Tag Archives: Drought

fixing leaky faucets

Lake Shasta April 2020

A Wall Street hedge fund has sent a posse of potato farming water grabbers out to Winnemucca, Nevada. Water Asset Management was formed in 2005 and is in the business of using water as a for profit investment vehicle.

Access to drinking water is a universally recognized human right. Defending this right and winning this argument at the United Nations was the tenacious Canadian activist Maude Barlow. Drinking water should never be bought, sold, bartered, or privatized. Deeded water rights to underground water shouldn’t be pumped out from underneath one community then piped far off to another wealthier place.

We’re in for a real brawl out here in the American West. For starters we already don’t have enough water. Now we’ve got more people, a growing population and they all arrive at the negotiating table believing they have the best ideas for how to use what little water there is. Water Asset Management is buying up land explicitly for access to the water rights deeded to the purchased properties.

Commercial and Recreational Fishing

What does our water future look like? For starters financializing deeded water rights is turning our common resource into a privatized water grabbing for profit scam. After urban water users’ rates get jacked up you can bet the farm lobby will go seek new water subsidies to offset the higher cost of production. Once consumers start squealing about how much a half gallon of milk has gone up, how expensive a loaf of bread has become, why every politician beholden to Big Ag will be lining up to make water cheaper for farms and ranches while sticking the bill to the urban taxpayers.

From the BBC, Marsha Daughenbaugh, 68, of Steamboat Springs wedge issues agricultures priority access to water use, “Ranching is not only an economic base for us, it’s a way of life.”

What does that mean? In 1994 a telephone operator in New Jersey was practicing a way of life until AT&T cut 20,000 jobs. Telephone operators would have had a better shot at keeping their way of life if they’d been saddled up and sitting on a horse while they were doing their telecommunication’s work.

Look we already have all the dams we’ll ever need, but we can’t finesse our way around a drought and expect to fill old or new reservoirs with water that doesn’t exist. The solution to fixing this mess is not complicated, everyone is going to have to use less water. That’s the new way of life barreling down on every enterprise and individual living West of the Pecos.  

Swallows playing in the Delta breeze

Due to overallocations up and down and all along the Colorado River a hands-on realistic water use plan will be needed for California, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico. Utah is going to be a more petulant childlike player on account of their whole humankind’s dominion over earth delusions, but we’ll set their fundamentalism aside for the moment.

Alfalfa and cotton farming needs to be relocated east where there is sufficient supplies of water. More crops need to end up on our supper tables. Eggplant, squash, watermelon, pineapples, strawberries, onions, spinach, carrots, lettuce, and tomatoes all use less water and are not just suitable for human consumption these fresh vegetables are healthier for both people and the planet.  

Stanford Law School’s award-winning Environmental and Natural Resources Law & Policy Program is training lawyers in the byzantine area of water law. As it sits right now outlawing alfalfa farming is illegal. Allocations are based strictly on whether there is or isn’t any water. There are rules about how to use the water but there are no rules about what to grow with the water. Water law is a tangled-up snake pit of economically threatened special interests.

Even if I can tell you cotton and alfalfa need to be shutdown, it is one hell of a long way further to settling that hornet’s nest of a mess in court with an enforceable decision, but that day is coming, and it will be arriving sooner than the water grabbers might have imagined.

In California pumping water from aquifers is undergoing a thorough rethink. This is known as the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. Passed in 2014, agencies had until 2020 to file their plans to make groundwater resources sustainable by 2040. Those plans are subject to review and by political career ending loophole to be reassessed every five years.

Right now, a Limited Liability Company in Napa County can pump scarce and ancient groundwater, grow grapes then export the wine to foreign markets while stashing their profits offshore at a post office box known as a Caribbean tax haven. In other words we are a long way from a glidepath to sustainability.

California Water Alliance wants more water diverted from the Delta then piped to their members further south in the San Joaquin Valley. They almost pulled it off, but the courts stopped the water heist before the former administration could do further harm. The Sacramento and San Joaquin Valley Delta “is the most valuable estuary and wetland ecosystem on the west coast of North and South America and is the hub of California’s water delivery system.” Without the Delta there is no such thing as California.

Fishermen dependent on the salmon that would no longer be able to find suitable spawning grounds, which is a polite term for going extinct. Farmers running short of water do not care one whit about what happens to salmon in Northern California, that is not their problem.

In dryer and warmer low rainfall years farms need to be fallowed then put back into production in years when there is sufficient water. A real greenwashed-Astroturfing lobby group the California Water Alliance won’t have it and if diverting Delta water means driving salmon to the brink that’s just somebody else’s radical environmental activism hurting the economy.

Whether a citizen fishes or farms for their living both laudable enterprises but diverting water and then driving fish and fishermen to extinction and bankruptcy because you want to grow more subsidized cotton is a tragedy wrapped in a self-inflicted existential disaster.

None of this is ours to keep, it is ours to pass along to future generations. If while we continue to grow our economy and we were to decide salmon are expendable, then we’ve in some toxicologically bizarre way just admitted that we are expendable nothing is worth saving, except for holding onto the power to choose. Extinction events are not reserved for the unlucky few, man’s rapacious nature contains the seeds of self-destruction.

Largest system of dikes in the United States

In 2019 a misguided Federal cabinet member unilaterally ordered scarce water to be diverted from the Delta to farmers further south. Courts in Fresno halted the illegal diversion.

“This water grab was led by Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, a former lobbyist and counsel for the Westlands Water District, the largest water district in the Central Valley and a significant beneficiary of the weakened biological opinions.” The weakening was done under the cloak of anti-science activists in the former administration.

For now, there is an uneasy stalemate and with the inexorable increasing temperatures and ever decreasing moisture levels in the soils of the American West. Urban areas are about to fight tooth and nail, from one farm field to the next over ever more scarce water. The drought is on and our water wars are only going to get worse. As the announcer says, “let’s get ready to rumble…”

Buckets of Rain Buckets of Tears

Last summer’s monsoons in the Southwest last went missing . Last weeks Southern Colorado-Northern New Mexico snowfall in the headwaters to the Rio Grande while welcomed offered little relief. Most of New Mexico is in severe drought.

Reservoirs in Marin County, California are so low water agencies are within a week of enacting mandatory conservation orders similar to those caused by the drought in 2013-2017.

On March 23rd California State Water Resources Control Board mailed — “warning notices to agricultural water rights holders urging them to plan for potential shortages by reducing water use and adopting practical conservation measures.”

Utah’s governor is urging residential water users to begin conservation measures. From Ogden to St. George the region has been hit hard by a lack of rain and snow.

Lake Powell is less than 38% full with its water level down by 129 feet.

Napa Valley California’s premier winegrowing region rainfall totals are off for a second year. The last time the region was hit with a two year below normal rainfall season the Valley Fire of 2015 erupted and became one of the state’s most destructive wildfires in history.  

Our dry winter has impacted water wells too. The United States Geological Survey has released a study that warns of 200,000 water wells in California were tested and that scientists found increased levels of arsenic that exceed Federal safety standards. Arsenic increases risk of cancer.

Colorado’s Front Range got clobbered two weeks ago by an epic winter snowstorm that has moved the states drought status from severe to water customers now expecting that there will be no water restrictions.

There is no such luck for Colorado’s Western Slope where ranchers and farmers near Grand Junction remain in desperate straits.

Up and down the line circumstances are dire. An estimated 75% of the land in eleven states here in the American West, a vast geographic area encompassing almost half of the nation’s landmass is facing the driest spring in the last seven years. Electricity produced by hydropower is being cut back, vast tracts of agricultural lands will be forced out of production, fish populations will be damaged, and this year’s fire season has the potential to eclipse last years record setter.

California’s economy is diverse. Agriculture in the state accounts for 3% of the gross domestic product while using 50-70% of the states water. Agriculture dependent Modesto, Manteca, Merced, Fresno and Bakersfield will all take a huge hit to their local economies.

As the pandemic winds down, as the virus is brought to heel the damage caused by water scarcity will destabilize California’s economic, social and political outlook.

Arizona, Nevada and Utah continue to attract new residents just as a once in every 1000-year megadrought bares down on the region.

Water rights awarded a century ago in the midst of above average rainfall years have been over allocated. Governments at all levels have maintained a hands-off approach, the politics of the situation is fraught, worse still when there have been subsidies made available for water and crops those incentives have proven misguided.

Water interests in the seven states near the Colorado River are tangled in tense ongoing negotiations with a deadline of 2025. The drought, wildfires and climate emergency only complicate matters that much more.

Water regulators in Marin County have called for a halt to permitting new water hookups for residential housing. California already faced with a shortage of affordable real estate can ill afford to worsen the situation, but in Marin County reservoir capacity is limited and mandatory water rationing is expected to begin soon.

Water needed for a growing residential population continues to expand exponentially across the region. Las Vegas and Phoenix in the last three decades have increased threefold, each from one million to three million. Southern Utah is bursting with new residents. Colorado’s Front Range sprawling expansion has favorite Rocky Mountain destination resorts jammed to the hilt.

Because of the climate emergency the American West is at an inflection point. “Tucson Water Director Tim Thomure. He still oversees the utility as interim assistant city manager.” Addressing the loss of Colorado River water Thomure claims Tucson’s water resources remain sufficient. Assistant city managers have a job to do and elected official to keep in office. His assessment is an outlier.

Tucson and Las Vegas will be forced to seek funding to build desalination plants. This is my opinion, my informed guess, there is not enough water in the Southwest. Expensive purified desalinated water will force residents to put in place stringent water conservation measures. Water pipelines will route across the desert to tap sea water from the Sea of Cortez and Pacific Ocean.

High priced water will force rural grass crop growers out of business. Food crop planting will increase. To conserve water fields will be laser leveled and drip irrigated. Moisture sensors plugged into nut trees sending signals back to software enhanced computers will turn water on and off automatically based upon moisture content measured by remote instruments.

Scarcity will force agriculture to make hard choices, crops will be rationalized, there are sure to be other regions of the state or nation better suited for growing specific crops.

Another dryer warmer winter has come and gone, spring rains are deficient our water deficit is large and the water in our reservoirs is low. California is 50% of normal for rainfall, about 60% for snowpack. With no water to irrigate many crops will go unplanted. Other fields with grapevines or orchard crops will use what water that is allocated to keep their root stock alive until next year.

There is a agriculture lobby group, California Water Alliance that has been behind efforts to ship more water from the delta near Sacramento south into the San Joaquin Valley’s colossus Westland’s Water District. The more water diverted the more fish die, the more salt intrudes into the domestic drinking water reservoirs. The only constituents for these diversions are the enterprises that could use the water for their private profit. Big urban citizens, sizable majority’s don’t want the fish killed off or salty drinking water coming out of their faucets.

In California there are still twenty million acres that haven’t burned in over a century or more, they are dangerously dry and overgrown, one mistake, one lightning strike and the American West will burn on and on.

Groundwater will in the next few years start to be regulated and pumping is scheduled to be cut back. The Colorado River is flowing at a historically much lower rate while the needs of a growing population that depends on this resource continues to grow. Push has come to shove, bullet biting never popular is here and the unavoidable tight spot has arrived.

I can tick off a dozen moves our water managers are going to be forced into this year.

Hotter and drier conditions in Napa Valley are disadvantaging the famous Cabernet Sauvignon grape that is ripening too quick, concentrating sugars that are too high, making the wine too sweet to tame. Winegrowers are planting further north in the higher latitudes.

Interesting times are here. Putting things off won’t do, we are short of water and out of time, we meet the moment by making difficult decisions. The meek will not inherit this hotter and drier earth.

cedar city water grabbers

In the grip of a water grabber

Cedar City Utah’s, Central Iron County Water Conservancy District Pine Valley Water Supply and Conservation Project is worth our thinking about before we go out and cause all kinds of irreversible natural world hell. Southern Utah is one of the fastest growing regions of the United States and I mean horizontal suburban sprawling housing projects that are being thrown up just as fast as a hammer swinging beer drinking football fan can manage. Water is a vital, scarce, hard to come by necessity out here, every squirrel, rattlesnake and icemaking machine from the Mexican border to the Boise, Idaho needs more water.

To be on a planning commission, supervisory board, or to become mayor means you have got to talk fast and find answers to impossible problems. You can’t win without support, and you can’t win support promising to shutdown businesses, slow down growth, and throw your voters out of work. Until now there has been enough water for Cedar City to get into the mess they are in today.

Backwaters of Baker, Nevada

Iron County Water Conservancy is doing its dead level best, but push has come to shove. Seventy miles northwest is located Pine Valley. I been through this region, land is owned by the Federal Government. A proposal to pump groundwater from Pine Valley back to Cedar City is under consideration. That’s all you need to know is that otherwise good civil servants in cahoots with real estate developers want to go from Iron County up to Beaver County and grab the water from a pristine untouched immaculately conceived ancient aquifer. I’m am nothing if not objective, fair and balanced and through and through unbiased.

Let’s wrap our heads around other solutions. Before we begin you should understand taking another track could come back to bite or sting a politician right in the butt end of the ballot box. Best we understand reality before casting about for solutions.

I haven’t crunched the numbers but by aerial photographic investigation it is plain as day that there are a few thousand farms that are going to need to surrender their rights back to Cedar City for the common good.

Water Rights Reassigned

Rescinding a farmer’s water rights is like coming home drunk, lipstick on your collar, a night out two-stepping at the local honky tonk, knowing full well that there are no undiscovered artesian gushers or marriages that can’t end in divorce.

First thing we might want to try is just conserving what water we use now. That rankles contemporary Americans, “I ain’t sacrificing one single inch of my entitled ass for you and that stink eye you are trying to water shame me with.”

Mayor Mobile

That’s one vote losing suggestion right there. Second, every means of water conservation is going to be required to be fully exhausted to slowdown the flow of water from every home and business in or near Cedar City. Low flow showerheads, low volume toilets, drought tolerant landscaping, condemning golf courses, and installing recycled water commercial carwash facilities. That all sounds like some kind of nightmare liberal utopian gateway to socialism. I know, I know, but time has come.

Mule, Jeep or on horseback

Baker, Nevada is a town of 56 good souls. Men and women from this community sit at the foot of Wheeler Peak home to the Great Basin National Park. Not that you are supposed to know or even understand how underground aquifers can all be interconnected, but now that you do know you might just be wondering if Cedar City pumping water out of Pine Valley might potentially cause harm just ever so slightly west to the aquifer beneath Snake Valley? Look at that, just like that, those Cedar City water grabbers have put at risk all that is right and mighty in White Pine County, Nevada.

Wheeler Peak, Nevada 13,065 Above Sea Level

Water grabbing is a big, tangled mess, makes Los Angeles freeway gridlock seem like an almost solvable problem compared to this venomous pit of Great Basin water moccasins. Men, real estate developers and ranch hands are wanton creatures and know more about a 12-gauge shotgun than they do about modern-day birth control.

Drought has the Southwest by the neck. Our swelling population, all the booming communities have arrived just in time for a climate emergency civilization changing reckoning. Business friendly politicians are about to leap into rhetorical obfuscation and pretzel misshaped solutions even the dirtiest devils will regard as even harder to scrub off than a tattoo.

Downtown Baker on a busy day

Timidity will buy time, but it won’t get you what you don’t have. Crystalline materials, powders called metal organic frameworks, can now harvest water vapor from the air. This device comes from Yaghi Laboratory at UC Berkeley. This new solar-powered device can pull water straight from the desert air, and enough water each day to supply each and every happy home in Cedar City.

Lithium mines, geothermal electrical generating stations, Gigfactories, and for the love of God and all of creation you mean to tell me that there is a thing called a solar powered residential water maker in our future? I know it’s hard, but this is where our struggle to coexist with the finite resources found on earth have brought us to. So, dear Cedar City water grabbers, deal with it.

autumn backroad east

I’m a roadrunner baby

Running the southern route adds two-hundred miles to the trip to Denver. Once I’d made Bakersfield, I parked at a truck stop, slept there for the night. Sunday, I made five hundred miles east to Williams, Arizona. A local tipped me off to a free campground operated by the Bureau of Land Management.

“Get off Interstate 40, take Highway 64 north a handful of miles,” my tipster guaranteeing, “you can’t miss the campground, the dirt road is on the right.”

Wheeling into the dusty forest there was posted a sign warning camping was limited to 14 days. Squatters can become a nuisance. I was only there for one night. I parked warily under ponderosa pine. Wildfire this autumn has kept people on edge. Terrain was brittle, dry, risk of fire high. Among the long needle Rocky Mountain ponderosa pine, you would be advised to keep your ditch bag near at hand.

I set out a folding table, chair, got my electric skillet fired up slow cooking the one man- one pot dish. Tonight, it would be homemade beans, potatoes, asparagus, and spinach. The secret sauce to being cast a sage culinary vagabond was be spartan like and not make a mess.    

Pandemic dining at its best

In 1992 I lived along the Verde River eighty miles southeast of here. I remember taking my baby girl Alana shopping in Flagstaff. I could still hold her in my arms. I was miserable seeing her grow up knowing that all too soon I wasn’t going to be able to pick her up and carry that baby girl in my arms. You think about the people you love when your camped out alone.

Out here in the southwest where the Mojave, Sonoran and Great Basin Desert’s meet up there has been a great increase in population. Most of the places categorized as in the middle of nowhere and to hell and gone, five miles by dirt another mile on foot, all of that part of the American West is under threat. St. George, Utah was never supposed to grow so big.

In more remote regions of Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico you’ll find solitude as pure as your evil heart. Then, you brush up close to Las Vegas, Flagstaff, Albuquerque, or Phoenix and you will choke on civilization sprawled out over a horizon and cooking at a boil.

Reclamation Project Underway

For my money, the American West is in possession of the crown jewels of our nation’s wilderness. Now each remote outpost is being encroached upon from a new nearby settlement. It is unclear what is to become of solitude, the wildlands have been stolen by a swelling population, hardscrabble loner’s that have struggled to celebrate emptiness are nearing the end of such places. All of us need nowhere even if we never bother to go. The privilege of camping in wild open spaces, counting the mustang off on the horizon, being serenaded by a canyon wren, these are experiences that deserved to be passed onto the misfits and renegade misanthropes.

Fool’s Paradise

I hiked up a gulch fooled by the terrain, read the clues all wrong, ended up in a boxed canyon. Ancient Anasazi people hunted in this terrain, once their prey had been cornered nets were raised, trapped, unable to escape, the ancient hunters armed with spears would press in for the kill.

As the Pleistocene ended, what is now Nevada warmed, ice age animals went extinct, pinion pine migrated north from Mexico. Into the region arrived grizzly bear, elk, deer, antelope and big horn sheep. For the next ten thousand years a tribe of hunters thrived. Early man faced drought, wildfire, and the threat of being eaten alive. Right now a mountain lion can ruin anyone’s day. Important answers to civilizations problems confound people attempting to respond to the mortal risks flourishing in the third decade of this new century. We are acting, you can feel the whole lot of us trying, growing momentum will sweep up more and more, and we will make good trouble refining our path.

I see on my calendar humankind’s next big leap will take place on November 3rd. Let’s get along now, there is a wild blue yonder to chase and a wide wonderful world to save.