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Monday, August 18

Second look at the subsidence issue along California's Delta-Mendota Canal

An irrigation channel delivers water to farm fields in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta near Isleton, California

A photo of an irrigation channel delivering water to farm fields.

The following report brings up points I'd missed the first time I looked at the canal subsidence issue -- and mentions something that is so obvious I hadn't thought of it:  the rapid land sinkage is cracking irrigation pipes.  Duh. So how much water is leaking from these cracks?  The report doesn't even try to estimate, and it's doubtful the state or local government has any idea.  See the National Geographic website for links in the text.   

In California, Demand for Groundwater Causing Huge Swaths of Land to Sink
By Julie Schmit
National Geographic
March 25, 2014
As growers pump subterranean water, farmlands fall to new lows.

With California in the throes of a major drought and demand for groundwater rising, officials and landowners are racing to respond to the process known as subsidence. Some areas of the San Joaquin Valley, the backbone of California's vast agricultural industry, are subsiding at the fastest rates ever measured, said Michelle Sneed, a U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist and lead author of the recent report.

While the bulk of the sinking 1,200-square-mile (3,108-square-kilometer) area in central California is subsiding only about an inch (2.5 centimeters) a year, one 2-square-mile (5-square-kilometer) area Sneed studied is subsiding almost a foot (0.3 meters) annually. At that pace, "lots of infrastructure can't handle such rapid subsidence," Sneed said, including roads, water canals, and pipelines. The drought is likely to exacerbate the situation, as less rain drives more pumping.

Sinking Lands Raise Flood Risk

The worst subsidence has already increased the risk of flooding in the sparsely populated region, including to the low-lying town of Dos Palos, population 5,400, said Christopher White, manager of the Central California Irrigation District.

That's because portions of the area's flood control system have sunk, reducing their ability to contain floodwater. Local flood officials are crafting emergency plans for where to place sandbags when big rains return.

"We've got some serious issues," said Reggie Hill, manager of the Lower San Joaquin Levee District, which maintains part of the flood canal.

Other canals and dams that deliver water to irrigate the fields of hundreds of growers are also losing capacity as parts of them sink.

White oversees the local effort to respond to the subsidence. His irrigation district, which serves 1,900 growers, spent $5 million in recent years to raise canals and dams.

The federal Delta-Mendota Canal, which delivers water from northern California to growers and cities in the Central Valley, runs near the edge of the subsidence bowl and was the focus of the USGS study.

In 1969 the canal's banks were raised four feet (1.2 meters) along a 15-mile (24-kilometer) stretch in response to subsidence. More renovations—including the raising of several two-lane bridges over the canal—will be needed in 20 years if the sinking in the area doesn't slow, said Bob Martin, an engineer with the agency that oversees the canal.

Sneed said more research is needed to assess the impact of subsidence on cities around the Delta-Mendota Canal.

One permanent impact to the region may be lost groundwater storage. As groundwater levels drop, clay deposits move closer together and space for groundwater is lost. "You can never get the deposits to go back," Sneed said. Groundwater provides about one-third of the area’s total water supply, even more in drought years, officials said.

Surprising Find

The rapid subsidence was first noted several years ago when the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation did survey work as part of an $800-million restoration of the San Joaquin River.

The land had settled so much "we thought our data was wrong," said Rick Woodley, a bureau resource manager. That led to further study by the USGS. Because of the subsidence, some construction tied to the restoration has been delayed. Anything built "needs firm footing," Woodley said.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority, however, said subsidence will not have a significant impact on plans for a new high-speed rail through the area. The system will run from San Francisco to Los Angeles and can be engineered to deal with sinking land, said Frank Vacca, chief program manager.

Longstanding Issue

Sinking land is not new to the San Joaquin Valley. In the four decades prior to 1970, portions of the valley sank 28 feet (8.5 meters), the USGS reported. Other states also suffer subsidence, and groundwater extraction is often the cause.

In the San Joaquin Valley, subsidence largely abated when growers began pumping from large federal and state water projects built in the 1950s and 1970s that are fed by Sierra Nevada snowpack.

But growers say they're now getting less of that water as the snowpack has diminished and more water goes to sustain critical habitat for endangered species. That combination has renewed growers' demand for groundwater, especially in drought years when surface water supplies dwindle, said Timothy Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies.

Landowners near the heart of the subsidence bowl are totally reliant on groundwater to irrigate crops, including almonds and grapes. More tree crops have also been planted in the valley, and they will die if left dry in drought years.

Local officials are working with landowners to reduce the deep groundwater pumping that causes subsidence, and to secure future surface-water resources and recharge shallow groundwater reservoirs, the Central California Irrigation District's White said.

California's groundwater is largely managed locally, but the renewed subsidence may spur more state oversight, Quinn said. "The groundwater situation in California will be a crisis long after the drought."


Gee, and I thought cap and trade was baloney

The education of Pundita continues. Well, throw this in the hopper with the rest of the debates about cap and trade .....

How Can Critics of Carbon Dioxide Cap and Trade Explain This?
June 11, 2014
By Elisa Wood
Energy Efficient Markets 

You can’t miss the swords drawn to slash the Obama administration’s new plan on carbon dioxide emissions. There are big dollar signs written on their hilts.

Republican opponents, the Heartland Institute and others are brandishing warnings about hikes in electricity prices they say will come as coal-fired plants tumble under the restrictions. The Heartland Institute predicts a cost of $50 billion per year to the U.S. economy.

Right or wrong, such arguments are likely to look medieval compared to the other side’s arsenal: Not predictions, but data from a real-life carbon cap and trade program with a five-year track record.
Called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, the nine-state program could serve as a model, analysts say, as states figure out how to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s new proposal to cut carbon 30 percent by 2030.

“RGGI has demonstrated that emissions can come down rapidly and affordably in the electric sector,” said Peter Shattuck, director of market initiatives at Environment Northeast, a group that has been tracking RGGI for several years. “The ongoing progress of the program shows that this is an effective mechanism for cutting pollution from major sources.”

The common assumption is that reducing carbon dioxide emissions equates to increasing electricity costs. But since RGGI started, electricity prices declined eight percent in the nine states, while in non-RGGI states they rose an average six percent, according to recent ENE report. Meanwhile, emissions in RGGI states dropped 29 percent.

How did this happen?

RGGI is a complex program with a simple logic behind it. Create a cap on the amount of carbon dioxide that power plants are allowed to emit. Let the power plants meet the cap by purchasing allowances sold at auction. Channel auction proceeds back to the states who then use a big chunk of the money for energy efficiency.  As a result, consumers use less energy, emissions fall and utility bills go down.

The RGGI states (Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont) increased energy efficiency investment from $680 million in 2008 to $1.94 billion in 2012, a 186 percent increase.  (See related story ”What’s Ahead for New England Energy Efficiency Markets?“)

Of course, RGGI advocates can’t give the program all of the credit for the drop in electricity rates – and they don’t try. Various factors play into this achievement – low natural gas prices, in particular. But the RGGI data at the very least gives pause to the idea that carbon restrictions kill an economy.

“RGGI state economies have outpaced the rest of country, showing that the link between economic growth and emissions has broken in the region and demonstrating that we can address the threat of climate change while promoting continuing prosperity,” said the ENE report.

Economic downturns, of course, decrease power plant emissions as well. When we do less business we use less energy.  But now, as the economy is recovering, RGGI states are still seeing emissions decline, ENE said.

”Furthermore, within the RGGI region, emissions dropped 2.7 times faster than the rest of the country since RGGI was established, even as RGGI’s states’ economies have grown 2.5 times faster than other states,” the report said.

There is a long way to go before the EPA’s carbon dioxide reduction plan goes into effect – at least a year before it moves from draft to final rule, and then at least another year before the states file plans to show how they’ll reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants. Law suits are inevitable, too, and that could cause further delay.
So there will be plenty of time for debate over the economics of carbon dioxide cap and trade. Expect to hear more about RGGI (pronounced Reggie) in the coming months – if you can over the clanging of swords.

The full ENE RGGI report is here.

Sunday, August 17

Yep, we are a nation of dog lovers

Not that Snake's owners gave a damn how much wildlife died of thirst.  So there is one unsettling aspect of this report.  Why did law enforcement wait months before rolling up an illegal operation that was tapping into the only water source in the vicinity?  As to the likelihood that marijuana growers will be "more and more creative" in finding water sources during California's drought -- they're already stealing water from fire hydrants. They've stolen water from a public elementary school.  They're stealing it from everywhere they can.  I'm surprised they haven't burst into the Governor's mansion yet and drained all the toilet water there.  

Resource Agency Officers Arrest Pot Growers in Sonoma County
August 14, 2014
Imperial Valley News

(Sonoma, California) - Law enforcement officers from the California Natural Resources Agency arrested
four men for cultivating marijuana in a remote area of Austin Creek State Recreation Area in Sonoma County over the weekend.

California State Park Rangers have been watching the illegal grow site for months after it was reported to officials by a park employee. On Aug. 2, officers cut down and removed more than 150 fully grown marijuana plants with an approximate value of $300,000. All the marijuana plants were growing inside the park boundaries.

“As the drought wears on, marijuana growers are likely to be more and more creative in finding places to set up these illegal grows where they can find easy access to water,” said California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Assistant Chief Briand Naslund. “Marijuana uses six to eight gallons of water per plant, per day.”

Working with the State Park Rangers, wildlife officers from the CDFW Marijuana Enforcement Team entered the grow site and immediately located and arrested two suspects, one carrying a firearm. Two additional suspects were found and arrested at the trailhead above the grow.

Officers arrested Alfredo Soto, 33, of Santa Rosa [California]; Noe Calderon-Garcilazo, 32, of Santa Rosa; Erick Reynoso, 34, of Cotati; and Jose Reynoso, 41, of Santa Rosa. All four were charged with marijuana cultivation, committing a felony while armed with a firearm, polluting a state waterway and damaging state park plant life and geological features.

During the arrests, a chihuahua belonging to one of the suspects ran into the forest. Fearing that the dog would be lost, several officers and CDFW K-9 officer Phebe set off in pursuit. After a short search and excellent tracking by Phebe, the terrified dog, “Snake,” was found hiding in a small canyon.

In addition to the plants officers found hundreds of feet of irrigation tubing, wire fencing, fertilizers and pesticides. The suspects were tapping a spring, which was the only water source in the vicinity. The water was diverted to the illegal marijuana grow, depriving all local wildlife of its most basic need and further exacerbating the state’s severe drought.

“Snake” was safely transported to Sonoma Valley Animal Control, where he is being cared for


Monday, August 11

Ah ha! Aliens from outer space, cleverly disguised as megacity infrastructures, are stealing all our water!

Yes, I have discovered we are under attack by a race of Rube Goldberg contraptions. No applause, please; my humility is boundless.  I even plan to donate the Nobel prize money to establish a new branch of scientific inquiry called common sense. But this really does explain everything; even why so many people started getting the idea that they'd been kidnapped by aliens.  In a way, they had, if they lived or worked in a city on its way to becoming a megalopolis.

Humans use at most a gallon of water a day, and even a cow can only manage 25 gallons. But the infrastructures for maintaining a constantly expanding megacity slurp up so much water they're threatening to drain dry every river, lake, and aquifer. 

Obviously this is a plot thought up by sentient water pipes to conquer the human race.

They hypnotize mayors and tell them: Repeat after me, "The more people and business I can attract to my city, the more tax revenue city hall takes in."

By the time the mayors figure out what's going on, it's too late. All they can do is try to sell yet more bonds and attract yet more business and residents in a losing battle to keep up with the cost of maintaining humongous ever-expanding infrastructures and the ever-expanding search for enough water to maintain those infrastructures.

In case you think I'm making any of this up, consider the following factoid:

"Large cities occupy only 1 percent of the Earth’s land surface, but the watersheds that provide their water cover 41 percent of the land surface."

It's not the people in those cities who're drinking up all that water, it's the giant cities they live and work in, the infrastructures, that have an insatiable thirst.  The bigger the cities get, the more water they use out of all proportion to the people who live and work there -- just to maintain their giant infrastructures!
So while agriculture takes about 70 percent of the water humans use at least it's vital: it feeds us and our livestock.  But what genuis thought up the idea of pouring water down the throats of contraptions and facilities whose entire reason for existence is to maintain their own gigantic and ever-expanding size?

Think it through: only an alien race that doesn't like humans very much could have come up with that one.

And then we complain about the costs to cities of public unions and welfare; heck, those are a drop in the bucket next to what it costs to maintain the state of always getting bigger.  At least welfare payments and union salaries support people. The megacity infrastructures support one thing: big.

And the amount of water that governments in the megacities lavish on staying big is mind-boggling.  The factoid I quoted is from Sandra Postel's June 6 summary for National Geographic of new research that provides the most detailed study to date of urban water use.  To get you in the ballpark fast the summary is titled, World’s Large Cities Move Water Equivalent to Ten Colorado Rivers to Meet their Annual Water Needs.

Do you know how many miles the Colorado River stretches?  How vital it is?  It's not called the American Nile for nothing.  And yet one megalopolis, Denver, is scheming and plotting to divert even more Colorado water than it already does in order to support its urban sprawl -- and Denver isn't the only megacity intent on grabbing lots more water from the Colorado by means that are bound to wreak havoc downriver.
But if officials in those cities were called out, they'd say cows and rice also use up large amounts of the river water. Yeah, well, those officials should try chowing down on a 30-inch water pipe for dinner.

And while this doesn't only relate to water: if you want to see what's perched on the banks of the Hudson River, lift up the City of New York and it's green "Central Park" and look underneath. That's a desert. Then lift up Washington, D.C. and its green "Rock Creek Park" to see what's on the banks of the Potomac River. Desert. 

These giant cities are one big desert-making machine. And they generate so much hot air, and trap so much hot air, I'd like to see the average global temperature recalculated without that heat source included. Then tell us what human-made source is contributing the most to global warming.

During a heat wave recently in Washington, which put the temperature near 100 degrees, I went about 15 city blocks down from a shopping/ business district to a residential one that had large trees lining the sidewalk and large shrubs fronting old apartment buildings.  I didn't have a thermometer with me but I'd estimate the temperature was at least 5 degrees cooler in the residential block, even with the sun beating down. When I remarked on this to a passerby, he agreed that it did feel cooler.

The kicker is that when the cities can't expand outward, they expand upward. There's at least residential skyscraper in New York that's about as tall as the new World Trade Center tower.  But many of the condos in the residential skyscrapers aren't even occupied. They're bought up, mostly by foreigners, as a safe house or speculative investment -- I guess on the theory that if they paid $2 million for a coffin in the sky, some other fool is bound to come along and pay $5 million for it.

Yet those towers have to be maintained, whether they're occupied or not, and that takes lots of water and electricity. And lots of heat being generated.  

And here in Washington, builders who can't buy up any more land in the city are putting up apartment buildings on top of older apartment buildings. No joke. Soon the nation's capital can lay claim to another dubious distinction: the craziest skyline. 

But when you consider how many people and how much business have fled a city the size of Detroit and think of all the infrastructure that goes into maintaining a ghost megacity, the scope of the craziness comes into sharp focus. Vast amounts of water are being transported though a huge infrastructure to pour onto ghosts.
The situation is out of control, so it's a skewed priority to talk about chopping down the size of federal government. First chop down the size of monster cities.  Even 20 years ago that might not have been feasible, but the technologies now exist to decentralize massed human populations and return cities to human size.  If we don't do this, the giant cities are going to destroy us -- and our water sources.

Before I quote more passages from Postel's summary, one possible caveat about the new study she discusses: The study's finding that 25 percent of cities are water-stressed might be challenged by ones that put the figure at 39 percent.  It could be that those earlier studies used different criteria for determining stress. However, even the lower percentage is alarming, given the size of the cities in question.
World’s Large Cities Move Water Equivalent to Ten Colorado Rivers to Meet their Annual Water Needs
by Sandra Postel
National Geographic
June 6, 2014

The California Aqueduct transports water 700 kilometers from northern California to southern California, including Los Angeles, which ranks first in the world in cross-basin water imports, according to a new study.

As cities grow in population and economic activity, they reach further and further out to find water to meet their needs.

Now, a new study has estimated that collectively the world’s large cities, defined as those with at least 750,000 people, move 504 billion liters (133 billion gallons) of water a day a cumulative distance of some 27,000 kilometers.

Positioned end to end, the canals and pipelines transporting that water would stretch halfway around the world.  The volume transferred annually is equivalent to the yearly flow of 10 Colorado Rivers.

Many large cities tap supplies not only in their own watersheds, but also in others far afield.

Los Angeles, California, with imports of 8.9 billion liters per day from distant rivers, ranks first in the world in cross-basin water transfers, according to the study, published this week in the journal Global Environmental Change.  The city diverts water hundreds of kilometers from the Colorado River Basin, as well as from rivers in central and northern California, to satisfy the demands of its 13.2 million people.

After Los Angeles, Boston (USA), Mumbai (India), Karachi (Pakistan), and Hong Kong round out the top five large cities that import the most water from watersheds other than their own.

Large cities occupy only 1% of the Earth’s land surface, but the watersheds that provide their water cover 41% of the land surface, underscoring the importance of good land use in maintaining the quality of drinking water. [Pundita note: Huh?  How can you use land well when it's been covered up by highways and tunnels feeding into the megacity and by the city itself?] 

Led by Rob McDonald, a senior scientist with the Nature Conservancy, the research team found that large cities get 78% of their water from rivers, lakes and other surface sources, 20% from groundwater, and 2% from desalination.

The study provides the most detailed assessment to date of urban water sources, and is the first to include inter-basin water transfers.

The Colorado River Aqueduct transfers water from Parker Dam west to the Los Angeles area. These transfers often cause ecological harm in the source watersheds, but they can relieve urban water stress by making more water available to cities.  McDonald and his team estimate that 25% of cities are in conditions of water-stress, compared with estimates from earlier studies of 39%.  (For these figures the range is +/- 4%.)

Still, urban water stress – defined in this study as occurring when a city’s water demand equals or exceeds 40% of its available supply – is a large and growing concern.
The top ten largest cities under water stress, according to the McDonald team, are Tokyo (Japan), Delhi (India), Mexico City (Mexico), Shanghai (China), Beijing (China) Kolkata (India), Los Angeles (United States), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Moscow (Russia), and Istanbul (Turkey).

While relatively wealthy cities can keep reaching further out for more water, the environmental, energy, and economic costs of doing so keep rising.
But these cities can't keep reaching out, not in a democracy, where today law suits can stop many of the water grabs, the worst of them. The suits are launched by city and state governments that find their water sources are being sucked dry by megacities located many hundreds of miles away.

Then what will officials in the American megacities do, when they can't divert and dam any more river water and pump any more estuaries and aquifers dry?  I don't know.  Maybe try to get their buddies from outer space to take over the U.S. legal system, or watch their real estate turn into a ghost city

Friday, August 8

Swept Away

I knew before I launched the "Water Crisis Gordian Knot" series that there was a crisis and that it had many interwoven parts, but it wasn't until I plunged into the specifics that I realized the extent of either.  At one point in my research I blurted in dawning horror, "Oh God. They left water out of everything."

"Everything" being clean energy, much of which requires vast amounts of increasingly scarce freshwater; development projects for entire regions of the world; vast modernization and industrialization schemes;  globalized manufacturing and agricultural exports; democratization; political philosophies; geopolitical strategies; and government economic and social polices.

All of it, the entire edifice of the modern era, did not reflect thinking about water usage in an age of megapopulations.

It wasn't hard to see why. Water, for Europe and most of the United States, was never a big issue in the 20th Century, and it was these two regions that designed the economic, governing, and development policies that the rest of the world adopted. Freed from the bottom line for human progress, the intellect was able to create theories about human values and economic and social progress that ignored water.

Now it's all being swept away as the unyielding bottom line, and the price of ignoring it, become evident.

"We" left water out of everything, I corrected myself.  We, not they.  "I" not we, I corrected myself again. Now I am forced to tear apart everything I thought I understood, all the concepts I'd struggled so hard to learn over the course of my life, and try to rebuild my ideas on a new foundation. For someone closing in on 70 years of age, that's not easy.

And so for the first time I have a real idea of what it feels like for people whose house as been totaled by a natural disaster. I'm too old to start over, but having seen the truth I have the same choice that families do when they've lost the roof over their heads.  Either give way to despair or rebuild.

This isn't to say that the enlightened justice systems that rose up in the West during the 20th Century were wasted effort. Humanity will need all the enlightened justice it can muster as the bottom line makes itself felt with increasing severity.  But we will have to rework every economic and social system, every theory of development and sustainability we hold now, so that water is considered first in every calculation.

Oh, snap!

Then there are the added horrors to contemplate: the anorexic types, the totalitarian minded, and the ones who can convert any disaster into a free ride, will welcome the age of water crises.

Already I've come across the argument that the way to solve the world's water problem is to stop eating meat.  Soon every national government will sprout a water czar.  Then there will be the Global Water Regulatory Regime. And of course cap-and-trade in carbon emissions will be extended to water usage, to be overseen by the same scoundrels who made fortunes by scamming the U.N. Oil For Food Program.

The era of water crisis will also be taken up with gusto by the Occupy Wall Street crowd, which will rework the tyranny of Wall Street into the tyranny of water hogs.  Already there is what's called the "Green Coast and the Brown Inland," which arose during the drought.  The term applies to rich Los Angeles coastal communities that are so well-watered they look like "the Amazon jungle," as one observer put it, while the poorer neighborhoods farther inland, which can't afford fines for wasting water, have brown lawns and dying trees.
And then there are the Scarlet Letter types. Having never quite recovered from no longer being able to brand others witches, warlocks and hussies, they will have a field day pointing at water wasting criminals. 

Don't laugh at the idea of criminalizing water use. This year the government in Jamaica went beyond its usual water rationing during one of the country's periodic droughts and announced that water wasters would be arrested.

Will the coming years see a Grand Water Inquisitor?  A tribunal in the Hague where water wasters are put on trial?

All right, Pundita, don't scare yourself witless.

The irony is that technically there is no water scarcity. This is because all the water this planet has ever had is still with us today. As one observer put it, "Do you realize we're all drinking dinosaur piss?"

This view of water evolved the concept of "virtual" water among water scientists: everything manufactured and grown for food, everything built that uses water in its creation, is water itself albeit in a different form.  
This view is driving the shift in thinking among water engineers toward reclamation as much as toward conservation. And indeed much used water can be reclaimed.  I've learned that even the condensation from air conditioning units can be captured and reused.

There is, however, a caution about carrying the concept of virtual water too far. While it's true that your cell phone represents virtual water, you can't sip from your phone when you're thirsty.  Water, once poured into a different form, can't be reclaimed as water.   

So now plans for every building project, every manufacturing and agricultural process, must be seen first in four aspects: how much water it uses, the amount and location of the water source, and how long the source can hold out.  

And gone are the days when regions could depend on an annual monsoon or melting snowpack to replenish rivers and aquifers. The snow will still fall on the mountain top, but it will evaporate in 100 degree temperatures before it can melt and flow into the river valley.  The monsoons will still arrive, but they can fall on land already so parched by drought that their restorative effect is almost nil.
Not to consider those aspects is to set up a falling dominoes situation. Too much agriculture in California?  Okay, transfer some of it to places in Oregon and Texas that have plenty of water.  Pretty soon, the regions in those states that welcomed the new business are finding their irrigation systems are running dry.
We'll learn as we go along, but we'd better learn fast. When this close to the edge, the margin for error plummets.

Another pitfall is to place too much blame on poor water management. The most enlightened water management cannot overcome the realities of stuffing too many people into cities perched in a semi-arid or arid region. The experience of Las Vegas is ample indication of that. Led by a smart and tenacious water czar, the city by sheer dint of effort greatly reduced its water use, but it could not change its locale.

When the water czar fixed on the idea of importing water from the Great Lakes, a member of the public who lived in the Great Lakes region took objection: "Come endure our cold winters if you want our water," he snapped. And added, "Nobody told you to live in a desert."
So it's not just about water management.  Every mistake in every type of policy that pertains to human populations also intersects with water use -- and with human nature, which is not the fountain of caring and sharing when it perceives gross violations of common sense.

Thus ends my account of how a series of blog posts became a personal journey of discovery. There will be one or two more posts on the water crisis but then I'll have to move along to other topics.  Yet when I look back on 2014 I will remember it as the year of "Oh by the way."  Oh by the way, six U.S. states are running
out of water. Oh by the way, 10 major cities in the world are running out of water. Oh by the way, our satellite imagery shows there's far less groundwater left than we'd realized.  Oh by the way, oh by the way..... 

My time spent on learning about the water crisis in detail has amounted to one long reading on "Oh by the way."

And I will remember, above all else, the words of a blogger at the University of California at Berkeley. In an essay titled Desertification: The Forgotten Side of Climate Change, he wrote:

"Ironically, we appear to be making great strides in enhancing our energy infrastructure, while at the same time the grass is slowly disappearing under our feet."

Yes. Those most intent on fighting global warming were looking at the atmosphere. Not at the ground, and the groundwater, beneath them. But this is not the time for recriminations. This is the time to change.

Thursday, August 7

What do Washington's war hawks have in common with Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, and Justin Bieber?

Like teeny bopper idols who find themselves washed up at the ancient age of 22, the war hawks are desperate to get back in the limelight.
Next we'll be hearing that Russia causes solar flares and China is set to invade Beverly Hills. ('China adding Bangladesh to its string of pearls?' blared a recent headline at a uh, "geopolitical" website.) 

To which the American majority yawns.
See, this is the problem with running propaganda so many times everybody knows the script backward and forward.  But the danger, then, is that the provocations skyrocket. By gad if Russia and China don't want war they'll just have to be provoked into wanting one.

To add insult to injury, the new kid on the block, the Hot Blonde of the Year, is -- Nature.  The hawks are being upstaged by the weather. Viruses. Drought. Water. Toxic algae.  You can't give away tickets to a defense briefing but if NOAA sold tickets to a briefing, the line to buy would be a mile long. 
Now the hawks are ready for their close-up, Mr DeMille.  Show a nipple, raise the hem to the crotch, get drunk in public, smash stuff, shoplift, just keep acting out because there's no such thing as bad publicity.

This is what happens when war becomes an industry. It acts like the teeny bopper industry.  Except that Britney Spears never had a nuke in her purse. 

Tuesday, August 5


I've just updated my post earlier today about the $500/fine.  It went into effect July 29, not August 1.  I don't know whether this strengthens or weakens the point I made.


Drought Global: "We are standing on a precipice here" Water Crisis Gordian Knot, Part 15

An Egyptian farmer sitting on cracked soil to show the dryness of the land due to drought in a farm formerly irrigated by the River Nile. Photograph: Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Corbis

Snapshots From A Fast-Moving Train

12 Provinces Suffer from Severe Drought
New Tang Dynasty Television
While the south is experiencing severe floods, severest drought in decades is hitting 12 provinces in China such as Henan, Hebei and others.
Drought threatens vast swath of China with shortages, crop failure WantChinaTimes
Henan province faces worst drought in 63 years China Economic Net
Henan Suffers From Its Most Severe Drought In 63 Years Getty 

The above is from yesterday. Last week I took five minutes to grab headlines from Google on drought. If I'd taken 15 minutes I could have found many other countries experiencing drought or that were severely water-stressed in key regions; here are the headlines: 
Brazil prosecutors want water rationing plan
Yahoo News 

40,000 Families affected by drought in Guatemala
Fox News Latino
Some 40,000 families have been affected by the drought caused by the El Niño weather phenomenon in Guatemala ...

Continued lack of rainfall extends drought in Puerto Rico
Fox News Latino 
Drought conditions continue worse than usual in Puerto Rico due to the drastic lack of rainfall over most of the island, except for the eastern and ...

Serious drought hits Inner Mongolia and Henan
Lingering drought in northern China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region and central China's Henan province has dried up rivers and ...
Henan ramps up emergency measures for worst drought in 63 years 
Drought hits China food production - Xinhua 
Thomson Reuters Foundation

Jamaica drought leads to $8 million in crop losses
Yahoo News
KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) — A Jamaican official said Tuesday that a severe drought and brush fires on the Caribbean island have led to ...

Drought and misuse behind Lebanon's water scarcity
Middle East Eye
Over the years, drought or seasons of scarcity have become more frequent”. In his opinion, the current drought must be taken as a warning ... 

Iran's water crisis the product of decades of bad planning ...
The Washington Post 
Jul 2, 2014 ... TEHRAN — Iran is headed for a water shortage of epic proportions .

Drought in northern Kenya ...
The Guardian
Aside from drought, numerous factors are affecting access to food in Kenya's arid north, where the majority of people are pastoralists. Rapidly ...

Where Is Water For Sacramento County Housing Project Coming From?
CBS Local 
SACRAMENTO COUNTY (CSB13) — Why are new homes going up during a drought? Tony Lopez is getting answers. 

Major California reservoirs below 50% capacity as drought wears on
Los Angeles Times 
Dusk falls as a lone boater heads out on Lake Shasta, near the Lake Shasta Dam amid serious drought conditions. ...

Unprecedented California Drought Restrictions Go Into Effect
California implemented emergency water-conservation measures today as it struggles to cope with an ongoing drought ...

California curbs injection of toxic fracking waste into aquifers ...
RT - Jul 22, 2014
California is shutting down 11 oil and gas wastewater injection sites and reviewing over 100 others in the state's drought-ravaged Central Valley.

13 Oregon Counties, One Third Of Nation Experiencing Notable Drought
OPB News (blog)
Thirteen of Oregon's 36 counties are feeling the effects of extreme to severe drought as we enter August, arguably the hottest month of the year.

Don't Bank on Groundwater to Fight Off Western [U.S.] Drought—It's Drying Up
A growing reliance on irrigation, a growing population and the ongoing drought have led to an overreliance on groundwater supplies ...

Drought Hastens Groundwater Depletion in the Texas Panhandle
National Geographic - 5 days ago
Persistent drought in northwest Texas is leading farmers to pump more water from the Ogallala Aquifer, hastening the depletion of this crucial ...

The Drought
Santa Fe Reporter 
There is a drought in Santa Fe. It is real and it is serious. It is so bad that city residents and businesses could face mandatory water rationing as ...

Klamath Basin cattle industry hit by drought
KOBI-TV NBC 5 / KOTI-TV NBC 2 - 12 hours ago
Beatty, Ore. - The Klamath Basin's cattle industry is drying up as the result of continued drought conditions. 

How Long Have We Got?

Developing world fast running out of water
(Asia Times) 

By Samanta Sen

LONDON - The developing world is running out of water at an alarming rate, a new study ["Running on Empty"] by the London-based agency Tearfund" shows.

Two out of three people around the world will live with a drinking water shortage by the year 2025 unless drastic changes are made quickly, the report says. And these two in three will be living in developing countries.

The crisis is upon us right now, the report says. Two thirds of China's cities are facing severe water shortages. In India, the capital New Delhi will run out of ground water by 2015 at present rates of loss.

Lake Chad in Africa has shrunk from 6,900 square miles to 1,500 square miles in the last 20 years. The number of people facing serious food shortages in eastern Africa has risen to nearly 20 million because of widespread drought.


By 2025, 25 countries in Africa will be subject to water stress measured at an availability of 1,700 cubic meters per person per year. Kenya, Morocco, South Africa, India and Pakistan will have levels well below 1,000 cubic meters per person per year. These levels have been described by the United Nations as "catastrophic", the report points out.

China is facing "devastating water shortages which can no longer be blamed on unusual weather patterns". The Yellow River, one of the biggest northern rivers, now regularly runs dry; in 1997 it ran dry for 226 days of the year. "This is the result of the large number of unmanaged demands made on it by households, industry and agriculture," the report says.

"The drought in the North has forced the government to take drastic action by diverting the Yangtze from the South, but this action could cause the river to run dry by 2020."
The crisis is hitting Chinese cities in unexpected ways. "Shanghai is sinking because of the amount of ground water being extracted from beneath it," the report says.[emphasis mine] 

"Altogether, two thirds of China's cities are facing severe water shortages."
Water tables are falling by as much as a meter a year in parts of Mexico, India, Yemen and China.

The heaviest human claim on water is agriculture. It uses 70 percent of fresh water across the world. In Asia and Africa the proportion rises to 90 percent, the report says. This raises difficult questions about the distribution of water.

If you don't recall seeing Sen's report at AToL -- it, and the Tearfund study, were published in March 2001. A few months later worries about global drought were relegated to the world's back burner -- except, of course, in regions that were experiencing severe drought. Then, just as the furor from the war on terrorism was cooling down, the 2008 financial crash happened. Once again the issue of global drought got lost in shuffle.

Fast forward to 2014.

Now The U.S. Military Really Has Something To Worry About   

Why global water shortages pose threat of terror and war
By Suzanne Goldenberg 
February 8, 2014
The Guardian Observer

From California to the Middle East, huge areas of the world are drying up and a billion people have no access to safe drinking water. US intelligence is warning of the dangers of shrinking resources and experts say the world is 'standing on a precipice'

On 17 January, scientists downloaded fresh data from a pair of Nasa satellites and distributed the findings among the small group of researchers who track the world's water reserves. At the University of California, Irvine, hydrologist James Famiglietti looked over the data from the gravity-sensing Grace satellites with a rising sense of dread.

The data, released last week, showed California on the verge of an epic drought, with its backup systems of groundwater reserves so run down that the losses could be picked up by satellites orbiting 400km above the Earth's surface.

"It was definitely an 'oh my gosh moment'," Famiglietti said. "The groundwater is our strategic reserve. It's our backup, and so where do you go when the backup is gone?"

That same day, the state governor, Jerry Brown, declared a drought emergency and appealed to Californians to cut their water use by 20%. "Every day this drought goes on we are going to have to tighten the screws on what people are doing," he said.

Seventeen rural communities are in danger of running out of water within 60 days and that number is expected to rise, after the main municipal water distribution system announced it did not have enough supplies and would have to turn off the taps to local agencies.

There are other shock moments ahead – and not just for California – in a world where water is increasingly in short supply because of growing demands from agriculture, an expanding population, energy production and climate change.

Already a billion people, or one in seven people on the planet, lack access to safe drinking water. Britain, of course, is currently at the other extreme. Great swaths of the country are drowning in misery, after a series of Atlantic storms off the south-western coast. But that too is part of the picture that has been coming into sharper focus over 12 years of the Grace satellite record. Countries at northern latitudes and in the tropics are getting wetter. But those countries at mid-latitude are running increasingly low on water.

"What we see is very much a picture of the wet areas of the Earth getting wetter," Famiglietti said. "Those would be the high latitudes like the Arctic and the lower latitudes like the tropics. The middle latitudes in between, those are already the arid and semi-arid parts of the world and they are getting drier."

On the satellite images the biggest losses were denoted by red hotspots, he said. And those red spots largely matched the locations of groundwater reserves.

"Almost all of those red hotspots correspond to major aquifers of the world. What Grace shows us is that groundwater depletion is happening at a very rapid rate in almost all of the major aquifers in the arid and semi-arid parts of the world."

The Middle East, north Africa and south Asia are all projected to experience water shortages over the coming years because of decades of bad management and overuse.

Watering crops, slaking thirst in expanding cities, cooling power plants, fracking oil and gas wells – all take water from the same diminishing supply. Add to that climate change – which is projected to intensify dry spells in the coming years – and the world is going to be forced to think a lot more about water than it ever did before.

The losses of water reserves are staggering. In seven years, beginning in 2003, parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers lost 144 cubic kilometres of stored freshwater – or about the same amount of water in the Dead Sea, according to data compiled by the Grace mission and released last year.

A small portion of the water loss was due to soil drying up because of a 2007 drought and to a poor snowpack. Another share was lost to evaporation from lakes and reservoirs. But the majority of thewater lost, 90km3, or about 60%, was due to reductions in groundwater.

Farmers, facing drought, resorted to pumping out groundwater – at times on a massive scale. The Iraqi government drilled about 1,000 wells to weather the 2007 drought, all drawing from the same stressed supply.

In south Asia, the losses of groundwater over the last decade were even higher. About 600 million people live on the 2,000km swath that extends from eastern Pakistan, across the hot dry plains of northern India and into Bangladesh, and the land is the most intensely irrigated in the world. Up to 75% of farmers rely on pumped groundwater to water their crops, and water use is intensifying.

Over the last decade, groundwater was pumped out 70% faster than in the 1990s. Satellite measurements showed a staggering loss of 54km3 of groundwater a year. Indian farmers were pumping their way into a water crisis.

The US security establishment is already warning of potential conflicts – including terror attacks – over water. In a 2012 report, the US director of national intelligence warned that overuse of water – as in India and other countries – was a source of conflict that could potentially compromise US national security.

The report focused on water basins critical to the US security regime – the Nile, Tigris-Euphrates, Mekong, Jordan, Indus, Brahmaputra and Amu Darya. It concluded: "During the next 10 years, many countries important to the United States will experience water problems – shortages, poor water quality, or floods – that will risk instability and state failure, increase regional tensions, and distract them from working with the United States."

Water, on its own, was unlikely to bring down governments. But the report warned that shortages could threaten food production and energy supply and put additional stress on governments struggling with poverty and social tensions.

Some of those tensions are already apparent on the ground. The Pacific Institute, which studies issues of water and global security, found a fourfold increase in violent confrontations over water over the last decade. "I think the risk of conflicts over water is growing – not shrinking – because of increased competition, because of bad management and, ultimately, because of the impacts of climate change," said Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute.

There are dozens of potential flashpoints, spanning the globe. In the Middle East, Iranian officials are making contingency plans for water rationing in the greater Tehran area, home to 22 million people.

Egypt has demanded Ethiopia stop construction of a mega-dam on the Nile, vowing to protect its historical rights to the river at "any cost". The Egyptian authorities have called for a study into whether the project would reduce the river's flow.

Jordan, which has the third lowest reserves in the region, is struggling with an influx of Syrian refugees. The country is undergoing power cuts because of water shortages. Last week, Prince Hassan, the uncle of King Abdullah, warned that a war over water and energy could be even bloodier than the Arab spring.

The United Arab Emirates, faced with a growing population, has invested in desalination projects and is harvesting rainwater. At an international water conference in Abu Dhabi last year, Crown Prince General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan said: "For us, water is [now] more important than oil."

The chances of countries going to war over water were slim – at least over the next decade, the national intelligence report said. But it warned ominously: "As water shortages become more acute beyond the next 10 years, water in shared basins will increasingly be used as leverage; the use of water as a weapon or to further terrorist objectives will become more likely beyond 10 years."

Gleick predicted such conflicts would take other trajectories. He expected water tensions would erupt on a more local scale.

"I think the biggest worry today is sub-national conflicts – conflicts between farmers and cities, between ethnic groups, between pastoralists and farmers in Africa, between upstream users and downstream users on the same river," said Gleick.

"We have more tools at the international level to resolve disputes between nations. We have diplomats. We have treaties. We have international organisations that reduce the risk that India and Pakistan will go to war over water but we have far fewer tools at the sub-national level."

And new fault lines are emerging with energy production. America's oil and gas rush is putting growing demands on a water supply already under pressure from drought and growing populations.

More than half the nearly 40,000 wells drilled since 2011 were in drought-stricken areas, a report from the Ceres green investment network found last week. About 36% of those wells were in areas already experiencing groundwater depletion.

How governments manage those water problems – and protect their groundwater reserves – will be critical. When California emerged from its last prolonged dry spell, in 2010, the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins were badly depleted. The two river basins lost 10km3 of freshwater each year in 2012 and 2013, dropping the total volume of snow, surface water, soil moisture and groundwater to the lowest levels in nearly a decade.

Without rain, those reservoirs are projected to drop even further during this drought. State officials are already preparing to drill additional wells to draw on groundwater. Famiglietti said that would be a mistake.

"We are standing on a cliff looking over the edge and we have to decide what we are going to do," he said.

"Are we just going to plunge into this next epic drought and tremendous, never-before-seen rates of groundwater depletion, or are we going to buckle down and start thinking of managing critical reserve for the long term? We are standing on a precipice here."



The state's water resources are at critically low levels and a drought emergency has been declared. The health department says 17 rural areas are dangerously parched.


São Paulo, the country's largest city, is on the verge of water rationing because of a severe drought and shortages are possible when the country hosts the football World Cup in the summer. January was the hottest month on record in the city and water in its main reservoir has fallen to 20.9% of its capacity, the lowest level in a decade.


Tehran, the capital of Iran, is facing a shortage so serious that officials are making contingency plans for rationing in an area where 22 million live as well as in other big cities. President Hassan Rouhani has identified water as a national security issue. Shortages are so severe in the United Arab Emirates that the country is using non-conventional resources, including desalination, treated wastewater, rainwater harvesting and cloud seeding. At a a water conference,Crown Prince General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan said: "For us, water is [now] more important than oil." With the third lowest water reserves in the region, Jordan is struggling to cope with an influx of Syrian refugees. The country is undergoing power cuts because of water shortages. Prince Hassan, uncle of King Abdullah, warned last week that a war over water and energy could be bloodier than the Arab spring.


Egypt has demanded that Ethiopia stop construction of a mega-dam on the Nile, vowing to protect its historical rights to the river at "any cost". The Egyptian authorities have called for a study into whether the project would reduce the river's flow.


About 600 million people live on the 2,000km swath that extends from eastern Pakistan, across the hot dry plains of northern India and into Bangladesh and the land is the world's most intensely irrigated. Up to 75% of farmers rely on pumped groundwater.


There is increasing competition for water. More than half the proposed coal-fired power stations are expected to be built in areas of high water stress, thus threatening water insecurity for farms, other industry and the public.



Shoot Yourself in the Foot model of globalized manufacturing and agribusiness: Water Crisis Gordian Knot, Part 14

Looking back I suppose we should have asked, "Are economists farmers? Are they water engineers? Can they read a map?" But there's nothing like hindsight.  Anyhow the idea was to offshore manufacturing to the less advantaged countries, like China, so they could pull themselves up by the bootstraps of factory production. 

It was supposed to be a win-win situation. The advantaged countries would save on labor and factory costs and the disadvantaged would bring in high-value foreign currency from charging the advantaged countries to manufacture in their countries.

The idea took off like a rocket; soon everybody involved in making things for sale wanted his own factory operation in China. But by the time American companies that sold very incidental stuff like baseball caps were getting into offshoring, China had also set up many factories for exporting its own manufactured products.

Then one day somebody in China's government or maybe at the World Bank got out a pad and #2 pencil and a map of China and began doing arithmetic. 

By the time the totting was done it was evident that at the current rate of factory expansion soon there would be no arable land left in China. This because the land was being covered up by factories and the exponential growth of cities to house factory workers. There wouldn't be any water left, either.

That Ain't Just Hay, That's Also Water

Then some genius said, "No worries.  What China is losing in food and forage can be simply imported from the United States." 

Which is how tons of alfalfa for China's cows started getting shipped from California to Beijing. It was actually cheaper for alfalfa farmers in California's Imperial Valley to ship the hay to China than across a couple counties in California. This on account of container ships docking at California are laden with stuff made in China but because of the huge trade imbalance go home almost empty, meaning hay farmers could ship their produce to China for a song. 
This new business model didn't make California's cattle ranchers and dairy farmers happy because they now had to stand in line behind foreigners to buy alfalfa. But raising hay for Chinese cows was so much more profitable than raising it for American ones. 
There was a catch, however.

The water being used to grow the alfalfa for shipping to China didn't actually belong to California's Imperial Valley. It belonged to the Colorado River; the valley farmers only had rights to use a certain amount of the water. 

Trouble is, agricorporations in six other U.S. states also had rights to the same river water, not to mention entire cities in those states -- cities like Phoenix and Los Angeles.

In fact, so much Colorado River water had been going to vitally important things like keeping umpteen Phoenix golf courses green and Los Angeles swimming pools filled that one day while rafting on the Colorado somebody said, "Is it my imagination, or is my canoe paddle scraping sand?"

So then everybody got out the maps and pads and #2 pencils and tried to figure how long before the Colorado, which is called America's Nile, would turn into a wading pond. 

The irony is that alfalfa is a drought resistant plant. It can go months without being watered. How many months?  I can't recall whether the National Geographic article I learned about all this stuff from (Exporting the Colorado River to Asia, Through Hay; January 23, 2014)  mentioned how many. But the point is that treaties for the Colorado's water use were written many decades ago, and the way they're worded means farmers can lose their rights to the water if they don't use it. 

This has meant that Imperial Valley alfalfa grown for shipment to China and other countries in China's predicament got watered, whether it needed it or not.

This wasted zillions of "acre-feet" of Colorado River water, which is how water engineers measure water. Frankly the river can't support that much waste anymore, not when golf courses, swimming pools, drinking water, waste treatment facilities, etc., for large cities in desert climes are piled on top of agriculture's huge drain on the river.
In fact, a big push was launched last week to save what's left of the Colorado and it involves spending $11 million dollars -- although if the states that joined the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in throwing money into the pot don't resolve the water treaties issue, good intentions and millions of dollars could amount to nothing
more than cosmetic fixes.   


Now we arrive at the pièce de résistance.  At least the Chinese weren't so foolish as to attempt to copy the American model of globalized agricultural exports.  Nations like Mexico and Pakistan were.  This, despite the fact that those nations started out water stressed, then pile on outdated water infrastructures.

For Pakistan, this means endless squabbles with India and Afghanistan about water rights and also pumping the nation's farmbelt wells like crazy. That last means killer floods during heavy rains because the farmland has sunk so much due to the pumping, and because the efficient flood management system the British Raj set in place were allowed to fall into disrepair.  It also means the flood waters carry off huge amounts of topsoil.

In Mexico, it means pumping aquifers so low to export agricultural produce to the USA under NAFTA that a "historic" drought in 2012 wiped out thousands of small farms and cattle and dairy ranches. And drove into the stratosphere the cost of drilling wells because all the easy water was drilled and used up; now the drilling has to be done deep.

Mexico and Pakistan are just two examples but I think those are enough to convey the looniest aspect of the Shoot Yourself in the Foot ("SYF") model. 

As to why the USA, an agricultural exporting giant, would need to import produce, there are probably several reasons but here are three:  

(1) poor water management in U.S. agricultural states such as Arizona and California;
(2) high consumer demand for out of season produce and "exotic" produce like mangos; and
(3) the fact that people in Washington's foreign policy establishment aren't farmers, either, and neither are they water engineers. 

With regard to (3), the practice of the U.S. importing produce it doesn't actually need from countries that can ill afford to play the mega agri-export game often works out to a Washington tactic to keep completely insane government administrations in other countries happy.  (Okay, you buy weapons from us, we'll buy your mangos and avocados.)

Flinging Around Virtual Water and Yet More on Alfalfa

The SYF model also includes the practice of throwing away imported water, or what the water scientists call "virtual water" -- products and produce in which water has been used in the manufacturing and growing processes.  As to how this happens, because produce sold in grocery stores in the USA (and other Western countries) that's past its "fresh" date, or even looks wilted to the consumer, gets fed to garbage trucks and garbage dumps. Where it rots.

The only living creatures that benefit from eating the tossed produce are rodents, birds, and the occasional gourmand bear. (Dear, see if you can find some arugula in the dumpster.)
This doesn't include the acre-feet that water stressed countries use up in washing produce meant for export and otherwise processing it.  And don't forget that all the crates made to pack the produce for export also represent virtual water.
Nor does it include the methods by which the less advantaged countries irrigate crops they export (and use for their own consumption).  I think it's the National Geographic article on saving the Colorado River that mentions Egypt's farmers are experimenting with drip tape and burying irrigation pipes in the ground. This to prevent Nile River water used for irrigation from evaporating in the desert sun. Glad they're finally getting around to conserving Nile water in ways they should have adopted decades ago.

Now if only more California farmers would also use drip tape. Guy T. Saperstein, a past president of the Sierra Club, who from a diatribe he penned in May clearly hates Chinese cows, American cows, California Democrats, alfalfa, meat eaters, and milk drinkers in that order, fumed that California's farmers snub drip tape.

As to what he has against the Democrats:
Agriculture uses 93% of California's water and almost half of that is devoted to growing alfalfa for shipment to the Far East, mainly China, to feed their cows. California is, in effect, shipping almost half its precious water to China.

And none of this would have been possible without the help of Democrats. The extravagant waste of California water by California agriculture is the result of cheap water, water subsidized by state and federal water projects begun more than 50 years ago.  

When water is cheap and the state is willing to continue building water infrastructure like viaducts and tunnels there is little incentive for California agribusiness to do anything but continue to feed California politicians.

Yes, California agribusiness supports Republicans too, but the Democrats get most of the big agriculture money because Democrats have delivered the water for Big Ag. Jerry Brown's father, Pat, delivered the California Water Project in 1959, and Jerry Brown supported the Peripheral Canal 30 years ago and supports the Twin Tunnels project today.
I think Saperstein might get an argument on the 93 percent statistic he quotes although this doesn't necessarily mean he's wrong, and in any case most of the water does indeed go to agriculture.  And he neglected to mention that water used in the Imperial Valley for alfalfa growing isn't exactly California's.

Also, according to a June 8 Los Angeles Times report on the alfalfa issue (U.S. farmers making hay with alfalfa exports to China),  Japan is a big buyer of California's alfalfa and obviously has been for a long time. That would make sense, given the country never had much arable land to begin with and that much of it went to building factories for the Japanese Manufacturing Miracle in the last century.

And I'm sure Saperstein would have been interested to learn from the LA Times report that alfalfa production has actually declined in California:
China has now pushed past Japan as Asia's biggest buyer of U.S. alfalfa and is second only to United Arab Emirates as the globe's top importer, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Sales of alfalfa shipped abroad amounted to $586 million last year, part of the nation's record $144 billion in agricultural exports.

The thriving trade had largely gone unnoticed, not unlike more established export oddities to China such as scrap paper and chicken feet. But when three years of drought upended farms in the [American] West, alfalfa became one of the most sought-after commodities in the bovine business.

Cattle ranchers with withered pastures were now in the market for the pricey forage, alongside dairy farmers. At the same time, production has been steadily declining in California, replaced by more profitable crops such as almonds and wine grapes. The Golden State produced 6 million tons of alfalfa hay last year, down from a high of 8 million in 2002, according to the USDA.
Agricultural exports to China soared to $25.8 billion last year from $5 billion a decade earlier. China is the biggest buyer of U.S. soybeans, which is used to feed livestock and make cooking oil. U.S. dairy exports to China — fueled in part by U.S. alfalfa — grew to $706 million last year, up from $137 million in 2009, according to the U.S. Dairy Export Council in Virginia.
But Jay Saperstein has seen with his own eyes, or talked with people who've seen firsthand, the huge waste of water in California agriculture:
Drive down Interstate 5 in the middle of summer in 100+ degree weather and you will see huge sprinklers spraying water in the middle of the day and fields being flooded in the process, losing huge amounts of water to evaporation. Very few crops and very little acreage is watered with drip irrigation in California compared to other arid regions of the world.
Shoot Yourself In the Foot Global Business Logic

Now to put it all together. As it applies to the USA, SYF globalized manufacturing and agribusiness has two interlocked parts:

One part is that the U.S. exports huge amounts of its water in the form of agricultural produce from water-stressed U.S. states to less advantaged foreign countries.  In return, the USA gets cheaply manufactured products.

The other part is a reverse of the above process.  All those cheaply manufactured products equate to water shipped to the USA (in virtual form) from less advantaged countries, most of them water-stressed, in return for American dollars.

Nature's Logic

That's how the model works.  However, neither the developing countries nor the U.S. agricultural states that export large amounts of produce to Asia can afford to export that much virtual water in the present era, which in great measure manifests the 4-Ds:


These are compounded by Nature having hissy fits in drier regions; e.g., massive attacks from bark beetles that desiccate trees and massive attacks from toxic fungi that decimate certain food crops.

So there is a compounding effect with the 4Ds: the more drought, the more beetles attack trees, leading to more desiccation, leading to more deforestation, leading to more desertification, repeat the cycle, which leads to the cycle accelerating.

Then there are the 5-Ws:

Water misuse in huge amounts
Water waste in huge amounts
Water evaporation in huge amounts
(from aboveground irrigation systems and man-made reservoirs)
Water having to serve megapopulations
(human and livestock and pets)
Water turned brackish
(when marshlands guarding estuaries against the salty seas are decimated)

This era is also meeting with steadily rising global temperatures that work out to increasingly sparse rainfall in the drier regions and increasingly heavy rains in the wetter ones. The latter leads to increasingly big floods that wipe out crops and wash away huge amounts of topsoil.

Add to that the galloping expansion of cities, which sucks up huge amounts of water just in waste-processing facilities alone.  According to a recent report from the United Nations, since 2010 more than half of humanity now lives in cities, with the number growing by almost 60 million every year.  The expansion of cities from the human influx means a lot of paved-over arable land.  And many of the cities house manufacturing hubs that follow the SYF model of globalized manufacturing and agriculture trade.

Add to that decades of dam-building, which helped prop up the SYF model and its agriculture-exporting variation in water-stressed countries.

None of the above touches on what's called the carbon footprint, which many climate scientists believe is playing a part in rising global temperatures.  Greenhouse gasses and all that.  But a large carbon footprint, which is made by huge amounts of electricity and diesel fuel/ gasoline use, intersects with large-scale water usage in mega- manufacturing and agricultural operations. As with dam-building, electricity and cheap carbon-based fuel help players in the SYF game fling around their water resources more than common sense would dictate.

Now it's time to get out the #2 pencil and maps and do some figuring:

Megapopulations+SYF model+4Ds+5Ws = waterwise we're screwed.

Nature's Bottom Line v. Global Business Bottom Line

The SYF business model has always been unsustainable in water-stressed regions both in the USA and other
countries.  So while manufacturing outsourcing helped lift many millions of people in 'developing' countries out of abject poverty and greatly reduced the cost of manufacturing in the wealthier countries, it also opened a Pandora's Box.

However, the model didn't cause the water crisis; it just accelerated it and exacerbated its secondary effects.  Without or without globalized manufacturing processes and mega-sized agricultural trade, the converging of megapopulations on limited water resources is the driver of water's bottom line.

The bottom line also limits how much recycling and conserving of water can be done in this era to offset the impact of megapopulations on water resources.

So while some urbanized populations can, through inspired water management policies and draconian enforcement, save themselves from dying of hunger and thirst, the big picture is grim. How grim, at present?  I'll take up the question in the next post.

Note: I am grateful to National Geographic's illuminating reports on saving the Colorado River and the alfalfa issue. With regard to the latter, I couldn't have seen the SYF model without Ben Jervey's report, Exporting the Colorado River to Asia, Through Hay. While it doesn't make the ramifications of the model explicit, it revealed to my eyes what was hidden in plain sight about the mutual self-destructiveness of manufacturing outsourcing on an unrestrained scale.   


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