Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — Official orders probe of ‘lost’ 228B gallons of water 

AP Photo/Ethan Swope

Today is Friday. Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. Subscribe here.

California Assemblymember Adam Gray (D) is demanding an explanation as to how the state may have “lost” an estimated 228 billion gallons of water, which is enough to fill more than 345,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools, ABC7 San Francisco reported. 

Gray is requesting that the state auditor probe California’s Department of Water Resources and the State Water Resources Control Board over an alleged discrepancy between state and local agency projections of water run-off in California, according to ABC7. 

“We can’t get back lost water but we can certainly take the steps to ensure this never happens again going forward,” Gray said. 

In response, the Department of Water Resources told ABC7 that the agency “has invested millions of dollars in new forecasting tools and entered into new partnerships with local, state and federal agencies to coordinate all of our resources,” adding that managing the drought will require all parties to work together. 

Today we’ll explore another water issue challenging much of the West — new findings that post-wildfire extreme rainfall events may more than double by the end of the 21st century. Then we’ll look at a fight between Florida Republicans and Disney over a controversial education bill. 

For Equilibrium, we are Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin. Please send tips or feedback to selbein@thehill.com and sudasin@thehill.com.

Let’s get to it.  


Post-wildfire rains to double by end of century: study 

Post-wildfire extreme rainfall events in western U.S. states — on the rise due to climate change — may more than double by the end of the 21st century and pose a serious threat to human lives, a new study has found.  

Such a confluence of severe weather can wreak havoc on surrounding landscapes, endangering not only plants and animals, but also the people and communities that reside nearby, scientists warned in a Science Advances article on Friday.   

Why is this combination so destructive? When such precipitation drenches an area that has just experienced a blaze, the soil is unable to easily contain the moisture — resulting in significant destruction such as debris flows, mudslides and flash floods, according to the authors. 

Greenhouse gas emissions make it worse: By the year 2100, if Americans continue to emit excessive amounts of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, extreme rainfall will be eight times more likely to occur within a year of a Pacific Northwest wildfire, the authors found.

And in California, the incidence of such consecutive extreme events will more than double. 

‘A major threat’: “It’s very concerning, given the destruction that comes with these kinds of events,” lead author Danielle Touma, a postdoctoral fellow at National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), said in a statement. 

The national scientific research hub, located in Boulder, Colo., was footsteps from the unseasonal “NCAR Fire” that shocked the region last weekend but caused no injuries. 

“Clearly we need to understand the risks better, as this creates a major threat to people and infrastructure,” Touma added. 


‘EXTREME RAINFALL-AFTER-FIRE EVENTS’

While scientists have already recognized a link between climate change and increased wildfires in the West, as well as a separate association between climate change and extreme rainfall, the convergence of “extreme rainfall-after-fire events” was a surprise, according to Touma. 

To conduct their study, Touma and her colleagues said they used advanced computer models of past and future climate scenarios, as well as an index of weather variables that play a role in wildfire risk. 

Combined risk remains for years: Following a fire event, the risks of debris flows can persist for three to five years, while the risk of flash floods remains for five to eight years, due to the time necessary for vegetation to regrow, the authors observed. 

While heavy rainfall on burned areas can be difficult to predict, such storm systems can also have devastating impacts, the scientists warned. 

Some examples of these impacts? In Montecito, Calif., for example, debris flows following a 2018 fire left 23 people dead and caused widespread property damage, according to the study. 

Meanwhile, heavy rains last year in Colorado’s Glenwood Canyon led to a massive mudslide in a freshly burned area — leaving more than 100 people stranded and shuttering a portion of the adjacent highway for weeks, the authors noted. 

What did the authors conclude? In the West as a whole, they found that more than half of extreme wildfire events will be followed within a year by such rainfall. 

They also found that more than 90 percent of extreme fire events in their three regions of focus — Colorado, California and the Pacific Northwest — will be followed by at least three extreme rainfall events within five years. 

Climate change plays a central role: A key contributor to the convergence of extreme fire and rainfall events is climate change — and its propensity to override the seasonality of these weather events, according to the authors. 

For example, they explained, more extreme rains are now occurring the early fall in Colorado and the Pacific Northwest, closer to the May-September peak fire season. 

A critical gap is closing: “The gap between fire and rainfall season is becoming shorter,” Touma said. “One season of disasters is running into another.” 

To read the full story, please click here


🎧 TUNE-IN TO RISINGnow available as a podcast. It’s politics — without the screaming.


Disney facing internal, external pressure in Florida

Disney, one of Florida’s largest employers, is facing mounting pressure over its positioning on the state’s newly enacted law that restricts instruction on gender identity in primary school classrooms.

On Monday, as the law was enacted, Disney called for it “to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts,” stressing the company is “committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that.”

Disney’s statement represented an about-face: The past several weeks have seen a succession of tense meetings between Disney employees worried about the bill and its corporate leadership, according to Hollywood Reporter

The company had donated $12,000 to the bill’s main sponsor and declined to oppose it before this week, Newsweek reported — but growing pressure from employees pushed it to make a public statement. 

How does it tie into sustainability? A big part of social sustainability is examining how business decisions impact workers, while the Disney case also raises questions about corporate governance.

Florida Republicans are threatening to yank Disney’s special status — which allows for independent governance of Disney’s Orland-area theme park — after the entertainment giant came out swinging this week against the law.

In this case, Disney’s latest response — which many LGBT critics say is belated — illustrates a difficult calculation between the company’s long-standing support for the bill’s authors and its increasingly vocal employees. 

That pressure was particularly intense in light of Disney’s increasing pressure on employees to relocate to the company’s headquarters in Orlando, the Verge reported. 

What Republicans are saying: Disney “didn’t seem to have a problem with it when it was going through,” DeSantis said Tuesday of the new law, according to Deadline.   

“If this was such an affront, why weren’t they speaking up at the outset?” he added. 


A RISING ISSUE FOR CORPORATIONS

The rising popularity of similar bills in GOP-led states means that Disney won’t be the last corporation to see a clash between its workforce and political leaders over conservative-backed legislation.

What does this bill say? A key element forbids gender and sexuality education up to third grade, and restricts it to “age appropriate” material for all other students, The New York Times reported.  

Critics say that highly subjective language allows districts to use it as a ban — or means of censorship — for children of all ages, the Tallahassee Democrat noted.

‘We will not be bending knees’: Republicans have portrayed opposition as an attempt by a California company to strong-arm the state government, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.   

On Wednesday, state Rep. Spencer Roach (R) announced he was in talks to revoke the special administrative district that allows Disney World to exist as a state-within-a-state, the Democrat reported.   

“If Disney wants to embrace woke ideology, it seems fitting that they should be regulated by Orange County [Fla.],” Roach wrote.   

Is that a big deal? Huge. “It would be a disaster for Disney,” said Florida political analyst Jim Clark. “One of the reasons they came here in the mid-60s was the legislature’s promise that they could have self-government.” 

Expect more of these controversies: Many Republican-led state legislatures have seized on “parental-choice” in gender and sexuality education, with 15 states having similar bills, The Hill’s Changing America reported


Follow-up Friday

US allocates $420M to state water infrastructure projects 

  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decided to tighten water conservation measures amid worsening drought. The U.S. Interior Department announced on Thursday that it would be spending $420 million on water projects in other drought-plagued states, including New Mexico, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa, the Associated Press reported. 

White House invokes Defense Production Act for EV battery materials 

Shanghai’s supply disruptions are getting worse — threatening broader ones 


Please visit The Hill’s sustainability section online for the web version of this newsletter and more stories. We’ll see you on Monday.

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