Growing Returns

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Busting Trump mythology on wildfires as more rage in California

Firefighters in California are counting the days until the end of the fire season, hoping for a much needed respite from an almost constant barrage of catastrophic fires over the last two years.

Smoke from the summer 2018 California wildfires. The Camp Fire, another dangerous and extremely fast-moving fire, is currently burning near Chico amidst record-dry vegetation conditions. The Hill and Woolsey fires are also gaining strength as residents continue to evacuate areas in Ventura and Los Angeles.

During that time, we’ve witnessed some of the largest and most costly fire seasons in history. Eight firefighters and 49 civilians lost their lives during the 2017 and 2018 wildfire seasons. The Carr fire alone cost more than $1.6 billion in insured losses and suppression costs.

The federal government has long played a productive role in partnering with Cal Fire, California’s state forestry and fire fighting agency, and local fire departments to combat fires and finance fire suppression and forest restoration. But President Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke have actively undermined this partnership over the last several months, pointing fingers and spreading misinformation.

Climate change will continue to increase fire risks in California and beyond in the coming years. Building resilient ecosystems and protecting lives and properties will require collaborative solutions that are grounded in reality.

Here are three wildfire myths sparked by Trump and Zinke that, just like fires, must be stopped before they spread. Read More »

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The groundwater manager’s dilemma: How to comply with new California law without changing water rights

by Christina Babbitt and Daniel M. Dooley, New Current Water and Land

Over the next two years, more than 100 groundwater sustainability agencies in California will have to hammer out a plan to make their groundwater basins sustainable.

But as mangers in many areas work to combat decades of over-pumping, they face a major dilemma: In dividing the groundwater pie to avoid overuse, they can’t change Byzantine groundwater rights that date as far back as 1903.

In a new working paper, “Groundwater Pumping Allocations under California's Sustainable Groundwater Management Act,” Environmental Defense Fund and New Current Water and Land – a California-based consulting firm – provide water managers with a recommended approach to navigate this challenge and develop plans that are more durable, and thus likely to succeed, under the new Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).

Groundwater pumps in California's Pajaro Valley. Photo credit: USDA

Choosing which approach is best is a critical step for cutting back groundwater use, which many basins will have to do, and for creating water trading systems, which many basins are considering to better manage increasingly limited groundwater. Before you create a market, you have to define who has how much – in this case, groundwater pumping rights – in order to trade. Read More »

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How water managers can address surface water depletions – California's "sixth deadly sin"

The Cosumnes River is one of the last undammed rivers west of the Sierra Nevada. While not a large river, it flows year-round out of the Sierras, east of Elk Grove, south of Sacramento, and across the floor of the Central Valley before adding its modest flow to the Mokelumne River.

Every year, however, around the Fourth of July, the lower part of the Cosumnes River goes dry, even while the flow from the Sierras continues. The lower river stays dry until the first big rains come, sometimes as late as December or January, and resumes its high flow throughout the winter months.

When the Cosumnes River flows onto the valley floor, it leaks surface water into groundwater because the groundwater levels are low. In the summer, the river goes completely dry because the flows are especially low compared to the high leakage rates.

How can a river be flowing and then disappear downstream? The explanation lies in the inevitable interaction between groundwater and surface water, which have been managed separately – until now.

Read More »

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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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How can communities get the most from investing in nature?

In places like Nevada, ranching has been a way of life for generations, and industries like mining provide key drivers of economic growth and community stability. But these landscapes also hold economic, historical and cultural values tied to the health and stewardship of natural resources.

The same is true for other communities across the country that are striving to address growing needs for infrastructure, economic growth, clean air and safe drinking water.

Balancing community resiliency, economic stability and stewardship of natural resources is no easy task. But a new funding mechanism is gaining traction on the ground in key places, providing proving grounds for how communities can make cost-effective investments in their futures. Read More »

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What can Nebraska teach the American West about managing water? A lot.

Nebraska is one of the top producers of corn, soybeans and hogs in the country. With 91 percent of the state's total land area dedicated to agricultural production, a lot of water is needed to support all of Nebraska's farms and ranches.

Fortunately, the state sits atop one of the largest underground aquifers in the world. The High Plains Aquifer, commonly referred to as the Ogallala Aquifer, underlies parts of eight states from Texas to South Dakota, and is a vital resource to Nebraskan farmers.

But as farms have expanded and demand for agricultural products has grown, pressure on the aquifer has increased and groundwater levels have been in steady decline for decades.

Read More »

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Climate-resilient agriculture requires both global and local action. Here’s how.

2017 saw 16 weather and climate disasters that cost a billion dollars or more, from freezes and hail, to fires and flooding. Agricultural losses from Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Maria and California wildfires alone totaled more than $5.7 billion – and counting.

With extreme weather becoming more common, we all have a stake in building a food system that can absorb and recover from such stress. A resilient food supply equips farmers with the tools and incentives to find climate-smart solutions, and that requires action globally and locally. Read More »

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7 lessons from a California water leader on managing for the future

David Guy is president of the Northern California Water Association (NCWA), an organization committed to ensuring that water supplies are available for the Sacramento Valley — both for today’s users and for future generations.

“The Sacramento Valley is a rich mosaic of farmlands, cities, rural communities, refuges, managed wetlands and meandering rivers,” David said. “Every drought we experience reveals numerous pressures on the water supplies that support this vibrant region. We have to be motivated and forward-thinking to advance the economic, social and environmental sustainability of the Sacramento Valley by enhancing and preserving its water rights, supplies and water quality.”

I recently had the opportunity to speak with David about his role at NCWA, some of the challenges that he and the region face, and how to prepare for the future. Here's what David had to say. Read More »

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California’s rural water systems needs leaders. Who will step up next?

Water leaders from 13 communities throughout California's San Joaquin Valley attended the Leadership Institute to build engagement capacity and share lessons about small water system management. (Credit: Kike Arnal)

There I was again, in the car on Highway 99, on my way from San Francisco to Visalia, in the heart of California’s San Joaquin Valley. I had made the trip a dozen times over the past year. But this trip was different. This time I was headed to a reunion.

Back in December 2016, I wrote about a cohort of 30 community water advocates who had just graduated from the Rural Water Boards Leadership Institute – a joint effort sponsored by the Rural Community Assistance Corporation, Self Help Enterprises and Environmental Defense Fund to train residents in the San Joaquin Valley on how to engage on state water policy. Participants spent six months attending workshops and learning about California’s landmark law to end groundwater over pumping and how the law – known as the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, or SGMA – might affect their small community water systems. They discussed methods for engaging state policy makers and learned advocacy and communication skills.

Now, almost a year after their graduation, these water leaders were meeting again to catch up, share stories and explore new opportunities to learn from one another. Read More »

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