Sunday, August 30, 2015

Who Should Get the Water, when push comes to shove?

I wonder if they'll take 213 pounds of  whelks for an acre-foot. of water.
This post series encourages stakeholders, by becoming as knowledgeable as possible in a very short time, to vigorously participate in the design of their water futures, which are destined to become closely monitored,  metered, and regulated by agencies both appointed and elected. Need to know includes such basic as how water is measured (acre-feet as well as gallons), how geography is delineated for water accounting, what aquifers or water-basins are, what are the sources of all water supplied to Californians, who determines allocations and use, and more.

Long-term design is most likely to successfully meet all stakeholders' goals when based on science, inclusive demographics, as well as accounting for and balancing the needs and desires of specific interest groups like agribusiness, environmentalists and planners. 

We focus on the Central Coast of California. The conflicts of interests with the greatest impact on individual water futures in Santa Barbara County is that of sustainable water use and the California agricultural lobby, with groundwater issues pivotal. The new water regulatory environment outlined by Governor Brown, with conservation measures ordered for urban users of a 25% mandatory cut in water use, still excludes specific regulations for agriculture, though agriculture accounts for 80 % of water use in California. The Central Coast, though climatically more desert than tropic, is considered the breadbasket of the world, but is not a natural world wonder but an intensely engineered one.

The legislation passed in September of 2014 specifies that local agencies need to develop plans for groundwater use  that can be tailored to regional needs and conditions.:
The legislation prioritizes groundwater basins that are currently overdrafted  or at risk and sets a timeline for implementation:

- By 2017, local groundwater management agencies must be identified;
- By 2020, overdrafted groundwater basins must have sustainability plans;
- By 2022, other high and medium priority basins not currently in overdraft must have sustainability plans; and
- By 2040, all high and medium priority groundwater basins must achieve sustainability.
No immediate conservation measures were mandated for agriculture. Simultaneously, throughout the Central Valley, more wells are being dug deeper and at greater cost by those who can afford it to meet dwindling  supplies of water for their purposes. Similar pictures reflect water scarcity drilling frenzy and groundwater depletion in Northern India, Syria, Saudi Arabia and the US. This is a water arms race, where he and she who can drill deeper survive longer while  land is reported to be sinking half an inch a month and groundwater levels appear to be sinking faster in the Central Valley than anywhere else in the United States, according to a recent U.S. Geological Survey.

Consider the  example of the City and County of Santa Barbara, iconic of the good life

The City of Santa Barbara, to use one specific  example used for the purpose of limiting the complexity of the water supply and demand issues to one relatively simplified ,localized example for possible better understanding of how water supply and demand work in most regions of California, depends on five different water supplies to meet local demands: Local Surface Water, Local Groundwater, State Water, Recycled Water, and Desalinated Water. Each of these will be addressed below to evaluate how they might or might not meet SB community demands for clean water.

 Under normal weather conditions average water use by Californians  is supplied 70% from surface water supplies (rivers, lakes, stored water such as reservoirs and canals) and 30% from groundwater supplies, stored in natural geological structures called aquifers. During extended drought the average user draws on groundwater supplies for 80% of water used. In some regions, such as the Central Coast, almost 100 % of the water supplied is from groundwater.
Groundwater basins are prioritized under the new sustainable water legislation according to level of concern for risks of depletion, subsidence, and saltwater-intrusion.

Prioritization studies suggest that several regions are at risk for supply exceeding demand: specifically the Cuyama and San Antonio regions.

Most estimates of future supply of water are based on data that is sketchy, such as that for groundwater reserves, assumptions about use, which may be accurate or may not, and weather predictions, which under the condition of Climate Change uncertainty, makes predictions regarding future supplies porblematic.The above line graph predicts that for three out of the five detailed water accounting units (DAUs, see below),  supply may be just barely met in 2040.


When speaking of large water quantities, the unit of measure is the acre-foot or acre-inch, the amount of water required to cover one acre either 12 inches or 1 inch. Most Americans are familiar with gallons, so to get an idea of the large quantities used to supply water to a region or for irrigation, stakeholders who want to speak the water world language, need to become comfortable with both. One-acre-foot is 325,851 gallons; an acre-inch is 27,154 gallons.

Putting Stats into a Context

The average household in this County uses between 30,000 to 90,000 gallons of water a year. According to Wikipedia,
 "A 2000 study of a sampling of 735 California homes across ten water districts found that the weighted average annual total water use of these homes was 132,000 US gallons (0.41 acreft) per year or 362 US gallons (0.00111 acreft) per household per day."

The average per capita use of water in the city of Santa Barbara is 130 gallons per day, which reflects current conservation practices, with Goleta using less and Montecito about triple SB City residential use. These data are supplied as basics for water literacy in our region. On the average, at least half of local domestic water use is for outside purposes, including but not restricted to landscaping, which is particularly important in Montecito.  About half of the water used indoors is for bath-shower and toilet. 


 The County contains four principal watersheds: the Santa Maria, which includes the Cuyama and Sisquoc watersheds and covers 1,845 square miles; San Antonio Creek that covers 165 square miles; Santa Ynez that covers 900 square miles; and the South Coast, which is comprised of 50 short, steep watersheds extending from the ridge of the Santa Ynez Mountains to the Pacific Ocean.  Four major rivers drain these watersheds: the Santa Maria, Sisquoc, Cuyama, and Santa Ynez. Rainfall is variable, with stream flow a function of rainfall. Accounting units are not geographically the same as watersheds, see below for accounting. Most avocados and 75% of nursery and hot-house crops and plants are raised in the South Coast watershed area, with water supplied from groundwater and surface water supplies including Cachuma, Gibraltar, and Juncal Dams (under normal conditions, which exclude the present extended drought). Wineries are scattered throughout the county. (blue on map below)

 Under normal weather conditions average water use by Californians  is supplied 70% from surface water supplies (rivers, lakes, stored water such as reservoirs or Lakes such as Lake Cachuma or Gibraltar Reservoir, along with whatever is present in canals) and 30% from groundwater supplies, stored in natural geological structures called aquifers. During extended drought the average user draws on groundwater supplies for 80% of water used. In some regions, such as the Central Coast, almost 100 % of the water supplied is from groundwater. The state allocates but does not always supply what is classified as surface water.

 Consider the Other Suppliers

Surface Water: Lake Cachuma is SB’s primary source of surface water, though recharge is from rain and other sources. As of Aug 25, 2015, 40,751 acre feet are stored, according to the Bureau of Reclamation, which is 21.1 % of capacity storage. On an average annual basis, Lake Cachuma provides approximately one-quarter of the water used in the Central Coastal Region and 80 percent of Santa Barbara County’s   water supply.

State Water: For 2015 SB Co requested 45 486 acre-feet from the State Water project and was granted   6823 AFY, or 15% of the water requested. The ultimate source of all water for the State Water Project is the Feather River,a tributary of the Sacramento River. State water's largest reservoir is Lake Oroville, with a water capacity of 3.5 million acre feet. This August 2015, Lake Oroville is at 25% capcity, or about 890,000 acre feet. Santa Barbara County is entitled to 45,486 AFY., stored in the San Luis Reservoir. more at:

Under conditions of extended drought state-wide, such as we are now addressing, State Water supplies tend to dwindle to almost nothing,

Recycled Water: The City's Recycled Water Project recycles approximately 800 acre feet of treated wastewater each year.The cost per acre foot of recycled water is approximately $1,200. To put this figure into perspective: Central valley water costs farmers anywhere from $500 per acre-foot up.

Desalinated Seawater : Santa Barbara's desal plant was constructed in 1991 and deactivated after plentiful rainfall made operation un-economical. The capital costs to reactivate the plant with a capacity of 3,125 acre-feet per year1 (AFY) are estimated at $55 million. Annual operating costs are estimated to be about $4.1 million at full production (for 3,125 AFY of water supply), and about $1.6 million in standby ready-state mode. Planned delivery of desalinated water is for 2016.

None of the above will meet the demands of residents in SB County.

The Biggest Source and Issues  for Groundwater

During extended drought conditions such as we are dealing with today, August 30, 2015, ground water is the only source on which water users in the Central Coast can rely.

Groundwater: Although there are many, to a large extend unclassified and unmonitored groundwater basins or aquifers on the central Coast, the major ones are increasinglu understood and monitored. The major South Coast Groundwater Basins include: Carpinteria, Montecito, Santa Barbara, Foothill, and the Goleta Groundwater Basins.  The major groundwater basins within the Santa Ynez River Watershed are, from east to west: Santa Ynez Uplands, Santa Ynez River Alluvial, Buellton Uplands, Lompoc Uplands, Lompoc Plain, and Lompoc Terrace Basins. These basins are adjacent to the Santa Ynez River and lie between the San Rafael Mountains to the North and east and the Santa Ynez Mountains to the South. Each basin is affected to some extent by water rights agreements and Cachuma Reservoir operations. Primary among these is the Water Rights Order 89-18 and the 2000 Biologic Opinion from the National Marine Fisheries Service. 

Water use within the Santa Ynez Uplands Groundwater Basin is primarily for agriculture though there is also urban use within portions of the basin supplied by Santa Ynez Water Conservation District ID#1. The most recent report, dated 2014, by SB county agencies indicates how water levels in all major basins have changed according to agency calculations.

Geographical Accounting Units 

The DAU is the geographical accounting unit for water in a specific area. This concept is useful largely  for regulatory and insights, based on diverse studies, with diverse purposes.  the stakeholder needs to attend to who reports what and why.

To summarize the last three posts, if stakeholders want their water futures to match their needs and desires for how water is accessed and distributed, they need to become knowledgeable and vitally active.