Saturday, February 7, 2009

California Water Shortage - Drought in the South

President Obama's Energy Secretary, Dr. Stephen Chu, stated this week that global warming is causing California's drought, and that California agriculture will disappear.  He further stated he does not see how California cities will survive, either.  

This was posted on, and I added a couple of comments.  The interchange with other commenters is instructive, and at times, a lot of fun.  Those guys/gals are smart, and witty.  

My comments, and a few others, are shown below, with additional commentary [in italics] from me.  

Sowell at (23:44:57): "Ya gotta hand it to California governmental bodies. Knowing for years that the lakes are dry or drying up, knowing that the Sierra snowpack is less than normal, knowing that the Colorado River flow is much less than years past, knowing that Lake Mead and Lake Powell are way below the full mark, these governments block construction of desalination plants at every turn.

One (count em, ONE) has been approved recently (late in 2008), in Carlsbad near San Diego. It will not produce fresh water until 2011, per the company’s website.

Another one sits idle, mothballed, in Santa Barbara.

A few more are in various stages of environmental review.

People get cranky when they get thirsty. There is a reason wars were fought over water in the Wild West.

Meanwhile, farms are not planting this year. No water, so why bother?

California’s state water page may be found here.

There is a spiffy section on Climate Change, and another on Drought.

Roger E. Sowell
Marina del Rey, California (where it is indeed raining tonight)" The raining tonight comment is a dig at the weather forecasters in UK, who infamously cannot get the weather forecast correct across the pond.  Our local weather guys did a pretty good job of predicting the current rain system.

This response came from Lee Kington, "Since it was mentioned…. I follow the data for Lake Powell and check it on a regular basis.

The also have a searchable data base.

Last year the lakes gained quite a bit…. then the decision was made to do a massive discharge (both Powell and Mead). It seems some fish downstream wanted to wash their teeth real well or something."

Then this from E.M.Smith 

"THE problem in California is that we build as many houses as we can within the available water supply in the best, wettest, years then wonder why there is a water ’shortage’ due to ‘drought’ the other 80%+ of the time…

Oh Well…

BTW, the comment about Cities just shows he can’t do math. About 5% of all the water in California goes to cities. The rest goes to farms, washing trout teeth, whatever. You can run the cities at full water in the worst drought around and not notice it. Similarly, we can stop all water use in every city, send everyone to New Orleans, and it would not make any difference worth mention to the farmers of the state.

The whole “don’t flush for #1″ et. al. is just ginned up for political reasons. For ’sharing’ and ‘creating awareness’…

Of course, the thing that really frosts my shorts is the point made earlier. We could have all the water anyone could ever need at about the present rate for city water, technically… if only you could get a desalinization plant completed… Plenty planned and some started. Then the protests, red tape, et. al. begin…

Protests? Who would protest? Well, stop the water and you stop the housing, industry, people, etc… It is not accidental that water and oil are under attack.

(Shades of Dr. Strangelove! They are attacking our Precious Fluids!)"

Next, Smokey makes a very good point that the population increased while water supplies did notSmokey 

"It should also be kept in mind that since the last California drought in the 1980’s, the state’s population has grown ~50%. That means 50% more people competing for a relatively static and unpredictable water supply. Unfortunately, Cali’s state government seems more concerned with outlawing plastic shopping bags than planning for the future.

But do not be alarmed, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has formulated a plan, which he explains in detail here: click"

Next, Rigel expresses his distaste for California: Rigel 

"I view California in a very poor light. They spend there citizens money on vast, pointless and wasteful ways. Yet on things that matter, they block private enterprise and seem to expect to be subsidized by other states - examples oil, water, electricity - basic things. California is socialist and anti-capitalist.

I hate to seem harsh, but frankly, I would not shed too many tears if California dried up and blew away, or fell into the sea or simply left the United States. California does significantly more harm to the US than the benefits it provides.

California and it’s citizens are completely expendable to the health and well being of the United States, in fact, it would be desirable for it to go away."

This is worth some commentary from the energyguy. California does, IMHO, seem elitist and hypocritical regarding Environmental Justice issues when the state imports electric power produced by coal-fired plants, and by nuclear power plants, while banning the same plants in the state.  I also view some aspects of California in a poor light, such as failure to invest in infrastructure, chronic and out-of-control state budget deficits, along with many local deficits, poor education in the public schools, and many others.  My prediction for California is of demise, as the state refuses to cut governemnt expenditures but raises taxes instead.  This is a sure recipe for failure. 

Now, Rigel has not done a proper study on California's cost/benefit to the U.S., because that would show that the water, power, and oil that California consumes contribues mightily to the nation's grocery shelves, to purchasing automobiles, and we are doing it with roughly 60 percent of the electric power (on a per-capita basis) relative to the entire U.S.  I also suspect that California contributes in a large way to the national treasury, but likely receives at least some of that back.  On balance, I believe California is a net contributor to the IRS. 

Next, sonicfrog states that he and I chewed this over a few days ago, and gives a link: sonicfrog 

"Both Roger Sewell [sic, should be Sowell] and I independently tackled the California water situation a few days ago.

My main point - we don’t have to wait for fifty or a hundred years for the water crisis…it’s already here!. In a nut shell, the state has not expanded its water infrastructure or storage capabilities since the 1950’s, due in part to resistance from the very powerful environmental lobby. We have overexerted our use of natural aquifers and, here in the San Joaquin Valley, an area roughly the size of Tennessee, the wells tapping into them are drying up. Because conservation has been the catch all / be all solution to every problem in the state, we have not built new dams or other water storage facilities to meet the demands of a population that has increased five fold since the fifties. Anyway, Here is the blog post I wrote.

PS. Google “flex alert” and learn it well. For some reason, other states admire what California gas [sic, likely meant has] done with its energy policy, which mirrors their water policy. Conserve to the point of near starvation during high demand. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for conservation, but that can only get you so far." 

Skipping over a few posts, this one from Mike S drew a response from me: Mike S 

"In response to the first comment post on this topic from Roger Sowell.
Your statement: “…knowing that the Colorado River flow is much less than years past, knowing that Lake Mead and Lake Powell are way below the full mark…”

This is sort of misleading. Overpopulation and over-use is why some of the lakes like Mead are only about 50% of full pool. And people forget, we live in a desert (I’ll spell that again: d e s e r t ) …which would otherwise not be so populated if it wasn’t for modern air conditioning and irrigation systems.

When I first moved to Southern California, I read a whitepaper from an expert who presented it to a city council contemplating what to do about the rapid growth in the San Diego area. The paper said we were just coming out of “a prolonged 30 year drought in Southern California”. That was 1986. We have had quite a few very wet years and very dry years since then. One of the lakes by my house that was half empty for about 5 years was suddenly filled up again two years ago because of excess rainfall. Again, this is a desert, and some of the farmers were shameful, when for years, they flooded their fields with un-metered (yes un-metered !) water for crops they had no business growing in this climate here in California.

But I would like you to visit and see that this year, the inflows have been running more than 70% above normal for Lake Mead and this has been consistent for more than 100 days…and last year wasn’t bad either. The problem is that the population siphons out way too much and wastes too much.

Oh, and last year, we were still snow skiing until it was almost summer… not sure where they take the snow measurements, but we had snow for skiing much later and longer than usual."

And, my first response to all these posts (I had been away a while)

"Below is a link to a California Supreme Court decision that discusses water rights. The case is National Audubon Society v Los Angeles Dept of Water and Power, (33 Cal.3d 419 (1983)).

Click Here

Mike S. wrote:

“This is sort of misleading. Overpopulation and over-use is why some of the lakes like Mead are only about 50% of full pool.”

Apologies if I mislead anyone. The point is that population grew (and is growing!) and water resources actually fell — the Colorado River flow trend is negative per the USGS.

See this reference, and scroll down to Figure 3.

The shrinking flow in the Colorado, plus water re-allocation among the river pact states, leaves California more dependent on snowpack, which is rather unreliable. Alternatives that Governator Schwarzennegger proposed for building more dams to store more rainwater were shot down by the legislature (motivated by environmentalists) and at the ballot box.

Then a Federal judge ruled that perfectly good Sacramento river water must be diverted to the ocean rather than sent south to parched Southern California, in order to protect the delta smelt (a small fish that apparently is endangered, or about to be.)

So here we are. Inadequate Colorado river flow, diverted Sacramento river flow, unreliable snowpack, too few dams to catch the rainwater, and environmentalists blocking desalination plants.

Now the entire nation will pay the price, as California farms do not produce what they ordinarily would. Meat prices will likely rise, too, as cattle also require water to drink.

As I wrote before on WUWT, it would be great to see a massive federal project to build a water pipeline across America, from the Mississippi to the Colorado river. Now, that is one stimulus package project I could support. Anybody want to guess if that project is included?

Roger E. Sowell
Marina del Rey, California"

And this from me:  

"The Audubon case I gave above is fairly long and full of legal jargon especially at the top.

The part dealing with the history of water is found if one scrolls down to “1. Background and history of the Mono Lake litigation.”

E.M. Smith, absolutely correct about limiting growth by blocking expansion of water (and other necessary services). When some environmentalists are off the record, that is one subject I have overheard them talk about.

Roger E. Sowell"

And this from me, bringing up the water recycling plan in California (yuck, and double-yuck!):

"Another argument for desalination plants instead of what is currently practiced here in Southern California: waste water recycling.

This is not likely to increase real estate prices in Southern California, but….our water powers-that-be are now recycling treated water from the poop-processing-plants (P3). The treated P3 effluent water is allowed to percolate through the soil until it replenishes aquifers, then is drawn out again via wells into the potable water system. The idea is to conserve water by re-use.

The problem is that P3s do not remove some rather serious chemicals and biologically active compounds, some of which are endocrine disruptors. We are talking about synthetic female hormones here, among other baddies. And they are in the public drinking water. The amounts increase year by year as the water is recycled from well to household, unused medicines are flushed down the toilet, processed in the P3, then percolates back into the aquifer.

Perhaps this explains some rather odd behavior by many Californians?

Btw…the Los Angeles Dept of Water and Power drinks bottled water at their meetings…they were horrified when someone (a reporter!) asked why are they not drinking tap water?

At times, So Cal can be rather amusing….I drink and cook with ONLY bottled water.

Roger E. Sowell
Marina del Rey, California"

And this from me, responding to some earlier comments:

"Re: wave power:

Currently, and for the next week offshore California, waves are forecast at 14-21 feet (average of highest 1/3 of all waves), with individual waves at twice the average. Of course, we are having a significant weather system, too, with gale-force winds. (source: NWS)

There is an awful lot of potential energy in them thar waves…now, getting permission from the various state agencies…oh, never mind… [this agreeing with an earlier comment that wave power could run the entire state]

E.M.Smith, at least NorCal gets to drink fairly pure water from Hetch Hetchy…while we are forced to drink recycled sewage P3 effluent…can we allege discrimination over this? (I know, I know…I’m a lawyer…I should know this one…)

Tom in Florida, re Tampa’s desalination troubles: the same outfit is building the one in Carlsbad. We are hoping they learned some lessons from the Tampa site. I don’t think our ocean water in Carlsbad is warm enough to support grass, but there will likely be other stuff/critters to deal with.

Frank Perdicaro: poorly managed, indeed. Your idea has some merit, except that a 1976 law absolutely prohibits new nuclear power plants anywhere in California. Note the hypocrisy: California has no problem importing vast amounts of power from a triple-header nuke in Arizona, Palo Verde.

In any event, nuclear power has become prohibitively expensive, at $0.25 to $0.30 per kwh, as I noted in my blog.

Roger E. Sowell"

Next, from E.M.Smith 

" "Roger Sowell (15:47:09) : at least NorCal gets to drink fairly pure water from Hetch Hetchy…while we are forced to drink recycled sewage P3 effluent…can we allege discrimination over this? (I know, I know…I’m a lawyer…I should know this one…)"

Um, only SF, and a few cities that they let have some, gets Hetch Hetchy water. Folks from places they don’t like, get to drink pond scumbay delta water or, as you pointed out, ‘ground recharge’ …

We have ground recharge where I live. I don’t think it has p3 in it, only surface run off… you know, oil, mercury, asbestos, lead, viruses, toxic sprays, … We have a domestic drinking water filter and I’m adding a whole house system with reverse osmosis. Can we be included in your SF suit? ;-)

(Sidebar: the mineral from which asbestos comes is common in the hills around here. I’ve sat on a big chunk of the stuff. We also have cinnabar that seasons a local river with mercury (fishing prohibited), that runs into the bay, that people fish in,…)"

Next, we hear from Retired Engineer thusly: Retired Engineer 

"In Colorado, the only thing we like about southern California is that it is down stream. (when we flush) I still remember the Left coast suing us over water from the Colorado River. (so they could flush)

I have trouble sympathizing with a state that waters the medians of it’s freeways. If God wants our medians green, He makes it rain.

We do have our own nutcases. High plains desert and Blue grass do not mix. My neighbor spills more water down the storm drain whenever he waters his lawn than I use in a month. His yard looks better. My bank account looks better. See comment about green medians above.

Xeriscape. Green. Conservation. As in conserving small pieces of green paper with pictures of dead presidents and statesmen.

Too simple a concept for most politicians."  [I responded to the watering freeways crack below]

My response to E.M. Smith and Retired Engineer:  

"E.M. Smith, re

(Sidebar: the mineral from which asbestos comes is common in the hills around here. I’ve sat on a big chunk of the stuff. We also have cinnabar that seasons a local river with mercury (fishing prohibited), that runs into the bay, that people fish in,…”

Yup, that asbestos is wicked stuff…I have some dealings with that as an attorney…mostly construction-related. Contractor goes excavating in dirt then hits some of that and people nearby sue just in case they breathed a little bit.

We also have people down here who fish in creeks where signs are posted saying do not fish-water is not clean; and people swim in lagoons near Malibu where the green scum is also brown…

Retired Engineer

I also wondered about why California wastes water on the freeway medians and sides when I first moved out here. Then found that it is part of that P3 recycling plan: the water is from a poop-processing-plant effluent. Also, it is used to water golf courses, and by law all dust-control watering during construction must use recycled water, if available. No kidding, folks. That P3 recycle is everywhere.

We had a construction job where the union workers threatened to walk off because they discovered that the dust-control water was P3 effluent. The owner caved and used potable water. The P3 effluent water is unmetered and free, but the owner had to pay for the potable water. The workers were concerned that they would get very ill from the water spray entering their eyes and lungs, and into shallow cuts that most construction guys have on their hands.

And all that median-watering helps to consume CO2 from our ever-warming atmosphere. In fact, the man-planted greenery in So Cal should make every warmist happy…we are doing our part to counter the deforestation in other parts of the globe. We have a town called Woodland Hills, with lots of trees. I met a lady whose dad developed Woodland Hills, and planted the thousand and thousands of trees where there was nothing before.

I wonder if we will see any increase at Mauna Loa’sCO2 measurements later this summer, as California grows zero crops due to insufficient water, and the CO2 remains in the sky. ;-)

Can we sue the State Water Department for failure to provide water, thus contributing to global warming? ;-)"

In short, a fascinating series of exchanges...and I did not include the other threads on Australian drought/heat wave, AGW vs Denier's burden of proof for their respective positions, white roofs or black on buildings, and others.  Truly, an absorbing blog.  

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.

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