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Friday, May 1, 2015

Upstream, downstream; what happens to health when there IS no more stream?


I've had a pretty good recurrent go at the so-called "upstream" issues pertaining to health, e.g., here, and here, for example. The assertion is made that perhaps 90% of human health is atributable to "upstream" factors outside the clinical care delivery system: genetics (to the extent that they are still considered "outside of care delivery"), lifestyle factors, culture, poverty, pollution, and environmental factors more broadly.


California, where I now live, is in the clutches of a severe and prolonged drought, one possibly lurching toward the catastrophic (statewide, we have less than a year's supply left, by some estimates).

The image above is from a current New Yorker article "The Dying Sea."
The Dying Sea
What will California sacrifice to survive the drought?
by Dana Goodyear

...In early April, the governor of California ordered the state to conserve a million and a half acre-feet of water in the next nine months, a drastic response to an intensifying four-year drought that has devastated small communities in the north, decimated groundwater supplies in the Central Valley, and made the cities fear for the future. To achieve this savings, Californians are starting to forgo some of the givens of life in modern America: long showers, frequent laundering, toilet-flushing, gardening, golf. It can be hard to visualize a quantity of water. An acre-foot is what it takes to cover an acre to the depth of twelve inches: some three hundred and twenty-five thousand gallons. A million acre-feet is about what the city of Los Angeles uses in two years. A million acre-feet, give or take, is also how much runs off to the Salton Sea each year from the farms of the surrounding Imperial Valley. Salty, spent, and full of selenium and phosphates, the excess water flows down to the sea, where, two hundred and thirty feet below sea level, it evaporates under a blistering sun...
Indeed. In our household, we have reduced the frequency and length of our showering, reduced toilet flushing, -- "if it's yellow, let it mellow" -- and routinely capture the water that runs from the taps while awaiting needed hot water. The yard is slowly turning brown, as are the surrounding hills of Contra Costa County. The terms of our lease state that "drought conditions are not considered 'acts of God' for purposes of this agreement, and the lessee shall be responsible for maintaining the vegetation on the property in healthy condition through application of sufficient irrigation watering." While that provision is probably unenforceable in the wake of Governor Brown's recent statewide drought Executive Order, it would not surprise me were my landlord to dun us for "landscape damage" by withholding some of our $3,000 deposit were we to move.

There are projections that residential water rates may soon triple. Critics of that approach bemoan the anti-regulatory "libertarian" socioeconomic "efficient markets" tactic of "rationing by price," given that the most affluent residents may simply shrug their shoulders and pay. After all, there are tee times to be had, Lexuses to be washed, and pools to remain filled.

We've been considering buying a house, one closer to my wife's office, but -- current market prices and earthquake considerations aside -- predictions are emerging forecasting a severe housing market downturn by 2017 or so should the drought persist and worsen. At our ages, we don't have time to make a bad housing move and slide -- well,  "underwater." We're fortunately now among the very small minority of incipient retirees with money in the bank (including healthy IRAs), positive net worth, no debt, and positive cash flow. A mortgage gone south might well negate all of that.

Portugal is starting to look pretty good. ;)

LOL. Everyone should have my problems.

Back to "The Dying Sea." and "upstream health issues."


Between the needs of the city and the farmers sits the Salton Sea, which conservation will destroy. “The sea is the linchpin between Colorado River water and urban Southern California,” Michael Cohen, a senior research associate at the Pacific Institute, a water-policy think tank, says. Without the inflows, the sea, already shrinking, will recede dramatically, exposing miles of lake bed loaded with a hundred years’ worth of contaminants. Much of the wildlife will disappear—poisoned, starved, or driven off. The consequences for people around the region could be dire, too. Before irrigation, the valley was plagued by violent dust storms. With the water gone, the lake bed could emit as much as a hundred tons of fine, caustic dust a day, leading to respiratory illness in the healthy and representing an acute hazard for people with compromised immune systems. No one knows how far that dust can travel on the wind. Mary Nichols, the state’s top air-quality official, says, “The nightmare scenario is the pictures we’ve all seen of the Dust Bowl that contributed to the formation of California in the first place.”
Last year, when Axel Rodriguez was four, he started coughing, a weird cough that sounded like a drum, deep and percussive, and scratchy, as though something inside his chest were trying to claw its way out. The cough would go away for a few days, only to come back stronger.

Axel’s mother, Michelle Valdez, is twenty-four, with straight, dark waist-length hair and, behind studious glasses, eyes made up like Cleopatra. She told me recently that the problem had started in August, when the family moved into a new house, a pale-yellow stucco rental in Calexico, about thirty miles south of the Salton Sea. “The houses in this area catch a lot of dirt,” she said—from the cars on the heavily trafficked road nearby, from the grass that the landlord insists on mowing, from neighboring Mexicali, the polluted city of a million just across the Mexican border, and, most of all, she said, from the farm fields throughout the valley. “We are in a hole here,” she said. “All the nasty stuff just sits in it.”

In September, the cough came and didn’t let up for two weeks. “Morning, afternoon, evening, it was cough, cough, cough,” Valdez said. Axel missed school, and his throat got so swollen that he could barely eat. He became a regular at the emergency room. Valdez and her husband, Antonio Marron, plied Axel with cough syrups, drops, Claritin—they’d been told he had allergies—and when those didn’t work they contemplated taking him to Mexicali for an herbal cure. “I was very desperate,” Valdez said. The medicines were also putting pressure on their finances. At the time, Marron was making about two hundred dollars a week working at Best Buy; Valdez stayed home, taking care of Axel and his sister, Ana, who is three.

One windy, cold morning in September, Axel told his mother that his chest hurt and he couldn’t breathe. Marron covered Axel’s face with a blanket and took him to the emergency room again. His lungs were swollen and full of mucus. This time, Marron was told what the family had already begun to suspect: Axel had asthma. At the hospital that day, they met a nurse, Aide Fulton, who runs the Imperial Valley Child Asthma Program. She began to educate them about how to manage a chronic condition in an environment seemingly designed to aggravate it.

Around the same time, Valdez had an episode herself, a tightening in her chest that felt as if someone were squeezing her with a belt. She went to the hospital, and learned that she’d lost a quarter of the capacity of her right lung. The diagnosis was chronic obstructed pulmonary disease, a condition associated with lifelong smoking. Valdez, who is not a smoker, has a genetic predisposition to C.O.P.D., but this was her first experience of it. She said, “I told my husband, ‘I never had an attack until you brought me here!’ ” Not that Marron has been spared. His current job, installing alarm systems, has him in and out of doors all day, and he recently came down with an infection in his lungs.

The valley is eighty per cent Latino and mostly poor. It also has the state’s highest rate of asthma-related hospitalization for children. The Imperial Valley Child Asthma Program is the only free asthma-education program in the county, and it operates on an average budget of a hundred and forty-six thousand dollars a year. Fulton told me that in the past few years there has been an increase in referrals from the towns adjacent to the Salton Sea. (At one school, in the seaside town of Calipatria, sixty-five children are ill.) “We already have an unmet need,” she said. “What are we going to do when the Salton Sea dries out?” She is thinking of her clients, and she is thinking of herself. Her husband has asthma, her oldest daughter has asthma, and, after twenty-five years in the valley, she has it, too. “The issue of the sea is a bomb,” she said. “It’s a monster coming to get us all.”...
I've been following southwestern drought issues for years. Dozens of millions of us in the region are at increasing risk across a variety of fronts -- including health.

Started posting about the drought when I lived in Vegas. See my post "Las Vegas: The next Anasazi Ruin?"

I recently updated the Excel sheet I've long kept to track the inexorably declining water levels in Lake Mead.




The all-time high water level of Lake Mead came in July 1983 at 1,223 feet above sea level. It has dropped some 145 vertical feet since then. That is a lot of water. The Colorado River Rocky Mountains watershed source snowpack has been steadily declining for decades. The Sierra Nevada watershed snowpack, source of California's hydrological cycle water, hit an all-time low this year.

UPDATE

 

'eh?

It's a southwestern US crisis writ large, but, California, with its 39 million population and huge economy is Ground Zero.
California snowpack survey canceled: 'Drought is severe'

State water officials had planned to make the trek back to the Sierra Nevada in the coming days to conduct their snowpack measurement Friday.

But Thursday they announced they wouldn’t bother. For the second consecutive month, there won’t be any snow to measure.

“This is just another piece of information in a series of increasingly dismal findings,” said Department of Water Resources spokesman Doug Carlson. “It nails down that the drought is severe – maybe as severe as any in our history.”


The latest disappointing news comes a month after Gov. Jerry Brown stood on a field at Phillips Station – where this week’s manual measurement was to occur – and announced California’s first mandatory statewide water use cuts to combat the ongoing drought. It was the only April 1 survey since 1941 without any snow.

Officials say conditions have gotten even worse since then. 

Though the manual measurement east of Sacramento often provides a backdrop for media coverage, the state uses electronic sensors up and down the Sierra to measure the water content of the snow. Snowpack accounts for about 30% of the state's water supply when it melts in the late spring and summer and replenishes reservoirs.

On April 1, statewide measurements showed that the snowpack’s water content was just 5% normal for that date, the lowest in records going back to 1950. Thursday’s readings indicate the snowpack’s water content is half an inch or about 3% of normal for this time period...
The Political Opportunity of a Drought
California Governor Jerry Brown's push for massive cuts to greenhouse-gas emissions turns a crisis into an opportunity to legislate.


“I can tell you, from California, climate change is not a hoax," California Governor Jerry Brown told Martha Raddatz earlier this month. "We’re dealing with it, and it’s damn serious.”

The key word missing from Brown's widely disseminated Sunday morning show soundbite was "drought." While his appearance on This Week was ostensibly meant to be about California's worst-ever drought on record, he parlayed the segment into a broader conversation about climate change.

With alarming reports about water shortages and the state's warmest-ever winter, Brown has successfully folded the issue of the drought into a broader slate of ambitious environmental reforms. But even as he puts together billion-dollar relief packages and labels climate-change opposition "immoral," he does so without explicitly linking the drought to global warming.

Even though reports from agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have refrained from laying the historic drought at the foot of global warming, Brown has used the general sense of crisis to move ahead on climate-change issues. Brown's efforts are not only affecting California, but the rest of the country as well.


In an executive order on Wednesday, Brown called for the most aggressive cuts to carbon emissions in North America. The order establishes that California "must cut the pollutants to 40% below 1990 levels by the year 2030, more than a decade after he leaves office," the Los Angeles Times reported.

“California is taking the most aggressive steps to deal with pollution and the effects of climate change,” he told a roaring crowd at a climate-change conference in California.

As Bloomberg notes, in order to achieve this new target, the state will have to "require utilities to get more electricity from low-pollution sources, compel industries to cut smokestack emissions further and encourage greater numbers of cleaner cars on roads." One likely upshot is that California's efforts are going to impact businesses and utilities in other states, making the Golden State's policy a meaningful factor elsewhere in the country...
How will all of this affect human health? What will happen if/when the stream runs dry? We may begin finding out in relatively short order.

"What will California sacrifice to survive the drought?"
Poor people? Their livelihoods, their health? Remember, When it comes to health, your zip code matters more than your genetic code.


Another adverse health consideration linked to protracted drought? Elevated rates of  severe, widespread wildfires and the environmental (and respiratory) damage they cause. Below, estimate 2015 wildfire rate increases.


IN OTHER NEWS
California's Drought Has Killed Over 12 Million Trees In The Last Year

California's historic drought is having a major impact on the state's forests.

According to an aerial survey conducted last month by the U.S. Forest Service, approximately 12 million forest trees have died in Southern California and the southern Sierra Nevada mountains over the last year. The report credits unusually high temperatures, a diminished snowpack and a severe lack of rainfall with drying up the trees, leaving the region susceptible to forest fires.

Of the more than 4.2 million acres surveyed in Southern California, researchers found 164,000 acres with high tree mortality. They found approximately 2 million trees had died over the last year.

In the southern Sierras, researchers found over 10 million perished trees in 4.1 million acres. There, mortality is "widespread and severe" in the foothills among ponderosa, gray pine, blue oak and live oak trees.

Jeffrey Moore, the acting aerial survey program manager for the region, told the Los Angeles Times he expects the mass tree mortality to continue throughout the summer...
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UPDATE
California drought: Can railroads come to the rescue?
CNBC: Jeff Daniels, @jeffdanielsca

As California's four-year drought worsens and water supplies dwindle in the state, an old technology—railroads—could play a role in alleviating some water shortages.

"We certainly have that capability today," said Mike Trevino, a spokesman for privately held BNSF Railway, which operates one of the largest freight railroad networks in North America. "We carry chlorine, for example. We carry liquefied commodities."
Experts say the East Coast's plentiful water could cost cents per gallon to Californians and provide a stable, potable water supply for small communities. Obstacles include identifying a state willing to share some of its water, and securing the construction funds for key infrastructure work, including terminals that can handle water...
 Yeah. I was on that years ago.



From the CNBC article:
"Experts say the East Coast's plentiful water could cost cents per gallon to Californians and provide a stable, potable water supply for small communities."
That is simply not true, at least in the sense that the "cents per gallon" assertion is meant to imply that the cost would be trivial, consequently making large-scale rail water transport economically viable. An acre-foot of water weighs 1390 tons. This acre-foot would fill 10 of the largest DOT-100 rail tank cars, each of which has a tare (empty) weight of 62 tons. At the usually cited 5 cents per ton-mile rail freight transport cost, you're looking at $100 per mile per acre-foot. Forget the "east coast." Assume, for the sake of illustrative argument, that you could drop a "straw" into Lake Superior (with its massive 2,903 cubic miles of water) -- at, say, Duluth -- pump it into rail tank cars and transport it ~2,000 miles to parched California. (Those living around Lake Superior would never miss it, but they'd invariably Primal-Scream howl that the exporters were going to drain the lake dry for the benefit of San Joaquin Valley walnut growers and other SoCal billionaires.)

I get 62 cents per gallon just for the transport.
Even were we to, say, alternatively route such hypothesized RR water tankers to the headwaters of the Colorado River Watershed northwest of Denver, up just past the Continental Divide (about 1,100 miles from Chicago or Duluth) to then discharge the water into the headwaters streams for subsequent gravity-borne southwestward downhill flow, you're still talking perhaps 32 cents per gallon (and you'd lose a bunch of it to evaporation across the rest of the journey).
Other issues: the states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, as well as (most importantly) the nation of Canada are unlikely to say "yeah, sure, by all means, help yourselves." Even moving the "straw" loading terminal south to Lake Michigan might not take Canada out of the policy picture (given the zero-sum fungibility of water), and would add ticked-off locals residing in Illinois and Indiana to the "not-in-my-backyard" states-level fray.



Moreover, there are only an estimated 300,000 DOT-111 rail tank cars in the north American freight market standing stock inventory, hauling every imaginable liquid commodity. While the image of a "rolling water pipeline" might present an alluring visual, it seems impractical to me at requisite scale. California alone consumes an estimated 8.5 million acre-feet of water per year. 10 rail cars per acre-foot? Do the math.


One tough problem.

CODA

Interesting "Seawater Desalination" post by the San Diego County Water Authority.

Outside-the-Box Afterthought on Desal

Two inherent liabilities of desal are [1] intense power consumption and [2] the brine effluent. Related to the first concern are the environmental impact of burning dirty extractive fuels to generate the electricity for the reverse osmosis process.

OK, rotate two of our ten nuke carriers in and out of station offshore (one off the northern coast, one off the south) to provide desal energy (far enough offshore to effectively mitigate the brine concentration problem on land), pumping the water into conventional tankers for subsequent distribution. Typical long range tanker ship capacity is about 20 million gallons (61 acre-feet).

The Navy could still do their routine training ops while powering desal production.

Gets around the problems of dirty hydrocarbon fuels emissions, prohibitive civilian nuke plant licensing obstacles, and ground-based nuke plant California earthquake concerns.


I know. Crazy.

Whatever. There are no cheap solutions. Cheaper than the socioeconomic (and broader misery index) upshot of a new dustbowl, though.
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MAY 8TH UPDATE

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More to come...

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