Archive | Water

Living with Water Scarcity. David Zetland


Water economist and Aguanomics blogger David Zetland discusses water scarcity, the politics of water, human rights to water, and of course, the economics of water in his new book Living With Water Scarcity. Zetland is well-known in the world of water geeks and blogs prolifically, over 5,000 posts so far about water.

Do you worry that there is not enough water for people, the economy and environment? Do you wonder if the water in our taps and rivers is safe or polluted? Do you want to know if farmers waste water, utilities charge too much, or bottled water destroys ecosystems? You’re not alone in asking questions. The headlines say “drought, pollution, conflict and insecurity,” but the stories offer few solutions.

Living with Water Scarcity clarifies the connections among personal and social water flows in an accessible style. It describes the origins and costs of water scarcity and explains how to address it with fair and pragmatic policies. You and your community can live with water scarcity — just manage water as the precious resource it is.

The paperback is $9, the Kindle version is $5, and you can download a PDF for free because he wants to get the word out.

That’s why I’m happy to say that at least 900 people have downloaded the book in the past few days. That’s triple the number who bought copies in the past four months. It seems that many people want to understand water scarcity, but few people have an idea of the value of that knowledge. Perhaps reading will help them get a better idea.
Bottom Line: My book is free, but your time is not. Check it out, then tell me if it helps you understand water issues and help your community.

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California may finally regulate groundwater pumping by Big Ag, cities


California is the only state in the West that does not fully regulate groundwater pumping. This may finally be about to change. It’s long overdue. Aquifers are being drained, ground is sinking in affected areas, yet some farmers and cities aren’t required to have water meters or regulate the water they use from wells. Decades of foolish water policy are finally catching up with California due to the drought.

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.

Although landowners who want to divert water from reservoirs and rivers have been required to get a permit from the state since 1914, farmers and cities who tap underground aquifers — California’s largest water source — can pump as much as they want, when they want and with almost no oversight or limits.

Unregulated groundwater pumping hurts everyone in California, while making a few wealthy. It needs to be stopped now. Plus, the cost of water to Big Ag and cities needs to rise, something which will also cut usage. This means everyone pays more for water and food. That’s just how it’s going to be.

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Water-well drillers backlogged in sinking California Central Valley

Credit: Credit: Amy Quinton, Capital Public Radio

Credit: Credit: Amy Quinton, Capital Public Radio

The agricultural heartland that is the California Central Valley is slowing sinking as groundwater is pumped out at a furious rate due to the drought. Subsidence, the sinking of land due to pumping water out of aquifers, causes major problems for canals, water pipes, roads, and more.. In some areas the land is sinking a foot a year.

Since it is impossible reinforce underground aquifers, when the land sinks it takes whatever is on top along for the ride. Sneed warns that because most infrastructure isn’t very flexible, like roads, railways and pipelines, they end up being broken or impacted because of subsidence.

California is the only state in the western United States that does not regulate groundwater pumping. There are currently bills in both the Assembly and state Senate that would change that.

Once land sinks, it never comes back to the previous levels.

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Prioritizing water for people over agriculture in Arizona

Central Arizona Project

Central Arizona Project

As the Southwest drought continues, water increasingly will be diverted from agriculture to cities, reducing the amount of land used for crops. This will lead to increases in the price of food and competition between cities and agriculture for water, as is starting to happen in Arizona now.

We are not suggesting farmers should use as much water as they wish; they must be given incentives to adopt water-saving strategies. Philanthropist Howard Buffett, who farms in Cochise County, recently said, “I don’t believe there should be a single acre of flood irrigation (for row crops) in Arizona. If we fully adopt drip and center pivot systems, it is realistic for Arizona farmers to cut their water use in half.”

59 percent of Arizonans surveyed strongly support reserving Arizona’s water for local food production, while 33 percent felt it somewhat important to consider local food production in the future allocations of Arizona’s water supplies.

Further complicating this is the thicket of arcane water law governing who gets what and when. Arizona cities have junior water rights to California Imperial Valley farmers. However it is inconceivable water would be shut off to Arizona cities while CA Big Ag got its full allotment. If things really got dire, water law would simply be ignored.

‘Tucson and other Arizona cities have made huge advancement in water management. Tucson has made a 90% reduction in groundwater pumping since 1994 even as its population has increased.

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San Luis Reservoir in Pacheco Pass CA is very low


The San Luis Reservoir stores water for San Jose and other cities and also provides hydropower. As you can see, it is very low. In a normal year, the water would probably be 50 feet higher.  A farmer’s pond on the way to it was mostly full two months ago. Today it was dry. The San Luis Reservoir is on  CA-152 between I-5 and CA-101 at Gilroy.

Yeah, yeah, I know, it should be in landscape mode but hey, it was 110 and I hiked up a steep hill in sandals to take it!

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Potential water shortages made worse by electricity production

Wind farm and solar panel

The biggest use of water in the US, 41%, is for power generation. Coal, natural gas, and nuclear power require large amounts of water for cooling. The same is true in other countries, many of whom are also facing water shortages. A new study says this should be a primary reason to move to wind and solar PV, because they require practically no water. In addition, another major use of electricity is to move water, especially in arid areas. In California, 19% of power was used to pump water in 2011. Thus, 60% of total California water usage is for creating energy and pumping water. Running faster and faster to stay in the same place?

During the summer of 2011, Texas experienced the worst drought in state history.

One of the main reasons residents did not experience blackouts that summer was Texas’ wind energy production, the researchers said. At least 10 percent of the state’s energy needs were provided by wind that summer, up to 18 percent on some days — making it an important alternative to nuclear, coal and natural gas.

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Drought reduces California hydropower, forcing use of natural gas

Folsom Lake, CA. Credit: Robert Couse-Baker. Flickr

Folsom Lake, CA. Credit: Robert Couse-Baker. Flickr

California utilities are being forced to use natural gas plants to create electricity as drought cuts down on hydropower generation. Lakes and dams where hydropower is used are sometimes less than 50% full. Without ample water, the energy can’t be created.

Increasingly, utilities are using natural gas power plants as fallbacks. However natural gas creates more emissions than hydro and is also more expensive. California has an ambitious plan to generate 33% renewable in-state energy by 2020. A continued dry spell will certainly impact those plans, even if California doesn’t count big hydro as renewable energy. (This odd distinction is probably due to political considerations. If big hydro isn’t renewable, then big solar and big wind projects must be built, and will have captive buyers. How cozy is that for big money?)

In 2011 hydropower account for 18.2% of California energy. In 2012 it plunged to 11,7% 2013 numbers haven’t been released yet but are probably even worse.

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Las Vegas is not even close to running out of water

Lake Mead bathtub ring 2010. (Credit:

Lake Mead bathtub ring 2010. (Credit:

Las Vegas recycles and reuses all indoor water, including what is flushed down toilets. All that water is purified, pumped into Lake Mead, and reused over and over again, making it a leader in reusing water.

Southern Nevada has 1.5 million acre feet of water stockpiled throughout the region, enough to last five years. A new intake line from Lake Mead will provide water even if the water level drops another 80 feet. A proposed pumping station will pump water to Vegas even if the level drop 180 feet more and is too low to release water downstream.

In addition, a new program, the Colorado River System Conservation Program, will pay big water users to cut back, further preserving water in Lake Mead.

Southern Nevada Water Authority head John Entsminger says the sky is not falling in at Vegas isn’t going to dry up and blow away.

Entsminger said the last time the lake hit a record low was in November 2010, and that was immediately followed by one of the wettest winters on record, enough to raise the surface of the nation’s largest man-made reservoir more than 30 feet.

Either way, he said, the valley will be ready. “We have a secure and sound water portfolio” for the next 50 years at least — one that will allow the community to grow responsibly while living within its comparatively small share of the Colorado River.

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Desalination now used for brackish groundwater, sewer water as well as sea water

Reverse Osmosis Trains of the Groundwater Replenishment System, Orange County CA. Credit:

Reverse Osmosis Trains of the Groundwater Replenishment System, Orange County CA. Credit:

Desalination techniques are now being used to clean up dirty water of all types, including sewer water. Yuck, you say? Maybe not. Purifying and reusing water that used to be discarded is certainly one excellent solution to drought. The Groundwater Replenishment System in Orange County, CA cleans up sewer water then pumps it into aquifers and into a buffer to protect against salt water intrusion.

“That’s what’s particularly interesting to us — we can run on really, really dirty water,” Webley said. “Where you really should start with this whole thing is, let’s squeeze everything we can out of re-use and then start talking about other options.”

Traditional desal uses sea water, then pumps the salt back into the ocean with obvious adverse effects on local habitats. Using desal techniques to purify grey or dirty water avoids those problems and creates new possibilities for recycling water.

A massive desalination facility will open in San Diego in 2016, producing 54 million gallons of water a day. Water FX has developed a solar thermal powered water cleansing system for agricultural water which can output 14,000 gallons a day. Lots of folks are working hard at cleaning up water.

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Drop that garden hose and reach for the sky. CA gets tough on water waste

"Them mangy water wasters have a surprise or two coming, ma'am"

“Them mangy water wasters have a surprise or two coming, ma’am”

Despite the obvious severity of the California drought and repeated conservation warnings from the state, water usage has actually INCREASED in some areas, mostly notably piggish southern California, which was up 8%. So, California is now mandating that certain types of water waste are criminal acts similar to a speeding ticket and subject to $500 a day fines. This includes hosing down driveways and sidewalks and letting landscape water drain into the street.

Not everyone in California realizes how bad this drought is,” said Felicia Marcus, chair of the State Water Resources Control Board. Speaking of the May data, she said, “Folks just didn’t get how bad this is and how bad it could be. We are really in desperate times.”

Agriculture is exempted, so the whole thing is a bit of a joke isn’t it? Sue and I are moving to Vegas soon. They get it about water there and have for years. California is still in denial, apparently living in a dream world about water.

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