Growing Returns

Climate change is destabilizing the Colorado River Basin. Where do we go from here?

In June, a portion of my neighborhood in Flagstaff, Arizona, was put on pre-evacuation notice due to a nearby wildfire. A few weeks later, storms dumped heavy rains over a burn scar from a 2019 fire that caused destructive floods through parts of town. So far, this summer has been our third-wettest monsoon season on record, a complete contrast from our two driest monsoon seasons on record in 2019 and 2020.

These extremes are just a few local examples of the havoc that climate change is causing around the world. Here in the West, we are now in uncharted territory with the first-ever shortage declaration on the Colorado River.

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Pristine streams in Texas need protection. It’s up to the state Senate to act.

The first time I paddled the Nueces River I was blown away by the water — crystal clear, aqua colored, almost tropical. I could easily see the bottom of the river many feet below me and fish as they darted under my kayak.

Fed by springs that percolate up from groundwater beneath the Edwards Plateau, the Nueces is among the last remaining uniquely pure waterways in Texas.

More development is leading to an increase in discharge permit applications in Texas, putting pristine waterways like the Nueces at risk.

House Bill 4146 by Rep. Tracy King (D-Laredo) and Senate Bill 1747 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) in the state Legislature will protect these unspoiled streams and rivers by prohibiting wastewater discharges in them. HB 4146 has passed the House and now awaits a hearing in the Senate Water, Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee.

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3 ways this accounting platform will help California groundwater agencies transition to sustainable supplies

This blog is co-authored by Tara Moran, president and CEO of the California Water Data Consortium.

As California grapples with another drought, farmers and water agencies will again lean on groundwater to offset declines in surface water supplies stemming from paltry snowmelt and corresponding low reservoirs and river flows.

However, there is at least one major difference from the last drought: Since then, more than 250 groundwater agencies have been created and have spent the last several years compiling data on their region’s groundwater supply and demand. To comply with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) many groundwater agencies are now considering new tools to use this data to support groundwater management decisions.

Today, Environmental Defense Fund, the California Department of Water Resources, the State Water Resources Control Board and the California Water Data Consortium announced a partnership to scale one of these tools: an open-source water accounting platform. Here are three reasons why this announcement is so important. Read More »

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New York and New Jersey face serious flood risks. Here’s how the Army Corps can address them.

The densely populated coastal regions of New York and New Jersey face serious flood threats as climate change, increased storm frequency and rising sea levels exacerbate vulnerability.

Without action, 2.9 million people and $2.1 trillion in assets in New York City and Newark, NJ, alone are at risk of flooding by 2070.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plays a major role in assessing flood risk and identifying solutions to reduce it. However, to date, the Corps’ approach has not matched the scale and scope of flood threats to communities and vital infrastructure.

In light of last year’s Water Resources Development Act, the Corps must include implementation guidance to pursue a holistic approach in their upcoming New York-New Jersey Harbor and Tributaries Study (NYNJHATS).

Here are four ways the Corps can adequately address the region’s flood risk:

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Top 5 priorities for USDA to support climate-smart farms and forests

“America’s farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners have an important role to play in combating the climate crisis and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, by sequestering carbon in soils, grasses, trees, and other vegetation and sourcing sustainable bioproducts and fuels.”

— President Biden’s Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis

President Biden’s Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad directed Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to seek public input on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s strategy for supporting climate-smart agriculture and forestry.

Here are the top five priorities that USDA should be focused on. Read More »

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As Texas drought worsens, two bills can advance sustainable, equitable groundwater management

Drought conditions are now confronting 75% of Texas, putting more pressure on critical water supplies.

Thirty-two cities or water supply entities in Texas are under voluntary or mandatory water restrictions. Flows in a majority of river basins across South Central Texas have dropped below or far below normal. And the Edwards Aquifer, which stretches across thousands of acres in South Central Texas and serves San Antonio, has dropped nearly 10 feet below average levels for March.

Amid this grim news, state lawmakers have the opportunity to take two important steps toward more sustainable and equitable management of vital water resources.

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Largest ecosystem restoration project in U.S. history provides model for climate adaptation

In the wake of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, President Biden’s administration has turned its sights from rescue to resilience in the newly announced American Jobs Plan that would invest $650 billion in rebuilding infrastructure nationwide. 

This proposed legislation is intended not only to mitigate significant and structural economic challenges, but also to repair and strengthen the systems on which we depend. This includes natural infrastructure to make our communities and ecosystems more climate resilient. 

On our coasts, revitalizing our economy must include building long-term resilience to climate change, sea level rise and hurricanes. In Louisiana, we already know exactly the kind of projects that the American Jobs Plan should support.       Read More »

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4 ways North Carolina’s Legislature can build lasting flood resilience

As North Carolina continues to recover from a string of flooding and storm disasters, legislative leaders have recognized the opportunity for the state to not just recover from recent storms but to rebuild better before the next disaster.

This week, Environmental Defense Fund released a white paper [PDF] recommending four specific policy actions that would better protect residents and businesses from more severe flooding, create jobs and increase climate resilience.   

These four policies will also help the state better compete for federal funding, build capacity within communities and equitably align solutions for those who are disproportionately impacted by disasters.   Read More »

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California is facing another drought, but I’m still hopeful. Here are 3 reasons why.

It’s a daunting time to be working on water in California.

The Sierra snowpack measurement came in today at 59% of average statewide, making this the second dry winter in a row. The drought conditions led state and federal officials to announce last week painful water cuts for farmers and for municipal water systems that are already sending requests to customers to conserve water.

It’s disheartening to envision farmers again trying to make do with very limited supplies; salmon stranded in warm, dwindling rivers; and cities facing water cutbacks while wondering if the next wildfire will erupt in their neighborhood.

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Is California making progress on the Human Right to Water? Some answers on World Water Day.

World Water Day is a time to come together as a global community to reflect on the importance of water and its value to people and ecosystems — to celebrate collective victories advancing water stewardship and to draw attention to the change still needed.

Nearly 1 million people lack access to clean, safe and affordable drinking water in my home state of California — and more than 2 billion worldwide. Each number represents a person: a mother, a father, a child, a loved one. These numbers must change. Read More »

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