El Nino and the Colorado; India’s solar program

Lake Mead and Hoover Dam water intake towers. The discoloration of the rock shows the decline in water level.

Colorado River below average despite strong El Nino

Water levels and rainfall for the Colorado River basin were below-average in January and February, and will remain so until at least July 2016, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

The basin is at only 61 percent of its seasonal average. Likewise, inflow into Lake Powell and Lake Mead is also below the seasonal average. These numbers come as a disappointment after many experts predicted that this year’s El Nino, which is one of the strongest on record, would increase precipitation in the American Southwest and help alleviate the crippling drought there. El Nino is part of a cyclical fluctuation of temperatures in the south Pacific Ocean. It’s generally accompanied by an increase in rain and snowfall in the southwestern United States. Meteorologists called this year’s El Nino the “Godzilla El Nino” because of its size and its potential to quench droughts in California, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Nevada.

Instead, that precipitation has been largely missing, and the drought has only gotten worse in the Colorado River basin. The U.S. Department of the Interior reported that the water levels of Lake Mead, which is filled by the Colorado River and provides water to much of California, Arizona and Nevada, have dropped 121 feet since 2001.

Likewise, that same period has been the driest stretch for the Colorado River in at least the past 100 years.

March and April are traditionally snowy months in the region, so there’s a chance that this year’s El Nino could still offer some drought relief, but so far, the returns haven’t been promising.

U.S. complaint stalls India’s massive solar energy plan

Solar panels on a farm in India.
Solar panels on a farm in India. Wikimedia Commons

The World Trade Organization ruled on Feb. 24 that India’s planned expansion of its solar energy sector violates several trade agreements because of a requirement that any solar power firms — Indian or international — must commit to building a percentage of their cells and modules in India.

The ruling is the culmination of a three-year investigation that started when the U.S. complained the domestic manufacturing requirement violated three international trade agreements.

The ruling is a massive blow to India, which was counting on the domestic manufacturing clause to create numerous jobs in its manufacturing sector. India’s solar plan is among the most ambitious in the world. It’s supposed to generate 100 gigawatts of power by 2020; 1 gigawatt is enough to power 750,000 homes in the U.S.

The ruling, and the U.S.’s role in it, were sharply criticized by environmentalists.

“The ink is barely dry on the U.N. Paris Agreement, but clearly trade still trumps real action on climate change,” Sam Cossar-Gilbert, coordinator of economic justice, told Climate News Network. “Current trade rules limit governments’ capacity to support local renewable energy, undermine clean technology transfer, and empower fossil fuel companies to attack climate protection in secret courts.”

The Indian government has been trying to negotiate a settlement with the U.S. and offered to apply the domestic manufacturing requirement only to public-sector solar companies, but the U.S. didn’t agree.

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