Documentary warns that California’s rivers will eventually go dry.
  • Documentary warns that California’s rivers will eventually go dry.
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The California water wars are being fought on multiple fronts: thirsty cities against farmers, north against south, farmers against environmentalists, conservatives against liberals, some homeowners against Governor Jerry Brown’s plan to fix the problems, and farmers and cities against the tiny delta smelt, the salmon, and the environmentalists who stick up for them.

The Delta viewed from above Sherman Island, with the Sacramento River above and San Joaquin River below

The Delta viewed from above Sherman Island, with the Sacramento River above and San Joaquin River below

The delta in question is the Northern California area in which the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers meet. It is 1100 square miles of islands, farmland, levees, pumps, and recreation areas put in place by both state and federal projects. It is the nexus of the state’s water system, supplying water to central and southern areas of the state. The water gets to major metropolitan areas in Southern California. Some of it is transferred to San Diego County.

The drought has drastically reduced the amount of water available and set the various factions against one another. An upcoming El Niño may ease hostilities a bit.

Jacob Morrison

Jacob Morrison

Jacob Morrison is a Carmel Valley resident and film student at the University of Southern California. When not making movies, he can be seen hiking and kayaking in the La Jolla area. Along with a group of producers, he is making a documentary, Rivers’ End, which warns that California’s rivers will eventually go dry.

Kelly Sanders

Kelly Sanders

The documentary, for which Morrison is trying to raise funds, is billed as “an inside look into the worst drought in California’s recorded history.”

Actually, the current drought may turn out to be much worse than simply the worst in California’s recorded history. In the movie’s trailer, Kelly Sanders, an assistant professor of engineering at USC specializing in water issues, says that the drought could possibly last 200 years — a warning that paleoclimatologists often give. Some writers go several steps further, saying that much of California, Arizona, and Nevada will return to desert as people are forced to flee dust bowl conditions.

“The film will not say that people have to move from the state, even though I do believe that we were naive to attempt to settle and farm the desert,” says Morrison.

“In 50 to 100 years, we are on track to not have rivers and not have fish,” he says. “This is due to our lack of trying to solve the problem in a drought state. The current mentality is to squeeze whatever water we can out of a system, even when it is not there. And this mentality and lack of planning, if continued, will be the end of our bodies of water and their ecosystems.”

John Herrick

John Herrick

The documentary will rely heavily on interviews with a number of experts, one of whom is John Herrick, general counsel and manager of the South Delta Water Agency in Stockton.

“The rivers will potentially dry up for a number of reasons,” says Herrick. “The current drought shows us that the operations of the state and federal projects… do not include multiyear drought planning.” If the projects can’t meet minimum flow obligations in the current short-lived (thus far) drought, “It is only a matter of time until a long drought results in no water in the rivers.” Dams control the water that is allowed to enter the rivers. “They will reach a point when they cannot or will not release the dwindling supply.”

The problem, says Herrick, is exportation of the water — say, to residences in Southern California. Proposals to change the current allocations are “efforts by the have-nots to take water from the haves,” he says. Laws and the state constitution have set up a priority water system. In a severe drought such as the present one, the state’s emergency powers permit officials to reallocate water. The state will then reroute agricultural water to municipalities. “Taking the farmer’s property rights to the water because someone else wants it is called theft,” says Herrick.

Carly Fiorina, a businesswoman who is a Republican presidential candidate, has charged that the drought is a “man-made human tragedy” caused by “overzealous liberal environmentalists” who “have prevented the building of a single new reservoir or a single new water conveyance system over decades during a period in which California’s population has doubled.”

On July 16, the House of Representatives passed a bill that attempts to get back at the smelt, the salmon, and their environmentalist protectors. Without erasing the environmental legal protections, the bill would cut back on water supporting endangered fish by building and expanding dams that would provide more water to farmers.

Says Herrick, “The environmental water issue is a straw man argument put forth by those without a [water] supply to justify stealing the water they want.” The basic protections given the smelt are essentially the protections to the estuary itself, says Herrick. Legal protection of the tiny smelt is just a convenient target to dramatize an anti-environmental argument.

Herrick says the politicians, bureaucrats, power brokers, and residential interests “killed the fish and now complain that protecting the fish decreases their supply. Duhhh.”

The state recently released a revised version of Governor Jerry Brown’s $15 billion plan for twin tunnels that would divert water from the Sacramento River under the delta for delivery to farms and cities. The governor’s office says the plan will also restore native habitat to the delta. Morrison says it’s just a scheme to use the governor’s emergency powers to filch water in dry times. “The delta will not receive the water that would normally flow into it,” says Morrison. “When the delta does not have enough water, ocean water flows into it, the salinity levels rise, and the ecosystem crashes.”

The documentary will touch on other matters. For example, California supplies 80 percent of the world’s almonds. And almond growers are among the biggest consumers of state water. But growing alfalfa, which cattle feed on, takes much more water. So dining on a steak and a glass of milk could worsen the state water crisis more than gobbling almonds.

“A single steak or hamburger can take more than 400 gallons of water to produce,” says Morrison. That compares with a gallon of water for one almond. Slowing down cattle production could do far more to save water than taking shorter showers or running the dishwasher less. Alas, “Most people are not yet ready to give up or reduce their beef intake.”

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jnojr Aug. 5, 2015 @ 8:38 a.m.

"Actually, the current drought may turn out to be much worse than simply the worst in California’s recorded history."

California's recorded history is literally insignificant in geological and climatological timeframes. There is more than a little bit of evidence that our "recorded history" has been an unusually wet period of time, and that California is simply reverting to the mean.

There are too many people in this state. Period. Our first course of action should be to discourage more population growth. Stop issuing building permits, and stop subsidizing poverty. Millions of people who are living here cannot actually afford to live here... stop subsidizing them, they'll have to move, and a significantly smaller population (along with less traffic, less energy use, less pollution, less wear-and-tear and demand for social services, roads, schools, etc.) will leave us with a sustainable population.

Also, just because agriculture has been around in this desert for 150 years does not mean it needs to stay. I'm sorry if the land that's been in your family since the Gold Rush will become worthless when you can't farm it productively any more, and that productively farming it means an unlimited supply of free water you help yourself to before everyone else. The world changes. Lots of places with plenty of water where you can farm, and food can be brought here by truck or train as easily from Kansas as from the Central Valley.


Don Bauder Aug. 5, 2015 @ 11:26 a.m.

jnojr: I agree with several of your points. Yes, our "recorded history" has been aberrationally wet. California put in water infrastructure based on that unusually wet century. Ergo, there are too many people in the state. San Diego should stop or sharply curtail the issuing of building permits. I don't know about other cities and towns, but I suspect they should stop, or slow down building, too.

Yes, at least some water should be taken from the ag industry. Best, Don Bauder


ImJustABill Aug. 6, 2015 @ 8:08 a.m.

Agriculture uses 4 times as much water in CA as urban users. I don't understand why stopping population growth would be the first course of action.

If the state is using too much water, shouldn't we first look at savings for the 80% of that use before looking for savings in the 20% of that use?


Don Bauder Aug. 6, 2015 @ 9:07 a.m.

ImJustABill: Not necessarily. If egregious mistakes are being made within that 20 percent, they should be addressed. And continuing the rapid real estate development in the state -- and particularly San Diego -- makes absolutely no sense. The state is already overpopulated to be supported by the water infrastructure.

Yes, agriculture should be forced to modernize and use less water. Crop selection should be decided largely on water availability. Ag has to use less. Best, Don Bauder


ImJustABill Aug. 6, 2015 @ 9:31 a.m.

How is the state overpopulated vs. the amount of available water if the general population is only using 1/5 the water?


Don Bauder Aug. 6, 2015 @ 2:30 p.m.

ImJustABill: I don't think there is a contradiction there. Ag may use 80 percent of the water (some say environmental-related uses take up as much as half of that 80 percent). Taking enough water from ag and environmental considerations to slake the thirst of the fast-growing cities would not be a solution. Important land would be fallowed. An important industry would be harmed. Much of the central part of California would dry up.

Remember, the state is threatened with a long-lasting drought. Possibly there will be much less water than there is now. Radical changes will have to be made -- by cities, by ag, and for environmental considerations. Best, Don Bauder


Twister Aug. 6, 2015 @ 3:16 p.m.

This time I'm with Don, Bill. Again, the FACT is that water is LIMITED, and demand is UNLIMITED. Inconvenient, sure, but the equities are pretty clear. You can either keep on adding water service connections and keep restricting water usage more and more, or you can cut back on connections and still take daily showers, etc.


Don Bauder Aug. 6, 2015 @ 9:38 p.m.

Twister: You have outlined the choices well. Best, Don Bauder


Visduh Aug. 5, 2015 @ 9 a.m.

For fifty years in California we've been told that the California Water Project and other federal water-gathering efforts were some of our proudest accomplishments, Many look back at the Pat Brown years as some of the best for the state do do great things, and he was especially proud of the system. I recall one time when he was asked if the state was really too large (in both area and in population, I presume) to manage and govern. Oh, no, he replied, it was the size of the state that allowed the north to "sell" water to the south to the mutual benefit of both. There's only one basis for that claim, and that was that the state had water surpluses that could be spread around. Did the Delta really have excess water on a permanent and sustainable basis? Of course not. Were there really funds flowing northward to match the flow of water to the south? I wonder if that really happened to a significant degree.

The whole matter is a highly complex one, but when massive amounts of water are used to grow low-value crops such as alfalfa, something doesn't make sense. Rice grows well in the Delta, but during a severe drought, should we be flooding rice paddies there? There are plenty of water-rich areas of the US that can grow rice, such as South Carolina and along the Texas-Louisiana border. Almonds were touted as a great health food about a decade ago, and the price shot up. Growers rationally responded by heavily planting almond trees, and for a time the price headed down. Now, due to the scarcity of water, the price is headed up again. But they are not a low-value crop by any means, and are good food.

Beef can be and is produced in nearly every state in the nation. California doesn't need to use lavish amounts of water to grow cattle when they can more readily be raised in wetter climes. And so it goes. Complicated doesn't begin to explain the situation.


Don Bauder Aug. 5, 2015 @ 11:54 a.m.

Visduh: Good points, particularly on alfalfa and beef. Cattle not only require a lot of water, they produce more greenhouse gas emissions than cars, according to a U.N. study of 2006. California has grown too fast for its resources. Even worse are Nevada (Las Vegas mainly) and Ariizona.

The question: can California do what is necessary -- curtailing and possibly reversing population growth -- when the big money keeps the pols from tackling the problems? Best, Don Bauder


Twister Aug. 6, 2015 @ 9:57 a.m.

Again, another central point that simply sums up a reality that we persist in ignoring. It isn't complexity, it's how we complicate the simple facts by trying to make silk purses out of sow's ears. We raise cattle, for example, in some of the most unsuitable places, largely because of our narcissistic faith in our superiority, ignoring the self-evident lessons of evolution--a continuous process of best-fit experiments.

Visduh has hit the nail squarely--rice belongs in, say Louisiana; cattle belong in the Great Central Plains, not in the Great Basin or anyplace else west of the Rockies. All organisms, from slime worms to elephants to whales, live where the conditions are best suited for them. Period. Not complex.


Don Bauder Aug. 6, 2015 @ 2:34 p.m.

Twister: Trouble is, moving cattle production to Kansas, say, may relieve California's water problem, but it does nothing for cutting back greenhouse emissions. To accomplish that, we have to eat less beef. Best, Don Bauder


ImJustABill Aug. 6, 2015 @ 8:10 a.m.

The core problem is that the water rights / allocation system in CA is obsolete and needs to be re-written. That will be a difficult political and legal process.


Don Bauder Aug. 6, 2015 @ 9:10 a.m.

ImJustABill: You're not kidding that will be a difficult political and legal process. Looks at the debates going on now. They portend political fireworks. Best, Don Bauder


Twister Aug. 6, 2015 @ 10 a.m.

Another one knocked out of the park! Yes, it will be difficult, but since when have we backed away from a challenge because it was difficult?

(Maybe you'd better not answer that!)


Don Bauder Aug. 6, 2015 @ 2:36 p.m.

Twister: It seems to me that we are backing away from difficult political challenges all the time. Are we living on the same planet? Best, Don Bauder


ImJustABill Aug. 6, 2015 @ 8:14 a.m.

I think the single dumbest action which has been taken has been shutting off the showers at the beaches. That saves 18 million gallons of water annually. The state uses 13 TRILLION gallons of water annually.


Don Bauder Aug. 6, 2015 @ 9:11 a.m.

ImJustABill: Every little bit helps. Best, Don Bauder


ImJustABill Aug. 6, 2015 @ 9:35 a.m.

I'm not sure I agree. An insignificant amount is an insignificant amount. It doesn't matter.

Then again, perhaps by forcing water use reduction in every area awareness is raised which might force necessary changes.

For example, if beachgoers get angry at not being able to take showers they might complain to legislators who have failed to address the states water distribution / allocation system.


Don Bauder Aug. 6, 2015 @ 2:37 p.m.

ImJustABill: Yes, that is an advantage of discommoding consumers. They complain. Cattle do not. Best, Don Bauder


Twister Aug. 6, 2015 @ 10:03 a.m.

I'm with Bill on this one Don. Shutting off beach showers is a true drop in the bucket. But worse, it is window-dressing political bull$hit designed to avoid addressing the REAL priorities.


Don Bauder Aug. 6, 2015 @ 2:39 p.m.

Twister: Turning off beach showers may seem like a small step, but when the state is hit with orders to cut back water usage by 25 percent, every little bit helps. Best, Don Bauder


ImJustABill Aug. 6, 2015 @ 5:43 p.m.

I think that "Every little bit helps" is a misleading slogan.

Every little bit helps but every little bit isn't worth it. Something that has a tiny benefit but a big cost isn't worth it.

State government has tradeoffs to make between improving resident's lives, spending money, protecting future residents by protecting the environment. So ideally water restrictions should have the least negative impact on people's lives but the biggest water savings. I don't see how the shower shut-off accomplishes that.


Don Bauder Aug. 6, 2015 @ 9:44 p.m.

ImJustABill: Disagree. Every little bit DOES help if the state faces a multi-year drought. Taking from ag and giving to cities is a palliative. Best, Don Bauder


Ponzi Aug. 6, 2015 @ 8:39 a.m.

"Since 2009, alfalfa exports to China grew nearly eightfold to a record 575,000 tons — shipped overseas in the same containers that deliver the latest iPhones and flat-screen TVs from Chinese factories."

"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."

David Pierson, Los Angeles Times, June 8, 2014

This stuff, this "free trade" of our water to China and other countries has to stop. It's grass, if they need it, let them grow it with their own water. Why is the supposed most advanced nation in the world exporting grass and the most mismanaged communist country with a horrendous human rights record shipping us iPhones and computers?


Don Bauder Aug. 6, 2015 @ 9:15 a.m.

Ponzi: As California assesses its water problem, export policies will be one variable under study. Best, Don Bauder


Twister Aug. 6, 2015 @ 10:06 a.m.

Speaking as a retired consultant, "studies" are a way for leeches to siphon off our water-money.


Don Bauder Aug. 6, 2015 @ 2:41 p.m.

Twister: That is certainly the case with subsidized sports stadiums and the building of more convention center facilities. The consultants making the studies are coming up with whatever the agency paying the bills wants to hear. Best, Don Bauder


ImJustABill Aug. 6, 2015 @ 5:32 p.m.

I followed a few of the airport studies out of curiosity for a while. A lot of beautiful documentation and detailed site reports to come to the conclusion that the only place physically possible to move the airport to is Miramar. And the Marines aren't planning on moving. Nor does the city want them to move. So several million dollars to basically prove that obvious common sense was correct.


Don Bauder Aug. 7, 2015 @ 3:23 p.m.

ImJustABill: It sounds like the consultant was paid surreptitiously to come up with a conclusion that everybody knew was impossible to put into effect. Best, Don Bauder


Twister Aug. 8, 2015 @ 10:12 a.m.

Consulting contracts are commonly used as a tax-money laundering device. I lost a lot of contracts because of this. Honesty cannot compete with people who put the buck before the work.


Ponzi Aug. 6, 2015 @ 9:42 a.m.

That story brings a new meaning to "Almond Joy."


Don Bauder Aug. 8, 2015 @ 6:48 a.m.

Ponzi: Growing almonds in California is very remunerative. Best, Don Bauder


Don Bauder Aug. 6, 2015 @ 2:44 p.m.

ImJustABill: As we said earlier, export policies have to be reexamined in light of the water crisis. Best, Don Bauder


Don Bauder Aug. 6, 2015 @ 9:46 p.m.

ImJustABill: That should be a topic as we discuss export policy. Best, Don Bauder


Twister Aug. 6, 2015 @ 10:14 a.m.

"The current mentality is to squeeze whatever water we can out of a system, even when it is not there." --Jacob Morrison

THAT sums up the ENTIRE issue; all else is fluff, PR, window-dressing, diversionary tactics, dissembling, lies, damn lies, and misleading statistics. The "water conservation" measures, the percent reductions, the legal-schmegal excuses, are all irrelevant bull$hit.

The rivers will NOT dry up because of the drought, they will dry up because the water is being WASTED. And I don't mean just that which runs off into the gutters. Back in the sixties, a few people had sense enough to perform studies that compared waste patterns of alternative yard-watering methods. The high-tech, automated systems came out a distant last--wasted far more water than old-fashioned hose systems. There’s an easy, equitable way to allocate resources like water, but it will require changes. Not difficult, either. But the water wasters’ and the water royalty’s over-fat oxen will have to lose some of their fat. Fearing being gored to death, they will oppose change, and will fight it to the last drop.

Relevant studies can be done that show where the waste is, but where are they? The governor, to his credit, has let it slip that there may be one more year's water supply left the the reservoirs.

Sure, you can take the last drop away from the fish, and the almost extinct salmon runs will be no more--totally, IRRETRIEVABLY EXTINCT, not to mention other fisheries and fish (many different species, not just mosquito fish) that keep mosquitoes and other insects under control, not to mention countless other ecosystem services which we blissfully ignore, and what are you left with? NO water. Plus a lot of stinking bog holes and a crashed economy. What is it? The seventh largest economy in the world?

We are whistling past our own graveyard in TOTAL DENIAL. The ratio of supply to consumption is now less that one to one. The ONLY way to re-balance that equation is to drastically reduce consumption enough to stretch what little we have left until the water supply is "restored." But that will not solve the problem of INCREASING DEMAND. But that will NOT happen. Reason. Too many people are over-invested in development, in adding water consumers to a supply system that has been tapped out.


Don Bauder Aug. 6, 2015 @ 2:52 p.m.

Twister: Excellent points. Your mention of ecosystems is important. We have to respect them. Also, we have to cut back sharply on waste. The ag industry is doing this. But cities face resistance when trying to reduce waste. Blaming this mess on agriculture and environmentalists is just a handy excuse to continue wasting water on further real estate development. Best, Don Bauder


Twister Aug. 6, 2015 @ 4 p.m.

Don, we may well live to see California essentially run out of water. An El Niño winter might put it off for a while, but even so adding that piddle to the puddle we have left in the reservoirs will only buy a tiny bit of time. Hell, even if they were filled up, the present level of demand would take them down again pretty quickly. Pretty soon, the chickens (especially the ducks) won’t be able to come home to roost.


Don Bauder Aug. 6, 2015 @ 9:48 p.m.

Twister: If California faces a multi-year -- or century-long -- drought, the El Nino will be of no importance, unless it soothes the people and delays reforms. Best, Don Bauder


Twister Aug. 7, 2015 @ 1:56 p.m.

By multi-year, I suspect you need to mean only one more?

How much of the deficit would the "worst" El Nino (sic) year (record precipitation) compensate for?


Don Bauder Aug. 8, 2015 @ 6:52 a.m.

Twister: The worst effect of an El Nino would be that people and politicians would conclude that California is out of the drought, and stop doing anything. Best, Don Bauder


ImJustABill Aug. 6, 2015 @ 3:06 p.m.

"The current mentality is to squeeze whatever water we can out of a system, even when it is not there."

I think you could replace "water" with "resources" in general and the statement is still true.

There has definitely been a tendency of human societies towards maximizing economic, political, and population gain even when doing so extracts too many resources.

I don't think the Earth's human activity level is on a sustainable trajectory. Whether or not, and how, that is corrected remains to be seen.


Twister Aug. 6, 2015 @ 3:51 p.m.

I'm with you again, Bill! First there was shallow oil--hell, it was even surfacing on its own. Then, we had to drill deeper. Now we have to frack up the rocks thousands of feet down to squeeze out the last few barrels--LITERALLY!

Agricultural "productivity" (talk about misleading euphemisms !) is DEPENDENT upon oil-based fertilizer. We shoulda listened to Ronnie Regan when he said, "There's no free lunch!" (Of course I don't think he wanted to leave the impression that there was no free lunch for everybody--just the benighted majority.)

Best, Twister


Don Bauder Aug. 8, 2015 @ 6:54 a.m.

Twister: I don't know who said "There is no free lunch" first: Reagan or Milton Friedman. I suspect it was Friedman. Best, Don Bauder


Don Bauder Aug. 6, 2015 @ 9:49 p.m.

ImJustABill: Yes, the better word is "resources." Best, Don Bauder


Twister Aug. 6, 2015 @ 12:03 p.m.

jnojr Aug. 5, 2015 @ 8:38 a.m.

"California's recorded history is literally insignificant in geological and climatological timeframes."

True. Climate fluctuates, as does weather.

But water is LIMITED, no matter how many rivers we damn, how many fish we kill, how much we waste or conserve. Humans, being the only species that changes the environment according to cultural whim, sapient though they may be in some respects, truly believe they can repeal all natural laws. Sooner or later, the consequences will bomb Homo sapiens back into the stone age, and what's left will not sustain a paleolithic population as it did in paleolithic times. Too much life and the capacity to support it will be gone forever.

Regrettably, Twister

PS: There's a new start-up to manufacture crickets and cricket protein powder. The crickets will eat our garbage, and we will eat the crickets. Looks like there's time to get in on the ground floor of the cricket grinding business. The wave (-off) of the future!


Don Bauder Aug. 6, 2015 @ 2:56 p.m.

Twister: Jiminy crickets! if there is an IPO of a cricket recycling company, I want in on the ground floor!

Will humans go back to the Stone Age? Ultimately, I think you are right. I doubt either of us will be around to see it, though. Best, Don Bauder


Twister Aug. 6, 2015 @ 3:36 p.m.

Start here:

Let me know how much capital you've invested.

It ain't far from the Stoned Age to the Stone Age . . .

Put that in your pipe and imbibe it, mister!


PS: This pretending not to get my puns has got to stop! I'm a needy type.


Don Bauder Aug. 7, 2015 @ 3:26 p.m.

Twister: Puns: Are you talking about "no matter how many rivers we damn." I did catch it. I just didn't comment on it. It was a good one. Best, Don Bauder


Twister Aug. 6, 2015 @ 3:21 p.m.

"The question: can California do what is necessary -- curtailing and possibly reversing population growth -- when the big money keeps the pols from tackling the problems? Best, Don Bauder"

"When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are . . ." Welcome to Fantasyland!

Big money and their pol lackeys are whistling past our graveyards . . .


Don Bauder Aug. 7, 2015 @ 3:30 p.m.

Twister: They are doing more than whistling past our graveyards. They are digging our graves, and they know it....but don't care as long as their sticky fingers are provided with lucre. Best, Don Bauder


Ponzi Aug. 6, 2015 @ 3:22 p.m.

Cricket tacos have been popular in Mexico for decades.

There was a Shark Tank episode that featured "Chapul," a company that makes (powdered) cricket protein bars. Here's their website


Twister Aug. 6, 2015 @ 8:16 p.m.

Supposedly, the cricket powder goes for forty bucks a pound, but present producers feed them soy meal (and maybe other cropped material). The UCSB students think they can produce it for a dollar by feeding them garbage. A kind of "sustainability" thing.


Don Bauder Aug. 7, 2015 @ 3:33 p.m.

Ponzi: Pretty soon, the cockroach tacos will be called "La Cucarachas." Best, Don Bauder


Twister Aug. 7, 2015 @ 12:27 a.m.

Re: Don Bauder Aug. 6, 2015 @ 2:39 p.m.

Twister: Turning off beach showers may seem like a small step, but when the state is hit with orders to cut back water usage by 25 percent, every little bit helps. Best, Don Bauder

Don, Bill et y'all:

Yes, every little bit helps A LITTLE, but when the California Bank and Trust skyscraper in University City/San Diego maintains over an acre of the lushest green grass you've ever seen, it is poetic injustice to ask all us poor schmucks to let our lawns go dry while our children cry. So every BIG sacrifice of grass that no one plays on helps A LOT. Get it?

The devil still is in the details.


ImJustABill Aug. 7, 2015 @ 10:02 a.m.

Let's put it this way - does it make more sense to turn off the showers at Torrey Pines State Beach ALL SUMMER or to turn off the sprinklers at Torrey Pines Golf Course for a few minutes one day?


danfogel Aug. 7, 2015 @ 12:06 p.m.

I'm not sure that Torrey Pines would be the best example to use. I believe since about 2008, Torrey Pines has been irrigated using reclaimed waste water.


Twister Aug. 7, 2015 @ 1:45 p.m.

Bill, the amount of time irrigation water is applied is not necessarily related to irrigation efficiency. Depending upon soil conditions, irrigation system design and operation (specifics upon request), it might be more efficient to irrigate longer than, say, five minutes a day.

If, for example, one is irrigating in heavy soil, the maximum efficiency might be achieved by irrigating for an hour or two at times, but perhaps by turning sprinklers on, say, at midnight for one minute at intervals long enough for the soil water to reach field capacity, then irrigating for another minute, and repeating the process long enough to bring the entire root zone to field capacity, whatever that takes (it might take such sequences more than one day, and the amount of evaporation and transpiration loss during intervening days might or might not have to be supplemented with shorter or longer periods to continue to accomplish this, to maintain the root zone, which should be as deep as possible, at field capacity). This results in what is termed "luxury consumption." That means that the plants are never stressed. When it rains, this level is exceeded, and the rain drains beyond the root system where the roots can't get it. Subsequent rains can be treated like irrigation events, but they are often ignored. Few controllers are even set to account for rain, and many are just left at the same settings year 'round.

Two five-minute irrigations per week could never accomplish this, and would make the grass system more susceptible to drought. Five minutes might even be too long. The probable origin of this silly rule is probably rooted in the fear of runoff and waste. While that concern is perhaps justified (context is everything), runoff might occur after, say, two minutes, or might not occur for ten or twenty minutes. (Most runoff is caused by overspray anyway--runoff from saturation is usually the result of too high an application rate, another oft-ignored, but crucially important factor.)

Five minutes of irrigation would usually result in shallow penetration, causing shallow root development, causing the grass stand to be highly susceptible to drought stress. Short, widely-spaced applications increase evaporative losses, which is waste. Sprinklers also cause evaporative losses by the very nature of their design (atomizing the water into dry air).

Sorry if I lapsed too far into somewhat technical stuff. I'll be glad to elaborate or clarify upon request.


PS: Since Torrey Pines golf course is on a sharply stratified geological formation, water that percolates below the root zone will lubricate the interface between the more permeable stratum of the root zone and the relatively impermeable formation below it, increasing the potential for cliff collapse. Consequences of error, often masked by a good in terms of immediate goals, often makes a mockery of the "no-brainer" concept.


ImJustABill Aug. 7, 2015 @ 2:58 p.m.

Hmmm, so it seems things are more complicated than just shutting off some sprinklers for a few minutes.

I guess my overall thought is we should use water efficiently and make water cuts as efficient as possible.


Twister Aug. 7, 2015 @ 9:23 p.m.

Not really complicated; it's just that every policy should be supported by a sound theoretical foundation before it is executed. The policies in effect now are mostly window-dressing to threaten us enough to conserve a little, so that "Nero" and his fellow dreamers can fiddle whilst California dries up.

It's kinda like "The Picture of Dorian Gray" on steroids.

Best, Twister

PS: Anybody can save water and money (except if we save more, we'll be charged more, as the Red Queen might say), by following the principles outlined above--even farmers.


Don Bauder Aug. 7, 2015 @ 3:35 p.m.

Twister: No, the devil is in the possibility that California will have a 100-year drought. It's the possibility of a long drought which means that no water cutback is too small. Best, Don Bauder


Twister Aug. 7, 2015 @ 9:09 p.m.

Don: PROVIDED that no big cutbacks are ignored, as they clearly are now, and have been throughout the long, fundamentally stupid approach to resource management that has put us into the fix we are in now, and have been for some time. Hit the princes and the serfs alike, but don't let the princes go on chug-a-lugging until it's all gone.

As in the old Missouri-mule joke, we are finally about to be whacked with a 2x4. We have already, but we are so hard-headed that we have gone on balking in spite of it, (waiting for the fatal one, I guess).

Best, Twister


Don Bauder Aug. 8, 2015 @ 7:03 a.m.

Twister: The princes will get their water until the very end. You can count on that. Money talks; politicians listen. Best, Don Bauder


Twister Aug. 7, 2015 @ 9:29 p.m.

Long or short, when the faucet runs dry, the economy is toast.

In fact, the economy will be toasted long before the last drop.

That's the long and the short of it.


Don Bauder Aug. 8, 2015 @ 7:05 a.m.

Twister: I will take the short -- that is, short stocks until the last act begins. Best, Don Bauder


Twister Aug. 7, 2015 @ 1:01 p.m.

The role and consequences of irrigation and other uses of "reclaimed" waste water would make an excellent subject for a feature article.

What, exactly, IS "reclaimed" wastewater?

What does it cost to do the "reclamation?"

Exactly how is it distributed?

What was/is/will be the cost of distribution hardware?

What plans are in the works to extend "reclaimed" wastewater, at what cost to the end consumer and to all taxpayers?

What does it cost to distribute it?

Why can't we drink it?

What are the health and safety dimensions to this seeming "no-brainer?"

Do potable water treatment and distribution systems ever fail or have "glitches" such that the promised water quality standards might be compromised? What systems and procedures are in place to maintain potable water quality, and have they ever failed, and what were the consequences of such failure? How do "reclaimed" systems compare in reliability and cost?

What do end-users pay for "reclaimed" water?

Are end-users subsidized in any way, directly or indirectly?



Don Bauder Aug. 7, 2015 @ 3:38 p.m.

Twister: And you expect me to answer all those questions in a thousand-word column? Best, Don Bauder


Twister Aug. 7, 2015 @ 8:33 p.m.

One at a time.

Perhaps others will help . . .


Don Bauder Aug. 8, 2015 @ 7:07 a.m.

Twister: Those "others" are drying up. Do you suppose it's the drought? Best, Don Bauder


Twister Aug. 8, 2015 @ 10:23 a.m.

Not on your site! One (and only?) of the intellectually fertile sites on the whole #*&amn$# Internet. Most (if not all) of the others are intellectual deserts which no supermarket can nourish.


Twister Aug. 7, 2015 @ 8:56 p.m.

Re: " Don Bauder Aug. 7, 2015 @ 3:35 p.m.

Twister: No, the devil is in the possibility that California will have a 100-year drought. It's the possibility of a long drought which means that no water cutback is too small. Best, Don Bauder"

There are three possible, if not probable, scenarios.

  1. We don't get enough precipitation this winter to stave off dehydration.

  2. We get enough water to stave off dehydration for several months.

  3. The precipitation patterns of the past are essentially maintained; we get as much, but no more, than in the past.

In scenario 1, we dry up, the economy collapses, and both the poor and the rich are driven out to greener pastures. Donald Trump erects a dual wall with a kill zone around the eastern edge of the Great Basin, and the bones of the desperate litter the western states.

In scenario 2, number one happens later.

In scenario 3, we continue to party until the ratio of consumption to supply approaches (during which time we procrastinate like we're doing now in total denial), when scenario 1 plays out.

One might speculate that climate change will not render us drier, but wetter. That might be possible in some dream world, but is so improbable that we can await the presentation of theoretical foundations to refute this assumption.

These are the best of times; the worst of times are quite possible before you and I make it to the barn, Don, but we are concerned about our children, grandchildren, and many good people who will survive us anyway, right?

I look forward to any corrections or refutations.

Best, Twister


Don Bauder Aug. 8, 2015 @ 7:01 a.m.

Twister: I would bet on No. 3. The party goes on until we dehydrate. Best, Don Bauder


Twister Aug. 8, 2015 @ 11:02 a.m.

I'll vote for No. 1, but no matter which actually happens, the consequences are essentially the same with respect (to the unrespected) economy.

Best, Twister


Twister Aug. 8, 2015 @ 10:53 a.m.

Re: ImJustABill Aug. 6, 2015 @ 9:33 a.m.

Don't forget almonds. "About 70% of California's almonds are sold overseas."

I will need more data to reach a sensible conclusion about collusion, or, for that matter, the technical validity behind the conclusion that almond trees “use” more water than other tree crops. I’d like to see a competent study.

I’m also unsure of the “statistic” about the amount of water required to produce a unit of almonds.

In most cases, I suspect that the extra water is actually waste, rather than “use.” Depending upon whether or not a field is drained and what happens to the drainage water, some fraction of the “wasted” water just might end up recharging the water table. To what extent, I have no idea, but it is theoretically possible. However, theory should be the driver of research, not a surrogate for it (as is common in agronomic “studies”).

If the LA Times piece is the result of disciplined journalism, that fact is well-hidden. No references to sources for the statistics are even mentioned, much less cited or linked. In the Internet age, there’s no excuse for refusing to provide links to sources (we all know that reporters do most, if not all their “research” on the Internet).

The article says nothing about the ratio of water “used” to the unit-area, and provides no insight as to how that fact was determined.

Almonds are a perennial crop (as are some other crops), so requiring that irrigation actually cease would not pencil out in positive territory, while the same would not be true for, say, alfalfa or rice which fields could be fallowed with minimal damage to the investment; however, if such a policy were put into action, equity should require that the losses should at least partially offset by payments out of almond and other beneficiaries of the policy.

Best, Twister

Related post: Twister Aug. 7, 2015 @ 1:45 p.m.


Twister Aug. 10, 2015 @ 10:37 p.m.

"We'll have to leave it there." What's the proper attribution for that one?

(Shoveling sand against the tide.)


sfbriansmith Sept. 11, 2015 @ 2:14 p.m.

San Diegans are Water Conservation Leaders Now let’s end Jerry Brown’s water tunnel boondoggle

Congratulations to San Diego! You have become statewide leaders in water conservation. From the heart of California’s Delta, we salute you.

Figures released for July shows that San Diegans are using 29 percent less water than in 2013, far beyond the mandated 16 percent reduction goal for the region. Keep up the good work.

But please, don’t let California’s drought scare you into supporting wasteful water projects that won’t bring you more water.

Governor Brown’s proposed twin water tunnels under the San Francisco Bay- Delta are exactly the boondoggle to avoid. With the 2.0 version of the plan just released for public comment, there are a few things San Diegans should know.

If built, these massively destructive tunnels will mostly deliver water to large corporate farm operations, and the oil industry in the southern San Joaquin Valley, not to San Diego residents.

Beware the Boondoggle!

Once called the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan, the new plan is called California Water Fix. Now, the “conservation” aspect has been largely forgotten. When financing, cost overruns, interest, and operation of the tunnels are factored in, Jerry Brown’s Tunnels will still cost Californians $60 billion.

Who will get this water, and who will pay? San Diego will not be getting new water from the tunnels. Most of the water will go to the Kern County Water Agency and the Westlands Water District located in the dry southwestern side of the San Joaquin Valley. These districts serve large corporate agribusiness. In a desert landscape, they grow thirsty crops like almonds, largely for export. Oil companies in Kern County use billions of gallons of water for fracking operations that also pollute water in the process. But these special interests want every California water user to subsidize this project. Thus, the boondoggle.

Why should San Diegans help foot the bill for tunnels that mainly support unsustainable agriculture?

State funds would be better invested in sustainability and long-delayed infrastructure projects like replacing leaky old water mains, water recycling and restoring Southern California's groundwater supplies. Such investments would drought-proof water supplies while providing local steady jobs. Through innovative conservation projects, San Diegans have actually reduced your dependence on Delta water and that reduction continues.

Now it is time for San Diego ratepayers to demand an end to Jerry Brown’s Delta tunnel boondoggle and to insist on projects that will promote water conservation in other parts of the state to equal San Diego’s success.

Public Comments on the BDCP/WaterFix will be taken until October 30, 2015 Comments can be mailed to P.O. Box 1919, Sacramento, CA 95812 or sent via email to [email protected]

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla Executive Director


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