February 03, 2014
California Water Drought Getting Severe

California setting a new record once again. The winter is the rainy season. So there's no chance of relief from drought until next winter if no rain comes in the next couple of months.

“We are on track for having the worst drought in 500 years,” said B. Lynn Ingram, a professor of earth and planetary sciences at the University of California, Berkeley.

The drought stretches over several western states into some plains states.

California snowpack is 12% of a normal year. No water coming to reservoirs when the weather warms. Check out these satellite photos of snow cover in California and Nevada in 2013 and 2014.

The State Water Project has halted deliveries.

Time to state something that ought to be obvious: Permanent water conservation measures (e.g. requirements for low flow toilets and landscapes that don't need watering) make droughts much harder to handle. Why? Because emergency measures can not be enacted to raise water usage efficiency if the unnecessary water usage has already been eliminated years ago.

Water conservation practices just allow populations in the drought-prone Western United States to grow too much. The droughts are inevitable. Therefore we should use more water per person in wet years in order to prevent population growth in drought-prone regions.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2014 February 03 09:23 PM 

Brett Bellmore said at February 4, 2014 3:24 AM:

That, or just add a requirement for cisterns to the building codes, so that residential housing could ride out the drier years.

Tim Hogan said at February 4, 2014 8:08 AM:

Its time to dust off my Arrakian Stillsuit. If the distillation parameters are optimized almost all of the otherwise lingering odor of urine vanishes in your morning coffee. I know all of you are thinking "been there, dune that".

jp straley said at February 4, 2014 8:09 AM:

I like trying out the Vortex Engine idea. Site them offshore, raise huge amounts of water vapor-saturated oceanic air to higher altitudes, thus injecting large amounts of water vapor into the westerly winds. Probably also inject tiny salt crystals, which might be a form of cloud seeding.

James Bowery said at February 4, 2014 8:44 AM:

If the AVE, cold fusion and/or LFTR works, its game over: no resource shortages for the next few centuries. The only question is whether nature, including humans as a heterosexual species, can be protected from assimilation into the quasi-cyborg into which technological civilization is developing/degenerating.

(The AVE, if it works, would be a part of a future scenario including either of the other two as it uses waste heat.)

Engineer-Poet said at February 4, 2014 9:42 AM:

I don't see anything about current droughts in Mexico or Guatemala, so this might be a VERY good time to press for deportation of illegals, revoking green cards, etc.  Send all the foreign nationals back to where the water is!

Bob said at February 4, 2014 9:49 AM:

"The only question is whether nature, including humans as a heterosexual species, can be protected from assimilation into the quasi-cyborg into which technological civilization is developing/degenerating."

The main problem is that both the Left and the Right/Libertarian are pushing in this direction despite having different exoteric justifications for doing so. The Left in the name of equality, progress, utilitarianism, etc. The Right/Libertarian in the name of "transhumanism", "eugenics", etc. None of these goals as we understand them will be advanced going in this direction. It will only lead to the development of a "quasi-cyborg" organism as you say. The kind of "eugenic" "transhumanism" that's discussed in contemporary "transhumanist" circles is nothing more than the assimilation of people into a networked infrastructure.

Only perhaps Luddites or traditional religions will resist going in this direction, but they will be too weak to resist.

bbartlog said at February 4, 2014 12:30 PM:

Low flow toilets have nothing to do with California's water problems. You are right in principle that measures of that sort can make an elastic system inelastic (Europe's gasoline taxes function that way, for example). But in the case of California, 90% of the water is used for agriculture and industry; the change in consumption brought about by low flow toilets is too small to matter. They are more likely a measure that represents a collaboration between politicians who want to appear green, and manufacturers who want to sell the new toilets.

aSPIRANT said at February 4, 2014 6:09 PM:

bbartlog: I think you're missing out on some satire here

Wolf-Dog said at February 4, 2014 6:42 PM:

This is one more reason to develop the molten salt thorium reactors that would be very cost effective and clean to start desalinizing sea water. This would revolutionize water usage.


Randall Parker said at February 4, 2014 7:05 PM:

jp straley,

Vortex Engine: I was tempted to mention that and my other favorite anti-drought measure. But I figure I will follow up with a later post.

Any idea about the costs of pumping lots of water into the air? My impression is that we could make devices that would be wave driven to squirt up water every time they rolled over a wave crest or hit a wave trough. But what about durability? Would they need to be anchored?

My other favorite idea: Pump huge amounts of salt water inland to areas that form bowls in deserts. Or create a dam to make such an area. Imagine miles of lake areas in places like Death Valley and Nevada deserts. The water would evaporate and come down as fresh water.

I have no idea about the cost effectiveness of either approach. But suppose the US Western drought drags on for many years. How to avoid abandoning large numbers of cities with huge sunken costs?


It is really true that permanent water efficiency changes (low flow toilets, low flow shower heads, low water lawns) make us less able to deal with droughts. I am serious.

Granted, the whole thing is funny. Yes, love the Arrakis reference. But my logic is sound.

Bupropolis said at February 5, 2014 10:14 AM:

Excess human population in the traditionally dry US Southwest is composed of increasingly dependent groups. That is the kind of citizen authorities like and want more of. This kind of story is custom made to give authorities even more power over every part of the lives of public citizens. Waving arms and primal screams are no substitute for careful reasoning.

Nick G said at February 5, 2014 3:58 PM:


bbartlog is right: agricultural consumption is much, much more important than residential use. Fixing residential water shortages is trivial: recycle water, divert rainwater from sewers, etc. Desalination, even at current costs, would be affordable for efficient residential consumption.

Agriculture uses astounding amounts of water for very low-value things, like rice and beef production.

The simple answer: proper pricing. Silly uses for water will go away very quickly.

Mark Bahner said at February 5, 2014 5:59 PM:

Desalination cost trends are favorable (see page 11 of 35):


Randall Parker said at February 5, 2014 8:12 PM:

Nick G,

It is my understanding that the ag water allocations are like property. The farmers own their allocations due to deals made decades ago. So the idea that farm water is available for residential uses: Well, can the farmers close down their farms and sell their allotments? They've held onto it because they aren't allowed to sell it for non-farm uses? I have no idea.

We need the food. A prolonged drought in California would cut off the nation's biggest source of fruits and vegetables. But after the drought the farms could be restarted By contrast, cutting off residential water in a deep drought would force a massive human migration.

Mark Bahner said at February 6, 2014 7:49 PM:

"Alfalfa, the biggest water user of any California crop, soaks up almost a quarter of the state's irrigation water. Yet alfalfa -- harvested mostly for hay to feed dairy livestock -- is a low-value crop that accounts for only 4 percent of state farming revenues. An alfalfa farm using 240 acrefeet of water generates $60,000 in sales, while a semiconductor plant using the same amount of water generates 5,000 times that amount, or $300 million. (And while such a farm could function with as few as two workers, the semiconductor plant would employ 2,000.) In short, California devotes 20 percent of its developed water supply to a crop that generates less than one-tenth of one percent of the state's economy."


bbartlog said at February 7, 2014 7:29 AM:

Desalination cost trends are favorable, but not all that relevant to the current situation. Desalinated water is already plenty cheap enough for human household use. At $0.50 per ton, five people can consume a hundred gallons per day each (a typical US figure) for just a dollar per day for the household. At the same time, it's still way too expensive for agriculture. If you grow wheat (not a thirsty crop, really) using 20 inches of water per acre (at that same cost) to get a hundred bushel crop, you add $11 per bushel to the cost, which would roughly triple the price of wheat.
That's not to say that you couldn't grow *some* crops profitably with desalinated water, but you'd be looking at high-value produce grown with drip irrigation, not idiotic stuff like rice and alfalfa grown in a semi-arid climate.

Nick G said at February 7, 2014 10:44 AM:


Yes, I believe ag water allotments can be sold. Certainly many of them have been sold in some states, like Colorado and Texas.

Ronald Brak said at February 7, 2014 4:21 PM:

In Australia we had a perfectly reasonable, completely voluntary, auction based system for farmers to sell their water allotments in order to stop our national river from flowing backwards and drawing salt water inland. Unfortunately this didn't stop some politicians running a scare campaign. Apparently letting farmers sell their water allotments and retire would be a death blow for rural communities. Yes, it would cause rural communities to shrink further, but if farmers want to leave is that something groups supposedly representing farmers should be trying to stop?

Ronald Brak said at February 7, 2014 4:27 PM:

EP, how will deporting illegal residents help? Are they paying less for water than what it costs to desalinate it? If that's the case the answer is to raise the cost of water. (Another alternative would be to allow cities to bid away more water from agricuture and/or some industry, but that rarely seems to happen.) And I presume agriculture will just want them back after the drought is over.

Engineer-Poet said at February 7, 2014 8:06 PM:

The illegals are essential to the irrigated ag sector, or at least the bulk of it.  Send them home, and it becomes uneconomic to grow most row crops in CA.  The water demand moves where the labor is, and the farms subsidized by illegal alien labor go out of business.  Their land is no longer irrigated and the drought becomes less severe for the rest.

Ronald Brak said at February 8, 2014 2:04 AM:

I don't know about that. For reasons of freshness and transportation costs it's going to be hard to bring in a lot of market garden produce into California and I expect demand would be reasonably inelastic. After all, we don't do without fresh fruits and vegies in Australia just because there's no cheap labour. I think with the illegal farm workers kicked out a lot of market gardening would still continue but with higher market prices. And even if farmers discontinue labour intensive farming, if they still own the water they may as well just switch to low labour but water intensive farming such as rice or dairy cattle.

Unit Largo said at February 17, 2014 3:01 PM:

Way too many people for a naturally dry California. Welcome to California, now go home!!!

The Earth is 70% oceans, and the stupid humans can't find water. What maroons. Better import more low IQ immigrants. That otta do it crikey.

Pineapple express in time to trigger mudslides, fuel undergrowth for next summer's fires.

Ronald Brak said at February 21, 2014 5:47 AM:

Unit, Israel has the world's most water efficient industry and agriculture and imports low IQ scoring people under its "law of return". However, I don't think Israel does so well with water management specifically because they import low IQ scoring people, in case that's what you're suggesting.

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