18 August 2014

How dry I am - updated

This is likely to have some effect on food prices in the United States.
Nearly the entire Golden State – 99.81 percent to be exact — is in the grip of drought, according to the latest update from the U.S. Drought Monitor. Nearly 70 percent of the state is suffering from an “extreme” or “exceptional” drought, the two highest categories on the Monitor’s rating scale. The snowpack across the entire state is at a measly 35 percent of its normal level...

At this point last year, only a quarter of the state was in drought conditions; now, that much of the state is in exceptional drought alone — marking the first time the Monitor has used that rating in California since its inception in 1999...
I believe much of southern California was traditionally desert, before it was artificially watered by river diversion projects.  Those rivers and reservoirs are severely diminished.  Look for a variety of regional water wars to erupt.

I suspect a variety of already-stressed butterfly populations will also be threatened.

Addendum:  I posted the above in April of 2014.  Now (August) the Washington Post has some updated information:
Now, across California’s vital agricultural belt, nervousness over the state’s epic drought has given way to alarm. Streams and lakes have long since shriveled up in many parts of the state, and now the aquifers — always a backup source during the region’s periodic droughts — are being pumped away at rates that scientists say are both historic and unsustainable.

One state-owned well near Sacramento registered an astonishing 100-foot drop in three months as the water table, strained by new demand from farmers, homeowners and municipalities, sank to a record low. Other wells have simply dried up, in such numbers that local drilling companies are reporting backlogs of six to eight months to dig a new one.

In still other areas, aquifers are emptying so quickly that the land itself is subsiding, like cereal in a bowl after the milk has drained out...

Damage to aquifers is viewed as more serious because, once depleted, an aquifer takes far longer to replenish — often decades or more...


  1. I am a long time resident of Southern California and what you wrote is true.

    The history of water theft is the history of Southern California.

    And about twenty percent of all California energy is used to re-distribute water, mostly to SoCal.

    I'm not as familiar with the butterfly situation, but the Monarch population has been dwindling for many years...

    1. Just as a note on this..
      - The actual number is about 19%, based upon a 2005 study by the California Energy Commission, looking at the use of electricity generated by state regulated agencies (including major publicly owned utilities, such as SCE, PG&E, and SDG&E). The state Department of Water Resources is one of the major users of such electricity in the state, using it to pump water around the state. Note this is electricity use -- not all California energy, and only for state regulated publicly owned utilities. Other organizations which generated electricity such as city owned utilities such as LA Department of Water and Power, and private industry (including farms and businesses) were not included in that number. Other sources of energy (such as use of diesel pumps) were not included
      - One of things that gets confusing in this, is that if you go look at per capita energy use, and do a break down -- as has been done for carbon footprint calculations, you get different numbers. For example, the electricity use for water may not include things like gas water heaters for hot water, or the above mentioned diesel water pumps, or the use of municipal power systems for waste water treatment. The actual usage of energy for water on a *per capita* basis is somewhat different, and rather difficult to calculate.
      - If you go dig through the numbers you find that in the US, around 13-18% of all energy usage in the US goes into water usage. That includes everything from pumping it out of the ground (or capturing it from ground water sources), distributing and processing it, heating/ cooling the water, recollecting it and treating it, and recycling or disposing of the waste water. The number varies, depending upon the location of where people live (typically the US South west has higher energy costs for water), and the type of energy needed or used. Interestingly, while California has the highest energy cost per unit of water, it has a lower CO2 foot prints for the usage, since the state typically uses natural gas for electricity, instead of coal.

  2. I live in Texas and this was the situation in Texas 2 years ago. Actually it was much worse. People think of Texas as the place where oil comes from but agriculture and the beef industry are also here. It's better today over much of the state we're probably facing a situation of near drought on a continuous basis.

  3. From what I've heard Californian Farmers have made a bad situation even worse. They tend to farm as if there is unlimited water, and so use more water then a comparable midwestern farmer.

  4. Something like 70-80% of all water consumption in California is for agricultural purposes, and since they still use the idiotic "first in time, first in right" rules, there are farmers growing rice in the Sacramento River delta. Not everything is completely wasteful, but the farming industry that has traditionally had access to all the water they can handle, even (especially) when it required building massive aqueducts.

    Demonstrably, the water is no longer consistently there and an adjustment will have to be made.

  5. Oh, yeah. The farmers are the bad guys. How about ignorant, ideologue liberals in the state are diverting water to save a non-native fish in the Sacramento river. Meanwhile, farmers are getting small fractions of the water they used to get. It's practically a dust bowl over here, and it was before the drought came. You can drive by farm after farm that is nothing but dead crops and dry dirt. Meanwhile, food prices are going up all over the nation. I am not a farmer, but I have lived smack in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley for my entire life. I am a 30-second walk from a corn field. I know the valley and its issues. What this state needs is to be ripped from the hands of the liberals who are running it into the ground and put in the hands of some common sense people.

    1. California was a dust bowl before it was California.

  6. Nailed it Timothy

  7. Here are some stats on California's water usage showing that agriculture is the biggest user by far. The government asking people to flush their toilets less or water their lawns at night is ignoring the biggest problems. Farmers need to move away from low yield/water intensive crops such as rice and cotton, invest in better infrastructure such as drip irrigation, and come to grips with the fact that water allotments were vastly over subscribed when handed out during the creation of the water districts. Agriculture is hugely important to the California economy but the irrigation system in the state consisting of dams, reservoirs, and canals used to capture Sierra Mountain snowmelt before it runs off to the ocean is ecologically devastating and amounts to a huge subsidy paid by taxpayers to benefit a small number of farmers. I highly recommend the book called Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner for a sobering look on how the American West was built upon the house of cards that is mass irrigation.

    • Humans in California consume 43 million-acre-feet of water (MAF), of that:

    o Farmers consume 34MAF (80%)
    o Everything else 9 MAF (20%)

    • What crops use the most water?

    o Alfalfa (Beef-Dairy) = 6 MAF = 13.9%
    o Rice = 3.3 MAF = 7.6%
    o Cotton = 2.5 MAF = 5.8%
    o Grapes = 2 MAF = 4.6%
    o Pistachios = 1.7 MAF
    o Almonds = 1.6 MAF
    o Oranges = 1.1 MAF
    o Walnuts = 1.1 MAF
    o Tomatoes = 0.9 MAF
    o Lettuce = 0.6 MAF
    o Strawberries = 0.6 MAF
    o Lemons = 0.5 MAF
    o Carrots = 0.5 MAF
    o Broccoli = 0.4 MAF

    • What consumes everything else?

    o Residential = 5.6 MAF = 13%
    o Commercial = 1.6 MAF
    o Industry = 0.7 MAF
    o Parks, Golf Courses, Large Landscape = 0.7 MAF = 1.6%

    • How does Residential use its water?

    o Landscape = 2.3 MAF = 5.5%
    o Toilet = 0.9 MAF = 2%
    o Washing Machine = 0.7 MAF = 1.6%
    o Shower = 0.55 MAF = 1.3%
    o Faucet = 0.5 MAF = 1.2%
    o Leaks = 0.4 MAF = 1%
    o Baths = 0.05 MAF = 0.1%
    o Dishwasher = 0.04 MAF = 0.09%

    • If EVERYONE stopped using all water in their homes (including landscaping) we would save only 7% of all California’s human water consumption.

    • 13.9 MAF of water is exported out of the country as Agricultural Products. That is 32% of all human water usage producing ~$18 Billion in export revenues. That is more than double the amount of water consumed by all residential users in all cities and towns combined in California.

    • What are the water rates in California?

    o Farmers
    • $10-$1000/Acre-Foot for surface water
    • FREE when using ground water and it is not metered.
    o Everything else
    • $2600/Acre-Foot in San Francisco
    • $1750/Acre-Foot in Los Angeles
    • Many areas south of Fresno pay a flat monthly fee unmetered.
    o Consumers pay >60X more than farmers pay. Consumers pay for 95% of all water infrastructure (dams, canals, tunnels, etc).

    o http://www.arb.ca.gov/fuels/lcfs/workgroups/lcfssustain/hanson.pdf
    o http://www.cdfa.ca.gov/statistics/
    o http://www.albany.edu/~wyckoff/CaliforniaWaterPricingMemo.pdf

    1. Sorry... accidentally deleted two other sources:


  8. And there we go again. Instead of looking at how Californians can live with the smaller amount of water they have, everybody starts clinging to their meaningless rights. Meaningless, because it is useless to have a right to something that did not fall from the sky.

    It is actually not that hard to grow without using more water. Las Vegas has done it. What happened in Vegas can come to California. As long as people are willing to accept reality and willing to show that rights come with responsibility.

    It is interesting that many Americans are obsessed about their rights, while never talking about the responsibility that comes with a right. It is not mandatory to exercise a right. You can also forgo it.

    1. >It is actually not that hard to grow without using more water. Las Vegas has done
      >it. What happened in Vegas can come to California. As long as people are willing
      >to accept reality and willing to show that rights come with responsibility

      I would note that Las Vegas and region gets 90% or more of its water from the Colorado River. According to the Southern Nevada Water Authority, in their most recent Water Resources Plan, the usage of water in Southern Nevada (Las Vegas and region) has increased from less than 250,000 acre feet in 1990 to over 550,000 acre feet in 2008 (the last data in the report -- see Figure 6, Water use by Source 2008). The vast majority of water is now provided from the Colorado, whereas Groundwater sources have remained constant since around 1970.

      The per capita usage of water in the Las Vegas area is approximately that of California (http://www.snwa.com/about/news_conservation_response.html, with a note on different methods of calculating this..)

  9. I would also note that when I was doing some reading up on this that Southern California is probably the leaders in water recycling for urban and farm usage. In particular Orange County California (just south of LA) has a very extensive system to capture, treat, and reinject waste and run off water back into their aquifer. The Orange County area gets (depending upon where you look) from 80-90% of its water from the aquifer, and is very focused on recharging it each year. They even have inflatable dams in the rivers that activate when there is rain runoff to increase the capture of water to recharge the aquifer, and are now looking to use desalination plants to increase this. San Diego area is starting this as well, as well as other areas nearer Los Angeles (such as Carson).

    Other areas in the state (Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Sacramento) are also looking at this. But they are very much behind -- this article indicates that Sacramento area for example, is using only 1-2% recycled water (http://www.sacbee.com/2014/04/14/6321372/california-looking-to-recycled.html) compared to 20% in Orange County (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/10/science/earth/despite-yuck-factor-treated-wastewater-used-for-drinking.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0)

    Recyling wastewater and use of it to recharge local aquifers is more energy intensive though, but in areas where water has historically been less abundant, this is probably a good investment and expenditure.

  10. The drought map for California just looks so bad - to the point that April's condition looks downright positive. On the plus side, the drought has eased somewhat in Texas.


  11. Thank you, Dinky. Driving through Central California for years on end, all you see is huge sprinklers spraying water on the crops in the hottest part of the day. And please look at the crops, and how much water different crops use. As agriculture uses by far the most water, it would behoove farmers to concentrate on less thirsty crops. Also we could all eat less beef, which is where most of the water goes.

    When I walk around the neighborhood, I see dead lawns everywhere. I live in a town home complex, and we have cut way back on watering, and are trying to relandscape, but it's very expensive. Where we can, we have bubblers instead of sprinklers. And contrary to Anonymous above, those rotten liberals he complains about have done more to reduce emissions than any other state.

    I don't live in the city of Los Angeles, but the Department of Water and Power is notorious for poor management. We all hope they will have to improve and quit wasting taxpayer money.

    It all boils down (pun intended) to global climate change, which everyone needs to recognize and pull together to change our wasteful, polluting habits.

    1. "...it would behoove farmers to concentrate on less thirsty crops."

      I noticed the farmer quoted in the WaPo article was raising... rice!!!

  12. Most of the rice grown here is grown right next to the Sacramento River. Water is diverted a few hundred yards to flood the fields and most soaks back down to the aquifer. Not as thirsty as it would seem. One serious worry is that as flow from the river drops, salt water starts to creep back to delta farmland with permanent loss of arability.


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