Care to Join the Debate–Is California Doomed?

Some would say that parts of California were doomed already with predictions that the Pacific Ocean would swallow it or turn it into offshore islands. It would appear that this isn’t going to happen. However, Los Angeles and San Francisco will one day be adjacent to one another!

The headlines recently are of a different nature.

California has about one year of water left. Will you ration now?

Jay Famiglietti a senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Caltech and a professor of Earth system science at UC Irvine wrote that headline in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times.

As our “wet” season draws to a close, it is clear that the paltry rain and snowfall have done almost nothing to alleviate epic drought conditions. January was the driest in California since record-keeping began in 1895. Groundwater and snowpack levels are at all-time lows. We’re not just up a creek without a paddle in California, we’re losing the creek too.

Statewide, we’ve been dropping more than 12 million acre-feet of total water yearly since 2011. Roughly two-thirds of these losses are attributable to groundwater pumping for agricultural irrigation in the Central Valley. Farmers have little choice but to pump more groundwater during droughts, especially when their surface water allocations have been slashed 80% to 100%. But these pumping rates are excessive and unsustainable. Wells are running dry. In some areas of the Central Valley, the land is sinking by one foot or more per year.

As difficult as it may be to face, the simple fact is that California is running out of water — and the problem started before our current drought. NASA data reveal that total water storage in California has been in steady decline since at least 2002, when satellite-based monitoring began, although groundwater depletion has been going on since the early 20th century.

This series of satellite images reflects the huge loss of groundwater in California. (UC Irvine, NASA)

There are many issues in California compounding this problem. One of them is that water rights given out by the state are five times the amount of water available.

According to a new study, the water rights given out by California amount to five times the amount of surface water the state’s ecosystem can actually provide.

The analysis, published Tuesday in the journal Environmental Research Letters, found that water rights issued since 1914 add up to 370 million acre-feet of water annually, while the surface water that actually flows through the state adds up to just 70 million acre-feet in a good year for precipitation. An acre-foot of water is roughly enough to supply two households for one year, and 300 million acre-feet of water is enough to fill Lake Tahoe two-and-a-half times over. The study arrived at its numbers by crunching public data from the State Water Resources Control Board, the state agency that administers the water rights.

Another problem is that California has allowed oil companies to inject chemical-laden wastewater into drinkable water sources underground.

The San Francisco Chronicle has a bombshell story showing that California regulators gave oil companies permission to inject chemical-laden wastewater into drinkable water sources underground.

The revelation comes as California enters another month of its epic, four-year drought, which has left some communities pumping out so much groundwater that the land is literally sinking. The state saw almost no rain in January, normally the wettest month of the year.

Of course the lack a snow pack and rain is the most obvious component of the problem. The latest report (3/3/15) from the California Department of Water Resources state:

Today’s manual survey by the Department of Water Resources (DWR) at the Phillips snow course in the mountains 90 miles east of Sacramento found 0.9 inches of water content in the snow, just 5 percent of the March 3 historical average for that site. Electronic readings by the Department of Water Resources (DWR) today indicate the water content of the northern Sierra snowpack is 4.4 inches, 16 percent of average for the date. The central and southern Sierra readings were 5.5 inches (20 percent of average) and 5 inches (22 percent) respectively.

This picture was taken earlier in the year. It was in a National Geographic article about this subject.

But the Golden State is in a league all its own. A virtually rain-free January comes after the state had the third driest “water year” (which ends September 30) on record. Today, nearly 40 percent of the state is enduring an “exceptional” drought—the U.S. Drought Monitor’s most extreme rating.

Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program, conducts the second snow survey of the season at Echo Summit. The survey showed the snowpack to be 12 percent of normal for this site at this time of year. PHOTOGRAPH BY RICH PEDRONCELLI, AP

Another unknown component at this time will be our fire season. If the season is like the last few years it will be an enormous drain on our water resources. So far it doesn’t look good. This year is already well above previous years in acres burned.

The state’s Water Resources Control Board has just issued new restrictions state wide.

Water regulators in California voted on Tuesday to outlaw watering the lawn within 48 hours of a rainstorm, the latest effort to spur Californians to conserve as the state enters its fourth year of drought.

Facing a dramatic slowdown in voluntary conservation efforts by property owners, the state Water Resources Control Board also tightened conservation rules in other ways, prohibiting water from being served in restaurants unless customers request it, and forbidding lawn-watering more than twice a week.

Early last year Governor Brown issued, A PROCLAMATION OF A CONTINUED STATE OF EMERGENCY, urging all California residents and businesses to reduce their water usage by 20%. How are we doing? Is it enough?

According to new data released earlier this week, Californians cut water use 8.8 percent statewide at homes and businesses in January compared with January 2013, the baseline year used by state water officials.

That’s a far cry from the 20 percent conservation target that Gov. Jerry Brown asked state residents to hit last year. And it’s a significant drop-off from the 22 percent drop that Californians recorded in December compared with December 2013.

The North Coast region came closest to Brown’s goal with a 17.2 percent reduction in January 2015 compared with January 2013. In Humboldt County, the McKinleyville Community Services District reigned as the top conserver at an 14.3 percent year-to-year reduction with and 11.7 percent cut by Humboldt County Community Services District followed closely by Arcata at an 11.5 percent cut.

So what can we expect from all this new regulation? How about the water police?

City of Sacramento water conservation official Steven Upton walks back to his truck after delivering a citation to a home where sprinklers are running on a mandatory ‘no watering’ day, in this August 15, 2014 file photo taken in Sacramento, California. Credit–REUTERS/MAX WHITTAKER/FILES

He heard the scofflaws before he saw their lush green lawns amid the otherwise parched turf. The buzz of a sprinkler system gave them away on a day that the city, desperate to save water amid California’s ongoing drought, had forbidden watering.

“If I can get a good picture – if there’s a lot of water – I’ll cite them,” he said.

Speaking about Sacramento how can big corporations get away with draining ground water while the little homeowner gets a citation?

The city of Sacramento is in the fourth year of a record drought – yet the Nestlé Corporation continues to bottle city water to sell back to the public at a big profit, local activists charge.

The Nestlé Water Bottling Plant in Sacramento is the target of a major press conference on Tuesday, March 17, by a water coalition that claims the company is draining up to 80 million gallons of water a year from Sacramento aquifers during the drought.

California’s farmers are screwed which means food prices will continue to rise and unemployment in the farming industry will go up.

Federal officials warned last week that for a second consecutive year irrigation projects were likely to allocate zero water to Central Valley farmers without senior water rights.

“This is an absolutely devastating shock,” said Ryan Jacobsen, executive director for the Fresno County farm bureau. “Unless things change dramatically in the next six weeks, we expect 2015 to be much worse than last year.”

Crisis is apparent as you drive through the valley. Many fields are fallow – some idled last year, others more recently. The earth is baked hard. Preliminary estimates suggest Fresno may have recorded its warmest-ever February, prolonging what has been dubbed the “time without winter”. Roadside signs warn of the consequences. “No water = no food.” “Food grows where water flows.”

Baked earth at Clarence Freitas’ farm, outside Fresno. Photograph: Rory Carroll/the Guardian

Water is getting to be worth more than gold. Water theft is getting to be common.

Madden is not alone. Water theft has become increasingly common in California as the state suffers through its worst drought on record. There’s no reliable tracking of just how much water has gone missing. But reports of theft rose dramatically in the past year. Officials say a black market set up to peddle water is thriving as wells run dry. And law enforcement is scrambling to respond.

Mendocino County has made catching water thieves a top priority. The sheriff’s office set up a water-theft hotline and investigates every tip. It also puts out patrols to sniff out suspicious activity.

In August, a sheriff’s deputy there followed a trail of water droplets up a dirt road where he discovered a truck outfitted with a water tank. A confession came quickly. The driver had siphoned water from a nearby canal and planned to sell it to the highest bidder.

Let me ask you if sewage is the answer? The link provides a good rundown on California’s water problems. It seems this idea is catching on.

Acknowledging California’s parched new reality, the city of San Diego has embraced a once-toxic idea: turning sewer water into drinking water.

The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to advance a $2.5billion plan to recycle wastewater, the latest example of how California cities are looking for new supplies amid a severe drought.

Each of the nine council members effusively praised the effort before the vote as a way to make San Diego less dependent on imported water and insulated from drought.

‘We’re at the end of the pipeline,’ said Councilman Scott Sherman. ‘We have a real problem getting water down here.’

Or will desalination be the future.

Will California — like Israel, Saudi Arabia and other arid coastal regions of the world — finally turn to the ocean to quench its thirst? Or will the project finally prove that drinking Pacific seawater is too pricey, too environmentally harmful and too impractical for the Golden State?

“Everybody is watching Carlsbad to see what’s going to happen,” said Peter MacLaggan, vice president of Poseidon Water, the Boston firm building the plant.

“I think it will be a growing trend along the coast,” he said. “The ocean is the one source of water that’s truly drought-proof. And it will always be there.”

To supporters, the Carlsbad Desalination Plant is a historic engineering marvel. And it is a survivor, having endured six years of government permitting, from the Carlsbad City Council to the California Coastal Commission. Supporters won 14 lawsuits and appeals by environmentalists before finally breaking ground in December 2012.

“They went through seven or eight years of hell to get here,” said Tim Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies. “But they stuck it out. They got it done. If it succeeds, it will encourage others to try. And if it fails, it will have a chilling effect.”

To critics, the plant is a costly mistake that will use huge amounts of energy and harm fish and other marine life when it sucks in seawater using the intakes from the aging Encina Power Plant next door.

“This is going to be the pig that will try for years to find the right shade of lipstick,” said Marco Gonzalez, an Encinitas attorney who sued on behalf of the Surfrider Foundation and other environmental groups to try to stop construction. “This project will show that the water is just too expensive.”

So is California doomed. Only time will tell but it’s getting hot in California and the trend is up.

Also, as climatologist Peter Gleick noted on twitter, “California’s February temperatures blast[ed] through 120-year record. 8 degrees F above 20th [Century] avg.” As this NOAA data shows, last month the Golden State averaged a full 1°F higher than the second-warmest February on record:

Photo by NOAA











Haboobs–Is Phoenix Doomed?

I'm reposting this article because it continues to get hits on my blog. Just this last week it got 7 views. Don't know why that is because it's not Haboob Season. I've cleaned it up a bit.

This is a post that I really wanted to do last year(2013) when I did my “Miami is Doomed” and “The Marshall Islands are Doomed” posts. In fact there were several posts that I didn't get to, for one reason or another, that I've decided to write about in the coming weeks. One of the reasons that I wanted to say Phoenix is doomed was that I really, really, wanted to use this picture.

This fascinating picture, photographer unknown, intrigues me. I mean if you were looking out your window and saw this wall of dust coming at you wouldn't you think you were doomed? Let's look at another picture.

I thinking I've seen these things in the “Mummy” movies where you can see the evil forces of the Pharaoh coming at you. These are called Haboobs (Origin: Arabic habūb violent storm). For some reason I did not know that these things are common in the Phoenix area.

Phoenix experiences various degrees of dust storms, but the haboob is the largest and most dangerous. According to the National Weather Service, Phoenix experiences on average about 3 haboobs per year during the months of June through September.

I thought we had come a long ways from the Dust Bowl Days of the 1930's Here is a Weather Channel video that explaind how they happen. Many reports say that these Haboobs are becoming more intense.

Haboobs were not the reason that I thought Phoenix was doomed. Heat and water were my main reasons. I first heard about Phoenix's problems when I saw a book reviewed. The name of the book was, “A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest” by William deBuys. This Huffington Post article explains his thinking.

If, in summer, the grid there fails on a large scale and for a significant period of time, the fallout will make the consequences of Superstorm Sandy look mild. Sure, people will hunt madly for power outlets to charge their cellphones and struggle to keep their milk fresh, but communications and food refrigeration will not top their list of priorities. Phoenix is an air-conditioned city. If the power goes out, people fry.

In the summer of 2003, a heat wave swept Europe and killed 70,000 people. The temperature in London touched 100 degrees Fahrenheit for the first time since records had been kept, and in portions of France the mercury climbed as high as 104°F. Those temperatures, however, are child's play in Phoenix, where readings commonly exceed 100°F for more than 100 days a year. In 2011, the city set a new record for days over 110°F: there were 33 of them, more than a month of spectacularly superheated days ushering in a new era.”

It goes without saying that Phoenix's desert setting is hot by nature, but we've made it hotter. The city is a masonry world, with asphalt and concrete everywhere. The hard, heavy materials of its buildings and roads absorb heat efficiently and give it back more slowly than the naked land. In a sense, the whole city is really a thermal battery, soaking up energy by day and releasing it at night. The result is an urban heat island, which, in turn, prevents the cool of the desert night from providing much relief.

Sixty years ago, when Phoenix was just embarking on its career of manic growth, nighttime lows never crept above 90°F. Today such temperatures are a commonplace, and the vigil has begun for the first night that doesn't dip below 100°F. Studies indicate that Phoenix's urban-heat-island effect may boost nighttime temperatures by as much as 10°F. It's as though the city has doubled down on climate change, finding a way to magnify its most unwanted effects even before it hits the rest of us full blast.

This ThinkProgress article explains, “How Phoenix Is Getting Ready For 100-Degree Nights”.

The city averages more than 100 days a year with temperatures reaching over 100 degrees. In 2013, 115 days hit 100 degrees. In 2011, the city set a new record for days over 110 degrees with 33. That's over one month of the year with scorching highs. This winter has so far been warmer than average…The extreme heat and the heat island effect have also led Stanton to change the way the city looks at human services planning, and to make sure that on the hottest days those in need are taken off the street and into air-conditioned areas because it can be deadly. That's assuming air-conditioning is readily available.

Think of the energy needed to power the air conditioners needed to “survive” this furnace.

Phoenix gets it's water from 4 sources. The Colorado River, ground water, reclaimed water and the Salt River Project(SRP) from the Salt and Verde River watershed. The Colorada River water has always been fought over. Arizona gets a reduced share because of the strength of California's size. In the time of drought and low snow pack this source is not certain. Phoenix's ground water has been pumped to where it's in a state of “overdraft”. It's the SRP water source that prevented me from pulling the trigger lever on Phoenix being doomed. It appears to be a good source of water.

This Grist article has a guest writer, Grady Gammage jr., disputing the fact that Phoenix is doomed.

As a lifelong resident of Phoenix, author of the book, Phoenix in Perspective, and a frequent commentator on our desert city, I have had the privilege of debating both Ross and deBuys. While both have many important points about the future of America's urban places, I must point out they both continue to misunderstand a great deal about my city…The next and the most common indictment of Phoenix is that there's no water so people shouldn't live in such a desert city. DeBuys criticizes Phoenix for its reliance on Colorado River water and water from the mountains of central Arizona. Similar criticisms can be leveled at every city in the arid Southwest especially Los Angeles. Most Western water managers will tell you that Phoenix has a water supply to support its future growth more robust than that of Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas or Denver. Half the water that comes to Phoenix is still being used for agriculture. Agriculture is being retired here and that water is slowly being converted to other uses.

The author is certainly right when talking about these other cities but if you read the article closely you will find him agreeing with DeBuys on many of his points.

In the end Phoenix is doomed along with many other American cities if we don't find a solution to global warming. It's just a matter of time.

I will be following up this post with one about a “mystery lung fungus”. Why? Because I want to use another Haboob picture.

Edited with BlogPad Pro



Sometimes I read things that just fly in the face of logic. When you look at sites like the U.S. Drought Monitor you get images like this.

When you read stories like this one titled, “Lake Mead, Nation’s Largest Reservoir, To Reach Record Low This Week” you get the impression that water is a scarce resource.

“The last time Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the United States, reached maximum capacity was 1983. This week the lake, located along the Colorado River near Las Vegas, Nevada, is expected to reach a new milestone — its lowest point ever…Nearby Las Vegas gets 90 percent of its water from the lake. With one of the city’s two intake pipes at risk of being exposed, the city is hard at work drilling an expensive three-mile-long tunnel to access deeper reserves…The dropping water levels, at up to two feet per month, are not only impacting recreation and water supply for millions, including California’s already parched agricultural industry, but also putting hydropower in jeopardy. With less pressure as the water enters turbines that run the electricity generators, the current capacity is about 1,592 MW — down from the 2,074 MW that’s achievable. This could drop to about 1,120 MW by May 2016 if predictions hold…A 2007 shortage-sharing agreement sets three elevations for which water restrictions will be imposed on the Lower Basin states of Arizona, California, Nevada, and New Mexico. The first shortage level, 1,075 feet, will likely come into effect in the next year or two. It would require a total water use cut of 4.4 percent, with Arizona taking an 11 percent cut, Nevada a four percent cut, New Mexico 3.3 percent and California remaining the same.”


BUT then you read stories like this one titled, “Chevron Admits The Truth: Oil Shale Will Use Huge Amounts Of Western Water”.

“Chevron USA, in legal filings in a case brought by the conservation group Western Resource Advocates, has admitted that to meet a goal of developing a half million barrels of oil from sedimentary rock in northwest Colorado it would need 120,000 acre feet of water a year. That’s enough to meet the needs of 1 million people per year…Chevron and Western Resource Advocates reached a settlement agreement and filed it last week with the Colorado water court. Under the agreement Chevron is allowed to keep its water rights for six years and then must go back to court to keep them beyond that period. It also agreed to provide Western Resource Advocates with five documents that detail how much water it would need for oil shale development and how the water would be used…“Now the debate for decision makers is whether allowing oil shale development to use enormous quantities of water in a strained Colorado River Basin is acceptable.”

One of those documents can be found here. It needs to be said that the Chevron USA’s document is just for one well. 

Here in California the fracking war continues.

Clean Water Action’s website states:

Fracking Threatens California’s Water Supply

Fracking poses a serious threat to California’s water supply and quality. It is an extremely water intensive practice, using hundreds of thousands to millions of gallons of water to frack a single well.

Fracking has an especially high impact on water resources because most contaminated wastewater from fracking is removed from the water cycle. However, companies like Venoco and Occidental have plans to significantly ramp up fracking in California to make the California the largest source of on-shore oil production in the country in the next 10 years. With 35 million people and the largest agricultural industry in the U.S., there is simply not enough water to accommodate such high levels of water usage for oil and gas drilling in California.
The Central Valley, where the majority of fracking is taking place, is already under major pressure from contaminated drinking water sources.
Nitrate contamination, for example, from agriculture is a major threat to many communities’ drinking water sources. According to a recent UC Davis report, over 2 million Californians may not have access to a reliable source of safe drinking water, as groundwater contamination is a major problem throughout the state. Any increase in groundwater contamination is unacceptable and will only put more pressure on California’s shrinking water resources.


So why don’t we have a moratorium on fracking here in California? The answer is undoubtedly MONEY.



How Did They Ever Get By….

A couple of events have happened this last week that caused me to consider the question, “how did they ever get by…?” The “they” are our parents, grandparents, the pioneers, etc. The first event was our microwave oven decided to stop heating our food. We tried everything, even banging on it, but it was dead (a theme that would soon be appropriate). Our meal was already out of the bag and in the bowl what do we do now? Since there is a kitchen in our clubhouse here at the Woods I had the idea to go and use the microwave there. Normally the clubhouse would be empty but that night there was a large group of people meeting there. They were a “death and dying” hospice group (I told you the theme was appropriate) and I had walked in on their meeting. They looked at me with my bowl in my hands and I looked at them, smiled and walked into the kitchen. I tried to be quiet but kept banging the glass bowl on things. Went out the back door when I was done. Wikipedia states that, “Percy Spencer invented the first microwave oven after World War II from radar technology developed during the war. Named the “Radarange”, it was first sold in 1947. Raytheon later licensed its patents for a home-use microwave oven that was first introduced by Tappan in 1955, but these units were still too large and expensive for general home use. The countertop microwave oven was first introduced in 1967 by the Amana Corporation, which was acquired in 1965 by Raytheon.” So the tabletop microwave oven is 46 years old. I don’t remember when I first used one but I can’t get by without one now. How will I fix my breakfast in the morning and still get out of the house to catch my bus. Needless to say there was a new microwave in our kitchen the next day. There are people (in the developed world) who don’t know a life without a microwave. I guess the same can be said for computers and smartphones. My first computer was a Radio Shack TRS-80 which was introduced in 1977. You imputed data with an audiocassette player. What would we do without computers now? How did “they” get by?

The second event concerns water. It was discovered that the major water turnoff valve here at the Woods was leaking badly.

The fix would be a major event. The best case scenario was that the water would have to be turned off for at least 8 hours. The worst case would be for 24 hours. What would we do? The Woods water supply is a large storage tank supplied by a well. There are 109 homes on the property and a 24 unit assisted living facility. There would be no drinking water or toilet flushing water available from the system. The fire protection sprinklers in the assisted living facility would be out as well as the fire hydrants in the park. The local fire department uses our hydrants to fill their tankers if needed. Because of the assisted living facility we are very regulated by the State of California. The fire department was alerted. The insurance company had to be alerted. For some reason Wells Fargo had to be alerted. The Woods administration worked out a plan. They would treat the shutoff as a disaster drill with an Incident Command (IC) Team System in place. I was invited to be part of the team. They brought in porta-potties, tons of bottled water and pastries for the day. Members of the team would have to shutoff water to each house to prevent debris from getting into the house’s water system. 

My first job after turnoff was to deliver “human waste” bags to the people who had requested them. I won’t write much about that job. Most of the day I was doing fire watch and checking on the frail members of this senior community. Continuing with my “green” theme I used my bike to ride around the park (in my team vest). Everyone thought that was a great idea. The work went well and was finished on time. A new valve was installed along with 3 smaller valves.

The water line was flushed out. Then the water was turned on at each house. People were notified that their water was back on and to flush out their water lines at their house. The fire department (as well as the insurance company and bank) were notified. The IC Team had a debriefing to see what went well and what didn’t. Everyone survived. BUT, because of regulations we were still on a 72 hour notice to boil our drinking water until the bacteria tests came back clean. That ended Friday evening. The water was good to go. How did they ever get by in the old days? I guess my question should be, is life more simple now or is it more complicated?