James Hunter

Saturday, October 3, 2015

California Drought 2011 to ???? - Fact and Fiction

How bad can the drought get? An alternate history of the "California Drought" of 2011....... is a fiction account of what could happen, in a worst case drought scenario. The book is an example of a new genre, "Apocalyptic Climate Fiction".  The big question that science can't answer is "California entering a long term drought?". Did the Anasazi civilization disappear, in the southwest, during the period 1200-1300 AD because of a mega-drought?
It becomes clear that droughts are not new to California, historically we get a severe drought every 10-20 years. The Assessment Report: Causes and Predictability of the 2011-14 California Drought" is a factual analysis prepared by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). It looks at some of the root causes, keep in mind our current 2011-? drought, is a result of many issues and factors. (links for both books are in the right column)

When the population and industry were less than a million people the rainfall was generally adequate near the major rivers, now the state population is 38.8 million and rising. Where will the water and electricity come from? A Newsweek article on 7/1/2015 covered the California Drought very well. 

We are also caught in a loss of 10% of the State's power generation as our Sierra snowpack has slowly disappeared since 2011 and two major nuclear plants are not in service or running well below normal output. The results in a potential issue of drought, but of a power shortage.

Hydroelectric power allows the state to pump the water from the rivers into the aqueducts, reservoirs and subsurface water banks and out for use. The combination of no snowpack, below average rainfall and decreasing available Hydroelectric power means Southern California is increasingly hard pressed in both areas water and electricity. 

Where is the water going? Lots of misleading information is available and published. The pie chart shows that in reality those "nasty" farmers do use water, but they are only 40% of the problem and city folks are 10%.

The state needs to put some programs to make in easier to reduce agricultural water use, rather than field flooding. Increasing the cost of water to farmers, controlling the groundwater pumping and financial support for drip irrigation and other lower water use methods of farming make sense. Do you realize those ships bring Asian goods to the California ports sometimes carry hay and alfalfa back to feed cows, for the dairy industry in Japan and China. Does it make sense to ship fodder 6,000-7,000 miles? Especially since growing both use a lot of water. Can't we find other products to load those empty ships going to Asia with?

The other 50% of the available water is controlled by the Federal Government and the State (in part because of the ecology lobby and special interests). Run off is required to insure the bay, delta and rivers remain healthy. There are also requirements to support endangered species, spawning and environmental conditions for salmon and smelt.
What causes droughts in the US western states? Population is a factor, climate change very likely, SST (Sea Surface Temperature) very likely (buy and read the NOAA Report), how efficiently we use and save the available water. We hear the California TV weather folks talk about "El Nino", the map shows a major  El Nino event is underway, in 2015. An unanswered question is what causes changes in SST? A NOAA report is available on SST may be downloaded.  The water temperatures dramatically increase and the whales and predators (sharks and Orcas) follow the small fish inshore and further north,  as you notice in the news reports. There has been roughly a 1%+ annual decline in the number of diatoms, since 1998.  Diatoms are the start of the food chain in our oceans and when they die they capture CO2 and hold it in the sediments.   

Will a very strong El Nino guarantee rain this winter, maybe. The odds are improving that we will have a wet winter, but we will still have a deficit of water because of the past several dry years.We need to do more to conserve and store water and generate more renewable electric power.

Many folks want to believe that man's effect on the environment is the only cause? Historically we have had little ice age (1700's) and remember the sun happens to provide the light and heat for us. Can man effect the climate yes, the question is how much?
A lot of controversy centers around, "What is causing the worldwide temperature to go up"?  Basically it is increasing and several factors are causing it, CO2 emissions caused by vehicles, power plants (especially coal fired), other greenhouse gases, particles of solids in the upper atmosphere (volcanos, coal burning, clearing forests by burning, aircraft burning jet fuel at high altitudes). Take your pick, "whatever lights your fire". (pun intended) The reality is all probably contribute to global warming. 

What can we do? Lots of people are looking at the issues and the economic impacts of solutions. We will not make a mistake by reducing the emission of greenhouse gases and particulates, but we are only a small part of the globe, a lot of other countries affect our weather and the air we breath.. We are coming up on a couple of key decisions that will be made by CPUC. The first is the issue of net metering for solar installations. This can economically remove the incentives for conversion to one of the key renewable power sources for ratepayers, both residential and companies. All three three major power companies in California want to get a cut of the savings ratepayers are getting by using solar power. This may at first look a water related issue, think, " we use electricity to move the water through California's canal, reservoirs and aqueducts". If we have to use power from traditional power plants we use water (good old steam), if their coal (worst), oil (better) or gas (best) you generate electricity and particles of soot and CO2. The more hybrid or all electric vehicles can use solar residential power to re-charge, reducing emissions.

This all falls apart if the big three electric companies get their foot in the door and hand on our wallets. There is a place and potential profits for their shareholders, based on solutions that will not damage the current solar industry and the ratepayers interests, both financial and ecological. 

Many have expressed we are at the critical point and climate change will continue to accelerate. The graph above is definitely a concern. Can we solve China's use of massive amounts of coal to produce power? unlikely. Can we protect our solar industry from the efforts of the three major electric companies? Can we make it worse by shipping poor quality coal to China? yes. (Port of Oakland)

The simple reality is we live in a very narrow strip of land from San Francisco to San Diego that is considered a "mediterranean climate", 50-60% of the state is marginal to semi-desert. This is maintained and made extremely useful agricultural acreage through the statewide water systems.

We are dependent on the infrastructure investments made Federal and State, in projects to capture runoff from the yearly cycle and wet season winters, many years ago. We have failed to create sufficient added capacity and infrastructure to survive an extended drought, with the current population (38+ million), agricultural demands and the environmental requirements. 

What are the options we have? Let's separate them by chronological availability:
  •  Conservation, the present program addresses 10% of the available annual water usage, consumers in urban areas our 20% reduction actually only affects 2% of the available water. We have publicly owned utilities making an 8%+ profit, in a financial environment with inflation at 3% or less annually. We have an ugly list of compromises made by agencies with companies they were supposed to "regulate" and protect the interests of ratepayers/consumers. We are now paying for the agencies failures to protect consumer rights and guarantee the monies were properly spent effectively on infrastructure.The current conservation programs depend on consumers making investments that won't be even a break-even over a short period of time, since as we conserve the utilities claimed fixed costs will cause rates to increase. The cost of an acre foot when purchased from the local water district is also "automatically" passed through to consumers using an "Advise Letter" supposed to be for a non-controversial subject, with 20 days from issue to object for a limited number of reasons and no other review........consumers have little voice and visibility in the process. A hard look should also be made into the business practices and efficiency of the State's water districts.
  • Storm rains may be significant this winter, but a lot is simply allowed to drain off into the ocean, unless it falls into a watershed of a reservoir. Capturing more of this and using to replenish the underground aquifers (storage for future use) seems to be one of the shorter term potential programs that we need to look at.  
  • Recycling water both urban consumer and farmers is the next likely area of a long-term conservation benefits. Restoring the depleted aquifers, underground storage, is a mandatory requirement, using recycled water is a good point to start. Protection of the water bank storage is also required. We don't know who is or has pumped effluent from fracking and drilling into critical underground areas. The State of California has an agency chartered to do this EPA has expressed concerns with the data collected and the management of the companies drilling wells and using surfaces ponds.
  • Agricultural water requirements are 40% of the available water, the only short term solution is to charge farmers a higher price per acre foot, they pay a very low rate per acre foot, and accept that some acreage will be left fallow for food production. We are finding the price per acre foot has gone from $100-$150 to $1200 or more. Mainly farmers with Senior Water Rights have let acreage go unwatered and sold the water to the highest bidder. Which raises the issue of senior water rights and the legal morass of making any changes. The best compromise is to offer support to farmers to conserve water and provide fincial support to modernize their use of water and continue to make an effort to resolve the senior rights issues as Australia has.
  • We will be faced with CPUC making a decision shortly that could either increase or decrease the rate of installation of consumer solar power systems. The three major California electric companies are in the long term confronted with a financial problem they have an existing infrastructure that they want us to pay for as long as possible. They want to get every cent possible from us to pay for existing facilities to satisfy their shareholders, by charging us a monthly solar fee for their infrastructure. The question is how much is fair to the consumer/ratepayers? We will be paying for the "friendship" between the regulators and the regulated companies, for many years. Another post as this is another complex set of issues, but if they get a fee for their infrastructure how long should it be for? Reviewed every three years?
  • Longer term 5 years plus we have increased reservoir, underground water bank storage, recycling and salt water distillation. Lots of potential solutions and many questions all have a "significant political" component. All will finally come back to how much will you pay!

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