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The boy child can't save California

POSTED May 2, 2014 10:53 p.m.

The boy child might return by year’s end.

Rising temperatures in the Pacific Ocean could be the precursor for winds slowing down or reversing in the equatorial region of the Pacific. When that occurs, El Nino resurfaces. What that means for California is significantly above normal rain and snow. Elsewhere in the world it means drought.

But before you start flooding the gutters, weather forecasters give El Nino a 65 percent chance of developing by year’s end. Temperatures have risen before in the Pacific only to suddenly stop and reverse direction before El Nino conditions formed in the atmosphere.

Commodity investors are placing bets that El Nino will return raising havoc with everything from the Brazilian coffee harvest from too  much rain to nickel supply shortages in Indonesia because of too little rain. Indonesian nickel mining operations depend heavily on hydro power.

That’s the good news. The bad news is we may be in a mega-drought.

Paleoclimatologists who study tree rings instead of speculating about manmade global warning believe there is ample evidence that we are in the 13th year of a megadrought in the Western United States.

Edward Cook with Columbia University’s tree ring laboratory was the first to suggest we are in a megadrought.

If that’s true, it is not good news.

The most recent megadroughts, based on tree rings, lasted 28 years and 29 years. Worst yet, two megadroughts in the Sierra lasted between 100 and 200 years each.

This has nothing to do with global warning. It is Mother Nature.

While we debate whether global warming exists and if it does what the depth of its impacts are, we are sidestepping the real problem. Even without global warming we have no control over the weather. We smugly think we can predict long-term weather patterns with a degree of density based on recorded data dating back several hundred years.

But given the fact earth is 4.54 billion years old – give or take a couple 100 million years – that weather data is akin to focusing on a single speck of dust and nothing else within the confines of a Costco store.

And considering that upwards of 60 percent of the human body is water we have a pretty cavalier attitude toward water.

El Nino, drought, megadrought – what does it all mean?

The answer is rather obvious. Water supplies for mankind as nature intended – rain and snow as well as storage in natural vessels such as lakes, rivers and underground aquifers – are not reliable.

Simply building more storage, creating $22 billion twin straws dubbed the Twin Tunnels around the Delta, or even injecting recycled water back into aquifers will not ultimately sustain civilization.

The answer for long-term sustainability is practically slapping us in the face. The oceans constitute 71 percent of the earth’s surface and 97 percent of the water. Yet we devote all of our time and energy trying to figure out how to stretch the remaining 3 percent when we aren’t engaged in brutal fights over it.

About the only folks who seem to know the real value of water are firms like Pepsi and CocaCola who bottle it and sell 16.9 ounces of it for a $1 or 2,000 times the price of the same amount of water that flows from our taps at home. That jarring statistic from the American Water Works Association doesn’t even take into consideration the ironic phobia that most Americans have about their tap water even though it is the safest water on the planet to drink.

When it comes to water, one thing is for sure – most of us have a serious disconnect.

So where do we go from here?

The best long-term solution for the environment and farming is to invest heavily in desalination plants for coastal urban areas, while recycling as much water as possible for reuse.

It is the only way to assure fish and ecological systems will have adequate water fed by manmade reservoirs and that we will enough food to eat.

If you think desalinization is pie-in-the-sky, look at Israel. Desalinization provides 50 percent of the domestic water needs for the nation of 7.8 million people. No matter how bad droughts can get in California, they will come nowhere near creating the situation that desert countries like Israel deal with day in and day out.

The Carlsbad Desalination Project targeted to go online in 2016 to serve San Diego will generate 50 million gallons of drinking water a day or enough to supply 200,000 people with 250 gallons daily. The $1 billion plant is coming in under budget.

So if you take the $22 billion price tag of the Twin Tunnels, you could build 22 desalination plants in California. That would take care of the daily water needs of 4.4 million Californians or the combined population of Los Angeles proper and San Francisco. They are two cities, by the way, not only located on the coast but have no local water supply to support their populations.

Scrap high-speed rail and you could build another 66 desalination plants to serve the daily water needs of 13.6 million people, or more than half of the Californians that rely on the drought ravaged State Water Project for their water.

El Nino, should it return in 2015, won’t save California in the long run.

That can only be done by conservation, recycling and desalinization.

 

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