No Minister

California Screaming – Water

From the 1900’s to the 1970’s California made huge plans for its future, building power stations and the transmission lines to link them, bridges and expressways for transport, and dams, canals, and aqueducts.

The latter was part of a vast system designed to bring water from the snowy mountains of the Sierra Nevadas to the deserts of the Central Valley and the coastal cities.

The dryness of those cities had been noted early on:

Our California ancestors understood this; they saw, after the 1906 earthquake, that the dry hills of San Francisco and the adjoining peninsula could never rebuild without grabbing all the water possible from the distant Hetch Hetchy watershed. I have never met a Bay Area environmentalist or Silicon Valley grandee who didn’t drink or shower with water imported from a far distant water project

It was a golden era and through the 1950’s it was planned for 25 million people. As the 1970’s rolled around new plans for further development were made in all these areas, for a 21st century population of 40 million or more. But then something terrible happened.

Actually that’s being unfair to the hippies, although they did vote for the real problem – Jerry Brown, seen here on a Time cover as he ran for election in 1974.

Jerry’s father was known as the builder of California, especially with the California State Water Project.

Perhaps it was just the usual father-son dynamic but Jerry turned his back on all that and began cancelling such projects as far and as fast as he could. Thanks to the 1960’s Counter-Culture revolution he had plenty of support from California Democrats in the State House and Senate.

The 10 largest reservoirs in California were built between 1927 and 1979. The New Melones Dam was the last of these, work already advanced enough that they couldn’t kill it. It was completed in 1979. Since then, 15 million more people have been added to the state’s population.

To a certain extent the voters cannot be blamed, since they have approved 15 of 16 state water bonds since 1970, yet this did not deliver major new water storage or canals nor maintain existing infrastructure. They can be blamed for voting in the likes of Brown and company who either didn’t care or actively opposed such plans.

Since California is basically a desert state, with a geological history of droughts, this was going to bite them in the bum sooner or later and the irony is that the worst drought in decades started not long after Brown climbed back into the throne in 2011 for another two-terms as Governor.

He wasn’t helped by the fact that his immediate predecessor. two term GOP Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger (2003-2011), while hectoring state residents about global warming, green energy, wind and solar power in a beautiful example of UniParty thinking, allowed things to get even crazier, as this 2010 report noted:

It started with a 2008 federal court order that stopped water flowing from northern tributaries on a supposed need to protect a small fish — the delta smelt — that was getting ground up in the turbines of pump stations that divert the water south. The court knew it was bad law, but Congress refused to exempt the fish from the Endangered Species Act and the diversion didn’t help the fish.

After that, the water cutoff was blamed on “drought,” though northern reservoirs are currently full. Now the cry is “save the salmon,” a reference to water needs of the state’s northern fisheries.

Whatever the excuse, 75% of the fresh water that has historically irrigated California is now being washed to the open sea. For farmers in the southwest part of the valley, last year’s cutoff amounted to 90%.

It was also a waste of time for the fish, as reported by The Wall Street Journal in 2015:

“To protect smelt from water pumps, government regulators have flushed 1.4 trillion gallons of water into the San Francisco Bay since 2008

That would have been enough to sustain 6.4 million Californians for six years. Yet a survey of young adult smelt in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta last fall yielded just eight fish, the lowest level since 1967.”

“Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.”

So no extra storage provided in those eight years either and water sent running to the sea. Actually that’s what Noah Cross did in the movie Chinatown. Of course, he was one of the creepiest movie villains of all time, whereas this was done by Congress and environmentalists, which somehow makes it better.

As a result there was no margin for error left in the system and as the drought grew worse in Brown’s first term he finally had no choice but to impose water restrictions, starting in 2015 with a target of 25% usage reduction and then going even harder in 2018:

California citizens will be limited to using 55 gallons of water a day now and just 50 per day by 2030.

According to the San Jose  Mercury News, the new laws will “require cities, water districts and large agricultural water districts to set strict annual water budgets, face fines of $1,000 per day if they don’t meet them, and $10,000 a day during drought emergencies.”

As some have noted, the restriction could make it difficult for some California citizens to do laundry and take a shower on the same day without going over the limit.

Naturally, rather than blaming themselves for the short-sighted decisions over the years, or changing their minds and policies, the California Democrats began attacking the state’s agricultural industry for “wasting” the water. However:

It’s now popular to deride California agriculture in cost-benefit terms, given that its share of state GNP (anywhere from 4 percent to 8 percent, depending on how one counts related industries) supposedly does not justify its huge allotted consumption of state water (anywhere from 65 percent to 80 percent). But note the irony: California supplies a staggering percentage of the nation’s fresh vegetables and fruits; it’s among the most efficient producers in the world of beef, dairy, and staple crops.

One can purchase an iPhone 6 or a neat new Apple watch, but he still must eat old-fashioned, pre-tech food. There are no calories in Facebook, and even Google can’t supply protein. On the other hand, I can live without an iPad. Who is to say which industry is essential and which isn’t?

The drought would grind on for fifty months as Brown and friends watched in a calm and detached manner the inland parts of the State start to die:

[As of 2015 the]Central California water table has fallen in depth anywhere from 50 to 500 feet—the severity predicated on the distance from the Sierra Nevada Mountains. That decline has prompted the drilling of thousands of new private wells, but at costs often quadruple the pre-drought rate.

Small rural homes with dry wells, especially along the western corridors of the valley, are now often abandoned. If they had been rented out, several years of rental income would not have paid for the exorbitant cost of new replacement domestic wells. Most valley residents, especially those retired, could not afford the $60- to $100-a-foot expense to drill down hundreds of feet to tap falling water.

There were also perverse results in agriculture:

The huge demand for limited drilling rigs, the need to drill to unprecedented levels to find water, the soaring power bills to pump from greater depths, and the increase in permanent orchard and vineyard acreage all conspired to spike agricultural expenses.

Only the record net profits from almonds (between $5,000 and $9,000 per acre) allow new wells to be drilled. The larger the farm, the more frequently profitable almonds are planted, the more reasonably an operation can afford the cost of buying scarce surface water or drilling deeper—and the more likely smaller farmers sell or lease out their ground to those with the capital to make the costly transition to almond and other nut orchards.

So the Big Guys got even bigger thanks to the Democrats and with even more mono-cropping. In addition almonds and other nuts are the most mechanized of all crops, so that crunched down hard on the working classes who otherwise would have had thousands of farm jobs in the vineyards and fruit orchards that were ripped out to plant almonds. The final joke is that these crops use about the same amount of water per year, so no water savings on that front.

The following is an excellent documentary on the Central Valley disaster, Dead Harvest:

Après nous, le déluge

Meteorologists had long forecasted that the cyclical return of the so-called El Niño Southern Oscillation – the rise in temperature of a band of ocean water that develops in the central and east-central equatorial Pacific – would end the California drought. The warmer Pacific alters winds, air temperature, and atmospheric pressures and thus reroutes northern storms to their proper course over the Western United States.

At the end of 2015 that is exactly what happened.

The cherry on top of this whole drought disaster was that when the rain and snow finally did start to fall and as the weather turned even wetter through 2016 and 2017, there was nowhere to store all that extra water.

There would have been if the giant reservoirs of The Sites, Los Banos Grandes, and Temperance Flat had been built – basically the second stage of the California State Water Project. They would have drought-proofed the state for years. To make matters worse, the existing, aging infrastructure, starved of maintenance for years, could barely cope, as witnessed by the crumbling spillways of the Oroville Dam, the tallest dam in the United States, which threatened a massive breach in early 2017.

Given the lack of water-storage capacity, and due to environmental diversions, 20 million acre-feet of precious water had simply been washed to the ocean by early 2017. That’s 6.5 trillion gallons or 24.6 trillion litres of water: enough to sustain about twenty million Californians for ten years.

That is criminal mismanagement. About the only thing that is funny about it is that a bunch of arrogant, ignorant environmental fantasists have found themselves at the mercy of early and mid-20th century water systems that they now condemn.

There is also some irony in the fact that while the likes of Brown and Newsom politicised the drought by blaming man-made global warming and leveraged that to obtain even more extreme environmental rules and nutty projects like high speed trains, instead of attending to water infrastructure (among other basics) – the Meteorological analysis that accurately forecast what would end the last drought also works in the opposite direction; a natural, cyclical and slight cooling of the Pacific Ocean will cause future droughts in California.

And that’s before we get to the likelihood of the return of mega-droughts lasting 100, 200 years or more.

Will the Democrat government of Californian be ready for the next drought? I don’t think so. To paraphrase the French diplomat, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, officials in Sacramento “have learned nothing, and forgotten nothing.”

But that’s okay. The state needs to shrink drastically anyway. Losing twenty million people to other states would fit the population to the old infrastructure and make the place sustainable again.

Written by Tom Hunter

May 10, 2021 at 6:00 am

2 Responses

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  1. Well done Tom, another well presented & researched article.

    uncoffined

    May 10, 2021 at 8:57 am

    • Thanks.

      The thing is that because California has long been seen, and sees itself, as the future of America and thus the world, a lot of this crap has come down here to NZ since the late 1960’s, and more is on the way.

      Fortunately, at least when it comes to water I don’t think we can screw it up here in New Zealand since we have so much of it. Still, I’m reminded of the classic joke that Milton Friedman made:

      “If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in 5 years there’d be a shortage of sand.”

      Tom Hunter

      May 10, 2021 at 10:20 am


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