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California drought cropland

California mandating water cuts for those with senior rights

California water law is a convoluted mess of senior and junior rights, special exemptions, and insanely, voluntary reporting of water use coupled with no regulation at all of groundwater pumping. The drought is now so severe that for the first time in decades, California is mandating senior water rights (pre-1914). This won’t help as much as you might expect because these  water users may well just pump more groundwater and then report voluntarily on how much they use. Aquifers will become further depleted.

California regulates water using a system that encourages selfishness to the point that it hurts everyone. It needs to create a system where the common good comes first and where, among other things, groundwater pumping is regulated, something all other western states already do.

Under California’s system, the cuts are based on seniority. Those who have younger claims have to stop taking water from rivers and streams so there is enough flow left to satisfy the demand of those with older claims.

The most senior rights holders in California are a mix of farmers, irrigation districts, utilities with hydropower stations, and cities, including San Francisco.

In yet another twist in the state’s convoluted water system, some large irrigation districts with senior rights have long-standing agreements with the big government projects and would not be subject to the curtailments.

So, senior water rights will be cut, except when they aren’t. Right.

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Los Angeles Aquedect Cascades, where Owens Valley water is deleivered to L.A.

Water supplies being halted due to California drought

Los Angeles Aqueduct Cascades, where Owens Valley water is delivered to L.A.

Los Angeles Aqueduct Cascades, where Owens Valley water is delivered to L.A.

Water supplies to Los Angeles as well as Fresno agriculture are being seriously reduced and in some cases completely halted due to the drought.

L.A. getting no Owens Valley runoff for first time since 1913

As severe drought continues to grip California, the DWP confirmed Thursday that it had dammed the aqueduct at Owens Lake in order to conserve meager Eastern Sierra snow runoff.

“Basically, we will not be exporting any water from the Eastern Sierra runoff to Los Angeles this year until November, and when we do it will be only 15% of what Los Angeles would typically receive during an average year,” Parsons said. Usually, the aqueduct supplies Los Angeles with a third of its water.

Fresno Irrigation District farmers to get no water for first time in a century

Fresno Irrigation District farmer Gene Branch said that while the news was not unexpected, it was still sobering. “It is devastating,” Branch said. “But what are you going to do, but turn on your pump and hopefully there will be a sufficient amount of groundwater to get us through.”

Branch, the former general manager of Consolidated Irrigation District in Selma, said he understands the tough decisions districts make in times of drought. “You can’t release water you don’t have,” Branch said.

Water theft becomes common consequence of ongoing California drought.

Huge amounts of water went missing from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and a state investigation was launched.

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El Nino has arrived and could be ginormous


Read this and hope, California. “A majority of the global atmosphere ocean models are currently suggesting the potential for an [El Nino] event rivaling the strongest event in the historical record.” Whoa. This could mean deluges of rain will be coming in the Fall and Winter. Yes, sometimes the models are wrong and sometimes El Nino fizzles out, so let’s not get giddy quite yet. However, lots of hard data is coming in indicating warm water areas in the Pacific have moved and are now providing the engine for El Nino. In fact, the West Coast already is in a weak El Nino, and it’s building strength.

I grew up in New England where thunderstorms are common. They roll in, they roll out. No biggie. El Ninos are different from that. I experienced them while living in Los Angeles. Storms line up in the Pacific heading for California and when they hit shore, dump prodigious amounts of rain. Such conditions are also conducive to storms being sucked in from the Gulf of Mexico by hot air rising from deserts in Nevada and Arizona. This would be a very good thing indeed, especially since I live in Vegas.

But first California and the southwest need to get past the coming summer of drought. Fire danger will be extremely high in California, (not so much in Vegas because in desert areas outside cities, there just isn’t much that can burn.) But the Santa Monica mountains in Los Angeles will have tinder-dry brush along the trails, which is often well above the heads of hikers. Fires there are scary. (And I’ve seen a few of those too.) You can’t outrun them, they move way too fast for that.

So, all California and the Southwest need to do is get past summer without drying up or burning up, and hope that the Mother of all El Ninos is coming.

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Hello xeriscaping, goodbye evil grass

xeriscaped yard

We just xeriscaped the yard in the house we recently bought in Las Vegas. Water is expensive here, and rates are tiered, so the more you use, the more expensive it gets per unit. When we bought the house late last year, as you can see for the lower photo, there were two big fan palms right smack against the house, grass in the yard, and boring water-sucking plants.

Now we have Version 1.0 of the xeriscaped yard. Roses (which are amazingly hardy and can take freezing weather as well as 115 degree heat) are next the house, with cactus and succulents in the yard. Sue has a real gift for this, and once the plants grow, the yard will look even better.

This should probably pay for itself in 3-4 years due to the hugely reduced water bill. Grass in the yard this size as well as a little grass in the back (which is also going away) can easily cost $75-100 a month to water in the summer in Vegas. And it’s completely not needed.



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Pat Mulroy on Lake Mead, water scarcity, and climate change


Pat Mulroy headed the Southern Nevada Water Authority from its inception in 1991 to 2014, when she retired. She transformed Las Vegas water usage. All indoor water is reclaimed and recycled. Home watering is done on a strictly enforced schedule. SNWA will help defray the cost of xeriscaping with the proviso that it never can be transformed back. One result of this is Strip casinos, with 40 million visitors a year, have a very small net water usage.

“The entire Las Vegas strip, with the fountains and 40 million tourists a year that come through, as their net water footprint, they use 3-4 percent of all the water. So, everything that is used inside of those hotels is captured, treated, and reused, either indirectly or directly,” says Mulroy.

She firmly believes climate change is happening and water is a basic right. However, that basic right does not include having it delivered clean and potable to your home or business without everyone helping pay for the massive infrastructure. For Las Vegas, this includes a giant tunnel being drilled under the lake to function like a bathtub drain so Vegas always has water, unless Lake Mead goes dry, which it won’t.

Mulroy believes that “water is a basic human right because you need it in order to live. But what you don’t have a basic human right to is that that water is pumped from great depths in Lake Mead, treated to a very safe standard, and then pumped 2500 feet to your front door to where all you have to do is turn on the tap. That infrastructure costs money.” However, Mulroy argues that “we need to identify ourselves as citizens of the watershed,” and argues that “if you want it treated and delivered at your house on a guaranteed 24/7 basis, then you have an obligation to help defray those infrastructure and operating costs.”

Mulroy is now a senior fellow at The Brookings Institure, where she made this video.

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"Dear California, Don't even think about it. Love, Washington"

California wants water pipelines from other states. Good luck with that

"Dear California, Don't even think about it. Love, Washington"

“Dear California, Don’t even think about it. Love, Washington”

California is learning what Vegas has already discovered. Mad schemes to build a water pipeline from other states will be treated rather grumpily by the other states, the operative phrase being “Over our dead bodies.” Plus, pipelines cost billions to build and are expensive to maintain. Did I mention they need massive amounts of electricity to run the pumps and that many forms of electricity generation use large amounts of water for cooling?

William Shatner’s pie-in-the-sky plan to fund $30 billion on Kickstarter for a 4 foot diameter pipeline from the Columbia is quite simply, loony. One one thing, a 4 feet diameter isn’t nearly big enough. Also, it would almost certainly cost way more than $30 billion, because he apparently didn’t even consider the cost of buying water right and right-of-ways.

So California is thinking it needs a pipeline from the Columbia River in the State of Washington because those selfish Washingtonians are just wasting all that wonderful water by letting it flow in the ocean and using it for themselves. The nerve of those people!

Every time a new generation comes across the idea it sounds fresh, even sensible to some people. “Each day, the Columbia River dumps in the Pacific Ocean 90 billion gallons of fresh water,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn in 1990. “That is 3.7 billion gallons an hour, 61 million gallons a minute and 1 million gallons a second. That is wasteful and sinful.”

I had to think about that for a second. It is sinful for a river to flow to the sea? It’s a waste? God frowns upon it? I thought most rivers did that, except the Colorado.

Heh. The Colorado of course no longer flow into Gulf of Mexico because seven Western states including California suck it dry before it gets there.

George Skelton of the L.A. Times explores the goofy ideas that have been proposed through the years. Towing icebergs from the Arctic. An underwater pipeline from Alaska. Siphoning water out of the Great Lakes and the Columbia and rightfully says “Let’s get right to the point: They’re all nutty. Politically and financially unfeasible.”

Tip: Inkstain

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Hoover Dam, May 1, 2015, elevation 1078.93

Lake Mead at scary low levels. Super El Nino is coming

Hoover Dam, May 1, 2015, elevation 1078.93

Hoover Dam, May 1, 2015, elevation 1078.93. Photo: John Fleck

Water journalist John Fleck says despite the extremely low levels in Lake Mead, the system is still functioning and there are no emergencies yet.

The answers – and I believe them – are that things are getting tighter, but that there’s enough flexibility in the water management system currently to keep the cities and farm communities that depend on the river intact. These people [water managers] have some really hard work ahead of them to keep it that way, but you can see a path that keeps it possible.

But it’s hard to disentangle that from the visceral shock of seeing Lake Mead lower every time I return.

Lake Mead and the Colorado River delivers crucial amount of water to several states, including California. Happily, a Super El Nino is forming and that almost certainly means big rain this coming rainy season.

The forecast of a strong El Nino brings good news to California. NOAA’s CFSv2 model is forecasting above well above normal precipitation for October through December, 2015. Because models are forecasting El Nino conditions to continue through January 2016 there is a good chance that heavy winter rains will break the California drought. The downside will be massive landslides and flooding in areas that have been affected by recent wild fires.

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I am Blob and have come to slay the drought

The end of California drought? The blob is back

I am Blob and have come to slay the drought

I am Blob and have come to slay the drought

A persistent blob of warm water in the Pacific thought responsible for the California and southwest droughts has moved. Scientists think this could herald the beginning of a desperately needed El Nino with an accompanying Pineapple Express. This year it looks like El Nino will be a genuine force, unlike the “El Wimpo” of 2014. In a true Pineapple Express, rainstorms line up in the Pacific and come barreling into California, one after another, dumping rain there and throughout the southwest. And in 2015, it looks like this really might happen.

The last time it appeared – in 1997 – it was followed within months by one of California’s wettest El Nino winters ever. Indeed, satellite data reveal an unusually large mass of warm water in the equatorial Pacific, the trademark of El Nino, is now moving toward the Americas.

If the El Nino continues developing as expected, so-called “pineapple express” storms would be expected to begin arriving next winter.

The warming water off California is precisely the reason ailing and dead sea lions have washed ashore.

But all signs suggest the coastal water warming trend will continue and the impact is already visible along the California coast, where malnourished sea lions washed ashore all winter, as the fish they feed on headed out to sea, in search of cooler water.

“Often times it’s the biology that’s the first indication that the climate is about to change,” said Willis.

Let’s hope so.

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Shipping container farms for locally-grown produce


Produce can now be grown hydroponically with LEDs in completely self-contained Freight Farms or Cropbox shipping container farms, controllable from by smart phone. Crops include lettuce, kale, chard, arugula, herbs, and other small vegetables. Cropbox can also be used for microgreens and feed for horses, with a strawberry version coming soon. Both use dramatically less water than conventional growing, can be put anywhere including big cities , and are stackable. Also, LEDs produce practically no heat, greatly reducing cooling expenses, as compared to halogen.

Thus, a restaurant could grow produce in their parking lot and bring it directly to the tables, the ultimate in locally grown food. Or containers could be stacked several high in urban warehouses and supply many restaurants and farmer’s markets.

Cropbox claims that their systems also use up to 90 percent less water than traditional growing methods. For lighting they used LED lights, which keep the energy expenditure to a minimum. There is space to grow 3,000 plants in one of their containers.

The Freight Farms shipping container farm features separate spaces for different stages of plant growth, such as seedling and germination area, which is large enough to support 2,500 plants. They also have 256 vertical towers which offer enough space for more than 4,500 mature plants.

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Earth to Capt Kirk. Seattle will not allow California water grab


William Shatner thinks California should raise $30 billion on Kickstarter to fund a water pipeline from Seattle. Then there will be no more worrying about that pesky drought. He compounded his silliness by saying “Bring it down here and fill one of our lakes! Lake Mead!” Yo captain, Lake Mead is in Nevada, not California. Water in Lake Mead is shared by seven western states. California gets 20% of Colorado River water, almost all of which goes to Imperial Valley agriculture on the Mexico border. (Yes, I did call Shatner silly, and expect to be chastised for this more than when I criticize St. Hillary of Clinton.)

And speaking of Nevada, a while back Las Vegas thought a pipeline from the Great Lakes would be a super groovy idea. When governors of the Great Lakes states learned of the plan they immediately passed a region-wide compact saying any such deal must be agreed upon by all participating states, which means it will never happen. Vegas also thought Utah had way too much water so maybe Nevada could drill horizontally into Utah lakes. The upshot of this was Utah ranchers saying they would be there with rifles if this was attempted as well as a very cranky Utah governor.

Sorry California, you cannot just go grab water wherever you think you should be able to. Maybe Shatner just wants to raise attention about the serious drought. Good! However, the logistical, legal, and governmental obstacles to such a plan would be formidable. Plus, NIMBYs would block it for years in court. A better idea is everyone uses less water and maybe California agriculture needs to shrink substantially and we don’t have as much winter vegetables and fruits. Just saying…

Or maybe the drought will end and everyone will forget about conservation, until the next drought.

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