Tag archive for water

Ojai water district “excited” by report of water in mountains

Yesterday the Casitas Municipal Water District‘s management staff and Board of Directors held a meeting and heard a “Preliminary Water Security Project Analysis” report from two consultants, including hydrogeologist Jordan Kear, who has been surveying the Ojai Valley for years for a groundwater agency, and knows its geology well. (Note: the project analysis is attached to the agenda for the meeting at the bottom of the doc).

Let me just cut to the chase: Kear identified a large geological formation called the Matilija Sandstone that contains — history indicates and the geology verifies — a substantial amount of water.

A band of sandstone runs through the coastal mountains behind Santa Barbara all the way south to the mountains behind Lake Casitas. Drilling long tunnels (or “adits”) into the rock could allow the district to recover water stored in the porous rock over eons without pumping.

Here’s a slide from the presentation. Follow Santa Ana Creek north (up) and you’ll see it almost meets the planned 10,000 foot “Central Hobo” bore line. “HoBos” stands for horizontal bores.


Kear estimates that the formation, which in this area is about six miles long and 2,000 feet deep, at an elevation of about 3000 feet, contains a minimum of 29,000 acre feet of decent quality mountain water, by a conservative estimate, or as much as 216,000 acre feet of water, by a liberal estimate.

That’s more water that can be stored in Lake Casitas, possibly.

The idea is that the formation will serve as a backup bank for the lake, to be called on in times of drought. The formation does recharge, Kear estimates, at 2,000 acre-feet a year on average, so if the district calls on the bank when in drought, and the formation is what it is estimated to be, that would give the water district access to a large amount of water at a reasonable price — $5.6 million per bore, or less than a $1000 per acre-foot.

Which is a bargain. The city of Ventura has estimated that state water, if available, will cost about $2000 an acre foot, and desalinated water would cost about $2400 an acre-foot, according to board member Bill Hicks.

In his presentation, Kear noted that when Santa Barbara authorities drilled into the same sandstone formation back in the 1950’s to construct the Tecolote Tunnel, they saw “an increase in flow from about 1,000 gallons per minute, to 7000 gallons per minute.” Kear believes that tunnel is an excellent proxy for the proposed HoBos.

The Board approved further investigation of the project by a unanimous vote (although it did not close the door on an “intertie” to the State Water Project with the City of Ventura, which is already working on such a plan).

After the vote, Board Member Russ Baggerly declared “This is exciting!”

A possible solution to drought-caused water panic for one community in Southern California? Yes — exciting is a fair description. Shocking might be another word.

Full Story »

Can Las Vegas grow without limits in a drought?

Abraham Lustgarten, a top-notch reporter for the public interest site Pro Publica, a couple of years ago wrote the toughest story on fracking ever, in my limited experience.

Here's the money quote from that piece from 2012:

…in interviews, several key experts acknowledged that the idea that injection [of oilfield wastes in underground wells] is safe rests on science that has not kept pace with reality, and on oversight that doesn't always work.

"In 10 to 100 years we are going to find out that most of our groundwater is polluted," said Mario Salazar, an engineer who worked for 25 years as a technical expert with the EPA's underground injection program in Washington. "A lot of people are going to get sick, and a lot of people may die."

Lustgarten's story won a number of awards, and was nominated for the biggest award in environmental reporting. Now he's shifted his focus to water in the West, and this week published by far the most critical story I've seen on Las Vegas water chief Pat Mulroy.

Mulroy is a legend among water experts, and much admired for her ability to talk tough and get results, be it "wet water" for Las Vegas, or conservation from that city. But Lusgarten is not impressed. He takes her on for never once daring to challenge Las Vegas' central creed: development.

…an examination of Mulroy’s reign shows that, despite her conservation bona fides, she always had one paramount mission: to find more water for Las Vegas and use it to help the city keep expanding.

Mulroy wheeled and dealed, filing for rights to aquifers in northern Nevada for Las Vegas, and getting California to use less water while her city took more. She helped shape legislation that, over her time at the Water Authority, allowed Las Vegas’ metropolitan footprint to more than double. She supported building expensive mechanisms with which to extract more water for the city’s exploding needs – two tunnels out of Lake Mead and a proposed pipeline carrying groundwater from farms in the east of the state. Not once in her tenure did the Authority or the Las Vegas Valley Water District she ran beneath it reject a development proposal based on its use of water. The valley’s total withdrawals from the Colorado River jumped by more than 60 percent on her watch.

Yet even last summer — staring at the effects of growth and drought on the reservoir, where once-drowned islands were visible for the first time in as much as 75 years — Mulroy apologized for none of it. She bridled at the idea that Las Vegas or other desert cities had reached the outer edge of what their environments could support.

“That’s the silliest thing I have ever heard,” she said, her voice rising in anger. “I’ve had it right up to here with all this ‘Stop your growth.’”

It's a great story, and raises the question: How many California communities have dared to limit their growth, based on their water supply? Any?

Can't really accuse "the Water Witch" of short-sightedness and hypocrisy, of course, if she is only doing what every other thirsty community in the West is doing as well.

An example? How about growth in Phoenix, from l960 (in brown) to today (in orange). 


From an interesting and interactive set of graphics that goes with the Killing the Colorado series.

Full Story »

The new California criminal: a waster of resources

From Ted Rall's weekly 'toon in the LATimes:


Reference is to new fines announced this week for water wasted, for as much as $10,000.

Full Story »

California’s water demand: a look at the numbers

Nate Silver's datalab, aka 538, takes a fresh look at the numbers that show California's water demand. Leah Libresco digs up some real gems:

California’s water problem won’t be solved by shorter showers or browner lawns.

In Gov. Jerry Brown’s executive order setting California’s mandatory water reductions in cities and towns, he called for 25 percent reductions in use that would save 1.5 million acre-feet of water1 over the next nine months.

By comparison, the city of Los Angeles uses 587,000 acre-feet in a year. In other words, L.A. would need to go completely dry for three years to cover Brown’s goals on its own.

California’s urban areas are responsible for only 10 percent of the state’s water use.

That's putting it starkly, But leave aside the problem-solving aspect for a minute, and look at these numbers as values, as shown by the amount of water we as a state/culture devote to them.

If forty percent of our water goes to agriculture, and ten percent goes to the cities/people, then where does the rest go? To the environment:

…50 percent of California [is] reserved for environmental use (maintaining wetlands, rivers, and other parts of the state’s ecosystem)…

Is this number a fluke? Arguably not. About a decade ago, among the "water buffaloes" who devote their lives to working out this issue, a conciliation was reach regarding reworking the water management in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

As many readers will know, this is where water is sucked into the State Water Project through enormous pumps. But the important point is, a consensus was reached, a decade or more ago, that the environment was put on a level playing field with our use, and declared a "co-equal goal."

As recounted by Doug Obegi of the NRDC, as of 2009:

Today, California's Governor is signing into law SB 7X 1, part of the legislative package to reform water policy in the state.  The bill being signed today builds the foundation for a sustainable 21st century water policy, which is built on two interrelated principles:

  1. Improving water supply reliability and protecting and restoring the health of the Delta estuary, and its native fisheries, are co-equal goals for Delta policy (See Sections 85020, 85054, 85300); and

  2. In order to achieve these goals, the policy of the state is to reduce reliance on water exported from the Delta and invest in alternative water supplies, like water efficiency, water recycling, and low impact development. (Section 85021)

So, I think, one can argue that we have at least achieved our equity goal, here in California, even if we have all too little water to actually share.

To attempt to put this question in perspective visually, here's a (state) Department of Water Resources picture of one of the new pumps used to suck water out of the Delta and move it south.

Hitachi pump

These pumps, which wear out by the way, are driven by 80,000 horsepower motors.

Full Story » Comment (1)

Ojai “too conservative” w/water: California DWR

From a panel discussion I covered, here's a fascinating anecdote from Steve Wickstrum, who has managed Ojai's Casitas Municipal Water District for many years. Ojai actually is doing okay with water through the drought right now — unlike many communities in the state.

According to Wickstrum, Casitas water costs about $400 an acre-foot, which is less than water available through most other purveyors. He gave credit to the agricultural community for taking the initiative to build what became the Casitas reservoir in the late 1950s and early 1960s, saying that the community came together to build a system in preparation for a drought that could last as long as 20 years.

Wickstrum contrasted this foresight to that of California's State Water Project, mentioning that "a gentleman from the Department of Water Resources (DWR)" in the state visited him in the last major drought, in the late '80s and early ‘90s, suggesting that perhaps Ojai could be "less conservative" and more open to supporting development in nearby areas.

In contrast to Ojai, Wickstrum said, the state's water system works on "about a two-year horizon," dependent on snowpack in the Trinity Alps and the Sierra Nevada to feed huge reservoirs such as Shasta Lake and Oroville Reservoir.

"If the snowpack isn't there in the mountains — which is what we're into right now —- then DWR doesn't have water to deliver down south," Wickstrum said. "Right now the state is filling only 5 percent of allocations."


Full Story »

Little known fracking fact: it’s costing us in ice cream

Here's a story from an interesting blog on the Utica Shale, a story on five facts about fracking that you may not know — and a chart. Veteran environmental reporter Bob Downing of the Akron Journal maintains this blog,and said that it gives 10-15k hits a week — impressive. 

For those of us on the Left Coast, think these two may be the most relevant of these facts about fracking from this particular story:

"It makes your ice cream more expensive.

One component of the small percentage of fracking fluid that is not sand or water is guar gum. This natural product of the seeds of the guar plant is also used to improve the texture of ice cream. A chart of guar gum prices since 2000 looks like this:


Ice cream and other foods that utilize the product have seen significant increases in cost. For those of us with a sweet tooth, this alone may be reason enough to be wary of any more rapid expansion of fracking.

The biggest environmental threat could be from the amount of water used, not chemical contamination.

If the benign nature of guar gum and the small percentage of chemicals used in fracking fluid has you believing that the environmental concerns have been massively exaggerated, think again. Fracking just one well uses somewhere in the region of 3 to 8 million gallons of water. Using 2011 data, this article by Jesse Jenkins calculates that to mean that the amount of freshwater consumed by all the shale wells in the U.S. was about 0.3 percent of total U.S. freshwater consumption. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but in a world where water scarcity is becoming more of an issue it has to be considered as fracking use spreads."

Okay then! Wouldn't it be interesting to know exactly how much more ice cream costs? There's a story we haven't seen. A little gimmicky, but would be interesting to know. 

On the slightly more important water question, talked to a professor at Carneige Mellon briefly about water, and she said that frack jobs can use brackish water — but 3-8 million gallons per job? Is that true in California? Holy cow.  

[From those wild-haired radicals at OilPrice.com.]

Full Story »

Ojai Farmer to Ojaians: We fixed our leaks — your turn

From Kimberly Rivers' thoughtful story in the Ojai Valley News on the panel discussion this past weekend in Ojai on drought/water issues:

At the Ojai Valley Inn last weekend, agriculture was a central topic. “It’s impossible to talk about water in California without turning a whole lot of attention to agriculture,” said Timm Herdt, moderator for the event and a reporter based in Sacramento covering state government and politics. He spoke about how even the wettest places in California have received about half of the normal rainfall, and in dryer areas, like Ventura County, the amounts are even lower. 

That’s taken a toll on farmers like Emily Ayala, a fourth-generation Ojai citrus farmer descended from the Friend and Thacher families. She concurred with Herdt’s assertions.

“I estimate that agriculture in Ojai uses about 50 percent of the water, from all sources. We use more groundwater in the East End than we do municipal water sources. From Lake Casitas, in an average year, we use 20 to 40 percent of Casitas water that is sold,” said Ayala. “And that number varies drastically depending on how much water comes from up there” — meaning rain.

“We hope that we get half our water from the sky. The last three years we haven’t gotten that,” Ayala went on, “so we’re relying heavily on the groundwater and Lake Casitas.” 

She pointed out that other than Lake Casitas, “We don’t have other water storage facilities in Ojai. It would be nice to have another lake, say, in the East End. But that’s not going to happen.”

She also talked about the San Antonio Creek Groundwater Recharge Intake, constructed so that in a heavy rainstorm, water will be put back into the basin. That project had already existed for decades, but had fallen into disrepair. It was recently rebuilt by the Watersheds Coalition of Ventura County.

“It only stores about 300 acre-feet,” Ayala said. “It isn’t a huge amount of water, but any amount of water we can store I think is useful.” 

Regarding conservation in the valley, she noted, “We all should be conserving, and certainly the only good point of drought is that it’s brought farmers together all across the western U.S., really. But it’s really gotten Ojai’s farmers talking to one another, figuring out how we can share the depleting groundwater basin.”

She spoke about the effect of a drought on citrus trees, explaining that eventually, a tree not getting enough water will start to drop fruit as a survival mechanism. “We are fixing all leaks,” Ayala said of the local farmers, “and I hope homeowners are doing the same.”

It's an excellent point. According to the EPA, an average household's leaks waste 10,000 gallons a year, adding up to over a trillion gallons nationwide. 

Full Story »

The “monstering” of tamarisk: How the government “found” water for a big copper producer in wartime by vilifying a plant

In her recently published book, The Rambunctious Garden, Emma Marris blithely whirled readers through a whole new world of ideas about conservation. 

She wants us to give up on the notion of a pristine world untouched by man, and accept nature's half-wild state today — as long as we are half-wild ourselves. 

Along the way, she introduces all sorts of fascinating people, New Conservationists one might call them, and plenty of startling new ideas. 

An example: Tamarisk, or salt cedar, widely accounted a villain today, according to scientists and government bureaucrats, but scientists working for the government introduced this plant to the Southwest in the 19th century, and advocated for its propagation for three quarters of a century, before abruptly changing their minds for a particular reason involving the Phelps-Dodge Corporation. Marris points out the irony — and the hypocrisy — and suggests maybe tamarisk deserves compassion.   

And she points out a paper, The Monstering of Tamarisk: How scientists made a plant into a problem, by Matthew Chew of the Center for Biology and Society at Arizona State University

This paper turns out to challenge a central tenet around which a wilderness group of which I am a member has been organized — the journeying into the wilderness to remove and eradicate by violent but non-chemical means the plant tamarisk. 

So I read the paper, and it changes my mind. This is the rarest sort of scientifc paper; more than readable, it's startling. Data, history, facts, sources — this paper has all the academic credentials. 

And it's well-written. Examples? Glad you asked….

The story of tamarisk (Tamarix spp.), flowering trees and shrubs imported to New England sometime before 1818, provides an example of scientific "monstering" and shows how slaying the monster, rather than allaying its impacts, became a goal in itself. 

This is an account of scientists creating a monster; not by asesmbling and reanimating one as envisioned by Mary Shelley, but by declaring that an organism one presumed tractable was flouting human intentions, and recasting it as malevolent. 

Today when unhappy outcomes arise [from the re-dispersal of biota] we are used to specialists blaming the biota by labeling them "alien" and "invasive," declaring that taxa refusing to defer to putative prior claims are unbelonging and even morally defective, reconfiguring both the discourse and objectives of science. 

My purpose is to iluminate episodes in the process by which a plant taxon once valued for particular inherent qualities was subsequently devauled and disparaged for very nearly the same reasons. 

Thousans of acres of tamarisk had to be using lots of water, so eliminating them had to yield some benefits, however hard to predict. Pecos personnel knew of some ways to kill tamarisk, and their knowledge was visible and measurable in acres of dead vegetation. A water pumping, water-wasting monster was attacking the Pecos River. In some minds, confidence was high that it could literally be slain. However, confidence was lower that the water it was stealing could actually be recovered. as a result. 

[Turns out, Chew says, that tamarisk colonized the Pecos River, and it turned out that the Phelps-Dodge Corporation wanted to develop a huge copper mine on the river in the l930's that needed water…which they "found," with the government's active assistance, by destroying tamarisk, using flame-throwers. Not to mention 2.4.5-T, aka Agent Orange. ]

The monstering of tamarisk required the kinds of organizaiton and impetus that only the federal government could provide in that era. 

Tamarisk was a convenient scapegoat for the complex problems encountered by government water managers, be they true believers in the monster or otherwise. Even so, it does not seem to have mattered strongly to the principals whether suppressing tamarisk ever made more actual "wet water" available. They could demonstrate productivity in acres of vegetation laid waste, again and again, while suppressing or simply ignoring the substantial doubts lingering over their theories, methods, and mandate. Monstering tamarisk was far from a superstitious exercise. It was an effective way to perpetuate a program. 


Hard to believe a plant so beautiful could be so evil. 

Full Story » Comments (4)

Drought-Proofing Ventura County

How a water district is trying to shelter 600,000 people in Ventura county from the potential for drought or disaster; how the first attempt went awry, and how the second one will work — we hope. (Climate change is in the background of this story, but I didn't get into the projections — no time.) 

Drought-Proofing Ventura County

And here's the architect of the $300 million plan, Calleguas' director Susan Mulligan.  

Susan Mulligan

I was very impressed with Susan, her plan and her willingness to answer difficult questions. Doesn't take much to charm a reporter. Just answer his questions directly, really. 

Full Story »

Thinktank: Water management failing in CA

The highly-regarded Public Policy Institute of California makes an important point in a new book:

Despite several decades of well-intentioned environmental regulations, more than 80 percent of the state’s 129 native fish species are extinct or imperiled—listed as endangered or threatened, or likely to qualify for listing in the future. Piecemeal efforts to stop the declines now threaten the reliability of water supplies and flood management projects. Yet the deterioration is expected to accelerate because of continuing influxes of invasive species, increasing diversions of water, and losses of cold water habitat.

They call water management in California a "failure," but see possibilities for great improvement, beginning with urban water conservation. 

Funny how the rain falls most where the people don't want to live: 


Full Story » Comments (2)