000 homes flooded during the 1997 floods in California. (Norm Hughes/California Department of Water Resources)

  4. California is powering toward its climate goals. But it only gets harder from here.

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    • Just 19% of planet-warming emissions tracked by the state came from electricity in 2015; 23% from industrial facilities like oil refineries and cement plants, with smaller contributions from agriculture, gas heating systems at homes and businesses, and chemicals used in refrigeration and air conditioning; the biggest –39% of California’s emissions – the largest — came from cars, trucks, buses and other vehicles in 2015.

    Sammy Roth Dec. 26, 2017  read the full Desert Sun article here

    …The Golden State gets nearly half its electricity from climate-friendly sources, including solar, wind, hydro and nuclear. Carbon emissions keep inching downward, putting the state on track to reduce planet-warming pollution to 1990 levels by 2020, as mandated by state law.

    Some lawmakers think it’s time for more ambitious goals. State Senate leader Kevin de León introduced a bill last year that would have required the state to get 100 percent of is electricity from zero-carbon sources by 2045 — a big jump from current requirements.

    That bill wasn’t passed — at least not yet — but some utilities seem to have gotten the message. Investor-owned Southern California Edison recently released a plan for California to get 80 percent of its electricity from climate-friendly sources by 2030

    …But for all the progress California has made cleaning up its electricity, slashing carbon emissions is only going to get harder from here.

    Just 19 percent of planet-warming emissions tracked by the state came from electricity in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available, according to the California Air Resources Board. Twenty-three percent came from industrial facilities like oil refineries and cement plants, with smaller contributions from agriculture, gas heating systems at homes and businesses, and chemicals used in refrigeration and air conditioning.

    The biggest source of climate pollution was transportation. Thirty-nine percent of California’s emissions came from cars, trucks, buses and other vehicles in 2015….

    …a dramatic shift away from gasoline-powered vehicles over the next few decades will be a huge lift for California. One bright spot is that the cost of lithium-ion car batteries continues to drop, and automakers are offering ever-cheaper electric vehicles.

    …Continuing to ramp up clean electricity is also expected to get harder. The rapidly falling costs of solar and wind have led to stunning growth of those technologies, but the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. Experts say California will need new strategies to get to 50 percent clean electricity, and ultimately 100 percent….

    …Options for scaling up renewable energy include lithium-ion battery storage, which like solar and wind is getting cheaper, as well as innovative energy management strategies, like encouraging people to use energy at different times of day through restructured electricity rates or incentive payments.

    Good old energy efficiency is probably the cheapest option. California’s per-capita electricity consumption has stayed flat since the mid-1970s, and a 2015 law calls for the state to double its energy-efficiency savings by 2030. That doubling will require more efficient buildings and appliances, as well as savings by industry and agriculture, according to the California Energy Commission.

    ….cities are looking to ditch their electric utilities and form “community choice aggregators,” in which local officials decide where to buy energy. The desire for cleaner energy is often a key motivation. By some estimates, investor-owned utilities like Edison could lose as much as 80 percent of their customer bases to community choice programs over the next decade. That’s worrying for the utility industry, but exciting for many clean energy advocates….

  5. California’s Thomas Fire torches record books, as ‘normal’ climate burns away

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    December 23rd 2017  read full Natl. Observer article here

  6. California cliffs identified that are at risk of collapse; erosion rates will increase with sea level rise

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    • A new study analyzes cliff erosion throughout California and provides a new hazard index for determining which areas are at most risk.

    December 21, 2017 UC San Diego read full ScienceDaily article here

    ….Actively eroding cliffs make up the majority of the California coastline, and sudden landslides and collapses have caused injuries and several fatalities in recent years. In addition, eroding cliffs currently threaten highways, houses, businesses, military bases, parks, power plants, and other critical facilities — all in all billions of dollars of development.

    Research suggests that erosion rates will increase as sea level rises, further exacerbating these problems….

    ….The study…. provides accurate erosion rates for 680 miles of the California coast, from the US-Mexico border to Bodega Head in Sonoma County. It identifies areas that have eroded faster than others, and introduces a new experimental hazard scale to identify areas that may be at greater risk of impending collapse. It is the first such large-scale study in California using LiDAR data — laser elevation data recorded in aerial surveys — which were used to create detailed 3D elevation maps….

    Adam P. Young. Decadal-scale coastal cliff retreat in southern and central California. Geomorphology, 2018; 300: 164 DOI: 10.1016/j.geomorph.2017.10.010

  7. In California’s wildfires, a looming threat to climate goals

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    • CA’s environmental regulations apply only to human-caused emissions. Carbon and other pollution generated by wildfires is outside state law.
    • Forests are part of the state’s strategy for cutting greenhouse-gas emissions significantly by 2020 and beyond…. The air board will direct state agencies to determine more precisely how much carbon can be absorbed by California’s variety of landscapes….
    • The U.S. Forest Service this week updated its estimate of dead trees across California to 129 million. That loss alone could be a blow to the state’s vision of a low-carbon future.

    by Julie Cart December 14 2017 Read full CalMatters article here

    Beyond the devastation and personal tragedy of the fires that have ravaged California in recent months,  another disaster looms: an alarming uptick in unhealthy air and the sudden release of the carbon dioxide that drives climate change.

    …..The state’s environmental regulations are known to be stringent, but they have limits: They apply only to human-caused emissions. Carbon and other pollution generated by wildfires is outside the grasp of state law.

    ….In less than one week, for example, October’s wine-country fires discharged harmful emissions equal to that of every car, truck and big rig on the state’s roads in a year. The calculations from the subsequent fires in Southern California are not yet available, but given the duration and scope of the multiple blazes, the more recent complex of fires could well exceed that level.

    The greenhouse gases released when forests burn not only do immediate harm, discharging carbon dioxide and other planet-warming gases, but also continue to inflict damage long after the fires are put out. In a state where emissions from nearly every industry are tightly regulated, if wildfires were treated like other carbon emitters, Mother Nature would be castigated, fined and shut down.

    The air board estimates that between 2001 and 2010, wildfires generated approximately 120 million tons of carbon. But Clegern said a direct comparison with regulated emissions is difficult, in part because of limited monitoring data….

    ….Scientists estimate that in severely burned areas, only a fraction of a scorched tree’s emissions are released during the fire, perhaps as little as 15 percent. The bulk of greenhouse gases are released over months and years as the plant dies and decomposes.  And if a burned-out forest is replaced by chaparral or brush, that landscape loses more than 90 percent of its capacity to take in and retain carbon, according to the [Sierra Nevada] Conservancy….

    ….The role of wildfire as a major source of pollution was identified a decade ago, when a study conducted by the National Center for Atmospheric Research concluded that “a severe fire season lasting only one or two months can release as much carbon as the annual emissions from the entire transportation or energy sector of an individual state.”

    ….The entire equation has been made worse by the state’s epidemic of tree death, caused by drought, disease and insect infestation. The U.S. Forest Service this week updated its estimate of dead trees across California to 129 million. That loss alone could be a blow to the state’s vision of a low-carbon future.

    ….Forests as carbon-chewers are part of the state’s strategy for cutting greenhouse-gas emissions significantly by 2020 and beyond—a goal that could be undermined by nature’s caprice. The air board will direct state agencies to determine more precisely how much carbon can be absorbed by California’s variety of landscapes….

    ….Sean Raffuse, an analyst at the Air Quality Research Center at the University of California, Davis, came up with the “back of the envelope” calculations for October’s Sonoma County fires.

    Raffuse said he used federal emissions inventories from fires and calculated that five days of ashy spew from the northern California blazes equated to the annual air pollution from every vehicle in California….


  8. California has only slim chance of normal rainfall this winter

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    • Dettinger of USGS said most of Northern California has either a 33 percent or 34 percent chance of having a normal water year. The chances drop to as low as 14 percent in much of the southern half of the state, where rainfall has been even scarcer so far this season. The water year runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.

    By Dale Kasler Dec 15 2017 Read full SacBee article here

    ….Even if the season had been rainy so far, Dettinger said California would struggle to reach normal precipitation for the season. That’s because most California winters are on the dry side. The wet winters, while relatively rare, are so rainy that they generate the lion’s share of the state’s water supply.

    Dettinger’s findings, reported on a blog run by UC San Diego’s Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes, come amid fresh signs of a difficult water year.

    ….State officials and most forecasters have said it’s still too soon to predict how this winter will turn out, although they’ve acknowledged they’re increasingly concerned about the recent dry spell….

  9. California Fires and Climate Change

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    • Offshore winds are whipping up wildfires in California….Rising temps combined with fire suppression, increased development in wildland areas are making the West dangerously combustible.
    • [see my post on the No CA fires here; 2015 study found that a warming climate will likely make these “Santa Ana” offshore winds both more frequent and stronger, fueling potentially increasing destructive offshore wind driven fires by 64% ]
    • and here on fire tornadoes; [““Just like water flows from higher to lower elevation, winds flow down a pressure gradient as they go from high pressure to low pressure,” said Max Moritz, a wildfire specialist with the UC Cooperative Extension. “When they get concentrated, like through a mountain pass, they will speed up, like a river going through a narrow channel.” ]
  10. Opinion: Why Governor Jerry Brown Was Booed at the Bonn Climate Summit

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