The present four-year California drought is not novel — even if President Barack Obama and California governor Jerry Brown have blamed it on man-made climate change.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, California droughts are both age-old and common. Predictable California dry spells — like those of 1929–34, 1976–77, and 1987–92 — are more likely result from poorly understood but temporary changes in atmospheric pressures and ocean temperatures.
What is new is that the state has never had 40 million residents during a drought — well over 10 million more than during the last dry spell in the early 1990s. Much of the growth is due to massive and recent immigration.
A record one in four current Californians was not born in the United States, according to the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California. Whatever one’s view on immigration, it is ironic to encourage millions of newcomers to settle in the state without first making commensurately liberal investments for them in water supplies and infrastructure.
Sharp rises in population still would not have mattered much had state authorities just followed their forbearers’ advice to continually increase water storage.
Environmentalists counter that existing dams and reservoirs have already tapped out the state’s potential to transfer water from the wet areas, where 75 percent of the snow and rain fall, to the dry regions, where 75 percent of the population prefers to reside.
But that analysis is incomplete.
After the initial phases of the federal Central Valley Project and state California Water Project were largely finished — and flooding was no longer considered a dire threat in Northern California — environmentalists in the last 40 years canceled most of the major second- and third-stage storage projects. To take a few examples, they stopped the raising of Shasta Dam, the construction of the Peripheral Canal, and gargantuan projects such as the Ah Pah and Dos Rios reservoirs.
Those were certainly massive, disruptive, and controversial projects with plenty of downsides — and once considered unnecessary in an earlier, much smaller California. But no one denies now that they would have added millions of acre-feet of water for 40 million people.
Lower foothill dams such as the proposed Sites, Los Banos, and Temperance Flat dams in wet years would have banked millions of acre-feet as insurance for dry years. All such reservoirs were also canceled.
Yet a single 1 million acre-foot reservoir can usually be built as cheaply as a desalinization plant. It requires a fraction of desalinization’s daily energy use, leaves a much smaller carbon footprint, and provides almost 20 times as much water. California could have built perhaps 40–50 such subsidiary reservoirs for the projected $68 billion cost of the proposed high-speed rail project.
No one knows the exact figures on how many million acre-feet of water have been sent to the ocean since the beginning of the drought.
California’s dams and reservoirs were originally intended to meet four objectives: flood control, agricultural irrigation, recreation, and hydroelectric generation. The inevitable results of sustaining a large population and vibrant economy were dry summer rivers in the lowlands and far less water reaching the San Francisco Bay and delta regions.
Yet state planners once accepted those unfortunate tradeoffs. They would never have envisioned in a state of 40 million using the reservoirs in a drought to release water year-round for environmental objectives such as aiding the delta smelt or reintroducing salmon in the San Joaquin River watershed.
No one knows the exact figures on how many million acre-feet of water have been sent to the ocean since the beginning of the drought. Most agree that several million acre-feet slated for households or farming went out to sea.
There is more irony in opposing the construction of man-made and unnatural reservoirs, only to assume that such existing storage water should be tapped to ensure constant, year-round river flows. Before the age of reservoir construction, when rivers sometimes naturally dried up, such an environmental luxury may have impossible during dry years.
Agriculture is blamed for supposedly using 80 percent of California’s storage water and providing less than 5 percent of the state’s GDP in return. But farming actually uses only about 40 percent of the state’s currently available water. Agriculture’s contribution to the state’s GDP cannot be calibrated just by the sale value of its crops, but more accurately by thousands of subsidiary and spin-off industries such as fuel, machinery, food markets and restaurants that depend on the state’s safe, reliable and relatively inexpensive food.
The recent rise of Silicon Valley has brought in more billions of dollars in revenue than century-old farming, but so far, no one has discovered how to eat a Facebook page or drink a Google search.
Stanford University, Hollywood, and Silicon Valley do not sit on natural aquifers sufficient to support surrounding populations. Only privileged water claims on transfers from Yosemite National Park, the Central Sierra Nevada Mountains, Northern California, or the Colorado River allow these near-desert areas along the coastal corridor to support some 20 million residents. Much of their imported water is used only once, not recycled, and sent out to sea.
A final irony is that the beneficiaries of these man-made canals and dams neither allowed more water storage for others nor are willing to divert their own privileged water transfers to facilitate their own dreams of fish restoration. Nature may soon get back to normal — but will California?
9 thoughts on “Why California’s Drought Was Completely Preventable”
Well. the problem was in fact “man made”. It was the man made stupidity of the vision of the anointed (the self-proclaimed intellectuals) that created and sustained the problem.
The ancients knew that weather runs in cycles. Go back to the accounts of Joseph in Genesis. There are many other accounts in history. Why scientists refuse to believe in global cycles amazes me.
The mere fact that there are vast oil reserves beneath deserts is evidence that the earth has tilted on its axis and that seas covered much or what is now northern africa and arabia ought to be some proof to climatologists, but no.
unplanned and uncontrolled immigration will ruin any country.
To quote an old song by the Kingston Trio, “What nature doesn’t do to us will be done by our fellow man….”
I am a native Californian and have never been more embarrassed and sad at the state of my state than I am today.
Yeah we can all point our fingers at our predecessors failure to prepare us our failure to prepare or the immigrants or the environmentalists, but what are we going to do about it? At this point we just need to cut water usage, and no one is willing to do that. So what’s it going to be? It doesn’t matter who uses the water, we’re all paying for it. If we cut food production so we have cheaper water in the city, we’ll pay more for our food, if we keep prices low for farmers, we’ll pay more for our water. There’s lots of people and less water, we just need to sack up and use less and pay more. Our use of water is hugely inefficient. If I wanted to I could take only 5 min showers. I could turn off my water softener. I could get a more efficient dish washer… if farmers wanted to save watery they could grow different crops, use more greenhouses, maybe even do some hydroponic stuff. If anything good comes out of this it will be that some efficiency improvements will have been forced, and sure maybe we can build some new dams and stuff for next time.
Aluminum Oxides used in Chemtrails holds water in cloud formations until the clouds are SUPER SATURATED then dumps our would-be California rain out past the Rocky Mountains. HAARP has been US patent protected to show various atmospheric heating techniques that create high pressure heat zones that manage jet stream latitudes, again running what would have been our California rain up North through Oregon and Washington where it’s not even noticed. But we don’t talk about any of that.
Nature is responding with a bypass to our secret and not-so-secret acts of atmospheric management stupidity and producing the fabled “El Niño”. 48-hours ago it rained so hard my California parking lot had a coating of 2-inches of rain water (37.678445, -121.770422) held in place by the down pour. And we’re the experts that started all this right here in our National Lab at LLNL. We thought we had a good weapon we could use in undeclared wars to push western global Banking Hegemony and overthrow governments and hide it under the cover story of atmospheric shielding to mitigate global warming. We even have the global warming meme taught to our kids at the earliest date. So by the time they get to college age, they’re manageable and believe at a deep level that global warming is all man-made. Few if any actually read the atmospheric scientific research. And we don’t fund our researchers to publish papers showing the entire solar system is heating up, that takes away from our “man made mantra”.
But everything is falling apart on our carefully laid plans here in Black Ops. Who knew the people would find out and revolt ….. this time against us? Sheesz, so much for our NWO; nature seems to have it’s own plan….again…… I think we may need more Fluoride in the drinking water; people seem to be waking up.
Only a quibble: according to the State Water Resources Board California’s cities are responsible for only 8.9% of water consumption. 50% is consumed by environmental special interests such as restoring fisheries and wetlands not to mention keeping the delta from reverting to a salt marsh. We should not let our lawns die to advance the Sierra Club and NRDC’s ideological agendas.
For some interesting reading see the Memoirs of Congressman Bernie Sisk.
Much as I would like to think more reservoirs would solve California’s water woes as is implied in your article I simply don’t believe it. The real solution(s), which would solve a lot of California’s other major problems, is to live within our means. Stop building new houses, stop building new freeways and instead maintain what we have.
If water is so precious, stop giving it away, particularly to agriculture. It is not California’s obligation to feed the world. De-commoditize water and charge appropriately for it. Is it worth what a gallon of gas is? Then charge the same price for it and let the free market determine what CA farmers plant. Imagine all our water came from desalinization only and base the price charged on the costs of that. Or don’t- there are enough agencies throughout the world (Israel for one) who can tell us what each gallon created this way costs. Just charge accordingly. I we had done that decades ago, I doubt the San Joaquin portion of I-5 would be surrounded by all the trees that were planted along that stretch.
Remember what happened when the people in the Sacramento valley rallied against the rice growers. Stop using major quantities of water to grow a crop that is 90%+ exported and often is subsidized. Stop burning the rice fields and polluting the for days in the valley. The growers said we must burn to prevent disease….. until the legislature gave them 10 years to stop. And they did. And miraculously continue to grow rice as they were forced to be creative and find other more environmentally friendly ways to address the disease issue.
But addressing the CA water issues will be a long hard road considering the tens of millions of dollars poured into political coffers by people like the Westlands Water District and others whose livelihood is at stake. Would that they could bribe the water gods who seem untouched by their machinations.
But we can, and should, start by legislating a halt to the influx of people who still seem to flock here. We’re still (and now even more) the golden state.