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  1. Everybody knows that California is one of the biggest producers of agricultural products in North America. In fact, despite having been in a drought situation for five years in a row, the agriculture industry generated record revenues in 2014, and employments levels reached a record high. But that’s short-term stuff. Experts and concerned voices of the general public have been asking what are the long-term effects of such a long drought? Despite the crisis having been officially declared at an end on April 7th, the legacy of California’s water crisis can already be felt across industries, from the agricultural sector to the state’s symbolic golf courses, as well as in both urban and rural areas. As a result, water conservation practices continue to play an important role in the state, as there is no doubt that there will be more droughts in store. It’s just a matter of when. Drought agriculture Despite the drought being declared “over”, the state’s ecological and economic future continue to remain at risk. Sustainability is a particular issue at hand. Record agricultural revenues and employment records invariably come at a cost when a region happens to be suffering from long-term drought. If the state has fared relatively well thus far, it is only because farmers have resorted to pumping up astounding amounts of groundwater – a practice that most certainly has a deadline drawn by Mother Nature. Pumping groundwater has already caused visible effects across the state. Rural areas in particular have been hit hard as households that are dependent on wells have been left without water. Meanwhile, parts of the state have begun to sink at increasingly rapid rates from over pumping. Up to 18 native fish species and water-bird populations are also at risk of total extinction or decline. All in all, it is clear that the agricultural sector’s attempt to thrive despite a drought has wreaked havoc on the environment. Unfortunately, a lack of data makes it difficult to propose regulations that could deal with disastrous over-pumping. Though the latest drought is technically over, if harmful watering practices continue, there may not even be a habitable California in the future for there to be a legacy left behind at all. A culture of conservation The frequency and duration of California’s droughts has led to the development of a culture of conservation in recent years. Regulations developed since the last disastrous drought have resulted in water conservation practices becoming the default behaviour of many Californians. Studies have conducted in order to identify how much energy is saved as a result of water conservation practices, in addition to evaluating the impact of conservation culture on municipal water treatment plant operations. This water conservation culture is extremely important given that rural and urban areas are often at risk of destruction due to wildfires. A disproportionately large number of wildfires have occurred in California over the drought years, permanently damaging the ecosystem and destroying lives in the process. As such, conservation strategies also involve advocating for better forest management practices, which could potentially save lives and the ecosystem with proper execution. This includes both suppressing existing fires and preparing for potential fires in the off-season. That said, recent cuts to the Department of the Interior amount to $1.5 billion. Vaguely worded promises to responsibly budget the wildfire suppression program make it difficult to say just how this already underfunded initiative will be able to contribute to safeguarding California in a meaningful manner in the years to come. Golfing goes green The negative effect of droughts on California’s legacy can also be seen on the state’s iconic golfing greens. While dead grass is perhaps less important than a raging wildfire, the fact remains that golf courses have been an important part of the state’s identity. Continued droughts could do lasting harm to this particular aspect of Californian culture. With Californian golf courses using close to 300 million gallons of water a year, there is no question as to why Governor Jerry Brown issued an executive 25 percent water reduction order across the state, with special attention given to golf courses. However, up to three-quarters of the state’s golf courses have been using high-tech, responsive sprinklers that are water-efficient for many years. Another one-third of golf courses are watered specifically only using reclaimed, non-potable water. Unfortunately, a certain number of regions have been lackluster in their efforts to champion conservation culture. Some regions have implemented far more aggressive water-reduction measures than others, meaning that conservation efforts vary from golf course to golf course and that the burden is not shared equally. Ultimately, golf greens will matter very little to California if the state continues to suffer from serious long-term droughts as it has over the past five years. No amount of water reduction orders or last-ditch efforts to pump out groundwater will be able to save the region if widespread agricultural practices don’t change and conservation efforts aren’t stepped up a notch. An increase in wildfires during drought periods will also continue to pose another major risk to Californian homes and businesses. It remains to be seen how President Trump’s new budgets will affect the current state of affairs – and just what will become of California’s legacy.
  2. It’s a fundamental law of the universe (actually, the Second Law of Thermodynamics) that entropy increases over time in an isolated system – practically, this means that a system will only ever lose energy over time. This has fundamental consequences for your home: no matter what you do, you’re going to lose energy, and with energy bills rising, it’s as good a time as any to do a full energy audit on your property to see where you can make the most savings. For example, a full energy audit can save you a huge amount off your heating bills each year: between 5 and 30 per cent, which can add up to a thousand dollars in winter. The idea is to do a series of tests that check the efficiency of your household heating and cooling systems, as well as check the overall efficiency of your home. You can hire a professional to do this for you… or you can do it yourself. Here’s how. Checking Equipment Your first job is to check your house’s heating and cooling equipment, which should be inspected annually, or as often as the manufacturer recommends. Check and replace filters in a forced air furnace about once every month or two – and if your unit is more than 15 years old, consider replacing it with a newer, energy-efficient unit. Ductwork should also be checked for dirt streaks, which may indicate air leaks, especially near seams. Seal these with duct mastic, and insulate any exposed pipes or ducts. Next check the lighting, which can cost up to 10% of your electricity bill. You may wish to replace your light bulbs with the most efficient versions available, like compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) or light emitting diodes (LEDs). Also, try and reduce lighting use by using dimmers or timers. Similarly, try strategies to reduce your use of appliances and electronics, and aim for energy-efficient versions of these as well. Checking for Leaks Air leaks, also known as drafts, can be a huge issue and when sealed can save between 10 and 20 per cent of your energy per year. Leaks can occur both indoor and outdoor: for indoor leaks, check the wall and ceiling junctures and the gaps along the baseboard, and for outdoor leaks, prioritize areas where two different types of materials meet. Also consider windows and doors, as well as lighting and plumbing fixtures, electrical outlets, and switches. Leaks should be sealed where they are found, plugging or caulking for pipes, faucets, wiring, and electrical outlets. Seal cracks in mortar, foundation and siding with the appropriate material. However, it’s important to note that you should consider appropriate ventilation if you have a furnace that burns fuel (like propane, wood, or natural gas) – otherwise indoor air quality can suffer and might become dangerous, especially if exhaust fans pull combustion gases back into the living space, in what is known as a ‘backdraft’. Checking Insulation Losing heat through the walls and roof is often a consequence of insufficient insulation. Particularly if you have an older home, you may find that the insulation initially installed is not enough for your needs. Check that all openings for pipes and ducts in the attic are well sealed, that the attic vents aren’t blocked by insulation, and set up a vapour barrier under the attic insulation if one doesn’t exist already. A vapour barrier keeps moisture out; too much moisture reduces the effect of insulation and can damage your house’s structure, so consider using vapour barrier paint on interior ceilings in a pinch. Wall insulation is trickier: ensure that your outlets are not receiving any electricity, and then remove a cover plate from one and probe the wall with a long thin implement. If you feel some resistance, then there is some insulation present. You may have to check in several areas to be satisfied that all of your walls are filled with insulating foam. Conclusion Once you have audited your property, you can start to make changes based on what you find – like ensuring that the walls are insulated, and making sure that all air leaks and drafts are sealed. You should start to see a noticeable difference in your energy bills, as well as a change in your comfort level once all those drafts have gone!