Growing Returns

Four ways North Carolina can build resilience year round

Earlier this week, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper signed a proclamation recognizing the imperative to think anew about how the state lives with climate change. The governor emphasized the importance of building resilience as North Carolina communities continue to recover from an onslaught of devastating hurricanes and other extreme weather events.

Flooding has been the biggest problem this year, from headline-grabbing events like Hurricane Dorian, to intense, fast-forming thunderstorms like those we experienced in June, when 3 inches of rain fell per hour. In fact, June was the eighth wettest month on record since 1895.

September, however, was among the driest months in a decade, contributing to what experts call a “flash drought.” For farmers, flash droughts are problematic because they can cause crop loss, especially when crops have shallow roots after being planted during a wet month. While farmers were able to harvest some crops this fall, other harvests are at risk from the dry weather.

This pattern of extreme rain combined with flash drought is straining already beleaguered farmers and residents. Read More »

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“60 Minutes” interview with Land O’Lakes CEO underscores urgency of climate resilience

Sunday’s edition of “60 Minutes” featuring an interview with Land O’Lakes CEO Beth Ford put an urgent spotlight on the struggles that farmers are feeling from weather, tariffs and low prices.

From massive rainfall in the Midwest to flash droughts across the South, extreme weather is becoming a top concern among farmers, many of whom are acknowledging that climate change is impacting their operations, and they’re committing to resilience strategies. EDF’s farmer partners are telling us firsthand how climate change is altering their livelihoods, and they are thirsty for climate-smart tools and practices.

Ford rightly hones in on the role that technology plays in helping farmers hedge against the unpredictable in today’s tough environment and economy. Precision ag tools and technologies optimize inputs to achieve a more robust crop yield, in addition to healthier soils, improved water quality and other environmental benefits.

Technology is essential to advancing sustainability, but not without the corresponding informational, financial and policy drivers that will ultimately help us reach the goal of a resilient agricultural system. Read More »

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North Carolina must prepare for sea level rise now

North Carolina’s barrier islands (aka the Outer Banks) received the brunt of Hurricane Dorian’s impact to the U.S. mainland, but the damage could have been a lot worse had the storm not been weakened after ravaging the Bahamas as a Category 5 hurricane.

With the devastation of Hurricanes Florence, Michael and Matthew still in recent memory, North Carolinians did not need another reminder of the destructive power of hurricanes. However, Dorian highlighted the particular vulnerability of North Carolina’s barrier islands, and the need for us to develop solutions now for how this region confronts sea level rise and more frequent and intense storms. Read More »

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The star power of pollinators on the farm

The famous line, “If you build it, he will come,” voiced by an anonymous actor sets the entire plot of Field of Dreams in motion. Kevin Costner as Ray Kinsella may be the star, but the movie depends equally on that unnamed voiceover artist and on the actors playing Kinsella’s late father and former baseball legends, who arrive to play ball on a diamond in the middle of an Iowa cornfield.

This baseball classic shows how leading characters are important, but it is often supporting characters who carry the show. The same is true in nature. Charismatic species get the spotlight, but it’s a biologically diverse ensemble cast that creates a healthy ecosystem.

In the drama to save rapidly declining pollinators, which provide $3 billion of pollination services to U.S. agriculture each year, monarch butterflies are the high-profile star. The species’ population has plummeted 90% over the past two decades, a decline emblematic of the larger challenges that all pollinators face. The monarch’s many fans — drawn in by the butterfly’s beauty and awesome migration — have rallied to save them, and conservation efforts are benefitting other lesser-known, critically important pollinators.

If we had the Oscars for pollinators, monarchs would likely be nominated for the best actor category. The best supporting actor category would be competitive, but these three species, which work alongside the famous butterfly, would be strong contenders. Read More »

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Five years into SGMA, here are five important considerations for balancing groundwater quality and quantity

This blog post was written by Sarah Fakhreddine, a former Lokey fellow in EDF’s Western Water program.

California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), signed into law five years ago, requires local leaders to balance groundwater demand and supplies for the first time. Groundwater is an important foundation of California’s water system, and SGMA is a crucial way of strengthening that foundation and creating a more resilient future for the state.

However, balancing groundwater budgets will not be easy. And this major challenge is further complicated by the fact that activities designed to increase groundwater supplies can unintentionally cause new groundwater quality problems or worsen existing contamination.

A new working paper that Environmental Defense Fund co-authored with Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences; Green Science Policy Institute; and the Energy and Environmental Sciences Area of Berkeley Lab outlines how groundwater management activities can affect not only the quantity but also the quality of groundwater.

Our paper aims to help groundwater sustainability agencies and local communities avoid inadvertently contaminating supplies as they change management practices to comply with SGMA. In fact, it’s even possible for some SGMA projects aimed at increasing groundwater quantity to actually improve groundwater quality, too, the paper notes.

Read More »

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A good business leader will be prepared for the next disaster. Here’s how.

From widespread flooding to raging wildfires, communities across the country are feeling the effects of a changing climate and more extreme weather. These natural disasters are also impacting businesses with the potential to affect bottom lines and even survival.

40% of businesses do not reopen after a disaster, and 90% of small companies that do not resume operations within 5 days of a natural disaster fail within the year.

Flooding can damage everything from a business’s hard assets, such as buildings, equipment and inventory, to soft assets, such as records and data. Even if a business isn’t directly flooded, disruptions to transportation, energy and communications grids can cause trouble, for example, if suppliers are unable to fulfill businesses’ needs.

The bottom line: interrupted business means lost profits and can result in lost clients.

Is your business prepared for a natural disaster? Here are five key strategies you could consider for your business, if you haven’t already. Read More »

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Resilience on the river: How an Arizona farmer combines tribal traditions with modern practices

Velvet Button’s parents, Ramona and Terry, started farming on a 10-acre allotment on the Gila River Indian Community Reservation south of Phoenix more than four decades ago. Today, the family farms 4,000 acres of alfalfa, Bermuda hay and four types of traditional beans. Ramona and Terry were inducted into the Arizona Farming and Ranching Hall of Fame in 2017, and at least 100 chefs from coast to coast are cooking or baking with their products.

“We’re bringing our traditional food crops to the modern table,” Velvet told us recently on a tour of Ramona Farms. Here are some highlights from our interview and tour with Velvet. Read More »

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North Carolina keeps getting clobbered. Here are four strategies for weathering the next storm.

As my fellow North Carolinians prepared for the arrival of Hurricane Dorian last week, many were still reeling from the devastation that Hurricane Florence inflicted upon communities and businesses last year. And that’s to say nothing of the misery that Hurricane Matthew wrought upon residents two years before that – or the smaller flooding events that are now challenging folks with more regularity.

As we work toward recovery, we need to think about how we adjust to this new normal and build resilience in the face of increasingly intense storms and sea level rise.

As Gov. Roy Cooper said when testifying before the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee in February, “When storms are becoming more destructive, it’s not enough to pick up the pieces. We must take action to prevent this kind of devastation in the future.” Read More »

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Natural infrastructure is gaining momentum when our country needs it most

(This post was co-authored by Shannon Cunniff and Grace Tucker

2019 has been an unprecedented year for extreme weather, and we’re still in the thick of hurricane season. As disasters have increased, so has the popularity of using nature-based solutions to reduce flood hazard and exposure while also benefiting ecosystems and wildlife.

Along our coasts, healthy natural features – such as mangrove forests, wetlands, reefs and barrier islands – can be used to absorb the shock of storm surge, waves and rising sea levels. Further inland, nature-based features along rivers and in their floodplains can slow and retain water to help protect nearby communities.

In terms of public awareness, funding and policy, natural infrastructure is gaining steam as a critical strategy to help people and property become more resilient in the face of extreme weather. Read More »

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New Lake Mead forecast spares Arizona – for now. Here are four critical steps to water security.

Arizona just got another temporary reprieve from water cuts in Lake Mead, for the second year in a row. However, sustainable water management — of both the Colorado River and groundwater — remains crucial for communities in the Southwest to become resilient to increasingly arid conditions.

A new, closely watched 24-month study of water levels on Lake Mead, the country’s largest reservoir, means Arizona has managed to avoid substantial water cuts next year. On Thursday, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation predicted Lake Mead’s elevation will be 1,089.4 feet on Jan. 1, thanks to an unusually wet winter and seven states reaching a historic agreement on how to conserve Colorado River water. Read More »

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