A strident visionary water voice



As the continuing drought puts incrementally more pressure on California’s shrinking water supply, strident voices on every side are hurling accusations left and right, some of which landed recently on the ears of some members of the House Natural Resources Committee, conducting a field hearing on “Immediate and Long-Term Relief for Drought-Impacted San Joaquin Valley.”

Barbara Barrigan-Parilla might be considered one of those strident voices. She is also the executive director of Restore the Delta (RTD), a coalition of environmental and farming interests adamantly opposed to the twin-tunnel water siphon being proposed as an engineering solution to California’s chronic water shortage.

Strident or not, Barrigan-Parrilla is challenging the absence of good science and the abundance of self interest currently driving the Delta agenda. In her testimony, she criticized the House Committee for its exclusive focus on south-of-Delta water exporters, stating, “There’s not enough water to keep salt out of the Delta and deliver water to Firebaugh at the present time. The south-of-Delta growers who rely on water exports don’t have water this year because they over-used Delta water last year, exceeding the amount that the State said was safe. Now, they want the rest of us to pay for their miscalculation.”

Barrigan-Parrilla told the Committee, “This committee is blinded by its desire to serve a few huge industrial agribusinesses. The decline of our fisheries is a red-alert warning that water mismanagement threatens all of us: farmers, fishermen and urban residents. Taking more water out of the Delta is not going to solve our problems. It’s the drought, not the Delta, that’s affecting the water supply this year.”

She went on: “Unfortunately, no discussion is focused on the needs of Delta farming and fishing communities, coastal fishing communities or the health of the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary. No discussion is intended to focus on gross mismanagement by the Department of Water Resources and the Bureau of Reclamation that has helped bring us to the precipice during this water crisis. There is no focus on how upstream reservoirs at the beginning of 2013 were over 100 percent of historical average storage, and how by the beginning of 2014 they were at dangerously low levels. This Committee should investigate how the State has promised five times more in water rights than there is water available in the system during years of average rainfall.”

And on: “This Committee should examine how, even in 2013, the Westlands Water District continued to plant almond trees, bringing their total almond acreage to 79,000 acres, despite knowing they are only guaranteed surplus water in the system.

“There is plenty of talk about how the Delta tunnels, part of the mis-named Bay Delta Conservation Plan, will bring growers water reliability. But, if the tunnels were already constructed they would be dry today, they would not protect fisheries, and the Delta region would be transformed into an industrial eyesore. We cannot build our way out of droughts.”

Strident? Perhaps. Critical questions to answer before more multi-billion dollar plumbing is installed?

We think so.

  • Phineas Worthington

    We need more water production and storage, period. And we should stop flushing perfectly good water down into the ocean during drought.

    • Chris Scott

      More water production? Contact God, pray for rain.

      Shall we make the SF Bay a fresh water lake by building a dam the Golden Gate?

      • Phineas Worthington

        We’ve already discussed this. You’re the expert on Cadiz, remember? Maybe you could contact Sen. Feinstien who is blocking it. And there is recycled waste water. There is also desalination, which when made more efficient will possibly provide all the water we could ever need. There is also making the existing system leak proof, more efficient, and less wasteful. There are many many more ideas if you are an open mind, but you clearly are not.

        The politics of water here in CA are starting to resemble rank political retribution by democrats against the republican central valley quite frankly.

        • Chris Scott

          Afraid I cannot accept the award of an expert on Cadiz Water Project. I merely corrected you incorrect information and provided a few bits of additional information, which we hoped was helpful.

        • Chris Scott

          I’m afraid I cannot accept the reward for being an expert on the Cadiz Water Project. I merely attempted to correct your limited information and provide a bit of additional information. Hopefully it was helpful.

          (See 2 Part Info on desalination below.)

          Cadiz has a much bigger problem than Sen. Feinstein. The water is contaminated (see below.)

          Article: Cadiz water project faces federal, local hurdles

          The Metropolitan Water District, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, environmental rules and lawsuits could stand in the way of the controversial Cadiz water project.

          A looming state standard for hexavalent chromium, a toxic heavy metal that is naturally occurring in the aquifer Cadiz plans to tap, could prompt the MWD to require expensive treatment of the groundwater before it is pumped into the Colorado aqueduct.

          • Phineas Worthington

            You’ve detailed the history of poor water management very well. We are witness to yet another chapter of that poor management narrative.

            It is a shame you seem to be so deterministic and fatalistic in the examination of this problem and the possible solutions to it. I fear your pessimistic sentiments are shared by a fair majority.

            Mankind created it. Mankind will fix it. I’m optimistic.

          • Chris Scott

            Good luck and God bless.

  • Dee Test

    Desalination costs money. This whole issue is about money. The large growers don’t want to pay the premium rates for fresh water which their agribusiness consumes. They want the taxpayers and residents of the state to pay to provide them with large quantities of water. And our government officials refuse to honestly address this, and refuse to allow the people of California to become educated about this. Because corruption related to all those backroom deals is better hidden away from the public’s scrutiny. This whole water mess is about money and corruption, and lying to our voters.

    • Chris Scott

      Parched California Pours Mega-Millions Into Desalination Tech

      Besieged by drought and desperate for new sources of water, California towns are ramping up plans to convert salty ocean water into drinking water to quench their long-term thirst. The plants that carry out the high-tech “desalination” process can cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but there may be few other choices for the parched state.

      Where the Pacific Ocean spills into the Agua Hedionda Lagoon in Carlsbad, Calif., construction is 25 percent complete on a $1 billion project to wring 50 million gallons of freshwater a day from the sea and pour it into a water system that serves 3.1 million people.

      The process, however, is energy intensive and thus expensive, making it practical only in places where energy is cheap, such as the oil-rich Middle East. But recent technological advances in membrane materials and energy recovery systems have about halved the energy requirements for desalination, giving the once cost-prohibitive technology a fresh appeal in a state gripped with fear that it may be in the early stages of a decades-long mega-drought.

      San Diego’s $1 billion bet

      In the early 1990s, fears that a drought-induced limit to imported water could leave San Diego County with just a trickle from its scarce local supply prompted the regional water agency to include desalination as part of its long-term strategy, according to Bob Yamada, a planning manager with the San Diego County Water Authority.

      Today, the county’s Carlsbad Desalination Project under construction is the largest seawater desalter in the Western Hemisphere. When it comes online in 2016, the $1 billion facility will produce enough water to meet the daily needs of 300,000 area residents, which is about 7 percent of the county’s water requirements.

      But that dash of independence comes at a cost. The water authority is locked into a 30-year deal with the plant’s developer, Poseidon Water, to purchase desalted water for about $2,000 an acre foot in 2012 dollars. That’s nearly twice as expensive as the current rate for imported water and will add $5 to $7 per month to ratepayers’ bills, which is about a 10 percent hike.

      The county is making the bet “that even though there is a significant difference right now, those costs will converge in the future [and] that convergence could happen as soon as the early 2020s,” Yamada told NBC News. He added that water authority studies found that 68 percent of ratepayers are willing to pay more for a drought-proof water supply.

      Mothballed in Santa Barbara

      A reconsideration of desalination is underway in Santa Barbara, about 185 miles north of Carlsbad, where planners are in the early discussions about investing around $20 million to upgrade and restart a $34 million desalination plant that was constructed there in the early 1990s as a hedge against an ongoing drought, according to Joshua Haggmark, the interim water resources manager for the city.

      Although the plant was permitted and constructed in just two years, it was never brought online. The rains returned and filled area reservoirs just as the desalter was completed. “It was really a challenge to continue and run and operate the facility given the much cheaper surface water,” he told NBC News. “The facility was mothballed.” In fact, part of it was disassembled and sold to Saudi Arabia.

      Bringing it back on line will require a massive overhaul. What’s more, “Santa Barbara is a pretty topographically challenged community; there are quite a few different elevations,” Haggmark said. Most of the coastal city’s water comes via gravity from higher elevation reservoirs. Desalination “comes in at the bottom. You have to lift this water and move this water further up into the system, which is expensive.”

      Sand City Independence

      Limited water resources on the Monterey Peninsula hindered master development plans for the small town of Sand City, Calif., which was restricted from any new construction until the city increased its water supply. Regional efforts to find solutions ran into financial and political constraints for more than 20 years. Frustrated, the city struck out on its own to develop a desalination plant.

      The city partnered with California American Water for the $14 million project, which started producing 300 acre feet of freshwater a year in 2010. The plant draws brackish water from wells, which is less salty than seawater, meaning its energy requirements are less. The salt content of the leftover brine is about equal the ocean’s, so it can be discharged without damaging the marine environment.

      The city currently uses about a third of the annual output; the rest is shared among other cities on the water-short peninsula. This allows the water company to reduce its reliance on the stressed Carmel River, which is under state protections.

    • Chris Scott

      If you would look for info on Desalination In CA you would find not only a great deal of information but info on current desalination projects; For example the world’s largest Desalination plant being built in San Diego (see below).

      Here’s a bit of that avail info beginning with the CA Dept of Water Resources Desalination web site

      CA Gov. Dept of Water Resources (WDR)

      About Desalination; Introduction

      Water desalination is the removal of salts and dissolved solids from saline water (brackish or seawater), also known as Desalting or Desalinization. In addition to the removal of minerals, the process removes most biological or organic chemical compounds. Most desalination processes are based either on thermal distillation or membrane separation technologies.

      Proposition 50 – Chapter 6(a) Water Desalination Grants;

      In November 2002, California voters passed Proposition 50, the Water Security, Clean Drinking Water, Coastal and Beach Protection Act of 2002. (Division 26.5 of the California Water Code) Chapter 6(a) of Proposition 50 allocated the sum of $50 million for grants for brackish water and ocean water desalination projects. This grant program – administered by DWR – aimed to assist local public agencies to develop new local water supplies through the construction of brackish water and ocean water desalination projects and help advance water desalination technology and its use by means of feasibility studies, research and development, and pilot and demonstration projects. Two rounds of funding were conducted (2004-2006) under this grant program investing about $50 million to support 48 desalination projects including: 7 construction projects, 14 research and development projects, 15 pilots and demonstrations, and 12 feasibility studies.

      2005 Desalination Grant Funding (Round 1)

      2006 Desalination Grant Funding (Round 2)

      2014 Desalination Grant Funding (Round 3)

      Information about other propositions is available at the State of California Bond Accountability web site:

    • Chris Scott

      The price of food from the central valley is dependent on the price of water. The problem facing politicians, regulators, farmers and the public balancing the increases in water prices versus the price of food. In the past the public has been willing to accept higher residential water rates in exchange for limiting the increases in food prices, knowing food prices will and will inevitably increase.

      • Dee Test

        Most of those growers are exporting their products out of the US. This is not about curtailing food costs in the US. This is about profit for large agribusiness at the expense of the taxpayers, and about a government that facilitates this corruption.

        • Chris Scott

          There are about 80,500 farmers in CA. The average farm is 303 acres.(2012)