Sunday, February 23, 2014

California Drought

The mid-West may be the nation's bread basket, but California is the nation's fruit and vegetable basket.

The southwest quarter of the United States is in the grip of a severe drought.  It remains to be seen if this drought is the start of a mega-drought.  The tree ring evidence suggests that California experienced two mega-droughts in the last one thousand years.  One of those mega-droughts lasted 250 years.  It was followed by a short reprieve.  Then another mega-drought of 150 years occurred.

Water Allocation

The law surrounding water rights in the west is a highly developed thing.  Much of it is based on seniority of the claim and location relative to the head waters.  I do not have enough knowledge to go beyond that.

Needless to say, lack of water can make a farm or ranch worthless.  Access to water can make a section of desert a highly desirable subdivision or golf course.  More voters reside in subdivisions and golf at golf courses than typically live on farms or pursue recreation upon farm property.

Quoted material from HERE

The projected 2014 zero allocation to all but a handful of agricultural districts supplied by the federally run Central Valley Project comes three weeks after forecasts of similarly drastic cuts were announced by managers of a separate water-delivery system operated by the state.

California grows roughly half of all U.S. fruits and vegetables, most of that in the Central Valley, and ranks as the No. 1 farm state by value of agricultural products produced each year.
Clearly, water that does not exist cannot be allocated.  100% of nothing is nothing.  I feel the most pain for those farmers who have massive investments in vineyards, citrus and almond orchards.  Those assets become stranded, doomed investments. 

Great Lakes Water

There has been some fear mongering regarding the diversion of Great Lakes water to the American Southwest.

I cannot see it happening.  For one thing, it takes an enormous amount of energy to pump water long distances.

From Art Ludwig's website

To put our energy use in a human, comprehensible perspective, try measuring it in units of energy slaves (es). If you shackled a very fit slave to an exercycle, they could generate about 75 watts of power, twelve hours a day. This is about what a bike rider expends cruising on flat land. To make the math easier, we’ll round it up generously to 100 watts = 1 Es This is a level of energy expenditure which an average American might be able to keep up for thirty minutes before collapsing. Now look around for energy slaves at work. 

A pump station sends water 3000 feet over a mountain pass. At full capacity, it uses 2,460,000 energy slaves of power. If the entire population of the city of Los Angeles did nothing but pedal hard and sleep, they would generate this much energy. By importing water from up to 600 miles away, Los Angeles removed its growth-limiting factor. It’s population has increased by a factor of 1000 in 150 years. During the drought of the 1990’s, at the point when the state water project agricultural deliveries were slashed 90%, LA was conserving 5% (Voters) Limits—Running out of water, electricity, gas, whatever, at some point, are a key ecological design feature which hones awareness and keeps consumption from growing out of reasonable bounds.
The example above discusses the (hidden) energy costs of moving water 600 miles and over 3000 feet of elevation.  Consider the energy required to move water 2000 miles and over 7000 feel of elevation.  There is also an incredible amount of energy embedded (hidden) in the concrete and steel used to fabricate the conduit and channels used to move the water.

What can I do?

This topic captured Mrs ERJ's attention.  She loves fruits and vegetables.  The garden will definitely get much attention from both of us this year.

As a gardener, I can focus on fruits and vegetables that have great storage life.  California's "niche" in my food plan is to fill the hunger gap between December and May.  I need a Plan B.  I need to plant a significant amount of brawny, broad-shouldered vegetables that can shrug off the indignities of storage.

To be continued.


  1. I feel your pain, but I take exception that it costs lots of money to move water. You send me water every year, free of charge. Lots fo water, via runoff. It flows right past the house, some 1000 miles of downhill.

    So, if we believe that the Gret Lakes are at 600 ft elevation, and Los Angeles is at 20 feet elevation, all you need is a big pipe and it would flow unobstructed. Building that pipe would be quite a challenge, but once you established the slope you couldn't stop the water from flowing.

    1. It is not my intent to be argumentative, but I believe there is a limit to the maximum height a siphon will function. That height is generally accepted to be approximately 30 feet.

      At thirty feet you will pull enough of a vacuum at the top of the siphon that the partial pressure of the water and/or outgassing of dissolved gasses in the water will form an apparent bubble and flow will stop.

      One could put a series of turbines in the downhill run of pipe to recover some of the energy put into the water pumping it up the hill, but again, that is more investment and complexity.