Sunday, February 16, 2014

California Water Crisis and What We Should Be Doing

It is hard to escape the fact that California is in a drought.  In one way or another, the subject of the drought makes it into the news every day.  Unfortunately, the events that the media covers are often staged and the media coverage is frequently very flawed, not mentioning the link between the drought and global warming and failing to acknowledge that the big agricultural operations plant inappropriate crops for the locale and exacerbate the problem through wasteful irrigation practices. I can't even begin to count the number of newspaper or television accounts I have seen that blame high unemployment numbers in the San Joaquin Valley on the drought and the lack of agricultural water allocation without letting you know that the same area has high unemployment even when the water is plentiful.

It is my intention to use California Greening as a platform to summarize much of the background that is required to develop, or understand, water policy in a geography that swings from extreme drought to seeming everlasting deluges.  If I can do that well, then California Greens might be able to formulate a policy that will ensure a better future if followed, or at least to give environmental activists an alternative to just voting for the latest Democrat because they are scared of a Republican bogeyman.

As I complete each section, I will post it here.  You can follow the blog if you want.  I will also tweet the link to each new section from @wrolley.  If you follow that, you will at least know when an update is available. 

The first piece of the puzzle that I will try to put in place will be to answer the question of whether there are technological solutions to water problems that we should be using, or at least planning for.  This is a rather clearly definable area but is not getting much attention unless it involves the perennial fights of the construction of desalination plants.  But even this is a large enough topic to require multiple posts if I want to cover it adequately.  There are others who are doing a good job of keeping us all informed as to the daily events.  Foremost among there is Chris Austin whose Maven's Notebook. is an essential resource.  If you care about what is happening in the California Water Wars, you should follow closely.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Good news for Resnick and Starrh, bad for us.

I mentioned farm subsidies in yesterday's post and mentioned a cotton grower named Starrh.   The story continues bleakly according to a release today from  the Center for Rural Affairs.  What Congress does behind closed doors is scandalous and, in this case, the effects are not limited to Rural America.  All of us pay subsidies to support major growers of a small list of commodity crops: cotton, sugar, corn, soy beans, wheat. 
Subsidy Reform - In a huge blow, the final bill cut historic reforms to commodity program subsidies that had passed in both chambers of Congress. They actually increased the limit, and they cut “actively engaged” language, which would close the loopholes that allow large, wealthy farms to collect many multiples of the current payment limit. 
I have posted about subsidies before, but the story never changes.   If Greens are going to fix our economy, subsidies to Big Ag and Big Oil should be a great place to start.

Monday, February 03, 2014

CA Drought News. Oil and Water mix it up in Kern County

The recent ruling by California's State Water Board severely restricted water deliveries in 2014.  In many  cases, they will be eliminated.  Part of the background for this is the drought declaration from Governor Brown asking all Californian's to restrict water usage by 20%.   It made me wonder just far that goes in restricting agricultural and industrial usage or whether it only applies to "citizens" like you and I.

I remembered reading about the use of water in oil extraction in a past issue of High Country News.  I quickly found the article declaring that Oil and Water Don't Mix with California Agriculture.  It begins with a narration of the troubles of a farmer on the eduge of Kern County's oilfields.
Starrh Farms has 6,000 acres of pistachios, cotton, almonds and alfalfa. Starrh proudly points out almond trees planted 155 to the acre with the aid of lasers and GPS. At the edge of his land, he pulls up beside 20-foot-high earthen berms, the ramparts of large "percolation" ponds that belong to a neighbor, Aera Energy.
From the mid-1970s to the early 2000s, Aera dumped more than 2.4 billion barrels (or just over 100 billion gallons) of wastewater -- known in the industry as "produced water" -- from its North Belridge oilfield into those unlined ponds, Starrh says. The impact became apparent beginning in 1999, when Starrh dug several wells to augment the irrigation water he gets from the California Aqueduct. He mixed the groundwater with aqueduct water, applied it to a cotton field beside the berms -- and the plants wilted. Eventually, the well water killed almond trees, Starrh says; he points out a few that look like gray skeletons.
If you wonder what Aera Energy was doing to that water it is just like fracking. The water inserted into the ground and petrolems is extracted along with most of the water.   In the case reported by High Country News, the water was left in unlined settling ponds.  In other cases, it is reinserted into old wells to disposal.  But that allows it to mix freely with the groundwater with disastrous results for Agriculture.

One good thing about recent CA legislation is that we can get a bit of a glimpse at what Aera Energy is using.   They now have to file a formal document with a water management plan.  On Dec. 11, 2013Aera Eenrgy filed an  "Interim Well Stimulation Treatment Notice" for a well in Kern County's South Belridge Fierld.   The attached water management plan stated that the water could be sourced from the California Aqueduct via Aera's interest in the Belridge Water Managent District.  So, if Oil interests are fouling the water for these big ag farmers, who is selling them the water?   The Board of Directors for the Belridge Water Management District includes Larry Starrh, brother and business partner of the Fred Starrh featured in the HCN news.  Also on the Board is William D. Phillmore, an executive with Paramount Farms, another Big Ag comrporation owned by Demorcatic Political players, Setward and Linda Resnick.  I am sure that you are familiar with the Paramount Farms brads: Fiji Water, Halos (used to be branded as Cuties) Mandarine Oranges, Pom Wonderful pomegranate juice and the entire Wonderful family of nut products,. pistachios and almonds.

It is pretty clear that we will be asked to save water while the politically connected Kern County Oil companies will continue business as usual.   Hell, the Starrh family will probably sell their water rights to Aera Energy and collect more money that they would growing crops in the desert. Have to see how much the Starrh operations collect in Cotton Subsidies.  Love the quote from Fred Starrh on that link as he discusses farm subsides with John Stossel.
 If they can't make a profit, I don't think they deserve a gift from taxpayers just so they can keep farming.

"Well I totally disagree with you John, and the legislature is with us
at this point, so we're winning, and you're losing," Fred Starrh said.
California Greens need to increase their level of knowledge on water issues.  With a few exceptions, we clearly do not have the expertise required to begin putting together  sensible policies.  Hopefully, a little outrage about how the arrogant affluent control our lives and isolate themselves from the consequences of their own actions through the exercise of political power.  After all, as Starrh says, the legislature is with them, not us.