California 2050 Forecast Script

PART 1: intro, power/water, heat/drought

Hey folks, this is Dr Emily Schoerning with AR, and it’s time to talk about California.  This is a big state, it’s got a tremendous landscape diversity, and that means it’s got a tremendous diversity of challenges ahead.  And let me tell you, we know a lot about those challenges.  To give you some perspective on the density of the current information, one of the things I do when I write these forecasts, I see how many times the state is mentioned in that big federal report.  Sometimes it’s like five times, means I gotta go dig deeper.  Or it might be like fifty times, gives me a nice robust pile of initial resources.  In California’s case, the report mentions the state 461 times. 

            So, let’s just say, the data on California is overwhelming.  Hard to access that much information.  And let’s get real.  If you’re watching this from California, your question is not “are things going to get bad”.  I know how it’s been going there, I lived there for a year with my family around 2018, big fire year.  If you’re watching from California, you want a realistic assessment of where conditions are going, what you should do in response, and where you can find some hope.  I’m gonna get you that information.

Okay.  Before we look at some maps, we need to set the stage.  Because the more I learned about the state’s projections, the more I could see that there are really entwined systems, system level problems going on here.  This video, we’re going to talk about the power/water system challenge, and the drought/heat feedback system.  Part two, we’re going to talk about projected weather changes, particularly in the wet season, and how those relate to wildfire risks; the rain/fire system.  We’re going to connect that to the land and sea, get you some really serious info on California’s coasts and ocean economy.  We’ll bring everything together as we consider impacts on human health, alongside direct actions.  If what you care about is local outlook, we’re looking at maps with highly localized information throughout both parts, and both parts are available today.

Alright, let’s get started.  California, you’ve got the biggest, best-characterized problems in the nation, and we’re going to break them down.

 California’s future depends on power and water.  We need them both flowing, and in CA more than any other state they’re deeply entwined with each other.  A lot of power generation in CA is hydroelectric or thermoelectric.  Both of those methods require water, either direct or indirect.  So power needs water. 

Then, consider the State Water Project.  The SWP gets water to 27 million people.  That’s almost 7 out of 10 Californians, drink from the State Water Project.  Only a third of the SWP water goes to agriculture, give some context.  The State Water Project is the single biggest energy consumer in the state.  So water needs power. 

So, as we struggle with water in California, we’re going to struggle with power.  If the power gets messed up, the water delivery is going to get messed up.  If water is unavailable due to drought, or if there’s a disruption in the power needed for pumping, your ability to generate power is going to go way down.  I want you to look at this power map- 1134- power generation is projected to decrease substantially in California by 2050.  If you’re a ride or die Californian concerned about preparedness, you should be very aware that power disruptions will lead to water disruptions for, right now, 7 out of 10 Californians.

When we look into what’s causing the projected drops in power generating efficiency, a lot of that is from the drought.  Causes reduction or total loss for the hydroelectric generators, and the decreased efficiency of thermoelectric generation. But, fortunately, there’s a direct action solution that will take some of the stress off of this system loop, and that is distributed solar.  Distributed solar, or rooftop solar, could make up a substantial portion of the projected energy deficit by 2050.  Distributed solar would give the state power that didn’t rely so directly on the power-water system.  And it would let us keep our footprint inside our cities, not mess up so much wildlife habitat as a big solar field would.  San Diego’s done the math locally, rooftop solar would take care of 2/3rds of the projected power deficit in their area.  So this is a very hopeful note, here.

Let’s look more at the water issues, learn more about how they’re impacting power by checking out the reservoirs:

            Supplies San Diego & Los Angeles (and Las Vegas)

So, we can see that water levels are low, low for the last few years.  I don’t have great data to visualize how low these lows are compared to, like, a thirty year average.  But I know things are getting worse than they have been, that this is the first year there isn’t water to go around.  Agricultural allotments are being cut in Arizona, deep cuts.  With water levels this low, the western US experiences a direct impact on our ability to generate hydroelectric power.  That’s very serious for California and Nevada, and we need to understand more about what to expect.  So let’s move over, talk about why water levels are so low, and how it’s related to the drought/heat system we’re in.    

The Southwest is currently in a drought that is more than likely part of a natural cycle for this landscape.  The Southwest has gone through this massive drought cycle before, it had a major impact on people living in the region then.  There’s memory of it, lots of stories in the western tribes about the megadrought in the late 1200s, it massively disrupted the Pueblo culture.  We’re talking, like, Black Death level cultural memory, the kind of thing people tell stories about for hundreds of years.

Now people are getting walloped by the big drought again.  This cycle is already the worst drought in the area in 1200 years.  The increased heat in the area is making it worse, check out our historical heat increase in the Southwest.  Use page 1117.

As it gets hotter, it probably doesn’t surprise you that plants consume more water.  The heat also dries out the soil, it can make it harder for the soil to retain moisture depending on the particular environment.  So this increased heat is going to intensify the drought.  And now, I’m going to show you a couple of different types of heat projections.  Unfortunately, we are looking at surprising increases in both typical and extreme heat.

Let’s look at the changes in your normal summer first.  This here is the USDA heat map.  We’re going to take some time walking around the state, I want to make sure you get a good view of your area. 

Then Heat Map.  Point out differences in 4.5/8.5.

Let’s take a minute, and look at the increases in extreme heat, too. Might as well get the full picture, right?  1139 for projected increases in extreme heat. 

So, we see that heat information, it’s not great from a whole lot of directions.  Any city a person can sort of afford to live, Fresno, Bakersfield, is going to get really hot.  Sacramento is on the edge, Sacramento could be looking at a little less change.  They’ve done a nice job with the urban tree cover in Sacramento, that helps.  LA is going to be dealing with heat it is just not designed for.  Many people in LA do not have air conditioning, they’re going to need it, and you can imagine the impact on the state’s power systems.  The central coast, the possibility of it losing its distinct character, that really makes me mad.  Central coast is my favorite part of the state.

There are a lot of reasons to fight for 4.5, but the biggest reasons are all up in the northern half of the state.  That looks just scary at 8.5. 

And either way, even under the best scenario we’ve got modeled here, that’s a massive change projected up there in the northwest corner, and it really, it just sucks.  If you look, you can see from satellite how bad the tree death has been in that area.  Without that tree cover, it gets hotter, that pushes the drought cycle forward, it’s bad. 

I hate seeing such things happen to the more remote places, like we find in this corner.  Those are the kind of place that I think are nice to live, myself.  Lot of room to breathe, nice agriculture, lots of outdoors stuff to do.  I hope these communities can get word of these challenges, start looking into real serious water solutions, because those big coastal cities?  Desalination is going to mean those cities can keep drinking, no matter what.  Desalination is expensive, it costs energy, but we’re already using this tech to keep people drinking in Texan cities.  I think the coastal cities will be able to handle water if push comes to shove.  But I worry about the smaller, the more remote farming communities.  People who live in communities like that, we know that we need to take care of ourselves when things get hairy.  There are ways to build water resilience, different farming techniques, different water conservation and water gathering techniques.  We gotta get ready.

With the drought, right now, many people are making a short-term logical choice and using the groundwater to make up for the lack of surface water.  A lot of farmers are pumping groundwater.  Newsflash to everyone who’s mad about that, nobody’s pumping groundwater because they think it’s fun, or because they think it’s a great long-term decision.  People are doing it because they’re trying to hold on to their land, and corporations are doing it because they’re selling our future overseas in the form of almonds.  We gotta find a way to stop pumping the groundwater.  If we want farmers, regular human farmers, families who are just trying to hold onto their land, if we want them to stop pumping the groundwater, they need targeted assistance to help them make an economically tolerable transition.  These people are hurting, and all of us, everybody involved, knows it is likely to get worse. 

Alright.  We talked about water and power, we talked about drought and heat, and many of you, maybe your mind goes in the same direction as mine, we’re going talk about fire.  And you probably know we can’t talk about fire without talking about the wet season, so we got another system concept coming up.  But I gotta take a break.  You take one, too, we’ll come back and get going with that rain/fire system.