The World Is On Fire and In Extreme Drought: When And Where WIll The Future Water Wars Be Fought?

Around 5.8 million. But that overall consumption figure is total dam drawdown, not just domestic consumption.

Is the distinction your drawing that there’s also industrial and business usages of water, or is water also drawn down to maintain downstream river flows (presumably for fish) and also counted?

The former.

Well, in the United States, it would be right here in the Great Lakes Region.

Got it, thanks. 100L / person / day (*) is roughly what we’re drawing here in the Do_Not_Taunt household. I know the daily average is 380 ML / day over 1.4 MM people, which is 270L / person / day. Sadly, though, I have no idea how much of that is industrial / business use. I think we’re likely more water-efficient than average, and I honestly don’t know how we’d become much more so during a true drought without going to the types of measures you have - gray water reuse, rain barrels, etc. Maybe sailor showers.

(*) All numbers are drawn from winter-time. Outdoor plant watering causes summertime water usage spikes.

So, just following-up on this for those not living in northern CA/NV. The Caldor fire is indeed a monster, and yes, South Lake Tahoe, CA and Stateline, NV were evacuated, along with a number of other communities in the Tahoe area - this was significant (not to mention the evacuations laid waste to the Labor Day holiday weekend, which will have big economic consequences for the entire Lake Tahoe tourism sphere).

However, the fire never entered town in a big way. Some homes were lost along the edges, and some cabins have been lost, but the heroic work of firefighters as well as favorable weather, allowed the fire to be steered into the back country and away from civilization. The danger is not over by a long shot, but for now they are letting people return to their homes in most neighborhoods around S Lake Tahoe.

A friend asked me if the Sierra will become a desert. I don’t know, but the multi-year droughts, heat waves, and forest management over the past 100+ years is only helping what seems like an annual smokestorm in the west.

To the OP - there are other areas in the Northern Hemisphere burning-up right now, so it’s not localized to the American west by any means…

It’s been argued that historically, before mass fire suppression caught on, there was always an annual smoke “storm” (well, season anyway) in CA. CA’s ecology is largely fire-adapted because outside of the fog-drip zones (currently struggling with climate change), the single rainy season pretty much guaranteed an annual fire season on the flip side. Hence chaparral belts et al.

The difference of course being that those olden fires, because they were common and ubiquitous, were generally far lower intensity and less threatening. But smoky air would nonetheless have been the norm. At least a few scientists/pundits have argued that if we are ever to even attempt to get back to a healthy ecosystem Californians may need to learn to tolerate some degree of annual smoky seasons from far more extensive controlled burns.

What do you mean by ‘always’ though? Sure, before modern fire suppression CA wildfires may have burned annually, but THAT wasn’t a historically natural situation either, because California’s climate - and, more relevantly, the makeup of its vegetation (along with much of the rest of the world) was very different before the mass extinction of most megafauna species when humans first colonized the continent.

Is the post-Clovis-pre-Columbian America the perfect ideal we need to aim for? Or were the ecosystems of North America reeling from a mass extinction and hardly viable even before European colonization, a pale imitation of what had once existed? When massive herds of megafauna grazed across the American steppes, was wildfire as big of an issue as it was in the more recent past?

We tend to view nature as a static, unchanging, healthy system that hangs out in equilibrium until humans show up and nudge it in a new direction, but in fact all life is constantly on a knifes edge between survival and extinction. Ecosystems collapse and are replaced constantly, and the idea of a “virgin wilderness” is nonsensical.

Have you seen this recent documentary? It’s bottom line message is that climate change plays a smaller role than our own forest management practices in the fires we see today. Especially chilling is the town council meeting in Paradise a year after fire essentially destroyed the town, where fire mitigation requirements on houses and landscaping were uniformly voted down.

Post-middle Miocene, more or less.

I’m a Washingtonian, not a Californian, but I think the same logic holds for us. And holy shit, am I not excited about that! I’m not really sure if there are other options - non-natural forest thinning in addition to fire suppression, eg - but selling the locals on tolerating an annual smoke season is going to be a tough sell.

Don’t they practice (and have been for awhile) controlled burns in the South, like Florida, Arkansas, etc? Why isn’t this done in CA?

It is done, but the backlog of areas needed to be treated is HUGE and honestly is ever-expanding due to drought damage which is causing massive insect infestations/tree death. When it isn’t expanding it is only because huge fires are covering the state in burn scars :grimacing:.

Beyond that the resources available are insufficient (both funding and manpower) and local push back is occasionally a real problem. Some people don’t like fires being set in their proverbial backyard. Not just the smoke, but the small but non-zero chance something can get out of hand with a controlled burn.

Yeah, controlled burns are done up here in Washington, too. But for all the reasons @Tamerlane mentioned, they’re insufficient. If you’re used to the south and east of the United States, you don’t understand just how dry western summers are. Fires are frequent, even in the absence of human activity. Trees out here are designed to survive it, but the ground scrub just burns up. As long as there isn’t too much of it, it’s no big deal - it burns up, the trees survive, and it all grows back when the rains come back over the winter. But if there’s a lot of fuel down there due to decades of fire suppression, any fire can become catastrophic. So it’s hard to use prescribed burns to reduce the fuel load because of the risk of the winds changing and the fire getting out of control, but it’s hard to reduce the fuel load without prescribed burns.

There’s not any effective alternative means of doing that short of people literally going in there and removing it?

My thought is instead of trying to clean-up the forests, which is probably at impossible levels of manpower, money, and environmental concerns, we should be hardening corridors along major roads, and around towns and neighborhoods. What I mean by hardening, is simply remove nearly all vegetation, alive and dead: trees, bushes, shrubs within say 100 feet of major roads and in an unbroken ring around towns. I think utilities are already doing this - clearing or re-clearing corridors under power lines, for example. Just cut it all down and chip it all up on-site.

Since most fires are caused by human activity, why not add some safety around where people are most likely to be? We know the forests are unhealthy and will explode at some point, so why allow fire to sweep into a town via an unbroken pathway of trees? This will also take massive amounts of resources, money, and environmental study, but less-so than trying to sweep all the forests. Paradise, Greenville, Grizzly Flats - all wiped out or nearly so with no safety gap from the forest.

Part of the problem is that people don’t stay neatly in the towns.

Another part is that the kind of overly-damaging fire we’re getting causes major problems even if human buildings don’t burn. Species that were adapted to the normal level of fire before we began suppressing it may well not be adapted to the level that occurs after a century of suppression. Ecological balances are already disrupted due both to direct human action and to climate change, and while some ecologic balance will eventually settle out, it may be a couple of hundred years later and not much like the current version. And smoke doesn’t stay put; it affects both weather and lungs continent-wide. And that burst of carbon emissions doesn’t stay put, either.

Watch the documentary listed in my post above.

They spend a lot of time on two locations- Paradise, a rural town filled with libertarian/conservatives and Malibu, a rich suburban town filled with liberals.

In both towns, simple zoning measures on things like roofs, vegetation around the house, and other fire mitigation measures were roundly voted down in town council meetings because: “the unique diversity of our town will be altered”, “it will cost money to meet all these requirements” (like a 5 foot clear space around every house!), “the firefighters didn’t do enough, they just need to respond to my house instead of the wrong houses”, and so on…from people who had recently barely survived a devastating fire!

Like you, I thought that implementation of some simple approaches to living near or in forest land would be the most economical and steady state approach to this problem. The documentary left me despairing that such simple fixes could be put in place over the selfish stupidity of the human beings that have to agree to the fixes. :dizzy_face:

And this is why I am forever a pessimist about the next 5-10 years and beyond. Experts know what our problems are, and what our solutions are. We’re probably also quite capable of innovating and developing technologies that could help us fight climate change and stay within our sustainable limits.

The problem we have is that it requires a high degree of cooperation among many diverse groups of people, locally, nationally, and internationally, and that just seems like a non-starter, particularly in this country, which has developed a very warped view of their true liberties vis-a-vis their civic duties.

The pandemic has been a dress rehearsal for climate change. We’ve seen a preview of what is to come when people are asked to make personal sacrifices to stave off ecological collapse, and the future ain’t pretty.

You’re right. It’s not, which is why “kooks” like Elon Musk are so insisitent about getting to Mars sooner rather than later, as it would be the stepping-stone planet for us to be able to flee Earth for whatever reasons necessary.