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Executive Summary for November 24th

For an overview of the latest news on the California drought, we’ve organized the most recent developments in a curated summary, including the most important stories, analysis and data. Our goal is to keep you informed of the day’s most significant events in the field.

Published on Nov. 24, 2015 Read time Approx. 4 minutes

Editor’s note: Water Deeply’s daily executive summary is taking the rest of the week off after today. We’ll return on Monday, Nov. 30.

A Peek at Climate Change Along the California Coast This Week

A succession of very high tides is expected to sweep the California coast this week. Known as “king tides,” these represent the extreme of normal tidal events resulting from a particular alignment of the sun and moon, which exert a gravitational pull on the Earth’s oceans.

The tides this week may be especially high, because the ocean is exceptionally warm this year. A combination of the El Niño weather phenomenon and “blobs” of high pressure elsewhere over the Pacific Ocean have caused this extra warmth.

Meteorologist John Lindsey writes in the Lompoc Record that water temperatures along the California coast are as much as 4 degrees warmer than the usual 58 degrees Fahrenheit reading.

Consequently,” he says, “seawater levels can actually be several inches higher than those predicted in the tide tables.”

King tides are expected today, Wednesday and Thursday, with the peak expected at around 8:37 a.m. on Wednesday. Exact times vary slightly depending on location. The next wave of king tides is expected in the three days preceding Christmas.

The California King Tides Initiative provides a map on its website to target the timing of high tides at particular locations. The organization has been working to draw attention to these events to stir up public concern about climate change. Humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions — byproducts of transportation and industry — are slowly warming the climate, causing glaciers to melt and thus adding more water to the oceans.

King tides are large enough to flood coastal areas, especially since scientists have already documented 8 inches of sea level rise at places such as the Golden Gate Bridge.

In addition, projections show that large areas of the coast — including vital infrastructure such as water treatment and sewage processing facilities — could be flooded by anticipated future sea level rise.

The King Tides Initiative is documenting these high-water events to get people thinking about the consequences of climate change. The public can help document them by submitting photos of coastal flooding during king tides.

‘Resurrection’ Plants May be Key to Surviving Future Droughts

There’s a unique category of plants capable of surviving years without water. Aptly known as “resurrection” plants. These estimated 130 species become completely dry, like a seed, but are capable of coming back to life within hours of a rain event.

Researchers at the University of Cape Town in South Africa are trying to find out of the operative genes from these plants can be inserted into other species to help farmers continue growing enough food for the planet in times of drought.

“If it doesn’t rain, it doesn’t matter, at least your plants won’t die,” says Jill Farrant, a professor of molecular and cell biology at the university. “The moment they get rain, they’re ready to go.”

One plant with which Farrant is working is teff, a native grass in Ethiopia used to make bread. The goal is to help African farmers adapt to climate change.

“I want to cater to the subsistence farmer, the person who wants to make enough food to live,” she says. “Farmers are becoming more and more dispirited, and droughts are killing them.”

How Does California Groundwater Management Rank?

California only last year approved legislation to begin regulating its groundwater resources. It will take 25 years to roll out the law fully. The state is way behind its neighbors in the West in doing so.

Now there’s a new tool in the works that will show just how the Western U.S. states compare in groundwater management.

Called the Western Water Dashboard, it is being developed by Debra Perrone and Rebecca Nelson at Stanford University and is expected to be available by summer 2016.

The project was noted in a description posted at the American Water Resources Association conference in Denver earlier this month. It is highlighted by Michael Campana, a hydrogeologist at Oregon State University, on his Aquadoc Blog:

“The goal of this work is to distill the key elements of effective regulation out of the profound complexity of state water laws,” the team states, “and convey this information in a useful and informative manner.”

Campana says it should become an important tool to assess regulatory effectiveness and enforcement of groundwater law in California and throughout the West. Never before has there been such a tool.

Perrone and Nelson worked with state water agencies to capture areas of difference between “laws on the books” and actual practice, allowing a preliminary view of issues such as gaps between the law and enforcement.

“This is going to be something — a real asset to groundwater management in the West,” Campana writes.

Top image: A “king tide” on Feb. 18, 2015 floods part of a public promenade at Oakland’s Jack London Square. More king tides are expected today through Thursday. (California King Tides Initiative)

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