Executive Summary for October 23rd

For an overview of the latest news on the California drought, we’ve organized the most recent developments in a curated summary.

Published on Oct. 23, 2015 Read time Approx. 5 minutes

Study: Most Businesses Lack Drought Resilience

The consulting group CDP recently completed a study of 400 major corporations grading their ability to withstand environmental disruptions, particularly water scarcity. Only eight of them received an “A” grade.

“Just as oil was to the 20th century, water is fast becoming the defining resource of the 21st century,” Cate Lamb, head of water programs at the firm, said in a statement. “Unfortunately however, unlike oil, there is no replacement for water.”

Two-thirds of the companies surveyed expect water problems to affect their operations in the year ahead. Yet despite ongoing water crises such as the drought in California, more than half of companies (53 percent ) are failing to conduct a comprehensive risk assessment – a basic first step for any company seeking to ensure business resilience against water issues.

This represents a risk not only to investors in these companies, but to the larger national and global economy.

Forbes reports that the industries most exposed to water risk are consumer staples and utilities. Others evaluated in the report include consumer discretionary, energy, healthcare, industrials, information technology and materials.

One of the companies to receive an “A” rating is Ford Motor Co. The company says it has cut total total water consumption by 62 percent from 2000 to 2014, saving roughly 10 billion gallons of water. It aims to achieve “water-free” production eventually.

“We want to find ways that totally reduce our footprint, that — to the extent we can — do not use water,” Andy Hobbs, director of Ford’s environmental quality office in Detroit, told International Business Times. “We don’t know how to get to a full zero yet, but we’re getting close.”

The only other U.S.-based company to make the “A” list is Colgate Palmolive. The six others on the list are: Asahi Group Holdings (Japan), Harmony Gold Mining Co. (S. Africa), Kumba Iron Ore (S. Africa), Metsa Board (Finland), Rohm Co. (Japan) and Toyota Motor Corp. (Japan).

Follow-up: The Republican El Niño Letter

Yesterday we reported on a letter that several GOP members of the House of Representatives planned to send to President Obama and California Gov. Jerry Brown. Now the letter has been released.

The letter is signed by every Republican member of the House representing California. It makes a reasonable request for information about how state and federal agencies intend to capture heavy rain that may come with the El Niño weather conditions expected this winter. It does not demand specific projects or policy actions.

But the central argument in the letter represents a fundamental break in logic:

“We believe,” it states, “that federal and state environmental policies and regulations have negatively impacted California’s current situation by denying us the ability to capture water for human use and consumption now and to better prepare ourselves for situations like the current drought.”

The problem with this statement is that the lawmakers seem to believe “capturing water for human use” is the only way precipitation benefits people. The inherent desire of the GOP representatives, as they made clear in interviews with the press published about this letter, is to prevent storm runoff from rushing out to sea, where they believe it is somehow lost to human benefit.

“The concept of diverting that much needed water into the ocean is irrational and infuriating,” Rep. David Valadao (R-Hanford), a signatory to the letter, told The Los Angeles Times.

Valadao’s word choice, of course, represents an even greater break in logic. Storm runoff is not “diverted” to the sea. That’s where it flows naturally. Instead, it is “diverted” into canals and pumps and reservoirs to serve cities and farms.

Water that does not get diverted for human purposes still helps people. It nurtures healthy ecosystems that clean the air, remove pollution from the water, sequester carbon dioxide, provide habitat for fish we eat (such as salmon, sturgeon, bass and sardines) and ultimately returns to the atmosphere and watersheds to cycle back to us as more fresh water.

These effects are particularly important in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas. Numerous fish species face an imminent risk of extinction in large part because of excessive water diversions. The Delta depends on freshwater outflow to maintain the proper balance of salinity for its native fish. The more we can allow storm runoff to flood through the estuary naturally, while diverting only the water we need, the more it will help the estuary recover so it can sustain water diversions into the foreseeable future.

Delta water diversions meet at least part of the water needs of about 25 million Californians and 3 million acres of farmland. But extracting every drop of storm runoff from the Delta for farms and cities, especially by subverting environmental laws, is not the answer.

Popular Sequoia Trail Closed by Falling-Tree Risk

The U.S. Forest Service has opted to close the popular Trail of 100 Giants in Giant Sequoia National Monument because it is concerned falling trees could endanger visitors. Not falling Sequoia trees, but pines.

The closure took effect on Tuesday. The trail will reopen late next spring after problem trees are identified and removed.

In September, Forest Service recreation crews observed the growing number of dead and dying trees and recognized the potential danger to visitors.

Many drought-stricken pine trees are under attack by Western bark beetles and could topple, said Denise Alonzo, a Forest Service spokeswoman.

“We need to close the trail for public safety,” she told The Fresno Bee.

Closure of the popular trail could be another blow to Tulare County, where the monument is located. The county has suffered some of the worst consequences of the drought, including the state’s greatest number of domestic well failures. The trail is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the rural county.

“I’m sure it will impact us,” said Kirk Klemcke, owner of the Camp Nelson General Store near the trail.

Top Image: In this file photo, a Ford quality control inspector looks over a 2004 Focus at the Wayne Stamping and Assembly Plant in Wayne, Mich., Thursday, Dec. 4, 2003. Starting in 2000, the company started a major effort to reduce water use in its operations and estimates it has slashed water consumption 62 percent since then.

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