A 2011 New York Times Magazine story sounded the alarm: “Scientists consider Sacramento — which sits at the confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers and near the Delta — the most flood-prone city in the nation.” The article went on to note that experts fear an earthquake or violent Pacific superstorm could destroy the city’s levees and spur a megaflood that could wreak untold damage on California’s capital region.
Post-mortem studies blamed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and its flawed flood control system for the cataclysmic damage to New Orleans in August 2005. In 2006, the corps’ chief publicly owned responsibility, acknowledging that the levees that were supposed to prevent flooding were improperly built and relied on old data: “This is the first time that the corps has had to stand up and say: ‘We’ve had a catastrophic failure.'”
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.
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.
The first thing Violet Branch does when she wakes up is to inhale through her nose to see whether the smell of hog excrement from across the street has seeped into her home again.
“Sometimes when I wake up the odor is in the house. Sometimes before I go to bed, the odor is in the house,” says Branch, 71, who lives next door to a swine farmer who keeps two lakes filled with a swampy mixture of feces and urine that he periodically spreads on his crops as fertilizer. An acrid odor of rotting eggs fills her yard at least twice a week and occasionally her home, giving her nausea and on some occasions causing her to vomit. All she can do is wait until it passes or ask her son who lives next door to drive her to the nearby Walmart where she paces the aisles until her breathing returns to normal.
A scientific assessment on the impacts of hydraulic fracturing in California found that, in large part, the chemicals used are not being identified or tracked, and it’s nearly impossible to tell how damaging the process is to California’s water supply.
The study, carried out by the California Council on Science and Technology (CCST), recommended state agencies ban the reuse of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — for any use that could impact human health, the environment, wildlife, and vegetation until further testing can be done.
“These are things that require diligence,” CCST’s Jane Long told ThinkProgress. “There are a lot of potential issues.”
Numerous toxic chemicals known to pose severe threats to human health and marine life contaminated the Pacific Ocean and beaches when more than 100,000 gallons of oil spilled from a ruptured pipeline in Santa Barbara County, according to independent test results released today by Water Defense. The non-profit organization’s testing of spilled oil deposited on the beach and water samples collected from the May 19 Refugio State Beach oil spill confirmed the presence of several toxic chemicals including, but not limited to, Ethylbenzene, Toluene, Xylene, and Naphthalene. The test results also confirmed the presence of Glutaraldehyde – a biocide that is also a key additive in drilling, fracking and acidizing injections – in the pipeline oil deposited on the beach. These chemicals, which are known to be a severe threat to human health, were released onto the beach and into the Pacific Ocean, contaminating ocean waters and threating marine life.
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.
California's crippling drought has prompted conservation efforts, such as replacing grass lawns and minding how long you leave the tap water running. But what about the food on your plate? Agriculture uses 80% of California's water supply, and producing what you eat can require a surprising amount of water.
Even in the midst of its historic, ongoing drought, California used millions of gallons of water for hydraulic fracturing last year, according to state officials.
The state used nearly 70 million gallons of water to frack for oil and gas in 2014, Reuters reported last week. That amount is actually less than the 100 million gallons officials previously estimated the state uses for fracking operations every year.
Steven Bohlen, California’s oil and gas supervisor, noted to Reuters that not all water used for fracking operations is freshwater: some of it is produced water, which rises to the surface during the fracking process and can’t be used for drinking or irrigation. In all, Bohlen said, fracking uses the same amount of water as about 514 households each year.