Growing Returns

Enough with the delays. Here’s why California’s rural communities need safe drinking water now.

Jim Maciel knows about the challenges of providing safe and affordable drinking in California all too well.

His experience serving as director of a small water district highlights why state legislators’ approval of $140 million in new annual funding to provide safe, affordable water to all Californians is long overdue.

Jim is one of about 37 water leaders who I have had the privilege of meeting through the Leadership Institute, a training program created by Rural Community Assistance Corporation and expanded by Environmental Defense Fund and Self Help Enterprises. Many of these leaders are stewards of small community water systems, which serve 10,000 or fewer customers. Their small size is a big part of their challenge.

Jim Maciel, a board member of the Armona Community Services District, and EDF’s Ana Lucia García Briones take a tour of the district’s arsenic treatment plant in the Central Valley. Photo Credit: Kike Arnal Read More »

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This creative tax is a good bet for Colorado’s water future. Here’s why.

Here’s a pop quiz: What are two finite resources in the West?

If you answered money and water, you win. This is especially true when it comes to money for water in the state of Colorado, where hurdles for raising new funds are particularly high.

It’s a rare opportunity when new money bubbles up for water projects in the Centennial State. But that is exactly what is happening as a result of a bill approved this week with strong bipartisan support in the Legislature.

The bill, HB 1327, proposes to raise new money to protect and conserve water in Colorado by legalizing sports betting and imposing a 10% tax on its revenue. But legislative approval isn’t the final play. State legislators are handing off the measure to voters for a final decision at the ballot box this fall. Read More »

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Three takeaways from the largest-ever dataset about fertilizer management in North Carolina

In the face of uncertainty about everything from variable weather to market prices, fertilizer is one variable that farmers can control — but only if they have access to actionable, scientific information about how to select the appropriate application rate and tools.

A new report, Nitrogen management in North Carolina agriculture: Results from five years of on-farm research [PDF], helps fill this need. It provides the most comprehensive dataset ever collected about on-farm nitrogen management practices in North Carolina to identify fertilizer solutions that increase operational resilience, and improve economic and environmental outcomes.

These findings are the result of five years of participatory on-farm research through the North Carolina Farmer Network, a group of crop consultants and nearly 100 farmers across 26 counties in North Carolina’s eastern Coastal Plain.

The network formed through a collaboration between Environmental Defense Fund, North Carolina Farm Bureau, North Carolina State University, North Carolina Foundation for Soil and Water Conservation, and others.

As grain farmers and their advisers gear up for the 2019 growing season, here are three top findings from the network’s research to consider. Read More »

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States are turning to data and interactive maps to help residents confront and manage flood risks

2019 has been an unprecedented year for flooding, even before the start of hurricane season. Despite the number of devastating hurricanes in recent years, a new University of Notre Dame study published in Climatic Change found that most coastal residents do not plan to take preventative action to reduce damages.

In addition to speeding up the recovery process, taking action before disaster strikes can help homeowners reduce damages, save money and even lives. For riverine floods, every dollar spent before a disaster saves $7 in property loss, business interruption and death.

So how can individuals, businesses and the public sector be incentivized to make proactive investments to reduce vulnerability before a disaster strikes? The first step is clearly understanding risks—now and in the future—and having concrete recommendations for how to mitigate them.

In the past, FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Rate Maps have been the source for this information; however, these probability-based maps have not resonated with most people as they rely on the obscure “100-year floodplain” concept. Being told you live in an area that has a 1 percent chance of flooding any given year does not inspire action, nor does it reflect the reality of a changing climate.

In recent years, states have stepped up with more robust tools that give residents a clearer depiction of risks and resources for how to reduce them. Three states stand out. Read More »

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Three building blocks to water resilience for the Colorado River and beyond

One of the nation’s most important water agreements in recent history – the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan – just crossed its last major milestone: winning bipartisan approval in Congress.

The driving force behind the water conservation plan is a nearly two-decade drought that has caused Lake Mead, a reservoir outside of Las Vegas, to fall to its lowest level ever. The drought plan outlines how Arizona, California and Nevada – the three states that rely on Lake Mead – will share cuts to avoid a crisis. The Upper Basin states of New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Utah also agreed to operate reservoirs differently and begin exploring demand management to bolster Lake Powell.

Under the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan, Arizona will need to reduce its share of Lake Mead water by 512,000 acre feet and Nevada will have to reduce its share by 21,000 acre feet when the lake’s elevation falls to 1,075 feet. California will have to reduce its share by 200,000 acre feet when the lake’s elevation falls to 1,045 feet. (Photo Credit).

The president’s signature is the final step of a multiyear, seven-state effort. But the Colorado River plan also marks a new beginning: the start of a highly productive period for water policy to build greater resilience to climate change across the country.

While recently attending the 10 Across Water Summit, I was struck by three common building blocks of successful water policy that apply across the Interstate 10 corridor and the nation: bottom-up visioning, collaboration and bridging the urban-rural divide. Read More »

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Three lessons from Cuba about improving coastal climate resilience

Facing a future with increasingly powerful hurricanes and rising seas, Cuba is addressing its vulnerability to climate change head-on.

The country recently approved a new constitution that highlights the importance of addressing climate change, and its National Plan to Confront Climate Change, known as Tarea Vida (“Project Life”), provides a template to coordinate the resilience efforts of multiple sectors across the island.

A recent seminar in Havana on climate finance and sustainable development highlighted a three-pronged strategy for effectively building resilience: the protection and rehabilitation of ecosystems to reduce climate impacts, robust data collection, and community involvement every step of the way. These best practices translate to the U.S. as well. Read More »

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Three ways to address increasing flood risk in the Midwest

Historic flooding across the Great Plains and Midwest has been devastating. While waters may be receding, farmers and communities aren’t out of the woods yet. Recovery will be costly and lengthy, and additional floods could be around the corner.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warns that more than 200 million Americans living in 25 states face elevated flood risk through May, and the risks go far beyond this year. The fourth National Climate Assessment predicts precipitation across the Midwest will increase in severity and frequency in the years ahead.

The region needs a comprehensive strategy to mitigate the dangers of excess water and increase the ability of working lands to withstand and recover from extreme precipitation. Contingency planning will be complex and constantly evolving, but it must do these three things to be successful. Read More »

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From barrios to the bio bay, what Puerto Rico’s recovery teaches us about resilience

Natural disasters are oftentimes felt most severely by human communities and ecosystems that are already vulnerable. This disparity is on clear display in Puerto Rico, where I am currently working.

On Sept. 20, 2017, just two weeks after Hurricane Irma skirted the islands of Puerto Rico, the eye of Hurricane Maria struck, with sustained winds of 155 miles per hour and gusts measured at 255 miles per hour by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, until the weather station was torn away. Twelve hours of wind, rain and high seas left no part of Puerto Rico unscathed.

In Vieques, the island where I’m based, and other remote areas of Puerto Rico, the power grid was offline for more than five months – the longest blackout in U.S. history.

While recovery efforts were slower and more painful than they should have been, the Puerto Rico experience still offers some key lessons in resilience. Read More »

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Averting a looming crisis on the Colorado River

It’s finally time to celebrate that federal and state agencies as well as local water districts have agreed on the terms of Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) agreements in both the Upper and Lower Colorado River basins to manage water more sustainably.

The DCP is intended to incentivize water conservation while protecting existing water rights, recognizing the values of the basin’s agricultural communities and respecting the need to protect the basin’s environmental resources.

Representatives from the seven Colorado River Basin states gathered in Phoenix today to mark the historic milestone and publish a joint letter to Congress. In the letter, the states urge Congress to pass federal legislation by April 22 to authorize the Department of Interior to implement the DCP to address “a looming crisis.” Environmental Defense Fund signed a letter with our conservation partners expressing strong support for the DCP and urging Congress to support its enabling legislation. Read More »

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New guide to help landowners restore monarch habitat after western population plummets

Last summer, unlike some of my graduate student peers, I traded in palm trees for almond orchards, with soil instead of sand beneath my toes. I spent the summer counting milkweed stems and sifting through literature from Xerces Society and university scientists, seeking to understand the challenges and opportunities associated with establishing monarch butterfly habitat in California.

As part of my research role with EDF, I’ve been working to address the declining western monarch population by making habitat restoration and creation more accessible and, ultimately, more effective.

The culmination of my research, conducted with ecological consultant Jaymee Marty, is summarized in a new resource now available to working land managers in California, Monarch Butterfly Habitat Creation in California: A Technical Field Guide. Read More »

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