California Water Crisis: It Keeps Getting Worse; Western States at Breaking Point
July 4, 2014 • 10:27AM

Yesterday was the final day in Sacramento, for the California legislature and governor to agree on a bond referendum for the November ballot, for measures to respond to the severe state water crisis. California leaders may or may not come together on a package—proposals range from $6 to $11.5 billion, and vary in content—but, in any case, the range of actions proposed do not begin to face reality. For example, the best of the lot, calls for mere "study" of desalinaton—already proven to be a highly developed technology. Moreover, there is nil recognition of the necessity of nuclear power for the means to provide water.

The following are a few updates on the scope of the national disaster of the Western states crisis.

CALIFORNIA Water Online on June 26, 2014, reports that federal meteorologist Brad Ripley says that the rate of the dwindling of the California water supply means that the state will exhaust its reservoirs in two years. The state's snowpack water equivalent reached zero by June, an exigency normally occurring in August or later. There is nothing to feed the rivers now.

The recourse to groundwater is desperate. In past, "normal" times, California's aquifers supplied about 40 percent of the state's water. This year it is expected to rise to 65%. There is so much pumping going on that some parts of the Central Valley have seen the water table drop more than 100 feet, just in the last year."We're on a one-way trajectory toward depletion, toward running out of groundwater," was the alarm sounded by Jay Famiglietti, a University of California hydrologist, June 30, on NPR.

There are reports of over-pumping all around the state, especially in the Central Valley, where a rush is on to drill new wells or deepen existing ones. The drillers' backlog of orders represents two years of work. They don't dare even reveal whom they are drilling for next, in order to prevent one farmer from pressuring or buying out the other who is ahead of him in line. California is the only Western state that does not even keep track of how much is pumped, though the state does require a permit to dig wells. But anyone can get a permit at any time. The legislature has draft bills to begin regulation.

California has banned all outdoor fires; there is concern for threats to the power grid, from fires, as well as lack of water for cooling the generation plants.

There is a frenzy of private water sales, with prices skyrocketing; many deals are going for $2,200 an acre-foot (1,233.5 cubic meters), a previously unheard of price. Sellers are those few persons who have 100-year first rights to water, and/or have banked (stored) water. The pumping of these water banks is so intense, that some of them will run dry this year.

Agriculture areas are devastated. The prices for all kinds of produce are rising, though the government claims the overall rise will be only 3% this year. Rice prices are already up 10-20% this year. Dairymen are getting more for their milk, but their fodder and water expenses are sky high. Beef producers are selling off, or moving herds out of state. There are major, non-linear effects in the environment. for instance, with 800,000 acres left fallow, and virtually no wild flowers in the drought, bees lack their food source. Beekeepers are having to provide sugar water as much as 30-40% of the year, when in the past, they never did. One keeper reported he would normally have 50-60 barrels of honey at this time of year. He has only four.

DROUGHT SPREADS NORTHWARD, and intensifies. The entire state of Oregon is now officially in drought. It is not as severe as California, yet, but it is intensifying. In the Klamath River Basin (Oregon/California), all water was cut off to the ranchers on the Klamath River, as of several months ago. This comes on top of severe restrictions in 2013. Also, the entirety of Eastern Washington is now officialy in drought.

THE COLORADO RIVER BASIN is in dire condition. The water in Lake Mead (behind the Hoover Dam) is now 3 trillion gallons below capacity; the reservoir is below half-full and dropping. Las Vegas, with 2 million people, is speeding up the building of a new water-intake pipe, which will be 50 or more feet below the present one, since the present one is expected to go dry early next year, if the drought continues. But the new system will simply tap into the flow of the existing Colorado River, which may remain dry long-term, as it has done at other past times in its geo-climatic history.