The heat is on

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Thu Jun 15 12:02:12 MDT 2000

New York Times, June 15, 2000

Booming Atlanta Saps Water as Drought Wilts Georgia


ATLANTA, June 11 -- Just after dawn they emerge onto their pillowy meadows
of fescue and bluegrass, some with hoses and some with mighty irrigation
systems, each squeezing out every last legal drop of water before the 10
a.m. cutoff arrives with its water police, tattling neighbors and dark
civic guilt.

On every block in the region the desperation of these homeowners is almost
palpable, as they will their lawns to soak it up and beat the drought that
is parching Georgia and most of the Gulf Coast. But the most thoughtful of
them admit that it is hopeless and that Atlanta, with its famous forested
canopy and brilliant shrubs, has finally gardened itself into a corner.

"Hey, I admit it, I'm addicted to water," said Caroline Gordon, a suburban
Alpharetta resident who was pushing a shopping cart laden with peonies and
impatiens at a branch of Pike's, a large local nursery chain. "Chances are,
every one of these plants is going to die once they cut the water off. But
I just don't want to live in a big brown field. That's not what I moved
here for."

There have been droughts before in Georgia, mostly affecting the peanut and
cotton farmers in the southern part of the state. Those farmers are
struggling dreadfully again this summer. But something different is
happening this year: a combination of uncontrollable forces that has state
officials darkly warning about major changes on the horizon in lifestyle
and economy.

For one thing, the drought is worse this year than in most past summers;
some parts of Georgia have received less rain in the last 25 months than at
any time in recorded weather history. Dr. David E. Stooksbury, the state
climatologist, says the regional climate is changing in a profound way,
moving from many years of stability with predictable rainfall to a far more
variable climate that will veer between years of plenty and years of

The Gulf Coast of Florida is experiencing the driest spring in a century,
and the federal government's National Drought Monitor lists the crescent
from Tampa to New Orleans as experiencing extreme drought. There has been a
similar lack of rain in West Texas and northwest Missouri, and drought
conditions exist in many other parts of the West and Midwest as well.

But the situation in Atlanta is an example of what can happen when growth
and a shortage of rainfall collide. At the same time the natural spigot has
been closed here, the Atlanta region has continued to grow without respite,
adding nearly 100,000 people a year who fully intend to take showers, drink
iced tea and swim. Most of the growth is in suburban areas, where the lawns
are bigger, greener and thirstier, when they are not interrupted by
backyard pools. And native and newcomer alike expect their lives to be
air-conditioned, which in the summer requires huge releases from reservoirs
to generate hydroelectric power.

The unstoppable flow of new customers would have taxed municipal water
systems even without the drought, but with it the situation has become
dire. The streams that fill the region's man-made reservoirs are flowing at
less than half their usual rate, and the lakes would have dipped to
dangerous levels if the Army Corps of Engineers had not agreed to cut back
on power generation. But with the advent of summer, the electricity will
have to be produced, the demand for water will increase and the lakes are
expected to reach record lows. That makes water managers very nervous.

"Very soon, we're going to have to start drawing down those lakes," said
Nowlton Johnson, the water resources chief at the state Environmental
Protection Division. "But there's a limit to how much we can deplete our
entire water storage. Something has to give."


New York Times, June 15, 2000

Record Heat Disrupting Power and Transportation in California


SAN FRANCISCO, June 14 -- Northern California sweltered      under
record-breaking heat today that strained electrical grids, intensified
wildfires, and buckled the freeway between Sacramento and the Bay Area.

Triple-digit temperatures caused power failures that affected thousands of
businesses and stalled subway service across the Bay.

Traffic backed up for miles as a high of 109 degrees in Solano County
buckled the pavement in three lanes of Interstate 80, the main commuter
artery out of the Bay Area.

At the Giants game at Pacific Bell Park in San Francisco, 34 people were
treated for heat exhaustion.

Pacific Gas and Electric was forced to shut down power in the city's South
of Market area, where Internet companies are concentrated, and other areas
for two hours at a time, said Richard Eisner, regional administrator for
the state Office of Emergency Services.

In Napa, sparks ignited dry grass and gusts of 35 miles an hour fanned the
fire, which consumed about 5,700 acres and forced 40 families from their
homes. The fire was 35 percent contained by tonight, and officials expected
to have it completely contained by 10 p.m. Thursday.

In San Francisco, the temperature tied the overall record of 103 degrees,
set in 1988. San Jose and Ukiah hit 104, and Santa Rosa hit 106. In the
Sacramento and Central Valleys, temperatures soared above 106.

The California Independent System Operator, the agency that monitors the
state's electricity flows, forced utility companies to begin rolling
brownouts. About 35,000 businesses and customers, as well as some traffic
lights, were affected.


>From an op-ed piece in yesterday's Times by Greg Easterbook. It is
significant because he had been known in the past as one of the leading
"global warming skeptics":

The misgivings about the administration report are unfortunate because the
scientific case for an artificial greenhouse is growing ever more
persuasive. Global temperatures have increased roughly 1 degree Fahrenheit
in the past 100 years, and there are other, more telling climate signals:
statistically significant changes in postwar rainfall patterns in North
America; springs arriving one day earlier each three years; water-level
cycles of the Great Lakes showing progressively earlier springs and later
winters. In March, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
announced that global ocean temperatures are rising: because oceans cover
most of Earth's surface, this may be more revealing than land temperatures.

Louis Proyect
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