Southern California environment news and trends

California Drought News: Cities getting hotter, salmon getting scarcer and water flowing uphill

los angeles sun solar

Photo by irenetong via Flickr Creative Commons

The asphalt and concrete of Los Angeles absorb solar energy to create what's known as an "urban heat island."

The government's new assessment of how climate change is affecting the U.S. has dominated the current news cycle. One finding: droughts like California's current dry spell are likely to be longer and more frequent going forward.

  • KPCC's Molly Peterson took a look at what droughts and heat waves amplified by climate change could mean for Southern California. The consequence — the "urban heat island effect" — has the word "island" in its name, but its effects are anything but idyllic. (KPCC)
  • AP picked up on this story first reported by one of our KQED colleagues Lauren Sommer a couple weeks ago: State water officials are considering reversing the flow of some sections of the California Aqueduct in response to the drought.

State water engineers say using pumps to reverse the flow of the aqueduct would be a first in a drought. It would also be a complex engineering challenge, requiring millions of dollars to defy gravity. (San Jose Mercury News)


Devastating sea star disease now seen in Oregon

Sea Star wasting disease 1

Jed Kim

A sea star at Crystal Cove State Park in Laguna Beach has lost three arms, possibly as a result of wasting disease.

We've reported on the mysterious disease that's wiping out sea star populations in Southern California. Instances of the wasting disease that causes affected animals to disintegrate into milky white goo has been seen along the West Coast as far north as Alaska. 

Reports of the spread had been somewhat patchy, but the Oregonian reports that it's getting more filled in, at least along Oregon's coast:

The divers were about 25 feet deep when they found starfish with severe signs of wasting disease. Some were disintegrating into white goo and dropping arms. It’s the first major discovery of dying starfish on Oregon’s coast. Until now, just one tide pool site with a few dying starfish had been found near Yachats last year. 

Divers and beach visitors are encouraged to report instances of the disease that they find. That information will help researchers better understand the spread of the disease.


California Drought News: Climate change and Cinco de Mayo 2015

avocado guacamole mexican food chipotle

Photo by timlewisnm via Flickr Creative Commons

You know what's not getting any cheaper? Meat, cheese or avocados. Check your receipt at Chipotle, people.

Tuesday's drought roundup brings us tidings of climate fears and expensive guacamole years. It also gives us a new drought synonym: solannoyed.

Climate change:

  • The White House is releasing its Third National Climate Assessment today. The report is mandated by Congress and is put out every four years. As you might expect, it's not cheerful. (CNN)
The report sketches out sobering scenarios for different regions. The Northeast and Midwest, for instance, would see a huge increase in heavy downpours that could lead to flooding and erosion. The Southwest, including California, would be more prone to extreme heat, drought and wildfire. The first rains after fires compound the peril and damage because they wash down debris and earth left behind, said Gregg Garfin, a climatologist at University of Arizona and a co-author. (LA Times)


California Drought News: Fewer cows, more fires, and desalination math

Randy Heinitz/Flickr

Water shortages are blamed for driving cattle out of state to places like Texas and Nebraska.

Feliz Cinco de Mayo! If Monday's drought news were a meal, the main course would be a wildfire dish.

  • Weekend All Things Considered's Arun Rath looked at the severity of California's wildfire risk and the intensity of preparations for fire season around Mt. Baldy by visiting the Mount Baldy Lodge to see what they're doing to get ready: (Weekend All Things Considered/NPR)
And because of the increased risk of fires this year, Ellingson says they decided to buy fire-blocking gel. She goes behind the bar and comes back with a plastic gallon jug of pink liquid. "You basically hook it up to a system that propels it," she says, like an air compressor, which can then spray the fire retardant on the sides of a building and maybe keep it from igniting. Ellingson bought three cases of the stuff for $1,100. "It's cheaper than losing your place," she says. "You know, this is our life, this is our restaurant, where we live. You know, this is everything we have."


LADWP almost done switching to drinking water that's less hazardous, tastes better

ladwp john ferraro building los angeles department of water and power

Photo by Michael Chen via Flickr Creative Commons

The headquarters for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

This week, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power will switch over the last of the city’s neighborhoods to drinking water that tastes better and is potentially less harmful.

When the switch is complete, all of LA’s drinking water will be disinfected with the chemical compound chloramine, instead of the chlorine that’s been used for decades. 

"You have to have a disinfectant to make sure that treatment was completely effective," says Marty Adams, DWP's Director of Water Operations. "Then you also want to carry that disinfectant through the system, to make sure that you don’t want any growth through the pipes, so that the water’s clean through the very last customer."

Chlorine fell out of favor after scientists discovered that it can produce toxic byproducts when it comes in contact with materials used in reservoirs and pipes. DWP has been gradually phasing in chloramine-treated water around the city. Adams says the final piece of the project to come on line is the San Fernando Valley.