Desperation Drilling in California

July 16, 2014

As the drought deepens, desperate California farmers push deeper into already stressed aquifers.

Climate Central:

California is surviving the drought this summer because it is using its water “bank account” — groundwater. The problem for the state is that nobody knows how big that bank account is because California is the only Western state that doesn’t measure its groundwater, Howitt said.

About 5.5 million acre-feet of the 6.6 million acre-foot loss in surface water is made up for with groundwater pumping, which means that the state is really only feeling a water loss of about 1 million acre-feet, or enough to fill roughly 543,089 Olympic swimming pools.

But groundwater pumping comes at a cost to farmers — $454 million statewide — mainly because of the electricity required.

It’s anybody’s guess how long that use of groundwater can go on for because the state doesn’t know how much groundwater is being used, preventing the state from managing its groundwater effectively, according to the report.

“We’re like somebody who is so rich, they don’t have to balance their checkbook,” Howitt said. “We still think we’re in a groundwater-rich era.”

Report co-author and UC-Davis professor Jay Lund said more groundwater is being pumped for agriculture this year than has ever been delivered by the State Water Project in an entire year. (The Project is in charge of storing and delivering water across the state, with most water going to urban users.)

The report calls on the state of California to more effectively manage groundwater and allow it to replenish in wet years.

But when the next wet year will come is anybody’s guess, because there’s more than a 50 percent chance that the drought will drag on at least another year, Lund said

He said the length of the current drought may not be affected by a possible El Niño currently brewing in the Pacific, he said.

El Niños do not correlate with higher stream flows in California, so the state can’t plan on an unusually wet period coming up if an El Niño develops, Lund said.

Climate change’s role in California’s drought is unclear, and the National Climate Assessment projects that the state is unlikely to see the significant changes in soil moisture, precipitation and the annual number of dry days that are expected in Arizona, New Mexico and other areas of the Southwest.

California has always had droughts and probably always will, Lund said.

“The climate is becoming warmer,” he said. “We are seeing a shift — less runoff in the spring and more in the winter. That makes it harder to manage water because water is running off at a time further from when we want it.”

The state has a long history of drought, with some lasting only a few years and others lasting centuries.

The bottom line for California and water scarcity is that climate change will likely make it costlier and less convenient to capture water for human and agricultural consumption, but it’s unclear yet if climate change alone will mean less water overall for the state, Lund said.


14 Responses to “Desperation Drilling in California”

  1. andrewfez Says:

    Meanwhile in LA: business as usual – car wash is full of leased Mercedes, lawns are green, pools are full (LA has an obsession with private home swimming pools: see link), &c., all in this dry, Mediterranean climate which sees only 5 to 10 rain days per year (only in the winter).,-118.3738132,663m/data=!3m1!1e3

  2. […] As the drought deepens, desperate California farmers push deeper into already stressed aquifers. Climate Central: California is surviving the drought this summer because it is using its water “bank…  […]

  3. […] Related The Weather in U.S. and Canada Will Be Very Bizarre This Week Nestlé calls world’s water scarcity ‘more urgent’ than climate change – as it sells bottled water from drought-ridden California Desperation Drilling in California […]

  4. dumboldguy Says:

    Just finished reading Ehrenreich’s “Bright-Sided: How the relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking has Undermined America”—-she nailed it in every way.

    The level of wishful “positive” thinking going on in CA is beyond belief. They want there to be water so there simply WILL be water, and if you need to keep drilling deeper for it, so be it. We’ve had droughts before, etc.

    And they don’t regulate drilling and have no idea of what the groundwater resources really are in the state. Swell way to make plans for the future.

    I particularly like the implication that those “city folk” are using up the surface water that “belongs” to the farmers. Don’t they understand that the farmers want to get rich, as they THINK (positively) is their due? The Power of Positive Thinking is spectacular in its mindlessness.

  5. jimbills Says:

    This is what ecological overshoot looks like:

    It’s a distinct trend that shows no sign of reversing. What does California mean for U.S. agriculture?:

    What can’t last, won’t. We need to diversify agricultural production by bringing fruit and veg production to other states, localize it wherever possible, and use less water using techniques like aquaponics. None of these will bring more profit than high scale industrial agriculture, but this is a system built to favor the short-term at the expense of the long-term. These techniques also likely won’t feed as many as we’d like, as California is prime land in soil quality and in growing conditions, but this too is only a matter of time.

    “They’re gonna suck it dry.”

    • jimbills Says:

      This is certainly a climate change issue, but even more than climate change is water usage. We’re using far more than can be replenished during any year, let alone drought years. Is agriculture growing in California?:

      Monterrey County: “Recent forecasts suggest that agriculture will continue to provide the greatest number of new jobs.”

      Speaking to oldguy’s comments about hope, here is a great case study:

      They’re going to grow their way out of their problems.

      “The scarcity of water seeped into nearly all of the talks but did not wash out hopes for continued growth in production and sales as global appetites — particularly in China – heighten demand.”

    • andrewfez Says:

      =We need to diversify agricultural production by bringing fruit and veg production to other states, localize it wherever possible, and use less water using techniques like aquaponics.=

      That’s one of Post Carbon Institute’s arguments for resilience: Richard Heiberg says something along the lines of ‘Free market capitalism says if State X has the very best soil, then as many crops as possible (or maybe the most valuable crop possible) should be grown there…’, but that contradicts resilience as a drought or other large event could knock the entire production out…

      Low energy hydroponics:

  6. I especially agree with the comment about wishful thinking. There is a great book out by James Kunstler called…….. too much magic………. that talks about this mass tendency. I lived in Calif and have friends there still. NOBODY is worried about the drought and the basic response is wait till the hoped for El Nino predicted right around corner and all the problems will be over. When I read in March that Calif snowpack was 5% of normal this year, I immediately came to the conclusion this is probably climate related and what is falling in winter is rain and not snow due to higher temps and it is snow runoff in springs that adds to the bank so to speak in water storage…………to the tune of 40% per year. Without that, Calif is dead in the water…….no pun intended. Other comments are desalination plants or pipe the water in from the great lakes will be the answer…………….these are such pie in the sky answers its what a child would come up with. I think we will start seeing a lot of climate refugees moving to other areas in the coming decade, sadly.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      California could possibly get some relief in the fall, if El Nino holds to the “classic” behavior. Meanwhile, the snowpack is declined to 0 – and it’s going to be a long few months, at best, to get to any relief. I hope it comes.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        And if it comes, what will be the result? The can will be kicked down the road and they will go back to BAU. It may sound unkind, but until the SHTF and we have the Great Disruption and Great Awakening that Gilding talks about, denial and delay will continue.

        It may sound heartless, but a real “climate refugee” crisis in CA may be the wake-up call that the country needs to finally get serious about climate change.

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