Phenomenal post-World War II growth and prosperity was made possible by Lake Mead and upstream sister projects, the Glen Canyon Dam impounding Lake Powell being the most prominent. Cheap electricity and plentiful water for drinking, lawns, and agriculture delivered on the promise of those turn-of-the- century dreamers, plus the recreational benefits of the lakes. Crops that couldn’t have been grown without that irrigation water flourished, and cities like Phoenix and Los Angeles swelled and sprawled with newcomers.
There were, of course, critics. Like the Indigenous tribes who weren’t consulted when the compact was drawn up and rarely since, and authors like environmentalists Edward Abbey and Marc Reisner. In 1986, Reisner wrote Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water. The development sparked by Lake Mead and Lake Powell and other reservoirs throughout the West, he concluded, had harmed the environment and water quality. A day of reckoning would come, he said, 37 years before EDF’s Moran announced it.
Last summer, after 23 years of drought and overuse because of population growth, Lake Mead fell to 1,047 feet (above average sea level), something it had not seen since 1937. The reservoir and its younger sister at Lake Powell have dwindled to less than one-third of their capacity. Until relatively recently, the plunge has been the concern of relatively few people—some farmers, state and local water managers, and the members of the Colorado River basin state commissions.
The allocation of the river was calculated a century ago on a flow of 17.5 million acre-feet a year. But scientists later determined the average was 15 million acre-feet a year. Starting in 2000, that average fell to 12 million acre-feet a year. In the past three years, it’s estimated the flow has fallen to only 10 million acre-feet a year.
The precipitous drop also presents a serious engineering concern. If the water elevation falls below 1,025 feet, outflow channels will no long be able to feed the 17 hydroelectric turbines at Hoover Dam. The eight turbines at Glen Canyon Dam face a similar problem. Up until recently, the Hoover Dam turbines provided enough electricity for 1.3 million homes. Power cuts have already dropped that to 675,000 homes.
In 2019, the Colorado River Basin states finally agreed to voluntary cuts in their water allocations. But last year, as ever more of the myriad boat ramps on Lake Mead and Lake Powell became useless, and once-drowned paleo-Indian rock art, artifacts, boats, bodies, and even a town were exposed as water levels fell, negotiations over how much of its assigned allocation each state would receive in the coming year failed to produce agreement by the August deadline.
Six states did come up with a plan. But, as Jake Bittle at Grist wrote this week:
On Monday, six out of the seven states that rely on the Colorado announced their support for steep emergency cuts totaling more than 2 million acre-feet of water, or roughly a quarter of annual usage from the river. The multi-state agreement, prodded into existence by the Biden administration’s threats to impose its own cuts, will likely serve as a blueprint for the federal government as it manages the river over the next four years, ushering in a new era of conservation in the drought-wracked Southwest. While the exact consequences of these massive cuts are still largely uncertain, they will almost certainly spell disaster for water-intensive agriculture operations and new residential development in the region’s booming cities.
But California, which takes more water than any other state, has rejected the proposal as too onerous, instead proposing its own plan with a less stringent scheme for cutting water usage. If the federal government does adopt the six-state framework, powerful farmers in California’s Imperial Valley may sue to stop it, setting up a legal showdown that could derail the Biden administration’s drought response efforts.
Under the six-state proposal, about 2 million acre-feet would be cut from annual allocations. California, which currently gets the largest share of the annual allocations—4.4-million-acre-feet—would lose 32% of that, 1.4 million acre-feet. Arizona would lose 45% of its 2.8-million-acre-foot allocation, and Nevada 22% of its 300,000-acre-foot allocation. Under its separate proposal, California would give up 400,000 acre-feet annually, or just 9% of its allocation, Arizona would give up 560,000 acre-feet, and Nevada would give up 40,000 acre-feet.
Throughout its proposal, California reiterates that the “Law of the River” applies. "Our state’s proposed alternative makes a constructive effort to uphold the Law of the River while making substantial efforts to protect the Colorado River system with voluntary reductions far beyond California’s legal obligations," wrote J.B.Hamby, the chairman of the Colorado River Commission for California, in a Jan. 31 letter to the Department of Interior and Bureau of Reclamation.
The "Law of the River" applies to the laws and regulations governing water usage in the absence of a compact agreement. Under the law, backed by Supreme Court rulings, entities with senior "water rights” take precedence over those with junior rights. In times of surplus no problem. In times of shortage, those with senior rights are legally entitled to take the full extent of the water they have rights to while holders of junior rights must give up some or all of theirs. Most of California’s water rights are senior to Arizona’s and Nevada’s.
It should not go unmentioned that a century after the creation of the river compact without consultation with the three dozen Indigenous tribes in the Colorado River Basin, those Natives remain deprived of access to water that is supposedly theirs, according to the Supreme Court. Just as they were left out in 1922, they were once again left out of the 2022 talks as the state commissioners drafted proposals to cut water allocations.
In a statement Thursday, Mitch Jones, managing director for policy and litigation at Food & Water Watch, said, "In this moment of crisis on the Colorado River, we must start from scratch and fundamentally rethink the allocation and use of these water resources. This effort would be pointless without confronting head-on the key drivers of the crisis: the overuse and abuse of water by big agribusiness and fossil fuel corporations—the very same industries driving climate chaos in the first place."
He added, "The Biden administration and governors of the seven compact states must muster the political will to stop the expansion of water-intensive crops like tree nuts and alfalfa, factory farms, fracking, and fossil fuel extraction. They must halt these practices and chart a course to a more sustainable and resilient future, one that aligns with the reality of climate change and our precarious water future."
Officials at the Bureau of Reclamation say they will consider the merits of the California and six-state-consensus proposals. But even the latter comes in at the lower end of the 2–4 million acre-feet the bureau said in May must be cut. Given what scientists say is intensifying aridity in the region, prospects are good that even an annual cut of 4 million acre-feet might not be enough to bring demand for Colorado River water into alignment with what soon may be available. A reckoning is no longer a distant possibility.
Glen Canyon revealed: What comes next for Lake Powell? By Craig Childs
Conservation official says Colorado River reservoirs could run dry in as few as three years. By Meteor Blades
History emerges as Lake Mead recedes. By Jennifer Yachnin
Lake Mead and Lake Powell are emptying fast. The solution: The Trans-Rocky-Mountain Aqueduct. Expensive, but very doable. By Len Bilén
Indians 101: Boulder Dam and the Navajo Reservation. By Ojibwa
We are running out of fresh water, and the world's governments know it. By Pakalolo
WEEKLY GREEN VIDEO
It says something that one of the funniest serious videos on YouTube is about the climate crisis.
A new report from Energy Innovation (EI) has determined that solar and wind facilities are cheaper to build and operate than all but one existing coal plant in the United States. While solar and wind were already cheaper in 70% of cases previously, the Inflation Reduction Act expanded clean energy tax credits, and that has shifted the economic scale even more favorably to wind and solar. But, the EI report notes, “it also creates thoughtful new investment opportunities in areas burdened by existing coal plants with a 10 percent tax credit boost for clean energy projects located in nearby communities,” including areas with retired coal plants.
The researchers scrutinized the operating and fuel costs of 210 U.S. coal plants, including future maintenance expenditures. These results were then compared to the costs of installing and operating new wind and solar projects. In all but one case, the renewable project required less cash. That standout is Dry Fork Station, a highly efficient, 405-megawatt coal-fired power plant outside of Gillette in northeast Wyoming that came on line in 2011. But even it is barely ahead of solar and wind on operating costs.
Said Michelle Solomon, an EI policy analyst and co-author of the report, “The trends of coal getting more expensive, and renewables continuing to get cheaper, has definitely continued, but the IRA is, for sure, the big, big shift here.”
The results don’t mean those coal plants are losing money. And replacing all of them requires billions of investment dollars. But customers would save billions of dollars if power plant owners substituted coal with wind and solar power. “We can’t just snap our fingers and retire all coal plants, but we need to accelerate the buildout of wind and solar so that when the time comes we can wean ourselves off coal,” said Solomon.
Paul Gordon at the terrific Civil Eats website writes:
The steel mills on the Southeast side of Chicago were once an economic engine that allowed workers to put food on the table for their families. But that financial security came at a cost. In its wake, the industry has left asthmatic children, brownfields, and slag-filled marshes.
In the face of those environmental injustices, Chicago’s Southeast side community has come together to create green spaces that educate and feed residents and serve as meeting points. With the help of organizations like Advocates for Urban Agriculture (AUA), community-focused environmental nonprofits like Urban Growers Collective (UGC) are spearheading efforts to make green spaces more just and equitable in areas that have been historically divested by the city—and reverse the harm that has been done to the land and its residents.
UGC runs the South Chicago Farm, an urban farm in the Southeast that offers farm-fresh food while engaging the community and teaching farm skills. A mile short of the Indiana border and across the street from Steelworkers Park (formerly part of the U.S. Steel Complex), the farm sits within Clara Schaffer Park, which opened in 2015 as a 14-acre public space.
Environmental advocates are split on whether expanding nuclear power or even maintaining existing nuclear power plants should be part of addressing the climate crisis. The Biden administration has made clear it favors a build-out of new nuclear technology, having included a 50% increase in the Department of Energy’s nuclear office and an additional $6 billion to keep existing reactors from shutting down. $100 million is being proposed for research and development of small nuclear reactors (SMRs), small in that these are designed with capacities of 50-300 megawatts instead of the 1,000-megawatt or more capacity of most of the 93 reactors now operating in the United States. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has approved an SMR design by NuScale.
However, the first announced SMR in North America will be built in Darlington, Ontario, Canada. The partnership planning to build the BWRX-300 consists of GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, Ontario Power Generation, SNC-Lavalin and Aecon Group. An advantage of the BWRX-300 is that it is designed to keep construction and operating costs below other nuclear power generation technologies. Six months ago, the Tennessee Valley Authority began planning and preliminary licensing for possible deployment of a BWRX-300 at the Clinch River Site near Oak Ridge, Tenn. TVA is collaborating with OPG to advance SMR technology, and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission are working to license the two projects, according to GEH.
The plan is to have the Canadian SMR up and running by the end of 2028. Given that this is the first commercial SMR. As with many first-out-of-the-box projects, that deadline is optimistic. The only nuclear reactors currently being built in the United States are the two Westinghouse AP1000s at the Vogtle Nuclear Plant in Georgia. These reactors, each with a capacity of 1,100 megawatts, were supposed to come on line in 2016 and 2017 and cost a total of $14 billion. The latest claim is that the first of them will switch on next month and the other later this year. The estimated cost has now reached $30 billion. Two less than half-finished AP1000s—V.C. Summer in South Carolina—were shuttered over cost overruns in 2017. China, on the other hand, has built four AP1000s that are now connected to the nation’s grid.
Critics say SMRs are not economically feasible without government subsidies and that solar and wind farms cannot only be installed much faster, they also are cheaper. GE-Hitachi asserts that it can build its reactor with levelized cost of electricity of about $60 per megawatt-hour. Utility-scale solar combined with storage now pencils in at $45/MWh, wind power at $30/MWh; and stand-alone utility-scale solar at $32/MWh, according to the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.
GREEN RESOURCES & action
ClearPath Infrastructure Tracker. CPIT is tracking the implementation of the Energy Act of 2020 and the energy programs of the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), both of which are committing billions of dollars to research, develop, and demonstrate pre-commercial energy technologies. In its interactive dashboards, ClearPath has compiled data from the Federal Register, USASpending.gov, and various other departmental websites to visualize the progress the Biden administration is making to implement these congressional directives. The “Implementation Dashboard” focuses on the steps taken by the Department of Energy to develop funding opportunities and implement these programs. This view offers a real-time look at how and where these appropriations will be deployed based on department announcements and congressional deadlines. The “Spending Dashboard” zooms in on where dollars have already been awarded. This view is updated monthly with a three-month lag based on data from USASpending.gov.
How to see and help tiny blue butterflies in L.A. Within the southern two-thirds of the LAX Dunes, a 307-acre habitat between the Los Angeles airport and the Pacific Ocean, lies a preserve, home to the largest population of the endangered El Segundo blue butterfly. These thumbnail-sized insects, along with another endangered local species—the Palos Verdes blue butterfly—are rare to see. One way to do so without causing more harm, is by putting in some legwork by volunteering at the preserve.
To get inside restricted areas, you can join volunteer events with the Bay Foundation. Other organizations like Friends of Ballona Wetlands and the Palos Verdes conservancy also have regular volunteer opportunities, where you can help restore habitats and potentially see the butterflies. “Folks that enjoy a morning with us can come back over time and are often able to actually witness the changes that their actions are contributing to,” says Tom Ford, CEO of the Bay Foundation. You can also take a guided nature walk where a trained expert can help you spot the butterflies. The Palos Verdes conservancy, for example, provides a guided nature walk on the first Saturday of every month.
Friends of Ballona Wetlands also holds an annual viewing event of the El Segundo blue, typically the last week of June or the first week of July. The details are available only via the organization’s email list.
A National Coalition Has a Plan for How Biden Can Make Major Conservation Progress in the Next Two Years. We’re excited to announce the launch of the America the Beautiful for All Coalition's policy agenda to ensure we meet President Biden’s goal of protecting 30% of U.S. lands, waters, and ocean by 2030. The group consists of 150 organizations working to ensure that we conserve a network of lands and waters, which will give us the best chance of curbing climate change's worst effects. This is the largest and most diverse coalition ever assembled for the most ambitious conservation goal ever set in the United States. Among specifics the coalition seeks is passage of a 2023 farm bill that invests in the conservation of key habitats, support for marine protected areas, a phase-out offshore drilling, and more.
In wake of ‘natural’ disasters, not reducing biodiversity loss is a big missed opportunity. By Roger S. Pulwarty at Mongabay. Floods, heatwaves, droughts, and wildfires—a changing climate is bringing with it ever more frequent and destructive so-called “natural” disasters, often impacting the most vulnerable areas and communities of the world. Amid these rising impacts, the role of nature is too often framed as “creating” such events. Yet, as both science and traditional knowledge attest, nature is not only our best defense against climate-related hazards, it is also a bountiful source of benefits and advantages for reducing and managing risks—but only if we repay it with nature-positive actions.
Don’t Just Cut Defense Spending. Convert the Defense Industry Into a Green Powerhouse. Arms manufacturers already produce electric vehicle components. Defense cuts could be paired with a transition plan to power a climate-friendly economy. By Indigo Olivier at The New Republic. Experts and activists have stressed the importance of cutting the defense budget to reduce the military’s carbon footprint and free up resources for initiatives like the Green New Deal. Less attention has been afforded to the millions of workers who make up the Pentagon’s supply chains. If the defense budget does get slashed, the reduction in arms manufacturing will displace these workers. Given the military’s position as both the world’s largest employer and its largest institutional emitter of greenhouse gases, a just transition should prioritize helping defense workers, who represent some of the nation’s top engineers, find green jobs as well. The new Costs of War report released last week, authored by Miriam Pemberton, suggests reorienting the defense economy to civilian production to fight climate change.
Protest isn't terrorism. By Bill McKibben at his Crucial Years substack. What is clear is that officials—in Georgia, but also around the country—have been steadily raising the stakes, demonizing and cracking down on environmental protesters. Governor Brian Kemp, who backs the Cop City project, began referring to the protesters as “terrorists” last year, and in December, after a raid on the encampment, six protesters were charged with “domestic terrorism.” This followed the 2021 protests over the Line 3 pipeline across Minnesota, when the pipeline company provided millions of dollars in funding to local police forces, who proceeded to use to harass, intimidate, and attack activists. It was strange to be there and sense the collaboration between private enterprise and supposedly public government stretching to new lows: the power to jail or to kill is so awesome and immense that it should never overlap with the demands of corporations. But of course it often does—pretty much all those 227 land defenders killed around the planet had run afoul of someone out to make a buck. And now, across America, laws are being rewritten, often at the behest of corporate lobbyists, to make dissent and protest much more difficult.
Climate Homicide: Prosecuting Big Oil For Climate Deaths. By David Arkush and Donald Braman at SSRN. Today, the climate change that [fossil fuel companies] forecast has already killed thousands of people in the United States, and it is expected to become increasingly lethal for the foreseeable future. Given the extreme lethality of the conduct and the awareness of the catastrophic risk on the part of fossil fuel companies, should they be charged with homicide? Could they be convicted? In answering these questions, this article makes several contributions to our understanding of criminal law and the role it could play in combating crimes committed at a massive scale. It describes the doctrinal and social predicates of homicide prosecutions where corporate conduct endangers much or all of the public. It also identifies important advantages of homicide prosecutions relative to civil and regulatory remedies, and it details how and why prosecution for homicide may be the most effective legal remedy available in cases like this. Finally, it argues that, if our criminal legal system cannot focus more intently on climate crimes—and soon—we may leave future generations with significantly less for the law to protect.
Shell’s lack of ambition is maddening: it’s time to speed up transition to renewables. By Nils Pratley at The Guardian. The chief executive has changed at Shell but the song remains the same. The energy transition will be “balanced” and “we intend to remain disciplined while delivering compelling shareholder returns,” declared Wael Sawan. Translation: the company will not use the sudden arrival of spectacular financial riches to boost spending on renewables. Being “disciplined” is, of course, an admirable ambition when presented starkly and without context. No chief executive of any company is ever likely to tell investors that the plan is to take wild punts on projects with little prospect of a decent return. But there is a world of nuance between the extremes. The infuriating thing about Shell, after a year in which profits reached almost $40 billion, is the refusal to contemplate even a modest course-correction in favor of a faster energy transition. Distributions to shareholders via dividends and buy-backs were cranked up to $26 billion last year, but spending on the renewables and energy solutions division was just $3.5 billion within the overall capital expenditure outlay of $24.8 billion
“It’s times to be clear about this misconception that environmental issues are incompatible with civil rights issues. Environmental issues are civil rights issues.”—Lisa Jackson, Environmental Protection Agency chief in 2009
HALF A DOZEN OTHER THINGS TO READ (OR LISTEN TO)
BEAR MINIMUM: A Biologist Fought to Remove Grizzlies From the Endangered Species List — Until Montana Republicans Changed His Mind. By Rick Devereaux at The Intercept. In the past two years, biologist Chris Servheen has watched as a right-wing takeover in state politics has radically reshaped Montana’s relationship to wildlife policy, particularly in the cases of protected predators that some Westerners see as living symbols of federal overreach. The first wave of the assault targeted wolves. During Montana’s last legislative session, in 2021, Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte—with the help of handpicked wildlife commissioners representing trophy hunting, outfitting, and livestock industries—signed bills to deregulate wolf-hunting techniques. The state also did away with hunting quotas on the northern border of Yellowstone National Park, leading to the deadliest winter the park’s biologists have ever recorded, with roughly a fifth of Yellowstone’s wolves killed in a matter of months. With a new legislative session now underway, Servheen—who also serves as co-chair of the North American Bears Expert Team for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature—and other veteran wildlife biologists across Montana are profoundly concerned that Republican lawmakers are angling to apply the same regressive approach on grizzly bears.
California ZEV Sales Near 19% Of All New Car Sales In 2022. From the office of Gov. Gavin Newsom.
- 18.8% of all new cars sold last year in California were zero emission vehicles, according to the California Energy Commission.
- ZEV sales are up 38% from 2021 and 138% from 2020.
- In comparison, the latest estimates show ZEV sales were 5.8% of all U.S. car sales in 2022. (In China in 2022, 22% of all car sales were ZEVs.)
- 345,818 ZEV sales in California in 2022.
- 1,399,913 cumulative ZEV sales in California.
- 40% of ZEVs sold in the U.S. are sold in California, based on estimates from Veloz.
- 80,027 shared electric vehicle chargers installed in California (both public and shared private).
- Up to $9,500 in grants & rebates available for low-income Californians (learn more here).
What happens if the largest owner of oil and gas wells in the US goes bankrupt? Diversified Energy Company, the largest owner of oil and gas wells in the country, might abandon up to 70,000 oil and gas wells throughout Appalachia without plugging them. A new report, published by the Ohio River Valley Institute, a progressive think tank, has prompted concerns that Diversified Energy will go bankrupt without plugging its wells. Unplugged oil and gas wells can emit climate-warming methane and air pollutants that are hazardous to human health, contaminate soil and groundwater, and allow gas to migrate into occupied buildings, creating a risk of fatal explosions. When drillers abandon wells without plugging them, taxpayers are generally left to clean up the mess. Pennsylvania requires companies to post bonds to cover cleanup of old wells. But the current bond rate for conventional oil and gas wells is a pathetic $2,500 per well or a blanket bond of $25,000 to cover all of a company’s wells. A petition from environmental advocates asking the state to boost bond requirements estimates that the full cost of plugging and reclaiming a conventional oil and gas well is $38,000 and a Marcellus Shale fracking well is $83,000.
Won’t somebody please think of the insects?! By Doug Johnson at Ars Technica. Nearly 17%, or 22.5 million square kilometers (8.7 million square miles) of the world’s land now falls within protected areas. Countries have established laws that safeguard these parcels of land—or in some cases, aquatic areas—to ensure that the natural ecosystems and their respective species and functions remain in good health. Creating protected areas has clearly helped some species, like the Asian elephant, survive. But protected areas around the globe—at least as they stood in 2019—are failing to account for some of the world’s smallest, most vulnerable, and most fundamentally icky denizens: insects. New research sheds light on this issue, suggesting more than three-quarters of known insect species are not adequately protected by current dedicated conservation areas. According to Shawan Chowdhury, a conservation biologist at the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research and one of the paper’s authors, there are also likely many more species of creepy crawlies we don’t know about and that are likely also being failed by existing protected areas.
Can elephants save the planet? In findings published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Saint Louis University researchers and colleagues report that elephants play a key role in creating forests which store more atmospheric carbon and maintaining the biodiversity of forests in Africa. Assistant professor of biology at Saint Louis University and senior author on the paper Stephen Blake said "Elephants have been hunted by humans for millennia. As a result, African forest elephants are critically endangered. The argument that everybody loves elephants hasn't raised sufficient support to stop the killing. Shifting the argument for elephant conservation toward the role forest elephants play in maintaining the biodiversity of the forest, that losing elephants would mean losing forest biodiversity, hasn't worked either, as numbers continue to fall. We can now add the robust conclusion that if we lose forest elephants, we will be doing a global disservice to climate change mitigation. The importance of forest elephants for climate mitigation must be taken seriously by policy makers to generate the support needed for elephant conservation. The role of forest elephants in our global environment is too important to ignore."
Urban ‘Microrewilding’ Projects Provide a Lifeline for Nature. by Natasha Khullar Relph at The Revelator. Wild boars roaming Italian towns. Goats on the streets of Wales. Egyptian geese wandering free at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport. When humans retreated from busy streets during Covid-19 lockdowns, the wildlife emerged, bringing into sharp focus what conservationists have been saying for decades: In order to repair the environmental damage that we’ve caused, it’s imperative that we allow natural processes to restore damaged landscapes. In many parts of the world, it’s beginning to. In the United Kingdom, a country that has lost almost half of its biodiversity since the 1970s, rewilding—the term used to describe the process by which parts of land or water are returned to a wild state—has entered the national lexicon. Until now rewilding, which is by its very nature a large-scale effort, has been concentrated in the countryside and rural areas. More recently, however, there have been a number of projects and local movements pushing for more urban rewilding and at a smaller scale. Experts call it microrewilding, and harnessing its potential comes at a crucial time.
• Biden’s Mixed Signals on Chinese Solar Meet Bipartisan Pushback • What Could Chill Heat Pumps • Looking for Inflation Reduction Act Rebates to Go Green? Get Ready to Wait • MAGA Majority Passes Oil Industry-Friendly Bill, Prioritizing Political Stunts Over Helping Americans • Google Ads Helped Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire Spread Climate Denial, Report Finds • World’s largest electric cargo plane unveiled, here’s how far it can fly on its own • How Gas Stoves Became Part of America’s Raging Culture Wars • TV zombie fungus highlights real world threat of fungal pathogens
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