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  • Thanks for the Rain, Pineapple Express! (Got any more?)

    Finally. After an unexpectedly warm, dry February, the Pineapple Express has dumped enough rain and snow on northern California to bring reservoirs there up to average levels – the first time they’ve been that high since the drought began.

    Drought Monitor Released Thursday March 17, 2016 - Pineapple Express Drought Monitor - Released Thursday March 17, 2016

    This doesn’t mean the end of the state’s drought. The U.S. Drought Monitor’s latest report shows 55 percent of the state is still in extreme or exceptional drought. Groundwater is a major concern too. The state’s underground aquifers, which have been building their supply for hundreds or thousands of years, are being depleted far faster than they can be refurbished. Some of them have caved in and will never recover.

    The good news is the drought has been a wake-up call for the need to better manage water use.

    Here’s how some people are trying to save water.

    In California’s Central Valley, where a huge percentage of the food the U.S. eats is grown, declining aquifers have become a health hazard. Shallow municipal wells have gone dry as large agricultural companies draw down groundwater from deeper wells. This has left residents without water, or with polluted water.

    One problem is, when a lot of rain falls, the area doesn’t have enough surface storage, like reservoirs, to keep it, according to a story in the Christian Science Monitor. According to the story, George Goshgarian, an almond farmer in the San Joaquin Valley, is trying something new: flooding his almond orchards during the winter rainy season when his trees are dormant and don’t need the water.

    The idea is, the water will soak into the ground and hopefully some will trickle into the aquifer below. If he’s careful, the flooding shouldn’t hurt the trees because they are dormant. Then, during the drier growing season, the ground will have more moisture. And the aquifer below will have a bit more water.

    According to a study for the California Water Foundation that was cited in the story, groundwater in the southern San Joaquin is being depleted at a rate of 250,000 acre-feet per year on average. Using the rainy season’s runoff could reduce that amount between a third and a half, the study estimated.

    Homeowners and municipalities are also trying to figure out how to use rainwater runoff. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power last August presented a plan to capture more rainwater for the city.

    According to Andy Lipkis, president of Tree People, which advocates for sustainable urban water use, an inch of rain falling on Los Angeles represents 7.6 billion gallons of water. Half that runs off into the ocean, he said in a story in the Christian Science Monitor.

    The utility’s master plan suggests projects to capture water that range in size from major basins to individuals’ yards.

    Drip Irrigation - Pineapple ExpressThe yard of Carrie Wassenaar of North Hollywood, Calif., is a case study in how water catching works. As described in the Christian Science Monitor, her yard has drought-tolerant plants watered by a drip-irrigation system that uses rainwater. A depression in the yard allows water to pool and seep down to the aquifer below. The water comes from an above-ground cistern that collects rainfall from her roof.

    “You want to feel like you're at least trying to help with the solution instead of just contributing to the problem,” she said in the story.

    Ready.gov says the best way to prepare for a drought is to use less water beforehand. Here are some tips from ready.gov for saving water inside the home.

    Replace washers in dripping faucets and repair pipe leaks.

    “One drop per second wastes 2,700 gallons of water per year,” ready.gov said.

    Insulate water pipes. This will reduce heat loss, which means it’ll take less time to heat water from the tap.

    Install low-flow appliances, toilets, and shower heads. Some water districts will offer rebates to offset the cost.

    Instead of rinsing dishes and using the disposal, scrape dishes into the trash or compost.

    Lawns - Pineapple ExpressOutside, reduce the lawn and put in plants adapted to your climate. According to a study, lawns cover an estimated 50,000 square miles of the country. That makes lawns the biggest crop in America. And you can’t even eat them.

    Don’t water too much. Lawns only need about a half inch of water per week and less in the autumn and winter. If water’s running down the gutter, you’re using too much.

    Consider using grey water for outdoor watering. For information about installing a rain catching system, check out the web site for the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association.

    Be aware of regulations when considering water-saving tools. California offered homeowners tax-free rebates of up to $2,000 to help homeowners pay for water-efficient yards. As of February, the state had spent $22 million in rebates. Unfortunately, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service is taxing those rebates as income.

     

    Drought Preparedness - Pineapple Express

  • Spring Floods Are Coming: 4 Ways They Can Get You

    Flooded HomesSpring has all but sprung for us here in Utah, and although we’ll probably get a bunch more snow before summer rolls around (don’t worry, we’re used to it…), that’s not about to put a damper on the wonderful weather we’ve been having. What might put a damper on it, however, are the spring floods that can be prevalent this time of the year.

    According to FEMA, there are four main causes for spring flooding. While some of these causes may be more relevant to you in your area than others, you should still be aware of them all, because spring flooding can affect everyone.

     

    Spring Thaw

    If you live in an area that gets a lot of snow, this is a big one to look out for. When the weather warms up, snow can melt quickly, resulting in a river of runoff. According to FEMA, just one foot of compacted snow contains a gallon of water. Having all that snow melt quickly could quite literally open the floodgates and wash your home – inside and out. But it’s not just the melting snow that can get to you. Runoff joins up with rivers and streams quickly, which can then force them over their banks, causing excessive flooding.

     

    Spring Rains

    Flooded pitch - spring floods Over-saturated ground won't absorb any more water.

    Downpours that last just a few hours or prolonged precipitation that can last for days are ingredients to the recipe for floods. Spring is known for its showers and wet weather, which brings renewal to the earth. While that’s just swell, it’s also a recipe for flooding. Once the ground receives too much rain, it becomes saturated and won’t take in any more. So what happens to the water it won’t let it? It will start piling up on top, spilling down hills and into anything that stands in its way.

    Heavy rain is also dangerous in areas that were recently affected by fires. Forest fires burn the ground, making it more than difficult for water to seep in. Instead of going into the earth, it runs down those parched hills, flooding anything in its path.

     

    Flash Flooding

    Heavy rain form multiple storms or one massive thunderstorm can be too much for the ground to absorb fast enough. When this happens, you’ve got a flash flood. FEMA describes this as “rapid flooding of low-lying areas in less than six hours.” Drought-stricken areas can be a major contributor to flash floods as well, since the dry ground won’t absorb the rain. Flash floods are especially frightening due to the speed in which the waters rise. When a flash flood comes, your time for preparing are past.

     

    Levees and Dams

    Teton Dam Flood - Spring floodsThe United States has thousands of miles of levees and dams, all of which are there to help protect us from flooding. However, these can weaken and erode – or even flood over and fail – during times of intense rain. One example of severe flooding from a dam is the Teton Dam Flood in Idaho in 1976. This flood was catastrophic and caused massive amounts of damage to the communities it rushed through.

     

     

    These are some of the main causes of flooding, but don’t be surprised if the waters rise in some other way. For even more ways you could be affected by floods, visit floodsmart.gov. They have a long list of flood causes, although many of them are very area specific.

    So, now that you know some major flood threats, how will you prepare for them? Research the various flood threats within your area and prepare accordingly. For starters, we recommend investing in an emergency kit that’s easy to grab and take with you should you need to evacuate. After all, if the flooding gets bad enough, you could be without a home for quite some time. You’ll be grateful you have those resources to fall back on.

     

    What are the flood risks in your area, and how are you prepared for them?

     

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  • Mississippi Wildfires and Why We Must Be Aware of Local Disaster Threats

    Forest Fire Mississippi PostWhen I think of wildfires, I generally think of them happening in California, Washington, Alaska, or Australia. Certain states just never have to worry about such things, right? Wrong. Just before Valentine’s Day 2016, a wildfire raged in Mississippi and into Alabama, burning more than 4,000 acres.

    Mississippi is a fairly humid place, which might lead a person to believe that wildfires can’t happen there. After all, water beats fire, and if the trees and grass and other plant life aren’t being drained of their moisture in dry, desert-like heat, then what’s the worry?

    As we can see, there’s always a worry. Actually, wildfires aren’t that rare an occurrence in Mississippi, or other humid states, for that matter. The average number of wildfires in that state annually is close to 4,000, and an average of 110,000 acres are burned each year.

    But why is this important? For me, just because I don’t think something happens, doesn’t mean it doesn’t, or is even infrequent. In the case of Mississippi, for example, wildfires aren’t rare at all. So why don’t I hear much about them? Maybe it’s because they’re not as devastating as other states’ fires. Maybe it’s because I don’t live near that area, so the news just doesn’t get to me. Or maybe it’s because they are so common that it just really isn’t news anymore. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that these things do happen, whether I think about them or not.

    So what else goes on that I don’t know about that I should be aware of? More specifically, what should I be aware of here in Utah? I know wildfires can be a problem, and drought is always a lingering threat (not as bad as California, but we still get it here).

    In a traditionally dry location, we probably don’t think about flooding very often, but you know what? It happens! Actually, because it’s so dry, flash flooding is more than likely during a good downpour. Living pretty close to the mountains can also bring water down fast, and could even trigger landslides.

    Saltlaketornado - Mississippi Wildfire Post A tornado rips through downtown Salt Lake City in 1999

    Tornadoes, though, are something we just don’t get. Our elevation and climate or something just deters those whirling winds. Except…not quite two decades ago a tornado tore through Salt Lake City. But according to science, that should never have happened, right? Apparently not. This is just one more example of things happening that we really didn’t think could. I bet those people that were affected by the tornado won’t forget that anytime soon…

    Of course, there are so many things that could happen here at any given time. But I didn’t know that the Mississippi wildfires were a thing, so perhaps there’s more to my location than I’ve stopped to think about.

    Being prepared for a disaster involves knowing what to be prepared for. If you are aware that wildfires are a danger in your neck of the woods, you probably have an emergency kit or bug-out bag handy, just in case you need to get out quickly. If you live in a drought-stricken area, you probably have alternate options for water that don’t involve rain. No matter your location, there are certain disasters that are more prevalent than others, and being prepared for those can keep you and your family one step ahead of the game.

    My challenge to you is to do some research about the potential threats in your area, make a list of how you need to prepare for these threats, and then go do it.

    Get prepared.

    You can never predict when a disaster will strike, or how hard you’ll be hit.

     

    Research the threats in your area and let us know if there were any new threats you learned about!

     

    Disaster_Blog_Banner - Mississippi

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