California

California Drought a Shortage of Water or Common Sense?

State and feds about to empty reservoirs to save a few fish

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Californians seem to have remarkably good attitudes about the sacrifices they'll make as the drought heads into its fourth year. Based on polls, they even are supportive of crackdowns on excessive water use, which may explain Gov. Jerry Brown's recent call for $500 fines for those who over-water their lawns or take excessively long showers.

But how tolerant will the public remain about slashing water use once they realize how state and federal officials are using — some would say squandering — the state's dwindling resources?

On Tuesday, I attended a packed meeting at the Oakdale Irrigation District east of Modesto, where farmers and residents questioned a plan to lower water levels at the massive New Melones Reservoir — and possibly drain Lake Tulloch, a small lake surrounded by homes in the Sierra foothills.

Here's the rub: The water isn't being released to benefit farms and homes. It is being released to help coax a handful of steelhead trout to swim to the ocean. A "pulse flow" was scheduled for Wednesday, but has been delayed amid the dispute. But large releases are imminent.

When one official said he anticipated the "need" to release more water, a board member snapped back: "The need or the want? What will be the flow for those nine steelhead?" That's dark humor given the small number of fish that would potentially benefit from the planned releases.

"It's not just about depleting the water supply for people and pitting people against fish," said Andrea Fuller, a biologist and co-owner of Fishbio, which counts fish on the Stanislaus River for the irrigation district. "They (the government agencies) are putting in jeopardy the very fish they are trying to save." That's because the agencies want to release so much water that it is depleting the cold, deeper water the fish thrive in. Yet in meetings with officials, she's found it hard to have a logical discussion.

"Fish and people, people and fish," said Oakdale Irrigation District general manager Steve Knell, during the board meeting. In his view, that's a false dichotomy. Both can be served – but he said there's a need for "off ramps" during times of crisis so that water can be diverted to the highest needs, namely people and the economy. (Environmentalists argue that even though the numbers of fish are small, it's an indicator of bigger ecological problems.)

In March, the federal agencies had negotiated a compromise with the irrigation districts. Water releases would continue and the districts agree to give up a significant amount of their allotment. In exchange, the feds would allow New Melones to fall to a lower level than they preferred given they want more water available in the fall to boost seasonal salmon runs. In the meantime everyone would do what signs on nearby farms say: "Pray for rain."

But the Bureau of Reclamation had been backing away. Then the environmentalist-oriented State Water Resources Control Board released an order critical of the deal. It wants more water flows now to benefit the Delta – and a much higher water level in the fall for the salmon. That means more water now and later, all of which must come from the irrigation districts and their customers. This set up the first round of civil disobedience.

The feds last week released water from New Melones. It feeds into Tulloch, which the irrigation districts control. The districts would not release that water. "What if we told them to go to hell?" asked one Oakdale Irrigation District board member. That's the 100,000 acre-foot question now at issue. A deal was worked out that reduced the tensions, but it still includes large water releases to benefit the fish even as the state struggles with drought.

"The policy is breathtakingly stupid at both the state and federal levels and is being administered by ideological zealots who can't be reasoned with," said U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock, a Republican who represents the district. "I was beating the drums on this last year and nobody paid any attention." That's because no one believed government policy could be so misbegotten.

Now we have sizable communities that eventually might open the spigots and have no water, to help a fish so common I had it for dinner this week. When will Californians start noticing?

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77 responses to “California Drought a Shortage of Water or Common Sense?

  1. The Bureau of Ministry of the Division managing the resource of human department. “Worse than worthless micromanaging parasites” should be in neon above every govt agency.

  2. Forget it, Jake. It’s California.

  3. OT: Officials are planning to top the bars of the White House fence with spikes in order to discourage jumpers.

    “We have developed an effective interim solution for the White House fence consisting of a removable anti-climb feature that attaches to the existing fence.”

    Emphasis added.

    1. Presumably it’s removal from the inside.

      They don’t want the White House to look like a prison in the photo ops.

      1. They don’t want the White House to look like a prison in the photo ops.

        So, *pop-up* impalers?

        1. Bouncing Bettys?

    2. Release the hounds…

      1. Release the Kraken!

    3. The better to put the heads of your enemies on.

  4. I may have gotten the link from an earlier Reason article, but this is worth a read to understand how utterly mendacious the environmentalists have been on this issue. I’m not super thrilled about farmers enjoying below-market pricing for water, but lying outright about their usage certainly isn’t the best way to go about rectifying that.

    Besides, the utility model for parceling out water rights might have at least a little something to do with market distortions.

    1. Annnnnnnnnnd it looks like Dalmia addressed this in the previous article.

  5. How in the actual fuck would someone know if I’m taking an “extra long shower”?

    Now all I can picture is Governor Moonbeam in front of a large bank of CCTVs, a la Sliver.

    1. How in the actual fuck would someone know if I’m taking an “extra long shower”?

      Sorry, KK, classified. National State security, you know.

    2. How in the actual fuck would someone know if I’m taking an “extra long shower”?

      Sex caming has consequences.

    3. How in the actual fuck would someone know if I’m taking an “extra long shower”?

      Why, based on reports from the Suede Denim Secret Police. Duh.

      But seriously, look for someone to propose mandatory “smart” water meters that report your use to the government. Any continuous flow of more than one minute is a violation and results in a fine. Also, see my comment below.

      1. LADWP has already started rolling them out.

    4. They will encourage children to report on their parents. And neighbors to listen at the walls and time their neighbors showers.

  6. a removable anti-climb feature

    Once the Ascended One has left the White House, it will no longer be needed. Besides, who cares if somebody goes after a Republican President?

  7. Every home in California will be retrofitted with coin-operated showers; like car washes.

    1. Will the showerheads vibrate like certain motel mattresses?

    2. All right! Use “gray water” for taking your shower!

      1. No, ideally the gray water is used for flushing toilets or watering lawns, but that requires a lot of extra plumbing and holding tanks and the inevitability that someone will drink gray water and sue someone.

        1. I know that in our area, the inspectors freak out if someone installs rainbarrels and then uses that water for toilets, etc…

          It doesn’t say anything about this in the codes!

          1. The fear is that someone will plumb it up wrong and create a system where non-approved water could backflow into the municipal water system. Also, health department nannies often construe gray water as “raw sewage”.

            1. Oh I know, it’s just that it’s funny to watch them run around in a panic because the codes don’t cover it and they have no idea what to do, even when the gray water system is wholly separate from the city supply.

              So they force the contractors to install backflow preventers on systems that aren’t even connected to the municipal water supply in any way.

              1. But in the mind of a government regulator the moment they leave you’ll connect that gray water system to the muni. Don’t you know that without the benevolent oversight of the state that we’d all kill outselves!

                1. And those of us with private wells still have to follow the idiotic LCD code even though there is no danger of contaminating anyone else’s water.

          2. “That which is not specifically allowed, is forbidden.”

    3. Low flow shower heads.

      1. God, I hate low flow plumbing fixtures. Water flows out the top of my well sometimes. And after I use it it goes right back into the ground. I don’t need to conserve water.

  8. The schadenfreude is delicious. And I know that makes me a bad person. 🙁

  9. One of the problems with this, that not enough people talk about, is that because the government is in control of the infrastructure, they look at things like water control in terms of its potential as an emergency rather than a resource. All of the flood control/storm water infrastructure, across the state and in the major cities themselves, is mostly about getting rain water out of the streets and into the ocean as quickly as possible.

    Private enterprise wouldn’t have built the infrastructure that way. That water is a resource–not just a short term flooding problem–and private enterprise would have built the flood control/storm drain infrastructure in such a way as to collect as much of it as possible for use rather than just flushing it out into the ocean as quickly as possible to avoid flooding.

    A lot of people are talking about climate change on this issue, but there are less expensive and more effective solutions to these problems that don’t require the entire world’s cooperation to address. I’ve even heard people reference the high speed rail project as part of the solution to the drought. If the government has to be involved, they should be spending money on the misguided infrastructure that’s flushing an incredible amount of storm water out into the ocean every year.

    Why spend money on desalination and high speed rail while we’re pouring good water down the drain?

    1. All of the flood control/storm water infrastructure, across the state and in the major cities themselves, is mostly about getting rain water out of the streets and into the ocean as quickly as possible.

      Dude. No *wonder* sea level is rising!

      1. [golf clap]

      2. Yes, it does: twice a day, and then mysteriously drops.

    2. One of the problems with this, that not enough people talk about, is that because the government is in control of the infrastructure, they look at things like water control in terms of its potential as an emergency rather than a resource.

      This *will* work the other way too. The drought will cease and no longer be a problem *or* will become historic, and de facto, man-made.

      Then… relief dollars will flow, trading schemes will be set up and taxes will be levied… commerce clause… Hawaiians, Alaskans, and UPers will pay tax dollars to provide Californians with fresh water.

    3. The trouble is the logistics of storage. What is characteristic of the CA climate is years of dryness followed by massive inundation. When it rains it pours, and there is literally no place for all the water to go other than the sea. The only solution is to build more reservoirs, but the political opposition to those was mentioned in Dalmia’s article. Without more reservoirs, you need some way to get rid of the water. Berkeley has terrible troubles during massive rains because they literally have NO storm drain system to speak of, so the whole place floods something fierce whenever El Nino hits.

      Agreed that a freer market would lead to more reservoirs and help with the water-supply issue, but we would still need massive flood control infrastructure, because that’s just how CA is.

      1. There was at least one lake in California that was drained by American settlers plus there are several dry lakes and intermittent lakes… all these could be used for reservoirs.

        Maybe a Chicago River-style project to reverse the Los Angeles River and other intermittent rivers could be done to collect rainwater into new and existing reservoirs.

      2. We can all hope for massive rains in the Bay Area in the hope of flushing Berkeley.

  10. California bureaucrats are the trendsetters, the futurists for the rest of the country. They’re proud of their accomplishments, from low-flo toilets that clog the sewers to Tier-4 diesels that require constant maintenance.

    1. It’s absurd, isn’t it? I recently bought a kitchen faucet that was Cali-approved. I laughed my ass off at the pathetic trickle of water with the stupid flow restrictor in. Of course, it took only 5 seconds to de-Cali the thing, but I feel for the manufacturers who have to tow the crazy lion.

      1. What they’ve done to engines is reprehensible. Tier IV diesels cost twice as much as Tier III, perform worse, and are less reliable. And don’t even talk about what happens when they idle too much.

      2. What is the flow rate for cali-approved? The standard 2.5 GPM i sbad enough. Especially for a kitchen faucet where you often want to fill something with water as quickly as possible. Same with tub fillers. What the hell is the point of low flow for a fixture that is only ever used to fill a vessel with water?

        1. 1.5 gpm

    2. They’re proud of their accomplishments, from low-flo toilets that clog the sewers to Tier-4 diesels that require constant maintenance.

      And I’m sure many Californians lap that shit up.

      1. Oh, it’s common in LA for people to get low-flo toilets for the home inspection and then remove the restrictors for regular use.

    3. Remember, don’t flush those flusable wipes. They are not flushable and, with low-flow toilets they hang up in the sewer line. They don’t deteriorate like toilet paper. I just had thousands of dollars spent on a condo that flooded because residents were using these non-flushable wipes.

  11. On NPR the other night there was a report about some eco activists who cruise the streets of San Diego looking for puddles and wet gutters, trace the flow back to its source, and rat out the “violators.” This is how the police state begins, people, with the very best intentions.

    1. They could be easily baited. How does eco-activist taste?

      1. Think muskrat, but more gamey.

        1. Sausage it is then

      2. They could be easily baited. How does eco-activist taste?

        After going through the death stills, they will taste like everything else in the sietch; melange.

        1. You owe me one keyboard.

        2. Here’s an idea! All Californian’s must wear stillsuits while outdoors. And by Fremen law anyone caught in the open without a stillsuit loses their water (life).

          Now we just need sand worn to ride around and that would solve all our climate change problems.

        3. Here’s an idea! All Californian’s must wear stillsuits while outdoors. And by Fremen law anyone caught in the open without a stillsuit loses their water (life).

          Now we just need sand worn to ride around and that would solve all our climate change problems.

      3. Probably like BO since they don’t wast water on showers. That said, their body water could be used to water the flowers quite effectively.

        1. I wouldn’t want my garden to smell like patchouli.

    2. “It’s a few minutes after sunrise and Travis Pritchard and Jamie Hampton are stalking waterways through the streets of San Diego.”

      Surprised they published the snitches’ names.

      1. RAZAK: Please keep a bucket in your shower and that heat-up water that gets wasted, collect that and do anything you want to do with it, including fixing pasta if you wanted to.

        Is Razak saying cook with bathwater? Am I reading this right?

        1. +1 Cosmo Kramer

        2. Yeah, I’d forgotten about that. Totally maddening idiocy. There are some good conservation ideas out there (gray water for toilet flushing and lawn watering), but those get overshadowed by the idiotic suggestions of people like RAZAK.

        3. Well, you do that the day after you eat a lot of onions and garlic and your pasta comes out pre-seasoned. Throw a little butter or olive oil on there and you’re all set.

    3. Be a shame if those “narcs” were involved in a car-pedestrian accident.

  12. I’m sure this idea is not popular with the people of CA, but maybe, just maybe, it isn’t a great idea to build public infrastructure to make it easier for more people to live in an area where droughts like this are a regular feature of the climate. People should do what they want. But you don;t have to encourage them.
    It’s somewhat parallel to subsidizing flood insurance.

    1. Why do you hate the poor and elderly?

      /prog

    2. But, Jerry told us in the 70’s that “if we don’t build it, they won’t come”, and we believed and he stopped building, but they came anyway.
      What do we do now that the population has doubled, and the infrastructure is virtually the same as we had then?

  13. DESALINATION. You don’t even have to pump the 2 kilos of 1.5 times as salty water back in the sea. Take it out and sell it as California Sea Salt…

    1. DESALINATION. You don’t even have to pump the 2 kilos of 1.5 times as salty water back in the sea. Take it out and sell it as California Sea Salt…

      No money for desalination, all spent on high-speed trains.

  14. How about they just catch the fish and eat them? This is why I have no desire to go to California. Ever.

    1. California is a nice place to visit but you wouldn’t want to live here.

  15. Kalifornia – the land of fruits, nuts, vegetables and other morons.

  16. They could try pricing the water based on usage. I lived in CA back in the 1970s when there was water rationing but still a lot of people had no meters on their water use. I think many areas still are not metered. Metered water can be priced based on how much is used — the more use, the higher the price. There’s a lot of yelling going on about rich people in Beverly Hills watering their lawns and golf courses in Palm Springs, but if water was priced high enough even those people might look into cutting back. How about figuring out the cost of supplying water and then charging agriculture accordingly? Maybe there would be fewer water-intensive crops and/or there would be incentive to use more drip irrigation rather than flooding and big sprinklers. Israel learned how to do it. Maybe we can, too. The six fish might have to bite the dust. The fish huggers might have to get out of the way. Or… people could move. A lot of them are doing it.

  17. You can save a little heating energy in the cool months by not pulling the plug on your warm bath until three hours after you’ve left it.

  18. Kalifornia is defined by, “Stupid is as stupid does.”

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