THE FORTNIGHTLY CLUB
Founded 24 January 1895
Meeting # 1884
Assembly Room, A. K. Smiley Public Library
January 21, 2016
The Patron of Beginnings and Endings
By William E. Cunningham
Summary: A personal view. An all too brief look at the changes to California over the last eight decades; the transformative events, water as agent and challenge, the losses weighed against the gains, the anticipated future and can we get there from here, reflections about our town.
Biography: Retired teacher of astronomy and physics. Worked for both NASA and the National Science Foundation. Former member of the Redlands school board and Redlands City Council. Member of Kiwanis and a number of local civic and cultural associations, former board member and officer of several. President and manager of a small irrigation water company. Small farmer primarily of avocado and citrus.
What better time than the month of January to glance back and peek at the future.
First, a tale:
When I was a child, Manhattan Beach produced its water from wells within a half mile of the surf, drawing from a lens of fresh sitting on top of the salt.
Beach towns were just that and interior valleys were farmed or vacant.
Between the ages of ten and fourteen we lived in Taft, a place where there wasn’t a blade of grass for miles and the only visible water came in the form of rivulets of salt water, a product of the myriad oil wells that dominated the landscape.
But in years of good snowpack in the southern Sierras the Kern River created Buena Vista Lake, sometimes covering an area ten by fifteen miles in extent, out some miles east of town.
In those same years, Tulare Lake could come to be the largest fresh water lake by surface area west of the Mississippi.
While much of those lakes’ waters would soon be lost to evaporation in the arid, hot climate, recharge of the aquifer would occur, sometimes creating wetlands that lasted for several years.
We fished the free-flowing, wild Sierra streams, the Kern, Tule, Kaweah, San Joaquin, the Kings. Each, while tapped for east side agriculture still reached the valley floor, recharging its aquifers in wet years. Several fed the San Joaquin on its way to the bay.
Christmas ’44 saw a quarter million Germans make a surprise break-out through the Ardennes.
My army enlistment had sent me to Oregon State in mechanical engineering, but Uncle needed bodies, the program was closed and, after a short leave I was shipped by troop train to Camp Roberts, joining thousands of others in that isolated place, soon to be an infantry rifleman replacement.
A couple of times while there we were given two day passes, which several of us used to get home to the LA area.
Over the dry hills east of Paso Robles and down the west side of the Valley to Blackwell’s Corners, a tiny hamlet in that arid, almost empty space, with little sign of the hand of man in that several hundred mile stretch,
to trade a carton of cigarettes for a tank of gas with the one pump station owner.
Then on to Taft where we would fill up with drip for the last leg home over the two lane Ridge Route, Highway 99.
Nowhere along that route, except for Taft, was man much in evidence until we reached then sparsely inhabited San Fernando Valley.
Later, Uncle shipped me to Stanford, where locally caught salmon were often on the meat-rationed, mess hall menu and much of the peninsula was covered with prune, plum and peach orchards.
In the 50s and early 60s friends and I would go duck hunting in the New and Alamo River area of the Salton Sea, both streams fed by runoff from the tile-drained fields of Imperial County.
Also in Big Bear in the days when the lake’s water irrigated the citrus groves of Redlands.
In those same years driving along Valley Boulevard to visit family to the west we passed through miles of dry-farmed vineyards that carpeted the area between Colton and Fontana, a town made by Henry Kaiser’s wartime Liberty Ship steel mill, which displaced several of the LA garbage-fed hog farms.
Today it’s a changed world.
Manhattan Beach’s water now lost to salt water intrusion due to over-pumping, to be replaced by that from the Colorado and the state project.
Both of the Central Valley lakes are long-gone, lost to the series of federal “reclamation” dams that cork the Sierra river flows.
The Buena Vista Lake bed and surrounding area is covered by miles of citrus.
The once arid, semi-desert west side of the Valley, including the Tulare’s bed, is now covered with hundreds of thousands of acres of cotton, almonds, etc.
The hills around Paso Robles are clothed with vineyards.
The salmon fishery of the Sacramento is almost non-existent, a result of the diversion of much its waters south by the state project.
Its main tributary, the San Joaquin, bottled by Friant Dam, is left summer dry for as much as sixty miles of its length.
The peninsula’s orchards now are Silicon Valley.
Those thousands of acres of vacant coastal southern California are now filled with housing for millions.
The vineyards west of us are gone, replaced by mile upon mile of gigantic warehouses and thousands of homes.
The Salton Sea is now an environmental catastrophe in waiting, a mere shadow of itself, its nourishing waters diverted to San Diego.
And Redlands groves are no longer fed by Big Bear, but by “in lieu” water from the state project from as far away as the Feather River.
Thousands of square miles of interior valley vacant and agricultural land, most of which had little or no native water, are now urbanized, carpeted with roads, factories and houses, the latter often cheek by jowl for mile after mile.
At the same time thousands of acres of arid west Central Valley land have been converted to water -thirsty permanent plantings.
We now number about 38 million, up more than five times from when I was a boy, a product of three great migrations - the Arkies and Okies of the 30s, driven from home by the, at least partially man-created, Dust Bowl, followed by the masses of defense workers and servicemen who discovered California during the war, and, lastly, the on-going, un-abating flood of millions from the south seeking opportunity or safety.
Our agriculture produces about half of our nation’s fruits, nuts and vegetables. We export billions in agricultural products worldwide, contributing significantly to our country’s balance of trade.
The economic prowess of Silicon Valley is the envy of all. We are a major competitor in a myriad number of fields.
California has become an economic giant, ranked eighth in the world.
Those events and actions have transformed our state in ways impossible to imagine in my younger years. Changes most laud as a tremendous achievement.
A number among us, including myself, are beginning to question the sustainability of where we are and its implications for the future.
What more appropriate time than the month of Janus to look back, to assess from where and how we’ve come and to speculate on what the future may bring.
Water as a yardstick:
Perhaps the issue of water, so much on the public mind might serve as a reliable surrogate yardstick for that purpose.
Those man-made changes to our water, coupled with the earlier stealing of the flow of the Tuolumne by San Francisco, whose special federal legislation in 1913 permitted it to drown the Hetchy Hetchy Valley, at the same time that Los Angeles was stealing the waters of the Owens Valley, have wrought consequences we are just beginning to confront and, at least partially, understand.
Demographers and planners tell us we are soon be 50 million, with another four million additional housing units needed in the succeeding decades.
Policies at all levels of government are designed to encourage and often to subsidize growth toward that goal.
At the same time we’re told that we are in a water crisis that requires radical change in how we live.
Accompanied by an ever-louder drumbeat that we are facing unprecedented drought conditions, likely to worsen over time, which will force dramatic and, in some cases unacceptable to many, changes in our lifestyle and quality of life.
For the first time the state has mandated how and how much water we will use. Restrictions that will last quite possibly forever.
Why the demand for a reduction in use statewide, when many regions face no shortage?
Based upon per capita use, restrictions run from four percent in San Francisco to thirty six percent in some inland areas, including Redlands.
That inequity caused the City of Riverside to sue the state over its mandated restrictions. And more than one has expressed frustration with heavy restrictions in hot interior areas, especially those with more than adequate local supplies, while San Francisco, whose water travels 160 miles from Yosemite gets off nearly Scot free.
Further, why the drumbeat now? Have we just discovered the concept of limits?
Or is there more here than meets the eye? How reconcile the pressure to grow with that same water crisis drumbeat coming out of those same offices in Sacramento?
We’ve known for decades that the state’s rivers have been allocated and promised for yields that all recognized could not be met.
Aquifers have long been at hazard, yet no attempt was made to even guess, let alone measure, how much water was being taken out. A number of jurisdictions went unmetered.
We’ve seen multiyear droughts before, actually Shasta has more water, today than it did at the end of the drought of the nineties.
Why are the most draconian cuts applied to areas where no shortage exists?
Should we be cynical?
How much of this drumbeat has been created to further the governor’s agenda for twin tunnels under the Delta? Are the reams of press and the onerous restrictions intended to manipulate us into voting the needed $15 billion for his pet project?
There are those who believe so.
We do know that he seeks a legacy comparable to dad’s state water project, that the evidence of critical water issues have been known long before the first modelling of climate change, and that frequent, often severe, multiyear droughts have always plagued the state.
An initiative for the fall ballot is in the works to prohibit revenue bonds at the state level. The effort is directed at the governor who might succeed in convincing the legislature to fund his tunnels by that means.
Differing from general obligation bonds, which require a vote of the people, carry a dedicated revenue stream and place no burden on the general fund, revenue bonds can be voted by the state government and are paid down by making first demand on the general fund.
But setting that aside, California has long-standing water issues that should have been addressed decades ago and are far wider in scope than the never-ending controversy over the waters of the Delta.
And to be fair, some steps have been taken.
Wild swings from flood to drought in the 30s created the Central Valley Project (I recall snow higher than the car at Lake George in the summer of ‘37 and experiencing the great flood of ‘38, when heavy rainfall the first days of March melted the snowpack).
Over time every one of the Sierra’s west side streams were dammed, providing both flood control and storage.
That storage soon became allocated based upon wet year flows.
While the project allowed management of the Sierra’s rivers, it also promoted expansion of agriculture to the Valley’s west side beyond annual safe yield.
The waters of the Kern, for example, feed a large area west of Bakersfield, but there’s not nearly enough in dry years.
The citrus groves on the Buena Vista Lake bed and the thousands of acres of almonds and cotton farther north are maintained in dry years by wells overdrafting aquifers once replenished by the rivers.
The result, we are now in an intensifying, statewide battle pitting the metropolitan areas of the south against the north over water, water, which in many years does not exist.
Drought and enormous pressure for development in the ‘50s led to the State water Project, transferring north water south.
While it relieved shortages in many areas, it became a vehicle for growth, as developers and cities used its potential as the source for their project’s needs.
But the contracted amounts were far more than what was available, in some years a tiny fraction came south, and this year virtually none at all.
Finally recognizing the fact that the project in most years could deliver but a fraction of its contractual promise, the courts under pressure responded to reality, delayed the massive Newhall Farming development in north LA County and mandated that any project of 500 units or more must prove an adequate source over twenty years.
State legislation followed, setting the same standard. But tens of thousands of housing units were built before the rule and laws came into effect. And developers, all of whom can count, responded by creating projects numbering in the four hundred nineties.
The laws, even for larger projects, have had little teeth. In an example close to home, Eastern Water District, headquartered in Perris, delayed nine projects in 2007-8 but allowed them to proceed several months later.
Orange County, always short of water and struggling to feed its appetite for development, had from earliest times, an interest in the upper Santa Ana.
In 1963 the Orange County Water District sued upstream users over the threat of diminished flow downstream. After years of litigation a stipulated judgement in ‘69 guaranteed Orange County a specified flow at the Prado Narrows
In the decades since, upstream users built a surplus over that guarantee, primarily through sewage discharge.
As a result, while the river is totally dry upstream, it flows year round downstream from Prado.
But that judgement distributing the river’s water may be revisited sometime in the future, when sewage reclaiming, diminished use and drought affect the ability of upstream agencies to meet that guarantee.
Is there more water?
Setting aside the question of growth, our state is short of water today. Is more to be found?
Continual fighting over the waters of the Delta, the push for more dams, recycling, ground water monitoring, conservation, desalination are now lead articles in the daily press but not one word that perhaps we should confront our appetite for growth and its demand for water.
Those targeting the Delta will likely never quit, twin tunnels or no, while it is recognized that satisfying their demands would lead to a disastrous increase in salt water intrusion.
The push for more storage by building more dams to solve our statewide needs has great political momentum in the farming areas of the Central Valley. But billions spent on the most popular proposals - raising Shasta or a new dam behind Friant at Temperance Flat would yield but a tiny additional amount, as the problem is not storage, it’s lack of water.
And the most important question yet to be addressed by the advocates is, who will pay. Will those same farmers pay ten times as much for this “new” water as they are paying for the heavily subsidized water they receive today? Or is it our pockets that are to be picked, again?
At long last there is an attempt to assess and perhaps control our greatest resource, groundwater.
But it’s far from a simple issue, monitoring will be exceedingly difficult, and regulations recently adopted won’t come into full effect until 2030.
One can’t help but sympathize with small Central Valley farming communities which share the statewide restrictive mandate and whose shallow wells are going dry, while the pumps on the farms around them operate twenty four hours a day, often drawing from new, deep bores reaching a thousand feet or more while stealing water from the community’s older wells.
But relief for those communities by any real statewide groundwater management is years and more likely decades away.
Desalination, the turning of salt water to fresh by distillation or reverse osmosis is touted by many as an infinite source and the solution to all of our supply problems, with the Pacific at our doorstep.
Both San Diego and Orange County are moving forward with large projects.
They’re not alone. There are more than 16,000 desal facilities worldwide in 120 countries. Saudi Arabia gets a significant fraction of its water from the process, powering one facility by a large solar farm. In addition, South Korea is building two nuclear reactors there to provide additional energy for the process.
Israel, the highest user by percentage, gets forty percent of its water from desal.
San Diego imports eighty percent of its water at a cost of about $700 per acre-foot. Both it and Orange County have maxed out those sources of import and desal may be the only alternative left to them to meet additional growth.
The Poseidin project in Carlsbad is anticipated to produce fifty million gallons a day, enough for 100,000 households. about seven percent of San Diego County’s water needs.
But cost and environmental issues may limit desal use in other parts of the state. Poseidin planned to sell water for about $1,000 per acre- foot, but some estimates of costs range as high as $2,329.
The Carlsbad facility and the one projected for Huntington Beach have the advantage of using the plumbing of nearby, aging power stations, saving considerable costs, thereby. But both power plants could soon be decommissioned.
Brine disposal, the reverse osmosis process produces about one unit of fresh water for every two entering the system, poses a problem.
Poseidin has sought offsets for its environmental impacts -restoring sixty six acres of valued wetland as mitigation for damage to sea life and planting 5,000 trees in state parks to reduce the project’s carbon footprint as mitigation for its enormous appetite for power.
Orange County, water short and always scrambling for more, has pioneered the recycling of sewage, turning black water into potable at a cost comparable to imported sources.
In response to public sensitivities the water is not put into the system, but injected into the aquifer, instead.
Those same residents are never reminded that the water they drink from the Santa Ana watershed has already been “used” about three times.
Many sewage agencies, including our own, in a much less energy intensive process, reclaim non-potable water for use other than drinking, transporting the processed water through purple pipes in parallel systems for irrigation and black-water uses.
About half of our reclaimed water, approximately three million gallons or about forty gallons for each of us, is evaporated off in the cooling towers of Edison’s Mountain View power plant each day.
There’s a growing awareness that flood waters, if managed, could make an important contribution to supply but requires a rethinking of all of our past efforts.
Every attempt at flood control in the past has been an effort to flush the storm waters out to sea as efficiently as possible through the construction of concrete sluices, sometimes of massive size, leaving the state woefully unprepared for collecting much of the predicted, often intense, rains caused by global warming.
Redlands has dithered for decades over a proposed thirty two acre detention basin in Crafton, which would not only contribute to the protection of our downtown but would also make a significant contribution to the upper elevations of our aquifer.
Lastly, conservation is the wildest card of all and has the greatest potential for water “saving,” depending on how you define saving.
Redlands used 27,000 acre-feet in 2013, the base year for determining cutback, in our case 36 percent, or roughly 10,000 acre-feet, a number we have been far from achieving.
Are such draconian measures needed?
We’ve just passed through the fourth year of severe drought, but we’ve seen many multiyear droughts in the past.
The drought of the 1890s contributed to the bankruptcy of Bear Valley Mutual Water Company and Big Bear Lake was drawn down to a puddle in the ‘50s.
Climate models, based upon global warming predict less water for California in years to come. But Texas with its long-term severe drought consistent with the model has become a lake over the last two years, being pummeled by one gully-washing storm after another.
And California with its nearly one thousand mile north-south reach isn’t amenable to a one size fits all water regime, with the south well-embedded in the Horse Latitudes, with its inconsistent winds and the north in the Prevailing Westerlies, the steadiest winds of the northern hemisphere.
The north coast, the Central Valley, the south coast, the inland valleys, the deserts are hydrographic worlds to themselves, with little or no natural water connections.
And those manmade connections that have been achieved at huge investment and continuing costs - the state project, the Owens and Colorado leave little opportunity for more.
Where does all this lead?
I haven’t a clue. But I can’t help but question why the goal of fifty million of us by 2050, when urban water use is projected to grow from the current eight million acre-feet per year to twelve point three, while all of today’s draconian conservation numbers are predicated on climate change, which is projected to leave us ever-drier.
And at the cost of being accused of being racist, where is that additional water to come from to serve those added millions of us, most all of whom will be coming from elsewhere?
Every advanced industrial nation is seeing a decline in population, except our own. Western Europe, Russia, Japan all have falling population numbers. But we differ in one fundamental way –immigration.
While in the ‘30s eighty percent of our population was White, that cohort is now a minority in both the population at large and more dramatically so in our schools.
Los Angeles City schools are now more than eighty percent “minority.”
While we are being assaulted from the south, Europe is besieged by millions from North Africa, Syria and the Middle East by peoples foreign to its culture and religious history, driven, in part, by climate change.
All that is a topic for another day.
San Diego bought the life of the Salton Sea. Thousands of acres in the Central Valley are being fallowed, their water rights bought by urban centers. Prime farm land in the Valley is being carpeted with solar farms. All to feed our ever-growing appetite for growth, while farm communities lose population in forced migration to those same cities.
Today, nineteen percent of all the state’s energy is used to move water and sewage.
And the predicted fifty percent increase in water use by 2030 from whatever source magically found will require a scale of energy we’ve yet to even consider as part of the problem.
At the same time the state has set a goal of 33 percent renewables by 2020 and the governor is pushing for 50 percent by 2050, leaving, at even that ambitious number, 50 percent to come from some other source.
Large-scale solar projects are consuming thousands of acres of prime farmland in the Central Valley and thousands more of sensitive desert habitat. Some with significantly less production than promised.
But should we achieve that highly ambitious number, it leaves the other fifty percent.
It would appear that the fossil fuel industry in our state has an assured future, the very culprit charged with global warming and the resulting predicted drying out of our state.
Batteries and pumped storage hold some promise for 24/7 energy storage, but only nuclear can provide the needed carbon-free 24/7 base power of scale.
While I have no crystal ball and see but dimly through a clouded lens, I will make one prediction. Our irrational fear of nuclear power will give way, of necessity, to its increased use, if we are to solve the carbon/climate issue.
The closure of San Onofre saw an increase of carbon emissions of around 35 percent.
P G &E’s Diablo Canyon prevents the emission of seven million metric tons of carbon dioxide, while producing 9 percent of the state’s electrical energy and 25 percent of its carbon-free power.
What about our town?
How do we fit in the scheme of water issues for now and in the future?
Many of our town’s residents have been convinced that we’re short of water, and that in turning their lawns brown they are helping solve to our water crisis.
A recent Facts editorial lumping our town with the San Francisco Peninsula and Morocco as places of equally limited rainfall and, therefore water shortage, fed that belief that we must come to terms with limitations to our lifestyle. But the comparisons make no sense.
Our brown lawns are not a response to nature but to state mandate. Our town is not short of water nor, likely, ever will be.
That is perhaps best illustrated by the city Utility Director’s response to a planning commissioner’s concerns about our water supply, when he strongly encouraged the commission to approve as many residential units as possible as the “new houses with their more efficient appliances would lower our average.”
Our town has two of southern California’s major streams draining the “wet side” of a mountain range that reaches elevations creating a winter arctic climate, and it sits at the top end of a thousand foot deep bathtub containing as much, by some educated estimates, as five million acre-feet of water, an amount equal to the storage of Lake Shasta.
A major fraction of the high elevation, high quality water of both the Santa Ana and Mill Creek is ours. And at any time we can tap the aquifer of the Bunker Hill bathtub for more without affecting other users in the region or state.
It is true that the bathtub, the Bunker Hill Basin (Bunker Hill is a low prominence just west of Inland Center) is at its lowest in decades.
But that’s due in part to the City of San Bernardino’s successful suit a number of years ago to limit the basin’s recharge by the San Bernardino Water Conservation District.
While the basin was never filled to capacity in recent times, San Bernardino rightly had concerns of liquefaction during earthquakes, with accompanying structure failure.
We do get state project water in part because we elected in the ‘50s to do so and paid taxes for it for decades while not receiving a drop.
We also receive some as “in lieu” water purchased by the Big Bear Municipal Water District to replace that which we have rights to in the lake.
In light of the above and when the aesthetic loss is considered, does this so-called mandated saving make sense?
I’m selfish. I see no reason why we must sacrifice the beauty of our town to the gods of growth, growth at any price.
Yes, brown lawns and dying trees save water. But at what cost? As much as one half of the water they “use” is returned to the aquifer.
How much water do we “save” when, of necessity, their cooling is replaced by air conditioners dependent on the evaporation of water from the cooling towers of power plants.
Add in their loss as consumers of carbon dioxide and producers of the oxygen we breathe.
One pound of dry leaves or grass clippings represents the sequestration of nearly two pounds of carbon dioxide and the production of more than a pound of oxygen. While, annually, Edison’s Mountain View plant releases two point seven million tons of carbon dioxide, consumes more than four million tons of oxygen, all while wasting to the atmosphere forty gallons of water a day for every one of us.
The city utility director has stated that he intends to keep the current water restrictions in place, with the inevitable consequence of our town becoming ever more brown.
Is it necessary? Even when considering the required cuts.
While the city is moving with alacrity to impose punitive rate increases to compensate for the reduction in water use, it has made no effort to increase the amount of water.
Instead, the staff is pushing for a rate structure which their consultant characterized as “any water used on trees and landscaping is, by definition, a wasted resource.”
While other jurisdictions have moved to encourage the use of gray-water, Yucaipa, for example, requires all new housing to have dual plumbing, our city still prohibits its use.
More than 2,000 acre-feet a year of irrigation company water is delivered through city pipes. Many agree that amount should be subtracted from our mandated 10,000 acre-foot reduction, but staff is unwilling to act.
A number of non-potable sources could be used to replace city water – in Prospect Park from either one of two irrigation companies, at Community Park and Clement Middle School from Bear Valley wells and pipeline, at Redlands High from the wells in Ford park or the contaminated well on Chapel Street, at Brookside Park from a well and pipeline in Terracina, at Judson and Brown from a Bear Valley well, etc.
Every acre-foot of water from these sources would replace an equal amount lost to our state-mandated reduction.
But city staff has little enthusiasm for any of these, moving instead to impose highly punitive rates to compensate for the loss of revenue. Rate increases of more than sixty percent for many.
After all, gray-water brings no city revenue and any arrangement with an irrigation company would not produce the revenue that pouring potable water on turf and landscaping does.
Unless actions and policies change, the Redlands of tomorrow will be as unrecognizable as the California of my youth.
Janus looks to both the past and the future.
I’m comfortable with the past and I’ll leave the future to others who follow. A future I’m inclined to not wanting to see.
Perhaps, the essence of old age and maybe of life, itself, is the accumulation of memories. Those of our town and our state in other times warm my declining days.