Tag Archives: Arizona

Could the southwest of the U.S. be in for a megadrought?

From Mother Jones

A new study by Cornell University, the University of Arizona, and the US Geological Survey researchers, looked at the deep-historical record (tree rings, etc.) and the latest climate change models to estimate the likelihood of major droughts in the Southwest over the next century. The results are as soothing as a thick wool sweater on mid-summer desert hike. 

The researchers concluded that odds of a decade-long drought are “at least 80 percent.” The chances of a “mega-drought,” one lasting 35 or more years, stands at somewhere between 20 percent and 50 percent, depending on how severe climate change turns out to be. And the prospects for an “unprecedented 50-year megadrought”—one “worse than anything seen during the last 2000 years”­—checks in at a non-trivial 5 percent to 10 percent.

It gets worse

his (paradoxically) chilling assessment comes on the heels of another study (study; my summary), this one released in early August by University of California-Irvine and NASA researchers, on the Colorado River, the lifeblood of a vast chunk of the Southwest. As many as 40 million people rely on the Colorado for drinking water, including residents of Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Tucson, and San Diego. It also irrigates the highly productive winter farms of California’s Imperial Valley and Arizona’s Yuma County, which produce upwards of 80 percent of the nation’s winter vegetables.

The researchers analyzed satellite measurements of the Earth’s mass and found that the region’s aquifers had undergone a much-larger-than-expected drawdown over the past decade—the region’s farms and municipalities responded to drought-reduced flows from the Colorado River by dropping wells and tapping almost 53 million acre-feet of underground water between December 2004 and November 2013—equal to about 1.5 full Lake Meads, drained off in just nine years, a rate the study’s lead researcher, Jay Famiglietti, calls “alarming.”

Considering how much of the Colorado River Basin, which encompasses swaths of Utah, Colorado, California, Arizona, and New Mexico, are desert, it’s probably not wise to rapidly drain aquifers, since there’s little prospect that they’ll refill anytime soon. And when you consider that that the region faces high odds of a coming mega-drought, the results are even more frightening. (Just before Labor Day, over fierce opposition from farm interests, the California legislature passed legislation that would regulate groundwater pumping—something that has never been done on a state-wide basis in California before. Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to sign it into law.)

Lake Mead Is Drying Up

This is bad and reminds me of what Thomas Homer-Dixon wrote in The Ingenuity Gap when he was shocked that no one in Las Vegas was calculating projected droughts (which have arrived)

Lake mead nevada all time low fe

The water level at Lake Mead dropped to a new record low this week, but it hasn’t hit rock bottom—yet.

As of Tuesday, Lake Mead was at about 39 percent of its capacity. The drought has taken a toll on water resources, resulting in precautionary actions such as a decreased flow allowance into Hoover Dam to protect current distribution policies. 

The projected lake level is at about 1,082 feet above sea level, and officials say they can meet water obligations at least through next year without a key shortage declaration. But if the water level drops below the 1,075-foot trigger point, Arizona and Nevada will face water delivery cuts, according to the Washington Times.

The lake is currently storing 10.2 million acre-feet of water. Lake Powell, the reservoir managed in conjuction with Lake Mead and located farther up the Colorado River, is holding 12.7 million acre-feet of water—or 52 percent of its capacity.

19 firefighters killed in Arizona wildfires

From  CBC News

Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo said that the 19 firefighters were a part of the city’s fire department. The crew killed in the blaze had worked other wildfires in recent weeks in New Mexico and Arizona.

“By the time they got there, it was moving very quickly,” he said.

He added that the firefighters had to deploy the emergency shelters when “something drastic” occurred.

“One of the last fail safe methods that a firefighter can do under those conditions is literally to dig as much as they can down and cover themselves with a protective … foil-type fire-resistant material — with the desire, the hope at least, is that the fire will burn over the top of them and they can survive it,” Fraijo said.

“Under certain conditions there’s usually only sometimes a 50 per cent chance that they survive,” he said. “It’s an extreme measure that’s taken under the absolute worst conditions.”

Outside Magazine has a feature on how dangerous of a job it is

THE NIGHT AFTER I leave the Mill Fire, the hotshots begin a controlled burn on the north side of the canyon. But then the winds pick up: 15-mile-per-hour gusts start blowing downhill, threatening to carry the flames onto the canyon’s southern slopes. By this point, the fire is at 25,000 acres.

Cowell and Eric Rice, one of Cowell’s two foremen, leave the crew to scout a corner of the canyon where the winds are particularly volatile. Above, a helicopter launches napalm-filled pellets into the brushy draw between the road and the main fire, an attempt to coax a fuel burnout before the winds get stronger. Ten engines are parked on the road, ready to hose down any sparks that blow across the stream into the southern side of the canyon.

That’s when things go haywire. Around 7:30 P.M., a gust sends the fire down toward the line, blowing burning leaves over the engine crews. Some land on the exposed necks of firefighters, sizzling in their sweat. Others float into the dry chamise thickets at the base of the canyon’s southern slopes. A strap of fire begins running up from the creek bed.

Cowell grabs his radio and barks to Moschetti, the other foreman, “Get ’em up, Brad. We’re going after the west flank.” The spot fire runs from bushes to gray pines: one, two, four acres. In the creek bed, the crew members are boot deep in the stream’s tepid water, waiting for three guys from an engine crew to drag a hose up the cut bank that separates them from the flames.

Rojas and a swamper scramble up the cut bank and, with another hotshot crew, use chainsaws to bore a three-foot-wide hole in the brush—just big enough to drag a hose through. The engine crew follows behind, shooting a beam of water over Rojas and into the 15-foot flames roaring ahead. It’s steep, 45 degrees in places, and covered with stones the size of a baby’s head. Rojas yells “Rock!” when he knocks them loose; they come tumbling down the mountain at the other hotshots, who are widening the break.

Alicia Miller brings up the rear, using a rake to sweep away the leaves lodged in the scree. Between her and Cowell, who’s up front with Rojas and the sawyers, some 40 hotshots and engine-crew members are working on the line at a frantic pace.

At 11 P.M., the crew hooks over the top of the spot and starts building line down the eastern flank and back toward the creek. Rojas is mowing through the brush when a flare-up sends a wash of embers overhead. Behind him, Cowell yells, “RTO! RTO!” It stands for reverse tool order, which basically means get the hell out. The crews power through the brush to the top of the spot, where they pause to catch their breath.

Burning mountains surround them, and Cowell has to make a decision. They either gamble and try to put out the spot fire by building a firebreak directly on its eastern edge, or they back off and take the line up to the ridge top. Option two is safer, but it gives the fire a chance to gain momentum. Cowell sends Rice downhill to scout. The foreman climbs a tree, sees emergency lights flashing 500 feet below, and hears another hotshot crew’s saws screaming in the night. The fire looks manageable. “We can do this,” Rice radios to Cowell.

“Tirso, you’re on,” Cowell says to Rojas, who fires up his saw and starts building line downhill. Not long after midnight they finish. The spot’s contained, and the Mill Fire won’t grow another acre.

CrossRoads United Methodist Church Can’t Feed the Poor

The city rules that an Arizona United Methodist church can’t feed the poor on their property as the city rules that giving away a free pancake breakfast one day a week constitutes a city feeding program.  First of all I can’t believe that giving away a free breakfast once a week constitutes a feeding program.  Secondly I can’t grasp that they need to bus homeless people into the area to feed them pancakes.  It’s not that that hard to do this in a remote location, with probably less cost, more impact, and less controversy so it isn’t a clear cut case.  I would care more if the homeless were from that neighborhood being denied by the city (which happens lots) rather than being bussed in but that is just me.