Southern California environment news and trends

California Drought News: Cheaper desalination and other bids for water independence

Proposed Huntington Beach desalination plant

Poseidon Water

Poseidon Water has proposed a desalination plant in Huntington Beach. But the company pulled its application for a coastal development permit during a hearing in November 2013. Several California Coastal Commissioners questioned whether adequate studies had been done into the use of subsurface intake pipes.

Tuesday's drought roundup says, "Not unless it's made of bees." Confused? Read on.

  • Santa Monica plans to be water independent by 2020. Here are some of the ways it's trying to get there. (Sacramento Bee).
  • The Central Valley has been home to a solar thermal desalination plant for a year. By next year, the operator plans to expand it so that it produces 2 million gallons each day: 

And here's the part that gets the farmers who buy his water most excited: His solar desalination plant produces water that costs about a quarter of what more conventionally desalinated water costs: $450 an acre-foot versus $2,000 an acre-foot. (San Francisco Gate)

  • I've been wondering how car washing businesses are faring in this drought. Turns out, most have rules on recycling water. But no one can beat a waterless car washing method. (San Jose Mercury News)
  • The Guardian has a somewhat meandering piece on the drought's effects on agriculture, greywater and flood risk. The nerd in me must point out that for hives to be fed "the bee equivalent of Soylent Green," it must be made from bees, not protein and sugar water. But I digress. My takeaway is the nugget that it's changed the rules for designating milk as organic:


UCLA scientists find shortcut to estimating a river's volume

Lance Cheung/USDAgov via Flickr

Understanding a river's volume can help government protect better against flood, and prepare for it. A view of the Mississippi River in flood, May 2011.

People around the world depend on rivers for their water supply.   So it’s important to understand how much water a river holds.  Researchers at UCLA have found a new way to calculate a river’s volume without ever stepping into it.

When the Ganges River floods, engineers in India know how to respond because they measure how wide the river is, how deep it is, and how fast it’s moving. But India doesn’t share that information with Bangladesh, downstream – so the swollen river hits that country harder.

“Many other countries consider river flow data to be state secrets,” said UCLA’s Laurence Smith.

He and his student, Colin Gleason, have figured out a way to make river discharge more transparent. Now, even where it’s not possible to take direct measurements of a river, hydrologists can make a very good estimate of a river’s volume using pictures collected from space.


California Drought News: Abundance abounds? Plus, making money on water

Trevor H/Flickr

Lake Eleanor holds water San Francisco might need.

Monday's drought news wonders, is this what earthquake weather means?

  • The East's paper of record takes on the West's drought, with the thesis that Texas, Colorado, Arizona and California have "always scrapped" over water, but now it's serious:
“We’re very close to the time that people are going to start staking out rights. We’re right at the cusp,” [said Stuart Somach, a Sacramento water-rights lawyer]. “If this drought persists, depending on how state and federal agencies react, you’re going to get some real conflicts going.” (NYT)
  • Tony Perry looks at Imperial county's water abundance, connected to the fact that Imperial and California have top-dog status on the Colorado River. (LAT)
  • Water conservation programs in San Gabriel Valley offer incentives first, penalties later, and Olympic-style prices. (Daily News)
  • Some California cities are seeking water independence, including Long Beach, Camarillo and Santa Monica, the last of which has a goal to rely solely on local water supplies by 2020:


California Drought News: Legislation, a Delta Smelt legal conflagration, and hydroelectricity

Sacramento San Joaquin River Delta Water System Bay

Mae Ryan/KPCC

Louvers at the Skinner Fish Facility in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta divert most fish away from pumps that lift water into the California Aqueduct. Decades of fights among government and water agencies, environmentalists and farmers, in courtrooms and conference rooms have culminated in the Bay Delta Plan, which will soon be open to public debate.

Friday's news asks whether you're absolutely certain you turned off the garden hose all the way this time.

  • California's House Democrats offered their version of a comprehensive drought package that would pay emergency relief to affected agricultural producers and fishing communities, fund emergency drought relief projects, and crack down on illegal water diversions for pot growing operations. (Lake County News)
  • California has more than 300 dams, but the drought may change our status as a hydroelectricity leader among U.S. states...and change our energy mix...and change our carbon footprint:
Swapping in natural gas for hydro means higher emissions and higher procurement costs for utilities, which would be reflected in electricity bills next year. During the drought of 2007-09, California utilities burned more natural gas to make up for hydropower shortages—a switch that the Pacific Institute says resulted in 13 million extra tons of CO2 emissions and some $1.7 billion in additional costs on energy bills. (National Geographic)


California Drought News: Groundwater, saltwater, and a golden lining to the drought cloud

CA drought map

Richard Tinker / U.S. Drought Monitor

Today's drought roundup looks at some of the secondary problems caused by our ongoing weather woes.

  • With less freshwater running down rivers and to the ocean, there's less pressure keeping salty seawater from moving further inland. That's why the Department of Water Resources is making plans to temporarily dam three channels off the San Francisco Bay. Plans are to get the $25 million dams in place as soon as May 1. (Contra Costa Times)
  • Dan Walters points out the issue of groundwater management:

California is one of a few states that don’t regulate groundwater. Instead, it has what the Legislative Analyst’s Office calls a “patchwork” of laws, local water agency rules and court decisions affecting groundwater use conflicts.

While state law encourages local agencies to oversee groundwater use and to recharge underground supplies, whether to turn on pumps is still largely a decision of individual farmers. (Sacramento Bee)