Drought in the Southwest

Discussion in 'Anesthesiology' started by HalO'Thane, 09.25.14.

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  1. HalO'Thane

    HalO'Thane New Member 10+ Year Member

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    Not to get all doomsday on everyone, but is the current drought in the Southwest (e.g. California and Arizona) a real concern for anyone currently living there or thinking of living there? As an outsider (but someone who really likes the area) I can't help but wonder if the current state of water usage and allocation there is sustainable. You have global warming combined with the cyclical droughts that occur in that region producing diminishing rain and snowfall; add to that a massive population boom over the past 30 years, people that still want to have green lawns and swimming pools, and a massive amount of agricultural cultivation in California's Central Valley (an area that is essentially a desert). It just seems that no one has come up with a reasonable solution to a seemingly real but complex problem.
     
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  3. BuzzPhreed

    BuzzPhreed

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    The solution is easy and one that's been done in the Middle East. Desalination plants, solar powered, for potable water and "gray" water for agriculture. If the drought continues, this will happen. It has nothing to do with the geopolitics of Global Climate Change. It would create jobs and be a massive boon for the area.
     
  4. Numbex

    Numbex

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    Unfortunately Las Vegas is not near the ocean and Lake Mead keeps dropping. Their problem is a bit more intractable. Putting an intake pipe lower in the reservoir doesn't solve the problem, just pushes back the day of reckoning.
     
  5. pgg

    pgg Laugh at me, will they? SDN Moderator 10+ Year Member

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    The Middle East isn't using solar to power their desalination plants. It's all oil/natgas. There are some solar projects in the works but the economics heavily favor natural gas there.

    SoCal doesn't have the room for solar to power desalination, which is astoundingly energy intensive. Nuclear is the obvious choice, but that weirdly mismanaged state doesn't want it. They've decided to close plants, not build modern new ones.

    What's more, California has a long and gloriously foolish history with desalination. They've built plants only to mothball them immediately when a bit of rain changed the economics.


    Having just left the Central Valley, where I paid upwards of $.32/kWh for top tier usage, even after putting a $33,000 solar array on the roof of my energy efficient house, and having witnessed first hand the absurdity of agri water rights in the fields around me (one field let an established almond orchard DIE because they couldn't buy enough water to keep it alive, and next door to that a corporation with groundwater rights was flood irrigating fields full of animal fodder - possibly for export to China) ... I can attest that the problems, laws, and history are all complex and that California is totally disinterested in truly solving the problems.

    Which is one of about 5 big reasons I left.

    Arizona (Arizona!) has had better water planning over the last 50 years. Power too ... the Palo Verde nuclear plant is the largest in the USA, produces power at a wholesale cost around $.05-06/kWh ... and sells much of it to California.
     
  6. pgg

    pgg Laugh at me, will they? SDN Moderator 10+ Year Member

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    All that said, now I live with 80%+ humidity, swamp bugs big enough to abduct small pets, and I haven't had a decent carnitas taco or chile relleno in 2 months. California isn't all bad.
     
  7. bashwell

    bashwell SDN Bronze Donor Bronze Donor 2+ Year Member

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    I think a lot of the drought problem in California (not sure about other Southwest states) is due to bad politics/policy/poor management.
     
  8. BuzzPhreed

    BuzzPhreed

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    Didn't mean to imply they were using solar in the Middle East.

    In Cali, they could use solar, wind, tide-engine... hell, nuclear or burn coal for all I care... but the greenies tree-huggers aren't likely to endorse anything besides solar, etc.

    The point is, there will soon come a point in time when the scales will tip in favor of policy change to allow this. There will be too many thirsty mouths not to make a more consistent self-sustaining system. We're not quite there yet, but we're close. Water rationing and xeriscaping will only be tolerated for so long. Off loading the demand in SoCal will also have positive upstream effects (pun intended) for other places along the Colorado and Rio Grande rivers.
     
  9. pgg

    pgg Laugh at me, will they? SDN Moderator 10+ Year Member

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    You're absolutely right, but they won't do anything. They're happy paying the highest power costs in the nation to import electricity from elsewhere.

    That makes sense which is why I don't believe it'll happen in CA. I'm not just being facetious. :)

    Here's the problem. People on the coast use a tiny fraction of California's water. Rationing has a miniscule effect; it's symbolic more than anything else - and the only tipping point I see coming is when the coastal people get tired of being blamed for wasting water, when farmers in the Central Valley keep on flood-irrigating cash crops in the desert. Ultimately, it's the Central Valley farmers who use almost all of the water and who are really hurt by the drought ... and either they'll solve the problem themselves via more efficient irrigation, or they won't.

    Desalination for agriculture is a pipe dream. The volumes required are massive. For an idea of the scale, just look at the way it's measured: in CCF (hundred cubic feet) for municipal use vs acre feet for agriculture. It ain't the swimming pools in SoCal. It's the cotton fields outside Fresno.


    Also ... desalination at large scale has its own environmental problems. The brine has to be put back in the ocean, and while the ocean's big and the solution to pollution is dilution, there are sealife-killing problems with dumping a lot of brine into the ocean at one point. It's a $olvable problem, sure, but it's exactly the kind of problem that California environmental activists are so good at turning into an insurmountable NIMBY roadblock.
     
  10. Guy Caballero

    Guy Caballero 2+ Year Member

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    [​IMG]
     
  11. HalO'Thane

    HalO'Thane New Member 10+ Year Member

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    It seems like we will ultimately see a decline in the amount of produce and cash crops that California can produce. This will have a lasting impact on the rest of the country both in terms of rising prices and decreased availability of everything from avocados to canned tomatoes to wine. Although the region has been blessed with fertile soil, it never really had much water to begin with. It was only through the result of billions of dollars in irrigation projects and shear force of human will that the region became as productive as it did. However, it seems that you can only divert so much water from the mountains and drain the groundwater before you reach reach your limit, particularly when that supply is dwindling. I feel bad for all of the farmers that have put their entire livelihood into those farms but at the end of the day you cannot tame Mother Nature.
     
  12. sevoflurane

    sevoflurane Ride 10+ Year Member

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    These are real questions Halothane. Just today I was reading about the drought problems in AZ, the population projections and the current state of affairs with regard to reliability on this precious resource. PHX and Tucson would not exist if it weren't for human intervention. Their natural rivers dreid up 100 years ago.

    http://www.slate.com/articles/techn...reinvent_itself_in_the_face_of_a_drought.html

    My fam lives in Palo Alto, CA. They have been talking about the seriousness of the water shortage for a long time. It is getting worse.
     
    Last edited: 09.26.14
  13. sevoflurane

    sevoflurane Ride 10+ Year Member

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    That being said... just beautiful places to live.
     
    Last edited: 09.25.14
  14. sevoflurane

    sevoflurane Ride 10+ Year Member

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    I dig it.
     
  15. pgg

    pgg Laugh at me, will they? SDN Moderator 10+ Year Member

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    Well - maybe.

    I'm not really connected in any meaningful way to agriculture, but I think there's still a lot of room to go with both irrigation technology and GMO crops that are drought resistant and have reduced water needs.

    One thing I did observe in the 5 years I lived there was a huge increase in the amount of drip irrigation. Until I left, I'd drive past the same orchards every day, and some of the established ones would flood irrigate them a couple times per week. Actually flooded - acres and acres of trees would get completely flooded to ankle depth or more. But every new orchard I saw planted had drip lines. (Or close to every new one ... it's not like I kept track.) Same with new vineyards, central CA grows a ridiculous number of grapes, apparently most destined to be raisins or juice. New trellis goes up one week, drip lines the next. So I think agriculture is adapting there, surely at great cost ... but drip irrigation vastly reduces the water needed.

    What I still couldn't figure out was one particular field on my drive to work, which was a couple miles long. Never grew anything but some kind of grass/alfalfa/hay kind of animal fodder. There was an irrigation ditch alongside it that was always full of water. Parked next to it was some kind of (probably diesel) tractor pump thing. It ran 24h/day for days and days at a time, pumping water out of the canal into the fields. I'd go to work and it'd be running. I'd drive home, and it'd be 300 yards further down the canal, still running. I'd get called in at midnight for a case, it'd be running. I'd go home the next morning, it'd be running.

    Meanwhile, my neighbor gets a ticket for wasting water pressure washing a fence.

    I'm not so crazy as to deny there's a drought in California, but apparently SOME people have all the water they could possibly want, and no incentive to conserve. I suspect that, despite the drought, water shortages in CA are kind of like hunger in Africa: mostly a distribution problem.
     
  16. BuzzPhreed

    BuzzPhreed

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    Just to be clear, I never suggested irrigation with desalination plant water. I suggested gray water.

    Likewise the amount of clean usable water by people on the coast, and immediately adjacent to the coasts, in California is far more than you probably realize. We're talking on the order of a half billion gallons of potable water per day being pumped into homes, just in the major metropolitan areas, for people to drink with, cook with, bathe in, and flush their feces. A large portion of that water is eventually reclaimed through sewage and processed treatment plants, all of which has cost. Much of that could be instead partially treated and re-sent for irrigation. Desalination would provide a new opportunity to replenish some of that deficit.

    You may be right that it never gets done. And, yes, there are technical challenges. The drought will break (eventually) and everyone will forget about this problem... until the next time it happens. It's a vicious cycle.

    But, more and more people are moving to California each year adding to the already over 38 million people who live there. Why? Well, beats me. Nice place to visit, though.
     
  17. SinghDoc

    SinghDoc ASA Member 7+ Year Member

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    Just moved back to Fresno 2 months ago....this drought is killing a lot of farmers I know. We'll likely rip out our wine grapes and replant almonds. Only guys who are doing well are the well drilling companies--3 month wait time.
     

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