Growing Returns

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.

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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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California leaders finally stepped up on clean, affordable water. One small water district explains this challenge.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed long-overdue legislation to dedicate up to $130 million a year to provide clean, affordable drinking water to more than 1 million Californians who still lack access to this vital resource. The legislation creates the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund to help cash-strapped, smaller water systems, which primarily serve rural, low-income communities.

The Seeley County Water District, located in Imperial County approximately 20 miles from Mexican border, is one of these communities.

Miriam Rosales and Aaron Garcia call Seeley home and have made it their mission to provide better water service to the town’s 2,000 residents. Miriam, a 46-year resident of Seeley, began at the district as the board’s secretary and became administrative general manager in 2017. Aaron began working in the water sector after being laid off as a music teacher and worked his way up to become Seeley’s chief operator in 2018.

Both participated in the Leadership Institute, a program originally developed by the Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC), Self Help Enterprises and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to help disadvantaged communities more effectively engage on water-related decision-making and policy. RCAC, EDF, and Imperial County’s Community and Economic Development Office customized the program to address the issues of Imperial County.

Understanding Miriam and Aaron’s challenges is helpful to understanding how a state as prosperous and innovative as California can struggle to provide safe drinking water to all its residents. Here are some excerpts from a recent conversation I had with them about their work.

Miriam Rosales, administrative general manager, and Aaron Garcia, chief operator, had made it their mission to provide better water to their community while leading the Seeley County Water District.

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Looking to history to fix Louisiana’s land loss crisis

Tyler Ortego reaches over the side of his boat and grabs the top of a wooden stake that protrudes just above the waterline. Lifting it high, he reveals a dark cluster of what looks like small rocks, attached to the stake’s muddy end.

“Oysters,” he says and smiles. Read More »

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Mississippi River flooding and Hurricane Barry could have inundated New Orleans. Here are four actions we need to take before that happens again.

The Bonnet Carré Spillway will finally close this week after two separate openings totaling an unprecedented 120 days. The spillway was built to protect New Orleans and surrounding parishes from Mississippi River flooding as part of the Mississippi River and Tributaries system designed after the Great Flood of 1927.

This comes on the heels of another first when, earlier this month, Hurricane Barry was the first tropical storm to make landfall while the Mississippi River was at flood stage. This one-two punch — tropical storm combined with high river — was previously only a nightmare scenario with the potential to send storm surge upriver, overtopping levees, inundating the city and surrounding region, and shutting down globally significant commerce.

Mercifully, that scenario did not occur—Barry shifted westward, river levels never reached projected heights and rainfall diminished. However, the river remains dangerously high into the thick of hurricane season. During Hurricane Katrina, storm surge in the river increased the water level by 13 feet, but the river was so low that it wasn’t a threat. The combination hurricane-river flood scenario could play out again – and next time we may not be so lucky.

Louisiana floods in three ways: 1.) From water flowing down the Mississippi and other rivers; 2.) From storm surge and rising seas from the Gulf of Mexico; 3.) From rainfall, now increasing in intensity and overwhelming existing drainage systems. With Barry, for the first time ever, we faced all three threats at once, and climate change will only compound them.

Going forward, we must learn to live with water. On the Mississippi River specifically, the current management system no longer meets the needs of the future. Here are four strategies to help us get there:   Read More »

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This Midwest hog farmer wants to create a “butterfly effect” to bring back the monarch

Eastern monarch butterfly populations rebounded last year, largely thanks to favorable weather conditions during the butterflies’ 3,000-mile migration. To help make those increases permanent and reduce chances of an endangered species listing, we need to plant 1.5 million more acres of milkweed, native grasses and wildflower habitat on farms and ranches.

Farmers like Tim Richter, who manages a grain and hog operation in Iowa and Missouri, are stepping up provide monarchs with vital breeding and nectaring habitat.

I sat down with him to discuss what inspired him to restore monarch habitat, and to ask him what he wants other farmers to know about pollinator conservation. Read More »

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