The 2015 wildfire season continues to rage throughout the West, as historic drought conditions and record temperatures have pushed many states’ fire suppression capacities to their breaking points.
As of Monday morning, at least 13 large fires burned across the central and eastern portion of Washington, while 11 burned across Oregon. All told, 65 major wildfires are currently burning across seven Western states. According to the National Interagency Fire Center statistics, more than 27,000 firefighters are deployed across the country. To date, this years’ fire season has burned 7,487,737 total acres, more than any other season in the last 10 years.
“Nationally, the system is pretty tapped,” Rob Allen, the deputy incident commander for the fires around the Cascade Mountain resort town of Chelan, told the Associated Press last Wednesday. “Everything is being used right now, so competition for resources is fierce.”
How much water does California’s oil and gas industry actually use? We still don’t know, despite a 2014 law signed by Governor Jerry Brown that went into effect this year requiring companies to report on all water produced, used and disposed of by oilfield operations.
Oil and gas regulators with California’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) missed the first reporting deadline, April 30, claiming they had simply received too much data to process in time. But now we know there was probably another reason: hundreds of companies had flat out refused to obey the law.
In fact, more than 100 companies still refuse to comply with the water reporting requirements altogether.
Farmland near Corcoran in the southern San Joaquin Valley sank 13 inches in just eight months last year. To the north, near El Nido, the land surface dropped about 10 inches.
Along a major canal near Los Banos, the ground has sunk so much that the concrete sides cracked. Nearby, a bridge over another canal had dropped so low it had to be demolished and replaced with a higher structure.
Groundwater over-pumping is causing some parts of the San Joaquin Valley to sink faster than ever, according to a NASA report released Wednesday.
A full-grown giant sequoia is a thirsty tree. In the height of summer, the millenia-old behemoths, some of which grow upwards of 30 stories tall, can guzzle 500 to 800 gallons of water per day. They can also survive a variety of scourges that would fell an inferior conifer -- beetles, wildfires, storms. But scientists are worried the species may have met its match in the ongoing California drought.
Nate Stephenson, a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, was walking through the woods last year when he noticed some of the trees he'd been studying for decades had dropped most of their leaves. He joined forces with other researchers from the USGS, as well as from the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Stanford University and the Carnegie Airborne Observatory, to launch a comprehensive health study on the sequoia.
Historians may look to 2015 as the year when shit really started hitting the fan. Some snapshots: In just the past few months, record-setting heat waves in Pakistan and India each killed more than 1,000 people. In Washington state's Olympic National Park, the rainforest caught fire for the first time in living memory. London reached 98 degrees Fahrenheit during the hottest July day ever recorded in the U.K.; The Guardian briefly had to pause its live blog of the heat wave because its computer servers overheated. In California, suffering from its worst drought in a millennium, a 50-acre brush fire swelled seventyfold in a matter of hours, jumping across the I-15 freeway during rush-hour traffic. Then, a few days later, the region was pounded by intense, virtually unheard-of summer rains.
Wildfires continue to rage in California, where the largest of the 21 blazes covered 65,000 acres Tuesday morning and has killed at least one person.
Four other people have been killed this fire season in California, which started early this year and has been exacerbated by drought and high temperatures. There are also active wildfires in Oregon, Washington, Wyoming, and Alaska.
In normal years, California residents get about 30 percent of their drinking water from underground aquifers. And in droughts like the current one—with sources like snowmelt from the Sierra Nevada mountains virtually non-existent—groundwater supplies two-thirds of our most populous state's water needs. So it's sobering news that about 20 percent of the groundwater that Californians rely on to keep their taps flowing carries high concentrations of contaminants like arsenic, uranium, and nitrate.
That's the conclusion of a ten-year US Geological Survey study of 11,000 public-water wells across the state. The researchers tested the wells for a variety of contaminants, looking for levels above thresholds set by the Environmental Protection Agency and/or the California State Water Resources Board.
El Niño conditions are intensifying in the tropical Pacific Ocean, potentially leading to a record event that would help control rainfall in East Africa and possibly bring desperately needed drought relief to California, while temporarily cutting off rainfall to parts of the Indonesian rainforest.
A record strong event would also virtually guarantee that 2015 will beat 2014 as the warmest year this planet has seen since records began in the late 19th century.
In recent weeks, the water temperatures have grown warmer, propelled by a reversal of seasonal trade winds and the sloshing of mild ocean waters from west to east across the Pacific.
Why do I keep hearing about the California drought, if it's the Colorado River that we're "killing"?
Pretty much every state west of the Rockies has been facing a water shortage of one kind or another in recent years. California's is a severe, but relatively short-term, drought. But the Colorado River basin — which provides critical water supplies for seven states including California — is the victim of a slower-burning catastrophe entering its 16th year. Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and California all share water from the Colorado River, a hugely important water resource that sustains 40 million people in those states, supports 15 percent of the nation's food supply, and fills two of largest water reserves in the country.
The severe shortages of rain and snowfall have hurt California's $46 billion agricultural industry and helped raise national awareness of the longer-term shortages that are affecting the entire Colorado River basin. But while the two problems have commonalities and have some effect on one another, they're not exactly the same thing.
The Salton Sea, a huge, shallow manmade lake located in the Sonoran Desert in California’s Imperial and Coachella valleys, has had problems for years. Its increasing saltiness has killed off most of its once-abundant fish species. Its shrinking water level has caused a reduction in water available for agricultural use, along with many dramatic photos of exposed lakebed and abandoned towns that were once seaside resorts. While the sea is no longer a resort destination for Hollywood celebrities as it was in the ’50s and ’60s, it’s still a playground for birds, with more than 400 species living along its shores or migrating through the area. But those populations could also be in jeopardy if its waters continue to recede.