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Energy Quote of the Day: 'We're Not Just Up a Creek Without a Paddle, We're Losing the Creek Too'


Low water is seen at the dam of Lake Success as rain totals remain insufficient to break the worsening drought on February 11, 2015 near East Porterville, California. Many local residents, whose water wells have run dry, fill their tanks with free non-potable water for flushing toilets, bathing and laundering and use bottled water for drinking and washing dishes. Many of the dry wells of 926 homes in Tulare County dried up last summer when some 17 California communities ran out of water. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

California is in uncharted territory as their severe drought drags on and water reserves drop to their lowest points ever, with no relief in sight. Jay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory detailed the issues in a recent LA Times Op-Ed.

“As our ‘wet’ season draws to a close, it is clear that the paltry rain and snowfall have done almost nothing to alleviate epic drought conditions. January was the driest in California since record-keeping began in 1895. Groundwater and snowpack levels are at all-time lows” Famiglietti writes. “We’re not just up a creek without a paddle in California, we’re losing the creek too.” – Los Angeles Times

This winter continued the dry trend and there was little snowfall in the Cascades and Sierra Nevada mountains. Data from NASA satellites shows that total water storage in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins was 34 million acre-feet below normal in 2014. The state overall has been losing more than 12 million acre-feet of water storage annually since 2011.

Farmers in the Central Valley have been pumping more groundwater and that has caused the ground to subside in places. In some areas of the Central Valley the land is sinking by one foot or more per year.

California is in severe danger of running out of water. There is only about one year’s worth of water in its reservoirs and the groundwater is rapidly disappearing. This crisis is unprecedented and the state does not have a comprehensive plan for dealing with it.

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Ed Dodge's picture

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Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Mar 20, 2015 1:22 pm GMT

Drought conditions now exist in most of the western US dependent on Pacific Ocean moisture. IIRC, drought conditions in the eastern US, dependent on Gulf of Mexico moisture, existed after the BP oil spill in the Gulf.

Water evaporation is capped with the thinnest layer of hydrocarbon at the surface. Growth in Asian dirty coal use parallels the western drought.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Mar 20, 2015 2:54 pm GMT

Rick, I had never heard this possible explanation for drought before. I don’t doubt it, but do you know of any studies which support that?

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Mar 20, 2015 3:45 pm GMT

Ed, ten years ago I had an engaging conversation with a man who worked at a commercial water purification company. He told me California is scr***** if they don’t start building desal plants immediately, because a serious drought would turn the state upside down.

He was right. Rationing should have been implemented a year ago, and we still don’t have a plan. Carlsbad Desalination Center goes online next year, but will only serve the residents of San Diego County, and we need ten more like it.  Several projects have been killed by “environmentalists”. If they want to take showers or have gardens next year, they might have to re-examine their priorities.

Since desal looks inevitable, environmenatlists would do well to consider what will be providing the energy to reverse-osmose half a billion gallons of water/day (Carlsbad will eat ~300GWh of electricity/year):

Another way to look at it, said Conner Everts, co-chair of the Desal Response Group, a coalition of conservation groups critical of desalination, is that the Carlsbad project puts a $108 million burden on San Diego County water ratepayers every year, drought or not.
“If you look at our choices based on costs and (environmental) impacts, desal should always be at the bottom of that list,” Everts said…

If California doesn’t recommission San Onofre (and build another nuclear plant), carbon emissions will be going through the roof.

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Mar 20, 2015 3:38 pm GMT

Thanks Bob for your open mind.

In the 1970s, while doing my grad research in the Laboratory for Biophysical Chemistry on water-biopolymer interfaces (Hydrogen exchange kinetics in proteins at high pressure, etc.), my future wife and I took a bicycle-train trip to Quebec. I brought along a few “Scientific American” mags to read on the train. One article was “The Top 1mm of Water” (or similar). Oil spills were a much bigger concern then.

Some time later at a last day physics class we were asked our concerns. I mentioned going through Sudbury, Ontario and the shocking acid rain destruction from Nickel mining. And the town had a sign bragging about the tallest chimney in the world. The physics Prof. wisely said, “Yeah, so the pollution goes somewhere else.”

There is a ton of related water chemistry literature out there. I wouldn’t know where to start or suggest. I’m sure others can develop better numbers than I can. But I’m not aware of any time in history so much s–t has been pumped out so fast. The Pacific Ocean is huge, but it only need to impact the surface.

Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on Mar 20, 2015 8:15 pm GMT


It is also the case that Alaska is exceptionally warm. The jet stream is probably the bigger factor. The west is not just dry, it is warm.



Wayne Lusvardi's picture
Wayne Lusvardi on Mar 21, 2015 4:22 pm GMT

The Los AngelesTimes has had to recant its story which exaggerated NASA JPL senior water scientist Jay Famiglietti’s statement that California was going to run out of water in one year.  What Famiglietti said was that surface water storage in reservoirs was going to possibly run out in a year. 

Now, the Times reports that California is “in no danger of running out of water in the next two years” and that “decades worth of groundwater remain”.  

In 1977, California has a drought equal or worse than the one is is experiencing today.  Central Valley groundwater basins were hardly drawn down much and recovered fully afterward.  Only the Tulare Water Basin is in long-term decline but even that is mitigated by Kern County Water Banks. 

Look at historical chart here:

The above article is entirely hyperbole and hysteria.  



Paul O's picture
Paul O on Mar 21, 2015 7:30 pm GMT

I doubt that diminishing the ground water reserve is a desireable answer to the loss of surface water. either way California is still in trouble.

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