Monthly Archives: March 2015

The “browning” of California – an update regarding the one billion dollar “emergency plan.”

By Terry Mullin, March 28, 2015

On March 19th, five days after my posting of The “browning” of California, Governor Brown announced a billion dollar drought relief plan. For those who have not watched the YouTube broadcast of it from the CalChannel – which I suspect are most of you as only 71 views as my writing this were noted, you should watch it in its entirety , paying special attention to the opening remarks from all speakers. And whereas this is not the second installment where I will address all five aspects of the common sense sustainability model, due to this “emergency” announcement, a retrospective was in order.

Prior to Governor Brown speaking, it is important to hear what others say about our drought. For that reason, I made a “best attempt” to transcribe as closely as possible, but defer to the video “for the record” the comments and context of the press conference.

No single solution is the answer: – it will take all of the “common sensecommon sense sustainability image sustainable” steps and more to address the drought. And make no mistake about it – it is not just a “California thing,” but a situation that can impact the entire United States and beyond. We are all in this together, and Mr. Kevin de León got it spot on – “There is no greater crisis facing our state today than its lack of water.”

This did not come up overnight…January 5th of this year I published What Have We Learned About the California Drought Since 2009? In the 60 Minutes segment from 2009, then Governor Schwarzenegger stated that his state is in crisis. “We’ve been in crisis for quite some time because we’re now 38 million people and not anymore 18 million people like we were in the late 60s.” We heard that rhetoric again in the drought press conference! Action must be taken now, with REAL RESULTS. Actions cost money, and inaction will cost even more. So, the full California budget must be reviewed for possible funding for solutions.

Scheduled to come online in 2015 is the $734 Million Carlsbad Desalination Project . Budget numbers fluctuate up to “one billion dollars.” And whereas desalinated water will cost more for up to 112,000 households when in 2016 it is in full production, a typical household of four people can expect to pay approximately $5 to $7 more per month when the plant begins producing water as early as fall 2015 . BUT THEY WILL HAVE WATER!

You can’t ignore “the elephant in the room”: – the $68 billion dollar high speed rail project. Whereas I will not belabor the obvious, California must live on a budget. Water is clearly the most pressing short and long term issue for the State. Spending on “real water projects” and getting real results takes precedent on secondary projects such as the high-speed rail.

Spending $660 million on “flood control” in the middle of an extreme drought?

drought emergency

Whereas Proposition 1E Flood Control Bond Funding from 2006 was important in 2006 when our reservoirs and lakes held much more water, it is now 8 years later, with California being 4 years-plus into an extreme drought. Spending $660 million on legacy “flood control” efforts seems to be a mistimed priority today . Planning for the future is prudent, but we have some “options” for water storage today and getting water should be the number-one priority.

Using math: Using the $734 million number, and dividing the $68 billion rail budget number by it, you come up with funding for up to approximately NINETY THREE (93) possible desalination plants similar to the Carlsbad plant, which then could hypothetically supply water to over 10 million homes (10,376,022). Using the Governor’s 38 million population number, that would mean approximately 27% of the entire state’s population, could be served by 93 new desalination plants if built. California has approximately 840 miles of coastline with access to the Pacific Ocean from which salt water could be pulled from. Building those plants would be great for jobs in the state as well. Again, no single initiative is the full answer and undertaking such a plan warrants environmental study and brine management that results from desalination.

I don’t think “sounding like explosive growth” happened overnight or sneaked up on us helps: Whereas Governor Brown opened with “Well, we all face a challenge, because California for 10,000 years had only 300,000 or so residents. When you up that number to 38 million, and you increase the amenities, and the consumption, you get a problem when you are in the middle of a desert.”

This is a band aid: Assembly member Kristin Olsen aptly stated “this is a band aid (referring to the plan); this is a temporary, small-step towards fixing a monumental problem.” She then called on us all coming up with “long term” solutions to address the water problem. “…I’m calling on the State water agencies, on state government to get projects out of the red-tape; to get them moving because they have been hung-up for decades. We need more storage, more desalination, more water recycling projects, more other innovative projects that will increase supply and deliver it to the communities who so desperately need it.” This speaks directly to the common sense sustainability model.

Senator Bob Huff commented “…but it really comes down to personal responsibility now – cutting back our consumption.” This is the crux of the problem. It seems difficult to address the reality that water rationing must be enacted to slow the problem down until initiatives and programs that achieve results are in full-swing to make the difference in the water crisis and drought. Left to requests only, cutting back on consumption simply will not happen.

The press conference: Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León getsthe press conference right to it: “There is no greater crisis facing our state today than its lack of water. It’s an economic crisis because our farms and our factories need water to create jobs and supply the worlds’ food and products. It’s an environmental crisis because our snowpack is lower than ever before in recorded history. Our rivers and streams are dry. And our natural resources are shriveling up. It’s a public health crisis because tens of thousands of people are without clean drinking water. That number is increasing.”

“Now our state budget is written in the winter before the legislature convenes in January. …Now we are almost in spring and we know we have had almost no water this year. Now NASA is now estimating we have one year or two of water supply left and that is creating a renewed sense of urgency. Simply put, we cannot wait until June when the budget passes to start directing funds. We definitely can’t wait for Washington to help. Congress hasn’t pitched in the penny so far. And that is why the governor, speaker Toni Atkins, and my republican colleagues Mr. Huff and Ms. Olsen are here today to announce an emergency drought and water supply reliable package. WE NEED TO ACT NOW. Our package is two bills. One, an appropriations bill and the other a policy bill. The first bill appropriates over a billion dollars in Proposition 1 bond dollars, water bond from last year and Proposition 1E from 2006. These funds were approved by the voters for water and flood related investments. We need to get the money out the door now for shovel-ready projects and existing water projects that only need funding to get started. No delay. No red-tape. The second bill speeds up contracting for funds and creates its first (of its kind) office to help disproportionally impacted communities respond to their water challenges and access State resources. Translation: many of the poor communities in the Central Valley. Taken together this package provides a major boost to our State’s efforts to manage our water crisis and strengthen our current infrastructure.”

“Now, I want to thank the Governor, Governor Jerry Brown and Madame Speaker Toni Atkins for working together to respond to this crisis. It shows how we as leaders can get things done when we all work together in a common purpose. I also want (to) thank my colleagues in the Senate who have been involved from this in this from its inception, especially Senators Wolk and Fran Pavley (spelling and verification from speaking not available) who are on the budget sub-committee that oversees water and flood funds. Also want to thank Senator Cathleen Galgiani for her tireless work to get funds for heavily impacted districts. Finally, I want to make one note that this is just a down payment on our efforts to address this drought. This is just the first round. We have much work to do. The Governor has asked us to approve additional flood and water funds later in the budget cycle, and we will do that. And you can bet, all of us collectively, will be back with our sleeves rolled up to do more to help Californians through the crisis. And that includes tackling long-term challenges of climate change. We will ensure that our state government is on the job, full-time to use all the tools at its disposal to help our state throughout this drought.”

Very quickly…Mr. Kevin de Leon recapped some of the preceding in Spanish…

“With that it is with great pleasure that I have an opportunity to introduce my good friend, my partner in the legislative branch that is the Speaker, Ms. Toni Atkins.” She reiterates many of the same points (see video). She then introduces Assembly member Kristin Olsen (see video). She previously said “this is a band aid; this is a temporary, small-step towards fixing a monumental problem.” She then called on us all coming up with “long term” solutions to address the water problem. “…I’m calling on the State water agencies, on state government to get projects out of the red-tape; to get them moving because they have been hung-up for decades. We need more storage, more desalination, more water recycling projects, more other innovative projects that will increase supply and deliver it to the communities who so desperately need it.”

Senator Bob Huff makes supporting statements as well. “Everyone in the state has to ask the question ‘how can I conserve more water?’” “You can’t count on the government (presumably referring to the need for the people to do their part now), we’re doing our part, but it really comes down to personal responsibility now – cutting back our consumption. And then we, as legislators, need to look at other ways we can help us all accomplish that goal.”… “One of the ideas that came up recently and it’s not a new idea, but it’s pretty simple, is just in our older buildings putting in lower-flush toilets in. And that’s not complicated, it’s not high-tech, but it achieves something very quickly. Those are the kinds of solutions we need to be looking at going forward as we figure out ‘how do we use the water responsibly so we don’t continue to drown our crops, our jobs and we can pull out of this together.” Once again, watch and listen to the press conference video and then YOU decide on the comments and suggestions made within it. Then Mr. Huff introduces Governor Brown.71 views

71 views and growing? As of this writing on March 28, 2015, the press conference that only received 71 views as of two days after it was aired: That is very concerning regarding the gravity of the situation and the need for us all to be involved.

NBC4 TV Los Angeles: summed it up in the news segment “Governor, California Lawmakers Unveil $1B Emergency Drought-Relief Plan”. The image below gives the quick analysis of the plan. Click link or image for NBCLA video.summed up

We all must work together and explore all of the common sense sustainable solutions to address not only the California drought, but the worldwide water crisis in general. Please watch both videos in their entirety…then decide for yourself.


The “browning” of California.

By Terry Mullin, March 16, 2015

It’s about choices and common sense.

California is dry…and turning brown.  Following on from my blog of January 5th, 2015 “What Have We Learned About the California Drought Since 2009”[i] it appears that the answer is “not as much as we should have.”  California is still “on track” to build a high speed rail system for $68 billion.  Many contend that the train has value – but there are other pressing issues that must be addressed as well.  And since our state must live within its own budget, choices and priorities must be set.

common sense sustainability image

California’s January was the driest ever since record-keeping began in 1895. The State’s groundwater and snowpack levels are at all-time lows.  Data from NASA satellites show that the total amount of water stored in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins — that is, all of the snow, river and reservoir water, water in soils and groundwater combined — was 34 million acre-feet below normal in 2014. That loss is nearly 1.5 times the capacity of Lake Mead, America’s largest reservoir.[ii]  Farmers have little choice but to pump more groundwater during droughts, especially when their surface water allocations have been slashed 80% to 100%. But these pumping rates are excessive and unsustainable. Wells are running dry. In some areas of the Central Valley, the land is sinking by one foot or more per year.  Statewide, we’ve been dropping more than 12 million acre-feet of total water yearly since 2011. Roughly two-thirds of these losses are attributable to groundwater pumping for agricultural irrigation in the Central Valley[iii].

The time to act was actually before the year 2000 when in 2002 NASA data revealed that total water storage in California had been in steady decline since at least 2002, when satellite-based monitoring began, although groundwater depletion has been going on since the early 20th century.[iv]

We need to think in parallel steps to avoid a disaster.

First, the amount of water on our planet is finite, so we have to be prudent in its management and use.  And it’s not just California; we have a world-wide water crisis that is only getting worse, so we must act locally, but think globally.  That means that conservation, recycling/reclamation, pollution avoidance, desalination and distribution are key parts of the solution.  We can’t keep marching on as a “tombstone society” – a society that only acts when it is too late.  The time of procrastination has passed.  Rationing is needed now to “buy time” to avoid a disaster.  And we must work through the solutions – it is not a “one or the other” proposition – but rather an all in parallel approach.  In this first part, we will be addressing water distribution.

Moving water from “A to B” – a water distribution challenge.

In this first part, we will be addressing the possible distribution issue.  The knowns, short and to the point: California is in the worst drought in its history and we are in a very dangerous situation of running out of water.  Other parts of the country, primarily east of the Mississippi, have experienced near record snow falls, not to mention that they have water access that the west simply does not have.  So what if we address this as a nation-wide water management project?

One concept – build a “Keystone XL-like” pipe from the Midwest and East to the Central Valley of California to aid in alleviating the extreme drought situation.  Using the Central Valley as a “distribution hub” for the water, other states would receive benefits as well.  We have the infrastructure in that of lakes and reservoirs way below capacity, not to mention we could replenish our ground water tables.  We could even expand storage – the technology exists.  The Keystone XL was budgeted at $5.3 billion (which is 7.79% of the bullet train projected cost as of today[v]). What if a similar project could be completed to deliver water for the same price?

This Is Not Acceptable for the “8th Largest Economy in the World!”

California’s economy would be the 8th largest in the world (2012),[vi] if the states of the U.S. were compared directly with other countries.[vii][viii]  As of 2013, the gross state product (GSP) is about $2.05 trillion, which is 13.2% of the United States gross domestic product (GDP)[ix].  And considering the size of the contribution that California makes to the economy and the nation’s produce/agriculture products, we simply can’t stand idly by and not act now.

What makes more jobs avoiding another “bust?”

Quoting the attached ABC News/AP article[x] by Scott Smith dated January 6, 2015 “California Breaks Ground on $68B Bullet Train, for 2029,”  “project managers say design and planning already has created 632 jobs and that eventually 20,000 will work on the system.”  And that is over the period of time of today through 2029, or 15 years.  The included state report (referenced herein[xi]) states that the job creation could be up to 20,000 for the next five years.  From there, “CONSTRUCTION JOBS AND MULTIPLIERS BY STEP, SPREAD OVER THE IMPLEMENTATION SCHEDULE” may lead to 66,000 for 15 years.  But time will tell – for this part of the report, we will stick with the more generally accepted 20,000 projection.  

Math and the ROI of a real water project.

So there is a choice in the making here: which is larger? 20,000 jobs or over 38 million Californians without water?  And the water distribution system would carry significant employment as well, with longer-term positive results for not only California.  It is quite simple…and once the project for the train is over, those 20,000 jobs disappear (except for pensions and follow-on infrastructure and operational costs).  When 19 years is over, and way before it, we would have a water system to ensure the “moving” of water from East to West.  And unlike the 20,000 that will be leaving the workforce, this system will help California and other states “balance the distribution” of water for years to come.  Again, the choice appears clear.

So let’s spend $5.3 billion of the $68B to address the California water crisis.

The western drought.  A drought that has no end in sight that is compounded by the inordinate amount of ground water California has been pumping out of its reserves.  The western drought should also be looked upon as more of a severe “water distribution” challenge.  Flooding in the mid-west and east, drought in the west.  Seems like something American ingenuity and funding with a real ROI could address.

Through a proper nation-wide water distribution system, with appropriate storage at the receiving ends, before the flooding starts, you increase the capacity of the pumping to “stay ahead” of the situation.  From the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s records, approximate $2,152,417,080 and 82 fatalities were attributed to flooding in 2013[xii].  This cost could be dramatically reduced and turned into “part of the water distribution solution” if the water was moved before it became “part of the problem.”

If monitoring shows that the supply could become greater than the demand and storage, we could build more storage and increase ground-water replenishment.  I am not trying to over simplify the challenge, but our nation has conquered more daunting challenges – even eight years ago!  And whereas we do not have a budget number for this hypothetical project, the need could justify nearly any cost.  And considering the project would be moving water, not oil, should balance out the increased distance.  In any event, spending on a project like this could provide a step in the right direction to alleviate the effects of the drought.

Build something with a minimal environmental risk.

Sometimes, from a riskier proposition, a common sense solution presents itself.  As it turns out, pipelines are the safest and most efficient method of moving fossil fuels, and TransCanada has one of the best safety records in the industry.[xiii]  Just ask the Canadians.  There are more than 2.6 million miles of oil and natural gas pipelines in the United States that deliver 99.9998 per cent of their products safely and reliably every day. The State Department’s own environmental impact statement found that Keystone XL would operate with a degree of safety greater than any other pipeline in the U.S.  But I’m not talking about pumping oil; I’m talking about moving water!

Show me the downside…we can already show you the money.

The Keystone XL Pipeline Project which was vetoed by the President in early 2015 was a proposed 1,179-mile (1,897 km), 36-inch-diameter crude oil pipeline, beginning in Hardisty, Alta., and extending south to Steele City, Neb. This pipeline was considered “a critical infrastructure project for the energy security of the United States and for strengthening the American economy[xiv].”  I am not debating or endorsing the merits/risks of the Keystone – but I am referencing it as a demonstration of what technology and manpower can accomplish today.  Just as improved water availability would strengthen the California and national economies.

We could enlist our Canadian friends or our own entrepreneurial American engineers and build a pipeline with a much greater degree of safety than any other in the U.S.  This “Keystone XL-like” pipeline could run from the East and Midwest through the Central Valley of California and ultimately to Lake Mead (for storage) to alleviate the dire drought situation.  Clearly, we could use the same ingenuity that built the Hoover Dam to accomplish this simpler task[xv] .  Using the Central Valley as a “distribution hub” for the water, other states could receive benefits as well.  The Central Valley is one of the world’s most productive agricultural regions[xvi].  After all, Lake Mead has room as it is at the lowest level since Hoover Dam was built in the 1930’s. [xvii]  And Lake Mead has room, as of January 25th, 2015 Lake Mead’s level is 41.68% of “full pool” which is of great concern.[xviii]

Again, there are 2.6 million miles of oil and natural gas pipelines in the United States today, so adding water distribution pipelines is “not rocket science.”

Agriculture needs water.

Fiscally speaking, California leads all of the other states in farm income. It’s positioned as the agricultural powerhouse of the United States. About 73 percent of the state’s ag revenues are derived from crops while the other 27 percent of revenues are generated by livestock commodities. In terms of revenue generated, California’s top five ag products are dairy products, greenhouse and nursery products, grapes, almonds, and cattle and calves. California agriculture generates roughly $37.5 billion annually, more than any other state[xix].  But all of this is dependent upon water.

In food production, according to the latest statistics compiled by the California Department of Food and Agriculture[xx], the state produces almost half of all the fruits, nuts and vegetables grown in the country, as well as a whopping share of the livestock and dairy[xxi].  So I think we should be very concerned about it drying up into a dust-bowl and no longer being able to supply food.

But what if there is a leak?

Budgeted at $5.3 billion for the crude oil pipeline, with all of the challenges and complexities that would have accompanied it, it would seem that a water pipeline could be accomplished in this price range as well – and faster.  The Keystone 36-inch diameter pipeline was specified to provide the capacity of 830,000 barrels of crude per day – that’s 26,145,000 gallons per day.  And when you consider the high number of remote-controlled shutoff valves, increased pipeline inspections, burying the pipe deeper in the ground and using thicker steel pipe at river crossings, a water pipe does not pose as much of an environmental hazard[xxii] and in theory should be simpler to accomplish.

For the price, don’t install only one pipe.

When you consider the viscosity of crude oil over water, the cost of the water delivery system itself will be markedly less.  Viscosity is the measurement of a fluid’s internal resistance to flow. This is typically designated in units of centipoise or poise but can be expressed in other acceptable measurements as well.  Without getting into too much science, crude oil has a viscosity in the range of 10,000 centipoise[xxiii].  Water, by comparison has a viscosity of 1 centipoise[xxiv].  With more than one pipe, you have increased capacity, higher-availability (if you have to shut one pipe down, the others pick up the capacity) and can support pipeline maintenance without interruption of capacity.  And finally, the construction of a water pipe is simpler than that of a pipeline to deliver thicker, more “aggressive” crude oil.

The chance of a significant “environmental disaster” from a water leak is low.

The proposed solution poses minimal risks.  When you have an oil leak from a system carrying crude, you need to have specialists trained to shut off, contain, and clean up the resulting impact.  With a water system suggested here, if a leak took place you could get a plumber to turn off the valves and mop up the water!  (Humor is allowed – but the point is valid: the system does not pose significant environmental nor human risk anywhere close to the 2.6 million miles of gas and other pipelines under America’s cities).

If we could get 20% from east of the Mississippi…

In an op-ed published Thursday March 12, 2015 by the Los Angeles Times, Jay Famiglietti[xxv], a senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, painted a dire picture of the state’s water crisis. California, he writes, has lost around 12 million acre-feet of stored water every year since 2011.  So let us address that.  It is NOT the total solution, but a way to start to see if we can “make sense” of water distribution.

Using some simple flow rate calculations, California’s interconnected water system serves over 30 million people and irrigates over 5,680,000 acres (2,300,000 ha) of farmland[xxvi].  As the worlds and most controversial water system, it manages over 40,000,000 acre feet (49 km3) of water per year[xxvii].  That’s about 13,034,057,100,000 gallons per year.  So for sake of analysis 20% of that would be 2,606,811,420,000 gallons (approximately 8 million acre feet) per year.

To get 2.6 trillion gallons of water per year would require getting 297,581,212.33 per hour.  If the flow calculations are correct, using high-pressure (20 f/s) and 26.631’ in diameter pipe, in theory you could deliver 300 million gallons of water per hour[xxviii].  Of course all of this is dependent upon snow and rain seasons to supply the water.  And when there is not enough from the excess of snow pack melt and rain, other sources such as Niagara Falls (398,142,000,000 gallons per year fall over the falls[xxix]) and the Great Lakes (6 quadrillion  gallons[xxx]) could be considered[xxxi] if it was considered “excess” or available.  Of course proper acquisition, delivery, pumping costs (electrical and manpower), storage and processing must be considered too as the water-season does not run all year long.

For example, California could request to take 0.04345% of the Great Lakes annually to address the 20% noted in this study.   And these are just two sources – and I am not including snow melt and rain that goes to the Atlantic ocean or rivers.  This is a demonstration of the thinking and initiative can deliver real results, and makes everyone think twice about pollution in every fresh water source.

But is this possible and wouldn’t it take 15 years?

The Hoover Dam in Nevada is considered “the 8th wonder of the world.”  To think it was designed and built in 1935 in 4 years (5 years if you include the apparatus installation[xxxii]) is a testimonial to innovation and drive in America.  This water pipeline is nowhere near as daunting a task, and it would reaffirm the “American ingenuity” that many feel we no longer have.  Think about that…Hoover Dam was built eighty years ago and with the technology available then it only took four years to build.  I think we should be able to do better.

Now some “doubting Thomases” may say this could not be done.  Consider this – at the dam, the river was diverted around the damsite through four 50-foot diameter tunnels, two on each side of the river drilled through the canyon walls. The tunnels, with a total length of 15,946 feet, or about 3 miles, were excavated to 56 feet and lined with 3 feet (300,000 cubic yards) of concrete. The two tunnels could carry over 200,000 cubic feet – more than 1.5 million gallons – of water per second![xxxiii]  That’s   5,400,000,000 gallons per hour…I was solving for only 297,581,212 gallons per hour, or 6% of the capacity of a technological marvel that was built in 1935!

So where does this leave us?

The California water crises can be solved by incorporating all of the means highlighted and more innovations to come.  In my next segment, I will be addressing one example of “pollute less” that can make a dramatic difference in the pollution of water around the world.

It’s about choices and the future…it’s about our children and our children’s children…it’s about common sense.

To follow is the official “Creating Jobs Through High-Speed Rail”:






[vi] Comparison between U.S. states and countries by GDP (nominal)

[vii] “Largest state GDPs in the United States – California Texas New York Florida”. November 11, 2009. Retrieved March 9, 2010.

[viii] “California economy ranking among world economies”. November 8, 2009. Retrieved March 9, 2010.

[ix] “Widespread But Slower Growth in 2013”. Bureau of Economic Analysis, U.S. Department of Labor. June 11, 2014. Retrieved June 11, 2014.






[xv] Simpler in terms of pumping high-temperature, much thicker crude oil vs. water












[xxvii] Jenkins, Marion W.; Lund, Jay R.; Howitt, Richard E.; Draper, Andrew J.; Msangi, Siwa M.; Tanaka, Stacy K.; Ritzema, Randall S.; Marques, Guilherme F. (2004). “Optimization of California’s Water Supply System: Results and Insights”. Journal of Water Resources Planning & Management 130 (4). pp. 271–280. doi:10.1061/(ASCE)0733-9496(2004)130:4(271).







Reference for the California High Speed Rail project: