By Rud Istvan,
The mainstream media (MSM) is abuzz about the present Western Drought allegedly caused by ‘anthropogenic climate change’. Lots of ‘we are gonna die’ stuff. Charles has a way of provoking thoughtful investigations. He asked me, ‘does this mean future California electricity blackouts from lack of hydro’? [HT/Macusn~cr] Which intriguing question set me off on another quest for climate truth. Only a few key references are provided below, as most of what follows is easily googled.
Anthropogenic Climate Drought?
Alarmists need to be a bit more specific as to where and when and why. This post covers the Columbia River basin, the Colorado River basin, and California. In that Western US geography, the ‘drought’ is mainly in the Colorado basin and California, in both from lack of Sierra and Rockies snowpack. The Columbia basin is so vast, that even in the previous ‘peak’ California drought year of 2015, the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) experienced no water flow problems across its 33 hydroelectric dams since there was no drought in British Columbia.
Just focusing on California and the Colorado basin, tree ring studies peg the present situation as only the fourth worst in the last millennium. Abandoned Chaco Canyon proves it was previously much worse. Chaco was abandoned about 1250 because of a worse western drought than at present.
And the three previous ‘worse’ droughts can have had nothing to do with anthropogenic ‘carbon pollution’, which a greening Earth seems to like as fertilizer.
That objective history is, however, still a problem for the Colorado Compact, formed at the time of the Hoover Dam and Lake Meade. The 7 states plus Mexico water allocations were based on annual Colorado flows from a (abnormally) wetter prior decade. So just wrong hydrological assumptions.
We need to separate California from the Colorado Compact for purposes of analysis. The data sources for the facts below are primarily from the US government’s EIA at EIA.gov, from the California Energy Commission (CEC) at Energy/Ca.gov, and from an open access paper ERL 15 (2020) 094008.
California 2019 electricity was 16.5% supplied from the states internal ‘large hydro’ (about 287 dams like Oroville, which almost collapsed from TOO MUCH water in 2017), or imported from BPA hydro 9.7%. ‘Small hydro’ inside California supplied 2.7%; imports were only 0.4%. So California only hydro in 2019 was about 19.2% of CA generation. 2019 is used as the baseline because 2020 numbers are not yet available mid 2021. Dunno if Covid or just gov work pace.
In 2015 (peak previous drought year) that output was cut to 41% of 2012 pre-drought output, meaning that maybe in 2021 it would be cut to (0.41*19.2) 7.9%, a drop of about 11.3%. Now most grids run with on the order of 12-15% reserve capacity, so the California grid can maybe handle this loss without going dark.
There is, however, an interesting ‘brought to you by the government’ BPA qualification, since in 2019 when you add imported BPA, total California hydro was about 26%. The BPA issue probably isn’t drought water, based on 2015. It is that 1/3 of BPA capacity has ALREADY exceeded its design life, and they are not keeping up with replacement. An unplanned outage is possible. Plus, for sure by 2030 California will be on its own, since Washington State just passed a law mandating all its electricity will be green by 2030, meaning no California exports.
The Hoover Dam/Lake Meade hydro electricity mainly goes to Nevada and Arizona, albeit on the western grid connecting to CA. Their electricity issue is a different one. Hoover Dam has 17 hydraulic turbogenerators. These have a thing called ‘deadpool’, below which the hydrostatic head cannot safely spin them and they must be shut down. That deadpool was a Lake Meade original design elevation of 1050’. In 2015, Meade got down to 1085’, scaring everybody. So in the past 6 years, all 17 Hoover hydroturbines have been replaced by a new design that lowers the deadpool to about 950’. As of this week, Lake Meade stood at an alarming ‘record low since 1937’ of 1071’, only about 36% of full water capacity as evidenced by its ‘bathtub ring’.
Not good for water supply (below), but still far from an issue for its new electricity deadpool.
Obviously there will be one, but again one has to separate California from the Colorado Compact.
In California, about 50% of water is used ‘environmentally’ (northern California salmon run rivers, and the central CA infamous delta smelt), about 40% in agriculture (the Imperial Valley fruits, nuts, vegetables, and dairy), and about 10% for ‘people and industry’.
One semi-serious idea is to declare the delta smelt extinct (nobody has seen one for years), and reduce ‘environmental’ water use in favor of ‘agricultural’.
The bigger reality is that ‘people’ will never suffer, but some farmers may. Nobody is going to ‘die’, but some farmers may be driven out of business. The subject is a bit more complex (as in Arizona), because of grandfathered water rights to pioneer farmers who were there before Silicon Valley thirst.
There is a related interesting water related Cali agricultural ‘factoid’, known to this near four decades Wisconsin dairy farm owner. The number one milk producing state is California (18.6% of US), while Wisconsin is only #2 (14%). Why, given that the main dairy feed is protein rich alfalfa, a very water intense hay crop? About 1.2 million acres of alfalfa in California, all irrigated. The reason turns out to be a simple but foolish political policy. Milk has had (since FDR) price supports. And ground zero (no support) is Madison, Wisconsin. The further from Madison, the higher the milk price support. And California is the farthest CONUS distance from Wisconsin. California is subsidy farming milk price supports from irrigated alfalfa using water it doesn’t presently have.
In the Colorado Compact, the same generic issue exists. About 70% of the water goes to agriculture, and about 30% to ‘people and industry (like Elon Musk’s massively subsidized Nevada Gigafactory)’. The principal ‘people’ beneficiaries’ are Las Vegas and Phoenix. They will never suffer, although farmers might (again subject to grandfathered water rights complications). As one newly discovered factoid, about 1/3 of all the fresh vegetables grown in the US are grown in the Sonoran desert south of Phoenix using Colorado irrigation water.
Neither California nor Las Vegas will go dark because of the current drought, which itself provably isn’t attributable to anthropogenic climate change.
Nor are Los Angeles, Las Vegas, or Phoenix going to parch, although some farmers may become rich by selling their grandfathered water rights to these thirsty newer cities, and then ‘retiring’ while their former desert restores itself.