Managing #Water Resources in a Low-to-No-Snow Future — Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory #snowpack

Small creek in Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains in California, along the John Muir Trail in Little Lakes Valley Heart Lake in Mono County. (Small creek in Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains in California, along the John Muir Trail in Little Lakes Valley. A new Berkeley Lab analysis finds that if greenhouse gas emissions continue along the high-emissions scenario, low-to-no-snow winters will become a regular occurrence in the western U.S. in 35 to 60 years. (Credit: Melissa Kopka/iStock)

From Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Julie Chao):

Mountain snowpacks around the world are on the decline, and if the planet continues to warm, climate models forecast that snowpacks could shrink dramatically and possibly even disappear altogether on certain mountains, including in the western United States, at some point in the next century. A new study led by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) analyzes the likely timing of a low-to-no-snow future, what it will mean for water management, and opportunities for investments now that could stave off catastrophic consequences.

Their review paper, “A low-to-no-snow future and its impacts on water resources in the western United States,” published in the journal Nature Reviews Earth and Environment, analyzes previous climate projections and finds that if greenhouse gas emissions continue along the high-emissions scenario, low-to-no-snow winters will become a regular occurrence in the western U.S. in 35 to 60 years. Further, the study re-evaluates longstanding assumptions in water management in the U.S. and stresses that scientists and water managers need to work together more closely to develop and implement climate adaptation strategies.

The Sierra Nevada, Rockies, Cascades, and other mountain ranges provide a tremendous service by capturing, storing, and releasing water for downstream use. Historically, snowmelt timing provides a critical delay in the delivery of water supply during the spring and into the summer, when precipitation is low and when water demands are at their highest due to agriculture. The factors causing shrinking snowpacks are predominantly tied to temperature increases and shifting precipitation characteristics. Warmer temperatures also imply that storms will produce more rainfall and less snowfall, limiting the amount of seasonal snowpack that can build through the winter.

The research, co-led by authors Erica Siirila-Woodburn and Alan Rhoades of Berkeley Lab’s Earth & Environmental Sciences Area, starts with a literature review which distills several hundred scientific studies on snow loss; of those, they identify and analyze 18 studies that had quantitative snowpack projections for the western U.S.

A new Berkeley Lab analysis finds that if greenhouse gas emissions continue along the high-emissions scenario, low-to-no-snow winters will become a regular occurrence in the western U.S. in 35 to 60 years. Credit: Jenny Nuss/Berkeley Lab

When will the low-to-no-snow future arrive?

“A recent study highlighted that there has been a 21% decline in the April 1 snowpack water storage in the western U.S. since the 1950s – that’s equivalent to Lake Mead’s storage capacity. In our review, we found that around mid-century we should expect a comparable decline in snowpack,” said Rhoades. “By the end of the century, the decline could reach more than 50%, but with a larger range of uncertainty.”

Many water managers use the somewhat arbitrary date of April 1 to make snowpack observations and planning decisions. Over the last several decades, there have been decreases in peak snowpack volume as well as earlier occurrences of the timing of peak snowpack, with the peak occurring approximately 8 days earlier in the year for every 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming.

Many regions have already experienced winters with very little snow in recent years, such as the Sierras in 2015 when the April 1 snowpack level was 5% of normal, which the authors call an “extreme” event. The paper defines two other types of low-to-no-snow conditions – “episodic low-to-no snow,” or when more than half of a mountain basin experiences low-to-no snow for five consecutive years, and “persistent low-to-no snow,” in which this happens for 10 consecutive years. “Low snow” is defined as when the snowpack (or more precisely, the snow water equivalent, a measure of how much water will be released when the snowpack melts) is in the 30th percentile or lower of the historical peak.

Using these definitions, California could experience episodic low-to-no snow as early as the late 2040s and persistent low-to-no snow in the 2060s according to one high-resolution climate projection. For other parts of the western U.S. persistent low-to-no snow emerges in the 2070s. The authors caution the need for more analyses with a broader set of climate projections to enhance confidence in the timeline for emergence of low-to-no-snow conditions.

The authors describe the climate projections in their study, writing: “Through the middle and end of the 21st century, an increasing fraction of the western U.S. is impacted by snow water equivalent deficits relative to the historical period. In particular, only 8 to 14% of years are classified as low-to-no snow over 1950-2000, compared to 78 to 94% over 2050-2099. In all regions, an abrupt transition occurs in the mid-to-late 21st century.”

Impacts on water resources

The impacts of a low-to-no-snow future extend beyond just decreased streamflow, although that is certainly a significant consequence. In the Sierra Nevada, for example, the amount of water in the snowpack on a typical April 1 is nearly double the surface reservoir storage in California.

“A low-to-no-snow future has massive implications for where and when water is stored in the western U.S.,” said Siirila-Woodburn. “In addition to the direct impacts on recreation and the like, there are a lot of secondary effects on natural and managed systems, from a hydrologic perspective. So that’s anything ranging from increased wildfire occurrence to changes in groundwater and surface water patterns and changes in vegetation type and density.”

With less snow and more rain, groundwater levels in mountainous systems may be impacted because snowmelt more effectively infiltrates into the subsurface than rainfall does. Further, less snow at lower elevations will decrease the overall surface area of snowpack stored in the mountains, potentially resulting in less available snowmelt that infiltrates into the ground.

Now for the good news …

The authors’ aim in doing this study was to spur thinking now about adaptation strategies. “We want society to be proactive about these changes in snowpack rather than reactive,” said Rhoades. “Our hope in presenting the literature synthesis of low-to-no snow is so that we can understand the problem in a ‘one-stop shop’ way. Additionally, we highlighted some novel climate adaptation strategies that are coming about through nontraditional academic and water agency partnerships, which will be key parts of a portfolio of adaptation approaches needed to overcome snow loss in a warmer world.”

One such partnership is a Department of Energy-supported project called HyperFACETS, which involves 11 research institutions, including Berkeley Lab, working with water utility managers in California, Colorado, Florida, and Pennsylvania.

The paper also discusses potential adaptation strategies, such as a technique known as managed aquifer recharge, in which excess surface water is stored underground as groundwater for later use. Another relatively new technique, forecast-informed reservoir operations, in which weather and hydrological forecasts are used to inform decisions about retaining or releasing water from reservoirs, was recently shown to increase water storage at Lake Mendocino in California by 33%.

These and other techniques show promise for increasing water supply, but the authors also recommend more cross-collaboration, both among scientists and within society as a whole, to expand the portfolio of climate adaptation strategies.

“We are advocating for the idea of engagement with best scientific practices and more collaboration or partnership between researchers and stakeholders. For example, city managers are concerned with flood control; farmers are concerned with water storage; everyone has their own objectives. Even within science, the disciplines are typically siloed,” said Siirila-Woodburn. “If everyone were working together to manage water rather than working independently for their own purpose, there would be more water to go around.”

From Homes to Cars, It’s Now Time to Electrify Everything — Yale Environment 360

Leaf charging in Frisco September 30, 2021.

From Yale Environment 360 (Saul Griffith):

The key to shifting away from fossil fuels is for consumers to begin replacing their home appliances, heating systems, and cars with electric versions powered by clean electricity. The challenges are daunting, but the politics will change when the economic benefits are widely felt.

For too long, the climate solutions conversation has been dominated by the supply-side view of the energy system: What will replace coal plants? Will natural gas be a bridge fuel? Can hydrogen power industry? These are all important questions, but, crucially, they miss half the equation. We must bring the demand side of our energy system to the heart of our climate debate.

The demand side is where humans, households, and voters live. It is where we use machines on a daily basis, and where the choices about what kind of machines we use — whether powered by fossil fuels or electricity — make our climate actions and climate solutions personal. We don’t have a lot of choice on the supply side, but we have all of the choice on the demand side. For the most part, we decide what we drive, how we heat our water, what heats our homes, what cooks our food, what dries our laundry, and even what cuts our grass. This constitutes our “personal infrastructure,” and it is swapping out that infrastructure that will be a key driver of the global transition from fossil fuels to green energy.

According to an analysis by Rewiring America, a nonprofit think tank I co-founded that focuses on electrifying our lives, if we redraw our emissions map around the activities of our households, we see that about 42 percent stem from the decisions we make around our kitchen tables. It gets close to 65 percent if we include the offices, buildings, and vehicles that are connected to the commercial sector and the decisions we make from our office desks.

The supply-side climate challenge is a question of a relatively small number of giant machines, including coal mines, LNG terminals, pipelines, refineries, and natural gas- and coal-fired power plants, all of which are owned by corporations. The demand-side climate challenge involves a very large number of relatively small machines. In the United States, it’s our 280 million cars and trucks, our 70 million fossil-fueled furnaces, 60 million fossil-fueled water heaters, 20 million gas dryers, and 50 million gas stoves, ovens, and cooktops.

The traditional storyline for what we can do in our own lives has been an “efficiency-first” narrative that was born of the 1970s oil crisis. During that time, we needed to adjust to a reduction in foreign oil supplies, which led to more efficient cars with better gas mileage and more efficient appliances. That gave us efficiency as policy, such as federally mandated vehicle fuel standards, and led to Energy Star appliances.

But now we’re facing a completely different kind of energy crisis. To address global warming in time to keep the Earth livable, we need to get to zero emissions as soon as possible. It should be obvious that we can’t “efficiency” our way to zero and that we need to transform our way to no emissions. Starting on the demand side, this leads to a clear conclusion: We must electrify everything. And quickly. And we must supply all those new electric machines on the demand side with cleanly generated electricity on the supply side.

How quickly? At roughly the rate at which we replace these things. Cars often last around 20 years. Water heaters average 12 to 15 years; furnaces and home heating solutions, around 20; kitchen and laundry appliances, 10 to 15 years. The best climate outcome we can achieve is to upgrade all of these demand-side machines to higher performing electric machines at their next retirement. This needs to be in combination with increasing the electricity supply to power these machines, and to do so with clean renewables, while also retiring coal plants and other heavy emitters ahead of schedule.

An all-electric house. Credit: REWIRING AMERICA

I have been talking publicly about climate change and what solutions need to look like for nearly 20 years. It’s been a learning journey about how to tell a story that can motivate people in the face of what seems insurmountable. I worry that nihilism will soon grip us on this issue, unless we can paint a picture of what success looks like. And that picture needs to be simple, the actionable steps achievable. People want to see themselves in the solution, but not at the expense of sacrificing the things they love and the conveniences of modern life.

We still have a slim chance of keeping global warming under 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F), without changing entirely the fabric of everyday living. It may not be everyone’s version of climate success, but it is possible to help avoid extreme warming with a substitution of the machines in our lives. To do so, we need to achieve a close to 100 percent adoption rate of the right technologies as we replace the fossil-fueled machines we use today.

Fortunately, technologies now exist for the majority of these things. Electric cars currently have sufficient range, and are close enough to cost-parity at the dealership, that we can imagine that transition. The cost per mile drops significantly, too. Air-source heat pumps have such high performance now that they beat traditional furnaces and boilers in many climates. The modern induction cooking experience is better than cooking with gas. It is not yet true in the U.S. that rooftop solar is the cheapest energy source, but it is true in Australia, and the difference has to do with regulations.

Solar modules themselves are incredibly cheap, around 30 cents a watt. Australia ran a certification and training program for building a workforce that also certified the installers as inspectors. This made the process of purchasing and installing solar in Australia simple and doable in a matter of days. The installed cost ends up being around $1 per watt. In the U.S., the process takes 60 days and includes complicated permitting and inspection requirements. The result is that the installed cost winds up being $3 per watt. We need to look around the world for the best practices and implement them everywhere; Norway’s rapid adoption of electric vehicles is another example.

If you could cover the average U.S. rooftop in solar at the Australian installed price, put two electric vehicles in your driveway as easily as you can in California or Norway, install the best Japanese heat pumps, and cook on the best German induction cooktops — and then back it all up with a household battery tied to a smart main panel connected to an enlightened grid that encourages consumers to self-generate power and to store and shift loads — we’d be a long way toward the success we need.

In the U.S., there are a billion of these machines that need to be replaced and installed across the nation’s 121 million households. This creates an enormous economic opportunity to manufacture all or most of these machines in America. And because the cost of all these things is falling further, and the performance is increasing with every passing year, by around 2025 people will be saving money by making these choices about the infrastructure of their daily lives.

Solar panels on a residential building near Philadelphia’s downtown. ARIELLA MARON via Yale Environment 360

It isn’t the entire solution to climate change, but it is the solution to much of it, and it is a solution we can start deploying everywhere today. Yes, for a few more years we’ll need government subsidies and incentives, like those proposed by Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) in his Zero-Emission Homes Act that is currently included in President Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan being debated in Washington — and that needs to be fully funded. Heinrich’s bill, and a House companion, would offer point-of-sale rebates for heat-pump hot water heaters, heat pump HVAC systems, electric cooking appliances, and electric clothes dryers. The goal is to remove the upfront barrier for homeowners to replace a fossil-fueled appliance with a cleaner alternative.

In the long run, electrifying our lives will save everyone a lot of money on energy bills — up to $2,500 per household, according to Rewiring America’s Household Savings Report. But these clean energy appliances come with higher up-front costs to deliver the savings over time. That means we will need low-cost financing.

Low-interest “climate loans” would allow everyone to afford the up-front costs of these clean technologies. Diverse households have different financing needs so we need to pull every policy lever at the federal and state levels, as well as engage in public-private partnerships to enable this. If banks step in, the role of governments will be to make sure that all families can afford it. For many families it will be simple enough to make these investments alongside their household mortgage. For other families, federal policies already exist that enable people to pay as they go as part of their utility bill and own the upgraded appliances in the long run. These incentives and mechanisms need to be available when people purchase new electric appliances and machines.

Critics will argue that this will hit political hurdles. And it will. But if we remain constrained by what we think is politically possible, then we’ll never have a sufficiently ambitious climate agenda. We must change the politics, and the politics will only change and become bipartisan when the economic benefits are felt in every household. Rooftop solar is no longer political in Australia because families of all political stripes have felt the positive effect on cash flow of having cheaper electricity. It can’t be understated how important it is that the Ford F-150, a cultural icon and the most produced vehicle ever, is going electric. Once households red, blue, and purple are enjoying the lower cost of ownership of an electric F-150, the politics of this whole issue will change. Norwegians of all stripes support the rapid adoption of electric vehicles in that country, and it is no-longer a political issue. Politicians are still able to sell a story of fear of change and loss around this transition in 2021. Increasingly, that won’t be possible because the economics will shift.

This needed electrification will halve the total amount of energy required in the economy, but triple the amount of electricity that needs to be delivered. It is critical, obviously, that this electricity be cleanly generated. Ten percent to 30 percent can be generated locally on rooftops and over commercial buildings and parking lots. The rest will need to be produced by wind farms, utility-scale solar farms, and geothermal, hydroelectric, and nuclear facilities. All of those facilities will need to be connected by long-distance transmission lines.

Leaf charging at the Beau Jo’s charger in idaho Springs August 23, 2021.

Of course, none of this is simple, nor politically easy, but with each passing year the inevitability of this solution becomes more so and the cost competitiveness higher, and our motivations to fight climate will increase with each season of climate disruption. The only question is if our sense of urgency will grow fast enough to mitigate the climate disaster before it is too late. My optimism stems from the fact that the scale of the transition lowers the cost enough to make the transition an economic slam dunk, which will change the politics markedly.

The long-term economic benefits of household electrification are not only in energy savings, but in creating jobs. Mass electrification in the U.S. would create up to 25 million new jobs — across every ZIP code — as the national energy infrastructure is modernized, according to a Rewiring America analysis. Most of these jobs — installing solar panels and wind turbines, upgrading the grid, and replacing dirty heaters with clean ones — would necessarily be local. You can’t outsource clean energy. You can’t offshore the installation of an induction stovetop. Those jobs would have a multiplying effect, as the woman who gets a good job as a solar installer is going to spend money in her local community.

Meantime, we should stop pretending there are going to be other miracle technologies that will change the game. Most of the solution will be electrification. Hydrogen and nuclear are both electric technologies at the end of the day, too.

The electrify everything drive will need the type of focus that the U.S. had in World War II when the wartime production board prioritized Liberty ships, Liberator bombers, Jeeps, and munitios. This time around it will be batteries instead of bullets, wind turbines instead of aircraft, and electric vehicles instead of tanks.

Once we make the trade to clean energy, we’ll find that we’ll be able to enjoy all the comforts of home we’re used to — warmth and cooling, zippy cars, hot water, radiant heat — but with lower costs and cleaner air.

This is a critical moment, but it can also be a great one for the economy, our families, and the environment if we take smart action. We have one last chance to address climate change: Electrify everything.

Saul Griffith is the author of Electrify: An Optimist’s Playbook for Our Clean Energy Future. An inventor, engineer, and MacArthur fellow, he is founder and chief scientist of Rewiring America and Otherlab.

Climate crisis: economists ‘grossly undervalue young lives’, warns Nicholas Stern — The Guardian

Lord Stern is I. G. Patel Professor of Economics and Government and Chairman of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics. By Royal Society uploader – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

From The Guardian (Damian Carrington):

Economists have failed to take account of ‘immense risks and potential loss of life’, says author of landmark review

Many economic assessments of the climate crisis “grossly undervalue the lives of young people and future generations”, Prof Nicholas Stern warned on Tuesday, before the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow.

Economists have failed to take account of the “immense risks and potential loss of life” that could occur as a result of the climate crisis, he said, as well as badly underestimating the speed at which the costs of clean technologies, such as solar and wind energy, have fallen.

Stern said the economics profession had also misunderstood the basics of “discounting”, the way in which economic models value future assets and lives compared with their value today. “It means economists have grossly undervalued the lives of young people and future generations who are most at threat from the devastating impacts of climate change,” he said. “Discounting has been applied in such a way that it is effectively discrimination by date of birth.”

Youth protests around the world, sparked by the school strike of Greta Thunberg, have been a key factor in increasing demands for action in recent years, along with rising extreme weather events. Recent research shows people born today will suffer many times more extreme heatwaves and other climate disasters over their lifetimes than their grandparents.

However, Stern said: “The move to net zero [emissions] can be the great driver of a new form of growth – the growth story of the 21st century. This growth will be more resource-efficient, more productive, and healthier, and will offer greater protection to our biodiversity.”

Renewable energy costs have fallen dramatically and electric cars are moving to scale, he said, while 75% of global emissions are now covered by national commitments to net zero emissions by the middle part of century, though “some of those commitments are more credible than others”.

Stern’s remarks are based on a paper to be published in the Economic Journal of the Royal Economic Society and made to mark the 15th anniversary of the landmark Stern review on the economics of the climate crisis in 2006. It concluded that the costs of inaction on climate were far greater than the costs of action and that the climate crisis was the biggest market failure in history.

Since the publication of the report, carbon emissions have risen by 20% and Stern was scathing about much of the economic analysis that has informed policymakers. “Cavalier treatment of risk, and the missing of the very rapid technical progress, means the models have been profoundly misleading,” he said. The theory of discounting had not been related to its ethical foundations, he added, or allowed for the risk that global heating will make future generations poorer.

Political action has been slow since 2006, Stern said, because of the persistence of the “damaging” idea that climate action cuts economic growth and also because of the global financial crisis, which diverted attention and cut middle-class incomes, making politics more “fractious”.

“The economic question now is: how do we manage the radical transformation we have to make in the world economy in the next 20 or 30 years?” he said. “How do we promote the 2% or 3% extra investment we’ll need – which is a very valuable investment, not a cost.”

A whole range of policies are needed, Stern said, including carbon pricing, regulation, product standards, investment in research and reform of capital markets. A critical factor is the provision of large-scale, low-cost finance to fund the low-carbon transition, especially in developing countries…

The Stern review was criticised by some when published as exaggerating the risks of the climate crisis. “The idea that I was alarmist is just laughable in retrospect. We underestimated the dangers. The costs of inaction were very worrying 15 years ago – they are immensely worrying now.”

Navajo Dam operations update (October 26, 2021): Bumping down to 350 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Lake Powell is shown here, in its reach between where the Escalante and San Juan rivers enter the reservoir, in an October 2018 aerial photo from the nonprofit environmental group EcoFlight. Colorado water managers are considering the implications of a program known as demand management that would pay irrigators on a temporary and voluntary basis to take less water from streams in order to boost water levels in Lake Powell, as an insurance policy against compact curtailment.

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to decreasing irrigation and increasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 400 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 350 cfs for Tuesday, October 26th, at 4:00 AM.

Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell). This release change is calculated as the minimum required to maintain the target baseflow.

The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell. Be advised, due to low storage and forecast levels in WY 2022, the minimum release of 250 cfs, as documented in the Navajo Record of Decision (2006), may be implemented this winter as long as that release can satisfy the target baseflow.