California Drought Update September 18th, 2014
September 18, 2014 • 11:26AM

by Patrick Ruckert

The U.S. Drought Monitor for September 10, showed no change in the proportions of the state in various categories of drought. That may change slightly next week; a week ago the Southeast portion of the state experienced heavy rain as a spin-off from a recent Pacific hurricane. But, the record temperatures being set this week ensure that the increasing intensity of the drought will continue.

I have been monitoring more closely the reservoir levels. The major reservoirs as I reported last week are all near 30% of capacity, and way below their historical averages for this time of the year. More alarming is that they are falling about one percent per week. For example, Shasta, the largest reservoir, fell from 28 percent of capacity last week to 27 percent this week; that is almost 600,000 acre-feet below its average. New Melones Reservoir, on the Stanislaus River, and one the five largest in the state, is 22 percent of capacity; down nearly 800,000 acre-feet.

A theme that is becoming more pronounced each week now, is a growing sense of panic and fear in both the media and the population.

Headlines include the following:

California Drought Crisis: Billions of Gallons of Water Are Lost To Leaks Each Year. -

Not One Drop: How Long Will California Survive Without Water?

Drought prompts cities to restrict water use. Santa Clarita Valley's Water Supply Hit Hard By Mega-Drought. What Happens in L.A. If California's Drought Continues?

California rice farmer: Drought may make us 'quit'.

Extreme Weather Watch: August 2014— Southwest US May Face Megadrought.

The drought is destroying California's organic dairy farms.

California hit with record West Nile outbreak— and its epic drought is to blame.

Drought Forces Closure of Water Wells in Santa Clarita Valley.

The article, "California Drought Crisis: Billions of Gallons of Water Are Lost To Leaks Each Year," is from an internet site, and states that an article in the San Jose Mercury News reports on a study that claims 23 billion gallons are lost each year due to leaks. That is about 35,000 acre-feet. But leaks are hard to locate and fix, except for major pipe breaks. The American Water Works Association estimates that replacing and expanding water systems will cost at least $1 trillion over the next 25 years.

The article, "The drought is destroying California's organic dairy farms," also from an internet site, reports on how the lack of pasturage is forcing dairy farmers to spend large sums on feed, and many of them will go under; some already have.

Blaming the West Nile virus on the drought is a new one, but the article, "California hit with record West Nile outbreak— and its epic drought is to blame" from Solon, makes the point that the increase in heat, precipitation, and humidity is favorable to mosquitoes. While there is much less moisture around, the record temperatures drying up ponds and other stagnant waters is forcing birds to areas where there are more mosquitoes; thus more birds are contracting the disease, passing it to more mosquitoes. California reports that so far this year there have been 238 human cases and 9 deaths, more than double last year's numbers for this time of the year.

One article in the San Jose Mercury News for September 11, reports on the cascading series of impacts the drought is having, from land subsidence, to increased salt content in the soil, the extreme expense of digging new wells, and paying for the increased fuel costs to run the pumps.

In June, the state increased its water use compared to one year ago, causing hand-wringing and more editorials urging people to conserve. The July report, just out, shows that the state used 7.5 percent less water in July than July, 2013. That is still far from the demand made by the governor in January for a 20- percent decrease.

"Drought prompts cities to restrict water use," from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat on September 6, reports on cities that have taken drastic rationing measures. Cloverdale, in Sonoma County, mandates that residents cut water use by 25 percent from one year ago. The Redwood Valley County Water District, north of Ukiah, limits residents to 50 gallons of water per day.

NBC News Hour, under the headline, "Not One Drop: How Long Will California Survive Without Water?," claims that as many as 100,000 more wells are at risk around the state if there is no rain by October. In Tulare County, in the Central Valley, the rising number of completely dry homes here has shocked officials.... Thousands of people— most of them farm workers and their families— find themselves with no running water to wash, drink, flush, or cook. The article cites Kelly Hutson, of the Governor's Office of Emergency Services, warning that more wells are going to go dry. This article dramatically covers the effects on people who do not have running water, quoting many of them. Here are a few quotes: "We're living in a third world country now." "I feel like a homeless person." "I think of water 24 hours a day." It describes how people go to the gas station to fill up buckets and they never feel clean.

The town of Seville has not had any running water for months.

Crops

Almonds: Almonds are the major crop in California now, with more than 800,000 acres of orchards. A survey of almond growers by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service reported on this week, found that almond growers have dug new wells to replace the lack of surface water. Almonds are a salt-intolerant tree and the ground water's having more salts than surface water is already damaging the trees, threatening to kill them. The stress is reflected in smaller nut size and reduced growth, which portends smaller crops in the future. The growers have taken many orchards out of production, letting the trees die or ripping them out of the ground. The number of acres that have been affected is not known at this time.

Rice: As reported last week, California's rice crop will be down 25 percent from last year's. The article, "California rice farmer: Drought may make us 'quit,'" from CNBC, reports on how rice farmers are really on the edge, with some of them saying that one more year of drought and they will be out of business.

A Positive Note

USA Today has a letter to the editor on September 7, "Drought highlights need to invest in public works: Your Say," by Bud Tickle from Pueblo West, Colorado, which includes the following: About 70% of the Earth's surface is covered with water. In this country, we should be building desalination plants every 30 miles along the East, West and Gulf coasts. If some future president wants to leave a lasting legacy, he or she should step out like John Kennedy did about travel to the Moon and declare that in the next 10 years, we will end the drought threat to this nation once and for all.

The Super-Rich Suffer too

On the lighter side, the London Telegraph has article on September 13, on how the super-rich are also suffering in this drought. Near Santa Barbara, about 100 miles north of Los Angeles on the Pacific Ocean, is the small city of Montecito, home of many of the richest Hollywood and IT multi-billionaires. As the article puts it, they live in some of the world's biggest and most outlandish homes. With acres and acres of lawns these homes consume huge amounts of water.

In February, the Montecito Water District imposed cuts on the 10,000 residents, including the requirement that demand be reduced by 30%. Then the district went to mandatory cuts, imposing as much as 90% cuts on these big homes. For those who did not comply, the district leveled millions in fines. These people just paid the fines and continued using the water. Then the district threatened to just cut them off entirely, so what did the home owners do? They began trucking in water, and literally a fleet of water trucks has been making daily rounds delivering water, charging ten times what the water district charges. By August, the water delivered by the district was 50 percent of that from last August.