Monthly Archives: April 2016

Various: almond acreage, leasing a water right, AP exam.

The 2015 California Almond Acreage Report is out.  Last year, while you were carrying your warm-up water out to the rose bushes, growers planted another sixty thousand acres of almonds.

California’s 2015 almond acreage is estimated at 1,110,000 acres, up 6 percent from the 2014 revised acreage of 1,050,000.

This acreage, planted in Drought Year Four, commits about 180,000 AF/year to those trees, a constant burden on groundwater basins and our political system for every one of the next twenty-five years.  Had the Brown administration banned new permanent crops in basins with declining groundwater levels, that demand might be in annual crops, flexible in times of high climate variability.


I didn’t quite follow the transaction in this piece, by a guy who tried to go out and buy some water in the “water market”.  Far as I can tell, because he said he’d leave it in the river, the tribe leased it to him for $1/AF.  I did enjoy reading about the process.


I am not loving what I see from senatorial candidate Sanchez.  I am looking forward to the water policy position papers from all the candidates, and hope that at least one of them will stake out some new ground.  Now that Ted Cruz has chosen Carly Fiorina as his running mate to help him in California, I can remind you guys that Fiorina’s water policies were weak sauce.


Good luck to the students in Mr. Hollister’s Advanced Placement Environmental Science class!  We’re all rooting for you!  You are going to do great on the test next week.



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I am more impressed with Ms. Jagannath’s work every time I see it.

This week we’ve gotten two very nice examples of the same argument.  The full argument goes as follows, although these examples have skipped to the third point:

  • Around here, the existing order of things is to shit on the poor.
  • When there are fewer resources, rich people at the top naturally keep what they have, which forces us middlemen to shit on the poor even more.
  • Why, oh environmentalists, are you forcing us to shit on the poor even more [by restricting access to resources]?  I thought you liked the poor, you liberal hypocrites.

The sucker’s response is to try to engage the third point.  The real dispute is properly in the first or second point, invoking a different world, one that school superintendents and county supervisors should have the intellectual capacity and imagination to create.  In that world, school superintendents or county supervisors could throw the weight of their elected offices into grant applications to the State Board’s water quality grants.  It isn’t like the rich residents of Cantua Creek are inherently opposed to receiving government money.  Or perhaps the irrigated farmland of Stanislaus and Merced shouldn’t be the fixed constraint, forcing the brunt of the groundwater loss onto poor schoolchildren.  Given that less water and a poorer society is our future, now is a good time for local elected officials to practice finding ways to distribute the predictable shortfalls that don’t fall on the poor.

Note:  Do watch County Supervisor Mendes shouting at citizens in a public county supervisors’ meeting, if you will.  Of the two primary participants, one is emotionally uncontrolled, shouting at more vulnerable people based on abstract political beliefs.  The other is calmly referring to a study, trying to empathize, and sticking to the direct facts of the situation.  It is a shame the unhinged one is the one with power.  I’d love to see that switched.

Not his best look.

At 2:02, pointing at his constituent, calling her a liar.

MORE NOTE:  It took me a couple hours after writing the first draft to realize that Supervisor Mendes’ shouldn’t be invoking this argument in the first place.  He is livid, shouting at Ms. Jagannath because he has wrongly connected Cantua City and El Porvenir’s water problems to Westlands WD’s supply limitations.  If I understood the news story correctly, Cantua City and El Porvenir have enough water.  They pay $110/month for it, although it is too polluted to drink or cook with.  What they don’t have and can’t afford is water treatment.  Their resource restriction is ‘additional money to pay for water treatment’, not water itself.

To recap, Supervisor Mendes is sufficiently enraged by a different political matter that he:

  • Isn’t paying attention to which issue is in front of him;
  • Evidently doesn’t know of the existing study addressing the water treatment options of Cantua City and El Porvenir.  Was that done by his county’s own public works department?  He doesn’t know or care.
  • Lost all professional demeanor and shouted at the constituents before him, including personal abuse, on camera.

Small wonder he is too ashamed to watch the footage of the meeting he chaired.  How terrible that his constituents know they risk being treated this way when they bring their issues to him.


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Year Five of the Drought: reality sinking in.

It is very clear that an undefined threat of state involvement, domestic wells going dry and aquifer decline are not worse to Paso Robles locals than a new Groundwater Sustainability Agency.  If the State wants compliance with SGMA before the deadlines pass, it must make the alternative to forming a GSA worse than forming one.  Fortuitously, one measure for doing that -prohibiting planting new permanent crops in any basin with a declining gw aquifer -is also a good drought response.  I read that the State Board is looking for those as we go into Year Five.

Outlook for Year Five: More of the same, but less inconvenient for me.

If we are following in Australia’s footsteps, they got serious in Year Six.  Year Five is the year of “oh shit.  This drought thing could last.”  Indeed, we’re seeing a lot of “new normal” stories this month as the wet season comes to an end.

The State Water Contractors west side CVP contractors got a pretty small allotment this year, 5% as of now.  So they’ll be pumping and I’ll be calling for them to pay for damage to public infrastructure caused by their pumping.

People will feel discontent with urban water conservation as the prospect of doing this longterm sets in.  Passive methods, like switching out toilets, are great.  But active methods that impose a small ongoing cognitive burden are no longer exciting emergency measures.  People will get tired of short showers and carrying buckets of water.  As they should.  Those aren’t real fixes.

Poor people in the San Joaquin Valley will continue to feel the brunt of the drought.

Things to watch for:

Bank involvement: I continue to think that agricultural financing is a mystery influence in all this.  Will land prices go down as the limits of water availability become known?  Who the hell is financing half-million dollar wells?  Will there be a wave of bankruptcies?  How will we see those?  I love banking and water stories, friends.  Please send them along if you see them.

I read that this is the make-or-break year for the AroundDeltaWaterGo, that MWD is tired of pouring money into it.  Will the Brown Administration and the State Board put their attention into getting the tunnels through, or to using the drought to achieve something?  I have said before that it is a real shame that Brown chose the tunnels to focus on; I bet the same attention and the drought would have gotten water rights reform through.

The time for serious live-within-our-means drought response will be Year Six.  If Gov. Brown doesn’t do it in 2018 and we get to Year Seven, the next governor will have plenty of built up emotion for change.  I’ll be looking for gubernatorial candidates and guessing whether they are tied to west side ag.

I’ve been watching for a photogenic infrastructure break caused by subsidence.  Would we get easements, forbidding pumping within a quarter-mile of important public infrastructure?  I’m also watching closely for the report on funding mechanisms for repairs to the California Aqueduct.  (Remember, people of L.A..  If you pay a penny for repairs to subsidence damage to the California Aqueduct, you got robbed.)  I’m also keeping an eye out for a nuisance suit, brought against a neighboring pumper for breaking someone’s foundation.  I haven’t seen or heard anything like that, but surely there’s a cantankerous homeowner in the Valley who isn’t here to make friendsdoesn’t want to pay to repair a cracked foundation that someone else broke.

Hey, the next Almond Acreage Report comes out in a month.  We will know soon if almond acreage expanded last year.

Less inconvenient for me:

I don’t have to fear that we’ll get four years into drought and start all over.  I watched 2006-2009 closely, so I’d already seen drought years One to Four.  Now I get to see what happens in Year Five.

Here in Sacramento it seems like I’ll have to do less personal household water conservation, which is nice.  I lost a dogwood tree last year, so now I’m thinking I should put an illegal French drain on my outdoor shower.  See?  Permanent systemic fixes, not water bucket bullshit.

Regardless of snowpack percentages, the landscape looks green again.  The parched landscape of the past two years has looked sad and thirsty and pained.  It is a relief to have that feeling lifted, even though the drought hasn’t ended.

There’s enough project water in the system that there is no pump capacity for north-to-south water transfers.  So maybe I’ll have to read less abstract bullshit about the value of water transfers? One can hope.


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I enjoyed the Western Farm Press’s pictures of spring in the southern San Joaquin Valley. The third picture caught my eye.

moon buggy

Water being returned to an irrigation canal after irrigating small grains that may go to feed dairy cattle in the San Joaquin Valley. (photo credit to the Western Farm Press)

I wouldn’t have thought of a moon buggy being used to drain a field into a canal, but why not?  They are an unusual type of irrigation equipment, local to the southern San Joaquin Valley.  Usually the pump is in the canal, and the outfall on the field, but here that’s being reversed to drain tailwater.  In the field, you can see intermittent darker green lines.  That is border strip irrigation, a form of flood irrigation.  Lots of skinny lines?  Furrow irrigation.  Fewer lines, delineating much wider checks?  Border strip irrigation.

No deep significance, just cool machinery.


I have very much enjoyed reading the Foothill Agrarian’s posts during the lambing season, now finished.  Congratulations on the strong season, Mr. F. Agrarian!


I’ve added Dr. Kearn’s blog to my sidebar.  She’s one of the few thinkers addressing how people feel during the drought.  I’ve long thought that people are the third biggest driver of the water cycle in California (after solar heat and gravity), so it baffles me that we rarely talk about how they feel or what they want.

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