Policy, not shortage, causing water crisis

Nov. 26, 2012

By Wayne Lusvardi

There is no apparent drought of journalists with metaphors to define the so-called water crisis in the United States and California.  Every month, it seems, another new end-of-the-world water book comes out.

Cynthia Barnett is the author of the book, “Blue Revolution: Unmaking America’s Water Crisis.” In the Los Angeles Times, she recently wrote an op-ed, “America’s Water Mirage.”  After visiting Hoover Dam with her daughter, Barnett’s sudden insight was, “[E]ven at Hoover Dam, the ugly truth about our water crisis is being ignored.”

Barnett’s article displayed a photograph of the “bathtub ring” around the rim of Lake Mead on the Colorado River showing evidence of “misuse of this precious resource.”

The problem is that the imagery doesn’t square with the reality. Lake Mead is part of the Colorado River system that has shown great variability in water levels over the last 100 years. A picture of the side walls of Lake Mead or Lake Powell showing water levels have dropped from their peak doesn’t tell us much of anything.  The level of water in the system of dams that make up the Colorado River system has been rising and falling for half a century.  And the ups and the downs mostly offset each other.

Conservation Ethic

The ignored problem here in California is that the “conservation ethic” that Barnett calls for has been mostly tapped out.  It is granted that water conservation has been successful in California ever since 1982, when voters turned down the proposed Peripheral Canal Project.  Population has grown about 59 percent since 1980. No new dams or reservoirs have been added to the state’s water system since then.

But the era of water conservation has mostly run dry by design, not drought.  According to Bob Johnson, a water consultant retired from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, this has left California with only a six-month supply of water.

California has spent $18.7 billion on five water bonds since 2000.  These bonds funded mostly open space acquisitions and landscaping projects that captured no new water and built no new reservoirs.

Those bond funds could have funded the proposed $13 billion Delta Tunnels.  Or they could have funded both new reservoirs proposed as part of the $11.1 billion Consolidated Water Bond to appear on the 2013 ballot.  Instead the bond monies have been mostly squandered.  Water bonds have been partly turned into a slush fund for the state Legislature to redistribute Cap and Trade taxes among other activities.

Another green water project failure is Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s $1 billion San Joaquin River Restoration Project. The project has been turned into a wealth redistribution scheme that Congress refuses to continue funding beyond the $88 million allotted for environmental studies.  Even if funded, all this project would do is take water from farmers and give it to commercial fishing, tourist hotel-motel developers and real estate enterprises.

On top of losing water, farmers would have to pony up a tax to pay for the projects that would benefit those who get the water from the politicians.

In her book, Barnett doesn’t mention the outcome of the infamous Delta Smelt court case in California. From 2007 to 2010, this environmental protection case shut down water deliveries to Southern California and some Central Valley farmers. The presiding judge ruled the science on which the case rested was “bogus.” During the “man-made drought” from the water shutdown, Southern California cities enacted water conservation ordinances, hired an army of water police, and raised water rates 15 percent or more. When the water shutdown order expired, and Brown officially declared the “drought” over, no cities or water districts repealed their water rate increases.

Water Conservation is Bad for Your Aquifer

Barnett’s “Blue Revolution water conservation ethic” advocates stopping the depletion of aquifers and halting large water projects.

Here she is uninformed about how aquifers work. They are mostly drawn down during dry years. And most urban aquifers in California are adjudicated by state courts and can’t be “depleted” beyond their safe yield, except possibly by urban water conservation efforts.

David Powell, former chief engineer for the California Department of Water Resources’ San Diego Office, paradoxically has demonstrated that urban water conservation actually depletes local aquifers and costs an astronomical $1,083 per acre-foot of water saved. Current water rates are about half that for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

Stopping large water projects in California has about a snowball’s chance in Death Valley.  This is because the electorate has turned into a Fusion Party for unchecked taxation and the governor has endorsed the Delta Restoration Project and Tunnels.

Can Big Water Projects be Financed?

The politics of water conservation in California has failed to be sustainable. The only likely thing that would stop the proposed Delta Restoration and Tunnel Projects now is red ink. There are no assured commitments yet for financing the Delta Restoration unless farmers pay for most of it.  And farmers are only willing to pick up most of the tab if they can in return get “regulatory assurance” of no shut downs of water by lawsuits for 35 years. Good luck with that in Green California.

The only other alternative is for urban water districts to raise water rates by an estimated $240 per year per household (assuming 25 percent share of costs by farmers and no federal funding).  But there would be no guarantee of how much water Southern California would be entitled to for that hefty price tag.

The possibility that Congress would fully fund California’s package of water projects — as it did in the 1930’s Great Depression — is dead, given a Republican-controlled House of Representatives and the federal Fiscal Cliff. It is not yet clear what Democrats would be willing to give up to get the Republican House to vote for the federal share of the cost of the Delta Restoration Plan.

So if voters, farmers, or urban ratepayers and the House are unwilling to pop about $53 billion for the total package of the Delta restoration, tunnels, dike repairs and ecosystem restoration, California would have to continue with water conservation even in wet years. The state’s 20/20 Water Conservation Plan calls for a 20 percent reduction in water use by 2020.

Contrary to Barnett, most of any continued conservation will come from farmers, not urban or industrial users. Barnett is still living in 1982, when the Peripheral Canal got shot down by voters.


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  1. jimmydeeoc
    jimmydeeoc 26 November, 2012, 11:00

    Wayne: I’m confused.

    You correctly state “Population has grown about 59 percent since 1980. No new dams or reservoirs have been added to the state’s water system since then.”……

    Then go on to say “Stopping large water projects in California has about a snowball’s chance in Death Valley.”

    Which is it?

    The former, of course. Large water projects are done. Finished. Stupidly so, incredulously so, but done nonetheless.

    I’m 50. I fully expect a shovel-full of dirt tossed on my grave before we see a shovel-full of dirt turned to begin any new large water project in this state.

    Reply this comment
  2. Wayne Lusvardi
    Wayne Lusvardi 26 November, 2012, 11:09

    OK, there were no large dams or reservoirs to develop NEW water sources since 1980 – but there was a new storage reservoir – Diamond Valley Lake – in Riverside County that was completed around 2004. But that reservoir did not produce any new water — it just stored surplus water from the Colorado River and the Sacramento Delta.

    California is now proposing to build two new dams as part of the Consolidated Water Bond to be on the 2013 ballot for voter approval. At this time there are no political impediments to stopping to those two dams. But if the voters don’t approve the water bond then there is no way to fund it.

    As for continued water supplies from the Sacramento Delta that is also on a fast track as the legislature and governor have approved it. Again, the problem is financing. Where will the money come from? The federal share of the Delta Restoration Project may not be approved by Congress. That means that either farmers or urban water ratepayers will have to pick up the tab. And again, if they don’t then the project will be put on hold and we will go back to water conservation.

    I thought I made this all clear in my article.

    Reply this comment
  3. jimmydeeoc
    jimmydeeoc 26 November, 2012, 13:38

    Perhaps I read too fast, Wayne. You made a lot of good points.

    In the main we are in agreement.

    If there is one thing Big Government can do (did?), it is visionary projects like the Delta proposal. But we have, as a society, sat on our collective tuchas for 30 years.

    Money or no money, I doubt if the environmentalists and other Green fairies are just going to sit around and let this happen without a fight, even IF Jerry supports it.

    I know you cover water issues in great detail. (As evidenced by the link below) I’m just sticking my finger in the air. And what I sense is that this state (and increasingly the nation) has no resolve to do ANYTHING consequential beyond watching Dancing with the Stars.


    Reply this comment
  4. Wayne Lusvardi
    Wayne Lusvardi 26 November, 2012, 16:50

    Mr. Jimmydee OC

    Everything is a “go” for the Delta Restoration and Delta Tunnels projects EXCEPT the voters passing an $11.1 billion water bond and either the federal government, or famers, or Southern California water ratepayers being willing to pay the lion’s share of the $53 billion in total package costs.

    My guess is that urban water agencies will push through rate increases one agency at a time and in fragmented fashion will divide and conquer the water ratepayers.

    The overriding reality however is that Southern California needs new water supplies and guarantees of State Water Project water.

    Reply this comment
  5. Spreck Rosekrans
    Spreck Rosekrans 27 November, 2012, 11:47

    In addition to the comments about Diamond Valley being a new reservoir (and do not forget Los Vaqueros as well), the real story about new storage developed over the past 20 years is groundwater.

    Kern County alone has developed around 5 million acre feet of new storage, supporting not only the huge and highly profitable almond, pistachio and pomegranate orchards in the San Joaquin Valley but also the water banking agreements that provide additional reliability for California’s biggest cities (google “Semitropic”).

    Certainly many environmentalists do oppose new dams on flowing rivers. But also note that every Sierra stream has been dammed and the next dam will produce less yield and cost more to build in an inferior location. Recharging depleted aquifers is the economic solution and has been vigorously pursued. (That said, unclear groundwater management rules need to be resolved so that everybody has the right incentives in place.

    Pro development folks and environment folks will continue to differ. But there are places where both sides can agree to help a better and more reliable water supply future.

    Reply this comment
  6. Burt Wilson
    Burt Wilson 27 November, 2012, 15:10

    The problem most writers have with the Delta situation is that they continue to see it as a social issue when it is really all politics. Yes, the Delta and the California Water System has been politicized by the billionaire farmers and corporate entities who see water as the means to fuel new construction east of LA in the high (Mojave) desert areas. The people who gave Brown money to run for governor want a return on their investment. It’s all about business and profits and the water agencies are part and parcel of the whole shebang. For example, the Department of Water Resources is looking forward to hiring 5,336 additional workers if the tunnels are approved.
    They will become the biggest political bureaucracy in California!

    Reply this comment
  7. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 27 November, 2012, 15:24

    It’s all about business and profits and the water agencies are part and parcel of the whole shebang.
    Shebang, what an awesome word……………. Of course it is all about $$$$$, $$$ are the mothers milk of politics.

    Reply this comment
  8. Ted
    Ted "Eddy Baby" Steele, Associate Prof. 27 November, 2012, 19:49

    Poodle– “the mother’s milk of politics”— I love when you push tired cliches like you just heard them! Nice post!

    Reply this comment
  9. Ted
    Ted "Eddy Baby" Steele, Associate Prof. 27 November, 2012, 20:01

    People still wash down the concrete, shower too long, and waste a ton o h20!!!!!

    Reply this comment
  10. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 28 November, 2012, 07:04

    Poodle– “the mother’s milk of politics”— I love when you push tired cliches like you just heard them! Nice post!
    Thanks for the validaton, maybe you’re not such a dork after all 🙂

    BTW When are Queeg and Uhaul going to reappear???

    Reply this comment
  11. Ted Steele, Navigator
    Ted Steele, Navigator 28 November, 2012, 08:49

    Poodle– Don’t you agree that off topic posts like yours are a waste? Should we allow the normal folks to have their blog back?

    Reply this comment
  12. Susan
    Susan 28 November, 2012, 09:11

    Please go away and get yourselves a chat room to trade insults in

    Reply this comment
  13. Paul Preston
    Paul Preston 28 November, 2012, 09:20


    Thanks for this article but more importantly thanks for exposing the pseudo-logic of Cynthia Barnett and her bathtub illusion around Lake Mead. True the ring is there and for anyone who’s been to Lake Mead over the years you have seen it first hand except on two occasions. The first was in 1941 when they deliberately stopped the flow of the Colorado River which allowed the lake to rise so the water could go into the spillways. They were testing the spillways. I first went to Lake Mead in the mid sixties and saw the ring for the first time. In the early eighties there was flooding and the spillways were used again. The ring is permanent and will not go away. But evidence of evidence of “misuse of this precious resource.” What planet is she from? You show in your article the real evidence of misuse. The bigger problem for everyone is the pseudo-science people like Cynthia Barnett depend on to create false illusions water and other environmental issues.


    Paul Preston
    Agenda 21 Radio

    Reply this comment
  14. Ted Steele, Navigator
    Ted Steele, Navigator 28 November, 2012, 09:49

    “Nevada’s Lake Mead, the largest man-made lake and reservoir in the U.S., could go dry by 2021, according to a pair of scientists at the Scripp’s Institute of Oceanography in San Diego, California. If human-induced climate change and water usage continues at the present rate, or even slower, there is a 50% chance the lake will go dry in coming years – and sooner, rather than later. The Colorado River’s water is being consumed far beyond a sustainable level.”

    Scripps— Heck– what do they know?

    Reply this comment
  15. Paul Preston
    Paul Preston 28 November, 2012, 10:17


    When I was teaching environmental sciences in the seventies and eighties they were saying the same thing except it was going to happen by the year 2000. Tim Barnett and David Pierce who are the two you refer to from Scripts are long time global warming hucksters. Looks like these guys at Scripts got a new grant or two so they had to forecast out to 2021.

    “Scripps— Heck– what do they know?” They know how to follow the money Ted.

    Reply this comment
  16. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 28 November, 2012, 12:22

    They know how to follow the money Ted.

    LOL…Teddy will never recover 😉

    Reply this comment
  17. Ted Steele, Navigator
    Ted Steele, Navigator 28 November, 2012, 12:24

    LOL– Paul— Are you telling me that you are a global warming/man denier? LOL Oh my!

    Reply this comment
  18. Paul Preston
    Paul Preston 28 November, 2012, 13:16


    Sun Spots……Time….co2…

    Follow the money.

    Reply this comment
  19. Ted Steele, Navigator
    Ted Steele, Navigator 28 November, 2012, 13:58

    Hey Paul— Have you ever seen David and Tim’s CV’s?

    There just grant chasing hacks! LOL——-

    Reply this comment
  20. Paul Preston
    Paul Preston 28 November, 2012, 15:34


    Took less than 2 minutes to find this. There’s more but this will get you started.

    Good luck.

    “Tim Barnett on the hockey stick- “statistics were suspect”–the rest of the team knew of problems with Mann’s reconstruction”

    Email 2383 contains further evidence that everyone in the world of paleoclimate knew the Hockey Stick was a duffer.

    From: Tim Barnett [[2]mailto:[email protected]]

    Sent: 11 October 2004 16:42

    To: Gabi Hegerl; Klaus Hasselmann

    Here’s the link to the e-mail

    Reply this comment
  21. Ted Steele, Navigator
    Ted Steele, Navigator 28 November, 2012, 16:12

    Oh God Paul not this old rehash again!

    Reply this comment
  22. Paul Preston
    Paul Preston 28 November, 2012, 16:34


    Are you a contributor to Wiki????

    Reply this comment
  23. Ted
    Ted "Eddy Baby" Steele, Associate Prof. 28 November, 2012, 19:07

    I hope you’re paying attention Paul!

    I think you missed it though!

    Reply this comment
  24. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 29 November, 2012, 08:30

    Ted Steele, Navigator says:

    Oh God Paul not this old rehash again!
    Ted Steele, Navigator says:


    Read and learn little buddy!
    Oh God Teddy, not this old copy and paste again!

    Reply this comment
  25. Ted Steele, Navigator
    Ted Steele, Navigator 29 November, 2012, 11:31

    You should have an adult read that one to ya little buddy!

    0 for 14 ™ ! It never gets old!

    Reply this comment
  26. Paul Preston
    Paul Preston 30 November, 2012, 08:52


    Your pseudo-science meets your pseudo-reference. Nice Try.

    Reply this comment
  27. Frank
    Frank 30 November, 2012, 14:03

    Boy, lots of comments here. Let’s remember that Cynthia Barnett is nothing more than an experienced journalist with a background almost totally uninformed by any knowledge of science or engineering. Thank God the author got some experts like Bob Johnson — he ended his 30+ year engineering career as the Commissioner of the US Bureau of Reclamation — to comment because this usually rarely happens.

    To make a judgement about the complex issue of water policy based on a “ring” around the waterline of Lake Mead illustrates a complete lack of the necessary understanding of hydrology or even the history of Lake Mead and the operation of Hoover Dam. As an example, in 1983 after several years of drought, the spillways at both Glen Canyon Dam and Hoover had to be run open for weeks to make sure that enough water was drained from the watershed to allow for the unusual runoff expected from the winter snows. To believe that we will see ever diminishing amount of rainfall and snow in our Western future is to belive in global warming or some other such ecological mythology.

    And about that tunnel/canal system around the Delta; it is my studied opinion that the issue will be resolved politically only when a disaster occurs such as a severe earthquake with destroys the levee and dike system enough to inunindate the two fresh water pumping plants at Tracy. I believe that is the only circumstance which presents itself strongly enough to allow progress to be made on a structural fix on the Delta. Until then, we will be forced to stand around and listen — if we choose to — a lot of groups with an axe to grind in their attempt to position themselves to “win”. There will be no “winning” in this issue. It’s more a case to determine how much pain will occur when the decision is left to nature.

    Reply this comment
  28. Ted
    Ted "Eddy Baby" Steele, Associate Prof. 1 December, 2012, 08:02

    LOL— I love the climate deniers and birthers that populate this blog!

    Reply this comment
  29. Marla
    Marla 2 December, 2012, 12:41

    CA central valley’s water scam began 60+ yrs ago. Cities rebuilt on top of secretly replaced, redirected water systems. Title companies altering parcel maps to match new layouts; historic aerial views altered; old books reprinted with new “vintage” photos.
    CA’s “water shortage spokesman” Alan Autry (aka: former Fresno Mayor aka: “Bubba Skinner”) not only lying to the public about our water system, he used our justice system to back up perjury to deny what is taking place.

    Reply this comment
  30. Marla
    Marla 2 December, 2012, 12:44

    Per former Fresno Mayor Autry: “It is an act of domestic terror!”
    Really? Read between the lines – this man is involved in the biggest water scam in history – entailing annihilation of various property owners, illegal takeover of property and assets to continue the water scam he denies taking place. Behind the upcoming high-speed rail. Big plans for CA!!!
    Click ===> http://tinyurl.com/25by56y

    Reply this comment
  31. Paul Preston
    Paul Preston 2 December, 2012, 16:31


    Great comment.

    Paul Preston
    Agenda 21 Radio
    [email protected]

    Reply this comment
  32. Paul Preston
    Paul Preston 2 December, 2012, 16:38



    OPEN CLIMATE LETTER TO UN SECRETARY-GENERAL: Current scientific knowledge does not substantiate Ban Ki-Moon assertions on weather and climate, say 125-plus scientists.


    Paul Preston

    Reply this comment
  33. irishpol
    irishpol 7 April, 2015, 15:42

    ANSWER: If you currently live in California, leave. If you are fortunate enough not to live in California, count your blessings and don’t go there. Don’t even visit the state. Those people are nuts!

    Reply this comment

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