I’ve seen this story a few places in the last couple days. It has a catchy hook: water flowing back uphill! I understand it as a story about withdrawing groundwater from the Kern Water Bank in the southern Valley and pumping it back up the California Aqueduct (against a slight rise) to the middle western Valley.
- It is more conceivable that water should flow back uphill than that a part of the Valley that has no water at all in drought years (that will become increasingly common) be zoned “not for permanent crops”. There is no such zoning today, but reversing gravity at the cost of energy and engineering scramble is considered do-able, but requiring that lands that are entirely dependant on the State Water Project, which cannot meet demand in a drought, not be planted with permanent crops is completely taboo.
- Hey! This water is for tree nuts owned by Paramount Farms (the Resnicks). And they are in Dudley Ridge Water District. Dudley Ridge! The wholly unaccountable water district! The district with no residents, a few corporations who own the whole place and make up the Board of Directors, and the consultant engineer for a district manager. We haven’t talked about them since the last drought, when Sandridge sold away their water rights and pocketed the money. I thought that was the lead rat abandoning the ship, but apparently almond prices are so high that Paramount Farms is trying to hold on.
- This effort is to run 30,000 AF of water 30 miles uphill for $6 or 7M, paid by the growers. Fine. Normally, I’d say that would water 10,000 acres of almonds for the year, but if they’re just applying a bare, tree-saving minimum and not trying to bring in a crop, perhaps it’ll stretch to 20,000 acres of almonds. As a reminder, there are 840,000 acres of almonds in the state. This kind of effort is for 2% of the almonds in the state.
- The part of that story that bothers me most is this quote:
If it doesn’t rain much next winter, the districts might seek to continue pumping the water backward in years to come, Melville said.
“Ideally we would hope it’s a one-time thing,” he said, “but it would be worthwhile to have this as an insurance policy.”
If this is not a one-time thing, what the fuck are you doing planting trees there? We are all pretending that because this is a one-year, extreme drought and trees are so capital intensive, it is understandable to go to any length to keep trees alive for this year. If there is the likely prospect that our new climate includes more intense and frequent droughts, that land cannot sustain trees. We cannot normalize overdrafting groundwater, using public infrastructure for wholly private profits and dropping environmental protections if this is going to happen frequently. It may be appropriate to assume that land in Dudley Ridge can field row crops in wet years or even normal years. But if we actually believe that climate change is real, those trees will not see out their thirty years. They shouldn’t be there.