California drought

Notes from Understory: A Berkeley Biologist Gauges the Health of the Redwoods from the Ferns on the Forest Floor.

Emily Burns was driving north from the Bay Area one day, idly woolgathering, when it hit her.

“Western sword ferns,” she recalls thinking. “They’re twice as big in the northern end of their range as in the southern end. And it struck me that it had to be due to water availability. The fact that it’s wetter in Redwood National Park in Humboldt County than, say, Lime Kiln Creek on the Big Sur coast translates as larger ferns in the north. It all seems obvious now, but there was nothing in the literature on it.” Read more about Notes from Understory: A Berkeley Biologist Gauges the Health of the Redwoods from the Ferns on the Forest Floor. »

Flowing Consequences: Was Lifting Our Water Restrictions Really a Wise Move?

The decision by Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration to lift mandatory water restrictions is good news for any Californian who likes to raise petunias and zucchini and take showers lasting longer than three minutes. But is it really a good idea? After all, last winter’s greatly hyped and much-anticipated El Niño turned out to be something of a bust. Read more about Flowing Consequences: Was Lifting Our Water Restrictions Really a Wise Move? »

Heat Wave: Does State’s Slip into an Early Spring Mean El Niño Rains Are Almost Over?

All the recent sunshine and budding crocuses and gentle zephyrs may feel like the current El Niño is over, that we can bid adieu to the pounding rain, the surging rivers, the landslides, the Sierra blizzards, the stranded motorists on Donner Summit. Don’t bet on it. Read more about Heat Wave: Does State's Slip into an Early Spring Mean El Niño Rains Are Almost Over? »

All’s Well That Tends Wells? New State Law To Control Sucking Up of Water

The drought gets a lot of undeserved blame for California’s water crisis. Naturally, four dry years have exacerbated the problem, but the real culprit is the state’s Gold Rush–era water law, which has allowed landowners to sink wells that suck ever deeper and drier— unfettered by any accountability to their neighbors, their region, or the state. Historically low groundwater levels have resulted, spawning all kinds of Wild West drama. The Central Valley is sinking! A thousand Tulare County wells go dry! Read more about All's Well That Tends Wells? New State Law To Control Sucking Up of Water »

Is This El Niño Really Set to Bring Epic Precipitation? Be Careful What You Wish For…

With perhaps one of the most intense El Niño ever recorded simmering like a massive coddled egg off the coast, Californians are bracing for precipitation on an epic scale. More than that: They’re hoping for it. There is a general sense that even the rampaging floods that can result from a full-blown El Niño-driven winter would be tolerable as long as our reservoirs fill and aquifers recharge and we can get back to long showers and adequately watered hydrangeas. Read more about Is This El Niño Really Set to Bring Epic Precipitation? Be Careful What You Wish For... »

Fried to a Crisp: Why Some Experts Say We Must Burn the Trees to Save the Forests

The recent rains have blunted the psychological impact of California’s four-year drought, washing down the streets, perking up the landscaping, and heightening anticipation for a stormy El Nino-driven winter. We know, however, that one wet year is highly unlikely to end water shortages. What we may not fully grasp is that the damage done to the state’s forests is so far reaching that it may be permanent. Read more about Fried to a Crisp: Why Some Experts Say We Must Burn the Trees to Save the Forests »

Groundwater Zero: We’re Worried About the Drought. But Not as Worried as We Should Be.

The drought is worrisome, of course. In response to state demands for a 25 percent reduction in urban consumption, municipal water districts are enforcing strictures on usage. Homeowners have steeled themselves, however unwillingly, to withering lawns and wilting hydrangeas. Most people have seen the news reports about some kind of fish or another dying in the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta. And we’ve all heard that the cost of our baby salad greens is going to skyrocket, which can really bollix up menu plans for balanced and healthy meals. Read more about Groundwater Zero: We're Worried About the Drought. But Not as Worried as We Should Be. »

Saving the Sequoias: The Most Magisterial of Trees in California Face a Big Risk

Ronald Reagan was (in)famously unmoved by ancient forests, claiming that “when you’ve seen one redwood, you’ve seen them all.” But most of us still feel a frisson when we stroll among old-growth trees, particularly when they’re the biggest dang trees on the planet: Sequoiadendron giganteum, otherwise known as giant sequoias. (That’s biggest by volume, by the way. Coast redwoods, Sequoia sempervirens, may be taller but typically are more slender.) Read more about Saving the Sequoias: The Most Magisterial of Trees in California Face a Big Risk »

Greenhouse Growing: Climate Change is Wreaking Havoc on your Meal Table

Scientists say that in the next couple of decades, as temperatures heat up and greenhouse gas levels elevate, fruit and nut harvests will not only get smaller, but many of the grains, including wheat, and other ground crops we grow will lose some of their nutrients: protein, iron, and zinc. What that means is that nutrient-dense foods such as produce, nuts, and cereal will become less plentiful and more expensive, and the changes will alter our diets—for the worse. Read more about Greenhouse Growing: Climate Change is Wreaking Havoc on your Meal Table »

From the Fall 2014 Radicals issue of California.

Why is California Suffering a Record Outbreak of West Nile in Midst of Drought?

West Nile infections are spiking to record levels in California, making it the country’s hot spot for the virus. And that’s something of a conundrum, given the state’s drought. Logic would dictate that the dread mosquito-borne disease would fall off during dry periods. But mosquitoes don’t need much water to propagate, and indeed, some evidence suggests that the drought may be exacerbating the problem. Read more about Why is California Suffering a Record Outbreak of West Nile in Midst of Drought? »

No Joy in Mudville: Amid Drought, California’s Reservoirs are Clogged with Gunk

As the drought drags on and reservoir levels keep dropping, our politicians predictably are clamoring for new dams. But there may be a better and cheaper way to squeeze more water out of California’s desiccated watersheds: Clean out the gunk behind existing reservoirs. That’s because dams collect sediment from eroding watersheds along with water. Our reservoirs rapidly are filling up with silt, sand and rocks—and the more sediment, the less room there is to collect life-sustaining water. Read more about No Joy in Mudville: Amid Drought, California's Reservoirs are Clogged with Gunk »

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