Growing Returns

Critically low Lake Mead levels highlight need for Arizona action

Lake Mead water users this week learned we once again narrowly avoided water cutbacks by the skin of our teeth.

A 24-month projection released Wednesday by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation shows we skirted federal mandatory water cuts this year, but prospects for 2019 and 2020 do not look good. The forecast found Lake Mead water levels will end this month at 1,079 feet – a mere four feet away from the 1,075-feet threshold that would trigger a federal shortage declaration and mandatory cuts.

The report predicted Lake Mead will dip just below the threshold to 1,075 feet as early as May 2019 – in nine months. At the beginning of 2020, Lake Mead levels are predicted to be at approximately 1,070 feet and then predicted to fall to as low as 1,053 feet in the summer of 2020.

An official shortage declaration has been staved off until at least August 2019. That’s when the next key projection comes out, for January 1, 2020.

Water elevation of Lake Mead has been declining in recent years. (Data: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation)

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How a farmer ‘think tank’ is shaping agricultural sustainability, far beyond the field

One of the best parts of my job at Environmental Defense Fund is working with our farmer advisory network – a group of 19 producers who farm across the Corn Belt and Great Plains on operations ranging in size from about 5,000 acres to 30,000 acres.

EDF's advisers farm across the heartland, from Minnesota to Texas, and from Idaho to Ohio.

They’re brilliant business people who know how conservation can benefit their bottom line. With their guidance, we’re making real progress aligning economic and environmental outcomes for agriculture.

Here’s how this unique partnership came about, and three of the most important areas of progress we’ve made through our collaboration over the past eight years. Read More »

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4 ways drones are helping people and nature prepare for climate change

Drones have taken off in popularity, as updates in technology have made them more affordable and maneuverable. These advancements are allowing researchers to capture high-resolution data with accuracy, precision and ease, making drones a valuable tool for understanding how the world around us is changing, and how we can manage this change.

My Environmental Defense Fund colleagues are exploring ways drones can help us build ecosystem resilience, from corn fields in the heartland to wetlands along our coasts.

Here are four inspiring examples. Read More »

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This new technology allows you to visit coastal Louisiana from your couch

There is nothing like a boat ride through Louisiana’s Wax Lake Delta. This lush landscape, teeming with birds and wildlife, is an example of what Louisiana’s coast can look like if we use the Mississippi River to build land and increase the state’s resilience to storms and rising seas. It’s truly a beautiful place.

In stark contrast, a short plane ride over the region from New Orleans shows the true reality: Much of Louisiana’s coast is disappearing, as coastal wetlands cut off from the Mississippi River turn into open water. This Swiss cheese effect is startling when seen from the air. Read More »

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From satellites to artificial intelligence, how tech will change conservation as we know it

Wyoming is known for its panoramic landscapes, jagged mountains, and herds of pronghorn and bison. This imagery is associated with parks like Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. But not all of Wyoming's landscapes are encapsulated in iconic national parks.

In southern Wyoming, the continental divide splits to form an enormous arid basin marked by vast sand dunes and grey, alkali lakes. The largest unfenced area in the lower 48, this region is known by Wyomingites as the Red Desert.

The Red Desert stretches across 4 million acres in south central Wyoming. It is home to the largest herd of pronghorn in the continental U.S., the largest desert elk herd, and the longest migrating mule deer herd in North America. Nearly three quarters of the area is covered by sagebrush grassland, and sage-grouse leks are present in much of the region. In the Red Desert's northeastern corner, a series of alkali lakes known as the Chain Lakes provide critical wetland oasis for migrating shorebirds like ducks, trumpeter swans and white pelicans.

What differentiates the Red Desert from Wyoming's other iconic landscapes is the rapidly increasing land use for energy development.

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5 reasons why the Senate farm bill is a conservation powerhouse

The Senate votes this week on the farm bill – an $867 billion piece of legislation. Within the bill’s 1,200 pages are big advances for conservation, technology and innovation.

In addition to the bill maintaining full funding for the conservation title, here are five reasons why producers, consumers and environmentalists should celebrate the Senate farm bill and champion the inclusion of these key provisions in the House and Senate compromise bill.

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California’s budget is not about resistance. It’s about resilience.

The California legislature has passed a budget bill that gives me great hope for the state and for the nation. That’s because the budget was not only passed with bipartisan support – it also proves that conservation has broad political appeal.

California has rebuked the Trump administration on a number of issues including healthcare, immigration and the environment, leading many Americans to see California as the ultimate resistance state. But when I take a closer look at this budget, I think it has less to do with resistance, and everything to do with resilience.

Resilient people, communities, institutions and, yes, environment. Read More »

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Golf course offers pro tips for planting milkweed to help monarchs

Meadow Club in northern California is among the first golf courses to participate in a program engaging the golf community in conservation efforts for the beloved monarch butterfly.

Environmental Defense Fund and Audubon International staff visit the Meadow Club to see habitat restoration efforts underway on the course.

Monarchs in the Rough launched in January 2018 and has since enrolled more than 250 courses committed to planting milkweed and wildflower habitat, which the monarch needs to breed and feed.

The population of monarch butterflies has declined by more than 90 percent in the last two decades, and other pollinators have declined at similarly alarming rates. To change this trajectory, staff from Environmental Defense Fund and Audubon International decided to team up with a seemingly unlikely ally – golf courses.

Occupying approximately 2.5 million acres in the U.S. alone, golf courses are an untapped potential for habitat restoration, if managed appropriately. That’s where Monarchs in the Rough comes in, offering scientific expertise and technical support to help golf course superintendents and personnel grow habitat in out-of-play areas.

MonarchsintheRough.org provides an interactive map of participating courses and case studies highlighting restoration efforts.

But many golf course staff, including those at Meadow Club, are already well equipped with knowledge and experience from previous conservation efforts, and can offer lessons learned for other golf courses and individuals looking for milkweed planting tips. Read More »

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3 urgent areas for Zinke to focus beyond departmental reorganization

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke last week invited members of the conservation community to meet with him to discuss a number of his department’s near-term priorities.

Among these priorities was a “grand pivot” that Secretary Zinke described as a shift from focusing on energy dominance and shrinking monuments to a focus on conservation. When outlining his specific conservation priorities, Secretary Zinke spoke mostly in broad strokes about the reorganization of his department and infrastructure backlogs.

Some of his ideas on the reorganization had merit and we’d be willing to work with his agency to ensure that it is staffed to meet the needs of near and long-term conservation challenges.

While departmental organization and infrastructure needs are both worthy of administrative attention, I’m concerned that these priorities could detract from three urgent environmental and public health needs.

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Less talk, more action: It’s time to get serious about floodplain management

I was recently cleaning out old files and came across notes from a presentation I made after the Great Midwest Flood of 1993. It was on the state of the nation’s floodplain management, a topic even more relevant today.

Many no longer recall the Great Midwest Flood despite its record-breaking precipitation, flooding and $13 billion price tag. Sure, 1993 seems like a long time ago, but I believe the reason the flood has left most people’s memory is because, over the last 25 years, the nation has experienced one devastating, record-breaking flood after another. Our memories are diluted by the frequency of such events.

Sadly, many of the lessons I shared in my presentation back then remain true today.

It’s time we stop talking and get serious about improving our nation’s floodplain management by putting these lessons into action.

Photo credit: Association of State Floodplain Managers via FloodStorageEricJohnson (license)

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