The Stream, December 6, 2019: Atmospheric Rivers Threaten $1bn in Annual Flood Damages in Western U.S.

The Global Rundown

Atmospheric rivers could cause $1 billion in flood damages in the western United States each year, a study warns. Several water systems in Maryland contain concerning levels of nitrate, arsenic, and other contaminants, according to a recent report. California bans insurance companies from dropping homeowners in areas that are at an increased risk from climate change. Dividing land leads to fractured water rights in Montana. Drought leaves cattle emaciated and dying in Zimbabwe, threatening livelihoods.

“While farmers are losing cattle in Nkayi, many families are also going for days without food and cannot afford to buy inputs to prepare for farming this year.” –Kufakwezwe Ncube, a councillor in Zimbabwe’s Nkayi Urban Ward 29, in reference to withering livestock herds in Zimbabwe. Drought and related food shortages are causing many cattle to sicken and die, jeopardizing the livelihoods of the country’s herders. Reuters

Latest WaterNews from Circle of Blue

Atmospheric Rivers, Conveyor Belts of Extreme Moisture, Rack Up Heavy Flood Damages in Western United States  — Researchers estimate $1 billion in flood damages annually in last 40 years from atmospheric rivers.

The Year in Water, 2019  — Natural hazards strengthen. Governments struggle to cope.

By The Numbers

38 Water utilities in Maryland with high amounts of tap water violation points from the EPA. A study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) further analyzed the contaminants in the water from these utilities, and found levels of arsenic, nitrates, and other pollutants. CBS Baltimore 

$20 billion Total lost by homeowners insurers in the state of California in 2017 and 2018 due to wildfires. As wildfires continue to ravage the state, many insurance companies have begun dropping homeowners in vulnerable areas. This week, however, the state banned the practice, implementing a one-year moratorium on dropping homeowners in fire-hit ZIP codes. The situation calls into question the preparedness of insurance companies for natural disasters made more likely by climate change. The New York Times

Science, Studies, and Reports

A study by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found that atmospheric rivers (ARs) could cause $1 billion in flood damages in the western United States each year. In the past 40 years, an estimated $5 billion in flood damage has occurred in the West, and 84 percent of the destruction was caused by ARs, researchers say. ARs are long corridors of atmospheric water vapor that can carry more than twice the volume of the Amazon river through the sky.

On the Radar

As Montana grows, ranches across the state are being subdivided, a move that is also fracturing water rights. Montana relies on a “first in time, first in right” rule, which grants senior rights to the first person using a water source. In practice, this means that a senior user can demand that upstream, newer users must curtail their water supply in the event of a shortage. Enforcement of the rule is becoming increasingly complicated, though, as the number of land and homeowners in the state grows. High Country News

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