Growing Returns

50 years is too long! Now is our time to go bold or go home.

Dr.BullardandWright

Dr. Robert Bullard and Dr. Beverly Wright, Photo provided by Joseph Video Production and TJ Images.

“50 Years is Enough!”

That was the theme at this year’s 8th Annual Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Climate Change Conference in New Orleans. 50 years of indiscriminate toxic dumping, 50 years of hazardous waste sites in frontline communities, 50 years of land-use decisions that harm communities of color – enough! It’s a searing message for attendees and a reminder that shines a light on the emergence of the movement from the 1960s and 1970s, in reaction to discriminatory environmental practices.

The conference began with a painful trip down memory lane, focused on the trials of environmental racism that befell Black communities in the 1960s. Event organizers discussed how imperative it is for policymakers to act in a way that helps ensure that communities have agency and ownership of their own future. The conference highlighted the long history of systemic racism that lies behind the environmental injustices that communities have faced for so many years. It also fueled a fire inside the movement’s trailblazers who spoke at the conference, forcing them to declare that enough is enough. We are fighting back! Read More »

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Environmental bond gives New York a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fund a more climate resilient future.

New York Coast

Earlier this month, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and the state legislature successfully included a $4.2 billion Bond Act ballot measure in the final state budget agreement. This is a historic step toward building a climate-resilient New York. If passed by voters in November, the Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Bond Act will leverage the federal Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act and enable historic investments in New York’s environment through an array of solutions that include flood risk reduction, open-space land conservation, climate change mitigation, clean energy projects, environmental justice and water quality improvements.

Here is how the Bond Act puts New York on a path to lasting resilience while also stimulating the economy, creating jobs and benefiting the state’s most vulnerable communities.

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This Leadership Institute graduate sees a path to water security through an often overlooked strategy: innovation.

Joseph Gallegos’ interest in water and climate change began as a hobby after he retired as a telecom executive during the 2015 drought. Tired of watching his lawn go brown, Joseph decided to build a system to take water use by his washing machine and deliver it to his lawn, since no such product existed at the time.

His solution took off and is now available at Lowe’s under the brand Grey4Green, a company Joseph founded that aims to promote water and climate resilience through innovation and community outreach. In 2019, Joseph started working on another system to substantially reduce water use on farms, which is called the aquifer pipe.

I first learned about Joseph’s innovative and entrepreneurial drive when planning for the next cohort of the Leadership Institute, a program he participated in last year facilitated by the Environmental Defense Fund and Rural Community Assistance Corporation. The institute builds capacity and leadership skills so members of disadvantaged and underrepresented communities can more effectively engage in water decision-making and help develop equitable, long-lasting water solutions.

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The Colorado River is getting closer to tanking. Can we free ourselves from the long arc of depletion?

My mom on a houseboat and my dad reveling in the “glory days” of Lake Powell, May 1981.

“They would come to the river to see a reflection of their own liberated minds, running free and easy…In the midst of what had once been regarded as the bleakest scarcity they would find abundance.” —Donald Worster, Rivers of Empire

Lake Powell, our nation’s second-largest reservoir, dropped 40 feet in just the last year to a new record low, triggering an unprecedented set of emergency actions. The changes underway at Powell provide a striking illustration of how a new era of aridification in the West is pushing a river management culture steeped in assumptions of the past to the brink. It’s been a few years since I’ve visited Lake Powell, so two weeks ago I went back to see how it’s changed with my own eyes.

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Removing the mystery of groundwater to protect Texas’ beloved Hill Country

Stateof the Hill Country ReportWhat makes the Texas Hill Country unique? In my mind, it comes down to one thing: groundwater. It is impossible to overstate the importance of groundwater to this region, because without it, the Hill Country would not be the region we know and love.

It is the beauty and abundance of the Hill Country’s water resources that have attracted people here for thousands of years.

As the recently published State of the Hill Country Report reveals, the region is on the verge of becoming a victim of its own success as people are moving to the Hill Country in droves for its beauty and high quality of life. The report introduces eight key metrics to help track the region’s health and guide decisions that will determine whether the region will continue to thrive or live beyond its means.

Unfortunately, current levels of groundwater pumping threaten to dry up rivers and springs as the Hill Country heads down the second path of living beyond its means.

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Drought in California is intensifying. It’s time to rise to the challenge.

Record-setting high temperatures in the 90s — in April. The driest first three months of the year in California history. Another drought executive order from the governor calling for more water conservation and requiring protection of existing groundwater wells. These are all signs that the drought is continuing to rear its ugly head in our Golden State and indeed much of the West.

On top of that, the recently released climate report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that if we don’t get serious about making “immediate and deep” cuts in emissions everywhere, the impacts — including droughts — will become even more severe.

But that report also offered hope, noting we still have the tools and sufficient capital and liquidity to limit warming and its impacts. Similarly, in California, we are fortunate to have a mammoth $29 billion budget surplus this year. If deployed effectively, this windfall gives the Newsom administration and state leaders the unique opportunity to help the nation’s most productive agricultural region successfully transition to limited but more resilient water supplies in an equitable way.

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As local movements for groundwater protection rise, will state leaders finally respond?

Across Arizona, the consequences of unlimited groundwater pumping are becoming untenable for many communities. In response, Arizona state Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, has introduced legislation, for the third year in a row, to enable rural communities to manage their groundwater through a new opt-in program called Rural Management Areas (RMAs).

Although the bill again did not receive a committee hearing, this year is very different from the past. Over the last several months, more residents and local stakeholders are becoming engaged and organized around water security and water self-determination, getting mobilized in local settings like town halls, community meetings, and even residents’ living rooms and porches. It has become clear that the people of rural Arizona no longer accept being ignored on water issues at the state level. Here are a few recent examples:

  • Residents in Cochise County, fed up with state inaction to address unfettered groundwater pumping, have submitted signatures for a ballot measure to ask voters to approve a new Active Management Area (AMA) in the Willcox Basin in a local election in November. They are now gathering signatures for a second AMA in the Douglas Basin.
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This farmland repurposing project is delivering 3 benefits. A park may be next.

Sarah Woolf, a member of a Fresno County farm family, is standing on the edge of a field that most recently grew hemp; garlic, tomatoes and onions before that; and cotton years ago. On one side is the dry Arroyo Pasajero Creek, bushes, and a wild, scraggly tree that looks like something from a Dr. Seuss book. On the other side in the far distance is the small farming town of Huron.

This former hemp field has been regraded to recharge groundwater from the creek during the next big storm in order to provide both water supply and flood control benefits. It’s an example of the kind of project that could be funded by the state’s new Multibenefit Land Repurposing Program, which launched this year with an initial $50 million. The program was created to help ease the transition for farmers to sustainable groundwater management while creating new benefits on previously irrigated land.

My colleagues and I recently visited the Arroyo Pasajero Creek and talked with Woolf and later Huron Mayor Rey León about the project and current drought. In addition to conserving water, here are three additional benefits of this land repurposing project — and one envisioned for the future — that they highlighted.

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FEMA’s community resilience program is in high demand. This guide can help strengthen applications.

The recent tornado in Louisiana and wildfires in Texas highlight the toll climate change is having on communities across the country. In 2021, the U.S. experienced 20 climate disasters that each cost at least $1 billion in damages, totaling $145 billion and resulting in the tragic loss of 688 lives.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities program is anticipated to significantly increase funding for local and state governments, federally recognized tribes and territories for projects that reduce the impacts from disasters like flooding, wildfires and droughts.

EDF commissioned AECOM, a leading global infrastructure firm, to conduct an analysis of prior BRIC applications to develop best practices and recommendations for securing funding for natural infrastructure projects through the program.

Here are ways this resource can help applicants increase their chances of securing this critical funding.

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Small North Carolina farms find profitability in climate resilience

Farms across North Carolina are experiencing more variable and extreme weather associated with climate change, including hotter nights and more frequent and severe rainfall. Small farms are adapting to these changes by adopting climate-resilient practices that help buffer weather extremes and improve soil health.

Measuring and communicating the financial costs and benefits of these practices is important to help more farmers adopt them profitably and find financial support for the transition. Cooperative extension agents — small farms’ closest technical advisers — will increasingly need to inform farmers about climate-resilient practices and their financial impacts.

Environmental Defense Fund and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University Cooperative Extension collaborated with three small North Carolina farms to measure the financial impacts of adopting reduced tillage, high tunnels and cover crops. The results are summarized in a new report and set of case studies. Read More »

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