Ecocentric

Why Dwindling Snow — Thanks Largely to Climate Change — Might Dry Out Los Angeles

Southern California depends on the mountain snowpack for part of its water — and that snow is about to get less reliable

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Walter Bibikow / Getty Images

The Sierra Nevada snowpack is a vital source of water for California

While the national government remains slow to deal with climate change, many cities have been moving ahead. Why the difference? Well, cities tend to be more homogenous politically, which makes any kind of decisive action easier to push through. But the real reason is that city managers know they will be the first ones forced to deal with the likely consequences of global warming: rising sea levels and flooding, deadly heat waves and water struggles. New York City didn’t just come out last week with the most comprehensive climate-adaptation plan in the world because Mayor Michael Bloomberg is a global-warming believer. The experience of Hurricane Sandy last year — which cost the city some $20 billion — was instructive. Even in the absence of warming, growing population and property values will put major cities on the front lines of extreme weather. Add in climate change, and it could get ugly.

Just ask Los Angeles. The City of Angels has struggled with the basic fact that it is a desert metropolis since its founding. (Just watch Chinatown.) The first three months of 2013 were the driest for California on record, and there’s no relief in sight. Now a new study from the University of California, Los Angeles, suggests that the local mountain snowfall — vital for water supplies — could fall 30% to 40% below 2000 levels by midcentury, thanks to global warming. And if emissions don’t decline and warming is worse than we expect, more snow will vanish, even as greater L.A. continues to grow.

(MORE: Why a Hotter World Will Mean More Extinctions)

In the business-as-usual scenario — a climate-science term for a model that assumes greenhouse-gas emissions keep growing without any effort to slow them — snowfall levels could fall 42% by midcentury, and over 60% by the end of the century. Here’s lead author Alex Hall of UCLA in a statement:

The mountains won’t receive nearly as much snow as they used to, and the snow they do get will not last as long …We won’t reach the 32ºF threshold for snow as often, so a greater percentage of precipitation will fall as rain instead of snow, particularly at lower elevations. Increased flooding is possible from the more frequent rains, and springtime runoff from melting snowpack will happen sooner.

Obviously this will be a major bummer for Southern California snowboarders, who I guess will just have to take up surfing. But snowfall matters for urban dwells — snowpack in the mountains of California is like a bank for water. It holds the precipitation through the winter, then releases it gradually with the spring melt. But if there’s less snow in the first place, and the spring snowfall occurs earlier and more rapidly because of warming, water supplies become that much more difficult to manage. Add in the fact that Los Angeles is expected to grow to 13 million people by 2050, and you have a management situation, as L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said in a statement:

This science is clear and compelling: Los Angeles must begin today to prepare for climate change.

And so it will, just as New York will. But cities can only do so much. They can help their citizens adapt to climate change, but there’s little that one mayor — even one as rich as Mayor Bloomberg — can do by himself to change the way we the country and the world use energy. And it’s energy use that decides climate change — and turns the snow to rain.

MORE: Federal Forecast for Climate Change: It’s Getting Hot in Here

81 comments
n7specops
n7specops

Sucks for the world that this is starting to happen. So we really will and are starting to see wars and such over dwindling natural resources? sucks, it won't effect me in my lifetime, but future generations are gonna suffer. In any case, I feel for the rest of the country and the world. As for me, I live in WV, we have a spring box built above our house. (its a concrete box built into the mountain about 30 feet above our house, already purified rain water and winter runoff water flows into it because the back wall of the box is the mountain itself and then water hoses and lines run to our house and works via gravity, so no electric pump needed) so we have free unlimited water that we drink, use to make food, as well as bathe in. I think the greener the world gets, the more we can start to fix things like climate disasters.

BabuG.Ranganathan
BabuG.Ranganathan

THE WHOLE EARTH AT ONE TIME HAD A UNIFORM TEMPERATURE AND CLIMATE. The Bible in Genesis 1:6 teaches that there was water above the sky. This condition doesn’t exist today because that water fell upon the earth during the great Noahic flood.

The water above the sky would have had a greenhouse effect so that the temperature around the globe would have been uniform and tropical, even at the North and South poles.

Please read my popular Internet article, ARE FOSSILS REALLY MILLIONS OF YEARS OLD?  Evolutionary dating methods are not infallible and far from accurate.

Check out some of my Internet articles and sites: NATURAL LIMITS OF EVOLUTION, WAR AMONG EVOLUTIONISTS (2nd Edition), NO HALF-EVOLVED DINOSAURS, DOES GOD PARTICLE EXPLAIN UNIVERSE'S ORIGIN? THE SCIENCE SUPPORTING CREATION

Sincerely,
Babu G. Ranganathan*
(B.A. Bible/Biology)

Author of the popular Internet article, TRADITIONAL DOCTRINE OF HELL EVOLVED FROM GREEK ROOTS

*I have given successful lectures (with question and answer period afterwards) defending creation before evolutionist science faculty and students at various colleges and universities. I've been privileged to be recognized in the 24th edition of Marquis "Who's Who in The East" for my writings on religion and science.

DavidNutzuki
DavidNutzuki

Reporting on the climate blame crisis exaggeration has done to science, journalism and progressivism what naughty priests did for religion.

*Not one single IPCC warning has ever said any crisis will happen only could.*

*They only agreed it COULD be a climate crisis but it the lab coats still say climate change is; "real and happening". * Yes it was a pure war crime!

28 years of "maybe" proves it "won't be" a crisis and science can end this silly debate to save the planet from Human CO2 (not pollution) just by saying their planet endangering crisis is as real as they like to say comet hits are.

And did Bush utter CO2 death threats to billions of helpless children and bully them to the greenhouse gas ovens of an exaggerated crisis?

BobShafer
BobShafer

It's just a shame that there isn't a really large body of water next to Los Angeles that people get water from.  Instead we will all just have to go thirsty.

SkipperSam
SkipperSam

Just make the cost of water

Tier 1 actual cost for normal family of 4

Tier 2 25% premiun family of 4

Tier 3 Industrial use Non potable

Tier 4 Industrial use potable

Tier 5 50 % premium family use

Tier 6 Industrial use Non potable 25 % premium

Tier 7 Industrial use potable 25 % premium

Tier 8 75% premiun Family use

Tier 9 Industrial use Non potable 50 % premium

Tier 10 Industrial use potable 50 % premium


awakenthesoul
awakenthesoul

Hurricane Sandy wasn't unprecedented. In 1938, a hurricane hit up there causing the same damage as Sandy. Just fewer people lived there and the news didn't focus on it 24/7 because poor Mayor Bloomberg's metropolis was in a tizzy. Climate change may be happening but some of it is natural and some of the disasters we face are because we have millions living in cities consuming natural resources and eroding the shorelines which had natural barriers against the storms at one point. 

jhoughton1
jhoughton1

No one is saying that precipitation will drop in California, just the snowpack.  In fact, global warming could produce MORE precipitation.  Thing is, snowpack is a great way to store water.  If temperatures are going to rise and less water is going to fall as snow, we're going to have to come up with new ways to store it.  Which means dams.  Environmentalists -- good people all -- don't like dams.  But if you fly over the Sierra Nevada there are one heck of a lot of canyons that could be dammed and there'd still be plenty -- plenty! -- of wild, undammed canyons left over.  

The other side of the coin is that Southern California has conservation skills that range from lousy to non-existent.  From backyard pools that just sit there and evaporate water month in and month out with maybe a few swimmers a year, to sprinklers that go unadjusted and untimed, too many houses with old-fashioned high-flow toilets and...the most important, people who just don't seem to care and don't make water conservation even a tiny part of their day.  LA could cut its water needs in half with simple conservation.  It's only going to happen, though, when the price of water goes up and no politician wants the price of water going up on his watch.

One way or another, things will have to change. 

wonfish
wonfish

The reason for the federal government being slow is not due to inhomogeneity.  It is the buying off the lawmakers my the coal and energy companies.  And the buy-off of the Republican party and their mouthpieces such as Fox news.

rodel
rodel

why the word "THANKS" to climate change or whatever?

PatrishDehler
PatrishDehler

It doesn't if you believe in global warming or not - are planet is changing.  I believe it is too late to fix the CO2 problem. By the time countries realize there is a real climate problem and want to fix it, it won't matter.  We are getting exactly what we deserve for being so selfish and not working with the planet.  Spend the 1st 35 years of my life in California - it was always dry  .

jdyer2
jdyer2

"Add in the fact that Los Angeles is expected to grow to 13 million people by 2050".  Bryan, you report this like this is something that no one has any control over.  If a city was created in a desert, where man is not supposed to live, and the city is expected to run out of water.  Why can't a city take measures to limit its growth?  Why not a ban on new building construction?  This country has a religious zealotry about growth, that it is immoral not to support it.  If a region does not have the resources to support its people, its population needs to stabilize until it can figure the solutions out.



I_CALL_BS_ON_THAT
I_CALL_BS_ON_THAT

This underlying (and wildly wrong) assumption is that -small- changes in energy consumption will have magic effect on climate.  If, (and that's a great big if),  the computer models that predict environmental doom are correct, worldwide reduction of excess CO2 would have to be in the range of 80% (no, that's not a typo).  How do you get 80% reduction in excess CO2?  You have replace fossil with something else. What is that something else?  There isn't a solution right now.  Solar and wind are just gimmicks (really, they  account for less than 5% of our total electrical energy production today, 80% of our current electricity generation is fossil). 


Now, let's look at at 80% of -worldwide- production.  The US emits (2011 numbers) about 16% of the world's CO2. China is at whopping 29%.   Does this editor believe that china will reduce their emissions? by 80%? 

The problem with this kind of shallow journalism is that the writer feels morally superior to the rest of us because he believes he understands the problem. That people in the US are just so "stupid" to not do a quick fix to global warming.  He has no idea what he is talking about. Hasn't done basic back-of-the-envelope estimates.  He's a blind faith believer in the models. No questions.  No reason to doubt. No in depth analysis.  Al Gore told him that they were true.  That is good enough for him.  Hallelujah and pass the carbon tax credits.

Oh, and the fact, that for the last 1.5 decades, our warming rate can slowed considerably means that model that this reporter/zealot blindly believes as "truth" are wildly inaccurate.   That inconvenient truth doesn't seem to make it into Time.   Or maybe that according to NOAA, Spring of 2013 was the 38th coldest spring of the last 117 years.    No it's better to promulgate the religion of catastrophic global climate change.

JimBullis
JimBullis

The only thing that is clear on this subject is that US actions will have no real impact, unless they go beyond the austerity measures that are being discussed.  Even if we throw our economy in the tank, the reasonable plans of developing nations to achieve higher prosperity like ours will cause far more CO2 increase than we would save.

Weather patterns could change, though the only thing that is reasonably certain is that sea levels will rise, some.  There probably will be more moisture in the air but ocean heat content will increase to slow down the atmospheric changes.

But for those who want something to change in a serious way, a path could be to reconsider agriculture as the great opportunity, and an example set by us could be taken up by developing countries.  With due care, we could convert minimally productive land into highly productive land and include standing forests in the new areas.  This would move CO2 from the atmosphere to crop vegetation, a dynamic aggregate of which would represent held carbon.  Part of this could return to the soil as permanently stored carbon.

We could actually work to increase usage of our National agricultural resources, and one way would be to establish universal irrigation to end drought and flood as well as provide means for much expanded agriculture.

While we wait to get around to such projects, we are working to make agricultural work more attractive and to make farm operations more profitable.  For latest progress, see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=97XQDD3w-cU


wm
wm

Lets keep everything in perspective. 2 years ago we had a record snowfall in california.

kpennett
kpennett

The article is very misleading and alarmist. In fact, the LA metro has done well with water storage, production of recycled water,  and smarter use of water. All water agencies are planning ahead for a more arid future and a bigger population. So...there is plenty reason to be cautiously optimistic that all will be well with water supplies because of smarter management.  The UCLA study focused on predicted snowfall for the local mountains, by the way, which do not supply the region with much water. The real threat comes from lack of snowfall in the Sierra, the inability of the state government to build a modern canal system, and federal court rulings that may divert Colorado River water to other states.

MrTimeAttack
MrTimeAttack

The fact of the matter is that there are relatively "simple" actions that could be taken to help address the perpetual water shortage here in California. Residents and elected leaders, past and present, here in California have been dealing with water shortages for hundreds of years.

Having lived here in SoCal for 35 years, I find it to be absurd just how much water is allocated to watering lawns. It's been long overdue to place a moratorium on lawns for all new homes... and to gradually roll out outright bans on all existing front lawns by 20XX date.  I'm fine with people having lawns in their backyards... how many people actually use there front lawns for anything even remotely useful? Based on my neighborhood, I'd peg the number at 95% don't...  We chose to tear up our lawn when the water district offered us $1.00/sq.ft. to tear it out.. and replaced it with xeriscaping...  :-)  It sure is nice to have water bills that are 50% lower.

More often than not, the cost of water is also much too cheap. Price water as the scarce resource that it is, and people will use LESS of it.


There are sensible decisions that should be made, than when enacted, truly won't impact people's lives as much as they like to make believe.

chickenlips2007
chickenlips2007

Go back 100 years and there are both cold and hot records not broken to this day. Cars today put out a fraction of the pollution that vehicles did just a couple of decades ago and far less the further back you go. Everything has had huge emission reductions and America is cleaner than ever before but we cannot control the world. Since the United States is doing more than anyone else, why are we beating ourselves up and in a panic that the world will cease to exist if we don't "heal" the planet. We recycle and have alternative fuels, solar, wind, electric cars, hydrogen, natural gas all are clean sources but it's not enough. It is proven that the earth goes through heating and cooling cycles and now we are in the early stages of a heating cycle of unknown duration. We can only do so much before we cross the line into obsession and bankrupt our economy while destroying America. We cannot count the grains of sand on a beach anymore than we can we can stop climate change with our ideas of turning the American lifestyle and way of life upside down.

Vintage-M
Vintage-M

Bryan Walsh should go out on a limb and say it will or won't --- not maybe.  Don't throw a blanket of grey area over everything just in case what you think might be possible and might happen will happen.  Commit to it, that way when it does happen everyone will know Bryan was right, but when it doesn't, and people are starving because guys like this along with the EPA put their work out of business-- Then they'll know also.


Or if he is so concerned about the ability of peoples to get water, he should be up in arms regarding the Colorado river and how it is barely a trickle if at all by the time it reaches Mexico.

I mean look at this guy, Green energy, and Climate Change/ Global Warming religion followers must have him on speed dial.  Just article after article.  Why is it they don't call it Global Warming anymore, wasn't it because they didn't have enough selective scientifically observed evidence to show the world was warming.  Its a giant Marketing campaign and as soon as places felt cooler, they'd could look you and the public in the face and say it's global warming.  This guy talks out the side of his mouth, otherwise he might say it was peculiar how winter hung around the Midwest into May.  Just ask the walleye fishermen.

Bryan, and his ilk, would rather you be out of work, struggling to support your family, relying on the government, while he goes to his socialite eco parties, where everyone thinks they know what's better for you.  Same people that look down on the middle and lower classes and turn their nose up... they wouldn't admit it but come on.  They would rather you struggle, be out of work, and have to figure out how to pay for gas that is high as possible, I'm talking $9 - $10+ a gallon.... That is a fact:

http://news.investors.com/ibd-editorials/022912-602761-obama-is-not-fighting-to-lower-gas-prices-.htm

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9nfPbMklrJE

And don't bring up that gas taxes are unchanged- that ignorant and stupid.  There are much bigger tools (regulation) the EPA can just do on its own that can move energy up or down... clean coal anyone, anyone?

I thought these were supposed to be the guys that care about the lower class people.  You all were had, and Bryan is one guy on the list of blame.... Thinking he knows what's best for everyone.

gorks4yes
gorks4yes

Big Bear will be formally known as Big Bare.

bogie2112
bogie2112

I love that it's not called Global Warming anymore either. Climate Change? When in the history of the Earth has there not been Climate change? I'm all for cleaning things up on this planet but can we loose the Climate scam and go back to the crying Indian overlooking the dirty lake?

chdouglas058
chdouglas058

Why report a scientist's theory as fact?  Of course the snowpack "could" fall as much as 30-40%.  It could also increase as much as 30 to 40%.  Theory and fact are two different things.  While you argue that global warming is the cause, the claims made in the article are your opinion.