A perspective on the California Drought

Guest Essay by Kip Hansen

I have one advantage over the journalists of the NY Times when it comes to covering the current drought in California:

Memories.

I grew up in Southern California, in Los Angeles. I lived through drought after drought as a child. I grew up through the wildfire seasons that followed dry summer after dry summer. It was hard to distinguish drought from the usual dry summers and simply no rain for months on end. I remember nights when the horizon was smokey and rose-colored, the LA basin ringed to the north with the hills afire after a long hot summer. The real droughts I remember best, those they told us about in school, when teachers checked the boy’s rooms to make sure no one left the sink-faucets running, are 1958-59 and the famous one in 1961, I was on the East coast when the worst hit in 1977, but my family kept me posted.

Norimitsu Onishi and Coral Davenport (NY Times’ new Environmental journalist) cover the Presidential visit to Fresno, California, with this:

Obama Announces Aid for Drought-Stricken California

In a speech in Fresno, President Obama states “A changing climate means that weather-related disasters like droughts, wildfires, storms, floods are potentially going to be costlier and they’re going to be harsher.” and pledges to “ask Congress for $1 billion in new funding for a ‘climate resiliency’ program to help communities invest in research, development and new infrastructure to prepare for climate disasters.” The President was forced by reality to acknowledge “the difficulties of dealing with the drought in the face of California’s intricate water politics, which have traditionally cleaved along regional lines and have often become mired in epic court battles.”

I will leave it to our host, Anthony Watts, to address this issue, California’s water policies, with which he is far more familiar than I — what I do know is that California’s water policy resembles the worst kind of political dog’s breakfast of compromises and left-over deal-making between Northern Californian agricultural interests and Southern Californian cities drinking water needs. Then there are the inter-state deals, the Colorado River deals, …. yes, it goes on and on…

Onishi and Davenport do some balance reporting, to their credit, and quote Ryan Jacobsen, executive director of the Fresno County Farm Bureau, who says “Mother Nature is not the only reason we’re in this mess,” expressing skepticism about linking the drought to climate change, “California has gone through dry periods in its history, and instead of focusing on something that is questionably tied to this or not, we just want to focus on the immediate drought.”

Representative Devin Nunes, a Republican who represents Fresno, who was not invited to Friday’s event, apparently because he does not belong to the correct political party, attributes California’s water crisis to interference by the federal government which he claims has shut off portions of California’s system of water irrigation and storage and diverted water into a program for freshwater salmon. “There was plenty of water. This has nothing to do with drought. They can blame global warming all they want, but this is about mathematics and engineering.”

In another article, Justin Gillis does a professional job of reporting on the California drought by giving us up front in the lead paragraphs that Obama and his aides “cited the state as an example of what could be in store for much of the rest of the country as human-caused climate change intensifies. But in doing so, they were pushing at the boundaries of scientific knowledge about the relationship between climate change and drought.” Kudos to Mr. Gillis for highlighting this. I am truly pleased to have the opportunity to congratulate Gillis, since in the past, I have often been critical of his work in the Times. Even his title is encouragingly honest:

Science Linking Drought to Global Warming Remains Matter of Dispute

Before I go into too many details, let me give two graphics for those of you not familiar with California. Many Californians consider California to be “two states” — Northern California and Southern California, with rather ill-defined borders. First, here is a population density map of California — the darker brown is the “Black Hole of Population” – where the density keeps growing and growing, seemingly exponentially — there are two — one tiny — at San Francisco Peninsula — and the other huge — at Los Angeles. The dark red areas are very densely populated areas, solid single-family-home suburbias as far as the eye can see. The black spot is Fresno, where the President gave his speech. Everything else barely matters.

clip_image001

Fresno is usually considered Northern California, but not always. The line (pink) is often drawn as shown, but that is a rough rule of thumb, here it runs along the northern county lines of the (west to east) San Luis Obisbo, Kern and San Bernardino Counties from the Pacific Ocean to the California-Nevada border. One could draw the line, for some purposes, just above the population concentration of Fresno County at a 45° angle and be just as usefully correct for many purposes. Some posit that California is really better considered three separate states – the LA-to-San Diego Megapolis, the San Francisco-San Jose-Sacramento Megapolis, and the Rest-of-California Rural State – which is a very functional view – much like considering New York State to be two functionally different states within a state – Gotham City and Upstate.

The next image is a Precipitation Map of California. What it shows is that ALL of Southern California is a desert surrounded by a drier desert. The little bits that don’t appear to be deserts, around to the North of LA, are high mountain tops — all of which I hiked as a boy — that get a little rain/snow in the winter. Almost all of California, as you can see, is technically, desert.

clip_image002

[As an aside, it is those little light blue spots surrounded by yellow, those high mountain tops that get snow, just north of LA that make it possible for a few adventurous souls to snow ski and surf on the same weekend.]

On the precip map, it is easy to see where California’s water must come from (besides the Colorado River, which forms the squiggly line forming the border at the bottom right of the state) – the green and blue mountainous region at the north and east part of the state, the Sierra Nevada mountains. They are rugged and hauntingly beautiful. John Muir studied them for us and wrote about them. They include Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the 48 states–I’ve hiked over it east-to-west and west-to-east. Some useful water comes into California’s Northern Central Valley from the Mount Shasta range, but the majority of all that lovely rain-forest coastal precipitation along California’s northwest coastal mountains flows quietly into the sea, watering the redwoods on the way.

There was a very similar drought – a devastating drought – in 1976 and 1977 — though 2013 was a bit warmer, exacerbating the drying while waiting for rain. Northern California has had some relief with heavy rains earlier in the month, not enough to fill reservoirs, of course, but certainly enough to cheer a few hearts.

I’m afraid that Gillis wanders off into speculation-land when he discusses the findings of a Dr. Sewall, who ran a series of climate “predictions” in 2004 and whose results in which Dr. Sewall now finds, when compared to the current drought in California, a “ — resemblance…so uncanny that Dr. Sewall, who now works at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania, suspects an element of coincidence, but he also calls the correlation ‘frightening.’ — “

It is remarkably unscientific to remark both a coincidence and a “frightening” correlation while positing them to be in any way scientific – particularly when attached to the phrase, as Mr. Gillis does, “getting a glimpse of its [California’s] future.” Personally, I find coincidental frightening correlations unlikely scientific predictors of the future.

Of course, this is climate science. Gillis treats us to what I cheerfully call the “Opinions Vary” section that must be present in any honest climate science discussion: “other research has come to somewhat different conclusions. Many of those studies have found a likelihood that climate change will indeed cause the American West to dry out, but by an entirely different mechanism — the arrival of more dry air from the tropics. And the most recent batch of studies predicts that effect will not really apply to the western slope of the Sierra. Climate projections show that the area should get somewhat more moisture in the winter, not less.”

Our Mr. Gillis points out, quite correctly, that it will take years to sort out the scientific uncertainties. The policy decisions of the past are brought to light by Gillis’ introduction of Dr. Seager of Columbia University who points out that much of the Southwestern United States has been in a drought of off and on over the 15 years (during which the global temperatures have leveled out). “In some areas, moreover, the warmer climate is causing winter precipitation to fall as rain rather than snow, meaning less melting snowpack to help parched states through the hotter summers” Without reservoirs, these areas can expect trouble. Possibly, some of the federal “climate resilience” funds can be put to use to build new California reservoirs to capture rains so cities won’t have to depend on snowpack.

Checking up on the question of reservoirs, I found that only one new reservoir has been built in in California in the 21st century, while there are still ~13 dams/reservoirs still in service from the 19th century (based on available data)—that means they were built in the 1890s. Thus it appears that reservoir building has not been high on California’s priority list. The lesson learned in SW Britain this winter may well apply to California reservoirs, whose true capacity may be well below the rated volume due to silting and lack of dredging.

Summary: The NY Times didn’t do a bad job reporting on the President’s visit to Fresno and the California drought – and fairly well-balanced report on both the visit and the causes and effects of the drought. Justin Gillis did particularly well.

What do we know about the causes of the water problems in California?

1. The population in the Los Angeles=>San Diego Megapolis grew by almost 2 million people in the last ten years, and contains almost 21 million persons today.

2. The SF-SJ-Sacramento Megapolis saw equivalent population growth of over 10% but contains only 8.8 million persons.

3. Altogether, California garnered a total 3.7 million extra souls in ten years. That’s a lot of people to provide water for.

4. An atmospheric high pressure ridge has been more-or-less parked off the California coast for much of the last three years and such a ridge tends to push moisture-bearing winds to the north, so that the water falls closer to Seattle than Sacramento (pencil sketch explanation – reality is a lot more complicated). Many would like to blame this phenomenon on climate change; it is possible but unlikely to be true.

5. Much of California is a desert – measured by precipitation levels. The most people live in the drier, southern part of the state; the population of the drier part of the state is growing the fastest.

6. California is an agricultural state that depends on irrigation to grow nearly half of America’s fruits and vegetables. That’s a lot of water.

7. California is prone to short-term (1-2 year) droughts (recently: 1958-59, 1961, 1976-77, 1986-91, 2001-02, 2006-07). Historically, the American Southwest is prone to periodic mega-droughts, the last one in the 13th century (and possibly the 14th and 16th centuries, opinions vary).

8. The first seven items point up to this: True demand** for water likely exceeds supply and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future – and will nearly always be borderline – as populations and agriculture continue to increase demand.

9. All problems of water supply in California are exacerbated by the convoluted politics of water policy unique to California and understood only by a few true insiders – complicated by interference from various Federal agencies on behalf on various non-human species – and almost continually under litigation. Don’t forget the inter-state treaties and agreements and international agreements over Colorado River water.

**True Demand = True Demand can be defined as the actual demands of all the stake holders as if they were to receive all the water they desired with enough to spare, as well as enough to fulfill their medium-term and long-term projected future needs. For California, this would include neighboring states and Mexico, in consideration of the Colorado River. As is easily seen, if True Demand is met, there would be no squabbling, no litigation, no political infighting, no inter- and intra-agency intrigues and all the other nonsense that currently defines California water policy. It is an impossible goal under present circumstances and will remain so unless there is some fantastical technological breakthrough which magically produces freshwater as a bountiful waste product.

So, my short answer? Way too many people in the wrong place. The LA=>San Diego Megapolis is built in a desert with no fresh water in sight and city planners allow unlimited growth in all directions, while at the same time, it appears to us outsiders that long-term planning has simply been ignored – no new reservoirs have been built to capture and retain more of the precipitation that does fall and otherwise runs into the sea. Instead, Californians argue and squabble and litigate over what water they have. None of this leads to a solution.

California does have serious water supply problems. There is a drought. The true demand for water far exceeds the usual supply.

Coping strategies include the usual: Agriculture needs to change their methods to reduce water usage and increase efficiency. Industry needs to self-examine and reduce usage. In years of shortage, like this, anyone with a clean car should probably receive a citation for wasting water on vanity and brown lawns should be a badge of community solidarity. Golf courses should have green greens and brown fairways.

The list of demand reducing ideas has been run up before; it is printed in the newspapers and on billboards for every serious drought. They’ll do it again. California will tough it out, with all extra three point seven million of them this time.

I wish them Good Luck and God speed.

# # #

Moderation Note: I will be glad to answer any of your questions about living in California during the 1950s and 60s droughts, hiking the Sierras or the mountains surrounding the LA Basin. I know almost nothing about current California water policy that I haven’t read in the two NY Times articles. I do know about the water diversions for fresh water salmon in the Sacramento Valley area – a part of the EPA plan on the SF Bay Watershed [ see http://www2.epa.gov/sfbay-delta ].

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151 thoughts on “A perspective on the California Drought

  1. Good post. Good memories of good times. John Muir Trail N-S July 1966. Family farmed pears in Santa Clara on eponymous Coffin Road where I remember an artesian well out behind the hands’ cabins.

  2. Went school in Sonoma County in the 1980s. Drought and water rights were a constant topic of conversation. If little has been done to increase water supply it is a shame but not unexpected. Maybe the new bullet train will solve the problem.

  3. On my only visit to the States, I stayed with family in San Jose and Sacremento. I think this was in the early nineties. There had been a drought there for some time previous and on a trip to the lake behind Nimbus dam there was not much more than a puddle at the bottom, with the last few boats moored way below the level of the boathouse. Suprisingly enough, the drought didn’t break until after I got back to the UK.

  4. I lived in Sunnyvale during 1976-1977. It was indeed a time of “TURN OFF THE TAP!” for all children in the state. If the present drought isn’t worse, one wonders how Californians will fare when it is.

  5. During the last several thousand years California has experienced droughts lasting for hundreds of years. The Spring 2005 issue of the Journal of the Nevada Water Resources Association contains an article on trees rooted in 120 feet of the waters of Fallen Leaf Lake, California.

    “The significance of this discovery is the fact that for these trees to be rooted below the surface of
    the lake, the lake must have been down at least 36.5 m for over two hundred years. This would
    indicate that a “mega drought” had occurred, since several of these trees have been carbon dated
    to have “drowned” in 1215 A.D. ± 40 years. This would indicate that the drought persisted
    during the medieval period 850-1150 A.D., and was followed by an extremely wet period that
    brought the lake level back up high enough to drown the trees.” . . .

    “Evidence of Medieval “dry periods” that were of much greater severity and duration (over 100
    years) should truly be considered as droughts. Evidence of these medieval droughts appears at
    many sites in and adjacent to the central Sierra, i.e., Mono Lake, Tenaya Lake, the West Walker
    River, Osgood Swamp (Stine, 1994), Fallen Leaf Lake (Kleppe and Norris, 1999; Kleppe, 2004),
    Lake Tahoe (Lindstrom, 1990), and Pyramid Lake (Benson and others, 2002).”

    There is a post on the ClimateAudit site from Dec 6, 2006 titled “Underwater in the Sierra Nevadas” on this subject.

  6. I guess if rainfall is more abundant in Oregon, Washington, Idaho the question arises as to whether any water carrying canals can be created to divert fresh water from teeming rivers to reservoirs in N. California.

    One can ask whether the California climate is too hot to use hydroponic glasshouses for some or much of the agricultural production and whether appropriate recycling of liquid would reduce water needs from agriculture in a meaningful way or not.

    Finally, one can but suggest that Californians take a trip to Davis, where far-sighted planners have shown what can be achieved in a semi-desert environment. If you’re too lazy, Bill Mollison’s Permaculture volume does have a few pictures and descriptions of it. Just focus on the actions in Davis, don’t get outraged about the political position of the author (which many readers, contributors and owners of this website will fundamentally disagree with).

  7. Our current Governor Brown here in CA was also the State’s chief executive during the 1976/77 drought. Analogous to Gore, maybe we are seeing a “Brown Effect”.
    I remember the civic/political slogan from that earlier drought: If it’s yellow leave it mellow. If it’s Brown flush is down.
    Our lack of storage capacity today is argueably attributable in part to Moonbeam Brown’s green philosophies and inaction in the 1970’s.

  8. The UK wanted to construct three new reservoirs in England but the EU said no that instead we need to save water usage by only having a dump once a fortnight, I would imagine California is suffering from the same green cow crap. My suggestion is to stop recycling green rhetoric and recycle the waste water instead unless of course that is already being done. We are really under the green hammer in the UK with any weather event being cited as evidence of climate change its wall to wall green rhetoric with Caroline Lucas wanting us to live like Romanians on a diet of fried cabbage living in mud huts with a bible in one hand and an anti fracking guide book in the other denoting what happens if fracking takes place including plagues of frogs, lice, skin being leached from your bones, rats the size of cats and when you look at the real reasons for this insanity its origin likes across the water in Brussels and unless you believe your right to free speech and human rights are immediately rescinded you become the lowest form of humanity. I am starting to believe that President Putin has the right idea but just very crude about the method of implementation but with so many people willing to believe in the new religion having tired of Christianity Islam and reality precisely what can you do. I think people are consistently looking for a way to convince themselves that both the planet and humanity is finite. At some point in time we die and at some point in time so will the planet this is all about trying to cope with mortality and the greens are making a very good job of tapping into human weakness. Islam has an awful lot to be responsible for because it gave the greens an idea of how to promote their campaign , draw a clear line in the sand if you commit to belief you are inside the tent if you default then you are the infidel and deserve every type of abuse and offensive behaviour that comes your way indeed you cannot be a true green unless your default mode is being offensive and prepared to ridicule, degrade and discredit your tormentors that is how radical Islam functions unbelievers should die preferably stoned to death. Belief is the only thing that matters greens operate in a parallel universe. I approach them as individuals and first they try to persuade you of the correctness of their argument but if you fail to respond to their “view” the conversation ends. They live in their own little boxes, they cite other peoples peer reviewed texts as evidence which they never question because taking it at face value allows them to create their own little area of expertise which is totally reliant on taxpayers money just attending to one area of EU legislation, mitigation for example which excludes everything else on the planet a global issue conflated to a local issue for tiny minded consumption which if see in a real world context immediately conflicts with legislation so they just avoid it. Getting a huge publicly funded salary as a University professor is a good deal for them and a bad deal for everyone else. Government wont be enticed to reverse the situation any time soon because jobs will be lost and that is detrimental to getting elected next time around.

  9. Can we, in the UK, send you some of our ‘consistent with global warming’ (quote courtesy of the Met Office) jet-stream-carried-rain-dumping depressions..?

  10. Why not use the power of the wind (on a state with so many wind generators) to desalinate sea water? Sure, it’s expensive but better than no water. I can’t think of a better use for a non-constant (unreliable) power source. Just desalinate when wind power is available and store the water in reservoirs.

  11. I live 10 miles south of that dark line on your map, in the Mojave Desert of Kern County. I would dearly like that Inyo County line to be just south of me because I wouldn’t have to smog check my cars every two years. Low population desert on each side, air pollution from the Central Valley and China on each side, but I have to dance to CARB’s idiocy.

    Look, the further you go north the more “Northern” your attitude is. Someone in Redding hardly considers Fresno to be in “Northern California”, Just like an Oregonian wouldn’t consider that Redding person an Oregonian. The reality is Californian economics and politics are dominated by the LA and SBA hellholes. the “surrounds” are merely scenic wastes that count for little but places for the city populations to diffuse into on the weekends. Well, the Central Valley is an exception with Big Ag.

    For better or worse the days of killing a major Sierra Nevada canyon and river with a million acre foot reservoir are over. Thank Goodness. Silting I don’t think is a problem for the existing reservoirs. Not as much water flowing into them over the last few years is. I don’t know the science or politics of water diversions up in the delta. I do know something about the ruthless nature of Big Ag. Over the last few years as the water allotments from the Isabella reservoir have decreased, and ag land prices have increased, a Bakersfield corporation has purchased several thousand acres of desert in the Indian Wells Valley and is developing it into pistachio production. I won’t go into that sorry situation except to say I could give a hoot about growing high profit snack food compared to conserving water in an already severely over-drafted aquifer,

    I guess the point is 33 million people still live in a dream world.

  12. Just announced Julia Slingo says that her IBM super computer if programmed in the right way can make the jet stream work in the opposite direction but first you must sign up to be completely green, this is the only way to save your life for the long term according to the models and remember its Gods work, humanity is a cancer and if it wasn’t for there existence none of this would really matter at all

  13. I wouldn’t attribute all this to lack of storage. I lived in CA all my life. Grew up in LA and moved to Northern CA for college and stayed. Since I was a kid, there are over 3 times as many people in the state and of course taking its toll.

    1/3 of the state provides the other 2/3 with their water. While Marin county seemed always to be conscious of water use, or doing rationing, lawns were green in LA and nobody was rationing. For instance, Palm Springs used to be a teeny desert town with only a 2 lane highway going to it from LA. Now there are 126 golf courses. Palm Springs sits on the largest aquifer in the US, but with all the water use the aquifer is subsiding. So they solve the subsidence with diverted water from the Colorado River. Muy inteligente! Why aren’t those Southern CA using that aquifer for LA instead of golf courses? This will not change until people suffer, as things usually are.

  14. Holy vortex Batman! We are doomed.

    Letter To Nature – Scott Stine – 16 June 1994
    Extreme and persistent drought in California and Patagonia during mediaeval time
    STUDIES from sites around the world1–5 have provided evidence for anomalous climate conditions persisting for several hundred years before about AD 1300. Early workers emphasized the temperature increase that marked this period in the British Isles, coining the terms ‘Mediaeval Warm Epoch’ and ‘Little Climatic Optimum’, but many sites seem to have experienced equally important hydrological changes. Here I present a study of relict tree stumps rooted in present-day lakes, marshes and streams, which suggests that California’s Sierra Nevada experienced extremely severe drought conditions for more than two centuries before ad ~ 1112 and for more than 140 years before ad ~ 1350. During these periods, runoff from the Sierra was significantly lower than during any of the persistent droughts that have occurred in the region over the past 140 years. I also present similar evidence from Patagonia of drought conditions coinciding with at least the first of these dry periods in California. I suggest that the droughts may have been caused by reorientation of the mid-latitude storm tracks, owing to a general contraction of the circumpolar vortices and/or a change in the position of the vortex waves. If this reorientation was caused by mediaeval warming, future natural or anthropogenically induced warming may cause a recurrence of the extreme drought conditions.

    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v369/n6481/abs/369546a0.html

  15. Replies:
    to dearieme ==> The True Demand remains independent of the cost in the case of California water. When the citizens of California and their representative government set about facing the issue, the first thing they will have to consider is the cost of meeting whatever portion of the True Demand they feel is possible.

    to Doug Huffman ==> re: The John Muir Trail. My late father attempted the John Muir (in bite-sized pieces) solo in his 70s and 80s. He would take nothing but sugar, instant coffee, trail mix, and sleeping bag. He managed about 50% before health forced him to quit.

    to troe ==> “Maybe the new bullet train will solve the problem.” Just as likely as “climate hubs” I guess.

    to Bloke ==> It always seems to surprise people, even Californians, to be reminded that California is a desert. Many city dwelling Californians have no idea at all — really.

    to tteclod and Cooper ==> Yes, those rules will be back in force. Toilet flushing rules, no running the tap when brushing teeth, turning off the shower while shampooing your hair (instead of letting it run). The teachers checking the bathrooms in schools. Handles being removed from outdoor faucets of buildings. Municipalities checking fire hydrants for leaks. No lawn watering, no car washing.

  16. Obama says “A changing climate means that weather-related disasters like droughts, wildfires, storms, floods are potentially going to be costlier and they’re going to be harsher.”

    Let me correct that for you
    “A naturally changeable climate means that weather-related disasters like droughts, wildfires, storms, floods are potentially going to be costly and they’re potentially going to be harsh.”

    Also, “ask Congress for [a ton of cash] in new funding for a ‘climate resiliency’ program to help communities invest in research, development and new infrastructure to prepare for [naturally occuring occasional periods of 'bad' weather]”. This seems like a tiny step closer to reality to me rather than spend a bazillion tons of cash trying to arrogantly change the weather to blandify it enough for what a small subset of humanity thinks it wants and windmills.

    It’s a shame really that “the climate” doesn’t work on human time and physical scales, and doesn’t care about any inconvenience for the “bags of mostly water” wandering around a speck of dust in space.

  17. A thoughtful and interesting post on California water realities! Economists would add that just as prices, property rights, and markets play key roles in coordinating supply and demand in much of the rest of the economy, the lack property rights and market prices contributes to California water problems.

    Most have read the stories of people growing rice in the desert outside Sacramento. Lack of transferable water rights leads to “use it or lose it” practices in some areas (and now some California rice farmers are trying to raise salmon in desert rice fields).

    In other areas, plentiful supplies of water flow under the desert and property owners haven’t yet legal permission to offer that water for sale (see “Water From the Desert: Entrepreneurs Tap into Unlikely Water Sources” http://perc.org/articles/water-desert-entrepreneurs-tap-unlikely-water-sources ).

    Water markets issues are discussed in Aquanomics (info. on book here: http://www.independent.org/publications/books/summary.asp?id=96 ) Here is excerpt from description of Chapter 6: “Stephen N. Bretsen and Peter J. Hill argue that multiple rights to veto water transfers has hampered the transfer of water from lower-valued agricultural uses to higher-valued industrial and municipal uses. This problem is made worse when exclusion rights and use rights are not bundled together for all rights holders. The high likelihood of lawsuits to invalidate water transfers—even after they have been contracted for—also raises the cost of potential transfers and undermines economic efficiency. … Another obstacle to water markets is the evolving public-trust doctrine. What began as a legal principle to protect a public right to access to waters for the purposes of navigation and fishing has evolved into a doctrine that accommodates public rights to almost every conceivable interest in water.”

    I’ve been posting on California water issues for some months (marine natural resource policy is the debate topic for the Stoa homeschool debate league this year): http://astoundingideasmarineresources.blogspot.com/search?q=California+water

  18. The pattern in 76/77 was very similar to this winter with brutal cold & snow in the midwest & east ,,,, and of course all the climatologists were quite sure then that it was because of global cooling / the on coming of the next ice age.

    The reality is ridge in the west / trough in the east = dry in CA, cold & snowy in the east … all driven by cyclical patterns in the oceans & atmosphere .

  19. Great essay! I am always impressed by the well thought out articles on this site. Just forwarded this one to several folks. What struck me as obvious in this scenario of CA drought problems is the constant greed. Water is a commodity needed for human life yet, folks still move to these dry barren areas ( see Nevada & Arizona) yet expect water to be provided for them, somehow. Meanwhile, the taxing authorities and political agendas and developers move right along building that voter/tax base with no regard for the future. If all this is truly a “man-made” problem then perhaps “man” aught to move out and quit reproducing in the sand dunes…..just sayin

  20. And then there are Floods in California as has been discussed here and elsewhere. Wikipedia lists the larger ones–http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Floods_in_California
    And if you have a government that doesn’t plan for them, they are devastating. That is why damns are built.

  21. Reg. Blank says:
    February 19, 2014 at 6:21 am

    It’s a shame really that “the climate” doesn’t work on human time and physical scales, and doesn’t care about any inconvenience for the “bags of mostly water” wandering around a speck of dust in space.

    __________________________________________________________________________

    I think that should be “ugly bags of water” instead of “bag of mostly water” but my Star Trek trivia isn’t quite up to snuff.

  22. California droughts often go hand-in-hand with people in the east of the USA freezing their socks off. That bad drought in 1977 went along with all the hullabaloo surrounding the ice-age-scare of that time. It is absurd Alarmists now try to link that same “ice age” jet-stream pattern to Global Warming.

    Not many years after that 1977 drought California had terrific rains, and houses were sliding down hills in mudslides.

    I spent years “California Dreaming,” but only lasted 2 years when I finally got there in 1982. While I was there I don’t think I ever met a person over the age of eighteen who was actually born there. It seemed a society without roots, a bunch of people who were (like me) running away from some cloud in their past.

    It must be very strange to be a native-born Californian, and to have seen the flood of people arriving over the past fifty years. I imagine they wish all the invaders would do what I did: GO HOME.

    California sure was a beautiful place, but the people, (I never met Anthony,) seemed to lack a down-to-earth common-sense and pragmatic morality that comes from having traditions and roots, (however I suppose it is hard to grow roots without water.)

  23. So there i was having a read of droughts in the past ,

    http://water.columbia.edu/files/2011/11/Seager2009Megadroughts.pdf

    and came across this,

    “However, Stine (1994)
    pointed out that too much emphasis was being placed on
    temperature change during the MWP at the expense of
    evidence for highly unusual hydroclimatic variability at the
    same time in other parts of the world. He therefore suggested
    that the MWP moniker be replaced by the more general
    ‘Medieval Climate Anomaly’ (or MCA) moniker to avoid
    prejudicing future palaeoclimatic analyses”

    I don’t really believe it but was this a case of , even back in 1994, trying to erase the Medieval Warm Period.

  24. As the paper admits,

    “Causes and implications for the future
    The occurrence of remarkable megadroughts in geographically
    separate regions of North America during the MCA period and
    the transition into the Little Ice Age is very troubling. The
    climate system clearly has the capacity to get ‘stuck’ in drought
    inducing modes over North America that can last several
    decades to a century or more.”

    They are really going for the MCA in the paper!

  25. Reply to Ron Braud and Jimbo ==> Sounds like the ~ 13th Century mega-drought referred to in most literature for the Southwest.

    Reply to Rhys Jaggar ==> UC Davis is California’s leading agricultural university and the primary reason that California produces fully half of America’s fruits and vegetables today. No one is shying away from their knowledge or expertise. Many of the ideas under development there are what may be referred to as “ahead of their time” — in the sense that they are not yet capable to being translated into successful commercial operations under existing conditions. However, ideas that were “pie in the sky” when I was at uni are now standard features on commercial farms all across California. Five years ago, in the Dominican Republic, my wife and I helped manage a project which reforested denuded hillsides with a permaculture mix of native trees, coffee bushes, and understory crops. It was a good fit for the culture there.

    Reply to sherlock1 ==> California can use all the help you can send. Even bottled rain would be appreciated!

    Reply to J. Arbona ==> At first I thought this was a lame idea, but on checking it out (always a good idea!) I found that Australia (Perth and Sydney) already use wind to power RO plants to provide at least some of their drinking water, See http://tinyurl.com/ohawrcz

    Reply to Randle Dewees ==> My guess is you agree with me — most Californians — these being the city dwellers — don’t realize they live in a desert.

    Reply to Leslie ==> Of course it isn’t all lack of storage. Storage is just like a battery — it helps smooth out the supply problems between rainy seasons. Marin County is one of the blessed non-desert parts of California. Almost Garden of Eden, now heavily populated — not so forty years ago — it was heaven then. I do not understand anything about how California makes decisions about water.

    Reply to Reg. Blank ==> Yes, I think funding ‘resiliency’ is better than flushing money down the toilet too.

    Reply to dfbaskwill ==> “Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown.” Classic. +10

    Reply to Gregory Rehmke ==> I did try to warn my reader s that California water issues were a lot more complicated.

    Reply to Jeff L ==> Thanks Jeff, for filling that bit out.

  26. Part of this reminds me of the environmentalist mindset.

    In a nutshell, it is like this:

    Population exceeds the number of hair dryers by 200%. We need to eliminate 2/3rds of the population.” (Other solutions, e.g. producing more hair dryers for a fraction of 1% of income/GDP, are too alien to consider or dishonestly dismissed).

    Only in this case substitute a few words and numbers (“freshwater” for “hair dryers” and so on).

    The cost of the cheaper forms of modern large desalination plants is minor: about $0.50 per cubic meter, about $0.002 per gallon. (For instance, Israel’s Ashkelon plant is $0.52/m^3 as noted in http://www.water-technology.net/projects/israel/ while there are a number of other examples).

    Being just $0.002/gallon, that is easily affordable if needed or desired (contrary to mathematical illiteracy / stringent creative dishonesty otherwise by enviro-types). To put that in context, typically U.S. cities not using desalination have municipal water prices of such as $24 to $73 per month for a household using 12000 gallons a month (400 gallons a day), meaning $0.002 to $0.006 per gallon. Of course, the latter figures also include distribution costs to scattered individual residences, chlorination, and so on. But, in short, such desalination wouldn’t much raise net costs for cities in coastal regions, especially, since, after reverse osmosis, the water is already purified.

    And, yes, agricultural water can be covered too (like an illustration of how California could easily technically produce even 100% of agricultural water by desalination, not that such would ever be needed, is http://www-formal.stanford.edu/jmc/progress/arithmetic.html although modern desalination plants are even cheaper).

    Whether or not desalination is needed as opposed to other measures like just more reservoir usage would be a separate question and topic (though I don’t over stress “conservation” as people balance consumption versus cost to the appropriate degree under market prices while “needing” more conservation than that is just bad/ideological planning and management; let people pay the “unaffordable” $0.002/gallon extra cost of desalination if they want). But, as usual, environmentalists create the shortages they so desire (e.g. blocking proper reservoir usage), then turn around and pretend such were intrinsic consequences of natural limits or “climate change.”

    (Someone could say this is not fair to all environmentalists, and that is so under a broad definition of the label, yet I reference the strain both stereotypical and dominant: anti-human).

    An engineer’s mindset (an old-style engineer, not an enviro-ideologue) is needed.

  27. This issue and article reflect a very long history. The common sense Kip injects is hardly ancient history, but our schools no longer teach the fundamental geography (both physical and human) that explains reality. California has been a haven for urbanites because it is “hot” and “dry”, an interesting attraction viewed from the global warming meme. The issues today have existed for my entire lifespan (and I’m getting older than dirt). When I started a university career in the 60’s, both taking and teaching natural resource management, the major water topic of discussion was a massive plan known as NAWAPA. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed a massive system of water transfers from Alaska and Canada to drought areas in the U.S. This was a political hot potato in Canada because once water is supplied and dependency established little political control remains at the supply side. I made my students read a book called Canada’s Water for Sale to gain a political perspective. The NAWAPA plan collapsed because it was so big (hundreds of major engineering projects) that no one could see it happening. The water problem, however, was not only obvious, but also “imminent” back in the 1950-1970 time period. If you are not familiar with NAWAPA it makes for interesting reading and is well-covered on the web.

  28. Great post! I visited California with my best friend in 1981. We were just 22 & 23 (me) respectively. It was a fleeting visit sadly of just two weeks + 1 day. We stayed in San Fran at 27 & Cabrillo? with my friend’s ex-physio, a wonderful lady & native New Yorker, who had worked at Stoke Mandeville Hospital spinal injuries unit in the UK, where my friend was recovering from an automobile accident in which he broke his neck at 16. I was his arms & legs. We are still the best of friends to this day. We stayed in SF for most of that time touring the local sites, the Nappa Valley (oh heaven!), & stayed in LA for about 3 days! We drove down via Monterey & Carmel, which belies the desert nature of the state imho. We drove back along Highway 405? which was long & straight, but it took us through quite arid landscapes. Developed a taste for Coors (the best beer west of Colorado I was repeatedly told!) & pancakes. Janet had told us that despite the apparent greenery (vegetation not doomsayers) the state had a history of fairly regular droughts, which surprised us. We even watched the “Chuck & Di show” in a bar in downtown SF in the wee small hours. The Prince of Fools as he became known was regarded as a bit of a fool even then as he was obsessed with talking to his plants. A question was once asked on a Saturday lunchtime BBC Radio 2 ( I think now Radio 4) show called “Gardeners’ Question Time”, dedicated to answering all things about plants, trees shrubs, flowers, lawns. A member of the audience (who always asked the questions) once asked if plants could benefit from somebody “talking to their plants”? The remainder of the audience & some of the panel were engaged in mild tittering! The answer…………………….”not really although there may be some small benefit from the tiny amount of Carbon Dioxide being breathed upon them!” I would love to return for a refresher holiday one day, when I get time. I loved it there, maybe I wouldn’t so much today? I live in hope.

  29. Just to put in further perspective my prior comment and its referenced $0.002/gallon cost of desalination of practically unlimited seawater (placing an upper limit on what the pre-distribution appropriate cost of water would be under intelligent management, whether literally using desalination or whether finding other methods like reservoirs to be even cheaper):

    California’s governor recently said there was a possibility of drinking water shortages and that “I think the drought emphasizes that we do live in an era of limits, that nature has its boundaries”.* One rather gets the feeling he jumps on an excuse to believe so.

    * http://www.usatoday.com/story/weather/2014/01/17/california-drought-emergency/4581761/

  30. There are no plentiful “flows” of water under the deserts – anybody saying this is looking for a quick buck. The water in most desert closed aquifiers was emplaced after the last ice age (fossil water), and recent watershed recharge was exceeded by ag and community use decades ago in most areas. Any place that has seen wide spread pumping of ground water for ag (Barstow, Apple Valley, Victorville) has also had those aquifer depleted, precipitating adjudication.

    There are several areas in California on the verge of ground water crisis. The valley I live in (Indian Wells Valley) is one of them. My well is going down 2 feet a year and probably has just a few years left. When we drill another well it will be 600- 700 feet deep instead of the 450 feet of the existing hole. The new farming production wells here are 1000 feet deep, wonder why? They, of course, don’t care that the pumping depressions created by their 2000 acre-feet/year wells are going to destroy surrounding private wells. Or that the aquifer will be irretrievably damaged. This is water mining, and profit is the only motive. Kern County does not allow the outright exportation of water, but sending hay south to dairy farms in Corona ( 8000 acre-feet/year for Meadowbrook Dairy, there’s an ironic name), and growing pistachios nuts (Mojave Pistachio – when producing in a few years, 15,000 acre-feet/year) is effectively water exportation on a massive scale.

    just to add some perspective of IWV ground water usage. The largest user is Ag at about 50 percent, followed by the city of Ridgecrest, Trona Minerals, and the Navy, in roughly that order. The private well owners out here account for just a few percent

  31. Well if it were anyplace else than California they could build Fisher-Tropsch reactors to make clean fuels, use the wast heat to generate steam and turn turbines for electricity and use the low grade waste heat from the turbines to run MSF desalination. 3 birds with one stone.

    But could you imagine the ecofoodfight that would ensue if someone actually tried to do this?

  32. Jeff Glassman says:

    “• A drought is an act of Randomness;
    • A water shortage is an act of Government.”

    And as Milton Friedman noted:
    “If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in five years there’d be a shortage of sand.”

  33. To put that in context, typically U.S. cities not using desalination have municipal water prices of such as $24 to $73 per month for a household using 12000 gallons a month (400 gallons a day), meaning $0.002 to $0.006 per gallon.

    Holy Crap!!!! I live in the boonies, but on a public water system run by a PA company. I pay $35.15 per month for a base of 3000 gal. If I blow my “bandwidth”, it’s $0.18/100 gal. additional. The down side is no lawn watering, but the native grasses and weeds are still green.

    400 gal./day is waste on a monumental scale unless one has a large family and truly needs it.

  34. This is the 21st century and we are still dealing with droughts and floods. We have the technolgy, we can do something about droughts and floods.

    For thousands of years humans have been able to take water from one place and bring it to another. This was accomplished with tunnels, canals and aquaducts.

    That said, my proposal is to connect existing water systems- rivers, streams, lakes, etc. using technology we already have. To accomplish this we can dig canals, install tunnels, pipelines and aquaducts.

    This way when one section of the USA is dry/ in a drought stage, the sections of the USA that have rain can share that bounty with those who are less fortunate.

    Another advantage of my system is that it could, if applied properly, alleviate flooding.

    It will also put many Americans back to work. The only issue is where is the money going to come from?

    One solution is the 1%- it would be an investment. They pay now and then we ante up when when we pay our water bill.

    Phase 1

    Phase 1 would set up the country in zones, and to install controlled spillways along major rivers and their tributaries in those zones, starting with known flood zones of populated areas.

    These spillways would lead to (holding) reservoirs for future use including redistribution to/ from another zone (Phase 2).

    We need to refill our aquifers- the Ogallala aquifer, is one of the largest systems in the world and I am sure she could use a good drink. And the Ogallala feeds a great deal of farmland, which feeds us.

    Another thing to think about is if the ice sheets melt and ocean levels rise, we could mediate that rise by controlling how much water flows back via our river system by using these spillways to divert some of that flow.

    Diversion rate = ice sheet melting rate

    We can even use the wind and sun to power the flow up hills and mountains. More jobs.

    This way, instead of continually reacting to floods and droughts, we can control the horizontal. We can control the verticle. We can change the focus- we can increase the freshwater fish population and farm land.

    We can put America back to work and get us out of this ridiculous debt.

    Write to your congress-people and Senators and tell them of this plan. If enough people speak up perhaps they will listen. But you can’t win the lottery if you don’t play…

  35. Reply to Engineer Clark (x2) ==> Interesting how inexpensive large RO can be, nice input. A previous commenter suggested wind to RO, as used in Perth and Sydney. The island of St Thomas , USVI, which I recently vacated, has a combined diesel power plant and RO water plant. Los Angeles has huge oil cracking plants in the Torrance area that could use their excess heat to make desal water as a by-product.

    Reply to R2Dtoo ==> NAWAPA was “ahead of its time”. Obviously needed and would have solved a lot of today’s problems, but they just couldn’t quite see that far ahead.

    Reply to Alan the Brit ==> Thanks for the story! “Monterey & Carmel, which belies the desert nature of the state imho”…it is the nature of California that the very costal edge — sometimes just the first mile or two from the coast inland, to the first crest of the coastal hills, is very fine indeed, as the moisture from the sea continually dampens the plants and soil. Just over that first hill, starts the desert or the chaparral (vegetation consisting chiefly of tangled shrubs and thorny bushes). From Santa Cruz to San Francisco this extends across the whole peninsula to the bay.

    [Make sure all of your readers know the abbreviation RO. Mod]

  36. I returned to San Francisco in early ’69 after a paid trip to Vietnam. All of this post is a trip down memory lane. As a resident I remember the pipeline across the Richmond Bridge to bring water to Marin County and all of the requirements already mentioned to save water. As an old weather forecaster though I can point out that the ‘ridge’ west of the state has always been there. The eastern North Pacific has a semi-permanent High Pressure Cell residing off the western side of the states; just like the eastern South Pacific has a semi-permanent High off Peru/Equador; the SoPac High of course being a key player in the ENSO cycle.
    Someone from GB mentioned sharing the Jet; well, California does. Called the Pineapple Express, bringing a warm, moist air mass roaring in from near Hawaii. Often bringing flood conditions too.
    So, if someone wanted to gather up synoptic maps for the last 100 years, sorted in groups by season, there probably wouldn’t be much difference in them.

  37. Granny and I get along fine on a bit more than 20 gallons per day into our 2000 gallon holding tank. 100 days between pumpings is the objective, but at 60 days I’m out with the dip-stick increasingly frequently. The per-pump-out fee is $80 and $30 for disposal by the community, so ideally the Honey-Wagon arrives at the last moment. The private 250′ well water is roughly free and I’m expert at repairing and tuning zeolite resin ion-exchangers.

  38. I lived through drought after drought as a child. I grew up through the wildfire seasons that followed dry summer after dry summer.

    You didn’t live through a drought as severe as this one.

    I think Californians have increased their problems by their policies over the last 50 years regarding energy development, water and other resources. Details such as sacrificing $billions of agricultural productivity to the delta smelt, AB32 and the building of solar farms, resistance to the desalination plants powered by waste heat from electricity generation, and the proposal to destroy the Hetch Hetchy reservoir are mind-boggling. But this drought really is unusual.

  39. Possibly, some of the federal “climate resilience” funds can be put to use to build new California reservoirs to capture rains so cities won’t have to depend on snowpack.

    That’s a swell idea but the Obama Administration is absolutely opposed to building more dams.

  40. Easy Peasy! California should be great for agriculture as well as a great place for people to live. This Southern California winter has been amazing. Yes, there is no rain, but this happens frequently, and especially during cool periods (negative PDO, e.g.,). And other years there is an abundance, often too much. Good living only takes foresight and planning — and using the market at least as much as government. The government we have now hates agriculture and people — commies, but they don’t know it. The elites are scarfing it up; greedy ones git all the goodies through scaring people and getting government (our taxes) subsidies. It’s got to stop.

    How:

    1. Desalination plants — now it is cheap.
    2. Water canals/pipelines from Canada and the upper Midwest (especially for when it floods there — lots of areas across the prairie states that can bloom too with intelligent management of water.
    3. Sensible building and management of dams — keep some rivers “wild”, the one’s that do not destroy everything in wild floods, and use the other rivers for water storage. Take a look at what the “free flow” of water has done to Canyon Lands and other Great Basin, Southwest desert places that are magnificently beautiful to look at, but can you live there and make a living? They get ripped to pieces by water.
    4. Sensible management of forests and mountain/shrub areas — just like the native Americans did. Take a look at what a mess (trees, brush growing thickly everywhere) some of the southern Sierras are where there has been no forest management. Then take a look at the burned over areas. A tragedy. We can do much better.
    5. Development of energy sources — we got lots.
    6. I like that we are more careful and thoughtful today about the way we develop.
    7. Then get out of people’s way.

  41. When I lived in California in the 70s, the papers were all about the draught. In restaurants you had to ask for water. When my wife asked me what will happen told her nothing. It is all hipe. She wouldn’t believe me. I told her take a look at our water bill. The more water you used the the less you paid by the gallon. It didn’t make any sense. Is it the same now?

  42. For an appropriate perspective, one has to look at the drought history of the area during the past 1,200 years.

    “Through studies of tree rings, sediment and other natural evidence, researchers have documented multiple droughts in California that lasted 10 or 20 years in a row during the past 1,000 years — compared to the mere three-year duration of the current dry spell. The two most severe megadroughts make the Dust Bowl of the 1930s look tame: a 240-year-long drought that started in 850 and, 50 years after the conclusion of that one, another that stretched at least 180 years.”

    http://www.mercurynews.com/science/ci_24993601/california-drought-past-dry-periods-have-lasted-more

    The article has an excellent graph, showing the prolonged droughts of an earlier era.

  43. I too grew up in L.A. (I’m a “valley boy”), apparently around the same time as Ken, spending time in the surrounding mountains, Big Bear, the southern Sierra, Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and quite a bit of time with family in Visalia, Merced, and Mariposa. Owned a cabin for decades just outside of Kings Canyon. Well familiar with the drought/fire/water issues.

    Bailed out of the desert of southern California in the early ’80s for the higher desert of Reno, NV, also no stranger to droughts, both short and long.

    There used to be a great treatise on Great Basin droughts, but it’s now apparently behind a paywall. But an enlightening 17 minute presentation on the Great Basin and water is here:

    http://www.fs.fed.us/pnw/pep/climatechange/Tausch/index.html

    Since water in the San Joaquin is so dependent upon what rolls off the Sierra, and since that water comes from the north and west…

    Interesting to note that Tausch mentions the period when it was cold, and dry. Current “climate change” is focused on warming, and now we’re worried about drought…. Interesting juxtaposition?? Maybe warm isn’t such a bad thing…

  44. Seems it never rains in southern California
    Seems I’ve often heard that kind of talk before

    – Albert Hammond

  45. Sorry, I said “Ken”, meant Kip.
    …… Thought the comment about sending California water to China in the form of alfalfa was interesting. Should mention that all the water in the olives, lettuce, strawberries, grapes that go out of state should be considered too. Perhaps California should levy a “recycling” fee, much like it’s bottles and cans…. on out of state exports of agricultural products??

  46. Desert suburbs of SoCal maintain huge lawns never set foot on, except by the undocs mowing them. Not just homes, but street medians and commercial frontage. Automatic watering and overspray keeps flood control channels running. Maybe 10 percent of the landscaping has been optimized for conservation. Until residents are shocked into changing to xeriscaping and dual water systems, recovered and potable, demand will far exceed need.

  47. North of 43 and south of 44 says:
    February 19, 2014 at 6:55 am

    Reg. Blank says:
    February 19, 2014 at 6:21 am

    It’s a shame really that “the climate” doesn’t work on human time and physical scales, and doesn’t care about any inconvenience for the “bags of mostly water” wandering around a speck of dust in space.

    __________________________________________________________________________

    I think that should be “ugly bags of water” instead of “bag of mostly water” but my Star Trek trivia isn’t quite up to snuff.

    You’re both wrong. It’s “ugly bags of mostly water.”

  48. I lived in Southern CA from mid 76 through mid 78.In 77 I heard from someone that it would take 40 years of normal rainfall to bring up the water table. In early Jan 78 it rained so much that the up-down streets along the San Gabriel Mtns ran like rivers (at least they did in Upland where I lived). The water table was restored in just a few months.

  49. ” … Altogether, California garnered a total 3.7 million extra souls in ten years. That’s a lot of people to provide water for. ….”
    ———-
    And at least 1/2 were illegal immigrants from Mexico, under-educated and under-skilled.
    The Democrats running the state and the present federal Govt like that, because it skews the future demograp[hics toward voting democrat.

  50. Yeah, California is mostly one big desert with no rain six months of the year. This happens fairly frequently.

  51. The real droughts I remember best, those they told us about in school, when teachers checked the boy’s rooms to make sure no one left the sink-faucets running, are 1958-59 and the famous one in 1961, I was on the East coast when the worst hit in 1977, but my family kept me posted.

    Barack Obama must have missed or forgotten about those irregular, natural droughts. He of course spent two years at Occidental College in L.A. from 1979 to 1981 – years which evidently disabused him of his dream of becoming a pro basketball player, but may have served to establish his deterministic philosophy that all things (including weather) were caused by The Man.

    I have to worry about what liberal arts colleges are doing to the ambitions of millions of kids across the U.S. Sorry for the digression, Kip. Good read.

  52. Reply to Moderator ==> Reverse Osmosis — in this case: a process of forcing salt water through a special membrane under pressure producing virtually pure water.

    Reply to Joe G ==> Opinions vary on this issue. Flood control measures were taken in the past, mostly by the Army Corps of Engineers. Some will tell you that it is through this type of human interference that we have the flooding that causes so much harm in the heartland of America, along the great rivers there. Dams were built and great reservoirs established, aqueducts stretch across the deserts, water is pumped over the mountains. Los Angeles and San Diego would perish of thirst without them. The great Colorado River disappears, used up, before it reaches the Gulf of California. In the Northwest, groups rise up in protest and demand that the flood control and electrical generation dams be blown up and removed. Diversion of water from one area to another is consider robbery, treason and worse.

    Reply to Matthew R Marler (x2) ==> “You didn’t live through a drought as severe as this one.” as may well be, sir. But California’s Governor didn’t even declare the drought emergency until month ago. Ain’t those Feds hard to get along with — you need more reservoirs, more dams, more water storage, and they just ain’t interested. Only one new water reservoir since the turn of the century, and 13 or so left over from the 1890s.

    Reply to Craig Moore and DJ ==> California water politics are increasingly complex. Colorado River water is not to be confused with, nor interchangeable with, Central Valley water. The vast majority of California agricultural output is exported to somewhere — out of state and out of country.

    Reply to Weather Dave ==> Enlighten us, please. It is the exact positioning and strength of that High that tends to aim the flow the rain north to Seattle or south to Sacramento, correct?

    Reply to Doug Huffman ==> I have only lived (ashore) as an adult in one house with “city water”, and that only in the last few years there. I too got very good at “pulling the pump” for repairs. Isn’t rural life grand!

    Reply to LKMiller and Lee ==> There is no easy explanation for California water policy.

    Reply to DCA and Patrick ==> It Never Rains In Southern California, however, I do remember it snowing once on the streets of Los Angeles (near the corner of Van Ness and El Seguendo) when I was four or five years old.

    Reply to TomB and “North of 43 and south of 44″ and Reg. Blank ==> “ugly bags of mostly water” it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=paH97dYR6Lg

  53. David Wells says;
    “..and an anti fracking guide book in the other denoting what happens if fracking takes place including plagues of frogs..”
    We have a plague of frogs every year at this time. They came out of hibernation and started mating this morning. Does that mean we have been subjected to surreptitious fracking for years?
    The trick is to dig a pond, and fracking starts within a year.

  54. James the Elder:

    A figure of such as 400 gallons/day, 12000 gallons/month, is referenced at, for instance:

    The average family of four can use 400 gallons of water every day

    http://www.epa.gov/WaterSense/pubs/indoor.html

    A family of four using 100 gallons per person each day will pay on average $34.29 a month in Phoenix compared to $65.47 for the same amount in Boston.

    http://www.circleofblue.org/waternews/2010/world/the-price-of-water-a-comparison-of-water-rates-usage-in-30-u-s-cities/

    The water industry estimates that an average person uses 3,000 gallons of water monthly, so a family of 4 would use 12,000 gallons for bathing, cooking, washing, recreation and watering.

    http://www.okc.gov/water/service/forms/householdwaterusage.aspx

    For instance, a 20 minute shower in a 7 gallon/minute flow rate shower is 140 gallons (although showers and showerheads vary with some being lower figures like 2.5 gallons/minute). Throw in toilet flushing, outdoor watering, and loads more all adding up.

    But I can believe you using around or less than 3000 gallons/month, especially if a single individual without lawn watering, as it all depends on a host of factors. The 12000 gallon/month figure is just around typical for a 4-person household.

  55. Shock news, the water shortage is so bad in California that some farmers are using it to grow hay for China.

    BBC – 19 February 2014
    California drought: Why farmers are ‘exporting water’ to China
    While historic winter storms have battered much of the US, California is suffering its worst drought on record. So why is America’s most valuable farming state using billions of gallons of water to grow hay – specifically alfalfa – which is then shipped to China?

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-26124989

    ——————————————————–
    BBC – 19 February 2014
    [Video]
    California drought: Farmers use water to grow hay for export to China
    …The BBC’s Alastair Leithead spoke to a farmer growing alfalfa and a cattle rancher.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-26124988

  56. The people of the 19th century sure are lucky they didn’t have Mann, Hansen and Jones around.

    Abstract
    Multiyear La Niña events and persistent drought in the contiguous United States
    [1] La Niña events typically bring dry conditions to the southwestern United States. Recent La Niñas rarely exceed 2 years duration, but a new record of ENSO from a central Pacific coral reveals much longer La Niña anomalies in the 1800s. A La Niña event between 1855–63 coincides with prolonged drought across the western U.S. The spatial pattern of this drought correlates with that expected from La Niña during most of the La Niña event; land-surface feedbacks are implied by drought persistence and expansion. Earlier periods also show persistent La Niña-like drought patterns, further implicating Pacific anomalies and surface feedbacks in driving prolonged drought. An extended index of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation suggests that extratropical influences would have reinforced drought in the 1860s and 1890s but weakened it during the La Niña of the 1880s.

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/2001GL013561/abstract

  57. Not sure what’s in store for the west…But it looks like the bitter cold will spill down in the midwest, east and deep south again. This is will last into March. What a winter we are having!

  58. This essay brings forward several thoughts. Clearly, the author is quite right about the California population distribution, It is mostly in the wrong places. While most Southerners think LA is a fine place, many northerners wish it were in a separate country without any treaty to supply water southward. Watering orchards in Bakersfield, which really IS a desert and won’t grow trees without help is bad enough. Filling swimming pools in LA is just sad.

    Then, for northern Californians, the author revealed his southern California roots without ever having to state it explicitly. No one who lives north of the Tehachapis is likely to consider Fresno as part of “northern” California. For those of us who live up here, Sacramento might mark the southern boundary of real, northern California, but that’s debatable and not even Sacramentans are in any kind of agreement. Some would say the city is in northern Central California. Fresno is Central California pure and simple,

    Another revealing trait is that there is no such thing as the “Mt. Shasta range.” Even Wikipedia has it straight that Mt Shasta is part of the Cascade Mountains, a range of volcanoes and volcanic lands reaching from Mt Lassen in the south to the Canadian border. It isn’t uncommon to find very creative geographic ideas about the state in the south. That’s also true among northerners when discussing the south too. Not many of us (northerners) could properly locate the San Gabriel mountains on a map. It’s just that California is a big state.

    Next, there is a “climate” classification error. Neither LA nor San Diego are deserts, though San Diego just scrapes by, mainly because the data has a strong skew. You can’t get less rain than zero inches, but you can get a lot more than 10 inches, and that pulls the average up. Both cities do fall in the “semi-arid” classification (“steppe” to many geographers) with mean rain fall between 10 and 20 inches a year. Desert is dryer. You can ask Peveril Meigs if you doubt that.

    Los Angeles has an average rainfall, over the last 135 years, just shy of 15 inches (14.9837) a year. There is a very, very, very slight negative trend over the same span (-0.008167 in/yr). Minimum rain fall really is dry (3.21 inches in a season) while the maximum (38.18 inches in a season) would only be considered dry on the north coast. Median rainfall amounts are still in the semi-arid range (13.13 inches).

    Just how artificial Los Angeles’ situation is can only be appreciated by looking into the history of the so-called “California Water Wars.” There are very few folks who are not native to southern California who consider either Frederic Eaton, William Mulholland or Harrison Otis Gray heroes. I have a friend whose grandfather, a farmer in the Owens Valley, spent time in jail for helping dynamite the Alabama Gates. As a counterpoint to the current “climate wars,” consider this bit from Wikipedia: “This included creating a false drought by manipulating rainfall totals and publishing scare articles in the Los Angeles Times, which [Harrison Gray] Otis published.” I have added the emphasis. Data manipulation to force public sentiment is not new.

    As regards “long term planning” the State Department of Water Resources commissioned studies of historical and prehistoric rainfall in the southwest decades ago. Some of the work employed tree rings as proxies for rainfall (works better than using them for temperature) but also used lake levels and dead tree stumps rooted under modern lake levels in natural lakes to estimate timing, frequency and severity of droughts. The short of it is that what we see at the moment is merely a dry spell, not a drought. California has experienced droughts that lasted decades within the last 2,000 years. At least one may have lasted two centuries. There is no engineering solution for such a drought that involves capturing natural rainfall and snow melt. The state simply will not receive enough rain and snow. A dam on every stream in the state would not help.

    In fact, additional available water during non-dry times would exacerbate the problem by drawing more population. As Mulholland pointed out, “if you don’t have water, you won’t need it.” The only solution would be to export population. The only long term plan that might work would be to reduce available water (let infrastructure crumble – the major aqueducts carrying water south all cross the San Andreas Fault) in areas that don’t receive it naturally, and increase rates a lot. That might force emigration ahead of a real problem, but it is very doubtful. My suspicion is that the DWR considered the state administration, at the time Ronald Reagan, and geographic voter distribution (both Southern California and the Bay Area are dependent on water transported very long distances) and threw its hands up and said, “the heck with it.” There are things you simply cannot plan for.

  59. I get the sneaking suspicion that the California government is creating a problem that can only be solved by large injections of cash from Washington. Families running out of drinking water surrounded by 126 green golf courses? Something stinks in California.

  60. According to the research noted in the linked article, last century was among the wettest in CA history for 7,000 years:

    http://www.montereyherald.com/news/ci_24994179/california-drought-past-dry-periods-have-lasted-hundreds

    Some important paragraphs:

    ” The two most severe megadroughts make the Dust Bowl of the 1930s look tame: a 240-year-long drought that started in 850 and, 50 years after the conclusion of that one, another that stretched at least 180 years.

    “We continue to run California as if the longest drought we are ever going to encounter is about seven years,” said Scott Stine, a professor of geography and environmental studies at CSU East Bay. “We’re living in a dream world.” ”

    …”Stine, who has spent decades studying tree stumps in Mono Lake, Tenaya Lake, the Walker River and other parts of the Sierra Nevada, said the past century has been among the wettest of the last 7,000 years.”

  61. @Kip Hansen,

    Thanks for the articles of recent, pointing out the bias and flawed coverage by the NY Times environmental desk. You likely will get more views here than your comments on Dotearth and certainly would never get the editors at the Times to address their errors in public. Please make a point of continuing to post rebuttals here, so a larger audience can view them.

  62. Reply to Fermi Pyle ==> Green lawns are normally banned under drought restrictions.

    Reply to Steve S. ==> The nay-sayer types are (nearly) always wrong. Nature does what she does, with little or no respect for the opinions of mere mankind.

    Reply to Tom ==> The need for fresh water is very democratic — the same for all — regardless of their immigration status.

    Reply to Bill Parsons ==> Thanks, I had forgotten that Obama had studied in LA.

    Reply to Tim Churchill ==> Here’s the ticket –> Catch frogs, place in burlap bags, drive to Monterey, sell frogs to Doc on Cannery Row.

    Reply to Jimbo ==> Alfalfa is not “hay” as you know it. “a leguminous plant with cloverlike leaves and bluish flowers. Native to southwestern Asia, it is widely grown for fodder.” It is fed to animals. See an earlier reply on this. Alfalfa is grown using Colorado River water in the Imperial Valley. Why this makes a difference is part of the whole California water policy mess. A very large percentage of California’s agricultural output is exported — to other states in the US and to other countries. The news report about the alfalfa is propaganda of sorts.

    Reply to Henry Clark and James the Elder ==> Thanks for doing the numbers on daily water usage. On our sailboat, when at anchorage, we restrict ourselves to 5 gal/day, fresh water, for two persons, total.

  63. History. It repeats itself. Except when historians become hysterical. Then, everything is unprecedented.

  64. Reply to Duster ==> Ah, a true “Three Stater” (maybe even a “Four Stater”, abandoning everything south of a line from Marin through Placer Counties to their fates). We’ll give you the Cascades, you are right, I meant to write the Mt. Shasta area. The N/S California border wars are not likely to be settled here, but thank you for the lively conversation. It is always a pleasure for me to drive that great pass over the Tehachapis, where I once viewed an epic lightening storm, never to be forgotten. Now I hear that the pass is filled with wind mills.

    Here I write for the average man, for whom desert means a land with little or no rain, where the rivers are dry most of the year. If I had said that Los Angeles and surrounds were the steppes….what would they think? Mongolia? I thought for my purpose “desert” and “drier desert” would do. You, however, are more correct.

    Reply to Roger Sowell ==> Rather, the Water Resources Board was discussing “how much water must be provided to meet a person’s basic health and safety needs.”

    Reply to John ==> Yes, that news is part of the “Opinions Vary” section. The past has been much dryer and much wetter. That’s all true and we don’t really know what that means for the future, other than we ought to prepare infrastructure for both cases.

    Reply to Steve from Rockwood ==> Nuts, huh? I prefer a Nissan, anyway.

    Reply to nvw ==> Very kind, thank you.

  65. Duster says:
    February 19, 2014 at 11:16 am

    This essay brings forward several thoughts. Clearly, the author is quite right about the California population distribution, It is mostly in the wrong places…..
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    The only reasonable solution is reverse osmosis as many others have pointed out. It is not dependent on rainfall.

    If that does not work, build a border fence around Southern California. /snark

  66. David Wells says (February 19, 2014 at 5:45 am): “My suggestion is to stop recycling green rhetoric and recycle the waste water instead unless of course that is already being done.”re

    It is being done in some places. The city of San Jose and partners recycled about 10.6 million gallons per day in 2012:

    http://www.sanjoseca.gov/index.aspx?NID=1587

    I suspect this is just a fraction of total water use, but every bit helps. The water is non-drinkable, but suitable for most other uses, including irrigation.

    As I recall–my memory may be faulty–the recycling was initiated partly to reduce the amount of fresh water flowing into San Francisco Bay, i.e. to keep up its salinity for ecological purposes.

  67. This is a great post. To update, one more piece of fat on the fire is the 2003 Quantification Settlement Agreement which affects Colorado River water and Salton Sea restoration. A summary is here: http://saltonsea.ca.gov/media/ppr_summary.pdf

    Today’s Department of Water Resources California Water News carries two items about the presidential visit, plus an interview with Peter Gleick:

    http://www.scpr.org/blogs/environment/2014/02/18/15876/in-california-drought-news-rationing-unlikely-farm/

    http://www.chicoer.com/editorials/ci_25175969/editorial-obama-not-much-help-drought

    http://kalw.org/post/interview-environmental-scientist-where-has-all-californias-water-gone

    Finally, the Metropolitan Water District commissioned a study of historical rainfall in 1931, incorporating Mission records going back to 1769-1770. The present drought is nothing new. The report can be obtained at:

    http://cepsym.info/history/RainfallStreamRunoffSoCA_since1769.pdf

    and

    http://books.google.com/books/about/Rainfall_and_stream_run_off_in_Southern.html?id=sJMJAQAAIAAJ

  68. Kip,
    I have greatly benefited from and enjoyed your climate comments o’er the years.

    I second the motion made above that you grant WUWT readers the privilege of easier access to them.

    It was the USVI that originally introduced me to life in a water-constrained environment. As a young person (many decades ago), I was shocked by the idea that an island surrounded by water could be so dry.

    Keep up the fight for reason, truth and common sense !

  69. The once-irrelevant “how about that weather” filler commentary is now, like everything else, political.

    Others have already pointed out desalinization, which isn’t happening at least in part because it would avert a (politically) useful crisis.

  70. Merovign says (February 19, 2014 at 12:40 pm): “Others have already pointed out desalinization, which isn’t happening at least in part because it would avert a (politically) useful crisis.”

    San Diego’s plant is scheduled for 2016. Santa Barbara may reactivate its plant, which was closed upon completion because the rains had returned. Sand City’s small plant opened in 2010:

    http://www.nbcnews.com/#/science/environment/parched-california-pours-mega-millions-desalination-tech-n28066

    However, the article mentions strong “environmentalist” opposition to desalination plants, partly because the increased energy use would increase emissions of so-called “greenhouse gasses”. :-(

  71. Some comments from a long-time Californian (both northern and southern) who studied this stuff formally in school ca. 1980, and has kept up since then.

    Virtually all the water in the California system comes from what falls in the eastern mountains. Both the SF Bay area and LA/San Diego area depend on water shipped a long way away. This would not change much if more of the population were in the northern coastal cities rather than the southern.

    In researching for a term paper on the subject, I found the following gem from the archives of Pat Brown, California’s governor in the 1960s, and father of our current governor. In a handwritten note on a document related the then-proposed California Water Project that would take more water south, he said (and this is only a slight paraphrase), “If we don’t send this water south, the people will come north.”

    With regard to the Colorado river water, there was great concern even then that the allocations of water, which dated from the 1920s, were based on unusually high precipitation levels at the beginning of the 20th century, and that the relatively lower average levels of the late 20th century were simply a reversion to the norm.

    The water shortages of recent years have been grossly exacerbated by court-ordered releases from the reservoirs to maintain a minimum freshwater flow into the delta that drains into the SF Bay, in the name of protecting the “endangered” delta smelt (useful for bait if at all), and now, to try to restore salmon runs to the Sierra rivers. Without these, there would be concern, but not panic, over the past few lower-than-average years. (Actually, two years ago, the snowpack was well above average – there was a lot of snow left in mid-July near Lake Tahoe, a pain for hiking.)

    Here’s a good article from Victor Davis Hanson, a Fresno rancher among other things:

    http://victorhanson.com/wordpress/?p=6987#more-6987

  72. As someone from the agricultural arena and a Californian, this state will become a mega-Israel in the coming years or decades. Every drop of irrigation water will derived from the cities in tertiary form (e.g lower quality).

    R. Mead
    Clovis, CA.

  73. Reply to Bromley the Kurd ==> That’s hysterical.

    Reply to Gail Combs ==> Quite right on RO — but the fence idea didn’t work.

    Reply to Gary Hladik (x2) ==> “Grey water” recycling has been in use in a lot of areas, to water golf courses for instance, in place of fresh water. In Frank Herbert’s novel “Dune”, they harvested the water from the dead.

    Reply to Neil Jordan ==> Great links for further perspective.

    Reply to Merovign ==> If you follow the links provided by Neil Jordan, you’ll see that Californians are aware that RO desal plants are a solution in their future and should be under construction now.

  74. Effectively there have been no increases to storage for 30 years. To boot, we lose an opportunity every time flood conditions occur in the main river basins. The excess water flows unhindered to the sea, in such situations. That water during floods is never utilized by salmon, smelt, wetlands, etc. More dams would not address this, the prime dam sites are mostly already taken. Instead, some sort of lowland diversion and storage would be appropriate.

  75. Re Kip Hansen says: February 19, 2014 at 12:11 pm
    Reply to Duster ==> Ah, a true “Three Stater” (maybe even a “Four Stater”, abandoning everything south of a line from Marin through Placer Counties to their fates).

    I recall in the 1950s that there was a proposal to create a new state joining arid south-eastern Oregon with arid northern Nevada. A critic at the time proposed a name for the new state: NevOre NevOre Land.

  76. Kip Hansen: Reply to LKMiller and Lee ==> There is no easy explanation for California water policy.

    Isn’t that the truth! There are people politicking hard to restore the riparian ecosystems — i.e., to let even more of the scarce water flow unimpeded to the ocean.

  77. My perception of California is that it is more than just two states. There are: Northern California which would include everything north of about San Luis Obisbo but only the coastal area inland up to but not including the Central Valley. Southern California is the coastal area below SLO. Then there is the “Inland Empire” which would be everything inland of the coastal area south of the Garlock fault zone and would include San Bernardino, Riverside, and Imperial counties. Then there is the Central Valley which is basically the I-5 corridor north of the Garlock fault zone (north of the Tehachapis) all the way up to Yreka and beyond. And finally there would be the mountain region which would be everything from Inyo county on north to Modoc County and eastward to the foothills. Also, the culture of Northern California changes significantly at San Francisco. From SLO to SF is pretty much the same but going north out of SF there is a big change. For example, Humbolt County is way different from Monterey County.

  78. Kip Hansen: Reply to Merovign ==> If you follow the links provided by Neil Jordan, you’ll see that Californians are aware that RO desal plants are a solution in their future and should be under construction now.

    Only 1 has been completed (iirc, it is the only one that has even been started), in Carlsbad. All of them have been opposed by citizens organizations, and the litigation involved in the permitting process for the Carlsbad plant consumed years.

  79. Hi Kip – I experienced (in the SF Bay Area) the 70’s drought that you missed and what I remember most is that public cooperation with water conservation was so effective that the local utilities agency (charmingly acronymed EBMUD [East Bay Municipal Utilities District, if I remember correctly]) had to raise their water rates to avoid going bankrupt. This does suggest a lot of waste in day-to-day usage.

    The article on Australian desalinization plants was most interesting for what it left out – the shuttered Melbourne plant (Victorian Desalinisation Plant). It was built at great expense because of a drought and the CAGW hype-of-the-day that Australian cities would become ghost cities due to lack of water. Then the rains came, as they have always come eventually, and the dams filled (and now we learn that we will all drown in CAGW floods). The other reason was extreme resistance from Green groups – they hate the plant and claim it will have a deleterious effect on assorted wildlife. If they ever build the windmills to run the plant I’m sure that will be true.

    I’m living off tank water at the moment and watering the garden from a dam, but the last few years of flooding rains have deserted Queensland and another drought has started. Parts of the state have gotten good rains recently, but not here. I’m getting by on less than 10 gal a day for personal use and hoping the rains return before the dam runs dry. I do miss long showers with high flow heads: perhaps that should be added to the Deteriorata.

  80. Doug Huffman says:
    February 19, 2014 at 4:28 am

    Good post. Good memories of good times. John Muir Trail N-S July 1966. Family farmed pears in Santa Clara on eponymous Coffin Road where I remember an artesian well out behind the hands’ cabins.
    ——————————————————–
    I still remember the taste of the beautiful fruit that came from the Santa Clara area. Then Safeway came along in the early 60s and started marketing their tasteless standardized, but beautiful looking produce products. They finally wised up in the mid 90s and improved the quailty of their fruit varieties. Land prices then went up as the population grew and the beautiful orchards were converted into housing and shopping malls. I had always heard that the Santa Clara orchard soil was some of the richest orchard growing soil in the world. The tastes that I can remember so clearly verify that to my mind. It is hard to find fruit that matches those flavors. I stopped eating apricots a long time ago, because they had become a mere shadow of waht they used to be for their flavor and aroma.

  81. Would anybody be surprised by the blanket statement that California does not use its resources wisely? LA is built in a desert. Anybody remember the movie “Chinatown?” (Great film. Really, really great film.) San Diego is built in a desert. Water has to be piped in for hundreds of miles, including from out of state.

    What does water cost in LA, and San Diego? Maybe people aren’t being charged enough for water.

  82. That is the trouble. Everyone moves all over the place.
    I have lived all of my 51 years in the same central Texas city.
    The only thing I have seen that is different during the recent normal warming cycle is that we haven’t had the dust storms that were common while I was growing up.
    With it now cooling again I will not be surprised if they return.

  83. To LKMiller:

    Liked your “old cowboy adage”. Similar sentiments were
    voiced by Kipling: “But when it comes to slaughter,
    you’ll do your work on water.”

  84. Randle Dewees says:
    February 19, 2014 at 5:58 am
    ——————————————
    There is 38 million+ in California at this time. That is over 4 times greater than when I was born in 1950.

  85. Any large city must bring in water from a wide area, as local rainfall, even in fairly wet areas, is not enough for the population, and usually not of very good quality.

    New York City brings in lots of water from its reservoirs in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York, at the top of the Delaware River watershed. I remember in the severe drought of the 1960s, NYC and Philadelphia were in a major water battle. NYC was releasing so little water to the Delaware River that salt encroachment from the ocean reached Philadelphia, and almost to the point north of Philadelphia where the city got most of its water.

  86. Gail Combs says:
    February 19, 2014 at 12:14 pm
    If that does not work, build a border fence around Southern California. /snark
    ————————————————————————————————-
    Bingo!!!

  87. Well don’t Scoff at Fresno; I have a nice house 15 miles SE of there. And the reason Obama went to Fresno, is that is the geographic center of the brand new ,Madera, to Delano, California Bullet Train, which will transport Cesar Chavez United Farm Workers Union officials from one important farm meeting to another.

    They are still thinking about how to convey other potential bullet train riders, to either Madera, or Delano; well maybe to Wasco, further SE, which is the Rose Capital of the entire local Sringy Universe.

    By the way, there is a George Smith Road on the way from Fresno to Kings Canyon National Park.

    I once thought of flogging one of the road signs and putting it up at Watson Lake, on the AlCan Hiway, But then I figured they might guess who took it; so I didn’t. Still think it’s a good idea. Well I could move it to Madera, and put it up at the Bullet Station.

  88. I am a native of southern california…born here because my dad was stationed here and then he retired in so cal. Water and smog have always been “big” concerns but they have never been big enough problems to change the way people live. I would venture to say that almost everyone reading this site doesn’t really stop and think where the energy comes from when they flip the light switch or what driving a car does to the air or what not having clean water when they turn on the tap would be like. We only think about these things when they aren’t there or when the cost starts doubling or tripling. After all we elect people to water boards and local governments etc. to manage these things so we don’t have to worry about them.

    I have always said when smog/global whatever becomes a “big” issue to California you will see the governments (state, local etc.) start synchronizing the traffic lights…and when water becomes a “big” issue you will see the governments eliminate grass lawns in so cal. Anything else on those two subjects is just political posturing.

  89. Kip Hansen says: @ February 19, 2014 at 1:19 pm

    Reply to Gail Combs ==> Quite right on RO — but the fence idea didn’t work.
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    I meant a fence around California to keep Californians from relocating and spreading their political madness.

  90. Reply to Gary Hladik and Matthew R Marler (x2) and macromite ==> Thanks for keeping us up to date with links on Desalinization projects in California and Australia.

    Reply to Curt ==> Some day when I am feeling particularly strong of stomach, I will write about New York City and what they have done to the Catskills in their quest for drinking water. I will do it while listening to Ashokan Farewell [ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2kZASM8OX7s&feature=kp ] which will fill my heart and eyes with tears and my soul with anguish, the appropriate mood.

    Reply to more soylent green! ==> Can any readers answer Soylent’s question?: “What does water cost in LA, and San Diego?”

  91. Reply to milodonharlani ==> Thanks, that was fast! Quite a complicated chart, of course, senior citizens will never figure out how much their water actually costs, they’ll only know what their bill is. Can someone, a simple household of two people, tell us what they pay for water per month?

  92. Reply to john ==> I do remember the Baxter Park Fire — I was in Florida, glorying in the birth of my first child, a daughter. Often up with her late through the night with the TV tuned to the news channel while I rocked and coo’d her back to sleep so Mom could catch a few zzz’s. Thanks for pointing us to the encouraging report of the parks regeneration.

  93. Re Kip Hansen says: February 19, 2014 at 4:08 pm
    Reply to more soylent green! ==> Can any readers answer Soylent’s question?: “What does water cost in LA, and San Diego?”

    Be careful what you ask for. As you can see from the following information, nothing is simple about water in the arid southwest. Water rates, Metropolitan Water District of So Cal (Pasadena to San Diego)

    http://www.mwdh2o.com/mwdh2o/pages/about/about01.html

    Service area:

    http://www.mwdh2o.com/mwdh2o/pages/news/MA_map.pdf

    Wholesale rates:

    http://www.mwdh2o.com/mwdh2o/pages/finance/finance01.html

    Rate table, costs are $dollars per acre-foot, ranging from $41 to $1,032.
    One acre-foot is 43,560 cubic feet, or equal to
    325 853 US gallons
    1,233,489 Liters

    The acre-foot is based on the US Survey Foot, which is equal to 1.000002 US statute foot or 0.304801 meter.

    Don’t laugh at the units of measurement we use out here for water rights in the provinces. We also use “miner’s inches”: http://stream.fs.fed.us/news/streamnt/jan97/jan97a2.htm

    And for the Santa Ana River, we use the “zanja hour” based on the time the zanjero (ditch tender) opens a sluice gate.

    http://books.google.com/books?id=jzwEAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA329&lpg=PA329&dq=zanja+hour+flow&source=bl&ots=pmTx2gGNHU&sig=tWVV9OfKWuj-97diFuHYYXWRbVM&hl=en&sa=X&ei=VFEFU4PlMo-DogSylYC4DQ&ved=0CEUQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q=zanja%20hour%20flow&f=false

  94. Kip Hansen says: @ February 19, 2014 at 4:08 pm

    ….Reply to Curt ==> Some day when I am feeling particularly strong of stomach, I will write about New York City and what they have done to the Catskills in their quest for drinking water….
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    I used to skip rocks on the Kensico Reservoir while waiting for the bus in junior high. It was a very pretty area back in the 1960s. We lived on top of a terminal moraine (or possibly an “esker”) full of copperheads.

  95. Here in Canada we import lots of water from California. It comes neatly packaged in oranges, lemons, lettuces and suchlike. It would be reasonable to return that amount of water back to California. But we can’t.

    The problem is the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). As I sort of understand it, once we start exporting our water to the U.S., we can’t stop for any reason. However urgent our needs might be, and for whatever reason, we would be required to keep exporting water at the same rate as at flush (!) times. We would have relinquished all control of our own water.

    So we dassn’t start. Un-neighbourly, but prudent. Sorry.

  96. Altogether, California garnered a total 3.7 million extra souls in ten years. That’s a lot of people to provide water for.

    And that’s only the ones that you know about … what about the hordes of illegals ?

  97. Normal weather for California guys! Sometimes drought, sometimes flood, at times in the same year. Just normal! My family has lived here near 200 years. After the 1885 drought, “Flood” of biblical proportions. The central valley was a lake for months. That is why they built reservoirs in the mountains and irrigation systems down in the valleys. When Anglos came to California the interior valleys were wilderness that even Indians refused it live in. Man turned Hell into Paradice. Ecoloons that don’t know better want wilderness. Maybe they think that they can live on Acorns like the Indians did. :-p yuk! pg

  98. Gail Combs – I am a fifth generation Californian, and this is what we say around these parts – California used to be a great state until all those city slickers from the Midwest, North, East, and South moved here beginning around the 50’s.

    Personally, I think anything south of Corning is Southern California. Long live the State of Jefferson!

    Many people do not know that the California delta used to be, roughly speaking, a salt water body for half the year and, of course, a fresh water body the other half; however, now it is a fresh water body year-round thanks to the Shasta Dam.

    It is necessary to retain the present dams/reservoirs and construct new ones.

  99. Well, come a grab some new but non-operational RO plants from Australia.
    Melbourne 410 ML/day
    Sydney 250 Ml/day
    Gold Coast 125 ML/day.

    All sitting in standby as the dam levels all recovered after our 10 year drougth at the end of 2009/10.

    Bilions of dollars of investment , sitting doing nothing.

  100. “Personally, I find coincidental frightening correlations unlikely scientific predictors of the future.”
    Funniest line ever!

    Leslie says:

    I wouldn’t attribute all this to lack of storage. I lived in CA all my life. Grew up in LA and moved to Northern CA for college and stayed. Since I was a kid, there are over 3 times as many people in the state and of course taking its toll.

    1/3 of the state provides the other 2/3 with their water.

    Leslie–I was raised in Southern California too. Went to Frisco to drink before I sobered up. Fled the state with my sobriety. Let me help with this “1/3 of the state provides the other 2/3 with their water. ” to “1/3 of the state provides the other 2/3 with their entitlements.” Fixed

  101. I know that a number of regional golf courses in western NSW in Australia have “browns” and not “greens”. There is no watering of golf courses in most of the drier regions. Doesn’t stop people playing golf. The world can continue without greens …

    The major hazard for fairway shots are bower birds taking the golf balls to make their bowers more attractive to prospective mates.

  102. I just happen to have some information right here: my wife and I pay $95 per month for water, but we plan to cut it about in half this year; we have 1/2 acre, and some blackberries (nearly killed by the last two unusually cool winters), a few pines (drought tolerant species) and fruit trees. Over time we have replaced the watering system that came with the house with a drip system, and we have planted drought tolerant (mostly native) year-round flowering plants. A recent bill that just happens to be here shows $126 for 10472 gallons in two early spring months. This is in Ramona, ENE of San Diego.

  103. ***There is 38 million+ in California at this time. That is over 4 times greater than when I was born in 1950.***

    Sorry, don’t have block quote thingies.

    I meant the 33 million that live in cities and don’t know anything about the water they use except it comes out of a pipe and they pay monthly for it.

    And Goldminer, one of the beautiful thing about America is we have the freedom to move around, though Kali would keep all of us subjects prisoner if it could. Anyway, it’s not the liberals leaving the state. I’ve lived in California for 52 of my 59 years, and it’s about time to for me to leave. If I could I’d move to Wyoming, where I think I’d feel pretty at home political wise. But I don’t think I can take the winters. So it’s probably Reno area Nevada, where I’ll at least feel more comfortable than Kali. Considering what’s happening in Las Vegas (which is getting more left all the time) the rest of Nevada should be happy to get politically dispossessed Californians.

  104. Here in San Diego there’s been a battle for many YEARS over plans to build a desal plant. Enviros have tried to block it at every turn. I think their goal is to ensure that California DOESN’T have an adequate supply of water.

    Drought in California is nothing new but this current drought rivals or surpasses all of the droughts in the last 150 years. Good news is that the models are showing a pattern change and the first week of March could be very wet in central and southern California. Of course just because the models predict it doesn’t mean it will happen. As a snowboarder I certainly hope the snowpack gets a Miracle March recovery.

  105. Well lived here all my life since the early 60’s and yes we regularly have droughts in California which is why when they started talking about this one I simply rolled my eyes.

    Keep in mind that Governor Brown back in the 70’s killed additional water storage plans as not green enough. Oh yes and I do mean the current Governor Brown this was back during his first term.

    And yes Leslie the top 1/3 of the state provides the water to the remaining 2/3rds but there is room to do additional planning for more water storage but that was all killed back in the 70’s and has been kept dead by the Green folk since then. After all we can’t build more water storage. That would damage valuable nature and encourage people to move here. ::rolls eyes::

  106. Henry Clark says:

    February 19, 2014 at 10:48 am
    James the Elder:
    A figure of such as 400 gallons/day, 12000 gallons/month, is referenced at, for instance:
    “The average family of four can use 400 gallons of water every day”

    There are two here. A 20 minute shower is 10 minutes too long. Even when there were five, the usage averaged a little over 4200 gal/mo. I suppose it goes back to the years of going to the outside pump for water, heating it on a wood burning cast iron stove and getting the job done NOW because the four room house had not a fiber of insulation. Makes for maximum efficiency. The wife being a Chinese national brings another layer of water conservation into the mix. Refuses to use the dishwasher or clothes dryer, shower off until the rinse cycle, and any water that normally goes down the kitchen drain is diverted to her little garden. Once or twice a month she treats herself to a two hour soaker using every gallon of hot water in the process. But overall, a decent trade. We are clean, our clothes are clean, and our four vehicles stay washed.

  107. Re Richards in Vancouver says: February 19, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    Predating NAFTA by many years was NAWPA, planned in the 1950s to share Alaskan and Canadian and Great Lakes water with certain arid areas. Wiki has an article with disputed neutrality:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_American_Water_and_Power_Alliance

    I recall an old project report that included nuclear-powered pumps to lift the water over the various mountain ranges.

    An abbreviated plan was proposed in 1991, using submerged offshore pipes to move Alaskan water to California. A NY Times article is here:

    http://www.nytimes.com/1991/08/15/us/alaska-offers-californians-an-additional-water-spigot.html

  108. Growing up in Santa Barbara in the 1950s and 1960s, and resident in the Bay area in the late 70s and 80s I remember very well some of the past droughts in California.

    This recent spate of drought years may possibly be reflective of climate change, though not what the alarmies and new KKKs are braying about – twice, in the Christian era, there have been severe and prolonged droughts in the US Southwest coinciding with the end of a warming period and a descent into solar minima: in the 13th century, as the MWP was winding down, which put an end to the Anasazi-Cliff Dweller civilization, and another in the 4th and 5th centuries as the Roman Climate Optimum was coming to an end – i.e., associated with the onset of a general global cooling.

  109. Just follow the money…
    In the end it all comes down to that. California, because of it’s unique combination of population/produce/desert was ripe for the pickins. So of course someone developed a concept of “paper” water (can you say derivative?) and is now a multi billionaire. Complete oligarch control over resource is the bottom line.
    Read about the Monterey Agreements here:

    http://exiledonline.com/how-limousine-liberals-oligarch-farmers-and-even-sean-hannity-are-hijacking-our-water-supply/

  110. Here in the southern Baja we get water pumped to our roof tanks every other day. I pay 220 pesos per month for water ($16.65 USD). As far as I know there are no reservoirs in the southern Baja. I have no idea where they get the water. There is ground water under the arroyos (dry stream beds) from the mountains which range in height from 4000 to 6900 ft and do get rain.
    I haven’t seen rain here in La Pas, a city of 250,000 people in at least 4 months. Never had a problem getting water except for 4 years ago when we didn’t get water for a week. It turns out they were working on a water main and a truck from the water co. came around to the neighborhood to fill the local water tanks. Southern Baja is pretty populated with Cabo, San Jose, Los Barriles, La Paz, Todos Santos and many other developing communities. They keep talking about desalinization plants but there haven’t been any built to speak of. They will soon need them with all the development going on here in the southern Baja.

  111. California has a huge storage resource, the aquifers. When it rains fill em up using fracking technology.

    At last a use for windmills, make water. Use the water as the energy store. thus when the wind blows make water, when the wind does not blow, use the water. Definitely do not include a link to the grid.

  112. I live in a small town in the Mojave Desert northeast of Los Angeles. The water bill for my family last month was $9.10 for 7000 gallons. It’s hard to convince people to conserve water when it’s priced so low. The Post Office has a nice watered lawn though.

  113. Water rates were inexpensive on properties I had in So Cal. They were water districts that provided water from the local aquifers. $40 a month for the parcel with standard sprinklers for landscaping and $20 a month for the parcel with micro-sprinklers, bubblers and drip irrigation.
    I had read an article in the Los Angeles Times that was quoting the Los Angeles MWD as stating that they had no water shortage and that since 1993, water usage had decreased by 900,000 acre feet annually. Also they were capturing an additional 300,000 acre feet a year from reclamation and had increased water storage 20 fold to 6,000,000 acre feet.
    I know that since 1993, the Seven Oaks dam was built below the headwaters of the Santa Ana river and the capacity of the Prado Dam was increased farther south on the same river. I believe both of these were state flood control projects and not MWD water storage projects. The largest water storage reservoir that the MWD built during this time that I’m aware of, was Diamond Lake near Hemet.
    I have seen many of the water reclamation projects built that divert storm water runoff into ponds that allow the water to recharge the aquifers, instead of flowing to the sea. When we developed 8 acres of property north of Ontario Int’l Airport, we installed ground water recharging wells to capture all of the water on the property and feed it into the aquifer. On an average year it will capture 5 acre feet of rainwater.

  114. Over 70% water here on earth.
    If you have a water problem (too little or too much) that’s a man made problem but it’s easily fixed with a man made solution.
    It’s not a water problem it’s a lack of intelligence problem.
    Like the man said “You can’t fix stupid”.
    cn

  115. Replies to all those who checked in with water prices ==> What I see is that despite scarcity, water prices are kept low — which is good for the community in general but not a good idea if one wishes to promote water conservation.

    To all ==> I’m out of town all day today…but please feel free to carry on the discussion of California’s water problems and policies amongst yourselves. I’ve appreciated all of your input, even if I didn’t get a chance to respond to you comments individually. — kh

  116. J. Arbona says:
    February 19, 2014 at 5:49 am

    Why not use the power of the wind (on a state with so many wind generators) to desalinate sea water? Sure, it’s expensive but better than no water. I can’t think of a better use for a non-constant (unreliable) power source. Just desalinate when wind power is available and store the water in reservoirs.
    =========
    err? cos that would be INTELLIGENT

  117. 75-80% of water is used for Agriculture and flushing. The people need water, but it’s really an agriculture issue, not that you want less, but how to supply and maintain.

    Governor Brown opposed all the dam building in the early 1980s. People forget that.

    Finally, water conservation is not equally important for everyone. Downtown Sacramento takes water out of the Sacramento River upstream and put’s it back (cleaner than it went out) downstream. There is some loss of course, but the idea that someone’s long shower or sprinklers running down the gutter is all “waste” there is preposterous. The same is NOT true for Folsom 25 miles East which is supplied by the reservoir, or Chico which according to Water Education Foundation is a groundwater system. Not advocating waste, but source-use is very misunderstood.

  118. Why the secrecy? reduced consumption, increased supply and massive increase in storage, yet nobody is crowing about it.

    Odd

  119. I asked a very vague question about water costs in LA and San Diego. I was specifically referring to the costs for household and business (but not agricultural or industrial) use. I previously lived in the Las Vegas valley and the cost of household water there was less per unit than in my home in Kansas, where we have an almost unlimited water supply available from the Kansas and Missouri rivers.

    There are also too many water districts in the LA and San Diego to give an answer to my question. I was trying to make a round-about point of perhaps the water is underpriced? The less expensive something is, the more people consume and the more they waste.

    To further complicate matters, most water consumed for household use is reclaimed by the water system. Flush the toilet and that water makes it back through the pipes to a treatment plant, where it’s cleaned and suitable for re-use. (Sorry, I can’t give a per cent of how much is lost or what per cent is recycled.) Again, using an example from Las Vegas, the water authority has rights to so many millions of gallons of water from Lake Mead. Waste water that is treated, cleaned and pumped back into Lake Mead is subtracted from the amount consumed. That water is used over and over again.

    However, water used outdoors for irrigation is not reclaimed. It’s effectively lost to the water system. Using a different water meter, charged at a much higher rate for outdoor use like this, goes a long ways towards limiting wasteful consumption.

  120. MSG – You bring up some interesting points. In LA, you are actually charged more for the water you use internally, because you are charged a sewer fee for the (estimated) percentage of your usage that goes into the sewer system.

    In answer to your earlier question, the residential water rate in LA is about 1/2 cent per gallon for a base amount, 3/4 cent per gallon over that, with a 1/2 cent per gallon charge for the portion they estimate you put into the sewer system.

  121. Kip Hansen says:
    February 19, 2014 at 12:11 pm

    Reply to Duster ==> Ah, a true “Three Stater” (maybe even a “Four Stater”, abandoning everything south of a line from Marin through Placer Counties to their fates). We’ll give you the Cascades, you are right, I meant to write the Mt. Shasta area. The N/S California border wars are not likely to be settled here, but thank you for the lively conversation. It is always a pleasure for me to drive that great pass over the Tehachapis, where I once viewed an epic lightening storm, never to be forgotten. Now I hear that the pass is filled with wind mills….

    Four-stater. I have a State of Jefferson Flag. I saw a condor over I-5 while heading south over the Techapis to put my wife through her second year of nursing school in the early seventies. I almost wrecked the car rubber necking. Another interesting north/south give away is the prefixing of “the” to freeway numbers. Up north we just “take” it instead.

  122. Day By Day says:
    to “1/3 of the state provides the other 2/3 with their entitlements.” Fixed
    ———————————————————————————————-
    Welfare lovers from across the nation headed out to this state due to the generous and easy to get benefits. Heck some states were known to buy one way bus tickets to California to encourage some of their sponges to move away. About 70% of the state population lives south of the SF/Bay Area.

  123. Kip Hansen says:
    February 20, 2014 at 5:05 am
    ————————————
    Sorry, I’m a bit late to the party here, but had the pleasure of a great week of doing real science which, as everyone knows, is a jealous mistress.

    On my last bill here in the SF Bay Area, the Units of water cost was 17% of the entire bill.

    Also, I was at Folsom Lake in the Sierra Foothills this past Sunday, and took this photo:

    http://tinypic.com/view.php?pic=wbt76b&s=8#.UwcBqhy1l-E

    I probably should have also taken a pic of the very, very low level of water in the lake/reservoir but I was mostly interested in the fact that this sign did not include the Climate Parasite weasel words “climate” and “change”. It’s why I took the photo actually, meaning to post on here elsewhere, but then it seemed that this thread was more of a match.

    What’s going on ? No Climate Parasites involved ?

    ….. and in other news:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/20/california-six-states_n_4826096.html

  124. Grey Lensman says: February 20, 2014 at 7:50 am
    Why the secrecy? reduced consumption, increased supply and massive increase in storage, yet nobody is crowing about it.
    Odd
    ————————————————————-
    Not surprising at all. If you stand on the rooftops with a megaphone shouting: “No problems here! We’re smart enough to take care of ourselves!”, then you get no federal taxpayers money. Lying is rewarded and rewards get votes.

  125. On Drinking Sand in California:

    I suggested to the Sacramento Bee, Governor Brown and the legislature, that 22 nuclear reactors powering reverse osmosis desalination plants (Israeli and Saudi technology), could provide California with 40 million acre-feet of fresh water per year, the amount being currently used. Current reservoir inflow is 5 million acre-feet per year.

    Needless to say, my suggestion was not exactly met with shrieks of joy. Our dear leaders could care less about solving California’s water problems. Therefore I will now call on the legislature to pass a law allowing us to “drink sand”, as suggested in Deuteronomy.

    Regards, Art Collins, Retired Aerospace and Nuclear Engineer.

  126. I have sometimes wondered why the ice in the Arctic Ocean is not mined. I suppose it might not be considered efficient, but if some large chunks of ice were carved out of the ice sheet, and ferried down to the coast of California, there are several harbors that could be used as melting pots for the ice, and the fresh water obtained pumped uphill. Sea gates would have to be used, that could open to bring in the ice bergs, and then closed to avoid salt water from mixing with the fresh. Water obtained through desalinization of sea water would have to be pumped uphill, so the cost would be the same for either desalinization or ice melting.
    As anyone heard of any studies or reports on the feasibility of doing this? I bring it up because my father used to talk about it as a possibility, and I have wondered about it all my life, as to whether it could even be done.

  127. Mr. Hansen refers, mid-body, to inferences calling for “…the American West to dry out, but by an entirely different mechanism…”

    So, a sticky planetary wave with a drought-inspiring persistent blocking ridge is desiccating California, and that ought not be conflated with swelling Hadley cells. Got it.

    But I am a quarter-century convicted warmist, and I want to toss my take of these two distinct “mechanisms”, across the void. In 1977, water was astonishingly fungible, and the Metropolitan Water District of SoCal swapped more than 1 & 1/2 million acre feet north, to farmers in the San Joaquin who suffered cutbacks from both the CVP and CWP, as well as via displacements, all the way to critically short residences in Marin County. They were supported in this by all-out 24 x 7 pumping from the Colorado R. watershed.

    Attribution analyses of carbon’s regional influence, attempted via torturous statistics, or by fathoming chaotic fluid dynamics, are horrifyingly difficult. But simple buoyancy is about all that is needed to grasp why enhancement of surface infrared in the equatorial tropics could ramp up Hadley circulation, as we observe to have been occurring for several decades. And you don’t need complex models to see how this could make the drying doldrums migrate poleward, as they have by an average of a few miles each year, across that interval.

    Minimalists, it strikes me, want to keep the focus in too tight. Tens of millions are dug in long and deep in L.A., Phoenix and Las Vegas. This shows how readily, resilience was found 37 years ago:

    And this, where we are now: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/06/us/colorado-river-drought-forces-a-painful-reckoning-for-states.html?_r=0

    Where my side gets anxious, is when we ask ourselves, where will our resilience be in 50 years?

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