A Soaked California Is Also Dealing With Stormwater
Intense Flooding in Urban Areas Often Means More Pollution Problems, But Some Farms Have Found A Way To Thrive.
Weeks of catastrophic storms have left billions of dollars in damages throughout California, so far this year and wreaked havoc in nearly every region from the northern coast to Los Angeles.
These massive storms damaged highways and roads and took out power for many residents. Cars and properties were shattered, as trees were uprooted thanks to the fast-moving winds. This record rainfall also caused more than 20 deaths.
“These storms are among the most deadly natural disasters in the modern history of our state,” Nancy Ward, the director of the governor’s office of emergency services, said at a briefing earlier this month.
Not only are these storms deadly, this extreme weather can also create a stormwater nightmare.
Stormwater is simply water that comes from precipitation whether that’s rain or snow. In some parts of California, water gets captured to help reduce drought conditions.
But in many developed areas, stormwater can run rampant, spilling off rooftops, streets, parking lots, yards, sidewalks and fields, after an intense rain event, carrying pollutants with it. This stormwater carries a range of debris/trash, toxic chemicals, pesticides, bacteria, and more into streams, rivers, lakes, wetlands, and into the ocean.
In 2015, the State Water Resources Control Board said every city, county, and water agency must have a system in place by December 2030 at the latest, to prevent all trash larger than a cigarettes butt from getting to waterways, according to a recent article in the East Bay Times.
Many options are available from using a physical screen on storm drains or just beefing up street cleaners.
We don’t have info yet on how each city is working to comply with the 2030 deadline. My hope is that more publicly accessible information will become available to track progress.
Back in 2018, Los Angeles County voters passed a bond to help fund a stormwater program. Recent reports show some positive progress, as more than 33 billion gallons of stormwater has been captured to be used as future drinking water in the county.
And for context on natural disasters in general, let’s back look at 2022.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) just released its annual report on billion-dollar weather and climate-related disasters in the United States.
Here’s what they found:
In 2022, there were 18 weather/climate disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion each to affect the United States.
These events included 1 drought event, 1 flooding event, 11 severe storm events, 3 tropical cyclone events, 1 wildfire event, and 1 winter storm event.
Overall, these events resulted in the deaths of 474 people and had significant economic effects on the areas impacted.
The 1980–2022 annual average is 7.9 events (CPI-adjusted); the annual average for the most recent 5 years (2018–2022) is 17.8 events (CPI-adjusted).
That’s more than double the number of climate disaster events! So to anyone who says all these storms are “normal,” I urge you to look at the numbers.
Regenerative Farms Surviving the Storms
Climate change is already affecting many facets of our world, and it poses a huge threat to our food supply by way of creating unpredictable and extreme weather, including floods and droughts for farmland across the country (and frankly, the world).
As we’ve discussed, one of the big problems with severe storms in California is their impact on farmland. The state’s Central Growing Valley is one of the most productive agricultural region in the country, providing more than half of the nation’s fresh fruits, nuts, and vegetables.
With intensifying weather patterns, one type of farm is proving able to weather the storms, quite literally. Regenerative organic farms are demonstrating that the key to resilience is working with nature, according to a recent Civil Eats article.
The Regenerative Agriculture Foundation defines this type of farming “as any practice, process, or management technique which serves to enhance the functioning of the core ecosystem cycles of energy, water, or mineral by enhancing biological function.”
These farmers are dedicated to improving the health of the land by increasing biodiversity, restoring soil—leaving it healthier at the end of each season.
The guiding principles and practices of regenerative agriculture include:
No use of pesticides or synthetic fertilizers
Diversifying cover crops
Adopting low- or -no-tillage (reducing the physical disturbance of the soil)
Employing crop rotations and companion planting
As it turns out, tending to the soil adds a significant amount of organic matter to the soil, causing it to act like a sponge and absorb water faster and retain it for longer.
Every 1 percent increase in soil organic matter equates to 20,000 gallons of additional water holding capacity per acre in the top 12 inches of soil, meaning much of this rainfall will be retained on ecological farms well into the dry season. It is important to note that this organic matter is comprised largely of carbon, meaning these soils are also acting as carbon sinks.
—writes Ryan Peterson in Civil Eats
These farms that work with the land are able to bounce back.
What would it look like if we could use these same regenerative practices in neighborhoods, schools, and businesses to help any region deal with climate change?
Want to Learn More? Check out these organizations.
Sound off in the comments below! What did you learn about stormwater and regenerative farming practices? Share your favorite resources below.