California is on Fire Again

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Unbearable heat and accompanying fires clearly point to the fact that the country is bone dry. Climate change resulting from excess greenhouse gas emissions is seen as the culprit with rising temperatures and a change to the spatial and temporal patterns of precipitation resulting in the devastating fires in California. Yet, another explanation, not so common, points out another significant factor – lack of water on land leads to increased risks of floods, droughts and wildfires.

During the period of intense rains in Slovakia in 2010, Russia was struck by catastrophic fires. This was a time when Russian politicians passed a law banning the filling up of water surfaces. Allegedly, because of one water surface standing in the way of befriended developers. During this time, many water surfaces disappeared due to this political decision. When there was no water to extinguish fires, the background of this law was recalled. A similar phenomenon has hit California now.

Unbearable heat and accompanying fires clearly point to the fact, that the country is bone dry, regardless whether we talk about Russia, Europe, Australia or California. After World War II we created so many gutters, trenches and channels to carry away water, which in the past soaked into the ground, cooled down the country and prevented fires. In fact, each year continents lose more than 700 bn. m3 of rainwater based on our research.

The dried-out Ventura County in southern California currently living the nightmare fires is suffering from such measures. I had a chance to get to know Ventura county in April 2017, during the Water tour across the United States. We had many talks with local organizations and individuals about water, the dried-out landscape and on the possibilities to return water back to the dry country. My colleagues and I have driven hundreds of miles across Ventura County. The result is a recommendation referred to as the ‘US action plan’, which might stop the devastation not only in Ventura County but also across the whole of California and the USA.

We further ignited enthusiasm in a possible Transatlantic cooperation between Ventura County, California, USA and Levoča, Slovakia which are almost identical in size, surface, number of inhabitants and even precipitation levels. We named the program ‘Three Rivers, Common Future’.

So, let us take a look at the risks of a dehydrated landscape and the related dangers of fires on the example of Ventura river. The yearly precipitation is approximately 21 inches (5334 mm). 46% of this precipitation falls in January and February. During summer (June-August), when the country needs most of its water, precipitation is less than 10%. An anti-flood infrastructure, which carries away water as fast as possible into streams, rivers, and nearby sea was historically created to prevent frequent floods in January and February.

The consequence of this ill-advised political decision and technocratic solutions is not only an increase of extreme opposites visible in streams and rivers (floods and dried-out streams) but also a damaged water cycle with more extreme torrential rains and longer periods without rain. Why? Because a dryer country heats up more and the overheated country works as a larger barrier, preventing the inflow of moist air masses from the Pacific, which would bring precipitation. From the above stated, it is obvious that if California does not stop the drying out of its landscape, it will miss the opportunity to resolve the issue of extreme weather.

Here is the recommendation:

It is necessary to remove the causes of increasing floods, drought and climate change within selected areas of the Ventura River watershed and use the obtained knowledge for replication throughout the entire territory of the Ventura River watershed, in which:

  1. The reduction of rainwater runoff from transportation infrastructure and damaged surfaces, as well as runoff from surrounding agricultural lands and roads, will slow down the high concentration of rainwater runoff into the Ventura River watershed. Thus, water can be returned to small water cycles, reducing the occurrence of intense torrential rains and their accompanying flood waves as well as gradually reintroducing stable precipitation patterns.
  2. Reducing rainwater runoff into rivers and streams will reduce the strength of the flood waves, and prevent the falling of trees into rivers and their being carried off.
  3. This will bring about positive benefits for maintaining relatively high levels of water sources during times of drought during which streams and rivers will become attractions for the urban areas instead of only serving to ensure the quickest run-off of rainwater.
  4. Rainwater which falls on all the cities and towns in the Ventura River watershed provides great potential to be used for improving the climate of the entire basin. It is possible to achieve this through a complex integrated approach to rainwater management which aims at ensuring that all rainwater is retained by various green spaces in and around the urban centers of the river basin. This approach to climate change mitigation can be spread not only throughout the Ventura River watershed but throughout all of California. The proposed solutions can further contribute to the development of agro-tourism, development of organic farming and economic development of the region based on water abundance.

What is required:

  1. Create a general analysis of options for utilizing the water potential of the Ventura River basin and develop various solutions for the prevention of flooding, drought and climate change.
  2. Present the analysis to all cities and communities in the Ventura River watershed via a conference as well as invite key stakeholders to participate in the development and implementation of the water action plan for the prevention of flooding, drought and climate change in the Ventura River watershed as well as the entire Ventura County. Additionally, based on individual interest, work with various stakeholders from smaller water basins who would also be interested in a similar analysis and project proposal to be carried out for their region aimed at the reduction of rainwater runoff from the territory based on the principle of zero rainwater runoff from a water basin. We recommend developing a full implementation plan, monitoring activities and research to create a pilot model area and a partnership for the realization of the project.
  3. Devise an action plan for the management of rainwater at the municipal level as well as an integrated plan with all interested stakeholders to be spread throughout the entire Ventura River watershed, so that the selected municipalities can become a unique area based on a new culture of water, focused on ecosystemic protection, renewal, and use of water sources.
  4. Promote the principle at the Ventura County level: All property owners will be responsible for retaining rainwater on their property based on various means.
  5. Launch the program implementation in cooperation with respective organizations, above all with municipal public bodies in the entire basin with the development of action plan centers, which will provide information, education, and counseling to all landowners and land users in the watershed. The program needs to be carefully managed and closely monitored to ensure positive outcomes and to maximize the magnitude of delivered results.

Delays of implementation of this solution, reduce year after year a chance to definitively deal with climatic change. Our team is ready to help California.