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California Water

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California refuses to deal with its water shortages in any kind of serious way. It’s so bad that even the articles yelling at California about how to take it seriously don’t really even themselves because they leave out agriculture, which is far and away the largest consumer of the state’s water. That said, this implicates us all because so many of the fruits and vegetables we eat, especially in the winter, come from California.

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  • Derelict

    California’s water problem will be dealt with the way present-day Americans deal with all such things: It will be ignored until something catastrophic happens. And by catastrophic, I mean it will likely involve water being cut off for some group of people (whether that’s ag or, more likely, pockets of poor people).

    When lettuce hits $20 a head in New York and/or oranges disappear from grocery shelves, THEN people might start taking California’s water crisis seriously.

    • Brett

      They’ll make some adjustments, but actual restrictions on agricultural water use won’t happen until or unless it becomes a choice between a major inconvenience for the bulk of the population in urban areas or tighter water restrictions for farmers. Voters aren’t going to be happy letting farms guzzle water if it means they can only take a shower once a week.

  • Jackov

    Fucking nuts

    • Ruviana
    • ThrottleJockey

      Fucking nuts almonds.

      FIFY

  • Cheerful

    In a situation like this I always wonder where the market is really breaking down. 75-83% of water usage in CA is for agriculture (I have seen both figures) and much of it appears to be for things not hugely necessary, rice and almonds, not really suited for a desert environment. If water had a market price, a price that did not just reflect current availability but future need to store water, would rice and almonds and cattle be priced out of California?

    • Just_Dropping_By

      If water had a market price, a price that did not just reflect current availability but future need to store water, would rice and almonds and cattle be priced out of California?

      Yes, this is one of the main points from the documentary version of Cadillac Desert (I still haven’t read the book, but I would presume it is consistent with the documentary).

      • Thom

        It is a good point, and the water problem is serious. But to be clear and precise, the parts of California where rice (the Sacramento River delta) and almonds (the Sacramento and San Joaquin river valleys, together known as the Central Valley) are grown are not by any means desert environments. The Imperial Valley, hundreds of miles to the south, where many of our winter vegetables come from, is desert. And the far southern part of the Central Valley, where there are no almonds or rice, is at least verging on desert.

        • Lurker

          I think that while Southern Californians love calling their land “desert”, much of it is actually semi-desert, as it grows grass during the rainy season. Only the easternmost parts, that are uninhabited, are real desert.

          • Phaius

            Most of California is classed as a mediterranean climate. What this means is most of the year is dry, while several months of the year in Winter are wet (well, when drought isn’t happening). There are zones within it that sort of defy this, like the coast redwood belt, but if you look at rainfall patterns, they fall within mediterranean. This zone actually extends up into south western Oregon (they can grow things that the rest of Oregon has a hard time with)

            People in So. Cal do love calling their land a desert (and no, escaped cactuses and native yucca don’t make it one), but if you’re west of the mountains, you’re in the mediterranean zone. Look at the remaining patches of undeveloped land within LA and you’ll see the classic mediterranean habitats of California: coast live oak and grassland, or chaparral shrub land.

          • Richard Hershberger

            The Mojave, which is inhabited (or at least was when I lived there), is definitely a desert. Not all desert is equally deserted. There are parts where you can drive for a significant distance without seeing human habitation. But places like Barstow or Twentynine Palms are also desert.

            • Phaius

              Correct. Anything east of the Transverse/coast ranges and south of that funny curve of the Sierras that runs into the Transverse ranges is desert. The desert also sits east of the Sierras as well. This is why Mono Lake is close to Yosemite, but it is definitely desert because it sits in the rain shadow of the Sierras.

        • sparks

          Thank you. I’ve seen this sort of ignorance before, as if Northern California apart from San Francisco only existed as a region to grow pot. I live not too far from where there are lots of rice fields, and I’ve been to where they grow onions, garlic, and asparagus. If anyone here had ever seen the film Fat City, well, they still grow onions there.

    • NewishLawyer

      Water Rights are mentioned in the California Constitution.

      Good luck in changing this to get a market price in…

      • Funkhauser

        As you’re probably aware, the CA Constitution is constantly amended by both referenda and the Legislature. It’s not a high hurdle.

  • Mudge

    It affects us all, not sure we are implicated. But, unless the climate out west becomes much wetter, California will need to desalinate ocean water. A cubic mile of water is 1.1 trillion gallons, enough to provide over 30,000 gallons per resident. Should be enough. Yes it will cost a bundle, but at some point California might realize it needs to find that bundle.

    And recycling excess agricultural water also requires desalination.

    • Cheerful

      I assume by now someone has worked out the logistics and practicality of towing really large sheets of ice out of the Antarctic vis a vis desalinating?

      Though now that I give it a minute’s thought, ways of getting a really large sheet of ice to go where you want it to may be limited.

      • Halloween Jack

        It’s been bandied about before (Saudi Arabia was looking at it seriously for a while, IIRC), but getting your fresh water from the polar regions is looking less and less feasible as the amount of polar ice continues to shrink.

      • Brett

        As Halloween Jack pointed out, they did look at it back in the 1970s and 1980s. The problem is that towing an iceberg for thousands of miles is dangerous (they have a tendency to flip over), and of course it’s a race against time to get the freshwater from the ice before it melts into the warmer seas. Not to mention that dumping a ton of cold fresh water into a warm, shallow sea environment probably isn’t good for the local ecosystem.

  • Coconinoite

    Part of the equation is western water law, which will never get changed. I understand that on NM acequias (irrigation ditches), prior to NM becoming part of the U.S., water shortages or dry years were moderated by the majordomo and parcientes such that all received a reduced share, even though priority dates were still well-documented (one in my work turf has a 16-something priority date). With western law, first in time equals winner-take-all in dry years, and many junior rights are just a piece of paper. As a side note, I tell my kid if I had to do it all over again, I’d have become a water law attorney (recent law industry woes notwithstanding).

    • advocatethis

      When I was in college in the early 80s I looked into whether I could concentrate on water law (I was a public admin major) and there was nothing being taught about it.

  • Tom Till

    Victor Davis Hanson knows whose fault it is: Liberals! Especially those “subsidized” college professors in Bel Air and Carmel with their swimming pools.

    • muddy

      Interesting that his solution involves less Mexicans but plenty of water for (raisin) farmers. I know he takes everything personally, but damn! And it has a mis-used Classics quote, would not be VDH without that.

      • advocatethis

        He’s also wrong about where Silicon Valley gets its water; although Silicon Valley is not a fixed geographical place, what we commonly think of as SV is almost all in Santa Clara County, which does not get its water from Hetch-Hetchy.

        • The Dark Avenger

          San Jose gets half their water from the Sierras, and I believe some of that includes, or did include water from HH.

    • Phaius

      Has he actually looked at a satellite image of Carmel Valley? It’s narrow and the population is only about 5,000 residents. He also talks about Pebble Beach, except they use reclaimed water. The water district they fall under is CalAm which is actually trying to get a desalinization project off the ground because they just don’t have enough water for new construction.

  • NewishLawyer

    Do you realize that the Gizmodo list is basically fascist and unrealistic? I don’t think you could even get away with these things in Europe where they tolerate these draconian measures.

    Gawker Media seems to be the home of the unrealistic rant and people who don’t quite understand how democracy and representative government work.

    Plus a lot of it is rather not true. Arizona and Nevada have plenty of green lawns years round.

    How does banning car washes work? People will just wash their own cars?

    I live in the Bay Area and think the California drought is pretty serious but posting a rant from Gawker which ignores the fact that Water Rights are mentioned in the California Constitution and doesn’t deal with the fact that we live in representative democracy is not being realistic.

    • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

      Really? IIRC cities all over the West have already taken a lot of those steps in previous droughts: “banning” car washes and watering lawns is really just imposing fines for watering your lawn (ie you forget to turn off your sprinkler system and a passing cop notices it) or washing your car in your driveway. A lot of suburban subdivisions require lawn maintenance as a condition of ownership, so you could conceivably also help things by prohibiting that. I still don’t think they’d fix the drought situation by themselves.

    • Some of those rules are things that do happen in Europe (one of the Harry Potter books opens with the description of a heat wave that has left all the neighborhood lawns dying because of a “garden hose ban”). I don’t know how far you could get with regulations that would put people out of business (golf courses, car washes) though you could certainly fine them.

      Planting appropriate plants in public parks is something that has gotten a very serious push in Israel in the last decade and a half. There’s a funny-looking type of tree from, I think, Australia that’s become the go-to planting for park planners.

      Something that article only barely mentions is raising public awareness. I was taught to conserve water from childhood – turn the water off when you’re soaping the dishes, take shorter showers, don’t run the washing machine unless you have a full load – and it’s still very ingrained even though Israel has been water-independent for several years now. A friend of my brother’s worked for a few years for a government program where he knocked on people’s doors and installed water-saving gizmos on all their faucets. That’s obviously not very helpful if domestic use is such a small part of your consumption, but creating the awareness that water is a resource to be guarded has value in itself.

      • The Dark Avenger

        Israeli led the world in developing drip technology to use for growing crops, IIRC.

    • ScarsdaleVibe

      It’s definitely unrealistic. Fascist? Don’t be an idiot. Banning lawns is hardly fascist, even if “the people” really like them.

      • Lurker

        In fact, a fascist government would be unable to enforce that kind of ban. Dictatorships are notoriously bad in changing people’s misbehaviour.

        A democratic government which is widely perceived legitimate can, on the other hand, effect extremely heavy-handed political measures. If you compare the strictness of British and German domestic policies during WWII, you will be surprised.

      • StarryEyedHater

        First they came for the lawns..

    • Ginger Yellow

      I don’t think you could even get away with these things in Europe where they tolerate these draconian measures.

      You could and did. See for instance the hosepipe ban in the UK, which gets imposed every few years for months at a time.

    • Linnaeus

      How does banning car washes work? People will just wash their own cars?

      That’s probably what would happen. From a water runoff management perspective, that’s worse than a car wash because the water discharge from someone washing at home will usually go to a storm sewer system, which means it will be discharged untreated (and hence full of detergents, oils & greases, sediments, etc.) to whatever the receiving water is. A car wash’s discharge is highly regulated and is sent to a sanitary sewer system, where it is treated. That’s why in many communities, car owners are discouraged from washing their cars outside of a car wash.

    • ninja3000

      My local carwash here in upstate NY recycles its own water supply. I don’t know offhand whether there are NYS regs covering this, but it strikes me as something you’d see in California, no?

  • Seitz

    This crisis is already having a devastating impact on some of us in the Midwest. To wit, I haven’t been able to get any Bear Republic Racer 5 in Chicago for quite a while now, and I’m not happy about it. If this starts to impact Firestone Walker, I may have to go out there and dig a few wells myself.

    • DrS

      Oh, we’ve got plenty of wells. Don’t mean too much when the groundwater is gone.

  • Stag Party Palin

    California refuses to deal with its water shortages in any kind of serious way.

    The moves under discussion are California State moves. I believe much of agricultural water is federal. Thus, just because these current moves are aimed at non-ag does not mean ag is being completely ignored by the state. Federal law is horrible, but moot here.

    It’s so bad that even the articles yelling at California about how to take it seriously don’t really even themselves because they leave out agriculture, which is far and away the largest consumer of the state’s water.

    Yes, and also that article leaves out recycled water. For instance, recycled water supplies 76% of Los Angeles city municipal golf courses’ needs with a goal of 85% by 2017. Muni courses are in better shape than most private courses (high-line courses excepted because money continues to talk).

    That said, this implicates us all because so many of the fruits and vegetables we eat, especially in the winter, come from California.

    And in other seasons they come from Chile, ffs. This point is very difficult to support. You’ve got to define some kind of line in the sand, not just condemn us all for eating. Also, our choices today all have problems, and it’s only us hippies that will ever be likely to boycott anything, making the boycott a practical failure. As daunting as it might be, this is an issue that has to be settled by policy.

  • Francis

    You know nothing John Snow.

    Water policy in California is local. Treating 38 million people and thousands of water agencies as a unified whole is, well, just wrong. MWD is a huge agency with a very complex portfolio of rights and infrastructure, but it’s only one of about 30 agencies that make up the State Water Project Contractors. And looking downstream, the City of Long Beach is one of dozens of members of MWD, but MWD is not its sole source of supply; the City has its own complicated portfolio of rights and infrastructure. The same local / regional / statewide combinations play out statewide.

    At some point someone’s going to say that water is too cheap. After I’m done screaming inside, I’ll point out, again, that it’s the very rare liberal who holds the position that rivalrous public goods should be allocated based on ability to pay. (instead of, for example, need.) And I’ll also point out that such a system will push all farmers to grow only the highest value crops. These happen to be nuts and fruits, which grow on trees, which (unlike alfalfa or rice, whose fields can be fallowed in a drought) need water every year.

    So congratulations. By pricing ag water you’ve just made responding to droughts that much harder.

    • Stag Party Palin

      At some point someone’s going to say that water is too cheap.

      For whom? Ag pays far lower prices than residential. Why should I pay five times as much so that someone can grow cheap alfalfa?

      it’s the very rare liberal who holds the position that rivalrous public goods should be allocated based on ability to pay. (instead of, for example, need.)

      I have no idea what this means.

      • Francis

        You pay 5X because you want your water clean and available on demand. City dwellers also tend to be farther from the water source. Neither your supplier nor the farmer’s supplier makes a profit on the transaction (unless your supplier is a utility in which case the profit is set by the PUC).

        Rivalrous public goods — water, space on the freeway. Things that when you use them, someone else can’t. Not many liberals think that putting congestion-priced tolls across all lanes of every crowded freeway is the best way to resolve disputes over access (ie, traffic).

        • xq

          I like congestion pricing, and I think plenty of other liberals do too. Many liberals like carbon taxes or cap-and-trade schemes, which effectively allocate scarce resources by ability to pay. In general, I think it’s better to redistribute wealth rather than goods (there are definitely exceptions, like healthcare), and that allows you to use the price mechanism to deter over-consumption of scarce resources.

        • Stag Party Palin

          You pay 5X because you want your water clean and available on demand. City dwellers also tend to be farther from the water source. Neither your supplier nor the farmer’s supplier makes a profit on the transaction (unless your supplier is a utility in which case the profit is set by the PUC).

          I seriously doubt that the cost of my water is 5X. Personal opinion. Feel free to quote numbers. And profit to the supplier does not enter into this. Federal prices are set in a vacuum, except for the precedent of the last contract. Conveyance is a cost, but it’s not large. So we have low ag water prices that encourage usage of a limited resource. A truly free market in water would encourage efficiency, not discourage it.

          Still not following your rivalrous goods argument, particularly the “not many liberals think….” part. The “ability to pay” vs. “need” also leaves me puzzled. I am not advocating that people get their water for free nor that whoever can pay the most gets all the water. So what’s your solution?

    • Denverite

      Jon Snow

      • Francis

        nuts.

  • RobertL

    Australia is a land of “droughts and flooding rains” as the poem says.

    We have had sprinkler rosters since I was a child.

    During the millennium drought we had progressively stricter and stricter rules imposed. We also had government subsidies to install rain water tanks to capture rooftop runoff. They had been popular in the past but had fallen out of favour.

    Anyway, we installed a tank and an irrigation system and so did a gazillion other Australians and kept our gardens.

    Of course, then we had a flood.

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