Monday, February 3, 2014

EXTREME WEATHER ANOMALIES: The Global Food Crisis - Severe Drought Has U.S. West Fearing The Worst And New Reports States That U.S. Cattle Herd At Lowest Number Since 1951!

February 02, 2014 - UNITED STATES - The punishing drought that has swept California is now threatening the state’s drinking water supply.

A once-submerged car at a California reservoir. Jim Wilson/The New York Times

With no sign of rain, 17 rural communities providing water to 40,000 people are in danger of running out within 60 to 120 days. State officials said that the number was likely to rise in the months ahead after the State Water Project, the main municipal water distribution system, announced on Friday that it did not have enough water to supplement the dwindling supplies of local agencies that provide water to an additional 25 million people. It is first time the project has turned off its spigot in its 54-year history.

State officials said they were moving to put emergency plans in place. In the worst case, they said drinking water would have to be brought by truck into parched communities and additional wells would have to be drilled to draw on groundwater. The deteriorating situation would likely mean imposing mandatory water conservation measures on homeowners and businesses, who have already been asked to voluntarily reduce their water use by 20 percent.
“Every day this drought goes on we are going to have to tighten the screws on what people are doing” said Gov. Jerry Brown, who was governor during the last major drought here, in 1976-77.
During the past 7-days, an amplified ridge dominated weather conditions across the western third of the contiguous U.S. (CONUS), while a broad trough prevailed over the central and eastern thirds of the CONUS. Early in the period, two distinct low pressure centers and two cold fronts consolidated into one potent winter storm near the mid-Atlantic coast. This storm system brought significant snowfall to the northern mid-Atlantic region and the Northeast, with amounts generally ranging from 6-14 inches, though some areas had less accumulation, while others reported more. The remainder of the period was dominated by a series of fast-moving, clipper-type systems, which brought bitter cold arctic air to most of the central and eastern lower 48 states. Maximum temperatures during this period from the Upper Mississippi Valley eastward across the Great Lakes to interior portions of the northern and central Atlantic states climbed into the 30’s and 40’s, while minimum temperatures ranged from near zero to about 30 degrees below zero F. Precipitation was largely confined to the Great Lakes, the Northeast, and the Texas coast, though amounts were mostly in the 0.5-1.5 inch range (liquid equivalent). The West in general remained relatively mild and dry during the past 7-days.

This latest development has underscored the urgency of a drought that has already produced parched fields, starving livestock, and pockets of smog.

“We are on track for having the worst drought in 500 years,” said B. Lynn Ingram, a professor of earth and planetary sciences at the University of California, Berkeley.

Already the drought, technically in its third year, is forcing big shifts in behavior. Farmers in Nevada said they had given up on even planting, while ranchers in Northern California and New Mexico said they were being forced to sell off cattle as fields that should be four feet high with grass are a blanket of brown and stunted stalks. 

Fishing and camping in much of California has been outlawed, to protect endangered salmon and guard against fires. Many people said they had already begun to cut back drastically on taking showers, washing their car and watering their lawns.

Rain and snow showers brought relief in parts of the state at the week’s end — people emerging from a movie theater in West Hollywood on Thursday evening broke into applause upon seeing rain splattering on the sidewalk — but they were nowhere near enough to make up for record-long dry stretches, officials said.

Anthony Moura, a rancher, ignited propane and pumped it into holes to kill the gophers that kill alfalfa on his ranch.
Mr. Moura usually floods his fields to irrigate and eliminate the pocket gophers.  
Max Whittaker for The New York Times

The dry Pitt Dam in Lovelock, Nev. Max Whittaker for The New York Times

A once-submerged car was visible at the bottom of the Almaden Reservoir in California. State officials said
that in the worst case, they would truck drinking water into parched communities and drill additional
wells to draw on groundwater. 
Jim Wilson/The New York Times

“I have experienced a really long career in this area, and my worry meter has never been this high,” said Tim Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies, a statewide coalition. “We are talking historical drought conditions, no supplies of water in many parts of the state. My industry’s job is to try to make sure that these kind of things never happen. And they are happening.”

Officials are girding for the kind of geographical, cultural and economic battles that have long plagued a part of the country that is defined by a lack of water: between farmers and environmentalists, urban and rural users, and the northern and southern regions of this state. 

“We do have a politics of finger-pointing and blame whenever there is a problem,” said Mr. Brown. “And we have a problem, so there is going to be a tendency to blame people.” President Obama called him last week to check on the drought situation and express his concern.

Tom Vilsack, secretary of the federal Agriculture Department, said in an interview that his agency’s ability to help farmers absorb the shock, with subsidies to buy food for cattle, had been undercut by the long deadlock in Congress over extending the farm bill, which finally seemed to be resolved last week.

Mr. Vilsack called the drought in California a “deep concern,” and a warning sign of trouble ahead for much of the West.

“That’s why it’s important for us to take climate change seriously,” he said. “If we don’t do the research, if we don’t have the financial assistance, if we don’t have the conservation resources, there’s very little we can do to help these farmers.”

The crisis is unfolding in ways expected and unexpected. Near Sacramento, the low level of streams has brought out prospectors, sifting for flecks of gold in slow-running waters. To the west, the heavy water demand of growers of medical marijuana — six gallons per plant per day during a 150-day period — is drawing down streams where salmon and other endangered fish species spawn.

“Every pickup truck has a water tank in the back,” said Scott Bauer, a coho salmon recovery coordinator with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “There is a potential to lose whole runs of fish.”

Without rain to scrub the air, pollution in the Los Angeles basin, which has declined over the past decade, has returned to dangerous levels, as evident from the brown-tinged air. Homeowners have been instructed to stop burning wood in their fireplaces. 

In the San Joaquin Valley, federal limits for particulate matter were breached for most of December and January. Schools used flags to signal when children should play indoors.

State park rangers burned weeds on the exposed lake bed of the Rye Patch Reservoir in Nevada, which was
at 3.5 percent capacity amid a drought that has caused the worst water shortage the region has faced
in more than a century.  
Max Whittaker for The New York Times

Darrell Pursel, whose family has owned a Nevada ranch since 1863, said he could not remember a drought so bad.
Unless it rained a lot, he added, he would not do any planting. 
Max Whittaker for The New York Times

“One of the concerns is that as concentrations get higher, it affects not only the people who are most susceptible, but healthy people as well,” said Karen Magliano, assistant chief of the air quality planning division of the state’s Air Resources Board.

The impact has been particularly severe on farmers and ranchers. “I have friends with the ground torn out, all ready to go,” said Darrell Pursel, who farms just south of Yerington, Nev. “But what are you going to plant? At this moment, it looks like we’re not going to have any water. Unless we get a lot of rain, I know I won’t be planting anything.”

The University of California Cooperative Extension held a drought survival session last week in Browns Valley, about 60 miles north of Sacramento, drawing hundreds of ranchers in person and online. “We have people coming from six or seven hours away,” said Jeffrey James, who ran the session.

Dan Macon, 46, a rancher in Auburn, Calif., said the situation was “as bad as I have ever experienced. Most of our range lands are essentially out of feed.”

With each parched sunrise, a sense of alarm is rising amid signs that this is a drought that comes along only every few centuries. Sacramento had gone 52 days without water, and Albuquerque had gone 42 days without rain or snow as of Saturday. 

The snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, which supplies much of California with water during the dry season, was at just 12 percent of normal last week, reflecting the lack of rain or snow in December and January. 

“When we don’t have rainfall in our biggest two months, you really are starting off bad,” said Dar Mims, a meteorologist with the Air Resources Board.

Even as officials move into action, people who have lived through droughts before — albeit none as severe as this — said they were doing triage in their gardens (water the oak tree, not the lawn) and taking classic “stop-start-stop-start” shower.

Jacob Battersby, a producer in Oakland, said he began cutting back even before the voluntary restrictions were announced. 

“My wife and I both enjoy gardening,” he wrote in an email. “ ‘Sorry, plants. You will be getting none to drink this winter.’ ” - NY Times.

Reports States That U.S. Cattle Herd At Lowest Number Since 1951.
The lingering effects of drought across the Great Plains in recent years have led to another decrease in the U.S. cattle herd. 

The National Agricultural Statistics Service reports that the U.S. inventory of cattle and calves totaled 87.7 million animals as of Jan. 1. That was down by about 1.6 million cattle, or 2 percent, compared with this time last year. 

The agency says this is the lowest January inventory since 1951. 

Dr. Nancy Martin, a veterinarian, spoke to ranchers about keeping their herds healthy, during a Cooperative Extension drought survival session in Browns Valley, Calif., last week. Jason Henry for The New York Times

At the drought workshop, cattle ranchers examined an alternative type of feed.  Jason Henry for The New York Times

The carcass of a wild horse in the Nevada desert.  Max Whittaker for The New York Times

The drought, technically in its third year, is forcing shifts in behavior. Ranchers said they were being forced
to sell cattle as fields, normally with four feet of grass, were blankets of brown and stunted stalks. 

Max Whittaker for The New York Times

A bright spot was a 2 percent increase in young, female cattle retained for breeding. One expert says that factor could allow the herd's seven-year contraction to stabilize. 

Totals in Texas, the nation's leading cattle producer, decreased 4 percent. 

The January report had been anxiously awaited because the agency didn't issue a report in July due to sequestration. - AP.