Category Archives: Water

Water is Life. When Their Wells Dry Up, Bottled Water Is Life. Then . . .?

As California’s wells dry up, residents rely on bottled water to survive


[Excerpts]

In drought-parched Central Valley, thousands rely on trucked and bottled water as they wait for new wells

Washington Post — By Joshua Partlow
 — November 14, 2022

Continue reading Water is Life. When Their Wells Dry Up, Bottled Water Is Life. Then . . .?

CNN Shocker: Mississippi Drying Up, Fast; River Traffic Slowwws . . .

 

CNN Before and after: See how the Mississippi River and its tributaries have dropped to record lows

Angela Fritz & Brian Miller — Oct. 22, 202(

(CNN) – Photos and satellite imagery from the central United States show how the region’s worst drought in at least a decade has pushed the Mississippi River and its tributaries to drop to record lows this month.

Across the river basin, dozens of gauges have fallen below their low-water threshold. The Mississippi River was at historically low levels from Illinois to Louisiana this week, and many of these gauges will continue to see decreasing water levels as the forecast remains stubbornly dry.

Drone video of the Mississippi River near Memphis shows how far the mighty river has contracted away from its banks.

The river dropped to minus-10.75 feet there earlier this week, according to data from the National Weather Service, which was the lowest level ever recorded in Memphis. Continue reading CNN Shocker: Mississippi Drying Up, Fast; River Traffic Slowwws . . .

Ian’s Unnoticed Aftermath: A Meditation

Night and Morning in Orlando

[SIDEBAR:(CNN) – After Hurricane Ian obliterated communities in Florida, rescue crews going door to door in search of survivors are reporting more deaths, and residents grappling with loss are facing a long, daunting recovery.

As of Tuesday, October 4, at least 109 people have been reported killed by the hurricane in the United States, with 105 of those deaths in Florida . . . . Ian also claimed the lives of four people in North Carolina.]

Chuck Fager: As Hurricane Ian made its destructive way across central Florida, it stirred flashacks for me of a traumatic scene from my visit there in 2012.

It was in February, warm in Florida, cold at home in Carolina. My second daughter Molly, a nurse in Vegas, had decided to get married on Valentine’s Day, and wanted to do it somewhere far from the western desert. Fortunately she’s also an ace internet travel bargain hunter. Molly has snagged amazing cut-rate tickets to Paris, Germany, Hawaii, and several other exotic places. She had a longtime school friend in Florida, and opted to meet up in Orlando. It is far from Vegas, and compared to Nevada’s Sin City it’s no great shakes. Or it isn’t, unless you’re a Disney freak, which I haven’t been since the late Annette Funicello left the Mouseketeers; that was in 1959.

But if it lacked the glam, the city had one big practical advantage: Amtrak trains ran daily from New York City to Miami, and stopped in Fayetteville, North Carolina, where I was living, and Orlando.

Wendy and I took this train, arriving at night. Daylight revealed the area as not just pedestrian but often eerie. We stayed away from Disney World and the other big parks, and outside the penumbra of that glittering ghetto. It was the slow season there anyway, post-Christmas and pre-Spring break.

Besides, the region was still feeling the impact of the massive housing crash of 2008: to get anywhere, we drove past many long curving rows of houses, thrown together on spec in the bubble’s peak frenzy. Once a hustler’s dream, they were painted in cheery bright colors to dazzle the suckers —but had long since morphed into a continuing daytime nightmare, still standing empty after three years and counting, the sheen long since weathered off their kitschy exteriors.

Closer to our AirBnB, we noticed what looked like decayed medieval ruins, poking up like giant rotted teeth among a stretch of palm trees behind an uneven grey wall: all that remained of what was meant to rise as an Oriental rival to Disney, financed by Chinese money. Each time I passed I thought it could one day be revived as, say, The Ghost Town From Another Planet, or some such.

Valentine’s was Tuesday. Molly and her fiance Marco did their nuptials at a busy county building, and we celebrated by taking in a dinner theatre at a big arena. The show featured colorfully-costumed “knights” carrying long pointed lances, riding horses draped with quiltlike caparisons. They galloped and fenced and jousted while we were served an overpriced rubber chicken repast. It was more interesting than some wedding receptions I’ve muddled through. Continue reading Ian’s Unnoticed Aftermath: A Meditation

One More Climate Tragedy: R. I. P. Leaf-Peeping

[NOTE — Different Strokes: If I were rich, I don’t think my lifestyle would change much during most of the year. But about now, in mid-September, I’d go wild. Or I would have, in the good old days.

First, a plane ticket to Montreal, or maybe Quebec City. Then a rental car (I’d need a driver now, but no worries, in this fantasy I can afford to hire one).

Then a leisurely meander, generally south, over several weeks, with one over-arching, and one secondary sybaritic goal:

First, find the best peak fall foliage, and follow that peak as it makes its brilliant, stately way south, over the border into  New England and maybe even down as far as the Shenandoah Valley. And

Two: Up until the sad morning when I have to pull out the passport and submit to re-entry into these Un-United States, I embarrass all my cultured Canadian friends with a relentless quest for the best local versions of one of that storied land’s most underappreciated gifts to the world, namely:

O Canada! Tres magnifique!

Yes! Poutine! Fries & cheese buds & gravy Oh my! — the food of the northern gods. I’m reliably advised that it now comes in at least 57 varieties, and I yearn to sample  them all.

Of course, others’ mileage may vary; yet Canada  is vast, it can contain multitudes (as it may soon need to when our impending civil war sends hordes of Blue state refugees fleeing for Niagara Falls). But politics aside, a still more depressing prospect looms this autumn: even if I had won the billion dollar Powerball jackpot, all that boodle would avail me little for indulging my orgiastic leaf-peeping proclivity — if there are no colorful leafs to peep.

And this is the underlying message of the Associated Press dispatch below. It advises that one of the latest self-inflicted costs of our climate change debacle, besides wildfires and dead lakes out west, is a color-killing drought in the far northeast. The technical foliage-ological term for this development, as you will see, is “spotty.” (I think that’s what they also say when a mixup at the Crayola factory fills the big 64-crayon box bought for a favored child’s birthday with 50 shades of grey and brown.) The local patois likewise includes “patchy,” and “muted” among its bad news euphemisms. If you see all three terms in a report, you might as well stay home.

I’ve seen something like this before.  Couple decades back, I had a free week, and impulsively drove to Canada, intent on savoring at least a long weekend of the seasonal beauty.

Except that when I arrived at the main Montreal tourist center, I had to elbow my way in, because the place was packed with and besieged by other USA-ans, most of us doing our spot-on impression of Indignant Yankee Jackass: after Paying Good Money for a long trip, all were now demanding to know, “Where are the goddam leaves??”

It wasn’t global warming then, or not quite. Much less apocalyptic seasonal hiccups could dull a season’s color palette. I spent that weekend in a vain search for the fabled fantastic fall kaleidoscope,  I did find  some decent poutine, though. C’est la vie. But the dream does not die.

Or now, maybe, it does.]

This summers drought is expected to cause a patchy array of fall color starting earlier in the leafpeeping haven of New England while the autumn colors are likely to be muted and not last as long in the drought and heatstricken areas of the south.

The good old days.

In New England, experts anticipate the season, which typically peaks in October, to be more spread out with some trees changing earlier or even browning and dropping leaves because of the drought. Other places, like Texas, could see colors emerging later in the fall due to warm temperatures.

“We will still have brilliant colors in New England because of the fact that we have so many different kinds of trees and they’re growing on kind of ridges, and kind of slopes and wetlands,” said Richard Primack, a professor of plant ecology at Boston University. “You know we will have good color but the color will probably be more spotty than usual.”

Leaf peeping is big business in places like New England, where millions of visitors from around the country and world bring in billions of dollars.

Everyone from inns to diners often count on this business to get them through the rest of the year. But predicting when those colors will peak is not an exact science; requiring experts to consider everything from temperature, the length of the day and stresses like pests and drought.

In Vermont, the 18room Mad River Barn, an inn in Fayston, typically sells out for about three weeks in a row starting in late September, said inn manager Jess Kotch. But those leafpeepers don’t make reservations far in advance.

“Typically we get so many inquiries for lastminute stays through that period that I don’t even really start thinking about it until this week and next week,” she said.

This year, drought is one of the big concerns in many parts of the country.

Severe and even extreme drought set in this summer in southern New England and remains in some areas, while up north parts of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine are in a moderate drought or are abnormally dry. In those northern New England states, the color will depend on the health of the individual trees and is expected to be good to variable.

“Where you have those real dry sandy soils or you know, trees that have had health issues accumulating over time you may see some effect on fall foliage on those trees,” Wendy Scribner, a forestry field specialist with the University of New Hampshire extension service, said. “But I think we just have so many of them that we still will see some coloration.”

In Oklahoma, where much of the state is in severe or extreme drought, the trees are expected to change earlier than usual and it will be quicker. Some oak trees started browning and dropping leaves this summer, said Alex Schwartz, district silviculturist for the Oklahoma Ranger Districts of the Ouachita National Forest.

“When the trees experience moderate to severe drought stress like we’ve had, what they’re going to do is they’re going to probably stop that production — what little they’ve had over the summer — stop that production a lot quicker, and they’re not going to produce a lot of those other pigments like the carotenoids that bring out those other fall colors,” he said.

The same thing is happening on some ridgetops in Connecticut where oak trees in thin dry soils are browning and dropping leaves early, meaning theyre shutting down. And many southern New England beech trees, whose leaves typically turn yellow and orange in the fall, have been hit by beech leaf disease, causing them to drop their leaves, said Robert Marra, a forest pathologist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station.

“Its going to have a very serious impact on fall colors in the sense that most of the beeches, many of them throughout southern New England, were hit so badly by beech leaf disease this year that they’re just dropping, they don’t have leaves on them to change color,” he said.

In Texas, the colors are likely to be muted and warm temperatures could push back the change, said Mac Martin, partnership coordinator for Texas A&M Forest Service.

“We’re going to probably get a shorter window of the fall colors that we get here in general as well as probably less kind of brilliant colors,” he said.

Visitors to the White Mountain Hotel and Resort in North Conway, New Hampshire, are not holding off in making reservations, said Carol Sullivan, director of sales and marketing.

“The last two years for us have been very strong, and that is the same prediction for us this year, that we will have an equally strong, if not even stronger, fall foliage season, regardless of what the weather does,” she said.

Loss of A Landmark: 200 Year-Old Arizona Cactus Collapses

[NOTE: I guess there are no coincidences. Thursday Sept. 1 I took part in a final Zoom call with some friends in Arizona, who are part of an experimental community east of Tucson called Saguaro-Juniper, or S-J for short.  S-J is named after the famous Saguaro cacti that grow around there.

Then this morning, Friday, I read that one of the most iconic, venerable and largest saguaro cacti, aged at least 200 years old, had suddenly collapsed in a state park not far away.

The S-J community was started by Jim and Pat Corbett, remarkable Arizona Quakers who were seeking a way to live more simply and harmoniously with nature in the desert. Thirty-plus years later, their experiment continues in the swirl of punishing climate change and continued social-cultural struggles.

Jim Corbett was truly one of a kind: a Harvard philosophy grad who was also a cowboy with Indian heritage, a Sanctuary activist, a desert wanderer, a cantankerous Quaker mystic, and a writer.

Jim published two books: Goatwalking (1990; 2021), which described his religious journey, desert wanderings, organizing to aid desperate Central American war refugees, and a prophetic understanding of how human eco-damage was careening toward a crisis. He followed it with Sanctuary ofor All Life, which explored many dimensions of  the new S-J experiment, and which he finished on his deathbed in 2001. Jim’s ashes were scattered in the hills of his beloved desert.

It was the books, especially Goatwalking,  which put me in touch with the Arizona group. I was part of a project to bring Goatwalking back into print after 30 years, which we did just over a year ago. Our two-year round of biweekly Zoom calls began amid the republication effort, then continued as some of us explored the two books, which we found appealing in seemingly endless ways.

There’s no end to this exploration, but with the second August, we were ready for a change. S-J itself faces major transition, as a founding generation ages out, the climate crunch Jim Corbett foresaw arrives, and new blood is needed.  So maybe it’s fitting, at least symbolically, that news of the bicentennial saguaro giant’s fall reaches us now. And as this Washington Post report points out, even the decay of the cactus feeds more desert life.]

Washington Post — August 31, 2022
A centuries-old cactus survived everything. Then summer rains came.

Derek Hawkins

A massive saguaro cactus stood for 200 years in Arizona’s Catalina State Park until it collapsed after fierce monsoons. (Arizona State Parks)

The saguaro cactus towered over the hilltop outside Tucson like a massive hand rising out of the earth.
Generations of hikers posed for pictures at the base of the hulking, treelike plant, whose longest arms stretched almost 30 feet into the air above Catalina State Park.

Artists painted it. Scores of animal species relied on it for food and shelter.

Older than Arizona itself by nearly a century, it weathered droughts and monsoons, searing heat and cold snaps, that worsened with climate change. It outlasted the ranchers who grazed cattle and built dwellings near its roots. It survived wildfires and invasive grasses.

But at some point this month, after fierce rains swept through the park, the cactus split at the trunk and toppled to ground, removing one of the area’s most cherished landmarks from the skyline.

The collapse of the iconic plant, estimated to be 200 years old, prompted an outpouring of tributes and remembrances from its many admirers following an announcement from Arizona State Parks and Trails this week.

“It’s sort of like if the Mona Lisa had been impaled somehow,” Neil Myers, a landscape artist who painted a 24-by-30-inch portrait of the cactus in 2007, told The Washington Post. “The way it loomed over you, like an emblem of old creation, was just beautiful.”

The cactus’s death also rekindled concerns about the environmental threats facing saguaros, which are highly valued among some Native American tribes and whose blossom is the Arizona state wildflower.

It’s difficult to blame human-caused climate change for the destruction of any individual plant, particularly one as old and top-heavy as this one. But scientists who study saguaros say extreme weather is a growing menace that could drive down their overall numbers.

Years of drought and inconsistent monsoon rains in the region can starve the cactuses of water, according to biologists from Saguaro National Park outside Tucson. This can threaten the survival of young plants, which because of their significantly smaller size and capacity can’t store water as efficiently as older plants. A 2018 report from the park found that prolonged drought may be increasing the mortality rate of young saguaros and reducing the growth of new ones.

“At the same time, increasingly intense storms can harm even the hardiest cacti,” said Cam Juarez, engagement coordinator at Saguaro National Park. “It’s a double-edged sword.”

In addition to climate-related perils, saguaros face competition from buffelgrass, an invasive species introduced by ranchers to feed cattle. The dense grass grows rapidly across the desert, hogging moisture from the soil that saguaros and other plants need to thrive. It’s also extraordinarily flammable, burning several times hotter than other vegetation, making wildfires more destructive.

The saguaro in Catalina State Park withstood those challenges for many decades.
It sprouted from the desert floor in the early 1800s, long before Arizona became the 48th state in 1912, on the site of an ancient Hohokam settlement. It emerged slowly in the beginning, growing no more than 1.5 inches in its first eight years. In that fragile period, it likely would have been sheltered by a “nurse tree ” — typically a paloverde, ironwood or mesquite — that protected it from animals and harsh weather.

In the mid-1800s, a ranching family, the Romeros, moved into the area and built a compound within feet of the cactus. At this point the plant still would have been small, armless, nondescript. The family grazed cattle in its midst for more than a decade before they moved elsewhere, likely driven out by repeated raids from the Apache tribe that were common in the region at the time. The remains of their settlement are still there, and the trail leading up to the site is now known as the Romero Ruin trail.

At around 50 to 70 years old, the cactus would have started sprouting arms. At 125 years old, it would finally reach what scientists consider saguaro “adulthood.”

Throughout its life span, it provided a habitat for all kinds of desert creatures.

“Many birds, including cactus wren, woodpeckers and owls use saguaros for nesting. Larger birds of prey will use a tall saguaro for a hunting platform,” said Michelle Thompson, a spokesperson for Arizona State Parks and Trails. “Bats may use the pollen and nectar from cactus blooms. Birds, bats, mammals, reptiles and insects can all use the fruits for moisture and nourishment.”

Though the rains are the most likely culprit, it’s not clear what exactly brought down this giant. “It could have been the extremely moist monsoon season,” Thompson said. She noted that the park has experienced higher-than-average rainfall during this season after a historically wet year in 2021 and the second-driest season on record in 2020. It also could have simply been the end of the cactus’s life cycle, she said.

Now splayed across the ground in several pieces, the 200-year-old saguaro at Catalina State Park near Tucson, Arizona, will soon begin rotting. (Arizona State Parks and Trails/AFP) (Handout/Arizona State Parks And Trails/A)

Now splayed across the ground in several pieces, the saguaro will soon begin rotting. Insects will flock to it. That, in turn, will attract birds and small mammals, as well as reptile predators such as snakes and lizards.

“It’s a consolation that this beloved cactus will remain there,” read a post from the Catalina State Park’s Instagram page, “providing habitat and food for many creatures as it decomposes.”

Myers, the landscape artist, said he was inspired to paint saguaros after he relocated to the Southwest and fell in love with the scenery. This one was special, he said, because of the way it rose over the hill where it lived, with the desert sky and Santa Catalina Mountains as a backdrop.

“This one stood atop in that place like a sentinel,” Myers said.
“They’re the most anthropomorphic plants that I’ve ever seen,” he said. “I know it’s part of a larger natural process, but I hope that when people see that one laying on the ground that they take some concern for the ones still standing.”

 

Derek Hawkins is a reporter covering national and breaking news.