Reclaimed water

reclaimed water, golf course, Ventana Canyon, Tucson, by John Fleck

reclaimed water, golf course, Ventana Canyon, Tucson, by John Fleck

I don’t know whether to view these signs all over Tucson’s golf courses proclaiming their use of “reclaimed” water as proud – “We’re water smart!” or defensive. But whenever the conversation veers toward water “reclamation”, always ask yourself where that water might have gone if you hadn’t, for example, put it on this golf course. As Tony Davis pointed out earlier this month, one place urban effluent might otherwise end up is in the desert riparian systems that have otherwise been deprived of water by the cities that have grown up around them.

Questions about the Gila Diversion

In the Colorado River Basin writ large, 14,000 acre feet of water is a very small rounding error – less than one tenth of one percent of the river’s flow. But the New Mexico discussion over the possibility of a diversion high in the watershed of the Gila River in New Mexico, raises fascinating questions about what could be one of the last big pieces of water-moving infrastructure in the basin. My colleague Lauren Villagran in the Albuquerque Journal’s Las Cruces bureau had an interesting piece in the morning paper (behind surveywall) looking at the drive to develop the water, even though we don’t know how much it will cost, who will pay for it, or how the water will be used:

“You would think that would get decided before it gets built, because you would think (the beneficiaries) would have to say they are willing to pay, especially if it’s a for-profit company,” said Norman Gaume, a former director of the Interstate Stream Commission.

Mulroy: Lake Mead’s bathtub ring is not just Las Vegas’s problem

Former Southern Nevada water chief Pat Mulroy explains that, while Las Vegas is an easy rhetorical landing spot because it is right next door to Lake Mead, the dropping Colorado River reservoir is a basin wide issue:

What we are experiencing is not a Las Vegas problem — it is truly a regional problem that encompasses an area responsible for 27 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

The entire piece is worth reading, and the comment thread is actually pretty good.

Colorado River Basin forecast for the winter of 2014-15: “meh”

Even with the fizzling El Niño forecast, the winter outlook for the United States released by the Climate Prediction Center yesterday looks awfully El Niño-like, with odds favoring wetter weather across the southern tier of states. But for the bulk of the Colorado River Basin’s water-producing region, which is in the central Rockies, the forecast looks like even odds of a wet or dry winter this year:

December-February outlook, Climate Prediction Center

December-February outlook, Climate Prediction Center

Drought and those yummy California almonds

Via Brett Walton:

Continuing a decades-long trend, California farmers will increase their almond acreage next year, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report.

An estimated 48,000 acres of new almond orchards will be planted next year, an estimate based on a first-ever survey of nursery sales. The increase is roughly 40 percent higher than the 10-year average.

Richard Waycott, president and CEO of the Almond Board of California, which commissioned the survey, told Circle of Blue that the numbers reflect commitments made at least two years ago, when growers would have submitted orders to the nurseries.

“The report reflects decisions not made in the context of the current drought and current water availability,” Waycott said.

Stuff I wrote elsewhere: Is our hero (El Niño) abandoning us?

There was a great bit of humorous business that my offspring Reed helped me cook up over the weekend for this column, which ended up on the self-editing floor. The column was in part about how we all put too much stock in El Niño as our savior from drought, and Reed reminded me of that great scene in Life of Brian where a frustrated Brian is trying to explain to the throng assembled outside his Mum’s apartment that he is not the Messiah:

BRIAN: Look. You’ve got it all wrong. You don’t need to follow me. You don’t need to follow anybody! You’ve got to think for yourselves. You’re all individuals!

FOLLOWERS: Yes, we’re all individuals!

BRIAN: You’re all different!

FOLLOWERS: Yes, we are all different!

DENNIS: I’m not.

ARTHUR: Shhhh.

FOLLOWERS: Shh. Shhhh. Shhh.

BRIAN: You’ve all got to work it out for yourselves!

FOLLOWERS: Yes! We’ve got to work it out for ourselves!

BRIAN: Exactly!

FOLLOWERS: Tell us more!

BRIAN: No! That’s the point! Don’t let anyone tell you what to do!

So many layers there –  El Niño, named after the Christ child, but as the column explains, it’s really not our savior. But it was a bridge too far for a newspaper column.

California’s drought – is this what climate adaptation looks like?

Bloomberg’s Alan Bjerga last week gave us a nice tour through the details of how California’s agricultural businesses are responding to drought conditions. He notes especially a shift, was water gets more expensive, into higher valued crops. Stuff that can be grown in places where water is cheap and plentiful, like what, into high-dollar crops like almonds:

In the long term, California will probably move away from commodity crops produced in bulk elsewhere to high-value products that make more money for the water used, said Richard Howitt, a farm economist at the University of California at Davis. The state still has advantages in almonds, pistachios and wine grapes, and its location means it will always be well-situated to export what can be profitably grown….

That may mean less farmland in production as growers abandon corn and cotton because of the high cost of water. Corn acreage in California has dropped 34 percent from last year, and wheat is down 53 percent, according to the USDA.

Cotton planting, Fred Starrh’s one-time mainstay, has fallen 60 percent over the decade, while almonds are up by more than half.

This is the necessary step beyond the “OMG, 99.8 percent of California is in severe drought” to look at the specifics of what people do in response to changing climatic conditions and water availability, whether on an annual basis or when stationarity is knocked out from under them. In California, one of the things they’re apparently doing is growing a lot less cotton and wheat.