Flood, fire preparations could save U.S. billions of dollars — @CUBoulderNews #ActOnClimate

Air search for flood victims September 2013 via Pediment Publishing

Here’s the release from the University of Colorado (Daniel Strain):

Communities that act now to protect themselves from future hazards like earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and wildfires can save themselves as much as $11 for every $1 that they initially invest, according to recent research.

The findings are part of an update to “Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves.” This landmark report was first published in 2005 by the National Institute of Building Sciences and was led by CU Boulder’s Keith Porter, who also spearheaded the most recent findings.

The report examines how homeowners, developers and municipalities might save lives and money in the long term by implementing a variety of mitigation efforts before a disaster strikes. That might mean raising houses above floodplains or strengthening office buildings against earthquakes.

There’s a lot to be gained from that kind of forward thinking, said Porter, a research professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering.

“Natural hazard mitigation saves,” Porter said. “Mitigation can be a costly decision, but this study should help people to make a more informed choice about how to save their property and their wellbeing.”

His research shows that communities in the United States stand to save billions of dollars by making sure that new structures meet, or exceed, the International Building Code—a set of widely-adopted recommendations for designing safe buildings. Such measures could also prevent an estimated 600 deaths and one million injuries at the same time.

Porter and his colleagues released their findings this week at the Building Innovation 2019 conference in Washington, D.C.

Staying safe
The report comes after a record-breaking wildfire season in California. This year, one blaze alone—the Camp Fire—killed more than 80 people and consumed roughly 14,000 homes in the northern part of the state.

It also matters for Colorado, where large numbers of residents are vulnerable to wildfires and flooding. Wildfires burned hundreds of thousands of acres of land in Colorado in 2018—one of the worst fire years on record for the state. Historic flash floods in September 2013 destroyed or damaged thousands of homes across the Front Range.

More stringent codes can limit some of the biggest losses from such events, Porter said. Most states and communities in the U.S. have requirements for how buildings weather natural hazards. But research suggest that they may not go far enough, and many older buildings still fall short of these codes.

Porter pointed to the case of existing codes that require homes to sit a foot above the 100-year flood level…

“That doesn’t make your house floodproof. There’s still a significant chance that a flood would be higher than that,” Porter said. “It’s actually cost-effective in many places to build up to 5 feet above the base flood elevation.”

Saving money
To put numbers on the benefits from such mitigation efforts, Porter and his colleagues turned to a wide range of data to write their 2005 report. That includes records from past disasters and computer simulations that test how buildings might respond to future floods, hurricanes, earthquakes and wildfires.

What they found in the most recent update was staggering: While the benefits vary from place to place, communities in the U.S. on average may save $11 in the decades ahead for every $1 they spend now to meet current building codes. Going beyond those codes, too, can bring an extra $4 for every $1 spent.

Those gains come in a variety of forms. When buildings are built to better withstand earthquakes, for example, more stores stay open after a big tremor and fewer people go to the hospital for injuries.

The new round of numbers, together with a related report published last year, were also the first to look at the benefits that come from safeguarding buildings against wildfires. According to the team’s calculations, communities living at the edges of forests can save $4 for every $1 they spend to plan ahead for flames. Common recommendations include creating “defensible” spaces free of brush and other flammable material around homes.

“As we saw from the California wildfires last year, that’s crucial,” Porter said. “If you don’t build for fire resistance, you run a much higher risk of having your home burn down.”

He acknowledges that those sorts of measures can be costly in the short term. But Porter hopes that his group’s findings will motivate governments and other entities to do more to help home and business owners plan for the inevitable.

“You can spend money up front to better prepare for a disaster, and that should save you in the long run,” Porter said.

Democrats are divided over the #GreenNewDeal — @HighCountryNews #ActOnClimate

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
By US House of Representatives – https://ocasio-cortez.house.gov/about, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=75556027

From The High Country News (Maya L. Kapoor):

Last fall, on Nov. 13, more than 200 activists protested on Capitol Hill, demanding a Green New Deal — a massive economic stimulus package designed to create jobs, remake the U.S. energy system and fight climate change. Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., waded into their midst, vaulting the movement to national prominence. As determined young protesters in matching brown T-shirts hunkered in front of the unoccupied desk of Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., holding signs reading “Step Up or Step Aside” and “Green Jobs for All,” Ocasio-Cortez addressed them.

“I just want to let you all know how proud I am of each and every single one of you for putting yourselves and your bodies and everything on the line to save our planet, our generation and our future,” she said, as cameras rolled. Indeed, by day’s end, many protesters were arrested.

The Green New Deal is popular: According to a recent poll by Yale University and George Mason University, more than 80 percent of registered voters support the concept. But it’s also vague about details, and Democratic leaders are divided on how to respond. Even as newly elected progressives and activists push for sweeping policy change, the party’s established powerbrokers favor caution. How the party resolves this discord could determine whether climate change becomes a prominent issue in the 2020 elections — and what action Democrats are prepared to take on it, should their power expand.

efore taking office, Ocasio-Cortez pressed Pelosi to create a Green New Deal select committee, which would have one year to design a job-creating solution to climate change. Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal — crafted in partnership with the Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats, a progressive political action committee working to get corporate money out of politics — calls the transition away from fossil fuels “a historic opportunity to virtually eliminate poverty in the United States.” A Green New Deal would include job training programs in renewable energy and guaranteed employment for all Americans.

“Climate change is an urgent issue,” said Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., who campaigned on getting the country to 100 percent renewable energy and was an early supporter of the Green New Deal. “We have to do something now.”

The Green New Deal’s massive scope and ambition — to wean the entire country from fossil fuels in just over a decade — comes in response to scientists’ ever more urgent warnings. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, nations must reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050, or face increasingly catastrophic consequences. Yet the politics of climate change remain fraught — even among Democrats.

Democratic House leaders firmly rejected Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal for a select committee. According to E&E News, the Democratic chairs of existing committees bristled at the possibility of a new select committee usurping some of their own powers. Instead, House Speaker Pelosi reinstated the defunct Climate Crisis Select Committee, which is charged with investigating and recommending climate change solutions. However, it lacks authority to craft legislation, and its members will be allowed to accept campaign donations from the fossil fuel industry, something Ocasio-Cortez wanted to ban.

“The title is the only thing about the committee that begins to acknowledge the magnitude and urgency of the crisis we are in,” said Benjamin Finegan, an organizer with the Sunrise Movement.

University of Oregon law professor Greg Dotson, who worked on climate policy for former Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., believes the party’s internal disagreement is a symptom of the growing pains it’s experiencing as it regains power. “We are in an interesting situation where the Democratic Party agrees on the most important things, which are climate change is happening, it’s caused by humans, and we have to take action to address it,” Dotson said. “Because they’re coming out of the minority, how exactly to do that, they’re still working on.”

Although the Green New Deal select committee would have a new and specific mission, there are other ways to advance its goals. Democrats on House committees like Transportation and Energy and Environment have expertise on key climate issues, and could do similar work. “Advocates should understand that there’s a tremendous amount of institutional history and expertise on all the committees,” for even the most far-reaching goals of a Green New Deal, Dotson said.

But a new generation of climate change activists, including Finegan, dismisses the idea that the existing power structure can address the climate crisis. “I think that argument is politicians being politicians,” Finegan said. After all, for decades, politicians have known climate change was happening, but they’ve done little to stop it. It’s a frustration with the old guard that some early-career Democrats, like Ocasio-Cortez and Haaland, seem to share. “We should have done something decades ago,” Haaland said.

To be clear, even if a new committee were created, Green New Deal legislation would have a snowball’s chance in Phoenix of passing the Republican-controlled Senate, never mind being signed into law by President Donald J. Trump. Still, the debate matters: “For the next two years, the most successful outcome would be for the Democratic Party to come to a view on how to address climate change and the equity issues that the Green New Deal points to,” Dotson said.

The sooner that happens, the better. Leadership has never been more needed: In 2018, after years of decline, carbon dioxide emissions again surged in the United States, even as climate change’s impacts became harder to ignore.

Maya Kapoor is an associate editor at High Country News, overseeing California, the American Southwest, the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands and the Southern Rockies. Email her at mayak@hcn.org or submit a letter to the editor.

The West’s Great River Hits Its Limits: Will the #ColoradoRiver Run Dry? — Yale360 #COriver #aridification

Grand River Ditch

Here’s Part I of a series about the Colorado River from Jim Robbins writing for Yale360. Click through and read the whole article (and enjoy the beautiful photographs). Here’s an excerpt:

As the Southwest faces rapid growth and unrelenting drought, the Colorado River is in crisis, with too many demands on its diminishing flow. Now those who depend on the river must confront the hard reality that their supply of Colorado water may be cut off.

The Never Summer Mountains tower over the the valley to the west. Cut across the face of these glacier-etched peaks is the Grand Ditch, an incision visible just above the timber line. The ditch collects water as the snow melts and, because it is higher in elevation than La Poudre Pass, funnels it 14 miles back across the Continental Divide, where it empties it into the headwaters of the Cache La Poudre River, which flows on to alfalfa and row crop farmers in eastern Colorado. Hand dug in the late 19th century with shovels and picks by Japanese crews, it was the first trans-basin diversion of the Colorado.

Many more trans-basin diversions of water from the west side of the divide to the east would follow. That’s because 80 percent of the water that falls as snow in the Rockies here drains to the west, while 80 percent of the population resides on the east side of the divide.

The Colorado River gathers momentum in western Colorado, sea-green and picking up a good deal of steam in its confluence with the Fraser, Eagle, and Gunnison rivers. As it leaves Colorado and flows through Utah, it joins forces with the Green River, a major tributary, which has its origins in the dwindling glaciers atop Wyoming’s Wind River Mountains, the second largest glacier field in the lower 48 states.

The now sediment-laden Colorado (“too thick to drink, too thin to plow” was the adage about such rivers) gets reddish here, and earns its name – Colorado means “reddish.” It heads in a southwestern direction through the slick rock of Utah and northern Arizona, including its spectacular run through the nearly 280-mile-long Grand Canyon, and then on to Las Vegas where it makes a sharp turn south, first forming the border of Nevada and Arizona and then the border of California and Arizona until it reaches the Mexican border. There the Morelos Dam — half of it in Mexico and half in the United States — captures the last drops of the Colorado’s flow, and sends it off to Mexican farmers to irrigate alfalfa, cotton, and asparagus, and to supply Mexicali, Tecate, and other cities and towns with water.

While there are verdant farm fields south of the border here, it comes at a cost. The expansive Colorado River Delta — once a bird- and wildlife-rich oasis nourished by the river that Aldo Leopold described as a land of “a hundred green lagoons” — goes begging for water. And there is not a drop left to flow to the historic finish line at the Gulf of California, into which, long ago, the Colorado used to empty.

Credit: Wikipedia.org

Nature, in fact, has been given short shrift all along the 1,450-mile-long Colorado. In order to support human life in the desert and near-desert through which it runs, the river is one of the most heavily engineered waterways in the world. Along its route, water is stored and siphoned, routed and piped, with a multi-billion dollar plumbing system — a “Cadillac Desert,” as Marc Reisner put it in the title of his landmark 1986 book. There are 15 large dams on the main stem of the river, and hundreds more on the tributaries.

The era of tapping the Colorado River, though, is coming to a close. This muddy river is one of the most contentious in the country — and growing more so by the day. It serves some 40 million people, and far more of its water is promised to users than flows between its banks — even in the best water years. And millions more people are projected to be added to the population served by the Colorado by 2050.

The hard lesson being learned is that even with the Colorado’s elaborate plumbing system, nature cannot be defied. If the over-allocation of the river weren’t problem enough, its best flow years appear to be behind it. The Colorado River Basin has been locked in the grip of a nearly unrelenting drought since 2000, and the two great water savings accounts on the river — Lake Mead and Lake Powell — are at all-time lows. An officially announced crisis could be at hand in the coming months…

Most of the water in the Colorado comes from snow that falls in the Rockies and is slowly released, a natural reservoir that disperses its bounty gradually, over months. But since 2000, the Colorado River Basin has been locked in what experts say is a long-term drought exacerbated by climate change, the most severe drought in the last 1,250 years, tree ring data shows. Snowfall since 2000 has been sketchy — last year it was just two-thirds of normal, tied for its record low. With warmer temperatures, more of the precipitation arrives as rain, which quickly runs off rather than being stored as mountain snow. Many water experts are deeply worried about the growing shortage of water from this combination of over-allocation and diminishing supply.

There is tree ring data to show that multi-decadal mega-droughts have occurred before, one that lasted, during Roman Empire times, for more than half a century. The term drought, though, implies that someday the water shortage will be over. Some scientists believe a long-term, climate change-driven aridification may be taking place, a permanent drying of the West. That renders the uncertainty of water flow in the Colorado off the charts. While not ruling out all hope, experts have abandoned terms like “concerned” and “worrisome” and routinely use words like “dire” and “scary.”

“These conditions could mean a hell of a lot less water in the river,” said Jonathan Overpeck, an interdisciplinary climate scientist at the University of Michigan who has extensively studied the impacts of climate on the flow of the Colorado. “We’ve seen declines in flow of 20 percent, but it could get up to 50 percent or worse later in this century.”

Even in rock-ribbed conservative areas, those who use the water of the Colorado say they are already seeing things they have never seen before — this year state officials in Colorado cut off lower-priority irrigators on the Yampa River, a tributary of the Green, and recreation had to be halted, for example — and have grudgingly come to believe “there is something going on with the climate.”

#Snowpack news: The #ColoradoRiver and tributary streamflow likely won’t recover this water year #COriver #aridification

From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

Jeff Lukas, who authored the [Western Water Assessment] briefing, says water managers throughout the Colorado River watershed should brace themselves for diminished streams and the decreasing likelihood of filling the reservoirs left depleted at the end of 2018.

That dire prognosis comes even as much of the southern Rocky Mountains have seen a regular stream of snow storms this winter.

“The snowpack conditions for Colorado and much of the intermountain West don’t look too bad,” Lukas says. “They range from ‘meh’ to ‘OK.’”

Snowpack in river basins that feed the Colorado River range from 75 percent to 105 percent of normal. The entire Upper Colorado River Basin’s snowpack is sitting at about 90 percent of normal for this time of year.

So with an ‘OK’ snowpack in the mountains we should be in the clear, right? Not necessarily. If you’re just looking at snowpack to gauge how well a winter is going — you’re doing it wrong, according to Lukas.

The record hot and dry conditions throughout 2018 sapped the ground of its moisture. Leading into this winter, “that puts us in a deep hole,” Lukas says.

Put another way, throughout the southwest, we’re living in a drought hangover. And it’s going to take a lot more snow to pull us out of it.

Lake Powell, the first major reservoir the Colorado River hits on its journey throughout the southwest, is currently projected to see 64 percent of its average inflow. That translates to a one-year deficit of more than 5 million acre-feet of water. One acre-foot is enough water to supply roughly one to two households for a year.

“That’s not as bad as what happened last year, but it’s pretty close,” Lukas says. “That’s going to just drain the big reservoirs — [Lakes] Powell and Mead — even further.”