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Category Archives: Salton
READ GREEN WITH E-BOOKS
Genre: Earth Sciences
Publish Date: February 4, 2014
Publisher: Pegasus Books
Seller: OpenRoad Integrated Media, LLC
A geologist explores the fault line that threatens disaster for millions in this “must-read for earthquake buffs—and West Coast residents” ( Library Journal ). It’s a geological structure that spans almost the entire length of California. Dozens of major highways and interstates cross it. Scores of housing developments have been built over it. And its name has become so familiar that it’s now synonymous with the very concept of an earthquake. Yet, to many of those who are affected by it, the San Andreas Fault is practically invisible and shrouded in mystery. For decades, scientists have warned that the fault is primed for a colossal quake. According to geophysicist John Dvorak, such a sudden shift of the Earth’s crust is inevitable—and may be a geologic necessity. In Earthquake Storms , Dvorak explains the science behind the San Andreas Fault, a transient, evolving system that’s key to our understanding of worldwide seismic activity. He traces it from the redwood forests to the east edge of the Salton Sea, through two of the largest urban areas of the country: San Francisco and Los Angeles. Its network of subsidiary faults runs through Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and Santa Monica, and the Hayward Fault slices the football stadium at the University of California in half. As he warns of peril, Dvorak lays out the worst-case scenario, which he believes is coming: an awakening of the fault leading to years of volatile “earthquake storms.” Hailed by Booklist as “a fascinating look at what could be in store,” Dvorak’s comprehensive and accessible study will change the way you see the ground beneath your feet. “A massive earthquake is overdue at the southern end of the San Andreas Fault. Conditions are right for the Big One to hit a 100-mile segment of the fault that would be felt from San Diego to Los Angeles. But the problem is being able to pinpoint when the quake may strike . . .” —NPR Dr. John Dvorak, PhD, worked on volcanoes and earthquakes for the US Geological Survey, first at Mount St. Helens, then as a series of assignments in California, Hawaii, Italy, Indonesia, Central America, and Alaska. He has written cover stories for Scientific American , Physics Today, and Astronomy magazines, as well as a series of essays about earthquakes and volcanoes for American Scientist . Dvorak has taught at the University of Hawaii and lectured at UCLA, Washington University in St. Louis, the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, among others.
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California’s drought-plagued Central Valley hogs the headlines, but two-thirds of your winter vegetables come from a different part of the state. Occupying a land mass a mere eighth the size of metro Los Angeles, the Imperial Valley churns out about two-thirds of the vegetables eaten by Americans during the winter. Major crops include broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, and, most famously, lettuce and salad mix.
And those aren’t even the region’s biggest moneymakers. Nestled in the state’s southeastern corner, the Imperial Valley also produces massive amounts of alfalfa, a cattle feed, and its teeming feedlots finish some 350,000 beef cows per year.
In terms of native aquatic resources, the Imperial makes the Central Valley look like Waterworld. At least the Central Valley is bound by mountain ranges to the east that, in good years (not the last several), deliver abundant snowmelt for irrigation. The Imperial sits in the middle of the blazing-hot Sonoran Dessert, with no water-trapping mountains anywhere nearby. It receives a whopping 3 inches of precipitation per year on average; even the more arid half of the Central Valley gets 15 inches.
The sole source of water in the Imperial Valley is the Colorado River, which originates hundreds of miles northeast, in the snowy peaks of the Rocky Mountains. As it winds down from its source in the snow-capped peaks of northern Colorado down to Mexico, it delivers a total of 16.5 million acre-feet of water to the farmers and 40 million consumers in seven US states and northern Mexico who rely on it. (An acre-foot is the amount it takes to flood an acre of land with 12 inches of water—about 326,000 gallons.)
Of that total, the Imperial Valley’s farms gets 3.1 million acre-feet annually—more than half of California’s total allotment and more than any other state draws from the river besides Colorado. It’s an amount of water equivalent to more than four times what Los Angeles uses in a year, according to figures from the Pacific Institute.
The Colorado Rivers waters are so in demand that they rarely reach their endpoint in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez. Map: Shannon/Wikimedia Commons
Because it owns senior water rights based on a 1931 pact, the Imperial gets its allotments during low-flow years even when other regions see reductions. Currently, the Rocky Mountain snowpack that feeds the Colorado stands at about 44 percent of its average for this time of year, triggering fears of an impending shortfall—but not for the Imperial. “Nevada, southern Arizona and Mexico will be cut back before the Imperial district loses a drop,” The Los Angeles Times recently reported. Whereas Central Valley farmers, reliant on vanishing snowmelt from the Sierras, have seen their irrigation allotments curtailed the last two years, growers in the Imperial Valley haven’t lost any water (though the Imperial Valley District did agree to sell as much as 0.2 million acre-feet of water by 2021, of its 3.1 million acre-foot allotment, to fast-growing San Diego in a 2003 deal).
Already, decades of intensive desert farming have had severe ecological effects, epitomized by that beleaguered inland body of water known as the Salton Sea, which sits uneasily at the Imperial’s northern edge. Before the big irrigation projects that made the valley bloom, what’s now the Salton periodically captured flood waters from the then-mighty Colorado River. Now it’s fed solely from Imperial Valley farm runoff, and as Dana Goodyear shows in a superb recent New Yorker piece, it’s slowly decaying into a toxic mess—one that could “emit as much as a hundred tons of fine, caustic dust a day, leading to respiratory illness in the healthy and representing an acute hazard for people with compromised immune systems.”
Meanwhile, the Colorado’s flow has proven inadequate to supply the broader region’s needs. In a paper last year (my account of it here), University of California-Irvine and NASA researchers found that farmers, landowners, and municipalities are supplementing their river allocations by drawing water from underground aquifers at a much faster rate than had been known. Between December 2004 and November 2013, the Colorado Basin lost almost 53 million acre-feet of underground water, an enormous fossil resource siphoned away in less than a decade.
A desert in bloom: the Imperial Valley as seen from space, from a photo taken by NASA astronauts in 2002. Photo: NASA
Consider also that the Southwest’s population is on pace to expand by a third by 2030—and that the river’s annual average flow is expected to decrease by anywhere from 5 percent to 18 percent by 2050, compared to 20th century averages, according to the National Climate Assessment, throttled by rising temperatures and declining precipitation.
Thus the Imperial’s 2.6 million acre-foot allotment of water is looking increasingly vulnerable to challenge. Just as we probably need to get used to sourcing more of our summer fruits and vegetables from places beyond California’s Central and Salinas valleys, the Colorado River situation makes me wonder if we shouldn’t rethink those bountiful supermarket produce aisles in February, as well.
Read this article:
Feds predict end times for Colorado River water
Add another item to the list of things in peril due to climate change: the entire American West.
According to a new study from the federal Bureau of Reclamation, the Colorado River won’t fare well over the next 50 years. Climate change, drought, and population growth all add up to far greater demand for water than the river will be able to supply by 2060.
A large portion of the American West, especially its cities, rely on the Colorado. Almost 40 million residents of Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming depend entirely on the river’s water.
“This study should serve as a call to action,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. But some of the possible actions outlined in the report are, well, nuts. From the Los Angeles Times:
The analysis lists a range of proposed solutions, including some that Interior officials immediately dismissed as politically or technically infeasible. Among them: building a pipeline to import water from the Missouri or Mississippi rivers and towing icebergs to Southern California.
But Salazar said a host of practical steps could be pursued, including desalination of seawater and brackish water, recycling and conservation by both the agricultural and urban sectors.
For states draining the Colorado’s Upper Basin — Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico — there is a less insane option, according to National Geographic.
The Bureau of Reclamation study also highlights an opportunity to help water users in the Upper Basin (WY, CO, NM and UT) save water for use in extended droughts while at the same time improving conditions essential to the $26 billion river recreation industry. An Upper Basin water bank is the kind of modern river management that can ensure prosperous farms and ranches, thriving cities, and healthy river flows.
At risk of stating the obvious, predicting the future is hard! Even for the federal government. Some critics said the report overestimates population growth in unsustainable desert towns like Phoenix and Las Vegas that have seen recent real estate and population collapses. From the L.A. Times:
“Some of these demand projections are absurd,” said Michael Cohen, who is based in Colorado and is a senior associate with the Pacific Institute, an Oakland think tank.
He was nonetheless encouraged by the report’s discussion of the potential for conservation by cities and farms. “Those kinds of options are already in practice in the basin and they are cheaper and faster” than building major infrastructure projects such as desalination plants, he said.
Agriculture uses most of the developed water supplies in the West and the future is bound to bring more transfers of water from farms to cities, Cohen said. But that could be largely accomplished by selling the water that is conserved through more efficient irrigation practices rather than by retiring farmland, he said. “There’s a lot of waste in the system in the ag end and the urban end.”
The river’s main allocation goes to California’s Imperial Irrigation District, a chunk of desert and farmland in central southern California. Right now the water barely maintains the area’s toxic Salton Sea, keeping it from drying up and becoming an airborne mass of sand and botulism. Which, yay! But the water will soon be diverted to San Diego, away from the Salton and the area’s agriculture (mainly citrus and dates).
The transfers have been controversial in the district, and Kevin Kelley, the agency’s general manager, warned that carrying out such agreements can be tougher than planning them.
He also worried that his district would come under pressure to make more transfers. “We don’t want to get into a zero-sum game in which one category of user wins and another, chiefly agriculture, has to lose,” he said.
With California agriculture and 40 million people relying on the Colorado, this insatiable demand for water won’t dry up overnight. But there are some changes we can make on the road toward 2060. Might I humbly suggest we start first with dismantling the Palm Springs golf courses?
Susie Cagle writes and draws news for Grist. She also writes and draws tweets for
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