Is California Ready for Brown Lawns and Shorter Showers? Drought Requires Less Water Use

In the face of rapidly worsening drought conditions this week, Gov. Gavin Newsom urged all Californians to voluntarily cut their water usage by 15% — but what exactly does that mean for the average California household?

The governor made his plea Thursday as he extended a regional state of drought emergency to 50 counties, comprising about 42% of the state’s population. For many, the talk of water reductions reminded them of the shriveled lawns, attenuated showers and water-bucket toilet flushing of the last devastating drought.

It also prompted some to wonder just how much more water Californians can conserve, since they continue to use substantially less water than they did before the 2012-2016 drought.

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U.S. West faces little-known effect of raging wildfires: contaminated water

Early this spring, water bills arrived with notes urging Fort Collins Utilities customers to conserve. The Colorado customers may have thought the issue was persistent drought in the U.S. West.

But the problem was not the quantity of water available. It was the quality.

Utilities are increasingly paying attention to a little-known impact of large-scale fires: water contamination.

Huge forest fires last year denuded vast areas of Colorado’s mountains and left them covered in ash – ash that with sediment has since been washed by rains into the Cache la Poudre River. The river is one of two sources for household water in this college town of 165,000. With more and fiercer storms expected this year, officials worry about water quality worsening beyond what treatment systems can handle.

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Worried About Returning to the Office? What to Ask Your Boss to Ensure You’re Safe

As employees and students prepare for their return to offices and classrooms, an NBC Bay Area investigation reveals a surprising lack of oversight regarding indoor air quality, which may have led to more COVID-19 infections and deaths.  Experts argue the problem existed well before the pandemic and continues to threaten workplaces and schools across the country.

A lack of education, awareness, and accountability may be leading to hazardous indoor air conditions inside a wide array of buildings throughout the nation.  One study found 85% of classrooms had inadequate air ventilation, allowing toxins to accumulate.

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Dessouky, Nermin

Nermin is a Ph.D. candidate in Urban Geography at the University of California, Davis. Nermin has an M.Sc. in Sustainable Development, focusing on urban policy from the American University in Cairo and a Bachelor of Architecture. Prior to joining UC Davis, Nermin worked with the Research Institute for a Sustainable Environment to examine the quest for urban sustainability in the MENA region. Nermin uses systems thinking to navigate conflicts in design and use values between different actors. Her work examines the interrelations between branding, communication, and the performance of sustainable neighborhoods. Nermin design studies to explore perceptions, expectations, and use values of sustainability and the built environment. Since coming to UC, Davis Nermin has served as a grant application advisor for The Green Initiative Fund. Nermin also worked with the Energy and Efficiency Institute on several projects related to micro-mobility, non-energy impacts, and building user interfaces.

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Alston-Stepnitz, Eli

Eli Alston-Stepnitz is a PhD Candidate in Sociology, and holds an M.A. in Sociology. Prior to UC Davis, Eli worked as a researcher in the Health Equity Institute at San Francisco State University. He is interested in decarbonization and electrification especially as they intersect with access and equity. Specifically he is interested in the ways underrepresented groups and individuals are impacted by new technologies. Since coming to UC Davis he has worked in several different institutes on projects related to electrification including ones that focus on micromobility, alternative fuel vehicles, medium and heavy-duty fleets, commercial and residential technologies, and affordable housing. 


Photo of Dave Vernon in the WCEC Lab

Vernon, David

David Vernon

David has a B.S. in Materials Engineering from the University of Wisconsin Madison, M.S. and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California Davis with a focus on energy systems. David is a member of the UC Davis Institute for Energy and Efficiency, a research center focused on energy efficiency in buildings. David’s research focuses on cost optimal pathways to achieve zero net energy buildings, indoor air quality, sustainable energy systems, and developing tools to overcome market barriers that prevent adoption of efficient energy solutions. Previously David was a professor in the Environmental Resources Engineering Department at Humboldt State University with teaching and research in sustainable energy science and technology. Past work includes research, development, and commercialization of fuel cells and hydrogen production technologies, as well as waste heat recovery, and waste resources utilization through work at the Schatz Energy Research Center, UC Davis, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Polyfuel a startup spinoff from SRI, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and W.L. Gore and Associates.

graphic for the importance of filtration at schools. cartoon illustration of an HVAC tech testing airflows on a classroom BARD system.

Video on the Importance of Filtration in Schools

Filtration works together with ventilation to improve indoor air quality.

Filtration can capture and reduce exposure to some indoor and outdoor pollutants. In this video, we cover the basics of mechanical filtration and make simple recommendations to improve indoor air quality.

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zoomed in image of backlight industrial smoke stacks

For Americans’ Health, a Dollar of Carbon Emissions Prevented Is Worth a Ton of Cure

In late February, the Biden administration made a major announcement that has the potential to affect the health of Americans for generations. Notably, it had nothing directly to do with COVID-19 or even health care reform.

Instead, the news was that the recently reestablished “Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases” had released a preliminary report on the federal government’s best estimate of the cost to society of continuing to burn fossil fuels. A final report is due early next year, but for now, the administration values a metric ton of emitted carbon dioxide at $51, methane at $1,500 and nitrous oxide at $18,000. These are the figures that will be used in calculating the costs and benefits of the administration’s climate policies, including measures to protect Americans from the health effects of the changing environment.

As a physician in Texas and a professor of environmental economics in California, we have seen from our different vantages how people are struggling to respond to the unprecedented threat of climate change. Patients evacuate an oncoming storm in a rush, only to forget critical medications at home. Governments face grueling choices between providing essential services or cutting off the electricity to prevent a wildfire. There is no longer a question that climate change, in the form of warmer temperatures, rising seas, more frequent extreme events and compounding natural disasters is already here and is already affecting the health and well-being of many Americans.

Rather, the question now is how decisively the administration will move to address this threat.

Thankfully, unlike its predecessor, the Biden administration is taking climate change seriously. The IWG calculations are one data point that reflects this.

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