Photos show the ‘bathtub ring’ along a parched Los Angeles reservoir, as California’s drought grows more dire

An aerial view of reservoir tucked in between a mountainous landscape under a bright sky.
Aerial view of the reservoir nestled in the San Gabriel Mountain Range.

  • Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a drought emergency in 41 California counties, representing 30% of the state’s population.
  • Reservoirs across the state are running dry.
  • Photographer Ted Soqui captured the dramatic “bathtub ring” at the San Gabriel Reservoir, just outside Los Angeles.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The three-mile-long San Gabriel Reservoir, nestled in the mountains above Los Angeles, is running dry.

California saw significantly less rain and snow this year, and drought conditions this summer have left much of the state increasingly parched.

Across California, many reservoirs and lakes are experiencing a “bathtub ring” phenomena: Declining water levels expose white rings around the edges of these bodies of water – the result of calcium carbonate and other minerals attached to the rock. The more rings that are visible, the lower the water level.

Photographs of the San Gabriel Reservoir offer a hint at how severe the drought could get in Southern California.

Rings are seen along rocks above a reservoir, showing where the water line once was.
Aerial view of the “bathtub ring” phenomena around the San Gabriel Reservoir.

A close-up of the rings that form along the rocks, showing where the water line once was.
Detail of the newly exposed “bathtub ring” phenomena on the side of the San Gabriel Reservoir as it dries out.

In May, California Governor Gavin Newsom expanded the state’s emergency drought declaration to cover 41 counties, representing 30 percent of the state’s population. The governor’s office attributed the situation to especially hot temperatures brought on by climate change, as well as extremely dry mountaintop soil that absorbs water that would otherwise flow into the state’s water collection systems.

“Extraordinarily warm temperatures in April and early May separate this critically dry year from all others on California record,” the governor’s office said in a statement.

The giant reservoirs in Northern California – Folsom Lake, Lake Oroville, and Shasta – are also seeing low water levels after less snow and rain runoff came down from the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

A bald eagle is seen resting on a leaf-less tree amid a parched landscape.
A Bald Eagle rests near the reservoir.

An aerial view shows the bottom of the reservoir.
The bottom of the reservoir becomes exposed as it dries out.

Most of Los Angeles’ water is pumped over the Tejon pass from northern California. The water from the San Gabriel reservoir, which holds more than 54 million cubic meters of water when full, mostly serves the San Gabriel Valley.

Significant rain and snow fall is not expected until November.

An aerial view of the reservoir shows a swirl of patterns.
Rorschach-like patterns now appear on the newly exposed bottom of the San Gabriel Reservoir.

A wide aerial view of the reservoir dam area.
Wide view of the southern area of the reservoir’s dam area. The reservoir is now almost empty with a sliver if water running through it.

The barren, dry landscape is seen around the reservoir.
The terrain around the San Gabriel Reservoir is now fully exposed.

Ted Soqui is a photojournalist based in L.A. See more of his work here.

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Why avocados are so expensive

  • Avocado has become one of the world’s trendiest foods, but they require an extraordinary amount of costly resources and labor in order to grow.
  • Avocado prices have rocketed in recent years by up to 129%, with the average national price of a single Hass avocado reaching $2.10 in 2019, almost doubling in just one year.
  • We break down what makes avocados so expensive.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: Avocado has become one of the world’s trendiest foods. As the poster child of millennial healthy eating, this superfood is now a mainstay for foodies everywhere. But have you noticed your avo on toast is costing more and more? Avocado prices have rocketed in recent years by up to 129%, with the average national price of a single Hass avocado reaching $2.10 in 2019, almost doubling in just one year. So, why are avocados so expensive?

Archaeologists in Peru have found domesticated avocado seeds buried with Incan mummies dating back to 750 BC. But it was the Aztecs in 500 BC who named it āhuacatl, which translates to “testicle.” When Spanish conquistadors swept through Mexico and Central America in the 16th century, they renamed it aguacate. The farming of aguacate developed over the next few hundred years, predominantly in Central America and South America. But consumption of the “alligator pear” outside of these regions before the late 19th century was almost nonexistent.

The commercialization of aguacate began in the early 1900s but was focused on branding avocados as a delicacy for the wealthy, like this advert in The New Yorker from 1920, which declared them as “The aristocrat of salad fruit.” But a selection of Californian growers realized that the hard-to-pronounce aguacate was off-putting for the mass market, so they formed the California Avocado Association. By the 1950s, production scale grew, and avocado prices fell to about 25 cents each. Popularity increased further with the wave of inter-American immigration in the ’60s, as Latin Americans brought their love of avocados with them to the US. But as demand increased, supply had to keep up, and the true difficulties of yielding large-scale avocado crops began to show. Avocado orchards require an extraordinary amount of costly resources in order to flourish.

Gus Gunderson: There are multiple inputs that avocados require, whether it’s water, fertilizer, pruning, pest control, the sunburn protection of trees. All those go into making your chances better of having a very good-quality crop. When we decide to plant an avocado orchard, we’ll plant trees that come from certified nurseries. We have to place our orders years in advance. On average, if we’re producing 100,000 pounds per acre, that takes about a million gallons of water, so 100 gallons per pound, so it’d be about 50 gallons per 8-ounce fruit. But that’s dependent on what mother nature will throw at you, you know, we have wind, we have intense sun. It’s really hard for a grower to manage the unmanageable things that will affect a crop.

Narrator: The surge in popularity of avocados stalled during the fat-fighting frenzy of the 1980s, with an average of only 1 pound per capita being consumed in America by 1989. The decade’s low-fat obsession drove consumers away from avocado because of its high fat content, without really understanding the nutritional truth hidden within.

Hazel Wallace: When it comes to fat in food in general, people tend to get a little bit concerned because we often hear in the media that fat isn’t good for us. But the type of fat that’s in avocados is monounsaturated fat, which is actually often deemed healthy fat or heart-healthy fat, so while there is a lot of fat in avocados, it’s actually quite good fat.

Narrator: Avocado started its meteoric comeback at the turn of the millennium, and it was helped by an unlikely political decision. In 2005, the US Department of Agriculture lifted a 90-year-old ban to allow the importation of Mexican avocados to all 50 states. Initially, this decision angered Californian growers, who feared the move could slash local growers’ sales by as much as 20%.

Harold Edwards: What actually had transpired and took place was, as that Mexican supply became much more prevalent and available, retailers got behind marketing and selling avocados, food service providers, restaurants started putting it as permanent parts of their menus, and demand started to boom because the inconsistent supply chains before were now consistent, and consumers were allowed to enjoy avocados every day of the year.

Narrator: The biggest day of the avocado calendar became Super Bowl Sunday, when it’s now estimated that almost 200 million pounds of avocados are eaten during the big game in America. But if you take a moment to consider the resources needed to produce that amount, you can start to understand avocados’ elevated prices. According to experts, it takes roughly 270 liters of water to grow a pound of avocados. So 200 million pounds could require as much as 54 billion liters of water, which means droughts or heat waves can have devastating consequences on the avocado industry. In fact, that’s exactly what’s been happening in California for the last seven years, with the Sunshine State only recently being declared drought-free in 2019, which goes a long way to explaining record avocado prices. In some countries, like Chile, avocado cultivation is being blamed for exacerbating droughts, as lush green orchards overlook dry riverbeds.

Perhaps the biggest reason for avocados’ rise to dominance is the emergence of the clean-eating lifestyle. No longer just a chip dip for special occasions, this superfood can be found in a plethora of recipes in cafés and restaurants everywhere around the world. And those who are eating them are really keen for you to know about it. Just type #avocado into Instagram, and you’ll be hit with over 10 million search results. But is the glorification of avocado justified?

Wallace: There’s quite a big hype around avocados, but it actually is quite justified when it comes to how nutrient-dense this food is. There’s not many foods that actually replicate it in terms of a nutritional profile. When it comes to calling something a superfood, I’m not really for that label. Avocados are definitely a good food to include in your diet, but like I said, you’re not really missing out if you don’t like them or if you can’t eat them for any reason. Monounsaturated fats, we can find that in things like olive oil and olive, nuts, and seeds. The vitamins and minerals, we can find that in other green vegetables, so spinach and broccoli and things like that. So there’s ways of getting those nutrients in without having avocado.

Narrator: All of this produce requires an astonishing amount of labor. Even once grown, pruned, and picked, avocados need costly distribution methods in order to be delivered fresh and ripe to far-flung corners of the world.

Gunderson: If you’re living in Philadelphia, right? You wanna buy a ripe avocado in Philadelphia? What they do is they ship green avocados from California to Philadelphia, they send them to the ripening center, they warm them up and get ethylene in them, so they all ripen, and then, when they’re moved out to the retail stores, you’re actually buying something that’s almost ready to eat or ready to eat. ‘Cause if you were to buy a green avocado that’s shipped straight from California to your market, you would have to ripen it yourself over a seven- to 10-day period, and most consumers are a little more anxious for their avocado toast than waiting 10 days. [laughs]

Narrator: With prices so high, the commodity of avocados has attracted a spate of thefts from orchards and delivery trucks worldwide. In New Zealand, armed night patrols and electric fences have been introduced after a grower in Northland had 70% of his orchard stolen. There’s even further grim reading for avocado lovers. In Michoacán, where 80% of Mexico’s avocados originate, cartels run a so-called “blood avocado” trade, violently enforcing a nonnegotiable extortion fee from farmers based on the size of their land and the weight of their crop.

Some restaurants have begun an avocado boycott, as we all weigh the ethics behind our eating habits. Experts suggest that water shortages could affect 5 billion people by 2050, and rainfall in the so-called drought belt, which includes Mexico and South America, is predicted to decline. But whilst evidence of environmental degradation is mounting, the avocado industry is still growing along with consumer demand. In certain places, the sustainability of avocado production will become untenable.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in October 2019.

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America’s water infrastructure is a ticking time bomb

Main break water pipe crumbling infrastructure in New York
Workers fix a massive water main break in New York City in 2014.

  • Our drinking water infrastructure is crumbling, underfunded, and not managed with the best tech available.
  • Climate change is making things worse, as evident by the aftermath of the Texas storms.
  • Investing in new technology can help ensure Americans have uninterrupted access to clean water.
  • Carol Browner is the former director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy under the Obama administration, and former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Virtually every part of our lives depends on sophisticated technologies to make things work better – from medical care to online ordering. Yet, in far too many towns and cities, our drinking water infrastructure – which brings clean water to our families – is not managed with the best technology available.

The American Society of Civil Engineers recently rated the US an embarrassing C- in their Infrastructure Report Card. They found that 6 billion gallons of clean, safe drinking water (enough to fill 9,000 swimming pools) are lost every day through leaky pipes, while a water main breaks every 2 minutes, totaling nearly 238,000 breaks per year.

Our drinking water infrastructure system is made up of 2.2 million miles of underground pipes, and unfortunately, as the report’s authors said, “the system is aging and underfunded.”

Collecting water and moving it to where it’s needed most is a colossal, vital job. It’s one that most people take for granted and thousands of municipalities accomplish on shoestring budgets. While federal money previously represented 63% of capital spending in the water sector, that number has plummeted over the years, falling to only 9% by 2017.

And this aging, underfunded water system will now be under additional pressure from the growing impacts of climate change.

Increasing pressure on our water infrastructure

When most people think about climate change, they often think about shrinking polar ice caps or noxious pollution clogging our skylines. People don’t realize how vulnerable our water systems are to climate impacts – something that was made evident this past February when millions of people were cut off from clean drinking water in Texas.

Long-term effects of climate change in the United States are predicted to include changes in precipitation patterns and more droughts and heat waves. Those changes can bring urban flooding, burst pipelines, forest fires, and unpredictable and extreme rainy seasons. We will have water where we don’t normally have it, and not always where we need it.

When temperatures in Texas plummeted into the single digits, a series of infrastructure failures followed, leading to burst pipes that left millions of people without clean water. While Americans watched the news in horror, many found comfort in thinking that it couldn’t happen to them. But that’s simply not true. We are all potentially vulnerable to water scarcity and disruption.

Years of drought, increasing temperatures, and decreasing rainfall turned the entire West Coast into a tinderbox in 2020, a record-setting year for wildfires. A study released in the Geophysical Research Letters journal reported that a later onset of the rainy season in California, along with truncated rainy seasons during spring and fall, could have devastating results.

When a forest fire burns through an area, not only does it destroy all the vegetation, it can also burn a hardened crust into the soil that prevents it from being able to absorb and disperse water. As FEMA points out, those living downstream of these burn scar areas have a higher risk of flooding, which can last for years after the fire.

Crumbling infrastructure, shrinking budgets, and increased pressure from climate change all threaten millions of Americans with the risk of losing access to clean drinking water, contamination from sewer spills, and threats to home and safety from storms and flooding. So, what can we do about it?

Tech solutions

The technological revolution that uplifted so many other industries has been slow to gain traction in the water utility industry. With the emergence of the smart city, municipalities are using sensors to monitor everything from traffic patterns to air quality. However, modernizing a dynamic, labyrinthine infrastructure is much more complex and expensive.

While water utilities do utilize technology – such as creating modeling tools to simulate weather, consumption, and wear and tear – an accurate, realistic simulation is hard to build. Likewise, simulating a storm water system, monitoring the system, and quickly recovering from a system failure are all very different and increasingly difficult scenarios.

One solution is to take advantage of the cloud. By using the cloud, water utilities can enhance their simulation capabilities with artificial intelligence, predictive models, and other innovative technologies without having to hire an entire IT and programming team to develop and maintain their own tools.

Currently, some of the largest utilities are already using artificial intelligence to crunch through their data, letting engineers and operators collaborate to target and manage their risks more effectively. The cloud is the great democratizer, giving smaller municipalities access to similar tools on a subscription and volume basis.

At the same time, adoption of new technologies shouldn’t overshadow the need for greater federal investment in our drinking water system. While the cloud can help us stretch our current budgets to get the most out of the infrastructure we have now, we can’t ignore the crumbling pipes and water mains under our feet.

That investment can’t just be limited to our largest cities, either. Municipalities of all sizes are dealing with added stressors due to climate change. The federal money we allocate to fixing this problem should reflect that.

Ticking time bomb

Make no mistake, there will be many more water utility failures across the country and more families going without clean water. If our water infrastructure – and technology platforms used to manage it – don’t modernize at a faster pace, these failures could result in devastating loss of life and property, along with trillions of dollars in damage. If we invest in cloud solutions that allow the prediction, prevention, and management of water emergencies, we can be better prepared for future emergencies and mitigate a catastrophic aftermath. It’s critical to address these issues now, before they become so widespread that they threaten the health, safety, and livelihoods of millions.

Fortunately, President Biden’s newly unveiled infrastructure plan includes funding for state and local governments to upgrade their water infrastructure. Local entities should use those funds in part to modernize the technology they use to manage their water systems. We have a Texas-sized opportunity to make the investments we need to make sure that what happened there never happens again.

Carol Browner, is the former director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy under the Obama administration, and former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency from 1993 to 2001. She is currently a senior counselor in the Sustainability practice at Albright Stonebridge Group. Innovyze board member 2018-2021.

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A cleaning expert reveals the everyday household items you should be using to clean your home

Following is a full transcript of the video.

Melissa Maker: Well the great thing about cleaning – and again, I talk about this in my book – is understanding the products, the tools, and the techniques that you need to do an effective clean. So, products – you don’t have to go right to the top and use the most harsh product to do a cleaning. You can oftentimes accomplish a lot of work with a pretty gentle product, whether it’s one that you’re purchasing or one that you’re making on your own. And half of cleaning comes down to tools. So, understanding exactly what kind of cleaning tools do I need to use, ’cause you know, you walk down the aisle, the cleaning aisle at a big-box store and you’re like, “What’s this? What’s this? Do I need that?” You don’t know. So once you have an understanding of the products and the tools, you can then choose the right thing for the job and then apply the appropriate technique. That’s what I call the PTTs – products, tools, and techniques and get the job done. Even a hard one.

Toothbrush is great. A cleaning toothbrush, they’re very inexpensive and frankly a great way to upcycle. You can clean your toothbrush, when you’re finished using it for your mouth and you want to move on to cleaning, by just mixing up a solution of equal parts hydrogen peroxide and water and soaking it for 30 minutes. Then it’s good to go for cleaning. Dish soap is another one of my favorites. I’m telling you I probably clean like 50%, 60% of my house with some solution including dish soap. I also of course use it in the kitchen. And baking soda … I have a love affair with baking soda. So, yeah. Baking soda is a wonderful cleaning triple threat. It deodorizes, it has mild abrasion, and it also helps to brighten and whiten. It’s great.

One of the most basic recipes that I love and I whip up, and I mean, I don’t know, we probably go through a bottle of it once a week, I would say. It’s a cup of water, a half cup of rubbing alcohol, 10 drops of essential oil. And it’s my house so obviously I have a whole selection of essential oils. In my kitchen I love using thyme. And a little squirt of dish soap, about half a teaspoon. And there’s your all-purpose cleaner right there. That’s a great one.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in August 2017.

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How to find water when you’re stuck in the desert

  • The human body can survive for about three days without water, which can be extremely hard to find in hot desert climates.
  • If you’re ever lost in a desert, knowing how to quickly find water is key to your survival. 
  • Water flows down, so check low terrain. Canyons and mountain bases could be home to a water source.
  • Fruits, vegetables, cacti, and roots all contain water and mashing them with a rock will release some liquid.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories. 

Following is a transcript of the video.

The human body can survive for about three days without water, which can be extremely hard to find in hot desert climates.

Look for signs of life if you can’t find a water source. Vegetation, birds, and insects can all mean a nearby water source. Fruits, vegetables, cacti, and roots all contain water and mashing them with a rock will release some liquid.

Water flows down, so check low terrain. Canyons and mountain bases could be home to a water source.

Morning dew can be collected with a cloth and then wrung out into your mouth.Just make sure you collect it before sunrise or it will evaporate before you can get it. Use cups or any other container to catch rainfall. If possible, build a water-catching tarp. This will allow even more water to be collected.

Look for damp ground, vegetation, and dry river beds. These things can all indicate underground water. If you dig a hole a few feet deep nearby, it’s likely water will seep in. If possible, always filter the water. But if you have to choose between dehydration and unfiltered water – take your chances with the water.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published on May 12, 2017.

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China’s new Mars probe took its first photo of the red planet as the mission prepares to make history

china mars tianwen-1 mission photo arrival orbit
A black-and-white image of Mars taken by China’s Tianwen-1 probe, released by China on February 5, 2021.

China’s first interplanetary probe is now so close to Mars that its camera can make out craters across the red planet’s surface.

The Tianwen-1 spacecraft, a suite of robots launched by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) in July, has spent the last six months speeding through space. At just 2.2 million kilometers (1.4 million miles) from its destination, the probe beamed back its very first photo: a black-and-white snapshot of Mars.

The CNSA released the picture on Friday. In a press release, the agency said that the probe had fired an engine as part of its fourth “orbital correction,” or adjustment of its path through space. Now Martian gravity should pull the mission into just the right orbit around the planet.

The five-ton probe is set to carry out a braking operation to slow its high-speed spaceflight and slip into orbit around Mars on February 10. Following that, the spacecraft will spend a couple months surveying a landing site at Utopia Planitia, a vast field of ancient volcanic rock.

The orbiter is supposed to drop a lander-rover combo to the planet’s surface in May, the CNSA said. If the rocket-powered descent goes smoothly, the lander will deploy a two-track ramp  for the rover to roll onto Martian soil. The rover’s radar system will help Chinese researchers seek out underground pockets of liquid water. (The orbiter, meanwhile, will continue circling the red planet and relaying data to Earth.)

Such ancient water reservoirs could be remnants of a time billions of years ago when Mars flowed with rivers, courtesy of a much thicker and protective atmosphere than exists today. During this era, Mars somewhat resembled Earth, and scientists think it may have hosted alien microbial life. Any underground pockets of water, shielded from the sun’s unfiltered radiation and the vacuum of space, might still harbor such species, if they exist.

If successful, Tianwen-1 will be the first Mars mission to send a spacecraft into orbit, drop a landing platform, and deploy a rover all in one expedition. It will also mark China’s first landing on another planet and help the nation prepare a future mission that might return a Martian rock or dirt sample to Earth in the late 2020s.

china mars global remote sensing and small rover hx 1 martian mission illustration rendering cas xinhua
An illustration of China’s planned Mars Global Remote Sensing Orbiter and Small Rover mission, or HX-1. Here a rover is shown leaving a lander to explore the Martian surface.

As of Friday, the CNSA said Tianwen-1 is just about 1.1 million kilometers (680,000 miles) from its destination.

Two other missions which launched around the same time as Tianwen-1 – NASA’s Perseverance rover and the United Arab Emirates’ Hope probe – are also arriving at Mars in the next two weeks. All three missions are taking advantage of a window when Mars passes close to Earth, decreasing travel time and cost.

China attempted to send an orbiter to Mars in 2011, but the Russian spacecraft that was meant to carry it there stalled in Earth’s orbit and never left.

Tianwen-1 is the closest China has ever gotten to another planet. With luck – and the right engineering to weather a harrowing “seven minutes of terror” as it plunges toward Mars – it will reach the surface.

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