23 Feb 2009

Weekend Discussion: Moving Water

NOTE: This post will stay here until Sunday night. Posts for Saturday and Sunday morning go below this post.

Dear Aguanauts,

Discussion posts allow you to discuss your beliefs on a topic -- to share your understanding, experience and opinions -- without worrying about what's right or what others think. (Check out last week's discussion on water prices.) Most important, the discussion allows us to learn from each other. So...

Should we move water between watersheds?


  1. Yes.

    I was just going through some old publications and saw that about 150,000 acre feet was used for production of electricity in Arizona in 2007, of which 98.7 K acre feet’s worth was used in state. But Arizona also imports energy, and so it showed a net export of 29.8K af (in the form of electricity leaving the state). Source: Arizona Water Resource Sept - Oct 2008.

    Presumably all this water/electricity is used in the Colorado River watershed, but it illustrates (what to me is) a key point: we should consider not only the water, but also the products that are made with consumptive uses of water. Much of the water used to grow alfalfa in the Imperial Valley and all of the water used to grow the delicious cherries from Chile that I enjoy, is water that is exported from the respective watersheds. The same is true for dozens, if not hundreds, of other products that I use. A strict limit on exports would have to preclude export of these products, which would put an end to our current way of life and would require each watershed to produce all goods and services that require consumptive use of water.

  2. Should we move water between watersheds?

    Good question. My question is how much? How far and 'lifted' how high to get to its destination.

    Anonymous mentioned Arizona in his post. Let's talk about moving water within Arizona as an example. Granted, we're not talking about moving water 'far', as in an inter basin transfer. We're not talking of moving water over several mountain ranges. CAP moves a peak of 3000 CFS in a distribution that spans 335 miles and lifts water slightly under 3000 feet. The electrical power required to accomplish this task is around 500 Megawatts. If we had to lift the water another thousand feet the amount of power would go up correspondingly. If we needed to move the water further - more power. What about the related costs of generation and distribution?

    Looking at the costs of a project of this magnitude it's hard to think of the bulk of the water being used to irrigate alfalfa or raise cherries.

    Or are we talking about transferring water 'on paper'???


  3. "Should WE move water between watersheds?"

    This issue has been settled several times by the US Supreme Court as it applies to the movement across state lines. It WAS an interstate commerce issue. The Court ruled that the States cannot make restrictions which inhibit the movement of vested water rights from one state to another.

    Intrastate movement of water associated with water rights is subject to the language in the individual court decrees. All sorts of restrictions may have been AGREED upon such as minimum stream flows, timing, quality, quantity and maximums. Proper notice was given and these decrees are set in stone unless re-opened and ruled upon again by the Courts.

    "WE" had every legal opportunity to be heard and protect our interests in the subject matter at the time the issue was properly be fore the Court.

    Entire economies have relied upon and depended up the findings and conclusions of law specified in the water rights that involve the movement of water from one watershed to another.

    "Watersheds" can be quite close together in the same major drainage basin as well as trans-mountain diversions which involve entirely different major river basins.

  4. "Moving water" and "Moving Earth" are inseparable. Why not come up with ways to capture more of that precious water into the earth rather than having to constantly Move Both? We used to do that on our farm by "subsoil plowing" deep to break up the hard pan which develops over the years. This enabled rain water to go deeper and replenish the water table, rather than running off into the bayous and streams. This really worked.
    As for moving water across watersheds? Jeez Louie you will have to call the Corps of Engineers for that and, well, ahem... fagetaboutit! They can move water alright. Unfortunately that usually seems to be into peoples' houses and farms.

    Consider the size of the Mississippi River Water Shed. I mean, actually from NY to CO and MN to Louisiana. The entire middle of the country manifests that entire system.
    We will be getting increasingly more rain in regions previously shy of precipitation. So we need to capture and conserve that rainfall at all costs, because we all know how much it really cost to go moving water (and hence, earth) around, and that it carries far greater and more expensive financial/personal/civil risks.
    It is cheaper and more sound engineering to Work the Land so it Holds more Water, rather than the Corps engineering to Move Water away from the Land.
    Capture the water IN the ground, not above it. We have tons of ways to generate electricity coming on line over the next decade. We don't need damns anymore. Water is much too valuable to waste on electrical generation with so many other options available.

    Thanks youz,
    Editilla~New Orleans Ladder

  5. Delbert's comments about the CAP raise an important point because that water is not leaving the Colorado River watershed (of which most of Arizona is a part). As with the Mississippi, that watershed is huge. So are we being asked about the largest area (e.g., Colorado River) or each individual part (e.g., Salt, San Pedro...)?

    The electric cost example I referenced called it virtual water (which I suspect is akin to Delbert's reference to paper water, although not as that term is generally used.)My point is that water and products made using water are both being exported and, because the result (water unavailable in the watershed) is the same, both types of exports should be considered.

    Back to Delbert's comment: I had a class in college in which we were always being asked to calculate how much energy was required to do something, with the goal being to see if it made sense from an environmental resource perspective. Since then I've tried to consider projects in the same light (albeit qualitatively, not quantitatively).

    The CAP was one project we considered in college. As I recall the numbers did not look good for CAP. But, some might argue that at one time the CAP was the biggest piece of pork ever funded by Congress, so from the perspective of those in Arizona pushing for the project, going ahead with the project made sense. (Yes, I know Arizona is paying at least some of the cost back.)

  6. One more point: although CAP water may not be being used for alfalfa, it is being used for cotton. Part of the CAP plan was for farmers to use the water until the cities needed it. As it now stands, many of the irrigation districts have given up their long term contracts in favor of year by year deliveries that are priced at the "energy only" level (i.e., water, O & M, debt service and every thing else is free). For me, this highlights a key point in pricing of water: there is the cost of water (a current use) and the cost of the water right (the right to use in future years).

  7. NewOrleansLadder "So we need to capture and conserve that rainfall at all costs"

    I disagree. At some point, it probably doesn't make sense to do that. Furthermore, foreign water does use pipes and infrastructure which can fail, but on the other hand, Parts of SoCal have insulated themselves from a drought with a diversity of supply--CO River, Owens River, Northern CA and groundwater. So I don't agree that it is necessarily more risky.

    Should we move water between watersheds?

    I have been studying water markets for a while now and don't often ponder this question of should we be doing this. Since so much infrastructure is built, its hard to think about taking it back and not moving water outside the watershed. The CVP moves water from NorCal to the San Joaquin Valley and from the San Joaquin to the Tulare Lake area, SWP from NorCal to the San Joaquin and Sothern CA, LADWP aqueduct from the Owens Valley to LA, MWD's CO aqueduct from the CO R to LA, Hetch Hetchy from Yosemite to SF, Mokelumne from the Sierra to Berkeley/Oakland, etc. These big diversions take water from where it is plentiful and move it to where the soils are better or where the people want to live. Good reasons, I suppose.

    Not just the west does this--NYC, Boston, many others have reached to quench their thirst. The Romans too I believe. Costs--We do become reliant on a foreign water source, we do hurt the fish, etc. and these issues can be exacerbated when the water leaves the watershed.

    But I see no inherent reason why water shouldn't be moved outside the watershed--its not much different from diverting it far away but within the watershed in many circumstances.

    If the water is cheaper and better somewhere else, and a city is willing to pay to get it, then that is their choice. Of course, the source area and the fish must be kept whole, and so many of the problems with moving water outside the watershed result from the murky nature of water rights in CA. But they are not reasons to stop trans-watershed diversions.

    Part of the obsession lately has been over relocalizing--getting everything made and produced within a local area to end reliance on transport fuel. These arguments may sound nice (more community, self-reliance), but be careful of what they also imply--they are arguments against trade and for impoverishing ourselves.

  8. Damian, point well put.
    However, one of the first laws of engineering is that it is always More Expensive to Build than Not Build.
    * The California State Water Project is the largest single user of energy in California. In the process of delivering water from the San Francisco Bay-Delta to Southern California, the project uses 2 to 3 percent of all electricity consumed in the state.
    * The State Water Project burns energy pumping water 2,000 feet over the Tehachapi Mountains -- the highest lift of any water system in the world. The amount of energy used to deliver that water to residential customers in Southern California is equivalent to approximately one-third of the total average household electric use in the region.
    * Ninety percent of all electricity used on farms is devoted to pumping groundwater for irrigation.

    The Romans knew this, which is why they used slaves.
    As for "drought insulation" for So Cal, hasn't that come at the expense of the surrounding states? You take another state's water and they simply do not have any more.
    Plus, I believe drought is very much a problem there now:

    If you develop water as a renewable resource rather than a shippable commodity and store it in the ground then there it stays safe and sound and you don't have to move it anywhere.

    I witnessed this with the subsoil plowing (every 3 years) as mentioned above, to break the hard pan and let the water store itself. And the plants loved it too!
    I also witness the water table beneath our farm go from 9 feet in 1960 to 120+ feet in 1980 (a mere 20 years) due directly to the Corps of Engineers dredging, straightening and otherwise speeding up all our bayous, bogues and narrows To Move The Water. Make-work not Flood Control. Now we have to spend 5 times the money to sink a well. It wasn't farm irrigation. It was deliberate civil engineering to Move the Water Away.

    Wouldn't it have been far better to have gotten that water back deep into the ground?

    California operates the most expensive water infrastructure in the country, and that beats even Louisiana.

    True, we gotta have pipes. But, we need to have a lot of things now to deal with water trading retail at higher than a barrel of oil.

    Thank you,
    Editilla~New Orleans Ladder

  9. There is a limit to the benefits of parochialism, as Damian points out. We move iron ore, oil, farm products and darn near everything else from one place to another, and we are all richer for it. Same goes for water.
    On the West Coast, our nation is blessed with five excellent deep water ports. Once you get south of San Diego, there is nothing worth a toot all the way to Cape Horn. Three of our ports (Oakland, Long Beach and San Diego) are located in areas that do not have sufficient local water supplies. Likewise, the only suitable locations for major airports are in flat(duh), comparatively fog free places, where, for unrelated reasons, local water is insufficient. These ports and airports are responsible for many millions of jobs and a good deal of our nation's GDP. I am not suggesting they would never have existed without imported water, but they likely would have been far less important. They would exist as isolated outposts of infrastructure, with high inland transportation costs, making our imports more expensive and our manufactures less competitive on the world markets.

  10. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  11. Something else I should have mentioned about pumping water and the electrical grid (and power use in general) is the 'timing' of when water is pumped.

    Electricity (or should I say - energy) in the grid is a volatile commodity. Electrical loads vary as lights turn on and off, air conditioners come online, etc. Controlling the voltage level on the grid is a series of adjusting generation levels feeding it. Most people don't realize that the bulk producers of power are the large coal fired or nuke plants referred to as 'steamers'. The virtue of these plants are is the amount of energy that is produced. The flip side is that it takes a long time to change the loading of the plant (hours to bring up - hours to bring down). The grid loading requirements are too variable to rely on such a steady generation source. There are methods used to correct the grid voltage but the bottom line is that bulk generation levels change slowly.

    How does this relate to pumping water? Water normally gets pumped during non-peak hours (when the air conditioners are off). The pumps also provide a load for an unloaded grid.

    When we compare how much power was consumed in the pumping of water you also have to factor into the equation of when the water was pumped.

    Looking at a graph that states that it took 500 megawatts to deliver the commodity can be interpreted as conflicting use when in actual practice - it wasn't.


  12. Here is another cool post on this:

    The quote which grabbed me:
    "Since passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973, the historical western competition for water rights between cities and agriculture has become a three-way struggle, with the environment itself given legal standing. And with the onset of climate change, the very models that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers used when designing the West's dams, reservoirs, and water distribution systems are being challenged by declining precipitation and earlier snow melts."

    I maintain from my own troglodyte-level heavy weather studies that we will have More precipitation in previously slack ecosystems, and Less in previously flush ecosystems... and/or entirely new mix-ups of water tables between east and west.

    We must address the issue of Water Resources Ground Storage over Commodity Investment Transport Risks.

    Thank you,
    Editilla~New Orleans Ladder

  13. I observed two projects being pitched at the water stakeholders meeting last summer for the same federal grant funds. Both were extremes--one extremely low impact and natural, one extremely heavy handed and huge in scale. The first came from a regional non profit for watershed restoration involving repopulating drainages with beavers and slash piles from logging operations. The idea was that the beavers would take the otherwise useless slash and make dams to hold back rills and small streams in the spring and make year round ponds where none existed before.
    The second proposal was markedly different from a large university and think tank. They wanted to build a huge industrial operation to mine water from Lake Pend'Orelle and inject it into the Spokane Valley Rathdrum Prairie gravel aquifer.
    According to the hydrologists from USGS and Ecology, it would drain away in less than two weeks and be a colossal waste of money and resources, not to mention steal water from Idaho and give it to Washington while destroying a beautiful lake.
    In this Nature v. the Mighty Military Industrial Complex (or should we move water) illustrates our fundamental quandry. Are we to continue to be heavy handed and try to solve our problems with huge projects or will we lighten up and let nature work the way she always has?

  14. One of the most econoimc and environmentally beneficial ways to move large volumes of water long distances is through the ocean, using waterbag technology. See Aguanomics Blog titled, "Persistance and Bagg" posted February 14, 2009.

    The fact that a waterbag operating system has never been implemented in California is not a reason to deny this technology. It will eventually happen and has been tested. See www.waterbag.com and link to YouTube and insert the words "Spragg Bag" in the selection box to see television news coverage of a waterbag demonsration in Washington State.

    In the end it all comes down to economics. Waterbag technology is more economical and environmentally beneificial than desalination and long-distance inter-basin transfers.

    The major difficulty facing waterbag technology, as David Zetland has pointed out, is the fact that waterbag technology has never been tested or implemented in California.

    Anyone care to join our waterbag parade?


  15. waterboyaz = skype email mark@npva.net28 Feb 2009, 22:56:00

    Thanks David for hosting this discussion. I always am interested in water topics.

    I am supportive of the concept of move water if it’s consensual. There seems to be great passion and prose on the subject. A couple of terms come to mind when you begin this discussion;

    1.Water always moves uphill to money.
    2.Whisky is for drinking and water is for fighting over.
    3.Water lawyers make money by starting water fights not the other way around, since they charge by the hour. See rule no. 1 and 2

    As a member of the board of directors of the Central Arizona Project, speaking on my own accord we have concerns on the movement of water from one area to the other. But we have some principles that we share.

    AZ water leaders want to be a resource of water, knowledge and experience. The SRP system in AZ was the first reclamation projects in the US. The 1902 Reclamation Act was created for the benefit of Salt River Project Water Users, and has 106 years experience. They have been moving surface water from in state upper basins to lower basins for years. They have excessive ground water management experience also.

    The CAP has water conservation and management plans that go out to 2100. AZ requires and Assured Water Supply for all water providers for 100 years. CAP is part of this Assured Water Supply program. Our 100 year plan calls for the movement of water from basins all over AZ and into farms and cities for M&I use. We also have an extensive water banking program, storing water for drought conditions. We can transfer credits within those banking system for water resource management.

    We can settle monumentally complicated western water claims in state and within the tribal sovereignty by negotiation and understanding, but the Feds are usually not that helpful. If we are prepared to keep our resource plans flexible and work with others, we tend to be able to move water within the confines of the Colorado River Compact, with some ease.

    What we can’t do is dictate the use of the water nor should we mandate prices for favored uses. States have very different constitutional, contractual and common law restrictions on how water works, and the property rights of others must be respected. AZ is a prior appropriation state and can’t be forced into a riparian doctrine method just because you don’t agree with the uses. We must develop a water market that consensually moves water from person to person and use to use, respecting the rights of others to make personal and financial decision that each party can benefit from.

    AZ has 106 years experience in water resource management; we have a plan for the next 100 years.

    We invented modern reclamation, and the other states and water resource managers could learn a few things from us.

    Were not going to run out or have crises, because we know what were doing and have a century of experience.

    Thanks for letting me get on my soapbox, keep up the discussions, so I can learn more.

  16. How is moving water between watersheds related to bottled water, one of the categories?

  17. @Anon -- I do NOT take part in Discussions, but I will clarify: Bottled water is often exported from one watershed (the spring) to anther (the store)...


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