5 Times MORE Promised, than is There – Water

OK, so drilling a well for water has put water on high alert for me. I see “alerts” everywhere. Of course, it’s in the news because 98% of California is in a “exceptional drought condition” alert.

Endless Supply...NOT

Endless Supply…                      NOT                                               Other states have experienced, and are still struggling, with water issues

But this takes the cake. Really.

It takes some doing…. promising 5 times more water to people, than is even there, in a normal rain year. That’s what the latest California water assessment just published, showed:

“For 100 years, California’s State Water Resources Control Board and its predecessors have been responsible for allocating available water supplies…

Here, we present the first comprehensive evaluation of appropriative water rights to identify where, and to what extent, water has been dedicated to human uses relative to natural supplies.

The results show that water right allocations total… 

–  approximately five times the state’s mean annual runoff.

–  In the state’s major river basins, water rights account for up to 1000% of natural surface water supplies…”

Researchers from UC DAVIS & MERCED, released the results of their in-depth study, and it is truly mind-boggling what the actual details reveal.  These researchers present us with the reality of what the results of past management has been. Read Abstract~whole article

We already know that the allocations were made on unrealistic expectations due to heavier-than-normal rainfall, for the last century (according to tree ring & other research going back hundred/thousands of years).

But still, FIVE TIMES the usual rainfall, in this century? Talk about creating a no-win situation.

TEN TIMES the surface water (rivers, lakes, streams)???

If we don’t get serious now… hey, literally, that bottle of water WILL be the new gold.  You can’t eat or drink gold so it’s value will trade places with how we value water these days.

CADILLAC DESERT: American West & It’s Disappearing Water 1986

Cadillac DesertReminiscent of the classic work, Marc Reisner‘s book, Cadillac Desert (1986), which delved into the history of water use in the American West.

The UC Study illustrates the hard outcomes of past decisions, that we are facing in our current era.

If you haven’t read it, and use water in any form (clean, dirty, ice, irrigation, food, drink), in my opinion you should be required to read it for a better understanding of something, we in the ‘developed world’ take for granted, and should not.

I say that, not because, I want to be judgmental but because you truly do need to know what your future reality is going to be based on. It’s useful to know how we got there. The ‘human factors’ that we need to confront because as human beings we need to recognize our “flaws” and find a work around, or they will become our fatal flaws.

The book is a fascinating read. The promo reads, “It explores the triumph and disaster, heroism and intrigue, and the rivalries and bedfellows that dominate this significant chapter of American history. At the very least, this book should be required reading for every high school student in the Western United States.” and its true.

It is a key to understanding how these states obtained the water that transformed them from deserts to oases and encouraged multitudes to move westward. Even though it was written many years ago, it is a timely reminder that western water resources are not limitless. By reviewing what was done in the past perhaps we can learn how to better utilize this precious resource in the future, especially now as the Western States are experiencing extreme drought. With the forecast reading, “more of the same” don’t you think that would be the smart way to handle it?  

We need to seriously reorder how we use the water we do have. Here are two interesting charts:

(click on any picture to get a larger version, that is more readable)

cropVsWaterValue bottled water vs tap water

If it takes more than double the amount of water to produce grapes, than most of our other fruits, is this a wise use of 98% of our farmland in Sonoma County?

 I think it is time to start making some rational decisions of how we use our resources. Perhaps we need to give tax breaks to those who produce useful lower water consumption crops?

Or look at this chart: To be honest, I had no idea of these numbers, and I hate to look closer. What adaptations do we need to start thinking about?

waterProductsWeBuy

Western WATERSHEDS ~

this is one of the most stunningly beautiful maps I have seen, and the information shared in it is priceless.  I couldn’t believe this was done in the 1880’s. It shows where the water that falls, drains to, naturally.

powell's watershed districts

Perhaps it is time to implement the suggestions made along with this map, after the first assessments were made of the western watersheds (a recommendation sidelined in pursuit of other interests).

California’s use 170 gal/day/per person on average. But that number dramatically varies depending of industry (farming takes more); wealth (large lawns, landscaping, no money worries), and climate (cooler coastal regions don’t use as much water.WATERUSE gallons 020914

Each watershed area should manage water allotments for the water they actually receive (i.e. not amounts but a percentage basis). Instead of 1 million gallons you get 1% of whatever falls, the previous year. Period.  You can choose to store it to even out the years but you can’t be guaranteed more than what is there. Water flows in specific directions; reduce the energy outflow to move it to other areas.

You can’t steal from others (those around you, or the future)! Crying that your ‘need’ is greater than other’s (or will impact more jobs, or the food supply, etc) is just an excuse to try and get someone else to bear the burden.  Have we become a nation of “whiners” always wanting someone else to bail us out? 

San-Diego-County-Water-Supply

It’s an insane system that is doomed to failure, that is built up on unsustainable promises.  We can begin to adjust now, or crash & burn.  It is time to back off our current system and begin to deal with the realities. Our current system has encouraged the development of land, businesses, and population growth that can not be sustained.  San Diego had enough water for 800,000 people; it now has a population of over 3 million. How do we deal with that reality? 

POPULATION OVERSHOOT

It is the “doomed discussion” ~

Population Growth

Population Growth – where are the limits?

not to be talked about!

but it underlies EVERY single problem we face. Population overshoot.  

We love our freedom to have as many children as we wish. We love that freedom so much, that we apparently are willing to condemn our children themselves, to a world of starvation.  

We no longer have ‘new ecological niches’ to move to, in order to handle our expansion (or to kick other people out of).

Carry WaterWant a closer look at that world we are creating? try africa, or rural india, rural china… populations in the billions (or soon to be at the rate we are going).  

Never mind the problem of not enough jobs, their won’t be enough food/water, so that problem will be solved.

Painfully.

My heart weeps.

A PLACE TO START ~ California water fight

It is critically important to educate ourselves as water issues will be a major battle this upcoming year. With a $7.5 Billion Dollar plan on the ballot, we will be hit from all sides, to choose a specific path, from those with vested interests (not necessarily the Main Street Man’s interests). Corporations, who’s only goal is to make money anyway they can, don’t care about the future much, and certainly not about the quality of that future.

A democratic society, i.e. one that makes decisions by vote, need to be educated about what they are doing. Not just swayed by pretty pictures, sad stories, or persuasive rhetoric…. which is in essence, letting someone else do the thinking for us.  

Thus we need to decide: aim toward making an educated realistic decision, or will we let someone else present us with a nice illusion, and in the future, we suffer the real consequences. It’s come down to the wire.

Where to start?  How to educate yourself fairly easily? In this day & age, it is ridiculously easy. In the Information Age it’s more about sifting through it to find unbiased, realistic information rather than pipe dreams.  

I caution you to be aware of “self-delusion bias” or “confirmation bias”:

that tendency we all have to only believe in data or information that supports what we want to believe, and to discard (devalue, explain away) those things we don’t want to believe.

  • Don’t take my word for it; start looking at reports (just look at who writes them and consider what their vested interest is)
  • Take a look at Cadillac Desert; it has stood the test of time, and research is proving out it’s predictions (check the library, or get a used copy)
  • Watch the series on Southwest Water history; Cadillac Desert: Water and the Transformation of Nature is a 1997 American four-part documentary series about water, money, politics, and the transformation of nature, distributed via PBS (unable to locate – see the youtube video clips)CadillacDesertFilm
  • YOUTUBE Cadillac Desert  Click here: Cadillac Desert
    Water and the Transformation of Nature (1997): Part 1:  Dream, Part 2:  An American Nile, Part 3: The Mercy of Nature, Part 4: Last Oasis
  • Take a look at the research report just released: accèss to full article Read the full abstract and look through the whole paper.  

SEND ME links you think are good to share,

via the comments section, so others can benefit!

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Looking for the NEW California Gold… part 2

wellDiagramIt was time to start digging. Dig deep.

We’d talked to neighbors and area well drillers about what they had on their land, and what had been produced, in water wells.  An Indian Casino had gone in less than 10 miles away, that farmer’s were worried would suck all the local wells dry.

Neighbor’s were only getting marginal water (low flow and poor tasting, iron-containing staining water) in the 150 ft range. So some issues to consider.  We didn’t want to tap into water that would draw down our neighbors, draining them dry of the little they had.

Ain’t Cheap, That’s for Sure!

At roughly $60 a foot, it would be very expensive to drill.  $6,000 for every 100 ft.  The well driller recommended 200ft. and estimated we would get 35 gallon per minute (GPM). At that flow rate we would not have to put in extra equipment for fire backup. Of course, a total guess based on who knows what, but probably to give us the lowest possible estimate to get a well in. And NO, no guarantees. But, they could get the permit and be ready to drill in less than a month.

(Our first well drilling venture, in Hopland 2005… it took us three years to get a water well drilled! Need I say that we learned a few lessons along that road!)

This well drilling estimate looked good except that it did NOT include actually getting any water out of the ground… which would require a well pump, power, lines, etc. Whole other issues there.

Great folks to work with, Peterson Drilling (in business for over 50 years).  Showed up on time, knowledgeable and willing to discuss the whole process. If you know me, I was in hog heaven! Someone who would explain their work and the processes involved. 

They brought in close to a million dollars worth of equipment (today’s costs to replace the equipment) to start to

Drill Rig setting up

Drill Rig setting up

drill.  Before they began, raised an American Flag to the top of the drilling rig. American business doing real work producing something.

Over four days, they sunk the drill bit through layers and layers of various soil textures.  Along the way they took samples of the “spoils” coming up, and built a pattern of the different layers underlying the property. Some layers the drill bit moved through quickly, other’s it just crawled.  The operator making notes along the way of each change he observed in the “spoils”.

Often you could just “hear” the change in the drilling process to know that the underground terrain had changed. Think about it, you are going back hundreds and thousands of years as you move through those layers.

straining the spoils

straining the spoils

Scientists have taken the drill logs of over 8,000 different drillers, through out California, to build a picture of the underground layers and see the story they tell.

Building a Picture of the Underlying Layers

For us, the first 50 ft were sandy loan, perfect for growing crops. Well drained. This area had been an old flood plain so sedimentary soils had build up over time. And then we hit a clay layer, a creamy beige layer followed by a dark blue layer of clay.  The drillers called it “blue clay” and said it came from an ancient swamp land that had decomposed.

Clay ~ blue, white, beige

Clay ~ blue, white, beige

Blue clay is a “plastic layer”, a layer that water can barely penetrate. Instead of water moving many feet a day through the soil, this layer effectively blocked movement. Limiting it to 1-3 millimeters over a timeframe of a 100 years.  Water under this layer is basically ancient water that is not being recharged  The layer above this was the layer my neighbors had been, and still were, in.

Water “spaces” collapse

The problem with the soils & water withdrawals?  As water was removed, the soil particles compacted in and stuck to each other which prevent water from being reabsorbed into the soils, assuming it could even get there. (Maybe by pumping excess water back into the ground during the rainy season?)

We kept going deeper.  I did not want to be in a water reservoir that the neighbors were drawing on. We needed to go past another clay layer (i.e. through the bottom layer of that upper water reservoir).   A lower level would be a ‘contained’ reservoir, blocked from moving up by the clay layers above it; we would not be pulling out any of the water in the upper reservoir they were located in.

Boards stacked with Layers of Spoil Samples

Boards stacked with Layers of Spoil Samples

We hit the 200 ft level. No. Not far enough down.  

Good water bearing rock should be gavel-like in texture, some sand is ok, but small rocks are better.  Allows water to collect in the spaces and not as likely to compact down and prevent future water movement. Still no sense of any good layers of water bearing material.  Driller said, “I’m sure there IS water; how much or the quality? I have no idea.”

Keep going… I named 300 ft as the end point.  Somewhere between 200-300 feet we needed to find the right texture make-up of the layers.  I had to leave… couldn’t take the watching & waiting. I just knew I had committed our limited resources to the edge. We either got a return on it, or not (if we didn’t or if it was just minimal, it would severely limit what we could do with the farm land.)

Besides, I figured it was the ol’ boiling water figure of speech…. watching it wouldn’t make it happen any faster.

It was the middle of the 3rd day.  They would finish drilling and then start pumping water INTO the well to flush it out, and see what we would actually get.

Flushing the Well with Water

I came back. As I drove up, I could see the well head gushing water out.  They had placed a black tub on top to direct the water downward into the mini-drainage canal they had built at the start, to channel all the “spoils”.

Water, water

Water, water

Asking the driller how much longer they had to flush the well before we would know how much water we would get; he laughed, “honey, that’s not water we are flushing the well with, that IS  your water coming out.” I was shocked, stunned… on the verge of tears, actually.

I had prepared my self for a dribble,  3-4 gallons a minute that with a storage tank, you could get by on.

confined by upper & lower levels of clay

confined by upper & lower levels of clay

He was telling me we had a 100 GPM flowing from the well, of good water. No sulfur, no iron, just pristine water.

Ancient water that did not have hormones, antibiotics, industrial chemicals leached into it, protected by the upper layers of clay.

We even had enough water that we would be able to share with our neighbors.

Severe Drought in a Desert State

Why was I so shocked?  Here we are in the middle of the worst drought in California in over a hundred years, and we actually found water.  Turns out in the last 100 feet they drilled, roughly 85 ft of it was water-bearing material.  They hit another thick clay at 307 ft and stopped at that point.

Management becomes the key issue.  And will be an interesting point for discussion. How should water be managed? and why?

Water management in the past, and the future…

Land has dropped 30 ft/50 years

Land has dropped 30 ft/50 years

In the Central Valley of California (Sacrament Valley & San Joaquin Valley, 20-70 miles wide by 400 miles long) agriculture there has resorted to pumping from the aquifers to feed the water hungry farms.  Of course that valley production provides a quarter of the food for the entire country.  Move over one valley closer (cooler) to the coast, to Salinas and farmers produce close to 90% of some crops to the entire US. If you eat, a good portion comes from California farms.

Ground water, for years, has not been able to meet the needs of the industrial sized farms, despite building huge canals and moving water directly to the area.

The largest number of well permits ever issues, has occurred in the last two years.  Wells are being drilled to a 1,000 ft or more, as the surface wells (to 300 ft) dry up.

Land subsidence is dramatic; certain areas have dropped some 30 ft in the last 50 years. In the last 3 years of this drought, the land is collapsing in at the rate of a foot a year; as the water is removed, the land subsides.

collapsing layers as the water is removed

collapsing layers as the water is removed

Because it is becoming compacted it can never again hold water in the volume it has held in the past. This is happening in a relatively progressive state.

Ogallala Aquifer, largest in the USA, is already being pumped dry…

It has already happened in the mid-west where one of the world’s largest aquifer is located. The Ogallala Aquifer, spanning eight states, has been drawn down to a quarter

Ogallala Aquifer

Ogallala Aquifer – spanning eight states

of it’s initial size, in less that 60 years of intensive farming. Estimates mark 2028 as the expected date for the water to be gone.

Water that took thousands and thousands of years to collect… gone.  It would take a 100,000 years, it is estimated, to replenish the water naturally. It recharges at roughly one inch a year; while being drawn down 5 ft a year, in places.

Contamination ~ no way to undo that damage

The other danger? They want to build the Keystone XL pipeline right through the land the overlies the Ogallala Aquifer.  Don’t worry, “we won’t let it contaminate the water” by leaking into it! Right, as if I believe that one. If it happens, it’s something you can’t take back. Is that a gamble you want to take? Just how much DO you trust cost conscience corporations?

It is the time for each one of us to begin to say, it’s enough. It’s time to start thinking and acting sanely.  

You say, “It’s the corporation, it’s big business, it’s someone else’s problem.” But if you drive, if you heat or cool your home, if you eat food… you ARE part of the issues.  It is time to start taking responsibility for what needs to happen, on a local level. If you are waiting for big government to make changes, they won’t until you make it happen.

California Gold, in a Desert State, is called WATER

So I look at my “California Gold” and am reminded of my responsibility to the future… it forces me to consider a broader picture than just me and my “tribe”.  The need to chart a path that builds resilience for the future rather than just doing the traditional “taking” today, for me and mine. Actually, it’s what we all need to be doing, and doing it actively before we have no more choices.

Dang! We found the new “gold”… for California, Part 1

To bring our adventure up-to-date; after we were unable to renew our lease on the hundred year old homestead we were at, we search for another piece of land.

Looking for land

Looking for land, for grass-fed Lowline Angus (miniature beef)

Of course, the challenge in the North Bay Area (north of San Francisco) is buying anything that does not include “an arm & a leg” i.e. lots and lots of dollars.

We watched area sales (2 acres or more) for 3 years (seriously, 3 years) before we came across one possibility that met our criteria. We were looking between Petaluma & Santa Rosa, CA.

Critical criteria for a Land Purchase

  • WATER: It’s not even worth looking at a piece of land if you don’t have good water. Good water meaning, reliable & uncontaminated, and likely to stay that way.
  • CLIMATE: Amenable to growing things, & not likely to suffer too badly with the increasing heat issues.
  • SOIL:  Reasonable fertility without a history of chemical use, heavy traffic exposure (exhaust fumes from vehicles leaving their generous gifts), not downstream from nasty stuff that could come from rain run-off.
  • COMMUTE:  Realistically, we needed to be able to access the “paying job” fairly easy and/or mass transit
  • COMMUNITY:  A farm-friendly area with a community of like-minded folks, would be wonderful.
Morning brings cooling fogs

Morning brings cooling fogs

Our previous venture into farming, by leasing land in Cotati for three years, allowed us get a feel for the area and assess the suitability.  We fell in love with the ‘goldilocks’ climate ONE HOUR north of SF,  (not too hot, not too cold, but just right) with the added feature of minimal humidity. (I’ve lived in the south and dripped through those hot sticky summers already! Been there, done that.)

We learned to use hoophouses/greenhouse setups to extend the season/increase the heat for plants that did need it. Located just 30 min east of the cold waters of the Pacific Ocean, provided climate air-conditioning.  (By the way, if you go to San Francisco, don’t leave home without a coat, even in the summer. It’s surrounded by ice-cold water on three sides.)

Seniors don’t tolerate heat well as they age, so we were thinking ahead. Plants need heat, seniors notso much.

COMMUNITY

Sonoma/Marin/Mendocino/Napa counties, in California, are on the forefront of interests in sustainable farming development.  Priceless. Incredibly well educated population with an interest in creating what will be needed for our future. Numerous small startup & ventures into relocalizing our

farm trails
foods with a view to “real” sustainable practices. Working with the soil & it’s microbial life, nurturing it, building it, not stripping it. A community which valued quality, healthy, local foods to support the small farms.

This area has several very active Grange Halls; community groups that work to protect and support the small farmer.

 

OK. we just needed to locate a piece of land, now that we had identified the area/community & climate. With that, we could then look at water & soil quality once we found something.

WOW, was that a challenge.

I scoured the real estate listing. Was on several email boards that would send me a link immediately if something with any land, was up for sale, & I watched Craigslist. Keep my ear to the ground for possible “future sales” coming up.  Those I did see:  98% were not even worth considering. If they passed muster on my criterial list, they were multiples of $100,000’s out of our price range.

Had to think of the future income… being able to live on a pension and make those payments.

EUREKA (california slag for “I found it”!)

Feb/March of 2014 we hit a possible property.  A craigslist post… a foreclosure. Called immediately.

Almost 5 acres, but basically raw land.  No house (or water, or septic/sewer, or power) but had wonderful ol’ oak trees and an old chicken barn that still had a roof and was standing (barely). It had some acres that were perfect for growing hay/forage. Rural, yet 10 min access to freeway.

NO water. When I researched …Hmmm, neighbors on both sides, poor water amount and poor quality (iron).  

We knew the area well enough to realize that this was an old river plain.  Talked with the county geologist/hydrologist who showed us maps of the water basins in the county.  Many areas had virtually no water.  But… the area we were looking at… housed one of the largest & deepest aquifers in the county because it used to be, thousands and thousands of years ago… a flood plain, river basin, swampy area.  We had a good shot at getting, at the least, decent water i.e. 3-5 gal/min for home and 7 gal/min to do some irrigation (crops). It would be uncontaminated water (no hormones, antibiotics, industrial chemicals).

We gritted our teeth and took the plunge.  Pulled together every penny we could, and working with a wonderful seller, made a deal that allowed us to purchase the land.

PRICED TO KILL THE DREAM   Farming ventures in this part of the northern California are

Re-Localizing Quality Foods

Re-Localizing Quality Foods

 

basically priced out of existence, unless you have family land or have hooked in to some special deal. But the average young farmer is significantly challenged if they are trying to start up. Why? If your mortgage is $5000/month that’s a heck of a lot of potatoes to have to sell, and that doesn’t even cover your living expenses.

We learned the hard way that just paying the taxes on land, can be more than you can make by farming. Why are the costs so high? ‘Cause we’re so close to SF & Silicon Valley… where their are still jobs that pay good wages. Those salaries push the prices for land/homes skyward.

Previously, on our first land purchase, a very expensive learning curve, we figured we would have to sell one cow a month just to pay the taxes… but the 65 acres of land that we had, could not support that many cows.

That was JUST to pay the taxes. Rocky hills, minimal pasture (great for a vineyard, not so great for raising crops or livestock). Talk about a conundrum when you are working to “relocalize” your food for community resilience!

We ended up taking a big hit when we sold that piece of land, loosing all of our investment and then some, but we recognized that it was a no-win situation (Crash of 2008-9). We were able to sell the acreage and ended up with a little cash in pocket.

More importantly, we did come out with an awesome education and awareness of things we needed to consider closely, when we did purchase again.

to be continued… “drilling for water” (or sweating bullets)

 

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