Watershed Info No 1239

Daniel Salzler                                                                                No. 1239                         

  EnviroInsight.org                    Six Items                          February 2, 2024     

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  1. Climate Change Has Made Western Megadrought 38 Percent More Severe, Say New Estimates.  Over the last few decades, the American West has seen major increases in wildfire activity and big decreases in groundwater supply. Warmer temperatures are paving the way for the invasion of destructive bark beetles, while lower precipitation is drying out lakes and rivers.

Although scientists debate about the definition of ‘megadrought,’ Park Williams from Columbia’s
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory contends that the West has been in the midst of a
megadrought for 19 years and counting. And this wouldn’t be the first time. Tree ring records
indicate that in medieval times, the region suffered from megadroughts so severe that river beds
turned into forests and indigenous societies were forced to relocate.

Compared to those ancient megadroughts, today’s 19-year drought remains short (so far—there’s
no telling how long the dry conditions will endure). But Williams set out to see how the current
drought stacks up in terms of severity. He presented his findings, which have not yet been
published, at the meeting of the American Geophysical Union on Thursday.

Williams and his colleagues used tree ring records to reconstruct drought conditions in the
American West over the past 1200 years. They found that “the drought severity of the last 19
years is almost as bad as the worst 19-year period of the worst megadrought,” says Williams.
“And it’s essentially tied with the worst 19-year periods of a few other megadroughts.”

Because the tree ring record doesn’t perfectly replicate soil moisture conditions, the range of
uncertainty makes it difficult to say exactly where today’s drought falls in the megadrought
rankings. “This could conceivably be the worst 19 year period,” says Williams. Or it could fall
into seventh place—it’s a tight race. “So our best estimate is fourth,” he says.

The top chart shows a reconstruction of soil moisture over the past 1200 years, based on tree ring
data. The plummeting blue line on the right indicates the current drought. Below, maps show the
distribution of dry conditions for the five worst megadroughts in this region’s history. Image:
Park Williams

What’s more, today’s drought looks different from previous megadroughts. Past droughts were
only really dry in a few parts of the West, while the surrounding area had fairly normal
conditions; the current drought is very dry in a few parts, but also kind of dry across a huge area.
“And that might be a signature of global warming,” says Williams.

To measure global warming’s fingerprints on the West’s megadrought, the team used climate
models to estimate what temperatures and precipitation would have been like in the absence of
global warming. Then they subtracted the average of those projections from what was actually
measured, and found that the long-term warming brought on by climate change likely made the
drought 38 percent more severe. In other words, says Williams, climate change “caused what
would have been a fairly severe drought to become a drought as severe as the most severe
droughts of the last millennium.” Without climate change, he estimates that the current drought
would rank as the eighth or ninth worst megadrought in the past 1200 years.

The knowledge is grim, but we can use it to better prepare for what the future holds. As global
warming increasingly loads the dice toward extreme drought conditions, we can expect more
wildfires, declining forest productivity, and more demands on the West’s already limited
groundwater supply, Williams pointed out. “It indicates that it’s very important that we develop
more sustainable ways of dealing with water and allocating water across the Western U.S.”
Source: Columbia University.

  1. Dirty Dozen List. In the last issue (1238), the Watershed Info newsletter reported on the
    release of the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” foods we consume on a regular
    basis that are heavily contaminated with pesticides.
    Here is how to decontaminate these foods: A 1% baking soda bath is the most effective for
    extensive removal of dirt and pesticides. The solution was able to completely remove all
    thiabendazole and phosmet residue from the surface of the fruits and vegetables when the fruit
    was soaked for 10 minutes and then rinsed with water.
    To make a 1% balking soda solution to wash your vegetables and fruits, add about two
    tablespoons of baking soda to a gallon of water and allow to sit for 10 minutes and then rinse with fresh clean water. Allow the fruits and/or vegetables to dry in a colander or use a “salad spinner” to remove rinse water.
  1. Favorite Dog Breeds. Across the United States breeders have identified the top ten favorite
    dog breeds. They are Chihuahua, French Bulldog, Golden Retriever, German Shepherd, Shih
    Tzu, Goldendoodle, Yorkshire Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier, Pit Bull and Black Labrador
    Arizona’s favorite breed is the Chihuahua Coming in at number two is the French Bulldog.
    Three is the German Shepherd. Fourth is the Shih Tzu and fifth, the Golden Retriever.Source: US

  2. If You Were To Go Hiking In The Florida Mountains, What State Would You Be Hiking

    a. Florida
    b. New Mexico
    c. Georgia
    d. Nevada
    e. Alabama
    Answer at the end of the Newsletter

  3. Water Managers Hope For Snow To Raise Lake Powell Water Level. LAKE POWELL,
    Ariz. — The nation’s second-largest reservoir is in better shape than last year, however, the Lake
    Powell water level is still lower than it should be.

    Lake Powell hit a record low of 22% capacity in early 2023 following the effects of long-term
    drought and downstream water use. Record snowpack shortly followed, helping the reservoir
    rebound to about 40% capacity.

    As of Thursday, the reservoir is just 33% full. Snow could raise Lake Powell water level

    “The dry winter has not been kind to us,” said Gene Shawcroft, Utah’s Colorado River

    Lake Powell is fed by the Colorado River, beginning in Northern Colorado. Further downstream,
    more water sources merge with it, including the Green River.

    Water released from Lake Powell through the Glen Canyon Dam travels through the Grand
    Canyon and Lake Mead. Then it makes its way along Arizona’s border with Nevada and
    California. Finally, it passes into Mexico, ending in the Gulf of California.

Shawcroft said the mountain snowpack is crucial to making up lost ground in Lake Powell.
Especially as it travels through the Northern Colorado River Basin states of Wyoming, Utah,
Colorado, and New Mexico.

“We don’t have a big storage reservoir sitting above us that we can just simply say, ‘we want x
amount of water,’ and have it show up,” Shawcroft said. “Our snowpack is our reservoir.”

Additionally, data from the USDA’s National Water and Climate Center said the snowpack sites
that contribute to the Lake Powell water level are at a combined 90% of normal as of Thursday.
It is 10% below average.

However, Shawcroft said that based on the most recent estimates, the reservoir will only get
about 77% of the water it normally gets in a given year in 2024.

What needs to change?
Shawcroft said they need more, ideally, atmospheric rivers, bringing large amounts of water to
areas of the state that feed Lake Powell.

The period between now and April 1 is when Utah’s snowpack peaks. Thursday’s storm will hit
parts of Southern Utah. However, it might not have a big impact either.

It’s focused around Cedar City and St. George, which isn’t an area that contributes to Lake
Powell. The storm was one of the largest that Southern Utah has seen all winter.

Shawcroft said there is time to turn things around. However, if it doesn’t, the continued efforts of
Utahns to conserve water will always make a difference.

“When we’re in these in-between years, it is absolutely critical,” Shawcroft said. “We need to
pay attention not only every year but every day.”

The lower basin states, California, Nevada, and Arizona are in shortage criteria again this year,
meaning they have to cut their water use.

Big changes could also be coming to how the waters of Lake Powell and the Colorado River are
managed in 2026. The current water use rules established in 2007 are set to expire at the end of 2025. Negotiations of new rules are already taking place. Source: Jan 25 2024 KSLNews.

6. February 2: Groundhog’s Day/Candlemas/Agua Fria Fredie. Falling midway between the
winter solstice and the spring equinox, February 2nd has held significance since ancient times..

In Europe, Christians developed a feast commemorating the presentation of Jesus at the holy
temple in Jerusalem. Christians believed that a sunny Candlemas meant another 40 days of cold
and snow.

Germans developed their own take on the legend, pronouncing the day sunny only if badgers and
other small animals saw their own shadows. When the Germans immigrated to Pennsylvania in
the 18th and 19th Centuries, they brought the custom with them, choosing the native groundhog
as the annual forecaster.

The first Groundhog Day celebration in Punxsutawney was the brainchild of local newspaper
editor Clymer Freas in 1887. Freas convinced others to participate in this event and eventually,
this group met annually on February 2 on Gobbler’s Knob where the groundhog came the bearer
of bad news when he saw his shadow.

While Punxsutawney Phil is a accurate a little more than 40 %, Arizona’s Agua Fria Freddie
rattlesnake is opposite of Phil. If the rattlesnake sees his shadow, winter is over.
Officially, the National Weather Service said Monday that 30-day outlook for Arizona is for
temperatures to average near normal with precipitation expected to average near or above
normal. Source: United Press International, www.History.com

Answer to No. 4: b. New Mexico

Copyright: 2024 EnviroInsight.org

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