Almost every number used to analyze California’s drought can be debated, but this can be safely said: No level of restrictions on residential use can solve the problem. The solution lies with agriculture, which consumes more than its fair share.
That doesn’t mean homeowners can’t and shouldn’t cut back.
But according to estimates by the Public Policy Institute of California, more water was used to grow almonds in 2013 than was used by all homes and businesses in San Francisco and Los Angeles put together. Even worse, most of those almonds are then exported — which means, effectively, that we are exporting water. Unless you’re the person or company making money off this deal, that’s just nuts.
California produces more than 400 commodities in many different climates, so it’s difficult to generalize about agriculture. Many farmers are cutting back on water use, planting geographically appropriate crops and shifting to techniques that make sense, like “dry” farming. Others, however, are mining water as they would copper: When it runs out, they’ll find new ways to make money.
So the big question is not, “How do we survive the drought?” — which could well be the new normal — but, “How do we allocate water sensibly?” California grows fruits and vegetables for everyone; that’s a good thing. It would be an even better thing, however, if some of that production shifted to places like Iowa, once a leading grower of produce. That could happen again, if federal policy subsidized such crops, rather than corn, on some of that ultra-fertile land…
The system is arcane, allowing some people and entities to get surface water nearly free. (This system, involving “senior,” as in inherited, water rights, has never been successfully challenged.) Others, sometimes including cities, can pay 100 times more.
In most areas, groundwater for landowners is “free,” as long as you can dig a well that’s deep enough. This has led to a race to the bottom: New, super-deep wells, usually drilled at great expense, are causing existing shallower wells, often owned by people with less money, to run dry…
Wise use and conservation — not new dams, not desalination — are the answers, and conservation means common sense should take precedence over profiteering.
People interested in wise use and conservation, democracy in economics instead of might makes right, don’t have million-dollar lobbying firms on retainer. It will take grassroots organizing in the most traditional sense to overcome the poeple who treat agriculture as simple commodity production where it produces the most profit. Often that is determined by how many politicians you own – not the quality of arable land.
A simple instrument with a weight and a pulley confirmed what hydrologist Michelle Sneed had suspected after seeing more and more dirt vanish from the base of her equipment each time she returned to her research site last summer. The tawny San Joaquin Valley earth was sinking a half-inch each month.
The reason was no mystery. “There are wells up and down this road,” Sneed said, nodding toward a two-lane byway that cut across the flat agricultural landscape.
Parts of the San Joaquin Valley are deflating like a tire with a slow leak as growers pull more and more water from the ground. The land subsidence is cracking irrigation canals, buckling roads and permanently depleting storage space in the vast aquifer that underlies California’s heartland.
The overpumping has escalated during the past drought-plagued decade, driving groundwater levels to historic lows in some places. But in a large swath of the valley, growers have been sucking more water from its sands and clays than nature or man puts back for going on a century.
They are eroding their buffer against future droughts and hastening the day, experts warn, when they will be forced to let more than a million acres of cropland turn to dust because they have exhausted their supplies of readily available groundwater…
The Central Valley aquifer extends for about 400 miles under the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys. The subterranean water, some of which seeped into the ground 10,000 to 20,000 years ago, is California’s biggest reservoir. Yet it has been largely unregulated and unmonitored. Most of the more than 100,000 wells that pierce the valley floor are unmetered and landowners have taken what they wanted.
Scientists estimate that since the first wells were drilled by settlers more than a century ago, pumping has depleted Central Valley groundwater reserves by 125 million acre-feet. That is about 4 1/2 times the capacity of Lake Mead, the biggest surface reservoir in the country. About 20 million acre-feet of that loss occurred in the last decade.
Until last year, California didn’t have a statewide groundwater law, making it an outlier in the West. The legislation, intended to end unsustainable groundwater use, won’t do that any time soon. Agricultural interests opposed the regulations, which call for the creation of local groundwater agencies that have more than two decades to fully comply.
In the meantime, it’s easier for growers to keep pumping than rein in their use. “Telling people they have to stop irrigating is a huge economic thing,” said Charles Burt, chairman of the Irrigation Training and Research Center at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. “Guys are going to get their guns out…
Read the article for measured, sensible solutions – which, of course, don’t mean a damned thing in American politics. And it will be politics that resolves whatever is implemented in California. Short-term politics, short-term economics, short-term profits – which have always been the bane of Agriculture, whether it’s in the American West growing alfalfa or palm-nuts in Indonesia.
You don’t have to be a cynic to expect that verifiable science means nothing to producers who worry most of all about commodity prices and hedge funds.
Hoping to better understand the health effects of oil fracking, the state in 2013 ordered oil companies to test the chemical-laden waste water extracted from wells.
Data culled from the first year of those tests found significant concentrations of the human carcinogen benzene in this so-called “flowback fluid.” In some cases, the fracking waste liquid, which is frequently reinjected into groundwater, contained benzene levels thousands of times greater than state and federal agencies consider safe.
The testing results from hundreds of wells showed, on average, benzene levels 700 times higher than federal standards allow, according to a Times analysis of the state data.
The presence of benzene in fracking waste water is raising alarm over potential public health dangers amid admissions by state oil and gas regulators that California for years inadvertently allowed companies to inject fracking flowback water into protected aquifers containing drinking water.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency called the state’s errors “shocking.” The agency’s regional director said that California’s oil field waste water injection program has been mismanaged and does not comply with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.
Read it and weep, folks. Shocking, I say – shocking.
Except I’m not shocked. BITD, I worked in and around oil fields in Louisiana and there is no other class of business [in my experience] that spends 24 hours a day looking for ways to circumvent regulations. Especially requirements for environmental health and safety.
The article is the sort of thing LA Times journalists are thorough about. They don’t skimp on excellence. And, no, I don’t think the Feds have any right to be shocked. They should have been watching these sharks like tuna on toast.
Apple’s new Campus 2 – under construction in Cupertino, California
Apple’s landmark solar power deal…is a long-term sustainable energy solution that should generate enough to power essentially all of the company’s California operations, including the upcoming “spaceship” Campus 2, by the end of 2016.
The green energy will be purchased from First Solar, Inc., through an $848 million agreement that will last for at least 25 years, making it the largest of its kind in the industry. First Solar will be providing electricity through its forthcoming 2,900-acre California Flats Solar Project in Monterey County…
In total, the solar plant will output 280 megawatts of electricity, 130 megawatts of which will be bought by Apple. The remaining 150-megawatt capacity will be sold to Pacific Gas & Electric under a separate long-term power purchase agreement…
Cook said…that Apple will buy enough electricity to power nearly 60,000 California homes. That’s enough to offset the electricity used by Apple’s upcoming Campus 2, as well as all 52 Apple retail stores in the Golden State, and its data center in Newark.
The Apple CEO also made it clear that climate change is a very serious issue for him and his company, which is why they are taking the lead on renewable and sustainable energy. Cook also noted to investors that the agreement makes sound financial sense as well, as the $848 million deal will result in “very significant savings” on the cost of energy.
So, the most valuable corporation in the world says it makes economic sense to move eletricity generation away from fossil fuel, away from coal and oil.
Congressional pimps and cowards, Republican conservatives and Blue Dog Democrats, bleat this isn’t possible.
Which side are you on?
Gov. Jerry Brown and state political leaders on Tuesday celebrated their perseverance over lawsuits and skeptical lawmakers and voters as they ceremonially started work in the Central Valley on the initial 29 miles of the nation’s first high-speed rail system.
Speaking to about 700 supporters of high-speed rail in a vacant lot in Fresno, the governor was cheered when he called critics — about 30 of whom protested outside the fenced-off festivities — “pusillanimous … that means weak of spirit,” and said the state owed it to the future to think big and invest in projects like high-speed rail.
Brown noted that the State Water Project, BART and the Golden Gate Bridge all faced opposition in their time. “We need to be critiqued,” he said, “but we still need to build…”
While high-speed rail backers made speeches and signed a symbolic section of rail in lieu of cutting a ribbon or wielding golden shovels, a new Congress whose Republican majority has vowed not to contribute more federal funding to California’s high-speed rail project took office in Washington. They include House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, whose district would be bisected by the fast rail line…
Surely no one expects a 21st Century Republican to favor transportation, logistics and commerce considered modern in most nations.
Along with the financial challenge comes the need to complete the project without significant delays or massive cost overruns, and the question of whether state legislators have the political will to keep the project going when it runs into trouble.
The current construction is expected to be completed by 2018…The authority expects to award a contract this month for the next phase, which would take the tracks south to Bakersfield. Once that stretch is completed, with work overlapping the initial leg, the plan is to work on a connection to Palmdale, not from Bakersfield but from Burbank. Not only is that a critical stretch in connecting high-speed rail into the Los Angeles area, but officials believe it could operate as a profitable line even before the connection to the valley is completed.
By 2017 or 2018, the agency expects to have a 130-mile stretch through the valley that can be used as a test track for high-speed trains. And by 2022, it expects to be able to run trains from Merced to the Burbank Airport. Connections to San Francisco’s Transbay Transit Center and Los Angeles’ Union Station would be finished by 2029.
Critics…waved signs with such messages as blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!
In the same time period China is scheduled to build several hundred miles of standard rail – only travel at 110mph – for Thailand connecting Bangkok and major cities to Laos and southern China. Myanmar’s main industrial areas will be linked to the deep-sea port of Dawei. 2000 miles of rail will be built in a trilateral project for India, Myanmar and Thailand – linking those nations to Laos, Cambodia and VietNam. The ASEAN north-south corridor will be extended down to Malaysia and Singapore.
Besides ASEAN nations, there are six more partner countries – China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, combining half of the world’s population.
Good thing ain’t many of them as backwards as American conservatives.
GE just announced the largest debt financing this year for a thermal power plant in the US. Located in Riverside County, California, the massive 800 MW Sentinel Facility will help facilitate the integration of renewable energy into the power grid. The plan is being funded by a union of mega companies including GE Energy Financial Services, Diamond Generating Corporation and Competitve Power Ventures, and when it is completed it will produce enough power for 239,000 homes.
The thermal plant is part of California’s program to derive 33% of its power from renewable energy by the year 2020. In addition to the CPV Sentinel Facility, Riverside will welcome the Blythe Solar Project, a 968 megawatt solar power plant, driving the state even further toward their goal.
Aside from generating power, the $2 billion project will also give way to 300 construction jobs and 400 employment jobs — expected to inject $55 million into the local economy. Sales tax alone from the project will bring $30 million, and property taxes will provide the county with an additional $6.4 million.
And it ain’t going to buy coal from the Four Corners and PNM.
Oh yeah – that’s more post-construction direct permanent jobs than the whole Keystone XL pipeline.
Did you hear about the largest solar power plant in the world and how it is now producing electricity? Did it make the nightly broadcast news?
Probably not, but Solyndra was all over the news media for a while. There’s a blatant lack of coverage for solar success stories, so it wouldn’t be surprising if most people aren’t hearing about them. California’s Topaz project is the largest solar power plant in the world with a 550 MW capacity, and it is now in full operation. It is located in San Luis Obispo County and has 9 million solar panels. Construction began just two years ago.
The electricity produced by the plant will be purchased by Pacific Gas and Electric. The solar panels were manufactured by First Solar and the project was developed by First Solar.
SEIA says about 200 homes in California are powered for each MW of solar power capacity. So, for a 550 MW solar plant, about 110,000 homes could be powered when the sun is shining. First Solar has said this figure could be 160,000 homes in the case of Topaz…
Using the electricity created by this huge solar plant rather than fossil fuels will prevent the generation of about 377,000 tons of CO2 annually. It will also not produce harmful air pollution the way coal power plants do.
There’s more, of course. If you’re interested enough in solar power to read through a post like this you may already know something of the life and cost of solar panels. Though it’s nice to dust them off to keep efficiency up, that’s about it for maintenance. Convertors to kick DC electricity over to AC need replacement a few times in the life of a system; but, you can expect these critters to last 20 or 30 years with very little reduction in output.
Compared to the cost of coal or even natural gas, compared to the cost of maintaining a nuclear power plant – this is going to cost peanuts. And only squirrelly politicians and flat-earthers would rather spend the extra money for dirty electricity.
Thanks, Mike — GMTA :)
When someone tells Terry Hershner that an electric motorcycle can’t do a certain feat, he immediately begins trying to figure out how to prove them wrong. Seriously, the man is on a mission to show the world that electric transport is superior transport, with the two-wheeled mode being his validator of choice. The most recent example of this obsessive compulsion has led to him acquiring an iron butt.
For those unfamiliar with that term, relax, it’s not a medical condition. Rather, it means that he has officially traveled 1,000 miles or more in less than twenty-four hours on a motorcycle. In this case, an electric 2012 Zero S that he’s extensively modified, including the addition of an aerodynamic body kit created specifically for him by Craig Vetter, bunches of batteries (now 21 kilowatt-hours!), and nine separate chargers…
According to Hershner, he’s been told many times that this trip, with its lengthiness and time constraint would be impossible on a battery powered bike. So, he decided that the first day of National Drive Electric Week would be a good time to surmount the insurmountable.
Starting at 1:00 PM at Chargepoint headquarters – he would use that company’s chargers for the entire trip – he headed towards the Mexican border, about 500 miles away to the south. After covering 1,047 miles in 22 hours and 57 minutes, making nine charging stops along the way, he pulled back into that same parking lot with a big smile and joined the 53,000-plus members of the Iron Butt Association (IBA). Yes, there is such a thing.
I’m tired and tender just from watching his achievement.
California lawmakers have approved a measure that would make the state the first to impose a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags.
SB270 cleared the Senate on a 22-15 vote Friday and sent to Gov. Jerry Brown. It was approved by the Assembly a day earlier.
Senators who had previously opposed the bill, including incoming Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, a Los Angeles Democrat, this time supported the measure after protections were added for plastic bag manufacturers.
The bill by Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla of Los Angeles would prohibit single-use plastic bags at grocery stores and large pharmacies in 2015 and at convenience stores in 2016.
It includes $2 million in loans to help manufacturers shift to producing reusable bags and lets grocers charge 10 cents each for paper and reusable bags.
Typical American copout politicians. There isn’t a single one of these companies that needs a loan to shift production. If they’re that incompetent – they shouldn’t be in business.
The bill had sparked one of the most contentious debates in the last weeks of the legislative session, with aggressive lobbying by environmentalists and bag manufacturers.
For years, a statewide plastic bag ban has been an elusive goal for lawmakers trying to reduce the buildup of plastic waste in oceans and waterways that costs millions of dollars to cleanup. About 100 local jurisdictions in California already have adopted similar bans, including Los Angeles and San Francisco.
You may as well ask your Congress-critter, now, when will they get round to passing a matching national regulation. I expect I won’t still be alive when that happens.