Would we let terrorists poison our water, if they promised jobs?

February 4, 2014

Great, potent question.

What do you think?

And, where did that photo come from?

Protester in West Virginia:  "Would we let terrorists poison our water supply, if they said it created jobs?"  Photographer unidentified; so is protester.

Protester in West Virginia: “Would we let terrorists poison our water supply, if they said it created jobs?” Photographer unidentified; so is protester.

Keep your eye on West Virginia.

Here’s why:  Do you know what factories may lie upstream from your drinking water, and do you know how they are regulated?  Is the regulation done well?

More:


How’s that “defund the EPA” working for you now? West Virginia edition

January 10, 2014

Rite-Aid store in Charleston, West Virginia, out of bottled drinking water.

Rite-Aid store in Charleston, West Virginia, out of bottled drinking water. Eyewitness report and photo via Twitter

West Virginia’s water woes might look like a political campaign ad from God to some people.

If you’re watching closely, you may already understand some of the morals of this story.

Last night West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declared an emergency in six counties, telling about 300,000 people to avoid touching their tapwater — no drinking, mixing infant formula, cooking, or bathing; flushing toilets was okay.  NBC reported:

A chemical spill into a West Virginia river has led to a tap water ban for up to 300,000 people, shut down bars and restaurants and led to a run on bottled water in some stores as people looked to stock up.

The federal government joined West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin in declaring a disaster as the West Virginia National Guard arranged to dispense bottled drinking water to emergency services agencies in the counties hit by the chemical spill into the Elk River.

Federal authorities are also opening an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the leak and what triggered it, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said Friday.

The advisory was expanded at night to nine counties and includes West Virginia American Water customers in Boone, Cabell, Clay, Jackson, Kanawha, Lincoln, Logan, Putnam and Roane counties.

Several thousand gallons of an industrial chemical had leaked out, into a tributary to the Kanawha River above Charleston, upstream from the city’s culinary water intake.  While the company responsible for the leak, Freedom Industries, assured the governor and other authorities that the spill is not threat to human health, officials took the more cautious path.

This case illustrates troubles we have with food and water supplies, protecting public health, and the rapid proliferation and spread of modern technology and chemical innovation.

  • Why did the company say the spill is no threat?  No research has pinned any particular health effect to the chemical involved. But you, you sneaky, suspicious person, you want to know just what chemical is involved, don’t you?
  • What’s the chemical involved? 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol (MCHM) spilled out of a tank into the Elk River, which flows into the Kanawha River, from which Charleston gets its water.  Charleston, West Virginia’s capital, is also the state’s largest city.  You’re still suspicious?
  • What are the health effects of the stuff? Now you ask questions for which there are not great answers.  The chemical, with the methylcyclohexane linked to an alcohol molecule, is new enough, and rare enough in industry, that there are not a lot of studies on what it does.  It’s known to irritate skin and mucous membranes; breathing a lot of it can cause pneumonia.  Only rats have been exposed to the stuff enough to know what it does, and only a few rats for only short periods of time and not massive doses. In other words, we don’t know the health effects.
  • What’s the stuff used for? Freedom Industries uses it to wash coal.  Heck, I didn’t even know coal was washed other than a water spray to hold down dust in crushing, loading and unloading the stuff.  [if you missed the link in this post, let call your attention again to the story at WOWK-TV, which is quite thorough in discussing MCHM and its effects.  WOWK-TV is more thorough than the federal regulating agencies.]
  • But wait! If there are no known health effects, why the caution? It’s not that the stuff has been tested and found safe to humans.  MCHM simply hasn’t been tested to see what the health effects are.  The toxic profile for the compound at CDC’s ATDSR does not exist.  NIOSH doesn’t have much  more information on it. The most thorough analysis of what it might do is populated by small studies, or none at all.
  • What do you mean the stuff hasn’t been tested!!!???? Welcome to to Grover Norquist’s “smaller government,” to John Boehner’s and Mitch McConnell’s “reduced regulation,” to Rick Perry’s “states’ rights” world.  Way back in 1962 Rachel Carson warned about the proliferation of newly-devised chemicals being loosed into the environment, when we really had no historical knowledge of what the stuff would do to humans who ran into it, nor to other life forms, nor even inanimate things like rocks, wood and metal.  A decade later, the founders of the Environmental Protection Agency entertained the idea that a federal agency would be responsible for assuring that chemical substances would be tested for safety, both old substances and new.  For a couple of decades Congress supported that mission, until it became clear that there are simply too many new compounds and too great a backlog to test all, thoroughly.That world of making chemists and big companies responsible for their chemical children began to crumble in the Reagan administration, and is mostly abandoned now.  Chemical juveniles may run as delinquent as they would, with EPA and all other agencies essentially powerless to do anything — unless and until tragedy.  Even where EPA, and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and all branches and twigs of the Department of Homeland Security, designate something as hazardous and deserving of care in handling, a state like Texas will ignore the rules on a substance until an accident blows half of West, Texas, to Hell, Michigan, with loss of life and enormous property destruction.  Afterward, victims get left bereft of aid to rebuild, and wondering who they might look to, to look out for them, to prevent such a horrible occurrence in the future.

So it goes, the nation blundering along from one tragedy, until the next.

Through most of American history, great tragedies produced great reforms.  No longer.  The Great Red State of West Virginia is dependent on federal largesse to get water to drink, at enormous expense and waste of time, talent and money.  Meanwhile, West Virginia’s Members of Congress conspire in Washington, D.C., to strip federal agencies from any power to even worry about what may be poisoning West Virginians.

Gov. Tomblin’s speedy action may seem out of place, not because there is great danger, but because he’s acting to protect public health without a mass of dead bodies in view to justify his actions.  We don’t see that much anymore (Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott didn’t cancel appointments to get to West, Texas to even offer sympathy, but instead scheduled weekend jaunts after it was clear the fire was out and there was no danger.  The good people of West did not greet them with a hail of rotten tomatoes, but thanked them for their concern.  Americans are nothing if not polite.)

I was struck with the news last night because I could find no report of just what was the chemical that leaked into the rivers.  This morning we finally learned it was MCHM.  In the depths of some of those stories, we also learn that the leak may have been going on for some time.  Though thousands of gallons of the stuff are missing, the concentrations in the river suggest not much is leaking now . . . the rest leaked earlier, and is already water under the bridge south of Charleston.

What do you think state and federal authorities should do in this case?  What do you think will actually happen?

More:

Update January 12, 2014:  JRehling got it right:


Annals of global warming: Great Lakes need water

November 13, 2013

Does Lake Michigan's record low mark beginning of new era for Great Lakes? At least 150 years of rhythmic pulses in Lake Michigan's water levels appear to have shifted abruptly with loss of winter ice.   Photo by Mark Hoffman, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

Photo and caption from Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Does Lake Michigan’s record low mark beginning of new era for Great Lakes? At least 150 years of rhythmic pulses in Lake Michigan’s water levels appear to have shifted abruptly with loss of winter ice. Photo by Mark Hoffman, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

Don’t get complacent, yet.  Has enough water fallen in the Great Lakes drainage area in the past six months to change this situation at all?  From the New York Times last June:

Drought and other factors have created historically low water marks for the Great Lakes, putting the $34 billion Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway shipping industry in peril, a situation that could send ominous ripples throughout the economy.

Water levels in the Great Lakes have been below their long-term averages during the past 14 years, and this winter the water in Lakes Michigan and Huron, the hardest-hit lakes, dropped to record lows, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. Keith Kompoltowicz, the chief of watershed hydrology with the corps’s Detroit district, said that in January “the monthly mean was the lowest ever recorded, going back to 1918.”

While spring rains have helped so far this year, levels in all five Great Lakes are still low by historical standards, so getting through the shallow points in harbors and channels is a tense affair.

It’s not just storms, rising sea levels, and melting glaciers, you know.

The Great Lakes as seen from space. The Great ...

The Great Lakes from space. The Great Lakes are the largest glacial lakes in the world. NASA photo via Wikipedia

More:

Great Lakes in Sunglint (NASA, International S...

Great Lakes in Sunglint (NASA, International Space Station, 06/14/12) (Photo credit: NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center)


Anybody got photos of Texas’s Big Lake with, you know, water in it?

February 15, 2013

Contrary to popular rural and redneck legend, Caddo Lake is not Texas’s only natural* lake.  There’s also Big Lake, near the town of Big Lake.

Problem being, of course, that Big Lake’s water sources these days generally don’t flow.  So Big Lake is often dry.

Which produces a further problem for site like Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub:  If Big Lake is really a lake, why are there no photos of the lake with water in it?

A comment at AustinBassFishing.com got me thinking about this again, no photos of Big Lake as a Lake.  In the previous post here, we featured a photo of Big Lake Playa, sans water.  I searched the internet at the time and found no photos showing water in the lake.  My authority on Big Lake, Brad Wachsmann, swore that he had recently seen water in the thing (“recent” being “in the last decade or so”).

So, sorta good news:  A few photos of Big Lake, with water, plopped onto the internet since our last search.  Here are a couple from Panaramio:

Big Lake, Texas, with water in it.  Photo by doning

Water in Big Lake, near the city of Big Lake, Texas, laps at the State Highway 137 passing nearby. This photo comes from 2004, by doning.

Water in Big Lake, Texas, June 2005; photo by evansjohnc

Photo of water in Big Lake from June 2005. Photo by evansjohnc.  This photo appears to be about midway along the intersection of the lake with State Highway 137.

Big Lake, Texas, in dry phase, by cwoods

Big Lake in its dry phase, from looking north from the southern end of State Highway 137’s transection of the lake. Photo by cwoods.

Sign noting location of Big Lake, Texas, during dry phase. Photo by cwoods

Non-historic marker for Big Lake, also along State Highway 137, looking west. Photo by cwoods. Photo taken during Big Lake’s dry humor phase.

Now:  Can we track down the rumors of other natural lakes in TexasSabine Lake?  Green Lake?  Natural Dam Lake?

And, Dear Reader, can you find good photos of Big Lake with, you know, water in it?

_____________

* Is Caddo Lake a natural lake?  Originally, the lake seems to have been formed by an enormous blowdown of trees, probably during a hurricane, well over 400 years ago.  In that sense, it was a natural lake when European explorers first found it, and during all of Texas’s “six flags” historic periods.  Or, what is known as the Great Raft, a log jam, dammed up the Red River near the confluence of the Big Cypress Bayou, in about 1799.  By 1800, Caddo Lake was wet all year-round, and deep enough for shallow boat navigation.  In 1835, Capt. Henry Shreve blew up enough of the logjam that steamboat traffic could get past (the guy after whom Shreveport, Louisiana, is named).  After the Civil War, locals tried to expand boat traffic by completely removing the logjam.  Instead of making traffic easier, this removal led shrinking water levels in the lake, and it destroyed navigation farther up the Red River.  Several efforts to restore higher water levels achieved some success by about 1915.  When oil was discovered under the swamp, pressures came from oil companies to make drilling easier — travel in the mud was difficult.  After the invention of the Hughes drill bit (by Howard Hughes‘s father, the founder of Hughes Tool Co.) to allow drilling through water and mud into oil-bearing rock, a dam was built near where the logjam had been, to raise the level of what is known today as Caddo Lake.  What is seen today is a human-enhanced version of the Caddo Lake known by the Caddo Tribe.  This is all preface to the current Texas water wars.

More:


Annals of global warming: Understanding climate change, modeling, glaciers and water supply

September 13, 2012

Even during the sturm und drang and donner und blitzen of a presidential election year, scientists carry on their work to understand our planet, its weather and climate, and help others understand it, too.

Good on them.

Comes this morning an e-update newsletter from the National Academy of Sciences, with news on the study of climate change.

First:

A National Strategy for Advancing Climate Modeling

A new report from the National Research Council concludes that climate models will need to evolve substantially to deliver climate projections at the scale and level of detail desired by decision makers. As climate change has pushed climate patterns outside of historic norms, the need for detailed projections is growing across all sectors, including agriculture, insurance, and emergency preparedness planning.

Despite much recent progress in developing reliable climate models, there are still efficiencies to be gained across the large and diverse U.S. climate modeling community. Evolving to a more unified climate modeling enterprise–in particular by developing a common software infrastructure shared by all climate researchers, and holding an annual climate modeling forum–could help speed progress.

Learn more about the report at a free webinar on September 28 at 1:30 pm EST, where you’ll be able to watch live presentations by the report’s authoring committee and ask questions about the report’s findings.

Second:

New Website Provides “101” on Climate Modeling

Earth’s climate system is, in a word, complicated. It incorporates thousands of factors that interact in space and time around the globe and over many generations. For several decades, scientists have used the world’s most advanced computers to both simulate climate and predict future climate. Industries such as those mentioned above increasingly rely on information from these models to guide decision making–and with a changing climate, the information is more important than ever. Along with its new report about advancing climate modeling, the Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate has released Climate Modeling 101, a website designed to help the public learn more about the basics of climate modeling–how they work and why they are important. The site features short videos and animations that explain everything from the difference between climate and weather to how climate models are built and verified.

Third:

Impact of Himalayan Glaciers on Water Supply Unclear

Another report from National Research Council, released on September 12, 2012, concludes that, although scientific evidence shows that most glaciers in South Asia’s Hindu Kush Himalayan region are retreating, the consequences for the region’s water supply are unclear. The study looks at the Hindu Kush Himalayan region, where several of Asia’s great river systems meet, providing water for drinking, irrigation, and other uses for about 1.5 billion people.

Recent studies show that at lower elevations, glacial retreat is unlikely to cause significant changes in water availability over the next several decades, but other factors, including groundwater depletion and increasing human water use, could have a greater impact. Higher elevation areas could experience altered water flow in some river basins if current rates of glacial retreat continue, but shifts in the location, intensity, and variability of rain and snow due to climate change will likely have a greater impact on regional water supplies.

Along with the report, the NRC has released a slideshow of stunning images and data-rich maps that explain what was learned in the report.

More:


Meanwhile, back in reality, Superfund cleanup of Torrance DDT site continues

July 11, 2012

English: Map of Superfund sites in the US stat...

Map of Superfund sites in California. Red indicates sites currently on final National Priority List, yellow is proposed for the list, green means a site deleted (usually due to having been cleaned up). Data from United States Environmental Protection Agency CERCLIS database available at http://www.epa.gov/superfund/sites/phonefax/products.htm. Retrieved April 24, 2010 with last update reported as March 31, 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s near midsummer, so the sputtering of right-wing and anti-science propaganda calls for a “return to DDT” should begin to abate, absent a serious outbreak of West Nile Virus human infections, or some fit of stupidity on the part of DDT advocates.

DDT remains a deadly poison, and you, American Taxpayer, are on the hook for millions of dollars needed to clean up legacy DDT manufacturing sites across the nation.  Contrary to bizarre claims, DDT really is a poison.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) works constantly at these cleanups.  Comes this press release from EPA talking about a small success, a $14.6 million settlement with past property owners or users of sites in Torrance, California, designated for cleanup under the Superfund.  The money will pay for cleanup of groundwater at the sites.

Links to sources other than EPA, and illustrations are added here.

EPA Reaches $14.6 million Settlement for Groundwater Cleanup at Torrance Superfund Sites

Release Date: 07/10/2012
Contact Information: Nahal Mogharabi, mogharabi.nahal@epa.gov, 213-244-1815

Plant will Treat a Million Gallons per Day, Prevent Spread of Contamination

LOS ANGELES – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reached a $14.6 million settlement with four companies for the construction of a groundwater treatment system at the Montrose and Del Amo Superfund sites in Torrance, Calif. Construction of the treatment system is the first step in the cleanup of groundwater contaminated by chemicals used to manufacture DDT and synthetic rubber over three decades.

Once operational, the system will extract up to 700 gallons of water per minute, or a total of a million gallons each day, removing monochlorobenzene and benzene, and re-injecting the cleaned, treated water back into the aquifer. The treated water will not be served as drinking water, but will instead be re-injected to surround the contamination and prevent it from any further movement into unaffected groundwater areas. Construction of the treatment system is expected to be completed in 18 months. EPA will pursue further settlements with the four companies and other parties to ensure that additional cleanup actions are taken and the groundwater treatment system is operated and maintained until cleanup levels are met.

“One of the toxic legacies of DDT and synthetic rubber manufacturing is polluted groundwater,” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “The treatment plant will be a milestone for the site, protecting the groundwater resources for the thousands of people who live or work near these former facilities.”

Montrose Chemical Corporation of California manufactured the pesticide DDT from 1947 until 1982. Monochlorobenzene was a raw material used in making DDT. The Montrose site was placed on the EPA’s National Priorities List (NPL) in 1989. The Del Amo Superfund site, located adjacent to the Montrose site, was formerly a synthetic rubber manufacturing facility that used benzene, naphthalene and ethyl benzene. The Del Amo site was placed on the NPL in September of 2002. Groundwater contamination from both sites has co-mingled and will be cleaned up by this single treatment system.

The four responsible parties for this settlement are: Montrose, Bayer CropScience Inc., News Publishing Australia Limited, and Stauffer Management Company LLC. In addition to constructing the treatment system, these parties will also pay oversight costs incurred by EPA and the California Department of Toxic Substances Control.

To date, extensive investigations and cleanup actions have been performed at both sites. EPA’s DDT soil removal actions in the neighborhood near the Montrose site were completed in 2002. In 1999, Shell began cleaning-up the Del Amo Superfund site, constructing a multi-layer impermeable cap over the waste pits and installation of the soil-vapor extraction and treatment system. Additional soil and soil gas cleanups at the Del Amo site are slated to begin in 2013.

The proposed consent decree for the settlement, lodged with the federal district court by the U.S. Department of Justice on July 9, 2012, is subject to a 30-day comment period and final court approval. A copy of the proposed decree is available on the Justice Department website at: http://www.justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html

For more information on the Del Amo and Montrose Superfund Sites, please visit: http://www.epa.gov/socal/superfund/index.html

###

Follow the U.S. EPA’s Pacific Southwest region on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EPAregion9
And join the LinkedIn group: http://www.linkedin.com/e/vgh/1823773/

More: 

Map of NPL sites in contiguous US

Map of NPL sites in contiguous US (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Yosemite NP warning good worldwide: Watch out for running water

April 7, 2012

Our Scout Troop readies for two summer camp excursions this summer, and Kathryn and I hope to get out somewhere not drought stricken for at least a weekend.  Generally we tack on a whitewater river run on the Scout trips, if we can find a good one for reasonable price.  Safety instructions always include the solid order to wear a Personal Flotation Device (PFD) at all times.  We have a few adult leaders trained in Safety Afloat, and we work to have the Scouts up to “swimmer” or “lifesaver” ability for the trips.

It’s a good idea to review all the rules for safety near water in the great outdoors.

The good video crew at Yosemite National Park posted this dramatic video story — please watch, and heed the warnings.  Doesn’t matter how well you swim, if you get pinned underwater by a powerful flow — and they are all powerful — you’re in trouble.  This story has a happy ending with chastened hikers who learned uncharted short cuts may not be a good idea.  For nearly a score of people in Yosemite NP the turnout was not wonderful, in the last ten years.

In Texas, drownings take about a hundred lives a year, averaging 81 child drownings each year:  “An average of 81 children drowned each year since DFPS [Department of Family Protective Services] began tracking these deaths in 2005. DFPS identified 76 water fatalities in 2005, 70 in 2006, 63 in 2007, 82 in 2008, 113 in 2009 and 84 in 2010, and 79 in 2011 as of August 31, 2011.”  [If you can find figures including adult drownings, please let us know in the comments.]

Please watch, and pass along to anyone you know who will be hiking this year.

Text from the filmmakers:

Sixteen people died in Yosemite’s rivers and creeks between 2002 and 2011. Water in Yosemite is more dangerous than it looks, and stories like Matthew’s are a common occurrence.

Go outside, have great fun, see America.  Be careful when you do.


Right or wrong reasons, North Texas governments back into water conservation

April 4, 2012

It’s a win-win situation for North Texas politicians, like Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings — they can take action that helps mitigate problems of global warming, but they don’t have to say they’re doing it for global warming.

Downtown Dallas in the background with the Tri...

Water supplies will limit future growth for cities like Dallas, if good water policies cannot be made to assure water to critical functions - Downtown Dallas in the background with the Trinity River in the foreground. Taken from the N Hampton Rd bridge. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mayors of several cities announced they will push to keep watering restrictions on, to conserve water, even though their cities’ water supplies got big boosts from massive rainstorms over the past few weeks.

Bruce Tomaso, editor of The Scoop, a blog at The Dallas Morning News, wrote down all the details (comments at that site are worth visiting).

Thanks to last year’s brutal drought, most North Texans have gotten accustomed to watering lawns sparingly.

As lake levels dropped through the dry, hot summer and fall of 2011, emergency conservation measures were enacted throughout the region.

In some cities — Plano, for example — watering was restricted to twice a month. (That restriction was just eased to once a week.)

In others, including Dallas, a less stringent limit of twice a week has been in force.

On Wednesday, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings , joined by the mayors of Fort Worth, Arlington , and Irving , will recommend that a twice-a-week limit on watering be made permanent. The mayors plan a 9:30 a.m. news conference at the offices of the North Texas Council of Governments, 616 Six Flags Drive.

“Although recent rains have improved current water supply availability, a twice weekly watering schedule provides predictable expectations to customers for landscape planning and a way for the region to continue to use water resources wisely,” says a joint statement from the four cities.

Bill Hanna of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram writes that says the idea of making the emergency conservation measures permanent was raised a while ago by Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, who discussed “a coordinated regional approach” with Rawlings, Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck, and Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne.

“I think water conservation is probably the most important issue we have in the next three decades,” he quotes Rawlings as saying. “We cannot continue to grow without water, and I want to continue to grow.”

In each of the four municipalities, the City Council would have to approve a measure to implement permanent limitations on lawn watering.

On a related note, the Texas agriculture commissioner unveiled a new water conservation coalition plan Monday in Mesquite.

It’s a good move, even if they do it for the wrong reasons.  Texas lives in a world of trouble with regard to water.  Too many people live in big cities with water supply systems planned and built a half-century ago, for fewer people.  Massive aquifers that offered backup to surface water supplies have been mined out.  In a short phrase, Texas doesn’t have enough water even in a good rain year, and needs to conserve and develop a state-wide policy on how to allocate water, and how to protect water supplies needed for farming, for industry, and for residential use. Global warming threatens each of those resources in disparate ways, all of them bad.

Conservation is a lot cheaper than building more dams and more pipelines, and more environmentally friendly.  Nice to see these guys endorse conservation.

Trinity River in flood and Dallas at night, 9-2010 IMGP5052 - photo by Ed Darrell, Creative Commons License

Texas should not rely on freak floods to mitigate long-term drought; growth of cities like Dallas require better water policy. Photo shows Dallas at night over the Trinity River flooding, September 2010. Photo by Ed Darrell, Creative Commons Copyright

Tip of the old scrub brush to Sara Ann Maxwell.


Get your Texas Drought Survival Package from Texas Parks & Wildlife

February 20, 2012

We’ve had serious rain in Dallas, but most of the state still resides well in the thrall of drought.  Plus, the rains in Dallas have been unseasonal, which suggests the drought is not done with Dallas yet, either.

Texas Parks & Wildlife has words of advice:

More information from TPWD:

The drought has taken a toll on everything from wildlife to water bills. To help Texans cope, Texas Parks and Wildlife is offering a Drought Survival Kit http://www.texasthestateofwater.org/


A study in geography: The Red River of Texas – film from Texas Parks & Wildlife

December 26, 2011

Seven minutes on the Red River of the southern U.S., the fickle border of Texas and Oklahoma, the river of story and legend.  Good for a map study, good for the fun of it — how much do you really know about the Red River?

George Washington did not cross the Red River; George Washington may not have known the river even existed.  His loss.


Chronic drought complicated by chronic denialism

May 26, 2011

Which is worse:  To be in the depths of a drought, or to deny drought where it exists?

I ask the question because, as one cannot tear one’s eyes away from a train wreck about to occur, I watch Steve Goddard’s blog.  Occasionally Steve or one of his fellow travelers says something so contrary to reality or fact that I can’t resist pointing it out.

In some discussion over there, Goddard suggested that because there is above-average snowpack around Salt Lake City and in Northern Utah, Lake Powell’s decade-long struggle with extreme drought is over.  Therefore, to Goddard, global warming does not exist.

(No, I’m not really exaggerating.  Seriously.  Go look.  No one there seems to have ever had a course in logic, nor in English composition and essay writing.  If Al Gore got svelte, one suspects half the commenters there would never be able to speak again.)

It is true that this year, contrary to the past decade, snowpack is high along the Wasatch Front and in the Uinta Mountains of Utah, and in Wyoming and Colorado areas that drain into the Green and Colorado Rivers.  Consequently, forecasters say that Lake Powell may gain a few feet of depth this year.  Powell is down about 50 feet, however, and even a record snowpack won’t erase the effects of drought on the lake.  (Yeah, I know:  The Wasatch doesn’t drain into the Colorado system — it drains to the Great Salt Lake, as indeed do many of the streams that have great snowpack in Utah — so a lot of the record snowpack won’t get within 400 miles of Lake Powell.  That’s geography, and it would be one more area that commenters would embarrass themselves in.  Don’t ask the pig to sing if you aren’t going to spend the time to teach it; if you need the aphorism on teaching pigs to sing, look it up yourself.)

Since Lake Powell won’t lose a lot of elevation this year, the Goddardites (Goddardians?  Goddards?  Goddardoons?) pronounce the U.S. free of drought.

Right.

Check it out for yourself, Dear Reader.  Here’s an animation from the National Drought Center, showing drought measurements in the contiguous 48 states plus Alaska and Hawaii, over the past 12 weeks:

Drought in the U.S., 12 weeks ending May 17, 2011, National Drought Mitigation Center, U of Nebraska-Lincoln

Drought in the U.S., 12 weeks ending May 17, 2011, National Drought Mitigation Center, U of Nebraska-Lincoln - click on map for a larger version at the Drought Monitor site.

Here’s the drought outlook map from the Climate Prediction Center at NOAA:

U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook Map, released May 19, 2011, NOAA and the Climate Prediction Center

U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook Map, released May 19, 2011, NOAA and the Climate Prediction Center - click image for a larger version at NOAA's site.

It would be wonderful were these droughts to break soon.  But that is very unlikely.

So, why would anyone deny it?

Then, just to indicate the bait-and-switch logic these guys use, Goddard came back with a claim that the 1956 drought in Texas was worse, as if that means the current drought doesn’t exist.  Fore reasons apparent only to those whose heads get pinched by tinfoil hats, he also notes the CO2 levels for 1956.  I think I know what point he’s trying to make, but someone should tell him that apples are not oranges, and comparing apples and oranges to pomegranates doesn’t increase the supply of tennis balls.

Let’s just stick to the facts.  The experts who must operate the dams and lakes and get water to Mexico on schedule say the drought along the Colorado persists.  Who are we to gainsay them?

Resources:  

GEOSat photos of Lake Powell and drought, 2000 to 2004 - Dr. Paul R. Baumann, SUNY - Oneonta College

GEOSat photos of Lake Powell and drought, 2000 to 2004 - Dr. Paul R. Baumann, SUNY - Oneonta College


Lake Powell drought ended? Don’t trust the warming denialists’ predictions

April 20, 2011

Every once in a while a factoid crosses the desk and/or mind of an otherwise badly-informed person who denies global warming is a problem, and without bothering to check the significance of the factoid, the denialist world ramps up The Crazy Rant.

And so, Steve Goddard (who should need no introduction) seized upon a chart that shows a momentary uptick in water in drought-ravaged Lake Powell.  Ignoring more than 50 years of history of the rive flows, Goddard pronounced the case for global warming dead.

Former AGW poster child Lake Powell water levels have been rising rapidly over the last few years.

It’s a grand example of the triumph of ignorance over experience, science, data, history and the law, in discussions of climate change.

Did Goddard read his own chart?  It shows a decline in lake level from 2010.

Lake Powell levels, charted by Steve Goddard?

Goddard's own chart shows a decline in Lake Powell's March 20 level, from 2010; did he look at the chart? Even Goddard's source says, "Lake Powell is 89.99 feet below Full Pool (Elevation 3,700)."

“Full pool” level is 3,700 feet elevation (the height of the surface of Lake Powell above sea level).  Goddard’s chart shows the lake hasn’t been at that level since 2000 (and it was declining for some time prior to that).  Goddard’s chart shows four years of rise compared to seven years of decline.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation isn’t as optimistic as the warming deniers, noting that drought conditions continue on the Colorado Plateau.

 Upper Colorado River Basin Hydrology

In the Upper Colorado River Basin during water year 2010, the overall precipitation accumulated through September 30, 2010 was approximately 90% of average based on the 30 year average for the period from 1971 through 2000.  For Water Year 2011 thus far, the estimated monthly precipitation within the Upper Colorado River Basin (above Lake Powell) as a percentage of average has been: (October – 135%, November – 95%, December – 225%, January – 50%, February – 100%, March – 90%)

The Climate Prediction Center outlook (dated March 17, 2010) for temperature over the next 3 months indicates that temperatures in the Upper Colorado River Basin are expected to be above average while precipitation over the next 3 months is projected to be near average in the northern reaches of the basin while below average in the southern reaches of the basin.

Upper Colorado River Basin Drought

The Upper Colorado River Basin continues to experience a protracted multi-year drought.  Since 1999, inflow to Lake Powell has been below average in every year except water years 2005 and 2008.  In the summer of 1999, Lake Powell was close to full with reservoir storage at 23.5 million acre-feet, or 97 percent of capacity.  During the next 5 years (2000 through 2004) unregulated inflow to Lake Powell was well below average.  This resulted in Lake Powell storage decreasing during this period to 8.0 million acre-feet (33 percent of capacity) which occurred on April 8, 2005.  During 2005, 2008 and 2009, drought conditions eased somewhat with near or above average inflow conditions and net gains in storage to Lake Powell.  2011 will be another above average inflow year so drought conditions are easing somewhat in the Colorado River Basin. As of April 18, 2011 the storage in Lake Powell was approximately 12.73 million acre-feet (52.3 % of capacity) which is below desired levels.  The overall reservoir storage in the Colorado River Basin as of April 18, 2011 is approximately 31.40 million acre-feet (52.8 % of capacity).
Updated: April 19, 2011

Rick Clayton

Goddard isn’t the first denier to stumble down this path — but can’t they learn from the stumblings of others?  Remember Australia’s “Jo Nova,” who used a photograph of drought-stricken Glen Canyon Dam and environs to claim that warming was not posing problems?  Remember Anthony Watts claiming Lake Powell as a “good proxy” for water in the entire area, and seizing on a momentary uptick?  (Oh, yeah — Watts based his glee on a Goddard note — even repeating Goddard’s error that Lake Powell’s low levels were due to increased use of water in Los Angeles . . .)

Oy.  Do they ever learn?

More, Resources:

The sources from my earlier post on Lake Powell still edify those who bother to read them:

More current sources:


DDT-style problems remain

June 2, 2010

As evidenced by this announcement of newly-proposed regulations on pesticides in water.

From the EPA, pure and unedited:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

June 2, 2010

EPA Proposes New Permit Requirements for Pesticide Discharges

Action would reduce amount of pesticides discharged and protect America ’s waters

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing a new permit requirement that would decrease the amount of pesticides discharged to our nation’s waters and protect human health and the environment. This action is in response to an April 9, 2009 court decision that found that pesticide discharges to U.S. waters were pollutants, thus requiring a permit.

The proposed permit, released for public comment and developed in collaboration with states, would require all operators to reduce pesticide discharges by using the lowest effective amount of pesticide, prevent leaks and spills, calibrate equipment and monitor for and report adverse incidents. Additional controls, such as integrated pest management practices, are built into the permit for operators who exceed an annual treatment area threshold.

“EPA believes this draft permit strikes a balance between using pesticides to control pests and protecting human health and water quality,” said Peter S. Silva, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Water.

EPA estimates that the pesticide general permit will affect approximately 35,000 pesticide applicators nationally that perform approximately half a million pesticide applications annually. The agency’s draft permit covers the following pesticide uses:  (1) mosquito and other flying insect pest control; (2) aquatic weed and algae control; (3) aquatic nuisance animal control; and (4) forest canopy pest control. It does not cover terrestrial applications to control pests on agricultural crops or forest floors.  EPA is soliciting public comment on whether additional use patterns should be covered by this general permit.

The agency plans to finalize the permit in December 2010.  It will take effect April 9, 2011. Once finalized, the pesticide general permit will be used in states, territories, tribal lands, and federal facilities where EPA is the authorized permitting authority.  In the remaining 44 states, states will issue the pesticide general permits. EPA has been working closely with these states to concurrently develop their permits.

EPA will hold three public meetings, a public hearing and a webcast on the draft general permit to present the proposed requirements of the permit, the basis for those requirements and to answer questions. EPA will accept written comments on the draft permit for 45 days after publication in the Federal Register.

More information on the draft permit: http://www.epa.gov/npdes

R197

Note: If a link above doesn’t work, please copy and paste the URL into a browser.

View all news releases related to water

Let me repeat for emphasis, from the press release:  “EPA will accept written comments on the draft permit for 45 days after publication in the Federal Register.”


While thieves and COP15 fiddled, the world’s burning continued . . .

March 18, 2010

A friend wrote me the other day wondering what I thought about the global warming hoax.  I told him I thought denialists and contrarians have acted shamefully claiming that warming is not occurring.

My friend wrote back puzzled.  He had meant, what did I think about the collapse of the false claims of warming?  He said he had understood that almost all the claims of warming were hoaxes cast by a cabal of conspiratorialist scientists who had gotten fat government contracts only on the condition that they claimed there is warming.

It’s actually been about two weeks since I got that message, but it’s a common thought around the world.  The thieves who stole e-mails from scientists did what Shakespeare termed worse:  They stole the good names of scientists.  The thieves’ accomplices, especially in blogs but also in brazen journals of bias like The Australian and The Daily Mail, successfully transplanted a stick they claimed was the end of warming science, and they’ve managed to keep it spray-painted green to convince careless observers that it’s alive.

That tree won’t flower.  God’s earth doesn’t care about such falsehoods, but goes on cycling as Darwin noted.  In that cycling, warming continues faster than apace, burning our future and our children’s futures in bits noted only by careful scientists.

While Anthony Watts and other denialists gloated about heavy snows — we’re still cleaning up broken trees and destroyed groves and forests here in Dallas — fact is the North American west suffered from a snow drought.  You may have seen part of it if you watched the Olympics from Vancouver.  It was unseasonably warm, and until the second week there was a great shortage of natural snow for snow events.

We may forget about the ecological chains that weather actually push.  Over at Ralph Maughan’s Wildlife News I found a story about the annual count of elk in Wyoming/Montana/Idaho.  Ralph tracks all sorts of wildlife news, but especially news about wolves and wolf reintroductions.  Wolf packs prey on elk when they can.  The health of elk herds affects the health of wolf packs.

In January I heard there would be no elk count this year because the lack of snow made counting pretty much impossible. I’d glad the amount of snow increased because these numbers are important. Gaps in the data are harmful.

How much have you heard about snowfall shortages in the west, other than the Olympics?  The drought is pretty bad up there.  Much of the Mountain west, on both sides of the Rockies, gets water from the melting snows.  It doesn’t rain much in the spring and summer, but melting snows supply rivers throughout the year.  One reader commented at Maughan’s blog:

I have been in the back country of Montana, Idaho and Washington in the last 3 months and I can tell you, there is no snow to really speak of, the place I stay in Montana normally has about 5-6 feet of snow on the ground in January and when I returned around the first part of January, it had about a foot, Bozeman was very low snow as was Great Falls and Billings, Sandpoint has flowers blooming already, the Columbia River Gorge area up in the Mountains above the Gorge is greening up real well, no snow and Mount Hood has not had much snow either.

Right now, it looks very bleak for river levels this year, My wife was on the phone with her cousin in Florence, MT and Her Uncle in Lincoln, MT this week and they are saying the snow is just not there this year and expects that fishing this year will be very poor due to low water levels and higher river temps, one lives on the Blackfoot and the other on the Bitterroot..

Looks like unless we have a strong spring rain season, things could get dicey this year..

Anecdotal news, just one spot of rather amorphous data, right?

No.  It’s widespread.

Surely not all the droughts nor drought effects can be blamed on warming — but the rolling disasters of dead forests, especially from pine borers and pine bark beetles, across North America, can be fairly attributed to global warming.  Average winters would kill the insects — where average winters now are a rarity, forests that have stood at least since Columbus are dying out.  Many of the dying forests predate the coming of all humans to the Americas, 37,000 years ago or so.

Housing prices will rise.  Wildfires will increase.  Water emergencies will be declared, and restrictions on development in water-strapped counties and states will be enacted.

Humans can deny warming and human causation.  But even the Rockies cry out.

Who will listen?

US Drought Monitor, March 16, 2010

US Drought Monitor, March 16, 2010 - Click image for updated maps


Annals of Global Warming: Black soot and glaciers in Tibet

January 5, 2010

Another in a series on the history of global warming; this comes from the Earth Observatory at NASA (visit that site — the image is more stunning, larger):

Black Soot and the Survival of Tibetan Glaciers

Posted December 15, 2009
Black Soot and the Survival of Tibetan Glaciers

Color bar for Black Soot and the Survival of Tibetan Glaciers
download large image (677 KB, JPEG) acquired September 26, 2009
download large animation image (9 MB, M4V) acquired August 1, 2009 – November 9, 2009

On the Tibetan Plateau, temperatures are rising and glaciers are melting faster than climate scientists would expect based on global warming alone. A recent study of ice cores from five Tibetan glaciers by NASA and Chinese scientists confirmed the likely culprit: rapid increases in black soot concentrations since the 1990s, mostly from air pollution sources over Asia, especially the Indian subcontinent. Soot-darkened snow and glaciers absorb sunlight, which hastens melting, adding to the impact of global warming.

NASA climate scientists combine satellite and ground-based observations of soot and other particles in the air with weather and air chemistry models to study how the atmosphere moves pollution from one place to another. This image is from a computer simulation of the spread of black soot (“black carbon” to climate scientists) over the Tibetan Plateau from August through November 2009. It shows black carbon aerosol optical thickness on September 26, 2009. (Aerosol optical thickness is scale that describes how much pollution was in the air based on how much of the incoming sunlight the particles absorbed.) Places where the air was thick with soot are white, while lower concentrations are transparent purple.

The highest concentrations of black soot are in the right-hand side of the image, over the densely populated coastal plain of China. But high concentrations occur over India, as well, and the black soot spreads across the southern arc of the Tibetan Plateau, which is defined by the towering peaks of the Himalaya Mountains. (Note: Topography has been exaggerated to highlight features that influence air movement). The animation shows how the black carbon pollution from India often circulates at high concentrations for several days against the base of the Himalaya, periodically “sloshing” over the rim of the mountains and spilling northward over the plateau, before being carried away over the Bay of Bengal or the Arabian Sea.

Writing about the implications of the study for the Goddard Institute for Space Studies Website, NASA climate scientist and study co-author James Hansen said, “[C]ontinued, ‘business-as-usual’ emissions of greenhouse gases and black soot will result in the loss of most Himalayan glaciers this century, with devastating effects on fresh water supplies in dry seasons. The black soot arises especially from diesel engines, coal use without effective scrubbers, and biomass burning, including cook stoves. Reduction of black soot via cleaner energies would have other benefits for human health and agricultural productivity. However, survival of the glaciers also requires halting global warming, which depends upon stabilizing and reducing greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide.”

NASA image by Gregory Shirah, Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio, based on model simulations from the Goddard Earth Observing System Model, Version 5 (GEOS-5). Caption by Rebecca Lindsey.


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