Water

How the Beer Industry Sustains Pacific Northwest Farmlands

Publication: BigLife Magazine   Date: December 1, 2015   View Article

The yellow blinking light where Idaho state highways 20 and 75 intersect signals “almost there” to travelers bound for Sun Valley. It hangs in the southwest corner of a triangle-shaped swath of farmland that affords big-sky views of high-desert foothills that bleed into the Northern Rockies. A nearby mileage sign reads Bellevue 9, Hailey 12, Sun Valley 26. This August, I pulled off at a rest area next to the light. The air was still and warm. The sky was dulled by smoke from forest fires burning throughout the Pacific Northwest. I was road tripping to learn how the brewing industry sustains farmlands that surround our mountain playgrounds and wanted to soak in the view of them from here. My phone buzzed. Grumpy’s for a beer? Sure, I replied. I’m at the blinking light. Almost there.

At the northern tip of the triangle, near Bellevue, the Big Wood River courses over porous soils. Much of its water seeps underground and flows southeast until impermeable sediments and rock force it to emerge in a series of springs. Some of the springs refill the Big Wood; others feed Silver Creek, a world-renowned trout stream. Dayna Gross, the Idaho conservation manager for The Nature Conservancy, explains this hydrology while pointing out landmarks on a tattered GIS reference map on a wall in the cluttered office of the Silver Creek Preserve. The spring water is clean and nutrient-rich. Wetlands and wildlife abound. “That is why we have these epic hatches,” Gross says with a hint of in-the-know cool. “People come from all over the world to fish here.” Rough calculations by The Nature Conservancy suggest that visitors to the 851-acre preserve contribute more than $6 million to the local economy each summer and fall.

“Barley,” Bill Coors is famous for saying, “is to beer as grapes are to wine.” Barley supplied to brewers of beers such as Coors, Miller High Life, and Budweiser grows on farms that surround the Silver Creek Preserve and contribute around $20 million to the local economy. The relationship between the farmers and environmentalists is uneasy. Sediments wash and blow off the farms and cloud the creek’s waters. Wetlands are scarce. The valley’s aquifer is sinking from decades of over pumping and, as a result, the springs trickle with less vigor and creek waters are warming. MillerCoors contacted The Nature Conservancy in 2009 in search of ways to help growers of its barley be better neighbors. Gross suggested a fencing and wetland restoration project on a farm along Stalker Creek, one of the feeder springs. The brewer bit. “It was a real success,” John Stevenson, who has grown malting barley for 43 years at his Hillside Ranch, says while standing in a tractor shed to avoid the sun.

Ban Bottled Water? Industry Scrutinized in Parched California

Publication: NBC News   Date: May 11, 2015   View Article

Thirsty? Drink tap water.

That’s the message being pushed in parched California, where companies such as Swiss food giant Nestle are bottling for profit water that they pipe from public lands, pump from the desert, and draw from municipal water supplies as citizens are asked to curtail their own water consumption.

“In a historic drought like we are having, it just seems like a really, really poor use of a scarce resource,” said Eddie Kurtz, the executive director of the California-based Courage Campaign which is petitioning the California Water Resources Control Board to immediately shut down Nestlé’s water bottling plants.

The campaign, he said, “is a gateway, an opportunity for us to engage people” in a broader dialogue about water management in California.

Many in U.S. Face Another Dry Year as World Water Day Arrives

Publication: NBC News   Date: March 22, 2015   View Article

It’s a thirsty nation.

From California to the Pacific Northwest to swaths of Texas and Oklahoma, farmers, ranchers and just about anybody with a lawn or a pool are bracing for what’s expected to be another dry year.

Historically low snowpack in the mountains along the West Coast has heightened concern about drought. Ski areas from California to Washington have cried uncle after months of trying to keep slopes open. And water resource managers are busy making plans to deal with low river flows. For many in the U.S., World Water Day on March 22 is that in name only.

Drink Beer? Take Showers? Better Worry About West’s Snowpack

Publication: NBC News   Date: December 20, 2014   View Article

The wet and windy storms that have slammed California with floods, mudslides and traffic snarls are bringing at least a momentary sigh of relief from water users across the western U.S. That’s because the storms also dumped several feet of snow in the Sierra Nevada — and mountain snowpack is a chief supplier of water for agricultural, industrial, and domestic uses throughout the region.

But according to a state measurement, that snowpack as of Thursday was only 50 percent of normal — and Washington and Oregon are even worse off.

The lack of snow fits with what some scientists see as a long-term slide in the amount that piles up each year, though the trend’s size and significance are debated. For some, the decline hints at a future with less water to irrigate crops, brew beer and take showers as well as keep wildfires and insect pests at bay.

Hungry Planet: Can Big Data Help Feed 9 Billion Humans?

Publication: NBC News   Date: November 17, 2014   View Article

With a population set to hit 9 billion human beings by 2050, the world needs to grow more food —without cutting down forests and jungles, which are the climate’s huge lungs.

The solution, according to one soil management scientist, is Big Data.

Kenneth Cassman, an agronomist at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, recently unveiled a new interactive mapping tool that shows in fine-grain detail where higher crop yields are possible on current arable land.

“By some estimates, 20 to 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are associated with agriculture and of that a large portion is due to conversion of natural systems like rainforests or grassland savannahs to crop production, agriculture,” Cassman told NBC News at a conference in suburban Seattle.

That Sinking Feeling: Rising Sea Level Isn’t Cities’ Only Water Worry

Publication: NBC News   Date: November 1, 2014   View Article

Some of the world’s expanding coastal cities face a two-pronged threat involving water: Sticking giant straws into the ground to suck up freshwater can cause the ground below to sink at the same time that sea levels are rising.

That interplay between subsiding land and rising seas highlights an underappreciated risk in global climate change, according to scientists.

It’s not known how many people live on coastal lands that are sinking due to excessive groundwater pumping, but about 150 million live within 3.3 feet of today’s high-tide mark. And the worst-case scenario for sea level rise by the end of this century is nearly six feet, according to a recent study.

Drying Up? Six Industries at Big Risk in California’s Drought

Publication: NBC News   Date: September 29, 2014   View Article

In drought-stricken California, workers in industries from golf to medical marijuana are struggling to prevent the lack of water from drying up business. Most are cautiously watching the weather in hopes that fall and winter storms bring enough rain and snow to keep their doors open. But for some companies, the persistent lack of moisture has been too much: They’ve already been forced to close.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach