Climate stresses are raising the stakes. Rising temperatures require farmers to use more water to grow the same amount of crops. Prolonged and severe droughts decrease available supplies. Wildfires are burning hotter and lasting longer. Fires bake the soil, reducing forests’ ability to hold water, increasing evaporation from barren land and compromising water supplies.
As a longtime observer of interstate water negotiations, I see a basic problem: In some cases, more water rights exist on paper than as wet water – even before factoring in shortages caused by climate change and other stresses. In my view, states should put at least as much effort into reducing water use as they do into litigation, because there are no guaranteed winners in water lawsuits.
Dry times in the West
The situation is most urgent in California and the Southwest, which currently face “extreme or exceptional” drought conditions. California’s reservoirs are half-empty at the end of the rainy season. The Sierra snowpack sits at 60% of normal. In March 2021, federal and state agencies that oversee California’s Central Valley Project and State Water Project – regional water systems that each cover hundreds of miles – issued “remarkably bleak warnings” about cutbacks to farmers’ water allocations.
The 1922 Colorado River Compact allocated 7.5 million acre-feet (one acre-foot is roughly 325,000 gallons) to California, Nevada and Arizona, and another 7.5 million acre-feet to Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. A treaty with Mexico secured that country 1.5 million acre-feet, for a total of 16.5 million acre-feet. However, estimates based on tree ring analysis have determined that the actual yearly flow of the river over the last 1,200 years is roughly 14.6 million acre-feet.
The inevitable train wreck has not yet happened, for two reasons. First, Lakes Mead and Powell – the two largest reservoirs on the Colorado – can hold a combined 56 million acre-feet, roughly four times the river’s annual flow.
Second, the Upper Basin states – Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico – have never used their full allotment. Now, however, they want to use more water. Wyoming has several new dams on the drawing board. So does Colorado, which is also planning a new diversion from the headwaters of the Colorado River to Denver and other cities on the Rocky Mountains’ east slope.
Truth be told, that’s not a lot of water, and it would not exceed Utah’s unused allocation from the Colorado River. But the six other Colorado River Basin states have protested as though St. George were asking for their firstborn child.
Utah blinked. Having earlier insisted on an expedited pipeline review, the state asked federal officials on Sept. 24, 2020 to delay a decision. But Utah has not given up: In March 2021, Gov. Spencer Cox signed a bill creating a Colorado River Authority of Utah, armed with a US$9 million legal defense fund, to protect Utah’s share of Colorado River water. One observer predicted “huge, huge litigation.”
Before Utah takes the precipitous step of appealing to the Supreme Court under the court’s original jurisdiction over disputes between states, it might explore other solutions. Water conservation and reuse make obvious sense in St. George, where per-person water consumption is among the nation’s highest.
St. George could emulate its neighbor, Las Vegas, which has paid residents up to $3 per square foot to rip out lawns and replace them with native desert landscaping. In April 2021 Las Vegas went further, asking the Nevada Legislature to outlaw ornamental grass.
The Southern Nevada Water Authority estimates that the Las Vegas metropolitan area has eight square miles of “nonfunctional turf” – grass that no one ever walks on except the person who cuts it. Removing it would reduce the region’s water consumption by 15%.
Water rights litigation is fraught with uncertainty. Just ask Florida, which thought it had a strong case that Georgia’s water diversions from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin were harming its oyster fishery downstream.
That case extended over 20 years before the U.S. Supreme Court ended the final chapter in April 2021. The court used a procedural rule that places the burden on plaintiffs to provide “clear and convincing evidence.” Florida failed to convince the court, and walked away with nothing.
A consortium of four companies will receive a subsidy of approximately €2 billion from the Dutch government towards the development of Porthos, one of the world’s largest carbon capture and storage projects, according to news reports from NOS and Reuters.
Scientists from around the world have produced a new analysis — believed to be the most detailed study of specialized ecological data from global forests — that is furthering science’s understanding of species interactions and how diversity contributes to the preservation of ecosystem health.
Forty percent, or over 350 million acres of farmland and ranchland across America, is rented or leased, most not owned by the farmers and ranchers working the land. “Non-operator landowners” are increasingly identified as a group of landowners who should be included when discussing environmental issues on agricultural lands. Yet, who NOLS are and what we know about them in terms of conservation has been limited. AFT set out to change this. Completing a multi-state survey in 2020 focused on the 13 states with the largest number of rented acres, AFT provided the most comprehensive set of data on NOLS since the 2014 Tenure, Ownership, and Transition of Agricultural Land Survey conducted by the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service and provided actionable findings for conservationists.
“We must harness these landowners, the lands they lease and farmers who farm the land to meet the high stakes goals for regenerative agriculture, climate change mitigation and the protection of 30 percent of our nations farmland by 2030,” said Gabrielle Roesch-McNally, AFT’s Women for the Land director and co-author of the NOLs research report and white paper. “We must focus on education and outreach but also on building the relationship between farmer and landowner with conservation on the land as the ultimate outcome.”
Advancing Understanding of Conservation on Rented Landanalyses the larger research findings, sharing assessments of – who are non-operator landowners, what is their involvement in conservation, their relationship with renters and what information sources and needs do they have? Most importantly, this paper, published in the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, identifies future work that could lead those in agricultural service provision, farmland preservation, and conservation arenas to focus their efforts with NOLs to improve conservation outcomes on the landscape.
American Farmland Trust is the only national conservation organization dedicated to protecting farmland, promoting environmentally sound farming practices and keeping farmers on the land.Since 1980, AFT’s innovative work has helped to permanently protect more than 6.8 million acres of farmland and ranchland and led the way for the adoption of conservation practices on millions more. No Farms, No Food. Learn more at www.farmland.org.
Over the past decade much of the chatter about agriculture has been about going organic. But in case you haven’t chatted with a favorite vendor at the local farmers’ market, the process to become certified organic is not always the most seamless, especially if certification requires land to go fallow for a particular amount of time. But the evidence suggests regenerative agriculture — which isn’t necessarily 100 percent “organic” but can include tactics such as agroforestry as well as a focus on topsoil health — is now key to the sector becoming more of a player in the global fight against climate change. On a grander scale, more companies like Unilever realize such a focus can help burnish their sustainability chops, too.
Floodplains store materials moving downstream and, in doing so, provide habitat for a wide variety organisms. Water, dissolved materials, sediment, and organic matter move downstream, but individual water or solute molecules or sediment grains can be stored on floodplains for periods that range from a few minutes to 10,000 years for sediment on the floodplain of the Amazon River. Storage reflects the strongly three-dimensional movements of materials in a river corridor. Episodic exchanges of water, solutes, sediment, and organic matter between the channel, floodplain, and subsurface create a dynamic environment with diverse habitat. A recent article in Reviews of Geophysics examines the influencing factors and nature of floodplain storage. Here, the author answers our questions about floodplain storage.
Climate-focused startup Sylvera announced today the launch of its new carbon offset ratings platform, aiming to provide transparent, independent, ongoing and reliable assessments for the rapidly growing market of carbon offset projects.
Demand for carbon offset projects that counteract the release of greenhouse gases is expected to increase significantly over the next several years, as companies and businesses increasingly launch net zero ambitions, and turn to offsets as a bridge to their own absolute emissions reduction efforts, or to balance difficult to avoid emissions. According to a recent report from Fitch Ratings, increasing demand driven by tightening climate policies will cause demand for carbon offsets will exceed supply within the next five years.
While Sylvera estimates that carbon offset markets are poised to grow at least 15x by 2030, the market lacks a trusted, independent, universal benchmark to assess the projects. Sylvera was founded in 2020 by Dr Allister Furey and Samuel Gill to address these issues. The new platform leverages geospatial data, machine learning and proprietary climate data to create a reliable and transparent assessment of carbon offset projects.
Using recycled concrete aggregate, ceramsite particles and desert sand, the team have been able to formulate a low-cost extrudable building material, in three different particle gradings. During initial testing, the novel concrete substitute demonstrated a self-supporting ‘skeletal’ effect, potentially lending it the strength and durability needed for deployment within heavy-duty construction applications.