California Central Valley water allocations for 2015 are dire

Central Valley, State Project canala

Bureau of Reclamation allocations for their Central Valley Project is a devastating 0% for farmers and 25% for municipal and industrial contractors. For the second year in a row, valley agriculture will receive no water at all, an unprecedented situation. This will inevitably lead to more wells being drilled, further depleting already stressed aquifers. Once aquifers are depleted beyond a certain point, they lose the ability to hold water. If that happens in the Central Valley, it would be catastrophic, not only for the area but for consumers across the country since food prices would rise sharply.

Hundreds of shallow wells in the area have already gone dry. California, alone among all western states, still does not regulate groundwater pumping. (It did pass a mostly toothless law last year about this that will take years to implement. If the drought continues, it doesn’t have years because the damage will already have been done)

The CVP was created in 1933 to transport water from the Sierras to the arid, agricultural heartland of San Joaquin Valley. It works sometimes in conjunction with the California State Water Project to send water hundreds of miles southward through the valley to southern California. The two are water lifelines for the much of California.

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Generating power from flow of water in existing water lines


Lucid Energy installs turbines inside major water mains. The flow of water turns the turbines, creating electricity. Unlike other forms of renewable energy, this is not dependent on the weather, only on downhill water flow, making it excellent for heavy industry, server farms, and more. The video highlights the deep relationship between water and power. It takes electricity to move water and it takes often takes large amounts of water to create energy. Using these turbines on major water pipelines would get the amount of outside energy needed to move the water. Big power plants and industrial areas that use large amounts of water can also use it to cut their power bill. The water pressure is there inside the pipes. Lucid Energy turns it into electricity.

Driven by the demand for reliable, cost-effective electricity, water- and energy-intensive industries, municipalities and agricultural irrigation districts worldwide can deploy our in-pipe hydropower system to generate millions of megawatt hours of renewable electricity from the water already flowing through their pipelines – without interrupting flow.

LucidPipe systems can be deployed 3-4 turbine diameters apart, so up to four LucidPipe units can be installed in a standard 40-foot section of pipe. One mile of 42” diameter pipeline could produce as much as 3 megawatts or more of electricity

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Drought watch. Lower Colorado states ok for now, Upper Colorado, not so much

The Colorado River supplies crucial amounts of water to seven states. The water comes primarily from precipitation in the Rockies. However, lower Colorado states (AZ, CA, NV) are in much better shape than upper Colorado states (CO, NM, UT, WY) because they have so much water banked in Lake Mead, Lake Powell, and elsewhere. So, paradoxically perhaps, Colorado farmers may get slammed this year because not enough water will flow down from mountains into their fields while Vegas, Phoenix and Los Angeles may not have cutbacks, at least for a while.

Let’s start with Las Vegas and the other water users of the Lower Colorado River Basin. In addition to Vegas, this includes Phoenix, Tucson, and Los Angeles/San Diego. More importantly (in terms of the volume of water used), it includes the Imperial Irrigation District and a lot of other farmers in the LoCo desert basins. For them, at least for this year, the dwindling snowpack means nothing. With two big upstream reservoirs as buffers, the water allocation rules call for full deliveries this year for all the Lower Basin water users. In the longer term, however, a shortfall upstream moves us closer to the point where Lake Mead drops so low that we could see a shortage declaration in the next few years. At that point, supplies available to Arizona and Nevada are reduced first. (What happens at that point is crazy complicated.)

The Imperial Irrigation District in California, due to water rights dating back to the 1890s, gets 20% of all water from the Colorado. Should a shortage declaration be called, it would be politically impossible for cities in Nevada and Arizona to have forced, mandatory rationing while the IID agriculture continued to get its full share. Some sort of deal would have to be brokered quickly else real live water wars would become a distinct possibility.

The Upper Basin is different. While Lower Basin folks are all in a lather about the possibility of shortages at some point in the future, in the Upper Basin, where you’re getting your water directly from the mountain snowpack, shortage is imposed by nature and happens all the time.

There, you have smaller irrigation districts near the headwaters, farmers pulling directly from depleted streams. You can see what happened to them during comparable bad times during the drought of the early ’00s. In wet years over the last decade, farmers in the state of Colorado used 1.5 million to 1.6 million acre feet. In drought years, they used 1.2maf or less. This is not operating rules imposing shortages because there is not enough water in a reservoir. This is hydrology – if there isn’t water flowing down the river, the field goes dry.

Crazy isn’t it? Not enough water upstream, yet still enough downstream.

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Salt water barriers may come to Sacramento Delta, amid squabbling

The California Department of Water Resources says it doesn’t need to file an Environmental Impact Report before installing salinity barriers in the Sacramento Delta to prevent intrusion of salt water from the San Francisco Bay into the crucial Sacramento River. Locals in the Delta strongly disagree, and rightfully protest degradation of their area (which has enormously fertile farmland) for the benefit of the Central Valley and southern California.

Current salinity levels are at 200, which is safe. A 900 reading is a warning and 1,400 would be apocalyptic. A few big rains and the problem would be gone for this year. However, if the drought continues, then barriers will probably need to be used. The problem is the Sacramento Delta and River provide large amounts of water for the entire state, with canals sending water hundreds of miles southward. In a serious drought there simply isn’t enough to go around, and salinity intruding simply cannot be allowed. Once the salt is in, it’s very difficult to get it out.

In my opinion, those in and around the Delta generally getting shafted in water fights against much bigger and better funded Central Valley and SoCal water interests.

It may look like just a sleepy little slough 30 miles from California’s capitol, but the Steamboat area in Courtland is really a hotbed of worry – all about water and how salty it may become in the intensifying drought.

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Is bulk water transport by ocean feasible in California?

Towed water bags in Turkey

Towed water bags in Turkey

Recent plant closures Humboldt County in northern California have lessened their demand for water. San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and San Diego need more water. Desalination is a possibility. So, apparently, is bulk water transport, transporting water by ocean in giant bags towed by ocean-going tugs. While this may sound bizarre, it’s already happening in some Greek islands and Turkey.

We examine a potential transfer from Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District (HBMWD) in northern California to each of three candidate municipal agencies along the coast of central and southern California. HBMWD has available water as discussed later in the paper. Each potential buyer anticipates demand increases that cannot be met with available supplies, and is therefore actually contemplating ocean-water desalination as a means to augment supply. HBMWD is currently seeking a use for water recently made available by industrial plant closures in its service territory. This is an appealing location for testing the economic feasibility of water bags because the costs and controversy that often plague inter-regional water transfers are minimal. If oceanic bulk water transport is found to be competitive in this case study, it might also be competitive elsewhere.

Thus, assuming no technical difficulties and / or rogue swordfish, towing water along the coast of California could be cost-efficient compared to desalination.

Cost of water bags vs desalination in California

Cost of water bags vs desalination in California

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Sacramento Delta salinity control barriers may be needed if CA drought continues


The Sacramento Delta provides a substantial amount of water for California from the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers. If the California drought continues, the Delta is in danger of salt water intrusion from San Francisco Bay. This cannot be allowed to happen. The Department of Water Resources is making contingency plans to install barriers to prevent such as catastrophe (and it would be a catastrophe.)

The emergency drought barriers would limit saltwater intrusion, minimizing the amount of water that must be released from upstream reservoirs to repel the salt. Too much saltwater too deep in the Delta can contaminate water supplies for Contra Costa, Alameda and Santa Clara county residents, Delta residents and the 25 million Californians who rely on the Delta-based federal and state water projects.

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Kansas aqueduct would cost $18 billion


I’m guessing many Kansas farmers who want the damn government out of their bizness are the very same farmers who want the government to finance a hugely costly aqueduct / canal to send water to them. Indeed, we all mostly want the government out of our lives until we need it to do something for us.

The High Plains aquifer, which includes the Ogalala aquifer, supplies water to six states, including, and is stressed and over-used. The chart shows it is already in perilous shape. Farmers, in desperation, have revived a plan to build a huge aquifer to pump Missouri River water uphill 360 miles to Kansas. So what happens to downstream Missouri River users who rely on that water? And how would such a mammoth project be financed? No one knows.

Farm districts in western Kansas, which rely on the Ogallala Aquifer, a finite resource, for irrigation have dusted off and promoted the project, which was first analyzed in 1982 and is viewed as a lifeline for agriculture. The canal, which would actually stretch 420 miles but was analyzed according to 1982 specifications, would deliver between 900,000 acre-feet and 3.2 million acre-feet while lifting it a third of a mile in elevation.

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Recent California rains not nearly enough


California reservoirs are still much lower than normal. The rains helped, however the severe crisis still exists. Aguanomics says this is not the time for California to forget about the problem. Major structural changes are needed in California’s water policy.

California and other western states really do need to focus on reforming outdated institutions for managing water, i.e.,

  • Deciding on the split between environmental and economic flows
  • Improving the design and function of water markets
  • Monitoring and regulating groundwater
  • Pricing urban water for costs AND scarcity (that latter price should be zero when water’s abundant)

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California drought worsens from 2013, more areas in exceptional drought


Recent rains in California eased the drought noticeably, however it’s not nearly enough. 78% of the state is still in severe (D3) or exceptional (D4) drought. The area in exceptional drought did drop from 58% to 23% in three months. However, one year ago, there were no exceptional drought areas in California. Thus, conditions now in California are much worse than last year.

2014 was the hottest in California in 120 years. Snowpack in the crucial Sierra Nevadas, which feeds the Sacramento River Delta and much of the state, is one-third of normal. Parts of Texas, Oklahoma, and Nevada are in exceptional drought too, but nowhere near as much as California. Drought is lessening in Colorado, which perhaps bodes well for the crucial Colorado River, which brings water to seven states.


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NOAA says California drought NOT due to climate change

Those hysterical climate-changer deniers at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say the California drought is primarily caused by natural variability not global warming. This didn’t stop other scientists from saying the natural variability is due to climate change. Maybe not. California experienced a 240 year drought starting in the year 850, and that was long before climate change was an issue. So clearly, there has always been huge variability in California weather. Which is all the more reason for California to implement toilet-to-tap everywhere and to conserve and reuse water whenever possible.

A new report, based on seven models that ran 160 “reenactments” of the last three years, concludes that “perhaps about two-thirds of the precipitation deficits” of the last three years have been the product of various convergent factors, including “a randomness of the atmosphere,” says Marty Hoerling, a climate scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration‘s Earth System Research Laboratory and one of the study’s co-authors.

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Bob Morris


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