California's One-Year Water Supply and Other Items
In the past few days I've learned that California has just one year of water left. How do I know this? Well, that was the headline for Jay Famiglietti's excellent Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times. The 'one-year' mantra has become the proverbial meme, and that is unfortunate because it is wrong. But that chilling headline was crafted by the LAT folks, not by Jay, and the one-year number excludes groundwater - it refers only to surface water reservoirs.
Yesterday the LAT posted an article, 'Overpumping of Central Valley groundwater creating crisis, experts say'. It's funny, but this news is not new and the same headline could have been written 40 years ago. Frankly, California sucks at managing its groundwater on a statewide basis: it doesn't!
Jay Famiglietti's Recommendations and My Two Cents
Jay made some good recommendations that I fully support:
1) Immediate mandatory water rationing should be authorized across all of the state's water sectors, from domestic and municipal through agricultural and industrial.
2) The implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014 should be accelerated.
3) The state needs a task force of thought leaders that starts, right now, brainstorming to lay the groundwork for long-term water management strategies.
To the above, I would add a fourth and fifth:
4) Appoint a recognized, skilled water manager to serve as 'drought czar'. I am not fond of that title, but it conveys what I mean: someone in charge, no questions asked. I recommend Pat Mulroy, former Executive Director of the Southern Nevada Water Authority. She is respected, even feared, in Western water circles, very smart, and in her later years has become more collaborative and conciliatory. She has 'street creds'. Mulroy can also knock heads and take names when needed. And as someone who is not from, and does not live in, California, she has less statewide baggage than some California water buffalo. She should be appointed chair (or at least a member) of the task force in (3).
5) Initiate a comprehensive study of the total amount of recoverable, usable groundwater beneath the state and the amount entering/leaving the state. By 'usable' I mean that it must be of such quality that it can be used for something: drinking, irrigation, industry, augmenting streamflow, etc. This a far tougher task than it sounds, which is why it hasn't been done. In California's laissez-faire approach to groundwater management - let the locals do it, with little or no statewide oversight unless the resource is in an adjudicated basin - well logs and other important information may not be available. Well, make them available.
The project would also include identifying suitable sites for managed aquifer recharge (MAR).
To oversee this difficult but important task California must choose someone with 'groundwater street creds'. I have two names: Dr. John D. Bredehoeft (left) and Dr. Lenny Konikow (right). John is one of the outstanding hydrogeologists of our time and mentored many younger ones as a former U.S. Geological Survey heavyweight. One of those mentored by John was Lenny Konikow, another former USGS scientist - a younger heavyweight. Both John and Lenny are members of the US National Academy of Engineering, as good as it gets for hydrogeologists. They are familiar with California hydrogeology, and don't suffer fools. Pick one, give them $$ and turn 'em loose. Probably be a good idea to have the California USGS folks do the work.
Why California Needs to Know Its Groundwater Stocks
But all the above begs a question: why does California (or any other state) need to know how much groundwater it has? I don't see anyone in California really trying to answer that question so maybe it doesn't matter. We have some information on California groundwater inflows and outflows but we do not the stocks. The GRACE data that Jay and his colleagues use do not tell us how much groundwater there is - only the changes in storage (see my 2 August 2014 post). One 2001 publication I found said there were 250 MAF of usable (??) groundwater.
Why is this knowledge important? Would we try to manage surface water supplies without knowing how much water there is? Of course not! Don't we want to know when the critical resource groundwater will run out? When will it hit bottom? How can we be concerned about groundwater depletion when we don't know how much there is?
Anyone even remotely interested in the world's water predicament has to read this paper. It's not long. Jay lays it out, pure and simple, and it ain't very pretty. He makes the important point that estimates of the stocks (amount in storage) of groundwater are not well-known in many aquifers. So we don't know how much recoverable water is left. It's like withdrawing money from a checking account in excess of the deposits, but not knowing the total amount of money actually in the account. So you can withdraw more than you deposit, but you won't know when the money will run out until is actually does. Not good!
The Sustainable Management Groundwater Management Act Will Fix All, Right?
What about the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act? It does not require knowledge of the groundwater stocks in a particular area. Besides, its implementation timetable does not help matters.
Some will say that sustainable management of groundwater does not require knowledge of stocks since you should not be pumping any more water than is being recharged. That is a conservative approach to groundwater pumping, one that has seemingly been relegated to the hydrogeological circular file in California. Such a sustainable approach, while admirable, doesn't work in times of stress when surface water supplies are scarce and more groundwater must be pumped. We could then implement a planned depletion scheme.
Information on the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act
Here is my version of public service.
And one publication from the Water Education Foundation:
Here is the Draft Strategic Plan for the California Groundwater Sustainability Program:
By the way, comments on this plan are due 1 June; visit the SGM homepage.
I need to rest now.
'All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray.
I've been for a walk on a winter's day.
I'd be safe and warm if I was in L.A.;
California dreamin' on such a winter's day.'
- California Dreamin' by John Phillips & Michelle Phillips
'You can't manage what you don't measure.' - Unknown