Archive | Water

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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San Joaquin County, supposed beneficiary of twin tunnels, opposes it.



California Gov. Jerry Brown wants to build to ginormous twin tunnels to shunt water around the Sacramento Delta to San Joaquin Valley agriculture and southern California. Their Board of Supervisors has released a scathing report opposing the plan, which appears to be backed by few now except for Brown’s most favored constituencies, big money and big labor, who will profit mightily from it.

The problem we have is that it doesn’t make any additional water available during times of shortage,” said Bob Elliott, chair of the Board of Supervisors. “It just takes water from one part of the state and transfers it to another. It doesn’t solve our state’s water problem.”

Elliott called the plan “unworkable and counterproductive and detrimental for the Delta.”

“Despite the Orwellian doublespeak employed by its proponents, the BDCP is not really about conserving anything,” County Counsel David Wooten told supervisors. “Conserving something means to keep or protect it from injury. Yet despite all the attempts to politically green-wash this project, the BDCP is really only about one thing: Building the largest and most expensive public-works water project in U.S. history through the heart of the Delta, primarily in San Joaquin County.”

Further, Delta counties would be excluded from any meaningful input into the system, plan documents are twice as long as Keystone pipeline documents and are “totally unreadable”, conservation plans are vague and rely on phantom water that doesn’t actually exist.

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California energy agencies: Water cutbacks threaten the grid

California supply and demand, 7/5/14. Orange is available resources, dark blue is current demand. Right now things are fine. In the peak of summer demand can be 75 GW, and that when it could get dicey this year. Credit:

California supply and demand, 7/5/14.  Right now things are fine. In the peak of summer, demand can be 75000 MW, and that’s when it could get dicey this year. Credit:

The California drought threatens energy supplies with a triple whammy; less natural-gas generation, less hydropower, increased chances of wildfires on transmission lines. In an unprecedented move, the big three energy regulators in California have told the Water Resources Control Board that their planned water rationing threatens electricity generation.

Water cutbacks to gas-fired steam plants puts 1.1 GW of generation at risk during the summer when it is needed the most, said the California Energy Commission, the Public Utilities Commission and California ISO. Also, hydropower generation could drop by as much as 1.6 GW during the hot season. Further, the continuing extreme drought heightens the possibility of wildfires in remote areas where major transmission lines are.

The shutdown of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station complicates things further as its steady baseline of 2 GW of power is no longer available. California does have substantial amount of solar and wind energy now. However, it can’t possibly fill the gap especially since, by definition, renewable energy is generated intermittently.


The agencies recommended “a mechanism allowing for swift response in the event of an actual or threatened emergency to California’s electricity grid or supplies,”


This summer California is caught on the horns of a dilemma of drought and energy. If it curtails water deliveries to agricultural users with junior water rights, as planned, this will conserve water needed for carryover into 2015. But doing so may also result in threatening the reliability of the electric grid for the summer of 2014.

California decision-makers may be facing the quandary of holding water for fish this year, for farmers next year — or releasing it this summer for steam power plants to keep alive grandmothers on respirators and dialysis machines.

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Is Las Vegas screwed? Will it go thirsty?


An oceanographer gets quoted in a British newspaper that Las Vegas is screwed because the water will be gone soon and isn’t it just too terribly tragic, and we’re supposed to accept that at face value?. Yes Vegas, like much of the Southwest, faces a serious drought, and yes, Sue and I are moving there. However, I know something about the water situation there. The oceanographer and the newspaper apparently don’t, so instead they get hysterical (and insulting, oh that bad old Sin City with its gushing casino fountains – which use recycled water BTW.)

But, as with many things in Sin City, the apparently endless supply of water is an illusion. America’s most decadent destination has been engaged in a potentially catastrophic gamble with nature and now, 14 years into a devastating drought, it is on the verge of losing it all.

Oh you silly people, Vegas is apportioned about 1% of Lake Mead water, which comes from the Colorado River. The Imperial Valley of California gets 20% of ALL water from the Colorado River. Don’t ask how this happened, just know it is true and is a monumental clusterfuck.

Does anyone genuinely think Vegas and Arizona will go thirsty so the Imperial Valley can grow crops? Not a fucking change. They will simply take control of the dams and refuse to send the water to California. Don’t think this can’t happen.

A while back Nevada tried to grab water from Utah. The governor of Utah was “uncharacteristically blunt” about this and Utahns said they’d be standing at the lakes with guns if Nevada tried, which it didn’t.

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Homeowner wells running dry in CA Central Valley, farmers drill more


Record numbers of permits to drill wells are being issued in California’s drought-stricken Central Valley. Big Ag can afford to drill ever deeper. Many homeowners can’t, and their wells are increasingly running dry. Some farms are out of water too. Well drilling companies are backlogged for months and summer is just starting.

The property surrounding his home used to be all grazing land, but now there are orchards.

“I’m not eating almonds and walnuts anymore,” vowed Vigil, making clear what he thinks caused his well to go dry. “These guys growing trees should compensate everyone around them. … I’m looking at paying $15,000 for my well.”

You probably eat vegetables, fruit, and beef that comes from the Central Valley. Food prices are certain to rise. Hundreds, probably thousands, of homes will no longer have water when baking summer temperatures come to the Central Valley.

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Columbia River Basin provides 44% of total U.S. hydro power

Credit: US Energy Information Administration. Click to view larger.

Credit: US Energy Information Administration. Click to view larger.

The Grand Coulee Dam in the Columbia River Basin in Washington has a ginormous capacity of 6.8 GW, making it the 6th largest power plant in the world and the biggest producer of power in the US. It has a greater capacity than any nuclear, coal, or gas plant anywhere. In total, the Columbia River Basin generates a whopping 44% of all hydro power in the U.S.

Hydro accounts for 8 of the top 10 power plants in the world, the other two are nuclear. The Grand Coulee Dam is the only US power plant in the top twenty worldwide.

A significant amount of hydroelectric power generated in the Northwest is consumed by California customers. In the late 1960s, BPA constructed two 500-kilovolt transmission lines capable of carrying power from the Pacific Northwest to the Los Angeles area. The Pacific Northwest-Southwest intertie was completed in 1971, giving Los Angeles consumers access to hydroelectric power originating from the Pacific Northwest.

Big hydro is not considered renewable energy in California. Small hydro is. Large dams can create enormous environmental damage, including erosion, and can contribute to earthquakes because of their enormous weight.

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The coming water war. Arizona and Nevada against California

Credit:, user: prozac1

Credit:, user: prozac1

The Imperial Valley in California gets 20% of all water from the Colorado River. During this time of extreme drought, sooner or later this will have to change. There’s no way Arizona will ship the water through to California while they have mandatory cutbacks or worse. The same is true for Nevada and Lake Mead. Vegas will not go thirsty so California agriculture gets water. The laws and rules that govern Colorado River water are antiquated, counter-productive, and need to be replaced.

If the Western drought continues, Arizona would have to bear almost the entire brunt of water shortages before California gives up a drop of its appropriation from the river. Few observers of Western water affairs believe that’s politically practical, but few have offered practical alternatives.

A few years back, Nevada tried to grab Utah water. The governor of Utah basically told Nevada to go screw themselves and Utahns said they’d be at the lakes with rifles if Nevada tried. (It didn’t.)

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Bob Morris


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