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For people who are accustomed to the climate of the Eastern US it may be a difficult to comprehend the situation in California. This is a Mediterranean climate. That means we have a wet season and a dry season. The dry season means no rain at all. The dry season runs for about 4 months with about 3 additional months of very low rainfall. That means that whatever rain we are going to get has to come between November and March with the bulk of it coming in January and February. This is not about climate change. It has been this way for thousands of years. The amount of rain in the wet season has always been highly variable and unpredictable. The level of rainfall decreases steadily from north to south.

The politics of water and it scarcity have always dominated California history since the days of the gold rush. There are many fascinating tales associated with it. It has always been about taking water from some place where there is a good bit of it and moving it to another place where there isn't much. That means moving it from north to south. There is very little water that falls on California that isn't moved through one of the multiple irrigation systems that cover the entire state.

Without irrigation systems this state could only accommodate a very modest size population. Instead we now have 38M people. Their water interests are divided among urban dwellers, agricultural interests, environmentalist and recreational users. Resources are pushed to the limit. Various proposals are on the table to divert water from environmental resources such as fisheries to the agricultural users of the San Joaquin Valley and the urban needs of Southern California.

The pressure is being dramatically heightened by a particularly dry year that may be the worst since records have been maintained. Calender year 2013 saw record low rainfall. Reservoirs and snow pack are at record lows. There is little sign of any rain on the way. This sort of situation happens periodically, There were two serious back to back dry years in 76-77. The problem is that as the population grows and water use expands there is less slack to meet the next emergency.

People in New York who are buried under a blizzard today may find it difficult to understand how people could complain about sunshine. However, I can remember the water restrictions that were imposed in 77 and they weren't fun. The reason that other people need to pay some attention to what is happening here, is that California probably offers a glimpse of what is in store for much of the rest of the world. Despite the best efforts of technology, the planet is an ecological system. It's resources are finite. There is a limit to the life that it can sustain. Instead of trying to conserve those resources we appear to be making the situation worse with the various forces that are contributing to climate change and the depletion of renewable resources and natural habitats. I seriously doubt that there is any easy and comfortable solution to the situation.        

Originally posted to Richard Lyon on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 03:01 PM PST.

Also republished by California politics.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I'm on the other side of the 'hill' (9+ / 0-)

    as we affectionately call the Sierra summit passes.

    It's exceptionally dry over here, too. Mt. Rose has little to no snow on our side of it. And by that, I mean Mt. Rose looks as bare as it usually does in June or July, not the middle of winter. We rely on the snowpack for our drinking water and for irrigation.

  •  Yup. And we Idahoans, who also face dry (6+ / 0-)

    weather, detest that Californians are always after our damn water.

    I mean, dam water. Whatever. Either way, out West, water is the new gold. I suspect that this issue is going to be front and center within a few years, considering how hot and dry the West continues to become.

    P.S. I am not a crackpot.

    by BoiseBlue on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 03:20:29 PM PST

  •  Not to Mention Population - (5+ / 0-)

    Not just Calif.
    How much water does it take to make a Big Mac?
    And what happens when folks in China and Indonesia want them, too?

    I'll be asking the Weather Goddess to send you some good steady rains this month.

  •  There is no water crisis (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    happymisanthropy, Catkin

    Only a misguided attempt to grow water-loving crops in a virtual desert.

    The next Noah will work a short shift. - Charles Bowden

    by Scott in NAZ on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 03:26:56 PM PST

    •  There is more to it than that (7+ / 0-)

      I live on the north coast of California. It is not a desert here, although we do share the feature of wet vs. dry seasons. We can easily get 50 inches of rain in my specific location a year, though 35 is more typical.

      It is very very dry here. The reservoirs are absurdly low. Last December, it poured, almost flood-stage poured, and I think that caused everyone to plan for a very wet winter, managing the dams and rivers for flood control instead of water storage. But after that big storm (6 inches in 5 days or so), it simply stopped raining and didn't come back.

      Normally, the land would be lush and green today. Instead, the baby grass has started up twice from two small rainfalls and then died back. There would normally be pasture for animals now, and there is not, except where people irrigate.

      That people grow crops in the central valley is not as dumb as it seems, by the way. Being in a position where you have sunshine and you control when water is applied is nearly ideal for farming for both yield and minimal pests. In the past, water was not used efficiently, but water use is a big deal among farmers and they are getting good infrastructure for very efficient water use.

      Certainly I don't mean to imply by that that every farmer uses water well or that every water district is thoughtful about its supply with respect to the land around it and other use. But the blanket statement that farming in California is stupid or that it is the cause of water shortages is also shortsighted.

      Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

      by elfling on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 04:42:39 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Wha? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Eyesbright

        Sorry, but humans do not control the water.  We might think, based on all the reservoirs and dams and canals that we're in charge, but we're not.  It's the amount of precipitation that ultimately counts.  And climate change means that the Sierra snowpack is going to get smaller and smaller.  You guys can build all the canals and reservoirs you want, but if there is not enough precipitation, then there will not be enough water for both municipal use and agriculture.

        I'd say, given the choice, that people should come first.  But if you want to argue that the farmers get priority, well, go for it.  But with the growing human population and the decrease in river flows and aquifers, either a bunch of people have to move out of California, or irrigation has to get cut way back.  Increased efficiency in water use will not be enough.

        (Also, since you mention it, growing water-loving crops in incredibly hot places with tremendous evapotranspiration is dumb)

        The next Noah will work a short shift. - Charles Bowden

        by Scott in NAZ on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 06:20:02 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  And I forgot (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Eyesbright

          It might be nice if we also left a little water in the rivers and streams for fish, wildlife, recreation, etc.

          The next Noah will work a short shift. - Charles Bowden

          by Scott in NAZ on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 06:21:37 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Indeed, this is important (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Richard Lyon

            and I'd add further that rivers need to keep their flow to keep downstream wells charged and downstream habitat properly supplied with water.

            But it's not possible for humans to live on the planet in our current numbers without manipulating the water to some extent.

            Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

            by elfling on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 08:21:16 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  You ascribe a very different motive and cast (4+ / 0-)

          to what I wrote than what I intended.

          I do not know where you live or have lived or what your experience is with water use in California.

          It's possible you have more experience with farming than I do; I am not a farmer.

          California is a very large state. It encompasses both deserts and temperate rain forest. I live in the rain forest part. It is supposed to rain here, and it isn't. You said there is no water crisis, that all Californians were trying to use water that doesn't exist. This is not so; here in the north it is outrageously dry compared to any human experience of normal.

          There is a difference between all farmers, farming as a concept, and say, farming and water use as practiced by Westlands Water District, which is the one most typically in the news (with a fair amount of whining on behalf of large corporate interests).

          (I would say that my local ag water district is quite different in its style and priority than Westlands.)

          Farmers are not different than people. Many (not all! :-) ) farmers ARE people. And they are part of our economic ecosystem as much as Apple Computer or Stanford University. Farms and farmers are part of what makes the culture of the Bay Area so attractive.

          I'm not advocating for more reservoirs and canals. But I am saying that the story of wasteful water use by California farmers has changed substantially in the past two decades as drip systems and all kinds of remote sensing and research has been added to apply water quite precisely and with extreme care. It's rational to look at the specific location and the specific crop before deciding appropriate or beneficial use.

          And to blame farmers for the fact that no water fell from the sky in 2013 does not seem like a reasonable causal link.

          Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

          by elfling on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 08:19:17 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  Folks like affordable food that comes (3+ / 0-)

        From the Central Valley too. It's easy to tsk tsk, as they're dining on California produce, dairy, meat, rice, and nuts.

        © grover


        So if you get hit by a bus tonight, would you be satisfied with how you spent today, your last day on earth? Live like tomorrow is never guaranteed, because it's not. -- Me.

        by grover on Sat Jan 04, 2014 at 12:50:32 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  You guys are going to look good in stillsuits. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Richard Lyon, happymisanthropy

    Maybe look into sandworms for transportation.

  •  76-77. (6+ / 0-)

    I was livng in Alameda then. That was the first time I heard the mantra, "If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down."

    •  I remember the color charts posted in restrooms. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      side pocket, IndieGuy, grover

      When I went back east at Christmas it seemed so weird for restaurants to put water on the table without being asked for it.

      •  I'm already doing that (3+ / 0-)

        and have been since we put in a big garden that needs a lot of water in the summer.  Gardening season is over and our water consumption is way down, of course, but I'll still stick with my own personal conservation plan.

        This week, I've read aloud to my sweetheart (aka husband) the stats/reports about the worsening drought and he's thinking of constructing a water catchment system, etc., etc.  If we're put on water rationing this summer, I guess the garden will have to go or be drastically downsized.

        We're in the SF Bay area.

        They don't win until we quit fighting!

        by Eyesbright on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 06:08:58 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  We were in S.F. then and the tap water was (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      side pocket, IndieGuy

      not clear....had a brownish tinge.

      What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset. Crowfoot

      by Catkin on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 04:29:01 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  It did make one wonder (3+ / 0-)

        where it was coming from. :)

        •  oh, yeah! Just last night we were laughing (0+ / 0-)

          about that!  Some experiences never lose their humor, do they?  We've lived in some weird situations and unsurprisingly, water is a big issue in most places; the cisterns on St. Croix, V.I. (full of bugs, rats...don't ask),
          the water hauled from the rivers in western Alaska and the primitive water plant next to the "dump" for honey buckets, the well we had to redo and maintain.  We once looked at moving to Flagstaff but were partly dismayed by the prospect one more place with water problems. Thinking about retirement in the Pacific Northwest; rain, rain, rain and fresh water.

          What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset. Crowfoot

          by Catkin on Sat Jan 04, 2014 at 12:43:56 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Way back in 1978 (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    side pocket, happymisanthropy

    I was an intern in the Sierra Club Legislative Analysts office and verbally presented the Sierra Club's view (and my own views in printed form) to the Governor's Commission to Review California Water Rights Laws.

    As I vaguely recall, CA actually had some water rights laws back then and the commission made a few recommendations that have been in effect since, but the horrible thing was that CA was one of the few states to actually have water rights laws.

    The major problem with those laws is that they allow 100% of the water in a wet year to be shifted away from the areas where the water actually comes from. In a dry year, that 100% becomes more like 120% or more of the available water, leading to fights about who gets how much water (mostly Los Angeles and the big corporate farmers in the Central Valley).

    BTW, if you have ever seen the iconic Jeffrey Pine on top of Sentinel Dome in Yosemite, it died during the drought of 1976-1977 (at 100+ years old).

    I reject your reality and substitute my own - Adam Savage

    by woolibaar on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 03:40:32 PM PST

  •  Thanks for bringing this to light (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    side pocket, Richard Lyon, Eyesbright, eyo

    I was just looking at the extended weather forecast and there is not a drop of rain in sight. This one will be worse than 76-77. It's important we act now to start conserving, because in all honesty this is the future.

  •  Water for fish (4+ / 0-)

    The morning Santa Rosa rag:
    Officials cut Russian River flows

    Cloverdale City Manager Paul Cayler plans to update the City Council next week and ask members to approve an ordinance authorizing a system of mandatory water conservation measures later in the month, a first for the city.
    I want to say, yay home town! But it's really water for beer.  Bear Republic Brewing prepaid permits so the city could drill new wells to keep manufacturing jobs here. And the stretch of river that passes through town has been renamed the Racer5 watershed.

    Just kidding about the rename.

    In any endeavour it is a fact that you have to succeed with the people who are willing to participate. -- Fitch Williams

    by eyo on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 03:50:53 PM PST

    •  It's getting to the point where (5+ / 0-)

      they won't have enough water above the pipe to release it from Coyote Dam for much longer.

      In December, it absolutely POURED in our watershed, sending the section of the Russian River above Lake Mendocino into flood stage. It also sent a lot of water into Lake Pillsbury. Because they expected the water to keep coming, most of that was released then. Even as late as March and April, more water could have been sent into Lake Mendocino.

      The pictures in that article probably don't tell the story that well if you don't know the lake, but those people should have 30' or so of water on top of their heads.

      No one is panicking just yet... but it's certainly time to worry.

      Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

      by elfling on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 04:48:59 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Fifty Million Climate Change Refugees Knocking At (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    side pocket, Richard Lyon

    Your door. If there is no water, even forward-thinking California, with its Democratic majority, becomes a failed state. Conservation measures are meaningless if there is nothing to conserve. After depleting the reserves (with a lot of the consumption going to fracking and inedible crops), what is next? Better get your guest room ready.

  •  Although climate change is not in play (3+ / 0-)

    for this particular situation, which feels mostly like a normal extreme, it does mimic what could happen, which is that we rely on much of our precipitation falling as snow and slowly melting all summer.

    Most of this snow falls on the Sierra... but at like 28-30 F. You can see that just 2 degrees is the difference between a comfortable snowpack and a great summer and violent flooding. And that two degrees coming say after an earlier big snow is pretty much the worst scenario of all.

    The north coast region has no significant snow cover today. This is decidedly not normal.

    Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

    by elfling on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 04:52:14 PM PST

    •  In various ways (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Eyesbright, eyo

      climate change will make the situation worse. Diminished snow pack is the most obvious effect, but higher temps will mean more water consumption. Since the ENSO phenomenon runs off of ocean temperature that is likely to be impacted as well.

      •  Indeed. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Richard Lyon

        There are many badnesses related to water that could hit us. That summer a few years back where the jet stream stopped bringing us ocean breezes and baked tens of thousands of cattle alive? That was bad, and it was just a taste.

        Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

        by elfling on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 05:08:44 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Agricultural changes (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eyesbright

    The logical answer is to change the mix of crops grown and move from water hungry plants to ones that can cope with occasional droughts.  It is for example the height of stupidity to raise citrus crops in such areas that rely on scarce water resources. You simply export the water in the form of the fruit or, even more stupidly; the growers concentrate the juice, driving off the water, so it has to be replaced at the packaging plants. A double whammy on the water resources.

    We will work, we will play, we will laugh, we will live. We will not waste one moment, nor sacrifice one bit of our freedom, because of fear.

    by Lib Dem FoP on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 06:17:53 PM PST

    •  I don't usually hear of citrus trees (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      grover, Richard Lyon

      considered to be big water demons.

      I think most of California's citrus goes to the fresh fruit market rather than to concentrated juice, but I'm not certain.

      But all fruits and vegetables are mostly water, when it comes down to it.

      There aren't a lot of other good places to grow citrus.

      Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

      by elfling on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 09:43:36 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I dunno. (0+ / 0-)

        Where are the vast tracts of citrus? Drive down I-5 and what used to be nonstop citrus is now nut trees, mostly almonds. Blue Diamond seems to own half the state.

        I haven't looked at citrus production in the last year or so, but total citrus acreage had been dropping.  Assumptions about what CA did even 5 years ago may not be accurate. They certainly have ripped up all the citrus down the state's spine.

        © grover


        So if you get hit by a bus tonight, would you be satisfied with how you spent today, your last day on earth? Live like tomorrow is never guaranteed, because it's not. -- Me.

        by grover on Sat Jan 04, 2014 at 01:07:59 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Hey -- it's not just California. (0+ / 0-)

    On an encouraging note, I've found water to be a much more effective argument against fracking than  global warming.

    Fracking yada yada yada global warming yada yada yada bad.

    But we need energy!

    Fracking yada yada poison millions and millions of gallons of water on larger and larger scales.

    Hey!  We need water even more than we need energy!

    LG: You know what? You got spunk. MR: Well, Yes... LG: I hate spunk!

    by dinotrac on Sat Jan 04, 2014 at 02:04:42 PM PST

  •  Step 1: no private swimming pools in arid regions. (0+ / 0-)

    Step 2: do away with the open-sun, entire-yard, 365-day-irrigated green lawns.

    It will greatly help California, if its residents won't use amounts of water per-capita that in most of the world suffice for a couple dozen people.

    Right now LA county residents use 185 gallon/day per capita, almost twice the national average.

  •  Spoke with the Weather Goddess - (0+ / 0-)

    She's going to send some rain this week.
    I will implore her to make it good  & steady -
    However, virgins are in short supply these days.

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