California’s Four Year Drought

Here are graphs that show the extent of California’s four year drought.

California Snowpack

We start with the snowpack which is essential to supply water as it melts over the summer.

Snowpack Since 1950


You can see that in 2012 and 2013 it was less than 50% of normal, and in 2014 and 2015 it is practically nil. Yet the graph also shows something hopeful.  The length of periods around 50% or lower is generally just a few years.  There was one drought before this period that did last nine years, however.  So hopefully this one will end soon.

There is not an established opinion of climate scientists that this is caused by global warming.  But there is a warm ocean “blob” off the coast of Oregon and Washington that has been around for two years, and may be causing the high pressure that diverts tropical storms, and warms the air over the Sierras to reduce snow.  We’ll see if that persists.

California Precipitation

California is expecting low total precipitation for the 2015 water year ending in Sept. 30, 2015.

CA water years



Colorado River Water Measured as Inflow to Lake Powell

Since the Colorado River Aqueduct brings water to Southern California, we are concerned by drought in the Colorado Basin and Lake Powell Inflow.  California gets 27% of Colorado River Water.

Lake Powell Inflow


California State Water Project Allocations

We see that in 2013, the State Water Project Allocation was down to 35%, and in 2014, it was a mere 5%.  For 2015, the allocation has risen to 20%.  The State Water Project provides part of the water for 25 million Californians.

State Water Project Allocations




California Major Reservoir Current Conditions for April 28, 2015

The Orange shows the Reservoir Capacity in Thousands of Acre-Feet (TAF), the Blue the storage level on April 28.  The Red line is the Historical Average level for all April 28ths.

Below the Reservoir is the percentage of total capacity in Blue, and the percentage of Historical Average for the date in Red.  We see the three large Northern California Reservoirs are about 1/2 full, as well as San Luis and Don Pedro.  The others are pretty low or of low capacity.

Major Reservoir Current Conditions

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California Hydropower Has Dropped 60% in the Last Four Years

California hydro-power has dropped enormously because of the drought.  The lower water levels put less pressure at the intakes to the turbines, and they generate less power.  At some minimal lake height, they wobble so much that they cannot operate.  Hoover Dam on the Colorado at Lake Mead has been replacing its turbines to work at lower water levels than before.

California hydro-power has dropped from 23% of state power down to only 7% of state power this year.  It has dropped 60% in the last four years.  Hoover Dam has dropped 25% in power since 2000.  From tree ring studies, this is the fourth worse drought in California in the last 1,000 years.

Fortunately, the Bonneville Power Plant on the Columbia River has remained steady since its origins is in Canada, outside the drought zone.

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IRWD Irvine Ranch Water District Sources, Use Reduction, and Rates


Irvine Ranch Water District Water Sources in 2013:

22% Imported from State Water Project and Colorado River Aqueduct

31% Clear Ground Water (GW)

25% Recycled Water

19% Treated GW which is used in grounds and buildings

In 2015, IRWD had been using 23% imported, but must now cut that percentage by 3% to 5% of the total water use, since the Metropolitan Water District of Orange County has to reduce its imports by 15%.

Ground water cost $454 per acre-foot, and imported water is much more expensive at $1,000 per acre-foot. Even more expensive would be desalinated water at about $2,000 per acre-foot.  However, water savings through conservation and efficiency is estimated to cost only $150 per acre-foot.

The Michelson Recycled Water plant has a 24 million gallon per day (mgd) output which is currently 100% used. It has been raised to 28 mgd, and is planned for expansion to 33 mgd by 2025.

IRWD Water Use Reduction

Irvine has reduced its residential per capita water usage from 96 gallon/day in July 2014 to 69 gallon/day in January 2015, a 28% reduction.

Outdoor water can be 65% of residential water usage. The IRWD outdoor program is called Rightscape and has three parts: (1) right drought resistant plants, (2) right watering schedule, and (3) right equipment with a weather based irrigation controller.

The recommended watering schedule is to water before 8 AM, and for grass in January, water for 2 days a week for 2 cycles of 2 minutes. For grass in July-August-September, water for 4 days of 3 minutes in 3 cycles.  The IRWD does not have any restrictions on which days you can water, or how many days a week you water.  Conservation is built into the rate structure.

In Irvine, the IRWD requirement is a reduction of 16% in usage  of potable water by the end of February 2016. One strategy might be to reset your sprinklers according to the recommendations, and see if that reduces your outdoor water use by at least 16%, and maybe the full 32% needed if outdoor watering is 50% of your water use, and you don’t want to reduce indoor use. By not imposing the requirement until February 2016, they are really protecting your lawn during the hot summer.

Indoors, a 16% reduction is only a 1/6 reduction. You can set your dishwasher on economy, and your washing machine on a slightly reduced load. Running water for anything at 1/6 (or more) less flow will easily get you the small savings needed.

IRWD Water Rates

With the factor of two increase in cost for imported water over ground water, the IRWD rates are already approved as an Allocation Based Conservation Rate Structure, as required by the new court ruling. That is, charging more for excessive use has been approved for IRWD.

There is a variable Standard Water Allocation based on whether you live in an apartment, an attached home condo, or a single family home, and on the number of residents in the home.

For use up to the allocation, the rate averages to $1.16 per hundred cubic feet of water, called a ccf. For volume up to 30% over the allocation, the rate is $3.91 per ccf.  For volume between 30% and 60% over the allocation, the rate is $6.22 per ccf.  For volume more than 60% above the allocation, the rate soars to $12.60 per ccf, or 11 times the average up to the allocation.

The base allocation depends on your dwelling type and typical yard associated with it.   It is 50 gallons per day per person for the number of persons, and then increased for typical yard size.

Below is a Map of the Orange County Water District (OCWD) (Ringed in Black) and the IRWD in Green.  

OCWD service area




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Orange County Water Agencies Restrictions for February 2016

From the OC Register, we have copied for inclusion with the set of articles, the new targets for Orange County water agencies to be in force by the end of February 2016.

New targets for O.C. water districts

Supplier Name new % previous %
Santa Ana 12% 20%
La Habra Public Works 28% 35%
Moulton Niguel Water District 20% 25%
Irvine Ranch Water District 16% 20%
Newport Beach 32% 35%
Seal Beach 8% 10%
Brea 24% 25%
Buena Park 24% 25%
El Toro Water District 24% 25%
Laguna Beach County Water District 24% 25%
Santa Margarita Water District 24% 25%
South Coast Water District 24% 25%
Anaheim 20% 20%
Fountain Valley 20% 20%
Huntington Beach 20% 20%
Westminster 20% 20%
East Orange County Water District 36% 35%
Golden State Water Co. (Cowan Heights) 36% 35%
Serrano Water District 36% 35%
Yorba Linda Water District 36% 35%
Fullerton 28% 25%
Garden Grove 28% 25%
Golden State Water Co. (Placentia) 28% 25%
La Palma 28% 25%
Orange 28% 25%
San Clemente 28% 25%
San Juan Capistrano 28% 25%
Tustin 28% 25%
Golden State Water Co. (West Orange) 24% 20%
Mesa Water District 24% 20%
Trabuco Canyon Water District


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California Water Projects Feeding Southern California

Map of California Water Projects

California Aqueducts


The California State Water Project (SWP)

This section is taken from the Wikipedia article on the CSWP or SWP, but specialized to the path of the water to Southern California.

The SWP has 5.75 million acre-feet of storage.  In a normal year it has 2.4 million acre-feet per year of water delivery.  The energy used to do this is 11,500 giga watt hour (GWh) of which 6,500 GWh are supplied by the project.  The California aqueduct carries between 1-3.7 million acre-feet per year southward.

From the aqueduct the West Branch goes through Pyramid and Castaic lakes.  That carries 537,000 acre-feet per year.

The Colorado River Aqueduct

The Colorado River Aqueduct was built in the depression era to bring Colorado River water to the Southern California area.  It runs 242 miles from Lake Havasu to the east side of the Santa Ana mountains.  It is managed by the Metropolitan Water District.  It carries 1.2 million acre-feet per year.  California gets 27% of the output of the Colorado River.

The Los Angeles Aqueduct

This can supply half of the water for Los Angeles.  It takes water from the Owens Valley and Owens River.  It was developed by William Mulholland, and is run by the LADWP.  It ends at the Upper Van Norman Lake.  The Lower Owens River is now rewatered, and 40-50% of the water is used for ecological resources.  It used to supply 480,000 acre-feet/year.  According to one source, LA now uses 50% MWD water, and only gets 13% from the Aqueduct.

The Central Valley Project 

This is a federally funded project to deliver water to the Central Valley.  It usually delivers about 7 million acre-feet per year, mostly for Agriculture.  The State has just dropped supplying water to junior water rights users.

Proposals for New Water Projects

One proposals for what could be built to add more water is the Peripheral Canal to take water from the Sacramento River, bypassing the Delta.  That would provide 1 million acre-feet mostly to the Central Valley, and also to Silicon Valley and Southern California.

Tunnels under the Delta would provide safety against Delta dike ruptures causing earthquakes.  The cost of that is estimated to be $25 billion to $30 billion.  Delta farmers say it is cheaper to strengthen the dikes, and that they are earthquake safe.

The other proposal is the Sites Reservoir in Sacramento Valley which would hold 1.8 million acre-feet of water, which could supply 470,000 to 640,000 new acre-feet of water a year.

Proposition 1 passed in November 2014 will give $7.5 billion to water projects.

Normal Water delivery by California Water Projects:

(Excerpted from Wikipedia)

  • Central Valley Project (federal). Delivers about 7 million acre-feet (MAF) per year. Constructed in 1930s – 1950s.
  • State Water Project (state). Delivers about 2.3 MAF / year. Constructed in 1960s – early 1970s.
  • All-American Canal (local). Delivers 3 MAF / year. Constructed in 1930s
  • Colorado River Aqueduct (local). Delivers 1.2 MAF / year. Completed in 1941
  • Los Angeles Aqueduct (local). Delivers 200,000 AF / year. Completed in 1913.
  • Mokelumne Aqueduct (local). Delivers 364,000 AF / year. Completed in 1929. Second aqueduct completed in 1949.
  • San Francisco Hetch Hetchy Project (local). Delivers 330,000 AF / year. Completed in 1923.



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Gary Oberts talk to OLLI on the Irvine Ranch Water District Water Sources

Our water expert, Gary Oberts, gave a talk to the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) associated with UC Irvine.  His talk was on the Irvine Ranch Water District of Irvine, California, and its water sources and policies during the current drought.

This is the link to the pdf of his very informative talk:

Gary Oberts Presentation on Irvine Ranch WD

His recommendations were that we increase our use of Ground Water sources to make Irvine less dependent on the State in times of drought, and to get water at half the price of the State’s water.  It would also make us more independent should a San Andreas fault earthquake rupture the pipelines for State water.  We should also continue our successful efforts to build water savings into new structures and to retrofit old ones.

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California Ground Water and Agriculture

In a normal year, 30% of California water use comes from ground water.  In the current severe drought, 60% or more is ground water.

There are 850 million acre-feet in 450 ground water reservoirs.  One half of that is unavailable because it is of poor quality or because of its cost.  From 2011 to 2014, during the current drought, ground water withdrawal has averaged 12 million acre feet per year.

Of total water use, 51% is for environmental use to maintain rivers, lakes, and to block salt water intrusion.  39% is for agriculture, and 11% is urban.  75% of California water comes from North of Sacramento.

There is no accounting for ground water withdrawals, and the new call for and implementation of restrictions will not be fully in place for decades.

Ground Water Depletion Measure by the GRACE Satellite

The deepest drop of 160 mm is 6.3 inches averaged over an area that looks like half of the state of California.  The same rate of drop has continued to the present.

Prof. James Famiglietti of UC Irvine’s Department of Earth System Science has written an editorial in the LA Times urging swifter action on ground water depletion.  He works on the GRACE gravitational measurement experiment that detected the groundwater depletion.

Groundwater depletion

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Robert Putnam’s Talk on the American Dream and Income Inequality  

The distinguished Harvard Professor and author Robert Putnam gave a talk at UC Irvine on The American Dream in Crisis.

On his website  you can see his new book titled “OUR KIDS The American Dream in Crisis”

Prof. Putnam is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the British Academy, and past president of the American Political Science Association.

I didn’t take notes, so this is a summary of his main points.  (Parenthetical comments are my own.)  I have included some graphs that relate to his points, but only one of them was in his lecture, and that one is from

Income inequality has increased, but the lower half of income earners has not grown over decades.  People are not terribly upset by this, as long as the American Dream remains intact.













The American Dream is a part of our national heritage, that all children have equal opportunities for success.    His main point its that this is now far from being true, and in many aspects that many are not even aware of (I wasn’t).

Although we are less racially separated, we are more separated by income in residential areas, in schools, and socially.

A deeper main topic is the development of the childhood brain depends on interactions with parents, and on activities that kids are exposed too.  There are more single parent families these days.  (This is enhanced among racial minorities, but also among whites as well.)

rise in single parent family


Single parent families are more likely to be below the poverty level, partly because they do not have two incomes.

female householder in poverty









This means parents of low income spend less time with children in activities such as reading or any type of useful interaction.  (This is also going to show up in preschool activities that cost money.)  (Data shows a gap already for children of poor or single parents when the children enter kindergarten.)



Once in school, sports, music, and other


Extracurricular activities provided by the schools are now on a “pay to play” basis.  (Outside of school music lessons and sports teams and camps are also expensive, and not affordable to poor parents.  They also involve parents having time to transport kids to.)  This means that poor kids are inexperienced in teamwork.

Extra curricular activities











Enrichment expenditures have increased among the top income quintile, but have stayed flat at a very low value among the lowest income quintile.

Enrichment Expenditures on Children





Another main point connected with those above is that poor kids are essentially alone.  They are less likely to go to church and be mentored or involved there.  All of their interactions are important in developing their brains and in social education.

His talk contained several touching stories in interviews with children from poor families and their histories.  The key points of high school graduation and the ability to go to college had the most profound effect on the children’s future work and their abilities to achieve the American Dream.  These were severely hampered by the development deficiencies of families in poverty.




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Water Consumption by Power Plants is Only 3% of Total Water Usage

Some water use presenters point out that about 38% of our fresh water is used to cool power plants. That is true, but in most cases the water is returned to the river or lake that it came from, just as pure, and only a little is evaporated in the cooling process. According to the following graph of national water use versus water consumption, only 3% of water is used up by power generation, while 38% plays a reusable role in power generation. The use in power generation is of concern in drought areas in the other direction – if we have too little cooling water, then power generation plants may have to be shut down.

Water use by power plants









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Beef in California Agriculture

Cows in the US and California

In 2015, there were 90 million cattle in the US.  Cow products brought in $44 billion in farm gate receipts.  In 2013, $5.7 billion was from exports.

In 2012, there were 30 million beef cows, 9.3 million milk cows, 5.8 million beef replacement heifers and 34 million head calf crop.

In 2015, the leading cow states are:

  1. Texas with 11.8 million
  2. Nebraska with 6.3 million
  3. Kansas with 6 million
  4. California with 5.2 million, or about 9% of the US total.
  5. Oklahoma with 4.6 million

Beef production was 25.8 billion pounds, and beef consumed in the US was 25.5 billion pounds.  That comes out to 80 pounds per person.

In California, 70% of the alfalfa crop goes to cows.

Water Used to Produce Beef

Here is a table of estimates of the gallons of water used to produce a pound of beef for eating.



Here the estimates depend on what is included in direct water usage versus a complete cycle, and who is making the estimate.  The Beef Association somehow came out with the lowest value.

Water Used to Produce Beef Compared to Other Foods

Here is a table of the relative amounts of water needed to make various meats and other crops in various diets containing different amounts of beef.

























This uses the value of 2,600 gallons of water to produce 8 oz. of beef, 400 gallons to produce 8 oz of chicken, 70 gallons to produce an egg, 65 gallons for milk in cereal, and 200 gallons for a cheese sandwich.  The same table that produced this one had 800 gallons for an 8 oz. serving of pork.

Another table based on recent estimates is used by ecocentric blog.  They have for the gallons of water to produce a pound of each product:

beef      1800

pork        576

chicken   468

soybeans 206

wheat       138

corn          108

The LA Times in a recent graphic is using a figure of 17oo gallons for a pound of beef.

Despite the uncertainty in the beef estimate, the water savings for eating chicken or pork or dairy are considerable.

The estimate that it takes a gallon of water to produce one almond, amounting to 400 gallons per pound of almonds, and that doesn’t look like high water consumption compared to beef.

The estimates are compounded since we are discussing the use of California water in the current crises.  The above estimates are worldwide averages!  In the US, only 1/5 of the water used to grow grain is irrigated water.  What is the fraction for California?  Half of the California water used in agriculture is used to make meat and dairy.


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