‘I use it because it’s better’: why chefs are embracing the electric stove

The Guardian

‘I use it because it’s better’: why chefs are embracing the electric stove

Whitney Bauck – January 29, 2023

The evidence that gas stoves are bad for human health has grown so staggering over the last few years that the US Consumer Product Safety Commission recently announced that it would consider banning the appliances. Though a conservative backlash prompted the White House to rule out the possibility of a nationwide ban, and some states have passed pre-emptive laws that prohibit cities from ever passing gas bans, other cities including Berkeley, New York and San Francisco have already moved to bar new gas hookups due to health and environmental concerns.

Related: Are gas stoves really dangerous? What we know about the science

One study from earlier this month found that one in eight cases of childhood asthma in the US is caused by gas stove pollution. According to the lead author on the study, Talor Gruenwald, a research associate at the non-profit Rewiring America, that means that living in a home with a gas stove is comparable to living in a home with a smoker. Gas stoves release pollutants so harmful that the air pollution they create would be illegal if it were outdoors, and that’s not just true when you’re actively cooking – gas stoves continue to emit harmful compounds like methane even when turned off. Beyond the adverse health impacts, those emissions are greenhouse gasses that also contribute to the climate crisis.

But solutions are within reach. “The most surefire way to eliminate risk of childhood asthma from gas stoves is to move to a clean cooking alternative like an induction stovetop or electric stovetop,” said Gruenwald.

Switching over to electric isn’t just a boon to your health and the planet – it also makes for a better cooking experience, according to a growing number of professional chefs. Read on to hear from three who have embraced electric and are loving the results.

Jon Kung: wok cooking that’s ‘more of an authentic experience’

Though he may be best known these days for TikTok videos showing off his kitchen prowess, deadpan humor and the occasional thirst trap, Jon Kung had been working as a chef professionally for more than a decade before pandemic lockdowns prompted him to start posting cooking videos on the internet. He was first introduced to induction cooking, which uses a magnetic field to efficiently heat pots and pans, while working in a commercial kitchen in Macau, China. He began relying heavily on induction burners in his current home of Detroit, Michigan, because he was often working pop-ups in spaces with limited ventilation.

“There was no altruistic intent in my decision to adopt induction. I use it because it’s better,” he said. “Induction stovetops are easier to clean, they’re more responsive, and they are just as powerful, if not more powerful, than gas. My induction burner can boil eight quarts of water within 11 minutes – it’s super fast.”

These days, Kung uses induction “100% of the time”. He often works on an induction wok, which features an induction cooktop with a bowl-shaped surface that a wok perfectly fits into, and rejects the critique that gas stove bans would prohibit chefs from cooking Chinese food authentically.

“You can buy a curved induction wok burner specifically made for woks and it works better than cooking on a wok on a western gas range,” he said. “That wok burner was literally made by Chinese people to cook Chinese food – when I cook in that it’s more of an authentic experience than cooking on a KitchenAid or a Viking range could ever be.”

Still, Kung admitted that there will be a learning curve for chefs when they initially make the switch. The biggest difference, he noted, is that gas stoves offer both “visual and tactile” feedback about how hot the cooking surface is, while induction cooktops require users to rely on numbers on a screen to know what temperature they’re working with. He recommended cooking with eggs when you’re first switching over to quickly get the kind of visual feedback that will help you learn to use an induction burner.

And for the small handful of dishes that truly require fire – think crème brûlée or charring peppers – he keeps a blowtorch in his kitchen. “I think flame should be a seldomly used tool for specific purposes in my kitchen, instead of putting my health at risk all the time because of these few times I need to actually use fire,” he said.

Christopher Galarza: quicker, easier to clean and a low barrier to entry

Christopher Galarza spent a decade working in conventional kitchens before he had his first experience in an all-electric commercial kitchen as an executive chef at Chatham University, a Pittsburgh institution known for its focus on sustainable food systems. Going electric changed his and his staff’s experience of working in the kitchen, partly because working with gas stoves can be a sweltering experience.

“I had a meat thermometer in my chef coat at one old restaurant job, and I looked down one day and noticed that my thermometer read 135F,” he said. In contrast, the all-electric kitchen he worked in at Chatham stayed pleasantly in the low 70s even on summer days when it was 90 degrees outside and the kitchen was in full production mode. “We were able to drastically reduce the temperature in the kitchen, which made us all more comfortable,” he added. “And for me personally, I can tell you that my mental health was better.”

He’s convinced that’s a benefit that got passed along to the guests eating the food he was cooking. “People can feel when you’re stressed,” he said, “and they can tell when you’re relaxed and happy.” But there was also a benefit to the bottom line, in that induction stoves are much quicker and easier to clean, which allowed him to spend less money on harsh cleaning chemicals and to send his kitchen staff home earlier while the “dollar per labor hour went way up”.

He cites other studies showing that the utility costs of operating a gas-powered or electric-powered kitchen are pretty similar, and notes that even for home chefs, the barrier to entry is low: “You can go on Amazon and buy an induction burner for $60 that plugs into the same outlet that you have your coffeemaker in,” he said.

Galarza is so convinced that electric is the future of professional cooking that he’s started a consultancy to help other kitchens make the switch. “Every international culinary competition in the world, from the Bocuse d’Or to the Culinary Olympics, is all electric,” he said. “The metric by which the international cooking community judges each other is on induction. And those are the best chefs on the planet.”

Even though rightwing politicos have been inciting a culture war around gas stoves in the US, he dismisses much of it as political posturing. “Ultimately, no one’s going to come into your home with a crowbar and take your stove, just like no one’s kicking down your door and checking your house for asbestos or lead paint,” he said. “The gas stove is this generation’s equivalent of lead paint. It’s something we thought was OK, that we later found out is a hazard. And now we have an opportunity to make it right.”

Tu David Phu: no better way to sear meat

Before Chef Tu David Phu worked in the kitchens of top-tier restaurants like New York’s Daniel or San Francisco’s Acquerello or appeared on shows like Top Chef or Chefsgiving, he was a “first-generation Vietnamese American kid from Oakland who grew up food insecure”, he said. His experiences with food at both ends of the economic spectrum – from childhood in a food desert to an adulthood that has included cooking for the world’s wealthiest people – have deeply shaped how he sees sustainability conversations in the context of food and cooking.

He became familiar with induction cooking in fine dining kitchens, which he said prioritized electric stovetops because they allow for chefs to work in small spaces and with greater precision – the pastry department at one of his old jobs was particularly fond of induction’s capacity for melting chocolate or making syrups without burning them. But Phu is adamant about breaking down the idea that kitchen electrification only concerns the privileged.

“I feel very passionately about including working class and poor people in this electrification movement,” he said. Black, brown and Indigenous communities are already disproportionately at risk for pollution-related health impacts, due to “modern-day redlining” that locates polluting industries in BIPOC neighborhoods, he said; they shouldn’t also be saddled with the health impacts of not having any other option than to cook on gas. “Decarbonization as a whole, not just electrification, is a justice issue,” he said. He commends the Inflation Reduction Act provisions that allow for low-income households to get as much as $840 in rebates toward electric stoves, but wants to see more initiatives focused on spreading the word about these options to the communities that need them most.

On a personal level, the Orange county, California-based chef uses induction cooktops “religiously” in his own home, and argues that there’s no better way to sear meat than by using a cast iron stove on an induction cooktop. His biggest tip for successful induction usage is to remember that induction cooktops can get to the smoking point in about 15 seconds, so he recommends staying in the low to medium power range when cooking, unless you’re boiling water.

He recognizes the importance of personal and cultural identities that get tied up in food, but he doesn’t think they should be a barrier to making changes that are necessary for the health of people and the planet. “My response to the resistance from some in the Asian community saying they can’t cook ‘authentic’ food without gas is: it doesn’t matter if you can cook a certain way or not if you don’t have an ozone or fresh air to breathe,” he said. “Throughout the course of all of our histories, we’ve prioritized our survival first, and we adjusted and modified our identities and cultures around that, because survival is more important.”

In Texas Oil Country, an Unfamiliar Threat: Earthquakes

The New York Times

In Texas Oil Country, an Unfamiliar Threat: Earthquakes

J. David Goodman – January 28, 2023

A truck disposes of wastewater from fracking near Pecos, Texas on Jan. 13, 2023. (Paul Ratje/The New York Times)
A truck disposes of wastewater from fracking near Pecos, Texas on Jan. 13, 2023. (Paul Ratje/The New York Times)

PECOS, Texas — The West Texas earth shook one day in November, shuddering through the two-story City Hall in downtown Pecos, swaying the ceiling fans at an old railroad station, rattling the walls at a popular taqueria.

The tremor registered as a 5.4 magnitude earthquake, among the largest recorded in the state. Then, a month later, another of similar magnitude struck not far away, near Odessa and Midland, twin oil country cities with relatively tall office buildings, some of them visible for miles around.

The earthquakes, arriving in close succession, were the latest in what has been several years of surging seismic activity in Texas, a state known for many types of natural disasters but not typically, until now, for major earth movements. In 2022, the state recorded more than 220 earthquakes of 3.0 magnitude or higher, up from 26 recorded in 2017, when the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas began close monitoring.

So unheard-of were strong earthquakes in the flat, oil-rich expanse about a six-hour drive west of Austin that some residents at first mistook the November quake for a powerful gust of wind. Lloyd Chappell, a retired propane deliveryperson who was in his recliner at the time, thought one of his grown sons was making a joke of shaking his chair. But no one was there. His water sloshed around in his glass for 30 long seconds.

“We’ve heard noises before — out there in the oil field, they drop big tanks, or things like that,” said Chappell, 66. “But I’d never felt that before.”

The vast majority of the temblors have been concentrated in the highly productive oil fields of the Permian Basin, particularly those in Reeves County, north and west of the city of Pecos. The county’s official population of 14,000 does not account for thousands of mostly male transient workers staying in austere “man camps” and RV parks, brought there by the promise of good pay in exchange for long hours, stark terrain and dangerous work.

Now earthquakes have become part of the same calculation.

“In West Texas, you love the smell of the oil and gas patch because it’s the smell of money,” said Rod Ponton, a former Pecos city attorney who once unintentionally attained international fame by appearing as a worried cat during a court hearing on Zoom. “If you have to have the ground shaking every two or three months to make sure you have a good paycheck coming in every month, you’re not going to think twice about it.”

The economy of Pecos and a handful of surrounding towns — some little more than sand-blown highway intersections and crowded gas station convenience stores — revolves around the oil fields.

John Briers moved several months ago to a man camp in Orla, in Reeves County, to take a job at one of two convenience stores because the pay was twice as much as he was getting in Houston. “It’s nice to have so much space,” he said of the area. “But it’s two hours from the nearest cardiologist.”

When the November earthquake struck, Briers, 55, was working at the store, whose central seating area acts as an informal workers cafeteria. The force was enough to shake the building, he said, and to push a large mobile crane, parked nearby, into a trailer. Briers likened it to the artillery he felt while serving in the military in Afghanistan.

On a recent weekday, a lunchtime crowd of mostly men in dusty work boots and shirts emblazoned with company logos streamed into the store from white pickup trucks, mostly uninterested in discussing earthquakes. Had they felt any of the quakes that seismic monitors showed striking across the oil fields?

“No.”

“No, sir.”

“Nobody really cares while the money is there,” said Nick Granado, 31, stopping briefly before grabbing lunch. He said he had been at home in Pecos with his wife and 2-year-old child at the time of the November earthquake. “It was different,” he said of the shaking. “But I wasn’t scared.”

In Reeves County, oil and gas production has increasingly meant hydraulic fracturing, a process of extraction that produces, as a byproduct, a huge amount of wastewater. Some of that wastewater is reused in fracking operations, but most of it is injected back under the ground. It is that process of forcing tens of billions of gallons of water into the earth that, regulators and geoscientists agree, is to blame for many of the earthquakes.

The connection between wastewater disposal and earthquakes has been long understood. Other states with substantial fracking operations have also seen the ground shake as a result, including Oklahoma, where a similarly rapid increase in earthquakes more than a decade ago included a 5.6 magnitude quake in 2016 that forced the shutdown of several wastewater wells.

Getting rid of the “produced” water is an important business in West Texas, and locations labeled “SWD” — for saltwater disposal — dot the landscape of drilling rigs and truck-worn roads. Each of the past few years, about 168 billion gallons of wastewater have been disposed of in this way, according to data from the Railroad Commission of Texas, which regulates the oil industry.

Texas only recently began its statewide program of monitoring for earthquakes, after a series of small quakes in North Texas rattled residents of Dallas and Fort Worth. The monitoring started in 2017 — just as petroleum development accelerated in the Permian Basin, particularly in and around Reeves County — and began to detect the increasing seismic activity.

“It was really very fortuitous,” said Peter Hennings, the principal investigator for the Center for Integrated Seismicity Research at the University of Texas.

Hennings said that while natural earthquakes can occur in West Texas, they can also be induced through human activity: the injection of a large amount of water in a short period of time adds fluid pressure under the earth, which essentially decreases the “clamping” between rocks along natural faults and allows them to slip, creating an earthquake.

And seismologists have established a relationship between smaller earthquakes and larger ones, Hennings said: The more small earthquakes you have, the greater the likelihood of a bigger one.

The problem can be addressed by cutting back on the amount of saltwater being injected back into the ground. Oklahoma, for example, did so in recent years and has seen a reduction in the number of earthquakes.

In 2021, the Texas Railroad Commission noted “an unprecedented frequency of significant earthquakes” in and around Reeves County and asked companies to implement their own wastewater plans, hoping to decrease the number of 3.5 magnitude or greater earthquakes by the end of this year.

To address earthquakes outside Odessa and Midland, state regulators suspended permits for deep disposal wells. And just north of the border with Texas, New Mexico regulators have been taking their own steps to control saltwater disposal, including $2 million in fines to Exxon over compliance failures.

The fracking issue has been a big one for Texas environmental groups, which have raised concerns about pollution, climate change, social inequity — and now earthquakes. “It is past time for the Railroad Commission of Texas to update the rules on injection wells,” said Cyrus Reed, the conservation director for the Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter, adding that there should be limits on injecting “polluted fracking wastewater” in places impacted by seismic activity.

For local officials in West Texas, the earthquakes have presented new and unforeseen concerns about the structural integrity of buildings and buried pipes, as well as basic questions such as, what are you supposed to do in an earthquake?

“It brought to light that we need to do some safety training,” said the Pecos city manager, Charles Lino. He had been in a staff meeting on the second floor of City Hall — a building Lino described as “very old” — when the floor began to move for what felt like a minute during the November earthquake, whose epicenter was northwest of town.

“Most of the staff were a little shaken and were, like, what do we do?” he said. “I don’t know how to react either, because I’m from this area.” Lino said the city was just beginning to develop its earthquake training.

Months earlier, in March, the head of emergency management for the county, Jerry Bullard, began keeping track of earthquakes. “There were two yesterday and one today,” he said on a recent weekday, looking at his list. He presented his catalog to the county’s leaders at a meeting in December. “They were kind of surprised,” he said.

His concern has been focused on the area’s older infrastructure, including the three-story courthouse in Pecos. But the county has been traditionally hands-off when it comes to building codes in unincorporated areas. “This county does not even have a fire code out in the county,” Bullard said.

At the same time, storing additional wastewater — with its volatile mix of chemicals — above ground in order to avoid injecting too much into the earth has created a new hazard, Bullard said. There were two explosions this month at saltwater disposal facilities in the county, setting off fires and “a black stream of smoke” visible for miles around, he said.

So far, the earthquakes have not caused much notable damage. Some residents said they noticed new cracks in their walls or patios, or a roof that appeared to slant a little more than before. Earthquake insurance is not something people generally purchase in West Texas, although there has been talk of it now, particularly in the larger cities of Odessa and Midland.

“We have tall buildings — not a lot of tall buildings — but people are concerned about foundations,” said Javier Joven, the mayor of Odessa, who met with state regulators and Midland leaders about the issue in 2021. Most of the area’s taller buildings were constructed decades ago, without the requirements now common in earthquake-prone areas, officials said. (Several in Midland have long sat empty, with some recently demolished or slated to be.)

So far, he said, officials have not taken steps to change building codes to address earthquakes, which could add significant new costs to construction. In the meantime, each tremor has become a topic of conversation. The mayor said he had felt at least three.

“The big popular discussion out here is: Did you feel it? Did you feel it?” he said. “And everyone goes on Facebook: I felt it. I felt it.”

Arizona is not out of water, despite all those headlines you might read

AZ Central – The Arizona Republic

Arizona is not out of water, despite all those headlines you might read

Joanna Allhands, Arizona Republic – January 25, 2023

Michael Rudolph (Dynamite Water) loads his water truck at the Scottsdale fill station on Dec. 29, 2022, located northwest of the intersection of Pima and Jomax roads in Scottsdale, Ariz. Rudolph was delivering water to a client in Rio Verde Foothills.
Michael Rudolph (Dynamite Water) loads his water truck at the Scottsdale fill station on Dec. 29, 2022, located northwest of the intersection of Pima and Jomax roads in Scottsdale, Ariz. Rudolph was delivering water to a client in Rio Verde Foothills.

The national press has had a field day with two not-so-positive Arizona water stories.

About 500 homes in the unincorporated community of Rio Verde Foothills can no longer haul water from Scottsdale, the neighboring city to the south.

Meanwhile, a state-produced model has found that the area north and west of Buckeye does not have enough groundwater to support future massive developments.

They’re alarming stories, but the coverage has piled on the hyperbole. Some headlines have made it sound as if an entire “Arizona town” was cut off.

One even took a giant, misleading leap: “Phoenix runs out of water.”

Arizona is not living with its head in the sand

The Colorado River – once 40% of the state’s water supply – is dwindling. About 80% of Arizona and about 20% of its population has no rules on groundwater pumping, which is draining many of our rural aquifers.

Add in these troubles sprouting in metro Phoenix, an area covered by the state’s most stringent groundwater management rules, and we’ve got urgent issues that require urgent responses.

But the headlines make it sound as if we’re completely botching our jobs as water stewards.

That’s not entirely fair, either.

Judge rules:Scottsdale doesn’t have to serve Rio Verde Foothills

Most metro Phoenix cities have spent decades storing water underground for a (non-)rainy day, for example. They have long recycled most of their wastewater, though we don’t yet drink it.

And while much of the coverage has focused on the fact that there isn’t enough water in parts of the far West Valley to support thousands of acres of future development, it glosses over why that growth may never occur:

Because we had the foresight decades ago to create an assured water supply program, which requires builders to prove they have secured enough water for the long haul before they can plat lots.

We have water protections. They need shoring up

Is that program fail proof? No.

The root cause of Rio Verde Foothills’ water problems is that state law allows property owners to subdivide land into less than six lots and avoid requirements to prove they have secured a 100-year water supply.

Homes were built solely on the promise of hauled water. The potential risk of such a deal was glossed over with homeowners. And despite all the negative coverage lately, people are still building in the area.

It doesn’t matter that these so-called wildcat lot splits encompass a fraction of the homes we build every year. Or that not all homes in Rio Verde Foothills are affected, just those that relied on Scottsdale for hauled water.

The headlines on repeat are that Arizona doesn’t have enough water to grow or even sustain existing residents.

The story is more nuanced than the headlines

The full story is more nuanced.

Water is still being hauled to Rio Verde Foothills, albeit from other spotty sources that are vastly more expensive. Residents haven’t lost water; they’ve lost access to cheap water.

That is unlikely to change if EPCOR, a private water provider, is given the green light in April to more permanently serve these residents. Solving the affordability problem won’t be easy.

Meanwhile, on the far west side of the Valley, developers either must find renewable water sources to build on large swaths of open desert or find affordable ways to grow closer in areas with the capacity to serve new residents.

That doesn’t mean growth is done.

It means we’ll have to rethink how and where we do it, and no, that won’t be easy, either.

Want to counter the narrative? Then up our game

Fixing the cracks through which some development has fallen would be a good start.

In Rio Verde Foothills, the solution cannot simply be to force Scottsdale to serve non-residents. We need to tackle the root problem, which means we need to rein in wildcat lot splits.

Lawmakers could change how we define “subdivisions” – that might be the cleanest fix. Or they could give counties more power to say no to homes that plan to haul water, particularly in areas like Rio Verde Foothills where groundwater is spotty.

In the West Valley, lawmakers must address a proliferation of “build-to-rent” homes, which are touted as a much-needed affordable housing alternative but also aren’t required to prove a long-term water supply before building.

If civic and elected leaders want to counter the narrative that Arizona is irresponsible, they need to get better at telling the full story – which, yes, means more clearly touting the things we’ve done well.

But because perception is reality in water, and virtually everyone else has similar success stories, they also need a clear plan – shared loudly and on repeat – for how they intend to up our game.

And, more importantly, the resolve to do it.

Scrub Hub: Passing a wind farm, I see some turbines spinning and others motionless. Why?

IndyStar – The Indianapolis Star

Scrub Hub: Passing a wind farm, I see some turbines spinning and others motionless. Why?

Karl Schneider, Indianapolis Star – January 23, 2023

Wind farms are becoming more common in Indiana. The state already boasts the fourth largest “farm” in the U.S. and produces nearly 3,500 megawatts of wind energy, with more on the horizon.

The towering windmills reaching up to the sky produce slightly more than 9% of all the electricity used in the state. That’s enough to power more than 1 million homes, according to the American Clean Power Association.

With more projects in the works that will produce another 302 megawatts, and a handful of bills proposed in this session of the General Assembly, wind power is likely to continue to grow across the state. And with the increasing presence of the conspicuous energy generators comes some curiosity.

So, for this edition of Scrub Hub, we took to our trusty submission form and chose a question from Teresa, who asked: Why are the wind turbines not turning right now?

Wind turbines operate in a rural area north of Lafayette, Indiana, on Wednesday, August 4, 2021.
Wind turbines operate in a rural area north of Lafayette, Indiana, on Wednesday, August 4, 2021.

It’s possible for the blades on wind turbines to reach up to speeds of 200 mph, so it may seem odd when some are spinning very quickly while the blades on others nearby are not moving.

We dug around in some state, federal and industry reports and reached out to academic experts in energy technology to determine why some turbines in a wind farm spin while others remain still.

Short Answer: The turbine is down for maintenance

Wind turbines, like all machines, need both scheduled and unscheduled maintenance. In some instances that explains why some are operating but not others.

The basic components of a wind turbine are the visible tower and rotor blades, as well as the gearbox and generator located at the top of the tower.

Scheduled maintenance helps prevent wear and tear from breaking parts and unscheduled maintenance occurs when the turbine experiences any of a number of failures.

Regular preventative maintenance can include periodic equipment inspection, oil and filter changes, calibration and adjustment of various parts, as well as replacing brake pads and seals. General housekeeping and blade cleaning can also temporarily keep a turbine from spinning.

In larger wind farms, several turbines on a circuit can be inoperable and not spinning because they are all down for maintenance, said John Roudebush, program chair of Ivy Tech College’s Energy Technology program.

More Scrub Hub:Hoosiers may not be able to plant the same trees they used to

Long answer: Curtailment, congestion and wind speed

Energy transmission in Indiana is run through the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, commonly known as MISO. The group manages the flow of electricity by balancing demand versus what’s being generated, which means there are times where excess electricity is being produced.

“(Sometimes) we don’t need the power as demand is down or another power plant is selling power to the customers instead,” Roudebush wrote in an email. “Power plants compete on the grid. A coal plant, a natural gas plant, or a wind farm will all bid to sell power during some part of the day and MISO will pick the cheapest bid for the day. Generally, wind is the cheapest but not always.”

John Hall, assistant professor at the University of Buffalo’s Engineering and Applied Sciences, focuses his research on the technical aspects of wind energy. While some wind turbines will operate normally, he said others may be stopped to match production with grid demand.

“Basically, you have the utility company distributing power and buying and selling in real time,” Hall said. “Based on how much they need, wind farms would turn turbines off accordingly.”

The industry calls a wind turbine that is not spinning “parked,” Hall said, and this is done with a braking system that holds the rotor in place. Once energy demand rises, the brake is released and almost immediately the turbine starts delivering electricity to the grid again.

Another obvious answer to why the turbines may not be spinning is that the wind speed is not high enough.

Generally, turbines can generate power with wind speeds as low as 5 mph. If speeds fall below that, there just isn’t enough to turn the sometimes massive blades.

On the other hand, wind that is too fast can cause damages to the turbines, so operators of wind farms will park the rotors until the wind calms down. Turbines generally shut down when wind speeds hit about 55 mph.

“The system is not designed for that, so they shut it down,” Hall said. “That’s OK because we rarely get winds over that speed, and it would not be worthwhile to design for that for the few instances.”

To help improve the efficiency of wind farms, Hall said banking excess power is a huge research area right now.

“There are studies on new battery technology and super capacitors and different ways to get around that issue,” Hall said.

More:Toxic pollution, fossil fuels, floodplains: Top environmental bills to watch this session

Another solution for storing excess electricity is by making hydrogen, Hall said. Wind farm operators would be able to create hydrogen and store it for use later when the grid demand increases.

While fossil fuel plants may be more responsive to the constantly moving supply and demand for electricity, Hall said the future depends on renewables.

“If folks are concerned about climate and want a better future for the next generation and everything, renewable energy like wind and hydro-electric and tidal power are all really not just sources of energy but vital to perhaps our existence,” Hall said.

Karl Schneider is an IndyStar environment reporter.

IndyStar’s environmental reporting project is made possible through the generous support of the nonprofit Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust.

How to solve Arizona’s housing shortage, which has reached crisis levels

AZ Central – The Arizona Republic

How to solve Arizona’s housing shortage, which has reached crisis levels

Jenn Daniels and Sean Bowie – January 23, 2023

Arizona is short at least 100,000 housing units to keep pace with demand.
Arizona is short at least 100,000 housing units to keep pace with demand.

As you read this, 300 Americans have just decided to move to our beautiful state. And it keeps happening every day.

Quality of life, low cost of living, climate, low regulatory environment and a simplified tax structure continues to draw people and businesses to Arizona.

Yet keeping up housing supply with this population growth has been challenging. While numbers vary, the Common Sense Institute Arizona estimates a shortage of about 100,000 housing units.

Barriers to development at the local level, bureaucracy within state agencies and preemptive state laws have limited the building of more housing units at a pace that keeps up with our growing population. Often unnecessary, burdensome rules and regulations have delayed project start times and increased costs for developers and homebuilders.

These costs ultimately get passed on to the buyer.

It’ll take steady, deliberate policy to solve this

Simply put, Arizona has a housing crisis – we need more housing, and we need it now. To be clear, there is no fast and easy button that will make the housing shortage go away. The solution is steady, intentional, deliberate policy and collaboration between all levels of government and the private sector.

We are of different political parties, but we have come together to find solutions to the challenges before us. After careful study of the data, dozens of stakeholder interviews and analysis of policy from other states, we have developed a menu of bipartisan solutions as part of a report for the nonpartisan Common Sense Institute Arizona (CSI).

We believe this can be a roadmap for state and local policymakers.

1. Expedite zoning and approval processes

Current processes for obtaining municipal approval to develop a piece of property vary from city to city. The process is burdensome, costly and takes far longer than is practical for builders.

The consistency achieved by establishing a universal, streamlined process for all Arizona cities will enable for a more objective approach. The development of a uniform process at the state level should be collaborative in nature among cities and consider cities of all sizes. Builders and developers would go through the same process regardless of the jurisdiction and get more houses to market more quickly.

Phoenix market stabilizing:One area is already back to favoring sellers

In essence, the ideal process to go from empty lot to home for sale would be the same in every municipality. By creating a uniform process, a homebuilder in Surprise would follow the same steps, checklist and timeline as a homebuilder in Chandler or Yuma.

2. Let state Housing department grade cities

Once the state has designed and implemented statutory guidelines around streamlined entitlement, review and permitting processes for residential development, the Department of Housing would review and monitor local processes and grade municipalities using objective standards like how long, expensive and onerous an entitlement and permitting process was.

In reviewing the onerousness of this process, the department would compare the cities performance relative both to other cities and towns in Arizona, and national benchmarks and standards.

Top-performing jurisdictions would have greater opportunity to use the novel tools, and receive some of the new state funding, recommended elsewhere in our report – we believe that when a city knows better, they also want to do better. Having true benchmarks and measurable data that can be tracked and shared openly is the best indicator.

3. Develop statewide zoning definitions

Zoning definitions vary from city to city. Identifying logical and predictable zoning definitions at the state level allows for comparison of zoning between municipalities, transparency in the process, and clarity for developers. Additionally, defining new or innovative types of housing, diversifying the types of housing within a municipality, and providing a cohesive way to update municipal codes will benefit cities, regions and developers.

Housing opportunity zones – which use a percentage of existing tax revenue within a municipality to help fund development – can improve the supply of housing where the market alone is unable to meet demand.

4. Form local ‘Housing Opportunity Zones’

For instance, in Arizona, we utilize a manufacturing Transaction Privilege Tax incentive, wherein we divert state sales-tax dollars to cities to support manufacturing project infrastructure costs, so developers don’t have to front those costs. This played a large role in TSMC’s development of their new $12 billion fabrication plant expanded here in our state.

Likewise, housing opportunity zones would likely be most popular in areas that are ripe for development where there are already significant resources being invested in bringing more housing supply onto the market. Like all policies of this nature, it should have a sunset date and be reviewed by the Legislature.

Developers who construct housing and meet accountability benchmarks could retain a proportion of local sales or property taxes otherwise owed on the project, as a way to compensate for costs associated with building and selling the affordable units. A city or town could also use the monies to reimburse itself for capital costs associated with providing public infrastructure that supports these projects.

5. Help cities fund more affordable housing

The state should encourage cities to create their own affordable housing funding. One way to do this is to create a statewide grant program that incentivizes cities to create dedicated funds that would go towards more affordable housing development.

The city of Tempe has been a leader in this regard, creating its Hometown for All program in 2021. Fifty percent of several development permitting fees paid to the city go into the fund and help finance land acquisition and redevelopment within city borders.

Our full report outlines a total of 19 solutions. These aren’t Republican ideas or Democratic ideas. These are Arizona ideas.

It’s important for everyone address this critical issue together. The success of our state depends on remaining an attractive and affordable place for new businesses and new residents. Together, we can ensure Arizona stays that way.

Jenn Daniels, a Republican, is former mayor of Gilbert and Sean Bowie, a Democrat, is a former Arizona state lawmaker. They served as housing fellows at Common Sense Institute Arizona. 

Native Hawaiians flock to Las Vegas for affordable living

Associated Press

Native Hawaiians flock to Las Vegas for affordable living

Jennifer Sinco Kelleher – January 22, 2023

Doreen Hall Vann walks with son Zaiden after tryouts for a club baseball team Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, in Las Vegas. In 2019 Vann moved from Hawaii to Las Vegas to be closer to her daughter in Seattle. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Doreen Hall Vann walks with son Zaiden after tryouts for a club baseball team Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, in Las Vegas. In 2019 Vann moved from Hawaii to Las Vegas to be closer to her daughter in Seattle. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Doreen Hall Vann wathes her son Zaiden during tryouts for a club baseball team Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, in Las Vegas. In 2019 Vann moved from Hawaii to Las Vegas to be closer to her daughter in Seattle. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Doreen Hall Vann wathes her son Zaiden during tryouts for a club baseball team Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, in Las Vegas. In 2019 Vann moved from Hawaii to Las Vegas to be closer to her daughter in Seattle. (AP Photo/John Locher)

KAPOLEI, Hawaii (AP) — Kona Purdy never wanted to live anywhere but Hawaii. As a Native Hawaiian, he wanted his children to grow up like he did: rooted in their culture, and nourished by the mountains and ocean.

But raising a family in Hawaii meant squeezing nine people into a four-bedroom house — rented with extended family — in Waipahu, a Honolulu suburb. It felt cramped, but the Purdys accepted that this was the price to survive in their homeland.

“We stuffed ourselves into one room,” Purdy said of his four-member family’s living arrangements.

Their share of the monthly rent was $2,300. When rent increased, the Purdys realized that they could no longer afford to live in Hawaii.

“I was so busy working, trying to make ends meet,” he said. “We never took our kids out to the beach. We didn’t go hiking.”

It’s increasingly common for Hawaii residents to be priced out of the Aloha State, where the median price for a single-family home topped $900,000 during the pandemic. On Oahu, the most populous island and where Honolulu is, the median price is more than $1 million.

Many residents work in low-wage service jobs, and the financial strain is especially significant for Hawaii’s Indigenous people. A state analysis published last year showed that a single person working 40 hours a week would need to earn $18 an hour to pay for housing and other necessities in Hawaii, but the state minimum wage is currently $12 an hour.

Many, like the Purdys, have headed to Las Vegas.

According to 2021 population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, the biggest growth of Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander populations was in Clark County, Nevada, which includes Las Vegas, and Sacramento County, California. The biggest decline of Native Hawaiian residents was in Honolulu.

Hawaii residents are spending on average 42.06% of their income on rent, which is the highest of any state, according to a Forbes Home analysis. California ranks second, but at a much smaller proportion of income going toward rent: 28.47%.

Estimates from the American Community Survey showed that in 2011, there were about 296,400 Native Hawaiians in Hawaii and about 221,600 on the continental U.S. Just a decade later, those numbers flipped. In 2021, there were about 309,800 Native Hawaiians in Hawaii and about 370,000 in other states.

“There’s no Hawaii without Hawaiians,” said Honolulu City Council Chair Tommy Waters, who is Native Hawaiian. His five siblings have all moved to the continental U.S. “That’s just incredibly sad to me, that Hawaiians cannot afford to live in Hawaii.”

Las Vegas was desirable to the Purdys because it’s a popular vacation destination for Hawaii residents, which meant family would likely visit often. Also, the cost of living is significantly lower.

So in 2017, they uprooted their family and moved to Henderson, a Las Vegas suburb in Clark County, where they could afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment for $1,000 a month.

Far from Hawaii’s shores, they felt like “fish out of water,” Purdy said.

“So it’s real ‘eha,’” Purdy said, using the Hawaiian word for painful, “because you do get disconnected from the land, which we’re so connected to, being born and raised here.”

But even though they were nearly 3,000 miles from home, Hawaiian culture was all around them. Thanks to many other transplants, the Las Vegas area is full of restaurants catering to Hawaiian taste and cultural events expressing Hawaiian pride.

There’s even a real estate brokerage that helps families relocate from the islands — run by mostly former Hawaii residents.

“You go into any store in any part of the valley and you’ll find someone from Hawaii working there or shopping there,” Purdy said.

A three-bedroom home priced at $300,000 in a Las Vegas suburb would be $1.2 million in Honolulu, said Terry Nacion, a Native Hawaiian realtor. She left Hawaii for Las Vegas in 2003 because home ownership felt unattainable. “Back home, you either had to have your home passed down to you or you have to work four jobs,” she said.

A few months after they moved, about 20 other relatives, including Purdy’s mother, uncle and sister Lindsay Villarimo, followed them.

“Over time, it just became exhausting trying to make ends meet,” said Villarimo. “It’s heartbreaking that’s the choice we make. The majority of us, I think we just got priced out of home.” When Villarimo and her family decided to move to Nevada, her husband Henry had never even left Hawaii.

Las Vegas’ affordability was “liberating,” she said. With cheaper rent and groceries, and no state income tax, she could stretch her paycheck further.

“We were just living it up in the dollar store,” she said. In Hawaii, that type of store doesn’t exist.

For Hawaii residents, the draw to Las Vegas can all be traced back to a downtown hotel that opened in 1975, author Dennis M. Ogawa said.

The hotel originally catered to Californians, but he struggled to get business. Reminded of gambling’s popularity in Hawaii, it shifted focus to visitors from the islands. “Aloha Spoken Here” became the hotel’s slogan.

In 2019, Doreen Hall Vann decided to move to Las Vegas to be closer to her daughter, who had moved to Seattle for more job opportunities.

On Facebook, she gushed about how much cheaper everything was, from bread to rent. But she started to worry about staying connected to her culture while living far from home, especially because she uprooted her son, who was then 6 years old, from his Hawaiian language immersion school.

“It’s just like when you give birth and you cut your umbilical cord. For us Native Hawaiians, our ‘piko’ is the source of life,” Hall Vann said, using the Hawaiian word for navel or umbilical cord. “When we move off island … we are disconnected because we’re not on our land anymore.”

But in her new home, she found she had more time and less stress.

“I was so busy back home trying to make a living,” she said. “When I moved to Vegas, it really put a pause in my life and I could see things a lot clearer.”

That allowed her to get involved in the Las Vegas Hawaiian Civic Club, where she now teaches Hawaiian.

“We have our people, our home, our community is thriving,” she said.

In Las Vegas, Purdy’s children began to learn hula and the family enjoyed “hoolaulea,” cultural festivals that were bigger than celebrations back in Hawaii.

But in August 2021, exactly four years after leaving Hawaii, the Purdys moved back home.

Purdy said that his wife wanted to take care of her mother, who began showing signs of dementia. Their daughter also got accepted to Kamehameha Schools, a highly selective and relatively affordable private school system that gives admissions preference to students with Hawaiian ancestry.

The family moved to Kapolei, a Honolulu suburb not far from where they once lived, to share a five-bedroom house with their extended family. Now that the Purdys have three children, they rent two of the bedrooms.

Purdy is trying to find time to take his kids to hula lessons. Since moving back, the family has only been to the beach once.

“It’s a grind, it’s hard, it’s really expensive,” he said. “But I also feel like we’re exactly where we’re supposed to be right now.”

‘I had no choice’: For many homeless people, O’Hare has become a nighttime refuge

Chicago Tribune

‘I had no choice’: For many homeless people, O’Hare has become a nighttime refuge

Adriana Pérez, Chicago Tribune – January 22, 2023

Norbert Pikula, 77, had been sleeping on a friend’s sofa every night for the last six months. But when his friend was admitted to the hospital a few weeks ago, Pikula’s fragile world turned upside down and he had nowhere to sleep.

So now he uses his senior citizen CTA pass to ride to O’Hare International Airport and spend the night there. His situation mirrors that of countless other homeless people who sleep at the airport to stay warm and safe during the winter.

“I had no choice,” Pikula told the Tribune on Thursday. He was on his way to open a bank account after eating his usual weekday lunch at Providence Soup Kitchen in St. Stanislaus Kostka Catholic Church.

According to a report from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, an estimated 65,611 people experienced homelessness in Chicago in 2020, an estimate different from that offered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development because it takes into account people living doubled up or temporarily staying with others.

And while sheltering at the airport isn’t new, said Jessica Dubuar, director of health and specialty services of Haymarket Center, which has conducted outreach operations out of O’Hare to address homelessness in public transportation since 1990, the steadily increasing number of people doing it is.

“We saw over 600 unique individuals that we engaged with. We also had almost 14,000 encounters with them throughout the calendar year,” she said. Compared with previous years, that number illustrates an uptick: In 2021, there were 11,196 recorded encounters. In 2020 — the beginning of the pandemic — saw 12,270 encounters. In 2019, they recorded 9,975 encounters. In 2018, it was 8,132.

“This is not a new situation at the airport. It’s one that many organizations and city departments have been aware of and have been devoting resources to for 30 plus years,” Dubuar said. “As the years have gone on, we definitely see a pattern of the number of folks who are coming to the airport — I would even just call it a spike in the numbers of folks that we’re seeing at the airport when the weather turns cold.”

Advocates offer a couple of reasons for why more people are seeking shelter at O’Hare. Sarah Boone of the Chicago Housing Initiative who created a GoFundMe to help Pikula raise money, said there are three realities facing the homeless population right now: the number of beds in homeless shelters was decreased at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and never restored, migrants who have recently arrived in Chicago are increasingly using homeless shelters as well, and homeless shelters across the city are overwhelmed.

And on the ground at O’Hare, workers offer another possible explanation. Jessy Pearl, a Transportation Security Administration agent who works at the airport, said she has noticed an uptick in the homeless population sheltering there since Delta Air Lines moved out of Terminal 2 and into Terminal 5.

“There’s more homeless people — more activity is concentrated at Terminal 2, since there’s less passenger traffic,” especially in the early afternoon, Pearl told the Tribune. “I’ve worked at the airport long enough to know that more homeless people have been around the CTA and arrivals area ever since the pandemic started. More so lately, since Delta moved to Terminal 5.”

According to a statement by the Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA), which manages O’Hare, the department is “aware of the increasing population of unsheltered individuals at O’Hare International Airport. It’s a common occurrence at this airport and airports nationwide when temperatures drop in the winter months. Airport leadership and staff on the ground continue collaboration with the Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS) and their delegate agencies to provide 24/7 outreach to unsheltered residents at O’Hare.

“Outreach professionals engage with individuals experiencing homelessness at O’Hare and conduct needs assessments. If the individual chooses to accept assistance, outreach professionals connect them with appropriate services and shelters, including necessary referrals and transportation. The CDA is committed to working with fellow city departments and community partners to support those in need and connect them with all available resources in Chicago.”

Pikula has been sleeping at the airport for the last two weeks or so, said Boone. And he’s been carrying around his belongings all day as he moves around the city. “I think it’s wearing on him,” she added.

Boone said she met Pikula at Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Ukrainian Village where free food is offered on Saturdays. Her organization shows up to soup kitchens and places where there’s free food to connect homeless people with necessary services in the city and tend to their needs.

“I tried to get him to go to the hospital across the street, because you can go to the ER to call the shelters. And he didn’t want to do that because the wait is so long,” Boone said. “So we tried calling 311. And he kind of just said he’d prefer to be at the airport than at the shelters. So then I went home and I just thought about it. And I was like, we should do a GoFundMe. I’ve never done this before. But what if it works?”

With approximately 100 donations, the campaign had raised over $4,900 as of Friday afternoon out of a $9,800 goal.

Pikula said he is looking for a more permanent housing situation than couch surfing or spending nights at O’Hare. He’s hoping to find a studio or one-bedroom apartment in Wicker Park, Logan Square, Avondale or Garfield Park. That’s where his friends from the soup kitchens he visits live, so he wants to be close by.

A Polish American who grew up in Chicago, Pikula previously worked as a baker and security guard. He is on the waiting list for senior Chicago Housing Authority housing and subsidized Catholic Charities senior apartments. So far, he has had no luck finding a place to live.

During the pandemic, many homeless people turned to the CTA for shelter, and service providers set up at the Forest Park Blue Line station. But as the effects of the pandemic continue to limit housing, needs at the other end of the line also became evident.

Off the Blue Line O’Hare stop, to the left, a sign for the Haymarket Center O’Hare Outreach sticks out of the wall. A man was waiting to go in Thursday morning as he charged his cellphone.

The program assists homeless clients and passengers seeking shelter at the airport. It also approaches issues regarding alcohol and substance abuse, housing and income. Dubuar described what a client may find in the 24/7 office at O’Hare.

“We have a number of resources available on site from, food and coffee, water, hand sanitizer, masks … those things. We also have clothing available, hygiene products and a few other things,” she said. “What we’ll also do is invite people to come in and sit down and talk to us. And we do a small assessment with them, exploring all sorts of things from health care, mental health care, substance use, benefits and IDs and all of those things.”

The O’Hare Outreach program is funded by the Chicago Department of Aviation and carried out in cooperation with the Department of Family Support Services and a host of other community partners, such as shelter providers, substance use treatment providers and — importantly — housing programs.

“The complexity of the (needs of) folks we’re seeing has increased and, (in) the number of encounters, that’s really where you see that reflected,” Dubuar said. “This isn’t just a ‘somebody needs a sandwich today’ and that’s it, that’s all they needed. Because I think that we have folks, their needs are complex and navigating through these systems is hard and they need as much support as they can possibly get.”

While Dubuar couldn’t confirm whether there is a more concentrated homeless population in specific airport terminals, she said it’s possible that changes in the airport complex layout influence where homeless people spend their time.

“Individuals who come to the airport for shelter do learn the system and do see when there are construction projects or changes to how the space is being monitored with our partners from CPD and the Department of Aviation,” she said. “And so it is it is highly possible that there are going to be some folks who are visible because certain areas are under construction or maybe not being monitored as much as possible.”

On Friday morning, as the sun rose, a few scattered people in O’Hare’s Terminal 2 rustled in their sleep. They were slowly waking up. Some of them might have had canceled or delayed flights. Others, though, were homeless and had sought a warm place to spend the night.

A police officer approached a person who was lying by the windows in the arrivals area of Terminal 2. He asked if they were OK. “Just try not to fall sleep,” he said. “Stay awake.”

Pikula and other homeless people will likely keep searching for a more stable situation than sleeping at the airport every night. Even as they seek support services, though, continuing to sleep at the airport seems, in Pikula’s words, the only option in terms of surviving cold winter nights.

“I’ll be honest with you, my life has not been rosy,” Pikula said. “It’s been a fighting life.”

It’s hard to say how long it takes, on average, for a homeless person in Chicago to find stable housing, Dubuar said.

“As with most social services, benefits and resources, it’s about eligibility and availability,” she said. “Sometimes it’s a matter of the stars aligning.”

Chicago Tribune’s Rosemary Sobol contributed.

Skipped Showers, Paper Plates: An Arizona Suburb’s Water Is Cut Off

The New York Times

Skipped Showers, Paper Plates: An Arizona Suburb’s Water Is Cut Off

Jack Healy – January 16, 2023

A water hauler sets up hoses to fill the tank at a home that is listed for sale in the Rio Verde Foothills outside of Scottsdale, Arizona, on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times)
A water hauler sets up hoses to fill the tank at a home that is listed for sale in the Rio Verde Foothills outside of Scottsdale, Arizona, on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times)

RIO VERDE, Ariz. — Joe McCue thought he had found a desert paradise when he bought one of the new stucco houses sprouting in the granite foothills of Rio Verde, Arizona. There were good schools, mountain views and cactus-spangled hiking trails out the back door.

Then the water got cut off.

Earlier this month, the community’s longtime water supplier, the neighboring city of Scottsdale, turned off the tap for Rio Verde Foothills, blaming a grinding drought that is threatening the future of the West. Scottsdale said it had to focus on conserving water for its own residents, and could no longer sell water to roughly 500 to 700 homes — or around 1,000 people. That meant the unincorporated swath of $500,000 stucco houses, mansions and horse ranches outside Scottsdale’s borders would have to fend for itself and buy water from other suppliers — if homeowners could find them, and afford to pay much higher prices.

Almost overnight, the Rio Verde Foothills turned into a worst-case scenario of a hotter, drier climate, showing what happens when unregulated growth collides with shrinking water supplies.

For residents who put their savings into newly built homes that promised desert sunsets, peace and quiet (but relegated the water situation to the fine print), the turmoil is also deeply personal. The water disruption has unraveled their routines and put their financial futures in doubt.

“Is it just a campground now?” McCue, 36, asked one recent morning, after he and his father installed gutters and rain barrels for a new drinking-water filtration system.

“We’re really hoping we don’t go dry by summer,” he said. “Then we’ll be in a really bad spot.”

In a scramble to conserve, people are flushing their toilets with rainwater and lugging laundry to friends’ homes. They are eating off paper plates, skipping showers and fretting about whether they have staked their fates on what could become a desiccated ghost suburb.

Some say they know how it might look to outsiders. Yes, they bought homes in the Sonoran desert. But they ask, are they such outliers? Arizona does not want for emerald-green fairways, irrigated lawns or water parks.

“I’m surrounded by plush golf courses, one of the largest fountains in the world,” said Tony Johnson, 45, referring to the 500-foot water feature in the neighboring town of Fountain Hills.

Johnson’s family built a house in Rio Verde two years ago, and landscaped the yard with rocks, not thirsty greenery. “We’re not putting in a pool, we’re not putting in grass,” he said. “We’re not trying to bring the Midwest here.”

The heavy rain and snow battering California and other parts of the Mountain West over the past two weeks is helping to refill some reservoirs and soak dried-out soil. But water experts say that one streak of wet weather will not undo a 20-year drought that has practically emptied Lake Mead, the country’s largest reservoir, and has strained the overburdened Colorado River, which supplies about 35% of Arizona’s water. The rest comes from the state’s own rivers or from aquifers in the ground.

Last week, Arizona learned that its water shortages could be even worse than many residents realized. As one of her first actions after taking office, Gov. Katie Hobbs unsealed a report showing that the fast-growing West Valley of Phoenix does not have enough groundwater to support tens of thousands of homes planned for the area; their development is now in question.

Water experts say Rio Verde Foothills’ situation is unusually dire, but it offers a glimpse of the bitter fights and hard choices facing 40 million people across the West who rely on the Colorado River for the means to take showers, irrigate crops, or run data centers and fracking rigs.

“It’s a cautionary tale for homebuyers,” said Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University. “We can’t just protect every single person who buys a parcel and builds a home. There isn’t enough money or water.”

Porter said a number of other unincorporated areas in Arizona rely on water service from larger nearby cities like Prescott or Flagstaff. They could find themselves in Rio Verde’s straits if the drought persists and the cities start taking drastic conservation measures.

There are no sewers or water mains serving the Rio Verde Foothills, so for decades, homes there that did not have their own wells got water delivered by tanker trucks. (The homes that do have wells are not directly affected by the cutoff.)

The trucks would fill up with Scottsdale water at a pipe 15 minutes’ drive from the Rio Verde Foothills, and then deliver water directly to people’s front doors. Or rather, to 5,000-gallon storage tanks buried in their yards — enough water to last an average family about a month. When the tanks ran low, homeowners would call or send an electronic signal to the water haulers for another delivery.

It was a tenuous arrangement in the middle of the desert, but homeowners said the water always arrived, and had come to feel almost as reliable as a utility hookup.

Now, though, the water trucks can’t refill close by in Scottsdale, and are having to crisscross the Phoenix metro area in search of supplies, filling up in cities a two-hour round trip from Rio Verde. That has meant more driving, more waiting and more money. An average family’s water bill has jumped to $660 a month from $220, and it is unclear how long the water trucks will be able to keep drawing tens of thousands of gallons from those backup sources.

Heavier water users like Cody Reim, who moved into a starter house in Rio Verde two years ago, are being hit even harder. He said his water bills could now exceed $1,000 a month — more than his mortgage payment. Reim and his wife have four young children, which in normal times meant a lot of dishwashing, countless toilet flushes and dozens of laundry cycles to clean soiled cloth diapers.

Reim, who works for his family’s sheet-metal business, is planning to become his own water hauler, lashing large containers to his pickup and setting out to fill them up. He guesses that fetching water will take him 10 hours every week, but he said he would do anything to stay in Rio Verde. He loves the dark skies and the baying coyotes at night, and how his children can run up and down a dirt road that with views of the Four Peaks Wilderness.

“Even if this place went negative and I’d have to pay somebody to take it, I’d still be here,” he said of his house. “There’s no other option.”

Cities across the Southwest have spent years trying to cut down on water consumption, recharge aquifers and find new ways to reuse water to cope with the drought.

Experts say that most Arizona residents do not have to worry about losing their drinking water any time soon, though deeper cuts loom for agricultural users, who use about 70% of Arizona’s water supply. Phoenix and surrounding cities have imposed few water restrictions on residents.

Rio Verde Foothills once felt like a remote community far from the urban centers of Scottsdale or Phoenix, residents said, a quilt of ranches and self-built houses scattered among mesquite and palo verde trees.

But over the past few years, there has been a frenzy of home construction in the area, fueled by cheap land prices and developers who took advantage of a loophole in Arizona’s groundwater laws to construct homes without any fixed water supply.

To prevent unsustainable development in a desert state, Arizona passed a law in 1980 requiring subdivisions with six or more lots to show proof that they have a 100-year water supply.

But developers in Rio Verde Foothills have been sidestepping the rule by carving larger parcels into sections with four or five houses each, creating the impression of a miniature suburbia, but one that did not need to legally prove it had water.

“It’s a slipped-through-the-cracks community,” said Porter, with the Kyl Center for Water Policy.

Thomas Galvin, a county supervisor who represents the area, says there’s not much the county can do if builders split their parcels into five lots or less to get around the water supply requirement. “Our hands are tied,” he said.

People in Rio Verde Foothills are bitterly divided over how to resolve their water woes.

When some proposed forming their own self-funded water provider, other residents revolted, saying the idea would foist an expensive, freedom-stealing new arm of government on them. The idea collapsed. Other solutions, like allowing a larger water utility to serve the area, could be years off.

On Thursday, a group of residents sued Scottsdale in an effort to get the water turned back on. They argued the city violated an Arizona law that restricts cities from cutting off utility services to customers outside their borders. Scottsdale did not respond to the lawsuit.

Rose Carroll, 66, who is a plaintiff in the suit, said she would support any idea that would keep her from having to kill her donkeys.

She moved to Rio Verde Foothills two years ago, and runs a small ranch for two dozen rescued donkeys who had been abandoned, left in kill pens or doused with acid. The donkeys spend their days in a corral on her seven-acre property, eating hay and drinking a total of 300 gallons of water every day.

Carroll collected rainwater after a recent winter storm, enough for a few weeks’ worth of toilet flushes. The new cost to get water delivered to the ranch could reach an unaffordable $1,800 a month, she said, so she is putting some of the donkeys up for adoption and said she might have to euthanize others if she does not have enough water to keep them alive.

She said she got a call a few days ago, asking her to take in two more abandoned donkeys, but had to say no.

“I didn’t have the water,” she said.

California storms erase extreme drought from nearly all of state

Yahoo! News

California storms erase extreme drought from nearly all of state

In a single week, the portions of the state classified as experiencing extreme drought in California fell from 27.1% to 0.32%.

David Knowles, Senior Editor – January 12, 2023

Flooding from the Sacramento and American rivers, near downtown Sacramento, Calif.
Flooding from the Sacramento and American rivers, near downtown Sacramento, Calif., Jan. 11. (Fred Greaves/Reuters)

BERKELEY, Calif. — There is a silver lining to the relentless California storms that have so far killed at least 18 people and racked up an estimated $1 billion in damages: In a single week, extreme drought conditions that had gripped almost one-third of the state have been downgraded nearly everywhere.

The U.S. Drought Monitor released an updated map Thursday that accounts for the series of atmospheric river storms that have doused the state in recent weeks with more than 24 trillion gallons of water. It shows that “extreme drought,” the second-highest classification used by the agency has been all but erased from the interior sections of the state.

U.S. Drought Monitor map
A U.S. Drought Monitor map of conditions in California. (U.S. Drought Monitor)

In a single week, the portions of the state classified as experiencing extreme drought in California fell from 27.1% to 0.32%, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Still, 46% of the state remains classified in “severe drought,” though that figure fell from 71% a week ago.

Drought conditions in California on the week of Jan. 3
Drought conditions in California from the week of Jan. 3. (U.S. Drought Monitor)

Extreme drought conditions are still widespread in Nevada and Utah, and the California storms have not affected the Colorado River Basin, including the badly depleted reservoirs Lake Mead and Lake Powell, where the federal government has been forced to implement water restrictions.

In order to completely eliminate drought conditions across the American West several consecutive seasons of precipitation at 120% to 200% of normal would need to occur, ABC News reported. A 2022 study published in the journal Nature found that the past 22 years have been the driest period in the Southwest in the last 1,200 years.

As temperatures continue to rise thanks to humankind’s burning of fossil fuels, one effect, called the Clausius-Clapeyron relationship, is that there is 7% more moisture in the atmosphere per every degree Celsius of warming. That means extreme downpours like those in California in recent days can become more likely when conditions are right. By the same token, however, that relationship can also spur what UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain has called “flash droughts,” in which extremely dry conditions can arise quickly, even in a year of above-average precipitation.

“The Clausius-Clapeyron relationship also increases what is known as the vapor pressure deficit,” Swain told Yahoo News in November, which means that “the atmosphere’s potential to act as a giant sponge and extract more water out of the landscape has increased, even if the relative humidity has stayed the same. This Clausius-Clapeyron relationship is actually what drives the atmosphere’s capacity to dry out the landscape faster.”

For now, however, the precipitation picture is much brighter than it was even a week ago. Water levels in depleted state reservoirs have been rising, and California’s snow pack as of Wednesday measured 226% of normal. While the risks of flash flooding remain high, more rain and snow is in the forecast for the coming week.

Developers are trying to build hundreds of thousands of homes in Arizona. New report warns there isn’t enough water.

USA Today

Developers are trying to build hundreds of thousands of homes in Arizona. New report warns there isn’t enough water.

Brandon Loomis, USA TODAY NETWORK – January 12, 2023

PHOENIX — Amid a megadrought depleting groundwater across the West, a newly released report from Arizona signals difficulty ahead for developers wishing to build hundreds of thousands of homes in the desert west of Phoenix.

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs released the modeling report Monday, and it shows that plans to add homes for more than 800,000 people west of the White Tank Mountains will require other water sources if they are to go forward. The report also signals the start of Hobbs’ effort to shore up groundwater management statewide.

“We must talk about the challenge of our time: Arizona’s decades-long drought, over-usage of the Colorado River, and the combined ramifications on our water supply, our forests, and our communities,” Hobbs said.

The West’s megadrought which worsened in 2021 made it the driest in at least 1,200 years, according to a study from the journal Nature Climate Change.

As a result of the expanding drought, western states are struggling with a water shortage due to lakes and rivers drying up in addition to communities pumping more groundwater and depleting aquifers at an alarming rate.

The groundwater crisis has impacted agriculture and rural communities as many are losing access to groundwater. Now, new homes will need new water sources, according to Arizona’s modeling report.

The Arizona Department of Water Resources had developed the model showing inadequate water for much of the development envisioned as far-west suburbs, but had not released it during then-Gov. Doug Ducey’s term.

In the case of development on the western edges of the urban area, the information Hobbs’ team released makes clear that developers who own desert expanses largely in Buckeye’s, the westernmost suburb in Phoenix, planning area will need more water to make their visions come true.

The report, called the Lower Hassayampa Sub-basin Groundwater Model, finds that projected growth would more than double groundwater use and put it out of balance by 15%. The state’s groundwater law requires developers in the Phoenix area to get state certificates of assured water supplies extending out 100 years before they can build.

Arizona Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke on Monday said he would not issue new certificates for the area unless developers find secure water sources in addition to the local groundwater.

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New homes will need new water sources

Some of the Buckeye subdivisions in the area already have certifications for homes that Buschatzke estimated to number in the thousands, and that will combine to add 50,000 acre-feet of demand in a basin that already uses 123,000 acre-feet. The aquifer apparently can bear that amount, but not the 100,000 acre-foot demand that department analysts have attributed to hundreds of thousands more homes envisioned for the zone.

The Howard Hughes Corp. is a major player in the area, with 100,000 homes planned on 37,000 acres.

The question of where developers might get the water to support such vast housing tracts has previously presented a mystery, with some developers merely saying they were confident in their prospects. The report the state released this week provides an initial answer: They won’t be finding that water solely in the aquifer below the land. Instead, they will have to find new ways of importing and possibly recycling water if they want to build out the property.

“Some of the big plans that are out there for master-planned communities will need to find other water supplies or other solutions,” Buschatzke said.

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For now, the groundwater deficiency could stall much building on the Valley’s far west side. But it also could foreshadow a push for big new infrastructure projects, such as an ocean desalination plant and pipeline proposal that a state water finance board has agreed to evaluate. That proposal, led by an Israeli company that has built or operated desalination plants around the world, would pipe water north from Mexico and through Buckeye on its way to the Central Arizona Project canal.

Other options include moving water from other areas, such as the Harquahala Valley to the west, or recycling wastewater, Buschatzke said. Those options could take years, though.

Buckeye officials sent a statement to The Arizona Republic, part of the USA TODAY Network, saying they need time to study the report but will work to ensure sustainable growth: “Buckeye is committed to responsible and sustainable growth and working to ensure we have adequate water for new businesses and residents, while protecting our existing customers.”

Researcher says finding water won’t be cheap or easy

Arizona State University water researcher Kathleen Ferris had called for the groundwater report’s release, and on Tuesday said she was delighted that Hobbs made it public.

Ferris, with the school’s Kyl Center for Water Policy, is a past director of the Department of Water Resources and helped craft the 1980 groundwater law that requires a 100-year supply for new development.

“It’s a hugely important step,” Ferris said. “As the governor said, It’s about transparency and knowledge. We should not be allowing this growth to occur when the water isn’t there.”

Ferris said she counts herself among skeptics who don’t believe a desalination plant will come online quickly. The Colorado River’s drought-reduced storage means it can’t provide excess water to soon fill the gap in groundwater supplies, either. It doesn’t mean Buckeye can’t grow, she said, but finding the water to do so won’t be cheap or easy.

She cautioned that other cities with stronger water portfolios are also on the lookout to snap up new water to secure their own futures.

Beyond Buckeye, Ferris said, Hobbs is right to push for better groundwater management statewide. The 1980 law applied mostly to urban areas, leaving vast areas of rural Arizona unregulated.

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The whole state doesn’t necessarily need the same 100-year-supply rule, Ferris said, but groundwater users everywhere should be responsible for tracking and reporting what they use.

Any effort to address rural groundwater with statewide regulations is bound to face resistance in the Arizona Legislature, where lawmakers for several years have declined to extend state regulations.

Whatever happens, Ferris said, the state is due for an honest conversation about where and by how much it can grow. She hopes the governor’s announcement is the start of such a reckoning. “We just can’t have subdivisions approved (solely) on groundwater,” she said.

Contributing: The Associated Press