USGS ARkStorm 1.0 study showed high risk of contamination from Tulare lake basin flooding

The US Geological Survey’s ARkStorm studies included extensive analyses of vulnerabilities to flooding.  In 2016, USGS Researchers Geoffrey Plumlee,  Charles Alpers, Suzette Morman, and Carma San Juan published “Anticipating Environmental and Environmental-Health Implications of Extreme Storms: ARkStorm Scenario.”

The ARkStorm 1.0 scenario found extensive flooding of the San Joaquin Valley and the Tulare Lake basin (Porter et. al. 2010). Plumlee et. al. used a literature review and GIS-based analysis “to infer how and where ARkStorm could cause environmental damages, release contamination from diverse natural and anthropogenic sources, affect ecosystem and human health, and cause economic impacts from environmental-remediation, liability, and health-care costs.”

In the Southern San Joaquin Valley, the authors found high risks of mobilization of contaminants from AFOs (Animal Feed Operations.) There was also found to be a high risk of mobilization of fertilizers, pesticides, and other industrial chemicals, as well as sewage.

In 2023, there was extensive flooding of AFOs in the Tulare Lake basin. Tom Frantz commented;

Other health risks identified by Plumlee et. al. for the Southern San Joaquin Valley included post-flood molds, Valley Fever, gastrointestinal tract disturbances, and West Nile Viruses.

The authors recommended the following processes for additional analyses for watersheds:

  1. Identify in the watershed all types of natural and anthropogenic contamination sources with greatest potential to affect the environment;
  2. For each source type, identify specific sources with greatest vulnerability for flooding or other storm damage, and assess each source for storm-related vulnerabilities, potential contaminants, and quantities of contaminants that could be released;
  3. For each watershed, prioritize the sources that pose the biggest threat of significant contamination releases and develop for those sources a strategy for engineered vulnerability mitigation… Ideally, these engineered solutions should be evaluated from a cost/benefit standpoint, accounting for construction costs versus the potential costs that would be incurred from environmental remediation, liability, ecosystem damages, and health care should damage and contaminant releases occur.

The mobilization of contaminants in the 2023 Tulare Lake flooding has shown the need for these vulnerability studies. Funding watershed-based studies should be part of funding for regional planning for flood risk reduction.

Further Reading

Dixson B, Rust S, Guathier R. 2023 Apr 3. Acres of L.A. County sewage sludge threaten to contaminate Tulare Lake floodwaters. Los Angeles Times. [accessed 2023 Jul 25]. .

Plumlee G, Alpers C, Morman S, San Juan C. 2016. Anticipating Environmental and Environmental-Health Implications of Extreme Storms: ARkStorm Scenario. Natural Hazards Review. 17(4):A4015003. doi:10.1061/(ASCE)NH.1527-6996.0000188.

Porter K, Wein A, Alpers CN, Baez A, Barnard PL, Carter J, Corsi A, Costner J, Cox D, Das T, et al. 2011. Overview of the ARkStorm scenario. U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report Report No.: 2010–1312.

Rust S. 2023 Jun 29. Tulare Lake floodwaters now receding, Newsom’s office says. “We’ve turned a corner.” Los Angeles Times. [accessed 2023 Jul 25]. .

Leave a Reply