The Great California Drought – Part II, what won’t work

If you really want to get scared about the California drought you should look at this website: drought monitor .  That’s enough to make you want to move to Minnesota.

As with any large problem, there are always a lot people suggesting ways to solve the problem or less helpfully, pointing fingers everywhere trying to fix blame for the problem on someone.  Government incompetence along with corporate greed are always top of the list for entities to blame.  These days there is the ever popular game of blaming liberals/conservatives for all our woes.

I don’t want to do the blame game – it seldom helps, is rarely based in fact and normally part of a “I told you so” campaign to get a new person elected to the state senate. I’m not running this year so let me jump right into some of the ideas that aren’t likely to improve the water situation.

Voluntary usage cut backs

A few months ago Govern Brown called for a voluntary cut back of 20% across the state.  In response, water usage went up slightly.

Personally, I’d like to cut more of my water usage but I remembered the big drought of the 1970’s and in the decades following that, I’ve installed a low flow toilet, bought a water saving dishwasher, removed lawns, installed drip irrigation and don’t let the water run when brushing my teeth – all the conservation measures recommended by my water district.  There’s not much more I can do except stop washing clothes and taking daily showers (Heather and people at work might not like that part of my water saving effort).   Not sure I am ready for that.  I have started to look at other options, but they’ll cost money and after the remodel, there isn’t much of that left.

Build more dams

Yeah, sure.  One question: where are you going to get the water to fill them up?

I’ve seen this topic discussed most often in the local newspapers on slow news days written by reporters who are either hoping to stave off a pending layoff by creating a controversy or one who failed basic science in school.  A few reasons why this isn’t going to work:

  • All the good dam sites have been taken – there are nearly 1,400 dams in California today with 1,200 reservoirs (some dams are only for flood control or hydroelectric power).
  • Look at the Colorado river – we’ve already stopped it flowing to the sea and still need more water.  If you want another example, check out the San Joaquin River, if you can find it after the dam – we’re already using all the water there and the San Joaquin stopped flowing a long time ago.
  • We’ve had to remove some dams because they silted up and no longer store water or have been found to be seismic unstable (see Dam removal and Anderson Dam )
  • I’ve seen studies that suggest that by the year 2100, most rain fall and snow melt in the state will be used before it can be stored. One study, Reassembling Hetch Hetchy: Water Supply Without O’Shaughnessy Dam, by Sarah E. Null and Jay R. Lund, <include link> concluded that removing the O’Shaughnessy Dam that creates the Hetch Hetchy reservoir would have little long term effect on water supply since mathematical modules of water used in the state show that with expected growth, by 2100 the reservoir would be drained each year to supply the needs of the water districts served by the Hetch Hetchy system.  Further, the authors state, “Although there is unused surface storage space with projected future demands, there are not enough water inflows.”  Scientific speak for, “We’re using more water than falls from the sky.”

Of course, we never did put a dam across the Merced River.  There’s a very large water storage reservoir that we’ve missed.  The cost wouldn’t be much – a few billion (I’d think around 50) and closing Yosemite Valley as the project will fill the valley with water.  Hey, the National Park servicing has been looking for a way to reduce traffic in Yosemite valley for years – this would do it.

Drill more and deeper wells

Wells are a lot like dams only they take longer to fill.  We’re currently tapping deep aquifers that have taken centuries to fill.  There is enough evidence to show that we’re currently pumping out water faster that it can be replaced – wells are drying up and in some areas ground is subsiding.  At best this is a temporary solution.  At worst a waste of time and money.

Build a canal from Lake Superior to California

This idea is best discussed after the third beer.  We’d only have to cross the Rockies, the Sierra with pipes, canals and pumps.  I am sure Canada, the Feds and all the states in between would be just fine with the idea.

Tap the Columbia River in Oregon

Well, it’s closer than Lake Superior but first you’ll have to fight the Oregon Army.  No, they don’t have one, but show up with the shovels and earth movers and you’ll discover how many firearms are in the state.  And by the way, Oregon is now entering a drought too.

Snow Trains

This was a great idea from a co-worker a couple years ago when the east coast was covered by an epic snow storm (note, no alcoholic beverage was used in producing this plan).  It goes like this, New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago would take all the snow it removes from their streets, load it on to rail cars that then are routed over the Donner pass in Northern California and dumped into Lake Oroville.

Not bad.  Except for the cost, the fact that no one will do it and most of the snow is likely to melt crossing the Nevada desert.  He thought these problems could be overcome.  He was so enthusiastic about the plan that I didn’t have the heart to tell him that there isn’t a train line to Lake Oroville.

Farms waste water – make them stop

The farms could do a better job with water usage, but we need the food.  They’ve got to have water – hate to see all my tomatoes imported from Chile.  And it’s a major industry in California, in 2012, farms earned 42.6 billion.  No water puts a lot of people out of work.

Stop watering lawns

Well, first let’s just try watering them a little less and have fewer of them.  Most people over water their lawns.  I like the idea of reducing the number of lawns, using recycled water on them and such, but a world without some lawn to run free on and fly kites from, is just too depressing.

Cloud seeding

We’ve tried that before.  Didn’t work as well as we wanted – anyone suggesting this has never tried to get seeds into clouds.  And first we’ll need some clouds.  Haven’t seen those in awhile.  I went looking but couldn’t find much credible evidence that cloud seeding is effective at significantly increasing rain and snow fall.  Likely we’ll have to wait until Star Fleet finishes the weather modification satellite system.

Stop sending our water to Southern CA

I’ve never heard a bunch of Southern Californians talk about this.  They have this warped notion that Northern and Southern California are part of the same state and we’re in this thing together. The truth of the matter is that southern California gets water resources from a number of places: The Owen’s valley and the inlets to Mono Lake via the LA Aqueduct; The Colorado River (and ultimately from states east of California); local rain and from Northern Sources.  Guess what, if there isn’t water in NorCal, SoCal doesn’t get any of it either.

Those are the wackier things I read in the news and hear from people from time to time.  Next post, it will be on to the better part of this series – what we can do.

Till then,

About Andrew Reynolds

Born in California Did the school thing studying electronics, computers, release engineering and literary criticism. I worked in the high tech world doing software release engineering and am now retired. Then I got prostate cancer. Now I am a blogger and work in my wood shop doing scroll saw work and marquetry.
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1 Response to The Great California Drought – Part II, what won’t work

  1. Marv says:

    Regarding Snow Trains. In 1976, there was so much snow in Buffalo, they put the excess snow on a train to Schenectady for dumping.


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