By Peter Gleick, President
January 13, 2015
The California drought continues.
While we do not know yet what the rest of the wet season will bring – and while we hope for the major storms needed to recharge our rivers, groundwater and reservoirs – it seems increasingly likely that California will not see enough precipitation to get out of the very deep deficit that three years of drought (so far) have produced.
There is, however, some misleading and confusing information out there. Some are already arguing that California’s rainfall is nearly back to normal or that because there may have been more serious droughts in the past we needn’t worry anymore. Most of these claims are based on misunderstandings of California’s hydrology, water systems, or current conditions, and on very narrow definitions of “drought.”
First, to understand the data, it is vital to realize that California’s “water year” runs from October 1 to September 30. This is not the “calendar year” (January to December). This distinction is important, because mixing data from different water years produces inaccurate analyses.
Here is a great example. If we look at the 2014 “calendar” year, it appears that California received a decent amount of water (Figure 1) – still dry, but not abnormally so.
But this is grossly distorted by the heavy rains received in December 2014 – which is actually part of the 2015 water year. If we look at the 2014 water year (October 2013 to September 2014) we can see that last year was critically dry (Figure 2): in fact, only two previous years out of the past 120 were drier (1923-24 and 1976-77).
Even more appropriate is to look at the past three years of persistent, cumulative drought. And when the last three water years are evaluated (October 1, 2011 to September 30, 2014), we see that the current drought (measured only by precipitation levels) is by far the most severe in the entire instrumental record (Figure 3).
Second, it is important to understand that “drought” means – from a practical perspective – far more than just “precipitation deficit.” California’s drought is the result of several factors: how much precipitation we receive in rain and snow; how much water is available after taking into account reservoir storage, soil moisture, and groundwater; additional losses of water due to higher than normal temperatures (the past three years have been by far the hottest in California’s record); and the human demand for water. If all of these factors are included, the current drought in California can be considered the worst in recorded history.
And it isn’t over yet.
The current status of the drought – some key indicators.
As noted above, the rains received in December are counted as part of the 2015 “water year” – October 1, 2014 to September 30, 2015. Yet even these rains were not especially heavy. When we put all the data together (and a regular update of these data can be found at the Pacific Institute’s California Drought Update page), here is what we see:
Soil Moisture: One key indicator of the severity of the current drought is a standard measure of soil moisture conditions, called the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI). This index is used to prepare the drought maps published at the US Drought Monitor. As the most recent version shows, the entire state of California is still in severe drought, despite the December rains (Figure 4).
Precipitation: And what did those rains actually do? Not much. As Figures 5 and 6 show, precipitation to date for Northern California is barely at average; and for Southern California it is already below average. Not a great start.
Figure 6: Precipitation to date for Southern/Central California is already far below average for this date. (Source: DWR)
Reservoir Storage: Even worse, we are starting the water year with critically dry reservoirs. Figure 7 shows the current status of California’s major reservoirs, all of which are remain well below normal even with the storms last month.
Snowpack: Finally, one of the most important measures is how much snow is stored in the mountains. This snow provides water that is used throughout the rest of the year. And as Figure 8 shows, three and a half months into the 2015 water year, California’s snowpack is far below normal. This is very bad.
California will not dry up and blow away: drought means less water than normal, not zero water. But if the drought continues, increasingly difficult and costly decisions will have to be made, and the ecological, economic, and human impacts will grow. But this is no time to be a Pollyanna – we had better continue to prepare for the worst, since there is no indication that nature will bail us out in the near future.
There is plenty of h2o in states. We can build a pipeline above ground fairly fast and bring it to areas that need the water first.This can happen!.Don’t be afraid too try? We can……Mac
I am a pca/ consultant in the central valley. I am also a amateur scientist. I work with citrus insects and chemicals for 40 years. I have studied this weather phenomenon with more data and numbers comprehendible. I understand fully the effects on insects. I have researched more as I can. The government solution for east Porterville which has been out of water for 2 years. A plastic 300 gallon tank in our front yards with a 5 gallon plastic bucket. Budweiser has been delivering beer cans filled with water. It is a solution. I have explored this until the last day of this year. No one seems to comprehend the hell that is coming our way. Its irrefutable. I can’t get any one to face the truth. Unless there is a miracle the San Joaquin valley is done. It’s nearly inevitable by the end of the year.
I’ve read about it and think its very serious.
I think manual car wash places should have a separate hose for rinsing. Every manual car wash I have ever been to wastes a lot of water by having to wait for the all the soapy water to work its way out of the line before the clean rinse water comes out. I realize this would cost money up front, but in the long run, it would save consumers time, money, and save us all lots and lots of water.
Fact 1): Lake Pyramid, just north of L.A. County is the fullest it’s ever been. You cannot even see the waterline from previous dry spells while Castaic Lake just below it is at the lowest level I’ve ever seen in 30 years. The point is, Castaic Lake is not low due to lack of water but due to political decisions to keep it low instead of filling it with water from Lake Pyramid.
Fact 2): According to an interview of Mr. Gary Breaux on C.N.B.C by Jane Wells, (June 01, 2015), Metropolitan Water District Chief Financial Officer serving over 19 million people, stated that “80% of the water cost is fixed just to have the water available and does not go up due to water use…the fact is that reduced water use will lead to decreased revenue for the water district and result in increased unit price in the future to make up for the decreased revenue…” In other words, most of our water cost is not due to increased home water use.
Fact 3): 80% of the water in California is used by farmers and only 20% is used by homeowners. However, 90% of the produce grown by farmers in Cal. are sold outside of Cal. to other states and even other countries. What this means is that 90% of the water Cal. homeowners give up and subsides through taxes for farmers to grow produce is used to give profits back to farmer’s pockets by selling their produce outside of Cal. Why should Cal. taxpayers and homeowners pay the increase in water costs so that farmers can sell 90% of their produce outside of Cal. and pocket the profits?
Fact 4): Tiered pricing is illegal according to a recent court verdict in a case which took place in San Juan Capistrano. According to Cal. state law, a government entity, being funded by taxpayers moneys, cannot charge taxpayers more than the cost of procurement for any goods they purchase. In other words, if it costs the state $.01 per gallon, they cannot charge $.01 per gallon for the first 100 gallons and $.015 for the next 100 gallons and $.02 for the third 100 gallon according to the increased use by a homeowner, since the government entity itself has not paid more for the additional second and third 100 gallons.
Homeowners of Cal. need to unite and file a joint complaint and vote out the current Water District politicians and demand that changes be made accordingly. We should not be made to pay from our hard earned dollars, to compensate for the mismanagement of the politicians and water district supervisors!
Sung C. Cha,
Dear Mr. Gleick,
Your article focuses on the short-term 2016 election effect of the drought. Since you are a good writer, you may be interested in the long-term effects.
The California Drought is a major problem. It has been covered by all major news outlets. But none have discussed the viability of water from Canada. WHY IS THAT?
1. Canada is willing to provide water to states that have droughts
2. Canada has excess water, enough to fill Shasta Lake every year.
3. Excess water has flowed down the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean several times.
No news outlets have yet covered this story, and the Pacific Institute’s readers may be interested. Is it too difficult to conceive of transporting water from the Dalles, Oregon to Shasta Lake, California (about 400 miles)? It was not too difficult to get water from Shasta Lake to San Diego for Governor Pat Brown and the citizens of California for the past 50 years.
It seems that an independent news source can at least raise the question and research the answer. Is it big business, politics, or ignorance?
Please find some information in this newstip by Bruce Farr that would be useful for any article or research done on the subject.
OBAMA COULD NEGOTIATE ADDITIONAL WATER FOR CALIFORNIA DROUGHT
By Dr.Bruce Farr and Dr,Vern Ruskin
After California’s green golfcourse on Father’s Day 2015, President Obama could negotiate additional water for the future of Californian kids and grandkids
His Administration is currently negotiating the COLUMBIA RIVER TREATY with participation by Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana. But California, the state with the greaest need for water, was not invited to participate.
Earlier on 12/09/2013, at a U.S. Congress hearing on this treaty, Chairman Hastings (R-WA,(509) 543-9396) asked, and Canada’s Columbia River Treaty Director Eichenberger(250 953 3368) on the record offered more water for US droughts, and more hydropower.
But no California Congresspersons attended the hearing or investigated that Canada could provide plenty of water for DROUGHT RELIEF.
It’s not necessary to build a long aqueduct from Canada, because Canadian water already runs in the Columbia river through Oregon, which can’t use it all so it spills into the ocean.
Canada has 5 million acre feet ( 5 MAF) of surplus water storage (called “Non-Treaty storage”) That could be connected with an aqueduct and tunnel from Oregon into a California river feeding its “State Water Project” (SWP). It would be about half the distance that Governor Pat Brown managed to supply water to San Diego in 1960.
The SWP was designed to deliver 5 MAF to southern California but averages only half (2.5 MAF), and much less in droughts. Thus, Canadian water could top up drying California storages today and significantly relieve future droughts.
The Canadian surplus storage (5MAF) is 2.6% of average Columbia river flow (198 MAF), BUT IT’S ENOUGH TO PROVIDE 120 GALLONS EVERY DAY FOR EACH OF THE 39 MILLION CALIFORNIANS to drink, wash, grow food, water their lawn, and wash their car, even in a drought year. (Canada has even twice as much surplus (12 MAF) in an average year).
The Canadian surplus (5MAF) could potentially top up Shasta Lake (5 MAF) or flood all 800,000 acres of San Joaquin Valley farms with five foot of water. Meantime farmers in the Central Valley are extracting underground water and causing the valley to sink.
Foresight was used in 1961 by President Eisenhower (R) to initate the 60 year Columbia River Treaty with Canada to prevent floods killing Americans and destroying Oregon cities. Canadian dams were built to control floods and were 50% paid by American taxpayers , but CAN ALSO STORE WATER TO RELIEVE DROUGHTS.
Foresight was used by President Kennedy (D) to extend Canadian hydropower to California, initiate NASA, plus initiate future plans (NAWAP) to move surplus spilling Alaska and Canadian waters into drought-prone US states, including California (which has ignored it to date).
Foresight was also used In 1960 by former governor Pat Brown to supply farms and cities for 50 years with two measures: 1) Negotiating to get large amounts of -out-of state (Colorado river) water, and 2) Financing to get smaller amounts of Northern California water delivered by the state water project.
But in 2015, politicians threw in the towel – voted severe water rationing, fines, and ” water police”. They only emulated former governor Pat Brown’s measure #2 by financing more northern Delta storage.They failed to emulate his measure #1, also getting more out-of-state water.
But TRUTH WILL OUT: they lacked foresight in water engineering and budgeting, because in May 2015 their officials testified in Sacramento “they couldn’t develop criteria” and “tell how much Delta storage to build before 2016″. So the amount of Delta water is UNCERTAIN, though in 2014 politicians blindly voted taxpayers’ billions for UNCERTAIN costs.
What is CERTAIN is that California’s forecast population growth will, over time, worsen water rationing, shrink farming, jack up food and water prices.
Records show that California used more out of state (Colorado) water than northern Delta water. Adopting only the half measure of adding UNCERTAIN amounts of Delta water will cause fewer farms, lobbiers buying cheap farmland and profitably turning it into housing, and California cities could start resembling Las Vegas in the desert.
California receives Colorado River water because of agreements with neighboring states. Accessing the Columbia River would require similar agreements with Oregon and Washington, which are not impossible to achieve.
Otherwise, Canadian water running in the Columbia river all ends in the Pacific Ocean. The city of Carlsbad, California, is building a costly desalinization plant to provide water to residents. The cost of water from Canada would likely be far less than the cost to desalinize the same volume of water in California.
Using foresight, like presidents Eisenhower(R), Kennedy (D), ‘Teddy'(R), and Franklin (D) Roosevelt, president Obama could TAKE ACTION TO PREVENT FUTURE DROUGHT FOR OUR KIDS, GRANDKIDS, their jobs, business, property, or farm.
That’s true regardless of whether the drought was caused by CLIMATE CHANGE (D), or just CLIMATE FLUCTUATION (R).
1/ President Kennedy,1962:..”A generation.. ago… all the great rivers of America, the Columbia, Missouri, Mississippi, Tennessee, ran to the sea unharnessed…power..wasted..appalling destruction of life and of property.Then the vision of Theodore Roosevelt (R) was fulfilled by Franklin Roosevelt(D), … growing where there was once dirt and waste…. Now there is prosperity where our poorest citizens once lived…..which indicates the kind of progress we can make working together,”
2/ President Obama, Feb 17, 2009: “No country in isolation is going to be able to solve this problem. The dilemma that Canada and the United States face, is how do we obtain the energy in a way that is not rapidly accelerating climate change”
3/ “The Future of the US-Canada Columbia River Treaty – Building on 60 years of Coordinated Power Generation and Flood Control” Archived Video Webcast: Member Statements: The Honorable Doc Hastings, Dec 9, 2013, Chairman, transcript of Doc Hastings and Kathy Eichenberger
====END NEWSTIP ====
Author of news tip: Bruce Farr, Ed.D (USC82)email@example.com, President Tumbleweed Chapter, California Retired Teachers Association, 2006-2008; born, raised, educated, employed `37 years, property-owner, has 4 KIDS and 10 GRANDKIDS in California; author of Speak Clear English; now retired.
Facts Verified by three Californians: i) Bay Area engineering vp TOM DILLON. ii)Oakland attorney ROBERT WILLIAMS, and iii) Lawrence BAKER retired SanDiego newspaper executive. They contacted congressman Miller, senator Feinstein (202) 224-3841 and governor Brown( 916) 445-2841, plus other politicians and officials, but got no feedback.
Summarised by Vern Ruskin, PE (WA), P Eng(BC), PhD, MCom, B Sc; email: firstname.lastname@example.org. He was Director of Planning for BC (British Columbia) Electric and directed 45 staff on engineering for the Columbia River Treaty signed 1961 by President Eisenhower. He subsequently researched the issue of water and power for California and the Northwest for a lifetime, because of US clients, and wrote a book about possible Treaty improvements. He taught 14 years at UBC “Engineering Economics”.