As this California drought intensifies, this week I caught the first headline warning that people may need to be migrated out of areas where its groundwater has been depleted from pumping until exhaustion. As it turns out, there is little or no oversight on using up groundwater in the state, and so the busiest industry there of late has been well drilling.
Stanford is doing a series on groundwater use and policy problems in California, beginning with a great title, “Ignore it and it might go away“, referring to its unregulated use. They tell us that six million Californians rely on groundwater solely for their water supply (mostly in the Central Valley or Central Coast); 85% of California’s population relies on it to some degree; and California’s $45 billion agriculture industry relies upon it. Unfortunately, the state’s antiquated laws concerning groundwater use allow for secrecy, unfettered use, and depletion.
In that article, they inform us what ground water is:
Contrary to a popular misconception of an underground river or lake, groundwater is found in the tiny spaces between sand and gravel and rock. Glaciers left some of that water thousands of years ago, while much of it is regularly replenished by snowmelt, rain and surface rivers and streams.
A lesser known story is how much electricity is required to pump this groundwater, and as it depletes, the amount of electricity needed grows ever larger to pump from deeper depths. Earlier this year, a news reporter friend of mine told me that a large landowner in California’s Central Valley was paying 3 million dollars per month for electricity to pump water. Previously, I wrote about how much energy is required to move water in California.
According to the Association of California Water Agencies, water agencies account for 7 percent of California’s energy consumption and 5 percent of the summer peak demand.
California’s State Water Project uses 2 to 3 percent of all electricity consumed in California, including the electricity required to pump water 2,000 feet up over the Tehachapi Mountains, the highest lift of any water system in the world to supply southern Californians with water.
These percentages don’t include the farmers who pump water out of the ground, plus other users. And we all know that it takes a lot of water to make electricity, too.
Estimates tell us that between 19 – 23 percent of California’s total electrical consumption is used for water pumping, treating, collecting and discharging water, and most of that is used for farming.
We are facing a vicious cycle of quests for energy and water coupled with our human desire to live in the wonderful desert oasis climates.
ADDENDUM . . . Just so happens PBS Newshour covered this same story today, so I am adding their fine video to this post.
To learn more, see my previous post: How much energy does California use to move water?
Also see: California drought: ‘May have to migrate people’