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The dam truth: Climate change means more Lake Orovilles

Just two years ago, Lake Oroville was so dry that submerged archaeological artifacts were starting to resurface. That was in the middle of California’s epic drought — the worst in more than a millennium.

And then the rains came. This winter is on track to become Northern California’s soggiest on record. A key precipitation index is running more than a month ahead of the previous record pace, set in the winter of 1982–1983 (records go back to 1895). Lake Oroville is so full that it spilled over for the first time, spurring evacuations downstream.

California’s climate has always been extreme (even before humans got seriously involved), but what’s happening right now is just ridiculous. We are witnessing the effects of climate change play out, in real time.

California Department of Water Resources

Lake Oroville is as full as it has ever been, and remains vulnerable: We’re still in the peak of the rainy season, and more rain is on the way. On Tuesday and Wednesday, crews at the beleaguered dam worked around the clock to stabilize and reinforce the emergency spillway in anticipation of a fresh torrent of rainfall. But the scale of action — truck after truck of giant boulders dumping 1,200 tons of rock per hour — was small in comparison to the immense scale of erosion that has already taken place. There’s a real risk that the lake could spill over the top a second time.

And it’s not just Oroville. Major reservoirs ring the Central Valley, and nearly every one is full, or nearly so, as the Sacramento Bee reported earlier this week. Several levees statewide are seeping, and workers intentionally breached one along the Mokelumne River in Northern California over the weekend to relieve pressure. The levee system was simply not designed to be this stressed for extended periods of time.

Five successive waves of storms in the coming week could bring another foot of rainfall. The graphic below shows the amount of rain (and liquid-equivalent snow) on the way over the next seven days — enough to prompt renewed warnings from the National Weather Service.

NOAA/GFS model/Tropicaltidbits.com

Climate science and basic physics suggest we are already seeing a shift in the delicate rainfall patterns of the West Coast. A key to understanding how California’s rainy season is changing lies in understanding what meteorologists call “atmospheric rivers,” thin, intense ribbons of moisture that stream northeastward from the tropical Pacific Ocean and provide California with up to half of its annual rainfall. Exactly how atmospheric rivers will change depends on greenhouse gas emissions and science that’s still being worked out.

Atmospheric rivers are already responsible for roughly 80 percent of California’s flooding events — including the one at Lake Oroville — and there’s reason to believe they are changing in character. Since warmer air can hold more water vapor, atmospheric rivers in a warming climate are expected to become more intense, bringing perhaps a doubling or tripling in frequency of heavy downpours. What’s more, as temperatures increase, more moisture will fall as rain instead of snow, increasing the pressure on dams and waterways during the peak of the rainy season. There’s even new evidence that especially warm atmospheric rivers can erode away existing snowpack.

Peter Gleick, chief scientist of the Pacific Institute and frequent visitor to the Oroville area, is clear about what the drama at Oroville represents. “We’re seeing evidence of more extremes,” he says. “To ignore that would be a mistake.”

We’ve built dams based on old weather patterns, not for the extremes we’re now seeing. A clear problem emerges when we manage society for how things were, not how things are. In many ways, we are planning for the future with the expectation that the weather will be more or less the same as in the past. It won’t be.

The acting director of the California Department of Water Resources, Bill Croyle, made a telling statement earlier this week when asked why the infrastructure at Oroville seemed so fragile. “I’m not sure anything went wrong,” Croyle said. “This was a new, never-happened-before event.”

If we don’t start imagining and preparing for more “new, never-happened-before events,” more people will be put in danger — like they are right now in Oroville.

The near-disaster at Oroville has prompted another broad discussion about our country’s decrepit infrastructure, which arrives in the context of the Trump Administration’s plans to boost infrastructure spending.

But this is about more than just spending money to fix up our aging dams. The entirety of our country’s infrastructure needs to be reevaluated with the understanding that we have a unique opportunity to reimagine our shared future. If things are rapidly changing anyway, we might as well build a future consistent with our new weather reality.

At a place like Lake Oroville, that might mean leaving more space in the reservoir for flooding than has been done in the past. That wouldn’t be popular, because it would reduce the reservoir’s capacity, even as rising temperatures spur demand for more water. It may also mean increased resources for counseling services in coastal and riverine communities, as flooding events become more frequent and families consider whether to relocate. The state is already on a good start: Earlier this week, the California Department of Water Resources released a draft resolution for a comprehensive response to climate change, including dam operation.

After the current storms pass, California will still have two months left in its rainy season. It seems likely that 2016–2017 will become the wettest rainy season in state history. That means the danger at Lake Oroville won’t completely pass until this summer.

“They’re going to have to run the main spillway all spring in order to prevent additional flooding,” Gleick said. “I think people are going to be a little nervous for the next few months.”

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The dam truth: Climate change means more Lake Orovilles

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Donald Trump Is Turning His Mar-a-Lago Estate Into a National Security Nightmare

Mother Jones

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President Donald Trump was reportedly alerted to the news of North Korea’s missile firing on Saturday, while dining with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Mar-a-Lago, the exclusive club owned by Trump that the administration has dubbed the “Winter White House.”

As the two leaders learned of the unfolding international crisis, so, too, did the private citizens and resort members who happened to be dining alongside them. Quick to realize he was witnessing something unusual and highly shareable, club member Richard DeAgazio swiftly took out his camera phone to capture the incident and post the resulting photos to Facebook:

Hours before, DeAgazio also posted photos of himself posing with a man he described as carrying the “nuclear football” that enables the president to launch a nuclear attack from afar. He has since deactivated his Facebook account.

But DeAgazio isn’t alone in turning Mar-a-Lago’s social-media tag into a bizarre window into the American presidency. Here are some other snapshots from this past weekend alone, including one of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn jogging with some Secret Service agents.

The social-media postings have sparked widespread alarm over the extraordinary security risks Trump poses by governing from his Palm Beach estate, where hundreds of members and staff who lack proper security clearances are free to roam while high-level meetings and even international crises take place.

“There’s no excuse for letting an international crisis play out in front of a bunch of country club members like dinner theater,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) fired off in a tweet on Monday.

With Trump scheduled to ditch the White House for Florida for the third time since his inauguration this coming weekend, there are likely to be future photos offering regular Americans, who can’t shell out the recently doubled $200,000 membership fee, more glimpses of the luxe and occasionally top-secret life at Mar-a-Lago.


Donald Trump Is Turning His Mar-a-Lago Estate Into a National Security Nightmare

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Here’s the Hell Trump’s Order Created for Refugees Overseas

Mother Jones

For thousands of US-bound refugees worldwide, President Donald Trump’s so-called “Muslim ban” has thrown their future into question. Now that refugees are not allowed to come to the United States for 120 days—and Syrian refugees are barred indefinitely—resettlement workers are scrambling to figure out what will happen to these people fleeing war, persecution, and disaster in their home countries.

Trump’s executive order affects both refugees in the middle of the screening process and those already approved for resettlement in the United States, according to Sarah Krause, senior director of immigration and refugee programs for Church World Service, which operates one of the nine global resettlement support centers for US-bound refugees. “For someone to get referral to the US refugee admissions program is a feat,” says Krause, whose organization helped with the resettlement of more than 14,000 people from sub-Saharan Africa to the United States last year. “For them to have made it through the process and been approved is even more incredible. That they have gone through all of that and we are now shutting the door on them is unconscionable.”

In addition to its temporary freeze on resettlement, the order caps total incoming refugees for the 2017 fiscal year at 50,000 people—less than half of what the Obama administration had planned. Nearly 26,000 have already been resettled. For the 872 refugees already set to travel to the United States this week—not including those from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen—the government has granted a temporary grace period. Those refugees will be allowed to enter the country until Friday. For those scheduled to enter the United States after Friday, their flights have been canceled.

Here’s what Krause sees as the most pressing issues facing the refugees left behind by Trump’s order:

People have been left without housing or their possessions. “These are individuals who, in many cases, have already sold their belongings in order to have some money upon entering to the United States,” Krause says. “Many of them knew their final destination—the cities to which they would be resettled. In Kenya, refugees coming from the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps are brought into Nairobi prior to their departure for the United States. There they stay at the International Organization for Migration transfer center, where they receive predeparture medical screenings as well as cultural orientation, where they learn about life in the United States. Currently, there are over 120 refugees in the IOM transfer center who were expecting to board flights this week and who are now being told they will be sent back to the camp. For those refugees, they have already given up their shelters to new refugee arrivals, and sold their belongings. Their future is very uncertain.”

Refugees already approved for US entry may need to restart parts of the resettlement process—a delay of months or years. “Their cases remain in processing,” she says. “Some of their clearances will expire during this 120-day period and will need to be re-requested. There are checks that are requested by the resettlement support centers: security opinions, interagency checks, as well as fingerprints. It is a challenge to line all those clearances up, which means the window for departure is very small. Once that window closes, it’s difficult to open again.”

Refugees from the seven banned countries were left stranded. “For those that had already been booked for travel, their flights have been canceled,” Krause says. “Processing has essentially halted. They are not in their home country, they’re in countries of asylum, and the conditions in those countries are often very difficult. Some refugees make it to urban centers but live on very little and are not permitted by the countries in which they’re residing to work. Others are living in camps with hundreds of thousands of other people. Our Somali refugees—most of them have been in exile since 1990. You have generations of Somalis that have never been to Somalia.”

Officials are trying to prioritize refugees in particularly dangerous circumstances. The executive order allows for some refugees to be admitted on a case-by-case basis, Krause says. “We’re working with the Department of State to compile a list of the most vulnerable cases, although at this point the process for seeking exemptions is not yet clear. This is a life-saving program, and a delay of even a day for some cases could mean death in a case of extreme medical need or protection issues. There are some who are being moved from safe house to safe house by UNHCR because they are being hunted by their persecutors. I know of a gay Somali man who is currently in a safe house and who has been attacked. He is one of those cases in our pipeline.”

But for others, there’s little hope of finding another home now that the United States has shut its doors. “For those for whom we don’t believe exemptions can be sought, or it may take too long, we will look at pulling those cases out and giving them back to UNHCR for referral to another resettlement country. While the US accepts less than 1 percent of the world’s refugee population, we take more than any other. So it is unlikely that any other countries will have the capacity to take those that we cannot. And other countries have their own processes. That will take time.”

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Here’s the Hell Trump’s Order Created for Refugees Overseas

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This Bumble Bee was Just Added to the Endangered Species List

Mother Jones

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Earlier this week, the rusty patched bumblebee became the first bee in the continental United States to be added to the endangered species list. The designation was one of the Obama Administration’s last environmental moves.

There’s good reason this bee is now on the list: Its population has plummeted by 87 percent since the 1990s. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, the bee once inhabited two provinces of Canada as well as 28 states, and Washington DC. Today it’s found in only two of its original habitats.

Greg Hottman/Flickr

The combination of disease, climate change, and loss of habitat have contributed to the species’ decline. But perhaps the greatest threat to this and other bees is neonicotinoids, a type of insecticide that’s commonly used on farm crops, pets, and gardens. (My colleague Tom Philpott has written extensively on the subject.) Bumblebees are thought to be even more susceptible to pesticides than honey bees are.

Sadly, many other organisms rely on this species to reproduce: The rusty patched bumble is a pollinator for various plants, including peppers, cranberries, and tomatoes.

Though the insect is the first bee in the continental United States to be placed on the list, seven yellow-faced bees, found in Hawaii, were put on the endangered species list in September of last year.

While the rusty patched bumble bee enjoys more protection under the Endangered Species Act, please enjoy these photos of the fuzzy creatures.

Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry/Flickr

Smithsonian’s National Zoo

Dan Mullen/Flickr

USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab/Flickr

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This Bumble Bee was Just Added to the Endangered Species List

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The Kochs launch campaign to convince black people that dirty fuel is good for them.

The European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service has announced that 2016 will be the warmest year in recorded history — by a lot.

The Arctic had an especially warm year, and experienced the sharpest rise in temperatures, while Africa and Asia also felt unusually high temps. Globally, surface temperatures climbed to an average 58.6 degrees F, 2.3 degrees F higher than before the Industrial Revolution, when humans got serious about burning fossil fuels.

The warming temps continue a well-established trend: Last year was also the hottest year on record at the time, and 2014 was the hottest year on record before that. In fact, 10 of the hottest years on record have occurred since 1998.

This warming trend has name — it’s called climate change, if you weren’t aware — and these rapidly accelerating temperatures come with severe consequences, including worsening storms, wildfires, droughts, and other extreme weather events. And climate change isn’t just scary — it’s expensive.

Despite all the evidence, the incoming president and much of the GOP-controlled Congress either ignore climate change or thinks it’s a giant ruse created by Al Gore. As for how they explain another hottest year of record — well, maybe it’s the just heat from the burning dumpster fire that was 2016.

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The Kochs launch campaign to convince black people that dirty fuel is good for them.

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