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Re: Western USA Drought

Posted: Tue Sep 15, 2015 10:46 am
by GandK
I decided to dig into this issue this morning, and came across some good info:

Current US drought conditions for all states (click on your region, and then on your state to see more granular information): US Drought Monitor. This is from the USDA and the University of Nevada Lincoln, and the data on the web site is updated every Thursday.

Also, The Best Reporting on California’s Drought, from ProPublica.

On the answers side, an article on states experiments with leasing water rights from farmers, also from ProPublica. And in the same vein, the Aussies' (surprisingly functional) answer to this problem is examined: A Surprising Lesson from Australia's Drought: Politics Matter at

The article that stirred the most emotion in me was the one under "Best Reporting" above that took aim at California's almond and pistachio industries. In a nutshell :D the point of the piece was that these plants are not staple foods, they're luxury items; growing them is all fine and good when there's plenty of water, but these trees are way too thirsty to be grown in such a drought-ridden region; and the effort to keep these trees afloat instead of planting more suitable crops is causing problems for other farmers and for citizens.

Fun facts to put this issue in perspective: it takes approximately one gallon of water to produce one almond, and California currently produces 80% of the world's almonds. (Source: Google) Almond growers, unsurprisingly, feel like scapegoats, and vehemently dispute those numbers.

I have competing libertarian and communitarian impulses on this issue. Probably if I were the farmer I would voluntarily plant something more suitable... from my armchair quarterback perspective this looks best anyway. But I strongly object to anyone being ordered to plant this not that on his own land as long as the crop is a legal one. Perhaps an economic incentive to switch for these farmers? Although this will probably benefit other states' and countries' growers the most no matter what happens in CA. There's no easy fix for any of this.

I keep thinking that someday I'll design and build a small/tiny house that primarily uses collected rainwater, but that presupposes rain. My options out west appear limited to nonexistent.

Re: Western USA Drought

Posted: Wed Sep 16, 2015 11:56 am
by enigmaT120
I think tree nuts should be considered staple foods, though that doesn't mean they should be grown in unsuitable areas. We have an almond tree in our back yard that does OK but they're really hard to shell. Farmers are putting in many more acres of hazelnuts across the Willamette Valley lately, and they grow great here. They should, they're native. Mine are healthy and productive and the squirrels and stellar jays eat them all before they fall off tree.

Re: Western USA Drought

Posted: Thu Sep 17, 2015 4:56 pm
by slimicy ... y-for-now/
“In May and June of this past year … we had unusually high rainfall in the basin,” said Tom Buschatzke, the director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources. He said it was the second-highest level of rain during that period in the past 108 years, trailing only 1983.
--------- ... ion-Report
A U.S. Bureau of Reclamation report released in mid-August on water levels in the lower Colorado River predicts that chances of a Tier 1 shortage in Lake Mead by Jan. 1 - which could trigger water reductions - has fallen to zero [from 33%]...
They also reduced the likelihood of a tier 1 event in 2017 from 75% to 18%.

Re: Western USA Drought

Posted: Mon Oct 12, 2015 5:01 pm
by jennypenny
Looks like El Niño to the rescue.

Re: Western USA Drought

Posted: Wed Oct 09, 2019 1:00 pm
by ZAFCorrection
Seems like the best place to put this:

The drought is officially over in my home state, but the next phase of ecological TANSTAAFL is here. ... ire-danger

People are complaining about this as well as the fatality-inducing wildfires last year. Next up: complaining that the utilities have to spend a huge amount of money to fireproof the electrical grid (if such a thing is possible), thereby raising rates to a prohibitive degree.

Re: Western USA Drought

Posted: Wed Oct 09, 2019 2:25 pm
by George the original one
ZAFCorrection wrote:
Wed Oct 09, 2019 1:00 pm
Next up: complaining that the utilities have to spend a huge amount of money to fireproof the electrical grid (if such a thing is possible), thereby raising rates to a prohibitive degree.
I don't expect fireproofing the electrical grid is all that possible, but setting up a network to monitor & rapidly respond to electrical fires is the next logical step. Apart from the dry conditions, slow response and acknowledgement is what led to the massive impact of recent past fires. Note that "slow" is subjective and certainly open for interpretation, but now we have timeline experience and can start using that as a basis.

Re: Western USA Drought

Posted: Wed Oct 09, 2019 9:23 pm
by Riggerjack
I'm confused, I don't know much about California's geography. Are the counties affected desert counties? Why cut power to stop shrubs from burning?
Or are they in northern California, and there are trees that blow over? If that's the case, how would they ever turn power back on?
Up in the PNW, we have trees blow over all the time. Then crews go out and bring up each lead as it is cleared. Trouble is identified by customer complaints. If they had to visually verify each lead after a storm, before turning power back on, the next storm would hit first...
Of course, this could all be addressed by moving power underground, but a regulated utility is not likely to make that investment, when the reward is a revenue cut.

Re: Western USA Drought

Posted: Wed Oct 09, 2019 9:42 pm
by Ego
Timing is suspicious. This happened on Monday. ... fire-costs
The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday that it will not hear San Diego Gas & Electric’s appeal of a California Supreme Court case that rejected the utility’s request to put ratepayers on the hook for $379 million in costs related to the 2007 wildfires that blazed through San Diego County.
Power transmission is inherently dangerous especially during drought. Who shoulders the risk? If it is the utility then they will turn off the power whenever things look risky. How many shut offs before people demand a change?

Smells like negotiation on the part of the utilities.

Re: Western USA Drought

Posted: Thu Oct 10, 2019 12:51 pm
by ZAFCorrection

A huge chunk of CA, particularly the northern half where the fires are the issue right now, is some combination of grasslands or forests with lots of undergrowth. It seems the plants are sufficiently drought-resistant to grow and there is some moisture in the winter, but in the summer the place is a tinderbox. I know some have questioned the wisdom (myself included) of having these small towns out in the middle of the dry forest with no barrier against fires. Places like Paradise last year are just waiting for the right fire. And it doesn't necessarily have to be manmade; lightning can and does cause these fires to a lesser degree.


No doubt some ploy is going on, but the key point from where I am sitting is someone is going to have to pay for this, either in dollars, inconvenience, or lives lost. I don't believe PG&E has enough profit margin to eat the entire cost and make the problem entirely go away without inconveniencing anyone.

Re: Western USA Drought

Posted: Thu Oct 10, 2019 1:26 pm
by Ego
@ZAF, absolutely. Judging by the politicians reactions I am guessing this is a stage-managed crisis start to finish. Our local utility just sent out emails to large rental properties in rural areas around here saying they should plan for long term electrical power outages. These are the same rural communities who would be up in arms if utility-caused fires burned their properties. Starve them of electricity long enough and they will demand the exact opposite, a law exempting the utilities of all fire liability.

They better get to work quick because this is going to be a boon for solar which is already high in those areas. If too many people switch to solar they're unlikely to care much about giving the utilities a pass on fires.... something they'll need to survive.

Re: Western USA Drought

Posted: Fri Oct 11, 2019 10:26 am
by George the original one
San Fernando fire burning a few homes ... spartandhp

Re: Western USA Drought

Posted: Sat Oct 12, 2019 7:53 am
by Riggerjack
Electricity in the states is usually regulated in price. And price varies greatly based on geography and sources of generation, and politics.

The way this price is set, a rate is chosen at a "reasonable profit margin". For Telecom, in Washington, pre 1996, this was 6%, adjusted every other year. So if our capital investment plus expenses were 100 million per year, rates would be set to total 106 million, plus taxes and fees.

So every other year, a team of lawyers and government relations specialists, would present our expenses and capital investment over the previous 2 years, and try to push that margin as hard as they could.

Now, when a corporation has a monopoly, and can't increase profits by cutting costs, creative executives just get more creative. GTE spun off their supply chain to a wholly owned subsidiary. That supply chain is now unregulated, and can charge it's customers (GTE) any price it wanted. That GTEs costs skyrocketed, only worked in its favor. If GTE's costs were 100 million, their profits were 6 million. But if costs were 200 million, profits were 12 million. Higher costs equals higher profits, yay for regulated markets!

Some of the fees and taxes are flat, ie $0.75 per bill for x fund, and some are a percentage of the total bill. So government (public utility council, or equivalent) is incentivized to raise rates to raise more revenue. But disincentivized to allow large, sudden changes, without a scapegoat.

All that changed under the telecommunication act of 1996, removing most practical aspects of our monopoly. But most other utilities still have that same set of incentives that made things so expensive. Inefficiency will be rewarded.

Now I haven't looked at Cali's electrical markets since the rolling brown outs almost 2 decades back. Back then, the deregulation was going as planned, and Enron was acting their part. Maybe it's just time to "deregulate" again, and this is the MCs warming up the crowd.

But what I am trying to describe is this is not a corruption of the system, this IS the system. There may be pushback from ratepayers, but they are going to pay for the fire losses. They are going to pay for future fire losses. It may be in the short term, or the long term, but any other result would require a complete overhaul of the utility/regulating system. And I have doubts about whether a new system would be better for the ratepayers, anyway.

Re: Western USA Drought

Posted: Sat Oct 12, 2019 3:15 pm
by jacob ... f-disabled

Something some of you guys might want to think about before settling somewhere. Some people in some places are more vulnerable than others.

Re: Western USA Drought

Posted: Sat Oct 12, 2019 6:06 pm
by Seppia
Makes me think things aren't too bad here in socialist Europe where basic utilities are run with a service first attitude, and profit isn't the main goal.
Another sector (like basic healthcare and mass transport) where pure capitalism just doesn't work for a variety of reasons

Re: Western USA Drought

Posted: Sun Oct 13, 2019 9:08 am
by Riggerjack
Another sector (like basic healthcare and mass transport) where government and corporate interests trump public interests. But then again, that's clearly not pure capitalism.
I fixed that for you. :twisted:

Re: Western USA Drought

Posted: Sun Oct 13, 2019 9:17 am
by Seppia
Having had a firsthand experience of both systems, I have zero doubts about which one I’d choose.

Good quality American healthcare:
- is not available to the majority of Americans.
- is ridiculously expensive all else being equal
- has a dramatic tendency towards over treatment

Good quality American public transport:
- does not exist

Re: Western USA Drought

Posted: Sun Oct 13, 2019 9:41 am
by Riggerjack
Oh, I agree with your assessment of effect. I just seem to disagree about cause.

Being a vet, and growing up on welfare, I have experience with free healthcare. It's worth every penny. Often, not much more.

It just amazes me how some folks can look at markets distorted to the edge of functionality by government interference, and then endorse more government control.

How functional are those systems you enjoy, on a balanced budget? It's a lot easier (and popular!) to extend service, if one can pay the bills with I.O.U.'s.

Re: Western USA Drought

Posted: Sun Oct 13, 2019 10:06 am
by theanimal
@ffj- There were high winds in the area and they shut off power to avoid any chance of trees falling on the lines and starting a fire. So they shut off power.

Most of your questions are answered in the article but...That'd be one busy ambulance route. A lot of the smaller health care facilities had a tough situation as they didn't have a backup power source. Per Jacob's article, at least one person died from their oxygen source being disrupted. It also discusses how many of these people were not contacted by PG&E, instead finding out when their oxygen supply went out in the middle of the night.

Businesses weren't exempt.

Re: Western USA Drought

Posted: Sun Oct 13, 2019 10:14 am
by jacob
@ffj - Windy conditions risking fires from downed power lines is the official explanation/excuse. PG&E is currently in bankruptcy proceedings over the Camp Fire (Paradise) which was blamed on one of their transformers. So likely it's some kind of corporate liability game ... and maybe the lawyers told them that's it's better to be safe than sorry.

Apparently some were warned but not all---depending on whether they were registered as medical baseline customers or not. Also some didn't pay attention to the warning or thought it didn't apply to them/their area. About 500k people were affected and some places were without power for more than two days which is pushing the battery on some of those devices (like oxygen machines/nitrogen scrubbers). Also people getting stuck on stair lifts and other "stupid" stuff. One person died ... ... for everybody else it was hopefully a wake up call.

According to locals the TV stations out there have been running constant ads for gen sets for the past three months. The mind boggles.

Add: theanimal beat me to it.

Re: Western USA Drought

Posted: Sun Oct 13, 2019 10:32 am
by tonyedgecombe
Riggerjack wrote:
Sun Oct 13, 2019 9:41 am
It just amazes me how some folks can look at markets distorted to the edge of functionality by government interference, and then endorse more government control.
If you eliminate the market then you eliminate many, possibly most of the distortions. That's not to say there is an infinite supply of money and services, rather that it isn't screwed up by some corporation trying to expand its profits.