The Stream, February 13, 2020: Low Winter Precipitation in California Could Intensify Wildfire Risk

The Global Rundown

A shortage of winter precipitation in California could heighten summertime wildfire risk.  Several days of torrential rainfall in Alabama cause millions of gallons of sewage overflow. Scientists propose enclosing the North Sea with two giant dams in an effort to protect 25 million Europeans from rising sea levels. New Zealand threatens legal action against a mining company whose toxic waste dump was almost breached by recent flooding. Experts say a “triple whammy” of drought, fires, and floods in Australia could drive some aquatic species to extinction. 

“The reality is that this combination of events have not been experienced by our fauna before, so the risk of things being extinct or being dramatically reduced is high.” –Ross Thompson, a freshwater ecologist at the University of Canberra’s Institute for Applied Ecology, in reference to the environmental impact of drought, fires, and floods simultaneously striking Australia. Experts warn that the three-pronged disaster could be particularly devastating to aquatic species, including fish, invertebrates, and platypus, as rain washes ash and sediment into parched riverbeds. The Guardian

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By The Numbers

18.5 million gallons (70 million liters) Amount of sewer water that overflowed around Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, Alabama, over the past 10 days as several inches of rainfall deluged parts of the state. An additional 4.8 million gallons (18 million liters) of sewage also spilled in Decatur and then flowed into the local Dry Branch Creek. Authorities say the spills are likely caused by too much rainwater in sanitary systems, but note that the tool for reporting overflows is relatively new and further investigation is needed to understand the reason behind the spills. Associated Press

10,000 tonnes Amount of ouvea premix, a type of toxic waste from aluminum manufacturing, stored in the town of Mataura on New Zealand’s South Island. If the substance mixes with water, it generates poisonous ammonia gas, a situation that almost unfolded when recent flooding came within six inches of breaching the storage facility. David Parker, the country’s environmental minister, is now threatening legal action against Rio Tinto, the mining company responsible for the waste, if they fail to properly dispose of the substance. The Guardian

Science, Studies, and Reports

Dutch government scientist Sjoerd Groeskamp, along with Joakim Kjellsson of the German Geomar centre for ocean research, published a paper in the American Journal of Meteorology proposing that Europe’s North Sea be enclosed by two massive dams. The scientists say that a 295-mile (475-kilometer) dam between north Scotland and west Norway, plus another 99-mile (160-kilometer) dam between west France and southwest England, could protect 25 million Europeans from flooding caused by rising sea levels. The Guardian

On the Radar

Precipitation in California this winter has been minimal, with snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains now 40 percent below normal. Experts warn that the low levels of winter precipitation could boost the likelihood of wildfires in the state this summer. The Sacramento Bee

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