News commentary.

I have two real topics (water and econ, and the LHC study), but those require that I think hard.  We all know that thinking hard is hard, so before that, a few quick reactions to the sudden rush of interesting news.

On the suit against the Kern Water Bank.  Mark Grossi’s commentary today (and the comments on the original story) prompted this thought: The usual distrust towards DWR and Metropolitan is based on what are usually half-baked contemporary conspiracy theories, and very real historical water grabs.  But it is interesting to see that for all that The State is mistrusted, private corporations are mistrusted even more.  Clearly, the Resnick’s and Paramount Farm’s interest is in maximizing their profits.  That’s not even wrong for a corporation.  But it is a facially evident mis-match for running a water bank that is supposed to serve public interests.  People know this in their guts, and it makes them mad.


Look!  Here’s more evidence of people mis-trusting DWR!  I don’t know what to say about this one.  BDCP is the hope, right?  The Legislature punted during their big reform bill last year.  I thought that was a wise recognition that the decisions were too political for them to make, so someone else should.  And the Delta Stewardship Council is supposed to do that deciding, informed by BDCP.  Looks like the out-going high-ups really want BDCP to lock in a path for the Peripheral Canal, and the article suggests also locking in commitments to delivering set water amounts, which is pure folly since they won’t be possible.  Committing to those could create a liability for the state, but it won’t create water.

I think the gears are locked and grinding, man.  I don’t see any movement unless the levees collapse catastrophically or the new administration radically changes direction.  ‘Course, both of those are fairly likely.


I still completely love the lawsuits brought by CWIN and their buddies.  They’re picking the huge fights.  Don’t know that they’ll win, but at least they’re testing the doctrines that environmentalists refer back to.  Let’s have this showdown over the public trust doctrine.  Why have it if we don’t use it?  When should we use if, if not as a last gasp effort for California’s salmon runs?


Really, SacBee editorial board?  If downstream people want to use our effluent, they can pay for (some of) cleaning it?  Look, I know tail-enders get the shaft, but that’s an artifact of the physical world, not an admirable policy that we say out loud.  What happened to “Leave No Trace” and “Clean up after yourselves.”?

We all know that the ammonia problem has been turned into a political controversy by the State Water Contractors, who want anything but flow to be the problem for the Delta.  But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t solve the ammonia problem.  Then, when the Delta is still broken, they won’t be able to point to it any longer.  There have long been good federal funds for wastewater treatment, and yes, of course if they’re handing out money we should get in line.  But there is no moral argument for passing our costs on to downstream users or letting the voiceless environment absorb them. 


As we learned last week, talk about the LHC study doesn’t have to be this dull.


I don’t even know why I do this, since I mostly agree with the Pacific Institute.  I am nevertheless going to question a trivial aside that doesn’t change the results of their report.  In a text box on page 7 of their recent report, the authors put a million acre-feet in context.  We LOVE context!  This is great.  But they wrote that a million acrefeet is:


-approximately enough water to irrigate all the grain produced in California annually.

I cannot begin to guess what they mean.  Here are the acreages for field crops in California.  Rice alone is 550,000 acres.  At a minimum of four acre-feet per acre for rice, that’s 2.2 MAF.  They’ve got to be excluding alfalfa (900,000 acres, 3 MAF).  I can see excluding winter wheat, since it isn’t irrigated.  Either that is some very strange definition of grain (grains for human consumption only, but not rice?), or maybe they slipped a digit.  That’s not the main point, and doesn’t contradict their findings (which I can’t personally discount or support).  I’m just curious about that line.


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4 responses to “News commentary.

  1. Heather

    Wr appreciate the detail with which you read the report. The crop categories can be confusing, and we are sorry that we were not more clear. According to the Department of Water Resources, grain is defined as “wheat, barley, oats, miscellaneous grain and hay, and mixed grain and hay.” The Department of Water Resources classifies rice and alfalfa separately from grain.

    In 2005, approximately 484,000 acres of grain were grown in California. Using applied water estimates for each hydrologic region, we estimate that grain in 2005 used slightly less than one million acre-feet.

  2. onthepublicrecord

    Thanks lots for clearing that up. I can’t say I particularly read the report closely, but that jumped out at me, primarily because I use a rule of thumb of 3af/acre of irrigated crop to estimate quantities of water.

    I fully believe that that your statement is consistent with a data set for modeling purposes (which has precise and important definitions). (And even have some good guesses about where I could get my hands on that data set.) But it doesn’t match my internal sense of scale for “grains” and “what water gets used for in CA”.

    One MAF/484 thousand acres is about 2 acre-feet/acre of crop. I can imagine that if it includes non-irrigated winter grain crops. Otherwise it sounds very low. Which is, I suppose, one thing the Pacific Institute is trying to do, winch down our sense of how much water things require.

    Thanks again for explaining your approach.

  3. Let me also weigh in, though Heather has clarified this: part of the confusion is that sometimes in California ag discussions “grain” is used to refer to all “field” crops, or at least those that produce a (literal) grain. We tried to be more precise, rather than colloquial, but your comment pointed out that it would have been helpful to have added a parenthetical summary of what we mean. We will do so along the lines of: “It is enough water to irrigate all the grain produced in California annually (defined by the Department of Water Resources as all wheat, barley, oats, and miscellaneous grain and hay). Some of the grain is not irrigated fully and hence our assumption of slightly UNDER 3 AF/acre. Just trying hard to be conservative!

  4. onthepublicrecord

    Or asterisk or something, to leave your text box looking nice. I think the biggest thing that will confuse people with a food-based sense of “grains” rather than a data set-based sense of “grains” is the exclusion of rice. But the parenthetical should cover that.