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California Drought Update
August 18, 2014 8:18 PM   Subscribe

All of California remains in drought with over 80% in worst categories of 'extreme' or 'exceptional' drought. Reservoir levels are 50% below average. (previously)

  • Serious Drought Help Save Water - "With 2013 the driest year on record for much of California, and last winter's snowpacks on the Sierra Nevada and Trinity mountains down by 80%, the region now seems to be in for a prolonged drought. State-wide precipitation for the year ending June 30th was 12.4 inches—not even half of the historical annual average of 25.3 inches."
    Despite California being the world's fifth-largest supplier of food and agricultural commodities, farming accounts for little more than 2% of the state's $2 trillion economy. Therein lies the source of California's woes. Agriculture uses 80% of the available water supply. Crops such as cotton, alfalfa and rice have no place in a semi-arid region relying extensively on irrigation. Almond and pistachio trees need year-round watering and take ages to mature. Yet such crops flourish in California, thanks to water rights that were allocated to farmers on a first-come, first-served basis generations ago, when the state had only a few million residents. Since then, the population of California has increased more than 10-fold to over 38m today—and is on track to reach 50m by 2050.
  • California's Exceptional Drought Just Keeps Getting Worse - "The water reserves in California's topsoil and subsoil are nearly depleted, and 70 percent of the state's pastures are now rated 'very poor to poor', according to the USDA. Reservoir levels are dropping, and groundwater is being drained from the state as farms and cities pull from difficult-to-replenish underground caches. The state's 154 reservoirs are at 60 percent of the historical average, or 17.3 million acre feet lower than they should be. That's more than a year's supply of water gone missing."
  • California Farms Sink Wells as Record Drought Escalates - "Well drilling has doubled and tripled in two Central Valley counties that are at the core of the nation's most productive agricultural region after federal and state regulators cut the water they provide to farms as supplies ran low in the drought. If the shortage continues, there is a risk that farmers will deplete the groundwater reserves they are using as a lifeline to survive the dry spell."
  • California Is Now Experiencing Its Most Severe Drought Ever Recorded - "The latest report of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a conservative panel which draws from the expertise of more than 800 scientists around the world, said it is 'more likely than not' that man-made global warming is causing longer and more intense droughts in many regions, including the American Midwest and California."
  • California's Katrina? The great delta dilemma [ungated] - "Drought is not the only threat to California's water supply – the state's single biggest source of water is a catastrophe waiting to happen."
  • Satellites reveal extent of groundwater loss in western United States - "Drought-stricken Colorado River basin is drawing down underground supplies."
  • How the West was Lost - "Just as the settling and development of the arid American West was fueled by harnessing its available fresh water, the growing lack of water availability may well be its undoing."
  • Mapping the Spread of Drought Across the U.S. - "About 34 percent of the contiguous United States was in at least a moderate drought as of August 12."
also btw...
  • The Best Place To Weather Climate Change - "A compelling case can be made that the Pacific Northwest will be one of the best places to live as the earth warms."
  • The Health Benefits of Trees - "They prevent $7 billion in health costs every year by filtering air pollution—not to mention their psychological effects. New research says the closer you can live to trees, the better off you are."
  • Companies proclaim water the next oil in a rush to turn resources into profit - "Mammoth companies are trying to collect water that all life needs and charge for it as they would for other natural resources."
  • Is This How to Sell Americans on Fighting Global Warming? - "The bill would require companies to have permits to produce or import carbon-containing fuels such as oil, coal, and natural gas. The permits, instead of being allocated politically, would be auctioned off by the government, so they would get into the hands of the emitters who need them the most. A similar auction system drastically reduced emissions of sulfur dioxide—which causes acid rain—quicker and cheaper than experts expected. Here’s Van Hollen's political twist: The money raised by the permits would make a U-turn and go straight back to the American people—specifically, every person with a Social Security number. The same amount of money to every person, even those who don't earn enough to pay income taxes."
  • California drought: Solar desalination plant shows promise - "His solar desalination plant produces water that costs about a quarter of what more conventionally desalinated water costs: $450 an acre-foot versus $2,000 an acre-foot. An acre-foot is equivalent to an acre covered by water 1 foot deep, enough to supply two families of four for a year. That brings Mandell's water cost close to what farmers are paying, in wet years, for water from the Panoche and other valley districts - about $300 an acre-foot. And that makes it a more economically attractive option than any of the 17 conventional desalination plants planned throughout California."
  • How California Could Power Itself Using Nothing but Renewables - "For Jacobson's latest intellectual chef-d'œuvre, he co-authored a recent paper in Energy describing how California could capitalize on its abundant sunshine, on- and off-shore winds, tides, waves, and geothermal heat to abolish fossil fuels. Electric cars and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles would be recharged using the renewable electricity supplies. Under the plan, all new energy generation in the Golden State from 2020 onward would be from renewable sources. By 2030, 80 to 85 percent of the state’s current energy supply would be replaced with clean sources. And starting in 2050, the state wouldn’t need to burn another drip of oil, hunk of coal, or molecule of natural gas—and the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant wouldn't be needed."
posted by kliuless (72 comments total) 53 users marked this as a favorite

 
I was actually considering moving out there again but have been keeping a real close eye on the water crisis out there. On the one hand, California is pretty much a state that's Too Big To Fail. I feel like they'll pull some Hail Mary out of there somewhere and everything'll be fine. On the other hand, the water crunch has me super-nervous about living anywhere in the Southwest. (I currently live in Texas and we are having our own Water Issues).
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:25 PM on August 18


SAve us, El Nino!
posted by Brocktoon at 8:38 PM on August 18 [6 favorites]


We had a bad drought a few years back. It came to light that there was essentially no contingency plan for what to do if areas actually ran out of water. A State legislator opined that it would not be an appropriate role for the government to distribute water, in such a case, since that would unfairly compete with private sellers of water.

I hope California has something better than that, because it sounds like they may need it.
posted by thelonius at 8:45 PM on August 18


El Nino may save Californians, it's the absolute last thing Australians want though.
posted by deadwax at 8:47 PM on August 18 [4 favorites]


Nope, there's no Hail Mary for California. Soon there will simply be no lettuce or strawberries. And we all hope for more rain this winter. Otherwise it's the Dust Bowl in reverse.
posted by GuyZero at 8:50 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]




Our water is so precious a resource that we're bottling it up and sending it elsewhere for safe keeping.
posted by milquetoast at 8:53 PM on August 18 [4 favorites]


Perhaps all the programmers in San Francisco will dream up a solution!
posted by TwelveTwo at 8:53 PM on August 18 [11 favorites]


The Ridiculously Resilient Ridge did not do us any favors.
posted by rtha at 9:01 PM on August 18 [3 favorites]


Sometimes I just wanna go give Lake Erie a big sloppy kiss. And then take whatever pills are required after doing that.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:02 PM on August 18 [25 favorites]


I work in the ski industry and shake my head at what happened in California this past year. Who figured the water would run out before it got too hot?
posted by furtive at 9:02 PM on August 18


related check out the Salton Sea documentary
In the film it sated if the Salton Sea dries up than there will nothing stopping the dry dust storms to reign upon Palm Springs CA
posted by robbyrobs at 9:03 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]


Well, considering that most of the farmers in the central valley use open trough irrigation, there is still a large amount of improvement to be made. A move to do drip lines would help greatly with water savings. I am going to move my avocado grove over to drip here in a couple of weeks when I can afford it. As I type this it is raining here at Mt Laguna, so we'll see. All that said there was a pretty bad fire in the mammoth pool area that burned some gorgeous forest, due to it being so dry.

LA needs to get used to the idea of gravel lawns, for starters.
posted by The Power Nap at 9:09 PM on August 18 [18 favorites]


We had a bad drought a few years back. It came to light that there was essentially no contingency plan for what to do if areas actually ran out of water.

Is there any dry part of the US with a good contingency plan for drought? I'm part of the local water planning process and the first parts are easy ("conserve" plus a few basic trade offs) but after that the real plan is to hope it doesn't happen and if it does to demand federal funding to pump water in from the Columbia.

It's easy to say that California should reduce agriculture but a lot harder to name the replacement for that production. The northeast is now returned to mostly forest -- should we replicate the colonial era, clear cut it all, and put all that marginal land back into farming? Even so, what percent of California's production would that replace, and at what cost to the watersheds that the enormous eastern cities rely on for drinking? The same applies to other parts of the US -- we've bought big ecological gains across the country with California's intensive agriculture and there is no cost free replacement.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:24 PM on August 18 [3 favorites]


When driving along the rural bits of I70, you'll see signs like 'the average Kansas farmer feeds 173 people," designed so that they can update the number every so often as technology progresses.

Maybe it's time for a bit of guerrilla marketing in California: 'The average Californian rice farmer uses enough water for 150 non-farmers.'
posted by pwnguin at 9:28 PM on August 18


10 Percent of California's Water Goes to Almond Farming.

It takes 1.1 gallons of water to grow a single almond. I stopped buying almonds a few months ago when I learned that.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:33 PM on August 18 [5 favorites]


Sometimes I just wanna go give Lake Erie a big sloppy kiss. And then take whatever pills are required after doing that.

As someone who's tested the water there, don't, uh, stint on those :)
posted by triage_lazarus at 9:33 PM on August 18 [10 favorites]


It's easy to say that California should reduce agriculture but a lot harder to name the replacement for that production.

But many of the highest water-sucking crops don't need to be replaced. I love California almonds. Love 'em. But if they use too much water and we need to stop growing them in much of the state it's not going to cause people to starve. Rather, it means we'll have very slightly less diversity in our diet. That's not great, obviously, but it's better than sucking down so much water year round. Same for rice and cotton and so forth.

That's going to be very rough on the farmers growing those things but it's not going to cause people who aren't going hungry now to go hungry. Apart from rice (which has no place being grown here) these are mostly cash crops not staples.

We simply should not be growing water-intensive cash crops here.
posted by Justinian at 9:34 PM on August 18 [9 favorites]


(gestures wildly at George_Spiggott's comment from one minute ago)
posted by Justinian at 9:35 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]


All that said, the real monster for sucking down our water are cows; meat and dairy. So if you really want to help with the drought keep eating almonds and stop eating meat.
posted by Justinian at 9:42 PM on August 18 [7 favorites]


(Also from that article, 15% goes to farming alfalfa hay, a fair amount of which is exported.)

I'm not opposed to growing these things, but why are we growing so much of them in a place that doesn't really have the water resources? There's this amazing thing called the Mississippi drainage basin and it spans half the width of the continent. The half that California's not in.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:43 PM on August 18 [4 favorites]


So what's the pro-solution angle here? Fission nuclearpower plants to drive desalination distilleries and bury the salt in Nevada (after having harvested the trailings for commercially desirable metals)?

Its not CO2, but that's going to be a huge whack of waste heat that's going to waste/cause local climate deltas unless they spackle the outside the of the facility with spads of little tiny Sterling engines.
posted by porpoise at 9:46 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]


If California were smart they'd go to about half of the farms and say what would it cost us to get you to have your fields lie fallow and not take your water allotment for the next 20 years?

The orchards couldn't take the buyout but a lot of farmers and ranchers in less fertile areas would probably be willing to be bought out and that would raise commodity prices for the other farmers.

That would definitely buy California the time necessary to invest in large scale desalinization plants.

Long term lots of areas need to start addressing agriculture because the days of cheap water and limitless irrigation are rapidly going away.

It would also be good if the dumb subsidies for ethanol went away because right now land that is marginal for corn is growing corn and sucking down water because corn subsidies are extremely profitable.
posted by vuron at 9:51 PM on August 18 [5 favorites]


I doubt that desalinization would ever be economically sustainable for agricultural uses outside of really specialized aquaculture setups but presumably desalinization can probably accommodate municipal drinking water demands and most industrial water demands.

Remaining Colorado watershed resources then could be dedicated to the most efficient use of water preferably with more drought resistant crops. But ultimately alot of California is simply going to have to move away from agriculture because it's no longer the best use of a very limited natural resource.

And it's not like agriculture needs to go away entirely it just needs to be agriculture that is less dependent on constant irrigation which will probably mean low yields but that's not entirely a bad thing.
posted by vuron at 10:01 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]


Disclosure of conflicts: my family runs a farm in Hollister CA (Tomatoes this year).

All you people talking about reducing the high water use crops are missing the point. If water allocations are reduced, it's not going to be almond crops or luxury items that are going off the market. Orchard crops are long term investments- you can't re-till a grove overnight. Switching to a grove from a field is making a long term gamble.

No, what will be hit are the crops with the lowest profit ratios. Lettuce, tomatoes. Food supplies for the poor. That is where the prices will be rising. And high costs of cheap staple foods- that, historically, is what leads to unrest.

Goddamit, we still have golf courses being water in LA, and water parks going in Concord. When people start going after the agricultural industry, I really feel it's an error of priorities. California is what keeps the North American food prices low, which in turn is what really helps us to dodge the bullet of rioting and civil unrest. If you neglect this essential infrastructure, well...
posted by LeRoienJaune at 10:07 PM on August 18 [36 favorites]


I'll believe LA is serious about water restrictions when I can step outside and not walk through mud. Or sprinklers.
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:11 PM on August 18 [4 favorites]


All that said there was a pretty bad fire in the mammoth pool area that burned some gorgeous forest, due to it being so dry.

That and campers making fires outside campground firepits and not putting it out fully (if we're talking about the French Fire).
posted by weston at 10:13 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]


I defintely understand wanting to maintain California agriculture but the simple fact of the matter is that between agriculture, municipal water and industrial uses the amount of water available in the Colorado river basin is basically already over allocated and based upon expected growth rates in the southwest (this problem is going to extend to Arizona, Nevada, Utah and Mexico at a minimum there needs to be a collective and objective look at where the water is going and if that is the best economic use of that resource because the problem isn't going to get significantly better anytime soon.

So yeah that means making some tough calls about whether maintaining a 100 acre orchard or lettuce field is a better use than a 100 acre water park or golf course (assuming similar water usage).

Obviously there would be an economic loss to the farmers who have to switch to less water intensive crops or go with fallow fields but that's where you pay people based upon the negative externalities you are expecting them to bear.

Yes there will probably be more expensive tomatoes or lettuce as a result and that could result in increased food prices but we all need to start understanding that unlimited cheap food has been a relatively new invention and is unlikely to be case long term. Yes dining habits will change but the truth is that it was always going to happen whether it was fossil fuel costs increasing the cost of bringing crops to market or water shortages making some forms of agriculture unsustainable in areas that should never have developed those methods.
posted by vuron at 10:28 PM on August 18


Dip Flash:
I'm part of the local water planning process and the first parts are easy ("conserve" plus a few basic trade offs) but after that the real plan is to hope it doesn't happen and if it does to demand federal funding to pump water in from the Columbia.

I promise I will never vote for repatriation of California to Mexico, if you promise to never come near our mighty Columbia.

ha-ha-only-serious.
posted by drfu at 10:33 PM on August 18 [3 favorites]


So yeah that means making some tough calls about whether maintaining a 100 acre orchard or lettuce field is a better use than a 100 acre water park or golf course (assuming similar water usage).

Well, for starters, you can't eat golf balls.
posted by smasuch at 10:36 PM on August 18


It's cool, drfu, if things get bad enough we're all just going to move up where you are anyway. And then we'll outvote you.
posted by Justinian at 10:36 PM on August 18 [2 favorites]


Oh what a surprise, Pyramid Lake is at 94% capacity.
posted by elsietheeel at 10:41 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]


Rice! A plant that needs a constant 5" of water for the duration of cultivation. Also seeded by aircraft, who knew?

It takes 5000 liters of water to produce 1 kilo of rice. One serving of rice requires 25 gallons of water to grow.

Why the hell is California growing that crop?

porpoise: "So what's the pro-solution angle here? Fission nuclearpower plants to drive desalination distilleries and bury the salt in Nevada (after having harvested the trailings for commercially desirable metals)?"

Most desalinization doesn't have salt as a by product rather high concentration salt water. However the obvious solution would be to pipe the high salt brine to Bonneville.
posted by Mitheral at 10:45 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]


Goddamit, we still have golf courses being water in LA, and water parks going in Concord. When people start going after the agricultural industry, I really feel it's an error of priorities.

Agriculture uses 80% of California's water. There's no way in hell to "prioritize" that last 20% in such a way as to allow agriculture to go on as it has been.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:49 PM on August 18 [15 favorites]


California rice crops are mainly in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, which is pretty much swampland where water already exists. Rice may need a lot of water to grow, but I think a lot of the water was already there, unlike the crops grown in dry areas that rely on irrigation from the California Aqueduct.
posted by elsietheeel at 10:54 PM on August 18 [2 favorites]


I've read about plans for a solar desalination plant near the Salton Sea. The basic idea is to create a pipeline from the Gulf of California to somewhere nearby and to power the plants using the abundant solar and wind power which could be harvested in the area and then use the Salton Sea as a brine sink to handle the byproducts. It seems kind of crazy, but then, these are crazy times.
posted by feloniousmonk at 10:56 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]


Also Wikipedia has some good overview articles about the issues and history that helped get us where we are today: California State Water Project and the Central Valley Project, and of course, Water in California.
posted by elsietheeel at 11:01 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]


The rice grown in California is a short grain rice which most Americans don't relish, it's an export crop. Many ranchers getting water from the water project agreed not to irrigate perennial crops with the water. Many have violated that agreement and no sanctions have been imposed. The burgeoning vineyards in California are water hogs. So there are three problem areas that could be explored with quick results. Wonder when it will happen...
posted by shnarg at 11:04 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]


California rice crops are mainly in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta,

Yes, a lot of rice is grown in the Yolo bypass, which is seasonally inundated. Flood irrigation in arid areas is a much more contentious issue.
posted by fshgrl at 11:07 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]


Perhaps it's time to introduce sand-lot golf and dust bath parks.
posted by Pudhoho at 11:15 PM on August 18


I moved from Los Angeles to Seattle a couple months ago after spending the lion's share of my life as a Californian. I'd be lying if I said this situation didn't figure into my decision. When we came up here for househunting trips I saw water running along the ground and caught myself thinking, "Ugh, how wasteful, someone left the water on," and then realized that actually water just straight falls from the sky here and runs around on its own. It was kind of a gut check to realize I've been in water scarcity mode for so long that the idea of a little babbling creek just doing its own thing is completely foreign to me.
posted by town of cats at 11:23 PM on August 18 [6 favorites]


Fun fact: the BC lower mainland is a huge river delta containing the most fertile soil in Canada. For decades, this valuable farmland has been protected under the Agricultural Land Reserve. Our latest neoliberal government has rescinded that protection. We are going to pave our best farmland. It's not like we need it, California can provide!
posted by five fresh fish at 11:24 PM on August 18 [4 favorites]


Mitheral: "It takes 5000 liters of water to produce 1 kilo of rice. One serving of rice requires 25 gallons of water to grow.

Why the hell is California growing that crop?"

5000 is a pretty big number, but it's a bit misleading to compare its usage in liters and kilograms when the comparisons for everything else is in gallons and pounds.

To frame it in proper context, a rough estimate of the gallons to pounds ratio for rice is 600 gallons for every pound of rice produced. So still pretty bad, but as the earlier article states, if you're looking to reduce water spending, your biggest gains would still be from cutting back on cow meat.
posted by Qberting at 11:33 PM on August 18


Sorry, unintentional superior unit of measure bias.
posted by Mitheral at 11:42 PM on August 18 [7 favorites]


Wasn't El Niño locked up in a prison when trying to immigrate to California?
And if there is a drought, how did that drunk die of drowning in a supposedly dry river bed?
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 5:35 AM on August 19


the blaming of the federal government for the Cali drought (chemtrails, anger about not being able to divert water from state parks/wilderness) makes me uneasy in a way a lot of similar crazy bullshit does not. 'Cause this is crazy built on a solid foundation of essential resource shortage.
posted by angrycat at 5:43 AM on August 19 [3 favorites]


The burgeoning vineyards in California are water hogs.

Wine grapes are desert plants and use very little water. (Weed cultivation, on the other hand, uses a lot of water, with the added bonus of often being illegal so using water not meant for agriculture.)

I promise I will never vote for repatriation of California to Mexico, if you promise to never come near our mighty Columbia.

I live in the Columbia basin, so we wouldn't have to pump it very far. But the last time this subject came up on MetaFilter I predicted that we will see serious attempts to pump Columbia water to California within my lifetime, and I still think that is true.

So yeah that means making some tough calls about whether maintaining a 100 acre orchard or lettuce field is a better use than a 100 acre water park or golf course (assuming similar water usage).

We currently have no rational or even irrational system to make those kinds of choices, other than the basic allocations by water right and type of use, and with some limitations produced by ESA court cases and agency decisions. Even irrigation efficiencies are opt-in (subsidized, but not required). The entire western water system is crazy at a legal and policy level, and of course that means that people use water in crazy ways.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:08 AM on August 19


"But the last time this subject came up on MetaFilter I predicted that we will see serious attempts to pump Columbia water to California within my lifetime, and I still think that is true. "

This is why my state is part of an 8-state, 2-province, 2-federal-goverment treaty that regulates increases in water use and the export of water from the Great Lakes. You basically have to pass any changes through 10 state and provincial legislatures and get the treaty ratified by the US and Canadian federal legislatures. Getting export uses approved is basically impossible; even getting local use increases approved is extremely difficult.

We also have a state law that prohibits sale of water out-of-drainage-basin, which the local water utility is grumbling about because it pretty desperately (and legitimately) needs funds for infrastructure improvement and the one thing we have AN AWFUL LOT OF is cheap water, but they can't sell it to anywhere that needs to import it. But the whole point of these laws is far less to do with potable water needs and safety (which is often presented as a primary justification) and more to do with jealously safeguarding midwestern agricultural water supplies in a water-scarce future when other parts of the country are increasingly looking to import water. We have no structural water shortage in the midwest (of course we have cyclical shortages) and BY GOD we're going to do everything we can to keep it that way by making the export process as politically impossible as it possibly can be.

We do have issues with aquifer depletion because so much of the midwest is on an aquifer that stretches into the dry high plains, and we have local area concerns about rivers drying up or rainfall patterns shifting, but overall the area as a whole should be safe for agriculture -- albeit changed agriculture -- into the next 100 years of global warming. I do think the vast availability of very cheap water here reduces conservation efforts that would be helpful, but those seem to be accelerating so we'll cross our fingers. We get attitude spillover from drought states which results in positive attitudes towards conservation, which helps.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:41 AM on August 19 [6 favorites]


Maybe it's time for a bit of guerrilla marketing in California: 'The average Californian rice farmer uses enough water for 150 non-farmers.'

I looked into it, because our teabagging piece-of-shit congressman is a rice farmer (whose hatred for big gub'ment doesn't stop him from taking ginormous subsidies, of course), but it turns out rice is apparently fairly efficient in terms of water used versus food output. As mentioned above, almonds are a much bigger problem. (And I'm part of the problem because I could never give up Trader Joe's almond butter. (Or meat.))
posted by entropicamericana at 8:16 AM on August 19 [1 favorite]


Wine grapes are desert plants and use very little water.

That doesn't necessarily mean that wineries don't use much water, however, and doesn't make them immune from questions about whether or not the water they do use is going toward its best use.

In Central California they're trying but not everyone is convinced.
posted by weston at 8:27 AM on August 19


The real "fix" is population. That's the uncomfortable truth no one likes to discuss. Every stop-gap measure just allows for more people, and the same problem arises again as the can is kicked down the road, requiring ever more difficult solutions. We have a proven low-tech solution: voluntary family planning (eg. access to condoms, legal abortion). World population is growing while food production is stagnating or dropping due to situations like in CA, the Punjab in India (it's breadbasket where wells are now so deep few can afford to drill them), droughts in Australia, Africa, Europe. Good luck humanity, the green revolution has been a wild ride but you forgot the other side of the coin, family planning.
posted by stbalbach at 8:46 AM on August 19 [5 favorites]


There was a lot of concern in America about over-population in the early 70s, I think? Or early to mid-70s, but it got dropped as a Thing. I think because it's a very difficult thing for people to feel they can regulate or control - partly because you're seen as interfering with a personal choice.

Also it's just hard to wrap your head around - huge numbers and different cultures and different strategies for each culture.

Frankly I would like less of a "don't eat almonds" approach and more of a "drip-feeding" approach mentioned above.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 9:35 AM on August 19


California rice crops are mainly in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, which is pretty much swampland where water already exists. Rice may need a lot of water to grow, but I think a lot of the water was already there, unlike the crops grown in dry areas that rely on irrigation from the California Aqueduct.
The islands in the delta are so much lower than the water table that it is one of the few places where they turn the pumps off to water their crops.
posted by Badgermann at 9:51 AM on August 19 [1 favorite]


  • California Drought Transforms Global Food Market - "Growers have adapted to the record-low rainfall by installing high-technology irrigation systems, watering with treated municipal wastewater and even recycling waste from the processing of pomegranates to feed dairy cows. Some are taking land out of production altogether, bulldozing withered orange trees and leaving hundreds of thousands of acres unplanted."
  • California Drought Will Cost $2.2 Billion in Agriculture Losses This Year: About 3.8% of State's Farm Jobs Expected to Be Cut - "The estimates by the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California, Davis, expand on its earlier assessment of drought impacts, which had centered on the state's Central Valley. In addition to $810 million in estimated losses there, the center calculates that dairy and livestock producers statewide will be hit with $203 million in losses, while the need to use more groundwater will add about $500 million in pumping costs... growers' ability to tap groundwater to replace shipments they have lost from lowered reservoirs has kept the losses from being far higher."
  • California drought: Lawmakers consider historic rules to limit groundwater pumping - "In what would be the most significant water law passed in California in nearly 50 years, lawmakers in Sacramento are working with Gov. Jerry Brown on a landmark measure to regulate groundwater pumping for the first time. With an Aug. 31 deadline until the end of the session and billions of dollars at stake, negotiations among farmers, environmentalists, cities and elected officials are reaching a crescendo."
  • The Future of Water in Southern California - "At this forum, co-hosted by Milken Institute and KPCC and moderated by Larry Mantle of KPCC's AirTalk program, representatives from utilities, advocacy groups and businesses will discuss the drought's impact on towns and cities in the region. Beyond examining the scope of the problem, these experts will debate the best municipal and statewide strategies to ensure our continued access to H2O."
re: el niño, fwiw...
  • To Relieve Drought in California, Strong El Nino Is Needed - "Fifteen percent of historic El Niños would have been wet enough to lift California out of its current drought."
  • Snow, Cold, and Drought: The Coming Winter Might Be Brutal - "The reasons have to do with El Nino, and a certain type of El Nino that may be developing. There have been indications that an El Nino was on the way for months, and while there were signs early on that it might be a big one, most meteorologists thought this was overdone, and it turns out they were probably right. The last few weeks have seen Pacific ocean waters cool somewhat and the NOAA Climate Prediction Center issued an update this last week that there is a 70% chance of seeing El Nino conditions this winter. This is still fairly high, but the more important news is that there seems to be a real possibility that we will see a type of event called a MODOKI El Nino. Modoki type El Nino events are much different that traditional warm episodes... Notice how in Modoki winters we see a very cold pattern in the SE and Mid Atlantic with warm weather in the NW U.S. This kind of pattern is called a PNA (Pacific North American) pattern and is very familiar to forecasters, because it means cold and snowy weather in the eastern U.S. and drought/warm weather for California."
  • El Nino Project (Part 7) - "Precisely defining a complicated climate phenomenon like El Niño is a tricky business. Lots of different things tend to happen when an El Niño occurs."
posted by kliuless at 9:59 AM on August 19 [2 favorites]


Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler
A SEA change in the consumption of a resource that Americans take for granted may be in store — something cheap, plentiful, widely enjoyed and a part of daily life. And it isn’t oil.

It’s meat.

The two commodities share a great deal: Like oil, meat is subsidized by the federal government. Like oil, meat is subject to accelerating demand as nations become wealthier, and this, in turn, sends prices higher. Finally — like oil — meat is something people are encouraged to consume less of, as the toll exacted by industrial production increases, and becomes increasingly visible.
And U.S. could feed 800 million people with grain that livestock eat, Cornell ecologist advises animal scientists.

Neither article covers the use of water for feed animals, but this article cites another source, saying half the water consumed in the U.S. is used to grow grain for cattle feed.

From my time working in the Central Coast of California, I learned that some areas were subsiding because of the amount of groundwater being withdrawn. The land was sinking because of the local draw on water, where the agricultural wells had no water meters to keep track of water usage. That's groundwater capacity that's not coming back. The primary culprit at the time was the booming wine industry, which was expanding into what was once grazing land, most of it which was previously not irrigated.

Now I live in a proper desert, where the pecan business is booming, but flood irrigation is the most common irrigation method. There has been local research into irrigation schedules (PDF), but those are just nice ideas from college folks, I'm not sure how much of that is adopted by the pecan farmers.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:49 AM on August 19


From my time working in the Central Coast of California, I learned that some areas were subsiding because of the amount of groundwater being withdrawn.

Not a new phenomenon in the San Joaquin Valley.
posted by entropicamericana at 11:40 AM on August 19 [3 favorites]


Thanks for posting all these articles. I keep a close eye on this issue, since we live in the Phoenix Metro area. My husband might think I'm joking, but I'm dead serious when I say, that the moment it comes down to a choice between keeping the water in CA to produce the crops that feed the nation cheaply, or allowing that water to flow down to the states like AZ that need it to support our wildly wasteful cities of 5 million, California's going to win.

People might like the wonderful climate of Phoenix, but they love their cheap fruit and veg more. We'll lose, and with only a pittance of water left, our property values will plummet. I plan on selling the house and getting out before then.

It's a shame, I was born and raised here. 90% of my family and friends are here. But I won't ride down on a sinking ship when we're both perfectly capable of finding new jobs in a place where water actually still falls from the sky on a regular basis.

((Yes, I know I sound crazy. Any and all sources of valid info on why I might be wrong would be welcome!))
posted by sharp pointy objects at 11:56 AM on August 19 [1 favorite]




Just want to say that am "acre-foot" is the stupidest measurement I've seen in a long time. We have gallons, liters, etc!
posted by blue_beetle at 12:15 PM on August 19


Just want to say that am "acre-foot" is the stupidest measurement I've seen in a long time. We have gallons, liters, etc!

An acre-foot is not a useful unit of measurement for small scales. But it is useful for farms, where land is measured in acres. For example, if you have 200 acres and you use 6 inches of water on them, then that uses 100 acre-feet.
posted by number9dream at 12:23 PM on August 19 [1 favorite]


Just want to say that am "acre-foot" is the stupidest measurement I've seen in a long time. We have gallons, liters, etc!

...it is useful for farms, where land is measured in acres...


Or for calculating the how much water is lost when half of a foot evaporates off of a 1000 acre reservoir, or doing any math that goes from 1 dimension to 3. An acre-foot is an integer multiple of cubic feet, whereas it equals 0.32585143326 million gallons [1]--not nice.

Also, acre-feet have been the established units of water since the west was settled, so good luck changing it to liters or anything else. Perhaps I can interest you in some "cfs-days"?
posted by polecat at 1:32 PM on August 19 [3 favorites]


I predicted that we will see serious attempts to pump Columbia water to California within my lifetime, and I still think that is true.

"Serious attempts" meaning that chuckle-headed politicians will keep raising the idea until they see the price tag? Here's somebody's estimate that it would cost $140 billion to build an undersea pipeline that would last 10 years. Surely they haven't taken into account a fortune of environmental mitgation, but how much improvement to irrigation systems can be bought for $140 billion? Who's going to pay? The eastern states have gotten wise to how the Bureau of Reclamation has ripped them off in past decades. And what's the cost of Oregon and Washington seceding from the US and incorporating into Canada?
posted by polecat at 2:09 PM on August 19


That doesn't necessarily mean that wineries don't use much water,

They use a lot less than breweries. Breweries use a metric fuckton of water. Lagunitas had to move because they were destroying the local water systems with the volume of water run through the place.
posted by fshgrl at 3:01 PM on August 19 [2 favorites]


Not to mention the amount of water needed to grow the grain to put in the mash tun.
posted by elsietheeel at 3:49 PM on August 19


We had a serious multi-year drought in my part of Australia until a few years ago. There was a massive and successful government campaign to change people's attitudes, as well as penalties for things like washing your car with a hose, and watering your lawn. I can't recall how much our water use fell by, but it was both dramatic and necessary: we were down to about a quarter of our storage capacity. The drought broke, just after we built a desalination plant, but the lower water consumption rates remained. I'm really surprised California hasn't introduced anything similar: the earlier they do this, the more effective it is and the longer their supplies will last.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:21 PM on August 19 [2 favorites]


There are many reasons why California doesn't enact mandatory restrictions. Part of the problem is that there are many different agencies setting local policies rather than a top-down, state-level approach such as you might see in a nation that, you know, does rational things once in a while.

The cynical reason that nobody is taking action now is that there is an election this November, and it could be politically unpopular to introduce rationing.
posted by number9dream at 8:03 PM on August 19 [1 favorite]


AFAIK, all the wineries and most of the fruit crops in the BC Okanagan valley are drip-fed. I'm astounded that this is not the norm everywhere. How frigging stupid.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:25 PM on August 19 [1 favorite]


The islands in the delta are so much lower than the water table that it is one of the few places where they turn the pumps off to water their crops.

in case you missed it...
California's Katrina? The great delta dilemma
IT COULD happen tomorrow. As California is sweltering through another hot, dry summer, the ground in the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta begins to shake as a large earthquake strikes. Here, a network of river channels wend their way around dozens of "islands" as they flow down to San Francisco Bay. The locals call them islands but that's not quite right, for the land in between the rivers has sunk well below the water level - in places by as much as 8 metres. In reality, they are immense pits, protected only by often-fragile earthen levees.

Geologists had warned that a big earthquake nearby might liquefy the levees and cause them to fail. Within minutes of the quake, they are proved right. The levees give way in dozens of places, and the fresh water in the river channels begins to pour down onto 40 of the region's 60 or so islands. With little fresh water flowing through the delta after years of drought, saltwater from the tidal zone starts to flow upstream towards the breaches in the levees, deep into the heart of the delta. Within hours, brackish water is flooding across vast areas of farmland and thousands of delta residents and farmworkers are forced to flee. Almost all survive, but many lose their homes and livelihoods.

It's a major disaster, and it has only just begun. On the seaward side of the delta are massive pumps that usually work ceaselessly every day, transferring vast quantities of fresh water from the delta into canals and aqueducts heading for the farms and cities of southern California. A significant proportion of the water for the 19 million people living in California's Metropolitan Water District comes from the delta, but as saltwater rushes in, the pumps have to be shut off. It will be a year or more before the levees can be repaired and the saltwater flushed from the channels. Only then can pumping resume.

This would be a serious problem at the best of times. The green of Southern California is only sustained by extraordinary feats of water engineering - no wonder some have called the state a "magnificent illusion". But California is already suffering its worst drought in history. The loss of the delta water could not have come at a worse time and threatens to destroy the illusion completely.
posted by kliuless at 3:03 PM on August 20


Drought-Stricken California Town Struggles to Keep the Water Flowing
Water travels to Montague in what Tyhurst calls “deliveries.” Every few weeks, some 200 acre-feet are released into a 26-mile canal that was constructed with farm irrigation in mind. The unlined ditch is poorly suited to water conservation. Much of it is bare earth, which gulps down a lot of the water long before it reaches the town, to say nothing of what evaporates in transit.
The irony is that as others have noted, the water delivery system of open ditches can often lose as much water as it eventually delivers. From memory the reporter in the audio segment said in this case it loses 90% of the water released between evaporation and soaking into the ground.
posted by GuyZero at 3:29 PM on August 20


Western drought causes Earth's surface to rise as water levels drop - water is heavy, its weight depresses the Earth's upper crust. Remove the weight, and the crust springs upward. Underneath the snow-starved mountains of California, where the Earth rose up three-fifths of an inch.

Meanwhile in Clovis, New Mexico, the city plans to pay farmers with federal grant money to stop watering their crops. Farmers would be paid about $400 an acre to make the switch.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:31 PM on August 22


Thanks entropicamericana, that San Joaquin Valley photo is amazing! It says more about water in California than anything else I've seen. Go look at it right now.
posted by sneebler at 10:09 AM on August 24


IT COULD happen tomorrow. As California is sweltering through another hot, dry summer, the ground in the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta begins to shake as a large earthquake strikes.
posted by kliuless at 6:03 PM on August 20


Not so kliuless kliuless.
posted by stbalbach at 12:27 PM on August 24


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