h2o in CT 2012


As recommended in 2003 CT Plan - http://www.ct.gov/opm/lib/opm/igp/org/adopteddroughtplan.pdf
"A drought is not a distinct event that has a clearly defined beginning and end; nor does it affect all water users equally."

Table of Contents:
Other research done previously...

The State of Connecticut is on top of the water status issue. 

Index page:  http://www.ct.gov/waterstatus/site/default.asp

Direct links here:  http://www.ct.gov/waterstatus/cwp/view.asp?a=3233&q=397052&waterstatusNav=|


Always at the center of a story, "About Town" was in Milford during this "Nemo" event - cameraphone pics.

Dumping plowed snow into bodies of water raises a few environmental issues

Jan Ellen Spiegel, CT MIRROR
February 11, 2013

With huge quantities of snow lining Connecticut roads, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is giving cities and towns an option for getting rid of it -- dump it in the water.

"We're going to have to put the snow someplace," said Guilford Director of Public Works Jim Portley, who figured they wouldn't start dumping until next week, "and it's a great opportunity to get rid of the snow."

Environmentalists aren't up in arms. "This is an emergency," said Roger Reynolds of the Connecticut Fund for the Environment. "We understand that the snow has to go somewhere."

But Reynolds said there are concerns. "It's similar to dumping municipal solid waste in the waterway," he said. "When plows pick snow up, there's inevitably some debris."

DEEP is aware of this and has established a fairly strict protocol for dumping snow: It should be considered a last resort. All upland dumping locations must be fully exhausted. The snow cannot contain anything other than the road treatments used for melting snow. DEEP must be notified first. And the snow must be kept away from drinking water and sensitive areas such as wetlands.

"We have to strike a balance of protecting the environment with public safety and emergency needs," said Oswald Inglese, director of DEEP's water permitting and enforcement division.

In fact the state allowed the dumping of snow into bodies of water two winters ago, when a series of closely timed storms resulted in even more total accumulation than this blizzard did. While a few communities said at the time they were considering water disposal, Inglese said it's not clear any did. A few have expressed interest this time, though none has yet.

What's in the snow?

The so-called water disposal of snow raises the question of just what could wind up in there. The short answer is -- it depends on who's doing the dumping.

About a half-dozen years ago, the state Department of Transportation switched its road treatment from a 7:2 ratio sand-salt mixture to a "salt priority" already in use nationwide. It's a mix of pure salt (sodium chloride), which can melt snow and ice down to about 20 degrees, and magnesium chloride, which helps push that melting point down to the single digits.

"The result is superior road conditions and faster more efficient cleanup during and after these events," said DOT spokesman Kevin Nursick. "It's not a silver bullet, but it's better."

He also said it's better for the environment, and there is general agreement on that.

Sand can clog storm drains, cause water turbidity and it can bond to contaminants like oil on roadways, transferring them into the water. Sand remaining on the road after snow removal has to be swept up at the end of the season and disposed of, since it can't be reused.

In DOT's case, that meant thousands of tons of spent road sand every year. "You can't just dump it," Nursick said. "It's considered a contaminated material, and fewer and fewer locations are willing to accept road sand."

But there is also concern about its replacement.

"Chloride -- that's the environmental concern," Inglese said. Long-term use can have toxic impacts, he said. "We see impairments in the health of aquatic ecosystems."

But the biggest problem is if chlorides are dumped into inland fresh water. Inglese said for large fast-flowing rivers or Long Island Sound itself: "We're not as concerned."

While many municipalities are thought to have switched to mixtures similar to DOT's, a few of those contacted by the CT Mirror have not.

* Guilford, which said it intended to dump its snow in the water, though it had not yet notified DEEP, uses a 4:1 sand-salt mixture.
*  New Haven told DEEP it might dump snow in the water but later said, "We have no intention of dumping in the Sound," said Public Works Director Doug Arndt. The city has been using sand and salt to treat roads during this storm.
*  Milford, one of the hardest hit towns with nearly 40 inches of snow, also uses a sand-salt mixture that is mostly sand. "We don't believe it's going to get to that point," said Mayor Blake Benjamin of the possibility of dumping snow in the water. "I think that's the last resort. "You've got to be worried about if there's any kind of oil in it."
*  Branford switched to pure salt this year, which First Selectman Anthony "Unk" DaRos said is working better than the old mixture on the nearly 3 feet of snow the town received.

So far Branford public works has not put snow in the water. But DaRos said it could come to that in some of the tightly packed beachside areas where, on Monday, payloaders were stacking huge piles of snow along the edge of seawalls.

"It's a very, valuable option for us to be able to use," he said of water disposal of snow. But even if he doesn't use it, he noted it might not matter. "It all ends up in Long Island Sound sooner or later," he said.

UConn Picks Connecticut Water To Solve Its Water Woes
Board Of Trustees To Vote On Proposal Wednesday
The Hartford Courant
By PETER MARTEKA, pmarteka@courant.com
7:20 PM EDT, August 5, 2013

The University of Connecticut has chosen Connecticut Water Co.'s proposal to bring 2 million gallons of water a day to the Storrs campus to solve its water woes, sources said Monday.

The selection eliminates a controversial $51 million plan by the Metropolitan District Commission to build a 20-mile pipeline from East Hartford that would have drawn water from the Barkhamsted and Nepaug reservoirs. Opponents assailed the plan, saying it would draw down the watershed of the Farmington River, a popular recreation spot.

Connecticut Water's $21 million proposal will use a five-mile network of pipes to bring water from its reservoir in Tolland. A source familiar with the university's discussions said that, pending approval of the plan Wednesday by the board of trustees, the next step will be to negotiate an agreement with Connecticut Water that could see water flowing to campus as soon as 18 months after permits are obtained.

"In the end, Connecticut Water's plan was sound environmentally and prudent financially," the source said. "It was significantly less expensive and the more attractive plan."

A third option, by Windham Water Works, offered a $44 million plan to upgrade its water treatment plant and pipe water in from the Willimantic Reservoir. A source said that although the university considered all three plans to be environmentally safe and acceptable, it came down to costs, the distance of pipeline and the environmental impact.

The Connecticut Water proposal was also most consistent with the state Plan of Conservation and Development and with local and regional plans, according to the source. Its five-mile pipeline was the shortest of the three proposals, with the lowest risk of environmental disruption, and mitigated the potential for excess residential and commercial development along the route. With the company bearing much of the capital expenses, it also has the lowest costs and water use fees, as the university will pay only for the water it uses.

In June, Eric Thornburg, president and CEO of Connecticut Water, said his company's plan would bring a "reliable supply of water" to campus and to Mansfield residents at no cost to taxpayers, the university or the town. The company will not use local funding to build the network of pipelines.

"There will be no tax dollars used or special charges to Mansfield residents," Thornburg said. "Connecticut Water's project ... will be far less disruptive as opposed to other solutions, including the MDC's 20-mile plan. ... Taxpayers and Mansfield residents should not be asked to bear those costs when Connecticut Water is prepared to invest in the solution."

The university's environmental impact evaluation process was one of the most closely watched and commented on in recent memory, the source said. The university's office of environmental policy and environmental compliance conducts such evaluations when the complexity and scale of a proposed project could adversely affect the environment.

If the trustees approve Connecticut Water's proposal, their recommendation will be forwarded to the state Office of Policy and Management for a more comprehensive review. The university's final water solution would need a permit from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

The 3,100-acre campus in Storrs, with roughly 125 major buildings, uses 1.25 million to 1.3 million gallons of water a day, according to university officials. On days when there is high demand for heating or air conditioning, the demand can reach 1.5 million gallons or more.

In summer 2005, a section of the Fenton River in Mansfield was pumped dry in an effort to meet the school's water needs. Since then, the university has implemented strict conservation efforts and placed tighter restrictions on its river well field.

Connecticut Water serves about 300,000 people in 56 communities across the state.

Visit http://www.envpolicy.uconn.edu/eie.html to review the Environmental Impact Evaluation.

Copyright © 2013, The Hartford Courant

Water shortages come home to Connecticut
Neena Satija, CT MIRROR
February 12, 2013

The controversy over the University of Connecticut's proposals to quench its thirst shows that water isn't just the Southwestern states’ problem anymore.

The Northeast has often been seen as a water-rich part of the country and, in fact, the amount of rainfall in Connecticut has actually increased slightly in the last century. But weather patterns have become more erratic: In recent years, for instance, we've seen wetter winters, but drier summers. The historic blizzard that Connecticut is still digging out from this week is a perfect example.

"It's kind of like the difference between having a steady job where you get a paycheck every week ... and being a consultant where you may have feast or famine in your cash flow," said Pat Bresnahan, former associate director of the University of Connecticut's Water Resources Institute. "With climate change it might be something very similar."

Climate-change models further indicate this trend: that the Northeast will experience more extremes when it comes to both droughts and rainstorms.

"That variability, that volatility, can happen within a year. It can happen very quickly," said Virginia de Lima, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Connecticut office. "You could have a dry period, followed by a wet period, followed by another dry period."

The uncertainty surrounding the region's water resources has prompted a firestorm of criticism over UConn's need for water. To accommodate a $170 million new technology park and an increase in its student population by a third, the university says it needs to pipe in 2 million more gallons of water a day to its main campus in Storrs. One of its proposals to do so, involving the Farmington River, has been particularly controversial.

Critics say that before UConn should be allowed to move forward, Connecticut needs a comprehensive water strategy. The state created various councils and committees for that exact purpose in 2001 but has made little progress in developing an actual plan.

Karl Wagener, director of the state's Council on Environmental Quality, said UConn's proposals raise serious concerns about how the university could tap into various water supplies throughout the state. UConn shouldn't necessarily hold off on its expansion, he said, but the state does need to act.

"It's been recognized so many times that we need to have comprehensive water planning. So maybe this ... controversy will make that happen," Wagener said.

Two thirsty rivers

The increasingly unpredictable water availability in the state has already posed serious problems in recent years. In 2005, the Fenton River -- a small river that runs north-south near UConn's Storrs campus -- was pumped dry as students returned to school after the summer holidays, and demand for water skyrocketed after one of the driest summers on record.

"It was not a good day for the university," recalled Tom Callahan, vice president of infrastructure and investment planning for UConn.

And, he says, it was a wake-up call. UConn now regularly monitors the flow of nearby rivers, and it has spent more than $45 million on water conservation efforts.

But one of those efforts includes shutting down the Fenton River wellfields when the water reaches the low flow rate of 3 cubic feet per second. That leaves only the Willimantic River wellfield as a water source. UConn has had to rely only on the Willimantic for several months during recent summers and falls.

And when UConn adds its technology park, coupled with its planned increase in student enrollment and a $2 billion investment in new or renovated facilities, it will need 2 million gallons more a day in water. That's in addition to the about 1.25 million gallons a day that UConn uses now.

Since the Fenton River can't provide that, UConn has proposed tapping into several reservoirs across the state, including two operated by the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) that draw their water from the Farmington River. Residents in the Farmington Valley have vehemently criticized the plan.

"The Farmington River is already under stress," said Mary Glassman, Simsbury's first selectwoman. "And the MDC proposal would only make the situation worse."

On a recent visit to the Pleasant Valley section of the Farmington River's West Branch in Barkhamsted, four fly fishermen were braving the bitter January cold -- an example of the river's attraction for fishermen worldwide. Dave Sinish, who has lived in the Farmington Valley since 1971 and is active in advocacy for the area, estimated that its flow was 150 cubic feet per second that day; an average flow for the river, though it varies throughout the year, is about 360 cfs, he said.

Last summer, though, fishing was very nearly shut down throughout the watershed. Riverflows were lower than 50 cubic cfs -- forcing the fish, already under stress because of more exposure to unusually high temperatures, to crowd into various deeper areas of the river.

"You could walk across the river," Sinish recalled.

MDC officials have insisted that the reservoirs UConn wants to tap have plenty of extra water and would never need to draw any extra from the Farmington River itself.

"We have 12 million gallons of water a day that is available for new customers of the MDC," Chris Stone, assistant district counsel for MDC, told WNPR's John Dankosky on the talk show "Where We Live."

But those attending a packed public hearing in Farmington last month weren't buying it.

"Here's a suggestion," said Donald Rieger, who sits on Simsbury's conservation commission. "If the MDC has [water] that it would be comfortable committing to UConn, why not instead return it to the [Farmington] river, in those seasons when the river needs the water?" After his statement, the audience broke into applause.

A taste of things to come

As climate change takes hold, the controversy over UConn's thirst could be just one of many future battles.

"Part of the problem is that we get so much rain, and we're perceived as being a very water-rich area," said Pat Bresnahan, formerly of UConn's Water Resources Institute. "But because of our development patterns, the water isn't always where the development is."

UConn and the surrounding small, rural town of Mansfield is a prime example. Virtually no water pipelines run into the area, and even Mansfield's population is dependent on UConn's wells for water.

"I don't know that it's water-poor," said UConn's Vice President Tom Callahan of the area. "But it is storage-short ... it's reliant on wellfields and not reservoirs." The enormous storage capacity of reservoirs makes it easier to plan for drier periods. Reliant only on groundwater, UConn didn't have that option during the dry summer of 2005, and it still doesn't have it should another drought occur.

But the MDC proposal would require building a 20-mile pipeline from East Hartford to Storrs. Many argued that this would encourage sprawl along the pipeline and spur further development -- and the need for even more water.

"I'm getting a very stomach-turning sense of deja vu right now," said Susan Masino, who used to live in California, at the public hearing in Farmington. She recalled a development at a university where "what started as just a water line did not end up like that. It was a complete sprawl-generating development in an area where there was no infrastructure originally."

After a severe drought in the late 1990s, the legislature created a Water Planning Council that now produces annual reports on the state of Connecticut's water resources. But the goal of the council -- to develop a comprehensive water plan for the state -- is still far off.

Part of the problem is that developing a plan requires grappling with very tough questions that the South and Southwest regions of the United States have already struggled to answer.

"Who gets water? If there's competition over water or competition over high-quality water, who gets it first? Or who has to cut back first?" asked Virginia de Lima of the U.S. Geological Survey.

Those aren't questions many would want to ask, especially as UConn's expansion plans promise tens of thousands of new jobs for the state.

From the Federal level:

Seven-day average streamflow compared to historical streamflow for the day of the year (CT):http://waterwatch.usgs.gov/index.php?id=pa07d&sid=w__map|m__pa07d_nwc&r=ct

Map of real-time stream compared to historical streamflow for the day of the year (CT):  http://waterwatch.usgs.gov/index.php?m=real&r=ct&w=map


U.S.G.S.  Connecticut Real-Time Network

U.S.G.S.  Connecticut Active Water Level Network
GROUNDWATER WATCH:  http://groundwaterwatch.usgs.gov/StateMaps/CT.html

Western drought starting to squeeze Connecticut farmers
Charlotte Adinolfi
Published 12:30 a.m., Tuesday, August 21, 2012

For Ben Freund, owner of Freund's Farm, Inc. in East Canaan, is anticipating the worst for his farm and his ability to produce his annual products in the coming months.

The cows on Freund's farm are fed by feed and supplements shipped in from other parts of the country.

Freund does not typically make enough of his own corn or hay to feed his cows. With 33 percent of the United States experiencing severe to extreme drought conditions and 55 percent experiencing moderate to extreme drought, the availability of feed for the coming months will become scarce since regions greatly affected by the drought produce the most feed. While most farms in Connecticut and throughout the Northeast have yet to feel the impact, they are waiting for the effect to hit home.

"We are in the middle of a squeeze," Freund said. "Our price hasn't adjusted to incorporate the increased cost of grains."

To make matters worse, without a farm bill in Washington, a wave of uncertainty is sweeping across the nation, especially in the drought-stricken Midwest and even in Connecticut. While the state grows enough forage and corn for livestock, farmers here depend on grains from the West to supplement the diet of their herds.

The House approved a one-year, $383 million in disaster relief plan for farmers, but Congress went home before the Senate acted on the bill. The Senate had previously passed a disaster aid package as part of a five-year farm bill, but GOP leaders in the House refused to bring that to a vote because they worried many Republicans would object to the nearly $80 billion included in the bill for the food stamp program. That means no aid is likely to be approved until Congress returns in early September.

Northeast farmers and dairy farmers in particular are stuck waiting for the disaster to strike here. Throughout the summer, milk prices have dropped.

David Kaseno, Northeast regional director for the National Farmers Organization, said that in the summer of 2011, farmers would receive somewhere between $20 and $21 per hundredweight for their milk. As of July this year, farmers were only receiving $16.68 per hundredweight for their milk. Hundredweight is a unit of weight measurement created by U.S. merchants in the late 1800s. It is equal to exactly 100 pounds.

Dairy farming is often a losing proposition because it costs about $20 per hundred weight for the farmer to get the stuff to the various co-ops for processing.

This price drop is magnified by the increasing price of feed. Freund said that two years ago, farmers could have corn delivered at about $40 a ton but this year corn is sold at $99 a ton. To make costs worse, farmers must pick up the corn themselves this year so they must find a way to transport it back to their farm.

Kaseno said that farmers will face a choice. They either will need to sell cows in order to cut back on their need to buy feed resulting in less milk production or they will lose money buying feed at increased prices.

"The choices are bad," Kaseno said. "This could put some dairy farms out of business."

According to the Connecticut Department of Agriculture there are about 150 active dairy farms in the state. Connecticut's entire $72.7 million dairy industry is minuscule compared to Midwestern states.


BELOW - Saugatuck Reservoir from same spot in Redding (pulloff with view of island) in decending order (June, May, April 2012)

State In Minor Drought, But Local Crop Prices Unlikely To Rise
The Hartford Courant
By KRISTIN STOLLER, kstoller@courant.com
5:45 PM EDT, July 21, 2012

Connecticut's dry summer has left many lawns brown but farmers say it will have no effect on the state's crop prices. Despite Friday's rain, greater Hartford has received only 28 percent of the normal rainfall through July 20, said Andy Mussoline, a meteorologist at AccuWeather.com.

Typically, the area gets about 2.47 inches of rain at this time of year, but has only received .68 inches so far, he said. For Tony Botticello of Botticello Farms, the dry spell has meant more work for him and his farmers. At his farm in Manchester, farmers must continue to irrigate and pump water from the nearby Connecticut River — resulting in some farmers working as late as midnight.

"It's a lot more work," Botticello said. "If we didn't do that, we wouldn't be able to harvest anything."

However, he said the dry weather has not affected his season's crops, or forced him to raise prices. But Kevin Bassette, of Killam and Bassette Farmstead, LLC, said his crops have been affected by the weather, especially his corn.

"When it gets above 90 to 95 degrees, plants start shutting down," he said.

If it had not been for the recent showers, Bassette said he would have had to do more irrigating. As with Botticello, the extreme heat has not caused Bassette to raise his prices.

"In this economy if you raise prices, people are going to go somewhere else to get it," he said, laughing.

According to the U.S. drought monitor by the National Integrated Drought Information System, the northern half of the state is "abnormally dry," which is the lowest of five drought condition levels.

But the state has not declared a drought advisory, said Bruce Wittchen, an environmental analysts from the state Office of Policy and Management. The state has an Interagency Drought Work Crew that meets when necessary to discuss potentially dry and drought-like conditions, he said. The month has been running dry, and the group will meet at the end of the month to discuss these conditions, Wittchen said.

The group considers criteria such as reservoir and stream levels to assess droughts, he said.Wittchen said he is also paying attention to the Daily Forest Fire Danger Report, because of situation in Colorado. The current forest fire danger level is moderate, he said.

Currently, the state is experiencing high demands on the water supply, said Dwayne Gardner, a spokesperson in the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection

"When day time temperatures climb above 90F, usage goes up also," Gardner wrote in an email. "It is difficult to quantify but typically increases in water usage track with increases in power usage."

In the Midwest, the worst drought in a half century will affect crops for at least the next 10 days, AccuWeather agricultural meteorologist Jason Nicholls told Rueters on Thursday.

After no snow this winter, are we due for another drought?  Lack of infrastructure such as water and sewer lines is a hallmark in Weston.  Past history here.


Avoiding Bioenergy Competition for Food Crops and Land, Creating a Sustainable Food Future, Installment Nine
by Tim Searchinger and Ralph Heimlich - January 2015     

Installment 9 of Creating a Sustainable Food Future shows that any dedicated use of land for growing bioenergy inherently comes at the cost of not using that land for growing food or animal feed, or for storing carbon.

Working paper on biofuels...

Making Sense of Water
Mark Bittman
APRIL 14, 201

BERKELEY, Calif. — Almost every number used to analyze California’s drought can be debated, but this can be safely said: No level of restrictions on residential use can solve the problem. The solution lies with agriculture, which consumes more than its fair share.

That doesn’t mean homeowners can’t and shouldn’t cut back.

But according to estimates by the Public Policy Institute of California, more water was used to grow almonds in 2013 than was used by all homes and businesses in San Francisco and Los Angeles put together. Even worse, most of those almonds are then exported — which means, effectively, that we are exporting water. Unless you’re the person or company making money off this deal, that’s just nuts.

California produces more than 400 commodities in many different climates, so it’s difficult to generalize about agriculture. Many farmers are cutting back on water use, planting geographically appropriate crops and shifting to techniques that make sense, like “dry” farming. Others, however, are mining water as they would copper: When it runs out, they’ll find new ways to make money.

So the big question is not, “How do we survive the drought?” — which could well be the new normal — but, “How do we allocate water sensibly?” California grows fruits and vegetables for everyone; that’s a good thing. It would be an even better thing, however, if some of that production shifted to places like Iowa, once a leading grower of produce. That could happen again, if federal policy subsidized such crops, rather than corn, on some of that ultra-fertile land...story in full:  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/14/opinion/making-sense-of-water.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=c-column-top-span-region&region=c-column-top-span-region&WT.nav=c-column-top-span-region&_r=0

Amid drought, water-use penalties hit Bay Area

Kurtis Alexander, SFGATE
Updated 10:45 pm, Saturday, May 17, 2014

Here comes the chapter of California's drought story where things get testy.

Asking people to conserve water? No problem. Ordering them to cut back or else pay up? Those are fighting words...for full story, click here.

Holiday storms do little to help US drought, although rains ease conditions some in Southeast
Washington Post
By Associated Press, Updated: Thursday, January 3, 10:58 AM

ST. LOUIS — Holiday storms that pounded much of the nation with snow and rain did little to ease the overall grip of the worst U.S. drought in decades.

The weekly U.S. Drought Monitor report released Thursday shows that about 61 percent of the continental U.S. remained in some form of drought as of Tuesday, down less than a percentage point from the previous week. That number has been above 60 percent largely since July.

More than 21 percent of the lower 48 states are in extreme or exceptional drought, the two worst categories. That’s down slightly from the previous week.

All of Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and South Dakota are in drought.

But some areas in the Southeast are emerging from drought after heavy rains since Christmas Day.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

A Record Worth Wilting For: Death Valley Is Hotter Than ...
December 28, 2012

FURNACE CREEK, Calif. — For Death Valley, a place that embraces its extremes, this has long been an affront: As furnace-hot as it gets here, it could not lay claim to being the hottest place on earth. That honor, as it were, has gone since 1922 to a city on the northwestern tip of Libya.

Until now. After a yearlong investigation by a team of climate scientists, the World Meteorological Organization, the climate agency of the United Nations, announced this fall that it was throwing out a reading of 136.4 degrees claimed by the city of Al Aziziyah on Sept. 13, 1922. It made official what anyone who has soldiered through a Death Valley summer afternoon here could attest to. There is no place hotter in the world. A 134-degree reading registered on July 10, 1913, at Greenland Ranch here is now the official world record.

And while people were not quite jumping up and down at the honor, the 134-degree reading has inspired the kind of civic pride that for most communities might come with having a winning Little League baseball team.

“For those of us who survive here in the summer, it was no surprise that it’s the hottest place on the world,” said Charlie Callaghan, a Death Valley National Park ranger who personally recorded a 129-degree day here a few years back.

The opening wall panel in a new exhibition at the National Park Service visitor center off Highway 190 has been unveiled with a burst of superlatives: “Hottest. Driest. Lowest.” (Lowest refers to a spot in Death Valley, Badwater Basin, which at 282 feet below sea level is the lowest place in North America.)

Promotional leaflets that still boast of Death Valley as being merely the hottest place in the United States are being rewritten, and resort owners say they are girding for a crush of heat-seeking visitors come next summer. There is even talk of having an official 100-year celebration of the record-setting measurement next July.

“It’s about time for science, but I think we all knew it was coming,” said Randy Banis, the editor of DeathValley.com, an online newsletter promoting the valley. “You don’t underestimate Death Valley. Most of us enthusiasts are proud that the extremes that we have known about at Death Valley are indeed the most harsh on earth.”

Still, the designation was a momentous event among this nation’s community of climatologists — or, as some of them proudly refer to themselves, “weather geeks” — the climax of a long debate set off by a blog item written by Christopher C. Burt, a meteorologist with Weather Underground. Mr. Burt cited numerous reasons to be suspicious of the Libyan claim, which he described in an interview the other day as “completely garbage.”

“The more we looked at it, the more obvious it appeared to be an error,” he said.

Mr. Burt brought his blog post to the attention of members of the World Meteorological Organization. Randall S. Cerveny, a geology professor at Arizona State University who holds the title rapporteur of climate extremes for the World Climate Organization, appointed a committee of 13 climatologists, including himself and Mr. Burt, to resolve what can often be tricky disputes.

“There are a lot of places that do like these records,” he said. “It can be a source of pride for that country or a source of contention for other countries. Politics unfortunately is going to play a role sometime in the determining of these records.”

It took a year to investigate the claim — the inquiry was hampered by the revolution in Libya, which resulted in the temporary disappearance of a Libyan scientist who was central to the work. The final report found five reasons to disqualify the Libya claim, including questionable instruments, an inexperienced observer who made the reading and the fact that the reading was anomalous for that region and in the context of other temperatures reported in Libya that day.

“The W.M.O. assessment is that the highest recorded surface temperature of 56.7 degrees C (134 degrees F) was measured on 10 July 1913” in Death Valley, the report said.

The announcement was made on Sept. 11, the same day as the attack on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, and thus drew little notice.

Though it is easy to forget on days when it is so hot that people dare not step out of their cars, part of the allure of Death Valley has always been — besides the staggering beauty of its canyons, mountains and sunsets — the sheer challenge of visiting it.

“I think there might be such a thing as a weather tourist,” Mr. Burt said. “I may be one.”

Ben Cassell, who runs the Panamint Springs Resort on the west side of Death Valley, said that even before the long-awaited official recognition, his summer rooms typically were booked up by the spring, mainly by Europeans seeking temperatures they cannot find back home.

“The Europeans love to visit in the summer when it is the hottest,” he said. “The Americans tend to go in the spring for the flowers.”

The European tourists, he said, “definitely are looking for the extreme.”

“We get people who get upset that today it’s 120, and the day before they got here it was 121,” he said. “They want to have bragging rights.”

Mr. Callaghan, who would know, said there most certainly was a difference between 115 degrees and, say, 125 degrees.

“You kind of get used to the 115s, the 120s,” he said. “Once it gets above 120, 125, it’s just downright miserable. It’s just so excruciatingly hot. You don’t walk outside your air-conditioned car or your office. You don’t want to have jewelry on because you feel the burning on the ears. Your eyes, your eyebrows, feel real hot.”

Truth be told, it was hard to think of Death Valley in all its hot glory on a visit the weekend before Christmas. The thermometer outside the Ranch at Furnace Creek — which measures up to 140 — read a chilly 55 degrees. People could be seen on canyon hiking trails clothed in scarfs and parkas.

“There’s no normal or abnormal,” said Bob Greenberg, a ranger on duty. “But if it gets anywhere near freezing, you hear a lot of whining around here.”

For what it is worth, Mr. Burt said he had issues as well with the Death Valley claim of 134 degrees, and suspects it may be wrong. “It’s anomalous, even for Death Valley,” he said.

But no matter. Even if 134-Death Valley goes the way of 136.4-Libya, the temperature has most assuredly reached 129 degrees here in Furnace Creek at least three times, one of them recorded by Mr. Callaghan. And 129 is just as much a world record as 134.

“Death Valley would still win, so to speak, even if the 134 was erroneous,” Mr. Burt said.

Drought’s impact on food prices could worsen hunger in America
By Jason Sickles
21 August 2012

More than 18 percent of Americans say there have been times this year when they couldn't afford the food they needed, according to a Gallup poll released on Tuesday.

That plight could grow because of the country's worst drought in half a century. The U.S. Department of Agriculture warned last month that Americans should expect to pay 3 to 5 percent more for groceries next year because of the drought.

"While Americans are no more likely to struggle to afford food thus far in 2012 than in the past, more residents may face problems as the drought-related crop damage results in a shortage of inputs in the food supply and begins to affect retail prices," the Gallup report stated.

The Gallup findings come from telephone surveys conducted with 177,662 U.S. adults from January through June 2012. They asked 1,000 Americans each day if there have been times in the past 12 months when they did not have enough money to buy food that they or their families needed.

The worst responses came from Mississippi where one in four residents reported struggling to put food on the table.

From the Gallup study:

    Residents of states in the Southeast and Southwest regions are the most likely in the country to struggle to afford food. Those living in the Mountain Plains and Midwest regions are the least likely to experience food hardship.

Gallup said the 18.2 percent of Americans who so far in 2012 reported having problems is on par with the 18.6 percent who had trouble affording food in 2011. Feedinghunger.org says one in six people in the U.S. go without food for several meals or even days.

Financial lenders worldwide are also alerting countries to prepare for a possible spike in food bills in the coming months, Reuters reported on Tuesday.

"We are not saying that we anticipate a major crisis at this point," said Juergen Voegele, director of the World Bank's Agriculture and Rural Development Department. "The world has enough food, but of course we cannot predict the weather and if something extraordinary happens we might find ourselves in a difficult situation again."

The opposite of this?
n Midst of a Drought, Keeping Traffic Moving on the Mississippi

August 19, 2012

ABOARD THE DREDGE POTTER, on the Mississippi River — This ship is making sure that the Big River, shrinking under one of the worst droughts in modern history, stays deep enough.

The Potter is scooping this stretch of the Mississippi River’s navigation channel just south of St. Louis, the ship’s 32-foot-wide head sucking up about 60,000 cubic yards of sediment each day and depositing it via a long discharge pipe a thousand feet to the side in a violent, muddy plume that smells like muck and summer.

The Army Corps of Engineers has more than a dozen dredging vessels working the Mississippi this summer. Despite being fed by water flowing in from more than 40 percent of the United States, the river is feeling the ruinous drought affecting so much of the Midwest. Some stretches are nearing the record low-water levels experienced in 1988, when river traffic was suspended in several spots...full story here.

Lack of rainfall affects shipping lanes, Vicksburg, Mississippi.  Now that is shallow!  Wayne, Oklahoma cows search for shade - see the color of the grass!  Oakton, Indiana corn crop shrivels. 

Connecticut shown as "abnomally dry" this week...

Report: Drought Intensifies in Kansas, Nebraska

August 16, 2012

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A new report suggests that while recent rains stabilized the devastating drought gripping Iowa and other key farming states, the dry conditions intensified in Kansas and Nebraska.

The latest U.S. Drought Monitor map released Thursday shows the overall expanse of land across the contiguous U.S. states weathering some form of drought dropped less than 1 percent to 61.8 percent as of Tuesday.

In Iowa, the nation's leader in corn production, the amount of land mired in extreme or exceptional drought — the two worst classifications — dropped 7 percentage points to 62.05 percent over the past week.

But the amount of Nebraska in exceptional drought spiked 19 percentage points to 22.5 percent, while that number in Kansas rose from 38.6 percent last week to 63.3 percent now.

Half of US counties now considered disaster areas
By JIM SUHR | Associated Press
2 August 2012

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Nearly 220 counties in a dozen drought-stricken states were added Wednesday to the U.S. government's list of natural disaster areas as the nation's agriculture chief unveiled new help for frustrated, cash-strapped farmers and ranchers grappling with extreme dryness and heat.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's addition of the 218 counties means that more than half of all U.S. counties — 1,584 in 32 states — have been designated primary disaster areas this growing season, the vast majority of them mired in a drought that's considered the worst in decades.

Counties in Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wyoming were included in Wednesday's announcement. The USDA uses the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor to help decide which counties to deem disaster areas, which makes farmers and ranchers eligible for federal aid, including low-interest emergency loans.

To help ease the burden on the nation's farms, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Thursday opened up 3.8 million acres of conservation land for ranchers to use for haying and grazing. Under that conservation program, farmers have been paid to take land out of production to ward against erosion and create wildlife habitat.

"The assistance announced today will help U.S. livestock producers dealing with climbing feed prices, critical shortages of hay and deteriorating pasturelands," Vilsack said.

Vilsack also said crop insurers have agreed to provide farmers facing cash-flow issues a penalty-free, 30-day grace period on premiums in 2012.

As of this week, nearly half of the nation's corn crop was rated poor to very poor, according to the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service. About 37 percent of the U.S. soybeans were lumped into that category, while nearly three-quarters of U.S. cattle acreage is in drought-affected areas, the survey showed.

The potential financial fallout in the nation's midsection appears to be intensifying. The latest weekly Mid-America Business Conditions Index, released Wednesday, showed that the ongoing drought and global economic turmoil is hurting business in nine Midwest and Plains states, boosting worries about the prospect of another recession, according to the report.

Creighton University economist Ernie Goss, who oversees the index, said the drought will hurt farm income while the strengthening dollar hinders exports, meaning two of the most important positive factors in the region's economy are being undermined.

The survey covers Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

Thursday's expansion of federal relief was welcomed in rain-starved states like Illinois, where the USDA's addition of 66 counties leaves just four of the state's 102 counties — Cook, DuPage, Kane and Will, all in the Chicago area — without the natural disaster classification.

The Illinois State Water Survey said the state has averaged just 12.6 inches from January to June 2012, the sixth-driest first half of a year on record. Compounding matters is that Illinois has seen above-normal temperatures each month, with the statewide average of 52.8 degrees over the first six months logged as the warmest on record.

"While harvest has yet to begin, we already see that the drought has caused considerable crop damage," Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said. In his state, 71 percent of the corn crop and 56 percent of soybean acreage is considered poor or very poor.

In South Dakota, where roughly three-fifths of the state is in severe or extreme drought, Vilsack earlier had allowed emergency haying and grazing on about 500,000 conservation acres, but not on the roughly 445,000 acres designated as wetlands.

Vilsack's decision to open up some wetland acres in a number of states will give farmers and ranchers a chance to get good quality forage for livestock, federal lawmakers said.

"The USDA cannot make it rain, but it can apply flexibility to the conservation practices," Sen. Tim Johnson, a South Dakota Democrat, said Wednesday. The USDA designated 39 of his state's counties disaster areas.

Crops in India Wilt in a Weak Monsoon Season
September 3, 2012

MURUMA, India — Vilas Dinkar Mukane lives halfway around the world from the corn farmers of Iowa, but the Indian sharecropper is at risk of losing his livelihood for the same reason: not enough rain.

With the nourishing downpours of the annual monsoon season down an average of 12 percent across India and much more in some regions, farmers in this village about 250 miles east of Mumbai are on the brink of disaster. “If this situation continues, I’ll lose everything,” said Mr. Mukane, whose soybean, sugarcane and cotton crops were visibly stunted and wilting in his fields recently. “Nothing can happen without water.”

Drought has devastated crops around the world this year, including corn and soybeans in the United States, wheat in Russia and Australia and soybeans in Brazil and Argentina. This has contributed to a 6 percent rise in global food prices from June to July, according to United Nations data.

India is experiencing its fourth drought in a dozen years, raising concerns about the reliability of the country’s primary source of fresh water, the monsoon rains that typically fall from June to October.

Some scientists warn that such calamities are part of a trend that is likely to intensify in the coming decades because of climate changes caused by the human release of greenhouse gases.

A paper published last month blamed global warming for a large increase in the percentage of the planet affected by extreme summer heat in the last several decades. And the World Meteorological Organization, a division of the United Nations, recently warned that climate change was “projected to increase the frequency, intensity and duration of droughts, with impacts on many sectors, in particular food, water and energy.”

Scientists say that in addition to increasing temperatures, climate change appears to be making India and its neighbors Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh more vulnerable to erratic monsoons.

Studies using 130 years of data show big changes in rainfall in recent decades, said B. N. Goswami, director of the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, a government-backed research organization. Climate models suggest that while overall rainfall should increase in the coming decades, the region can expect longer dry spells and more intense downpours — forces that would seem to cancel each other out but in fact pose new threats.

“Heavy rains are normally short duration, and therefore the water runs off,” said Dr. Goswami, who added that more research was needed to fully understand the impact of climate change on monsoons. “Weak rains are important for recharging groundwater.”

India is more vulnerable to disruption from drought than countries like the United States. While agriculture accounts for just 15 percent of India’s economy, half of its 1.2 billion people work on farms, and many of its poorest citizens already cannot afford enough food after price increases of 10 percent or more in the last couple of years.

“These kinds of rainfall failures have a lot of human effects,” said Yoginder K. Alagh, chairman of the Institute of Rural Management and a former Indian minister. “A large number of people don’t get employment. There are acute drinking water problems.”

Food grain and oilseed production in India could fall up to 12 percent this year as a result of poor rain, said P. K. Joshi, director for South Asia at the International Food Policy Research Institute.

The good news is that the drought is not likely to result in widespread famine. India has more than 76 million tons of wheat, rice and other grain in storage, in part because of government support for those crops and an export ban put in place in 2008 when global food prices shot up. But analysts expect prices for dairy, meat, lentils and vegetables to rise.

Unlike the United States, where crop insurance and other government programs provide a safety net for farmers, India offers ad hoc and unpredictable government support, increasing the risk that legions of farmers will be wiped out.

If it does not rain soon, Mr. Mukane, 25, who works a field here in Muruma, said he would have to sell whatever he could to repay banks and lenders 500,000 rupees (about $9,000), much of it borrowed at an interest rate of 7 percent a month.

Weak monsoon rains were also an underlying cause of the blackouts that cut power to half of the country in July. The paucity of water lowered the supply of power from dams that account for a fifth of electric capacity, even as consumers cranked up fans and air-conditioners and farmers ran electric pumps to draw water from wells.

Across the country, rainfall has been about 12 percent below long-term averages through Sept. 2. But that broad number belies the acute pain in many parts of the country. Rainfall here in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra state is down 36 percent. In parts of the north and west, it is down 13 to 72 percent. At the same time, heavy rain and flooding have displaced tens of thousands in the eastern state of Assam.

Experts say the impact of the poor monsoon rains has been compounded by mismanagement. The chief minister of Maharashtra, Prithviraj Chavan, recently said that much of the $1.5 billion a year that the state spent on water projects appeared to have been wasted, with virtually no increase in the amount of irrigated farmland over the last decade.

Kiran Singh Pal, a government engineer who manages the irrigation system in the region, said it was poorly maintained because officials like himself had not been given enough money and staff. He also said many farmers had received no government water because so much of it was cornered by a few powerful landowners.

“We have enough water to irrigate all the fields,” Mr. Pal said. “The problem is we don’t have any control.”

Mr. Mukane, the sharecropper, and his neighbors said their problems were heightened because they received much less water this year from a nearby reservoir, which is so depleted that it can barely provide drinking water to Aurangabad, a city of 1.2 million.

Federal and state officials have begun offering small types of relief for hard-hit areas, like fodder for cattle, cheap diesel fuel and subsidized seeds.

But Bhaurao Bhanudas Date, a 48-year-old farmer near Muruma, said that what he needed most was water. He said he expected little to no return from his sugarcane and cotton crops this year and would have to fall back on the income he earned from selling fodder and milk from his five cows.

Mr. Mukane said his father recently went to a temple to pray for rain, taking a pot of river water as an offering. The family is particularly anxious because Mr. Mukane’s wife is expecting their first child, and the government usually provides relief only to landowners, not to farmers who rent land.

“We keep looking up, hoping it will rain today,” he said on a recent afternoon as clouds covered the sky. About 10 minutes later, his prayers seemed to have been answered when a light drizzle started. But it petered out after a few minutes.

Neha Thirani contributed research from Mumbai.