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.


Filed under Uncategorized

25 responses to “Year Five of the Drought: reality sinking in.

  1. Hi OtPR,

    Just a quick note. SWP got 45%, it’s CVP South of Delta that got only 5%. Exchange and settlement contractors got 100%, though. Friant, 30%.

    Hope you are well!



  2. Mike

    Reservoir Facts as of 4/5/16
    North of Delta Reservoirs
    3,400,000 more af compared to last year
    290,000 more af than normal
    95% snowpack compared to 5% last year

    South of Delta Reservoirs
    1,273,000 more af compared to last year
    2,838,000 LESS than normal
    80% snowpack compared to 5% last year

    Shasta and Oroville released 391,000 af from 1/1/16 – 3/31/16

    Folsom released 420,000 af from 1/1/16 – 3/31/16

    Total of 811,000 af released.

    Tale of two regions yet the conservation goals released today don’t reflect the abundance of water in the region north of the Delta.

  3. caroleekrieger

    Actually, the State Water Contractors are getting 45%…it is the CVP contractors (Westlands) that are getting only 5%. I totally agree with what you are saying!!

    Carolee Krieger


  4. delveg

    The next cycle of the building code (2016 Codes, go live Jan 1, 2017) have introduced “dark grey” water reuse as an option. So, a chance to use kitchen & shower water for yards, as mere “gray” (washing machine) water use was eased in the current cycle.

  5. “Regardless of snowpack percentages, the landscape looks green again.” It is so interesting what a difference the green grass makes for our psyches. And, yet, so often when I look at it right now, I mostly see inches and inches of fire starter as the drying is already beginning in some places.

  6. gibarian

    Let us step back and reconsider west side agriculture. Increasing the allocation so that pumping (and therefore subsidence) doesn’t go on is a reasonable option, and it is feasable if we are willing to consider major reforms. Reclamation was a decision made long ago, and it is still tethered to homesteading, which doesn’t make sense in the modern economy. Instead of trading cheap water for reclamation, trade it for increased agriculture salaries. Now, where should the water come from: 1. Reconsider the Yuma Project. Lessening the Yuma draw increases the colorado allocation which relieves the State Water Project. 2. Exempt the smelt from the EDA. This was done to the snail Darter in the 1970’s, and considered exemptions are a valid public policy. 3. New interbasin transfers – yes, that impacts salmon, but this needs to be contexualized for the entire west coast including some notable restoration efforts in BC – in short, either salmon stop having sex or humans 4, Either focus urban growth in the SFPUC service area which continues to have a surplus (incidentally releases from that system can be allocated to the delta – from the south of all things!) or increase SFPUC releases in recognition of their urban growth red tape.

    I want to focus on Yuma. It’s easy to get into a tizzy over almonds in a desert, but lettuce in Yuma?

    Finally, there is a new factor hereunto undiscussed: the return of the Aedes mosquito to the Bay and the Zika virus. Mosquito abatement is no longer just a quality of life concern. Water management of the delta should minimize mosquito habitat. The smelt should take one for the team.

  7. Curt Sanders

    The superceding issue regarding Water management in CA. and the desert and semi desert portions of the West is how to reverse human habitation. Everything else regarding water and its management is essentially moving the deck chairs on the Titanic. We have built huge unsustainable cities right smack dab in the heart of the desert. Las Vegas and Phoenix are the most glaring examples. We are draining underground aquifers to sustain them now..The semi desert Los Angeles and San Diego areas are better off being along the coast but they will be forced into desalinization big time. Why? Because the West is a desert…Very few of our water managers and virtually none of our political leaders understand the climatic history of the West. 5 or 6 yr drought? Peanuts baby..the latest research in Paleoclimatology of the West reveals 30, 50, 100+ yr droughts are more common place than previously thought. Think things have been dry..? The previous 100 yrs were the wettest in the last 1000 yrs. How can Gov Brown says Calif can easily sustain another 10 million occupants? Wow… Continued draining of our underground aquifer system is insanity. That water is emergency supply that won’t be there when we really need it.
    There is an 80% probability of a 30+ year drought for the West by the year 2050 according to a new study by NOAA Columbia, and Colgate that came out last year.
    There are solutions to our water management challenges but until the realization is made that the human populous has got to be reduced here.. Not increased. The West is for all intents and purposes the Titanic headed for a massive ice berg of a drought..

  8. John

    Please let everybody know that Lake Shasta is at 109% for April 11th, Oroville Dam is 116% and Folsom is 114%. There is a real risk of flooding in the Sac valley when the normal snow falls begin to melt. All while
    the FEDs continue to paint the Sac Valley in extreme drought. I just don’t get it.

    • Curt Sanders

      John, check the U.S. Drought monitor, you will see Sacramento was upgraded from Exceptional to Extreme draught status. Still seriously parched. The reservoirs you mention are fed from areas out of drought status but Sac and its immediate vicinity are in Extreme drought.

    • MIke

      Curt, please see below before you make assumptions on regional drought status.
      From their website:

      Caveats on use of the U.S. Drought Monitor
      The U.S. Drought Monitor provides a consistent big-picture look at drought conditions in the United States. Although it is based on many types of data, including observations from local experts across the country, we don’t recommend using it to infer specifics about local conditions. It can certainly be used to identify likely areas of drought impacts, including water shortage, but decision-makers in many circumstances have successfully taken measures to reduce vulnerability to drought. Large urban water systems generally have diverse water supplies and can keep the water flowing in both dry and wet years. The U.S. Drought Monitor is in no way intended to replace assessments or guidance from local water systems as to whether residents should conserve water.

    • MIke

      Once again, John is right. Here are some facts for regions North of the Delta and South of the Delta. It is clearly a tale of two regions:

      Facts as of 4/5/16
      North of Delta Reservoirs
      3,400,000 more af compared to last year
      290,000 more af than normal
      95% snowpack compared to 5% last year

      South of Delta reservoirs
      1,273,000 more af compared to last year
      2,838,000 LESS than normal
      85% snowpack compared to 5% last year

      Shasta and Oroville released 391,000 af from 1/1/16 – 3/31/16
      Folsom released 420,000 af from 1/1/16 – 3/31/16
      Total of 811,000 af released.

      You can’t paint California as a whole as still being in a drought. It is misleading. At worst, it shows a lack of credibility for any agency or governmental body to do so. Department of Water Resources didn’t recognize this when they released their latest conservation targets by district earlier this month. I have read that DWR will release an update on April 20th and will recognize the abundance of water in the North state and make changes accordingly. We shall see if that is true.

      When it comes to the Drought Monitor, where do they get their information? Are they recognizing how the rain fell this year and how the groundwater was replenished based on the timing and amount that fell this year? What is the criteria? You can’t say that an area is in a drought situation without having this data and if it is and we have released enough acre feet to recharge the groundwater and yet have no plan on using that water for recharging ground water than who is responsible for the poor management of this resource.

  9. John

    Mike, It’s as if nobody wants to hear good news. Full reservoirs and good
    snow pack is good news in my book.

    • Mike

      They were late to call a drought and will be late to call the drought over.

      We have enough data to say that regionally there is a dramatic difference between the area north of the Delta compared to the south. Since we can’t transfer water easily and efficiently through the Delta, they should treat each region separately for conservation purposes.

  10. Curt Sanders

    Mike first of all you are confused about the U.S. Drought Monitor caveat. It refers to an anomaly within a region.. Secondly I did not say the entire state of CA. Is in a drought. This has been a good year for the north. The US Drought Monitor map clearly delineates the northern section of CA. as being out of the drought. It shows Sacramento in the area of the state that is still in Extreme Drought. I think that is accurate. Now regarding recharge of the underground aquifer system in the central valley which is by far the largest of the various underground aquifer systems in CA. Dr Famiglietti at UCI formerly with NASA. One of the leading experts on the California underground aquifer systems has stated that recharge of the Central Valley aquifer would take 12 to 15 yrs IF all extractions and diversions completely stopped for that 12 to 15 yr period. I guess we all know the farmers especially those with water intensive crops are not about to turn off those super turbine wells now don’t we? So for all intents and purposes there is NO RECHARGE. Massive subsidence will continue unabated in the SJV and its accompanying infrastructural casualties. Famiglietti says at the current rate of water extraction from the aquifer the state has from 3 to 5 yrs before she’s dry…..

    • Mike

      I couldn’t agree more on the region south of the Delta. I do think that the Sacramento region is better off than what the map is showing as I have seen initial data that shows there was a significant amount of recharge in that region.
      As you described, there is no doubt that the San Joaquin region is in dire straits. Well levels on the west side of the SJV and especially in Tulare and Fresno counties are really hurting.

    • Curt Sanders

      Mike could you direct me to the source for recharge of the underground aquifer data? Love to see it. I know there are several aquifers in the state in good health but my understanding is they are on the periphery.. The aquifer most immediate to Sacramento might be in better shape than I thought?

    • Mike

      Once the data is available for public consumption I will post the link. I am suggesting that they format the well sites similar to this site for the snow pack water content:

      There are too many wells that are being monitored so hopefully they can focus on some key indicator wells similar to the courses report.

    • Curt Sanders

      Mike if you check USGS – Calif. water science center, you will see the wells they monitor for Sac clearly indicate severe drought now..

    • Curt Sanders

      Thanx Mike for the snow pack info but that is the future. It takes approx 1 to 2 yrs for the that melt off to percolate down to the aquifer.

    • Mike

      By the way, I don’t think I am confused at all. The intent of the map is clear as well as their caveat. It is a helicopter view and is not intended to be used for specific, regional purposes.

  11. Curt Sanders

    Another example is the snow melt from Mt San Jacinto above Palm Springs takes over 15 yrs to percolate down through the mountain itself to the streams that feed PS.

    • Mike

      Wait, are you saying that the geology is the same in the Palm Springs area as in, let’s say Mount Shasta, where the head waters to the Sacramento River is located? I think we both can agree that the geology, and therefore percolation rate, is different up and down the state.

  12. Mike

    If you have recent data (i.e. within the last week) in the Sacramento region, it would be great if you could provide a link so I can analyze it. I like working with all the data available but a lot of it is old. In fact, the site I referenced earlier was using Feb 15 data until about a week ago. Obviously that was inaccurate as March was a great month for snowpack and precipitation.

  13. You have an outdoor shower?