Archive | Water

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California and other western states really do need to focus on reforming outdated institutions for managing water, i.e.,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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Frias Park in Las Vegas is also a flood detention area


Frias Park at Decatur and Tropicana is designed to hold flash flood waters as well as being a park. Water comes in from the south side, flows through a flood channel, then out the east side in a controlled manner. The water is then cleaned and pumped into Lake Mead for use by residents. The multi-use facility area is about 30 feet lower than street level with south and west facing sides covered with rocks to prevent erosion. The flood channel is 15 feet lower than the grassed area, which has no equipment except for lights. So, if the entire area does flood, little if any damage will be done. This is a well-planned recreation / flood control area.

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California drought way worse than you think

The closer to the middle, the worse the drought.

The closer to the middle, the worse the drought.

Research on tree rings shows the current California decade is beyond severe.

The current event is the most severe drought in the last 1200 years, with single year (2014) and accumulated moisture deficits worse than any previous continuous span of dry years.

The current California drought is exceptionally severe in the context of at least the last millennium and is driven by reduced though not unprecedented precipitation and record high temperatures.

Groundwater pumping in California has increased, with many new wells being drilled. This creates problems like subsidence, as well as draining the aquifers.

Mary Scruggs [ Supervising Engineering Geologist, Department of Water Resources] began by summarizing the importance of groundwater. “Groundwater is critical to California,” she said. “It provides up to 40% during normal years; during dry years, it can provide a lot more. There’s been a lot of pressure on groundwater over the last few years. With the dry years and the extreme drought, some areas are using a lot more groundwater then they have. The drought, and pumping of the groundwater also can create problems in some of the areas, including subsidence, saline intrusion, movement of contamination, and there’s also impacts on some of the agricultural areas because some of the areas have been fallowed.”

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California drought forecast remains uncertain, even with recent rain


Except for far northern areas, California is still much drier than normal as it goes into the rainy season. The weather remains hot and dry. The vast bulk of California water from inside the state comes from the Sierra Nevadas. Snowfall amounts there are crucial for the entire state. (California, especially the southern Imperial Valley also gets water from the Colorado River.)  This drought is now the most severe in decades. Previous droughts happened when far fewer people were there.

After a 3-year period of exceptional dryness in California–which now exceeds the intensity of any other such period in living memory–prospects for meaningful rainfall and snowfall have been tantalizingly ephemeral as early-season storms have repeatedly failed to live up to their initial expectations.

However, this might change, even as weather models have maddeningly contradictory predictions.

As hard as it may be to believe after years of largely nonexistent and (at best) anemic rain events (some localized intense downpours notwithstanding), it finally does appear that a substantial precipitation event may be in the cards for a large portion of drought-stricken California.

At various points, most of these models have suggested the potential for an atmospheric river of some strength to affect some part of the California coast–though there is currently near zero agreement on its actual location, strength, timing, and (indeed) even its existence.

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San Diego, San Francisco Bay planning toilet-to-tap water reuse


In urban areas where water is scarce, it just makes sense to clean wastewater and make it drinkable again. Las Vegas has done this out of necessity for years. All household water including what is flushed down toilets is cleaned up, pumped back into Lake Mead and reused over and over. There is no yuck factor. I live in Vegas and the water is quite drinkable.

In areas where there isn’t a nearby huge lake to pump water into then reservoirs or aquifers can be used for storage. Orange County CA already reclaims 70 million gallons a day and is expanding that to 100 million. The San Diego City Council just approved a $2.5 billion plan, starting with 15 gallons a day by 2023. The San Jose CA area is building a similar facility. Toilet-to-tap is idea whose time has come.

San Diego, a city of 1.4 million people that imports 85 percent of its water from the Colorado River and Northern California, has slowly warmed to the idea. A 2012 survey by the San Diego County Water Authority showed that nearly three of four residents favored turning wastewater into drinking water, a major shift from one of four in a 2005 survey.

“The drought puts a finer point on why this is so necessary,” Mayor Kevin Faulconer said. “Droughts are unfortunately a way of life in California, so we have to be prepared. This helps us to control our own destiny.”

Southern Nevada is allocated a mere 2% of water from Lake Mead. However, any water that it reuses doesn’t count against the allotment.

Every day, about 100 million gallons of raw sewage is treated by the Clark County Water Reclamation District, which cleans sewage water for unincorporated Southern Nevada. This district has seven facilities and serves rural communities as well as a vast swath of the valley, including the Strip.

Roughly 90 million gallons of reclaimed water is released daily into the Las Vegas Wash, replenishing Lake Mead with billions of gallons every year. In exchange, we are allowed to take that much more water out of the lake, over and above our preset allotment.

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Water use in US dropped substantially from 2005 to 2010


As a nation we are using less water, even as our population grows, says a USGS report. This is definitely good news. We are using less water than in 1970.

Water use in the United States in 2010 was estimated to be about 355 billion gallons per day, which was 13 percent less than in 2005. The 2010 estimates put total withdrawals at the lowest level since before 1970.

Thermoelectric power and irrigation remained the two largest uses of water in 2010, and total withdrawals for both were notably less than in 2005. Withdrawals in 2010 for thermoelectric power were 20 percent less and withdrawals for irrigation were 9 percent less than in 2005.

Thermoelectric power is water used to generate electricity from steam turbines, and includes nuclear, coal, natural gas, and concentrated solar power plants. It is the largest single use of water, if a bit deceptive, as the water is often pumped back into rivers where it can be used for other purposes. Agriculture is the second-biggest use of water and again, some of that water seeps back into the the ground and aquifers.

There are lots of caveats. This analysis uses “withdrawals” rather than “consumptive use”. So if a power plant sucks up river water for cooling, that counts as “use” even if most of it is returned to the river. Farmers withdraw a lot, and return some via groundwater seepage and drains. The withdrawal-consumption distinction is really important for water policy, as I tried to explain here.

This big drop also spans the Economic Shitstorm of 2008. Part of the drop could be related to that.

I think a lot of work needs to be done by people smarter than I to sort out the implications of the above two caveats. But those notwithstanding, I think the new data supports the hypothesis (“slogan”?) I’ve been pushing recently: When one has less water, one uses less water. We’re pretty adaptable, we humans.

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U.S. water infrastructure woefully inadequate, leaking.

UCLA water main break on Sunset, one of the busiest surface streets in L.A. Credit: KTLA

UCLA water main break on Sunset, one of the busiest surface streets in L.A. Credit: KTLA

Nationwide, water utilities are losing large amounts of water due to ancient pipes and leaky systems. The California drought would not be nearly  as severe if leaks were fixed and infrastructures upgraded. The water main that broke near UCLA in July, flooding buildings, was 93 years old. Los Angeles no doubt has many more such pipes waiting to rupture. Other cities do too. The cost nationwide to fix everything is estimated at one trillion. How much are we spending on wars? I guess that our priorities.

Nationwide, the amount of water that is lost each year is estimated to top 2 trillion gallons, according to the American Water Works Association. That’s about 14 to 18 percent (or one-sixth) of the water the nation treats.

And it’s not just water that’s going down the drain, but billions of dollars in revenue too because utilities can’t charge customers for water that is lost before it gets to them.

Insanely, many water utilities do not audit their systems and their customers do not have water meters. That needs to change immediately. You can’t go to where you want to go if you don’t know where you are now. Right now, many water utilities don’t even no exactly how much water they are losing.

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Bob Morris


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