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January 18, 2014

What happens to the baby when the bathwater runs out?
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 09:03 AM * 150 comments

While the Polar Vortex brought Martian temperatures to Canada, another, slower disaster has been unfolding in my home state of California: drought.

It’s true that drought is almost the default condition in California. We’ve had too many people for the water for decades. I grew up with bricks in toilet tanks, “if it’s yellow, let it mellow”, grey-water gardening, and to save [water drop] bumper stickers.

But this is different. As of today, 62% of California is in a state of “severe drought” according to the US Drought Monitor. The California Department of Water Resources reports that the snowpack is about 17% of the average for this time of year. Since the state drinks, washes in, and farms with snowmelt through the dry season, this is a disaster, locked and loaded, ready to fire*. No one knows what will be coming out of their faucets this summer.

(Thinking of West Virginia? Hold that thought.)

In response, Governor Jerry Brown has declared a State of Emergency:

In the State of Emergency declaration, Governor Brown directed state officials to assist farmers and communities that are economically impacted by dry conditions and to ensure the state can respond if Californians face drinking water shortages. The Governor also directed state agencies to use less water and hire more firefighters and initiated a greatly expanded water conservation public awareness campaign (details at

In addition, the proclamation gives state water officials more flexibility to manage supply throughout California under drought conditions.

Did you catch that last bit? Environmental journalist (and long-time web crony of Making Light) Chris Clarke certainly did. And as he reports, it means exactly what it sounds like:

Buried in the language of the declaration, unmentioned at the press event which focused on voluntary conservation programs, is a clause exempting the state’s responses from having to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the backbone of the state’s environmental protection law.

Because ignoring the environmental impacts of our actions has worked out so well thus far, right?

Now, before anyone starts hrrumphing, I’m a test manager. I know that when there’s a production emergency, you skip steps and break rules. But I also know that that’s how you take bad decisions, make mistakes, and create long-running problems. It takes fine judgment to balance the immediate need against long-term consequences. It also requires someone who will not use that immediate need to damage the infrastructure of decision-making, because it worked during the emergency, so let’s keep doing it is both tempting and perilous.

Now, there’s an argument to be made about CEQA reform; like any law, it’s acquired encrustations and redundancies. And maybe its provisions would slow drought relief efforts too much, and emergency managers should focus on its spirit rather than its letter. But Jerry Brown is on the record saying that he has “never seen a CEQA exemption [he] didn’t like.” That makes me…tense about the decisions he’ll make under the parasol† of the State of Emergency.

This bears watching. It could be a disaster that outlasts the drought.

* And fire it will. Indeed, already has, though the usual fire season’s not for months yet. Brace for worse news to come. The state’s going to burn this summer.
† In these circumstances, I can’t call it an umbrella.

Comments on What happens to the baby when the bathwater runs out?:
#1 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2014, 11:08 AM:

I think I remember what 'rain' is.
One of the side-effects of no rain, for some of us, is a lot more time in a Santa Ana condition.

#2 ::: nnyhav ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2014, 11:47 AM:

No doubt giving new impetus to SiliVali's proposal to spin off the rest of the state ...

thinking of West Virginia, Aaron Bady

#3 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2014, 01:31 PM:

Unfortunately Gov. Brown has long been in favor of just about any project that takes water out of the Sacramento River Delta and uses it for other things, whether that's agriculture or washing cars in LA or building $20B tunnels to carry it away. And so what if there's not enough water to maintain the fish that live in the river? Besides the ecological issues, there's what's left of the state's fishing business that'll be affected.

#4 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2014, 02:38 PM:

Sport-fishing is a big thing in the Delta. Commercial, not so much; it's mostly sea-going.

#5 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2014, 03:42 PM:

We've had over twice the snow we usually get, here, and the province is talking about flooding. Now. In January. And never mind waiting until spring.

Alberta does water conservation, because it's normally too dry here. There was news not long ago about the long-term weather trend getting wetter for a couple of decades, before going severely dry. I suspect the government here will be watching places like California to see what works, what doesn't work, and what they should stay the hell away from.

#6 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2014, 04:11 PM:

I have this dreadful feeling that the Midwest is getting California's snowpack. Last week my favorite meteorologist was saying that in November and December we got almost the same amount of snow that we got all last winter -- and that was with January, February and March waiting in the wings.

We have had snow as late as April. We tend to get our heavier snows later in the winter, I can just see weatherguy bouncing happily about the record

#7 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2014, 04:16 PM:

Let me see if this works:
♥ to save 💧

Yeah, the Unicode flies, though we strip out FONT and STYLE tags so I can’t color ’em.

#8 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2014, 04:22 PM:

Lori, you have that right. There's a big high in the north pacific that's been keeping the jetstream from coming south across the western states, so all the snow and cold went north and around.

#9 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2014, 04:51 PM:

And this recent link from Upworthy seems appropriate:
(sorry, lacking energy to make proper link).

When we honeymooned in the Canadian rockies in 2005, and were visiting the glaciers etc., we say just how far the Athabasca Glacier had retreated in recent decades - my husband was shocked how far in the last decade (since his previous visit). One of the guides pointed out the importance of the snowcap and its slow melting during summer for river water levels, and what would happen without it to lock up winter precipitation and release it slowly (spring floods followed by dry rivers).

#10 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2014, 05:12 PM:

I wonder if Georgia is getting California's rain as well as its own.

#11 ::: MJ ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2014, 06:13 PM:

Abi, Thank you for flagging that buried CEQA-skipping provision in the declaration. California water politics are so byzantine and contentious (hey, there was a Jack Nicholson movie about that a long time ago!)that even people who care glaze over when water issues come up. Brown has been trying to build gigantic canals or tunnels or whatever he can get away with to send water south his whole political career. This could be his big chance.

In other news, this drought is amazingly beautiful at the moment. It's in the 70s in the San Francisco Bay area today. I was out at Ocean Beach watching the sunset a couple of days ago, comfortable in just a T-shirt. Usually you can't do that at any time of year. I'm enjoying it, guiltily, yet realizing my garden probably Has To Die.

#12 ::: Clifton ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2014, 06:21 PM:

Avram @#7: Odd, I get the heart but not the drop, which renders as one of those square Unicode glyphs. That code range must be missing from my font installation or something.

#13 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2014, 06:25 PM:

The biggest problem with sending water south is that most of it is going to the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, to the big corporate farms. Including, especially, the ones along I5 and California 33, which is really about this far >< from desert in years with normal rainfall.

#14 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2014, 06:34 PM:

If you dry up a river and send its anadromous fish extinct in an emergency year, there won't be any fish to save water for in later years, and that's five-six giant housing developments someone can make a lot of money on!

I'm afraid some people think that's a good idea.

#15 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2014, 06:40 PM:

MJ @11:

I didn't catch it—Chris did. I'm just supplying some background and boosting the signal. Feel free to point people at his article, which certainly unglazed my eyes.

#16 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2014, 07:09 PM:

Avram #7: I also get the heart but not the drop. I note that my "Unicode symbols" bookmarklet doesn't have a water-drop symbol. At least two umbrellas, but no water drop. (I wonder if the water drop may have flunked some test for international symbolism?)

#17 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2014, 07:11 PM:

Avram, #7: "Unicode flies" appears to be a FSVO. On my screen, it says [heart] to save [little box with 01F 487 stacked in two rows].

#18 ::: Doug N6TQS ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2014, 07:24 PM:

The optimists say we've still got a couple of months to catch up, but....
We had a few days of heavy rain here (Oakland), but a significant part of my water collection system was down :-(

#19 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2014, 08:25 PM:

Lori @ 6 (seq PJ, Fragano): New England is also getting an overdose -- three snowstorms totaling 27" thus (out of 41" annual average), all washed away with heavy rain -- and we got some more this afternoon. (Montreal fan, looking out an Arisia hotel window: "This is Boston?!?")

#20 ::: Cygnet ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2014, 09:32 PM:

Northern Arizona is pretty scarily dry too, and overly warm. I'm at 6000 feet and it's not even freezing at night. The last snow was the weekend before Christmas, and it was a pretty pathetic inch or two. Our neighbor's grandkids made a brown (muddy) snowman.

Forecast for the next two weeks is for no change -- warm, windy, and dry. This is very unusual for this time of year. (Well, the windy part is normal, but the warm and dry isn't.)

So ... I planted radishes and beets last week. I figure I'll either be eating fresh radishes in February and beets in March, or we'll get a snowstorm and subsequent hard freeze in the next few weeks. I'd rather have the snow, but I'm betting on the veggies. They're starting to sprout.

I was expecting to be shoveling snow and fighting frozen pipes and power outages and muddy/icy/snowy roads. I'd take all those issues too.

I'm worried about our spring fire season.

#21 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2014, 10:18 PM:

I can see the water drop, so it does work for some of us.

That buried clause in the wrong hands is truly frightening, and well, from the sound of it, the wrong hands are what brought it to creation.

As for us in the prairies? I'm waiting for whether we get another flood of the century (Or tri-century, as we had with the Assiniboine in 2011) in one of our rivers this year. Certainly the snowfall thus far is promising bad things; it would just take an extra influx in March to May as the melt begins to bring it on again.

#22 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2014, 10:26 PM:

Yes. It's very scary. We should have started rationing a month ago. We are being asked to voluntarily lower our water usage by 20%, but people are still watering lawns and washing the dirt off their cars with water from hoses. Every time I see a commercial building with a green lawn I want to throw a rock at one of their sparkly clean windows.

What happens to agriculture in California if there's no water? I don't want to know. We provide nearly half of the vegetables/fruit/nuts for the whole country.

#23 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2014, 10:55 PM:

Lizzy, IMO we should act as if there were a drought every year, except when there's a lot of rain or snow. It would be a lot better for our environment.

I was unhappy last weekend when there was a business with its sprinklers running, at noon on Sunday, for at least an hour. They were doing a good job of watering their parking lot and the street it ran off into. (I also think most lawns could use a lot less water. Three times a week in hot weather should be enough.)

#24 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2014, 11:15 PM:

Our drought two summers ago taught me that I will be FILLED WITH RAGE when I see a lone green lawn in the brown. I judge. I judge hard. We're still in 'severe drought', but it's not as horribly bad as it was.

In times of drought, your lawn should be uniformly brown or have stripes from the downspouts. Or, if you're our old yard, be happily green because we didn't mow as often as we could have and also had a lot of shade. Gr.

#25 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2014, 11:18 PM:

I'm not sure lawns (you know, with grass) are a good idea at all in much of California. I don't live there, so not my place to opine, but I like what they did in was-it-Phoenix? They offered a bounty for converting a grass lawn to local native plants, and saved a ton of water.

#26 ::: Cygnet ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2014, 11:39 PM:

Re: crops -- the US should be able to produce sufficient staples. I don't think a famine is on the horizon. (Wheat, corn, soybeans, potatoes, rice, etc are produced over vast geographic areas.) But much of what California grows are Things That Taste Good. A diet of potato chips, bread, and corn flakes would get pretty old without lots of fruits and veggies too. I can easily see water hungry crops like lettuce and strawberries getting pretty pricy pretty quick.

Re: lawns -- lawns are a great candidate for being watered with grey water. Just use sprinklers and don't do what a neighbor of mine in Maricopa did. He ran septic tank leach field pipes under his lawn (on very sandy soil), and pumped the water from his washing machine and showers out to water his lawn.

He ended up with a zebra-striped green lawn. Even when he tried sprinklers to try to water the "dry" areas, the lawn kept its lush green stripes. Soap is a fertilizer.

#27 ::: estelendur ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2014, 11:40 PM:

@Lawn Anger Subthread: Your Yard is Evil, says John Green. Seems relevant, if strongly worded.

Xopher Halftongue @25, that sounds like a fantastic plan and I think many places, even those with too much precipitation, would benefit from implementing it.

#28 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2014, 12:09 AM:

The snow pack in the Oregon and Washington Cascades is also way low.

Problems like this aggravate me not only because I know the harm they'll do, but because I foresee that the solutions will be bone-headed, selfish, lend themselves to corruption and profiteering, and inconvenience and impoverish the already impoverished and inconvenienced.

What was the line?

"Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown."
* * *
I would reset the water use and water "rights" laws to Day Zero. Start over.

#29 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2014, 12:12 AM:

The golf courses would have to go too.

#30 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2014, 12:22 AM:

No snowpack here, no melt. Rainfall down 50%-60% over the last thirty years. Distilling seawater for years now. Groundwater, but that's drying up. Water restrictions permanently now.

Greywater next. Licencing, regulating and taxing private bores. Pretty soon, green lawns out. No sprinklers - trickle reticulation only.

More rain in the far north of the State, but that means 1600 miles away. Some loons want to build a bloody great dam and a sort of enclosed canal to bring it down. Lasso an iceberg from the Antarctic fringe, tow it offshore here and mine it.

Me, I reckon we might as well use the money, which in our case we have not got, to fund a moon colony. It would take about as much.

#31 ::: Lylassandra ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2014, 01:02 AM:

I'm from San Diego, and I have to say, it's been brutal around here. 90 in January, and it's been uncomfortably dry. Both my father-in-law and brother-in-law are small farmers, and another brother-in-law is a fireman. I just want to shake every person I hear talking about how happy they are that it's warm enough to go to the beach.

On a ridiculous personal level-- my three-year-old became obsessed with Frosty this Christmas, and I finally had to explain there would be no snow to visit this year...

#32 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2014, 01:39 AM:

I have a yard, and mostly non-native plants. I didn't plant them. I don't water them, or the yard (which is hard and brown right now.) If they live, they live. If they die, they die. I have two healthy fruit trees: a plum tree and a persimmon tree. I do water them, because I want them to survive and continue to bear fruit. They don't need a lot of water, luckily.

#33 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2014, 02:54 AM:

Re: the first linked article-- While it's nice to be thought of, Winnipeg is actually in Manitoba, Canada, rather than in Minnesota.

The point's still valid, of course.

#34 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2014, 04:29 AM:

Fixed. Thanks for catching that, Elise.

(The first article I used for Martian weather was about Minnesota, but I swapped it for another because autoplay. Failed to update the text.)

And obDroplet, I figured it was at least one character-set extension past what our readers' browsers would consistently handle. It looks like I was right in this case.

#35 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2014, 05:31 AM:

On-topic, I find clew @14 depressingly persuasive. Even without approving the big-ticket projects that have hit CEQA problems, state officials could simply allow enough freshwater diversions from feeder rivers to kill off the delta smelt and its nichemates. Once they're gone, there's no species to protect, and so many of the controls put in place to protect them are open to challenge.

That affects more than just housing developments. That's more canal water going south, a long-term move of the fresh/salt line, and a wholesale change to the regional ecology.

The smelt has been a fragile bulwark against a whole raft of changes. I worry that it's about to disappear, both for its own sake and for what we'll lose along with it.

Regarding lawns, my parents' Bermuda (crab-) grass lawn has proven remarkably drout-resistant. It takes a lot of mowing, the blades are coarse and it's insanely invasive, but it doesn't take much water at all to stay green.

My uncle runs a native plant nursery in Southern California, so I'm kind of naturally native-plant biased, but Lizzy's "if it doesn't die" approach to figuring out which plants are drought-tolerant is pretty sensible, too. Just remember to clear down any dead matter to reduce the fuel load for fires.

(I feel guilty for living someplace wet while all this is happening. But our seasons are agley as well; we're still waiting for our winter to start. It's rainy, but we haven't had our usual snow. I doubt we'll get any outdoor skating this year at this rate. And the canals are running high with all the rain.)

#36 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2014, 06:37 AM:

Down here in Charlottesville, we've got our own water stupidity -- our main reservoir (the Rivanna reservoir) has silted up over the last 40 years or so, so the town council started making plans to dredge it -- ordinary maintenance, which had been under discussion for at least 5 years or so.

Except last year, a developer stepped in, and somehow talked the council into a new plan: flooding some of our nicer hiking trails (that part is already done) to build a brand new reservoir, which will require a whole new pipeline waytheheck down to C-ville. There was talk about how "we can do both", but I don't trust that further than I can throw it, and I haven't been hearing about dredging work.

#37 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2014, 10:40 AM:

Even here in Chicago, where we have an enormous probably-global-weirding-resistant freshwater reservoir, people definitely do not need to water their lawns as much as they do. In our old house, we tapered our lawn off [through purposeful neglect and only running the sprinkler (a) when we had new seeds or (b) in extreme heat] until the only blades of grass remaining were drought-tolerant. We overseeded it several times the first couple years with a variety of brands of perennial grass types to give it a diverse seed bank, and let selection take its course.

We watered it maybe 3 times in a whole summer, and we were greener and had fewer dandelions than our next-door neighbors who watered 5 times a week and poured chemicals on it. Plus our lawn had violets in it, which I prefer. Bonus: He had to mow twice a week or it turned jungly; we mowed once a week at most, because it didn't grow as fast.

We've only been in the new house a bit over two years, but we haven't gotten out the sprinkler once (there are very poorly convenient hosecocks). The front yard is very shady and we're going to have to regrade it soonish anyway (the porch's footings are, um, well, you can tell they've been wet a LOT, and the whole porch may need to be torn off), so we've kind of not bothered with it. I want to seed it all in red clover or similar: something green that doesn't need to be watered and has flowers. The between-sidewalk-and-street tree lawn has grass on it that's not too patchy; we mow it once in a while. The backyard has lawn. We've been digging the dandelions out of it by hand as we're inspired, and they're getting smaller and less lush; we haven't reseeded it yet but it appears the previous tenant also believed in not-watering. :->

Here in Chicago the bigger issue is stormwater management, because it used to be utterly standard to plumb in everyone's downspouts to the storm sewers. Lately, we've had weirding-induced microburst storms that drop 3 inches an hour, which overwhelms what the sewers can handle and causes the stormwater system to overflow into the sewerage system, which then overflows into some basements.

The city is trying to convince homeowners piecemeal that it is our responsibility to let stormwater that falls within our property lines be reserved or absorbed into OUR property, not run off to city concrete and drains.

In the back we have young fruit trees, which we do water in fairly aggressively, but we water hard and deep to encourage them to reach down with their roots. The mature trees in our yard seldom need supplemental watering (only when there are multiple days over 100F, which is a fair cop as far as I'm concerned), so there's definitely a deep aquifer layer available to them. We're hoping to push the babies to go find it for themselves. When we planted them we deliberately dug the holes as deep as we could stand, deeper than needed just to plant the root ball, so that the downward soil was looser (and enriched with dug-in compost and nutrients) than the sides of the hole.

Sometime in the next couple of years I'm also going to buy some flats of perennials from our local native-plant nursery and glory in once more having COPIOUS COLUMBINES. Columbines make me so happy, and the pollinators love them too. :-> I wish I could figure out where to put the bird feeder in this yard, but everything is a squirrel's-jump from everything else.

#38 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2014, 10:41 AM:

Xopher @25, if Phoenix did that it would have been within the past few years, and I don't remember any of my Phoenix friends talking about it - when I lived in Arizona Phoenix was still very much the "Desert? What desert?" mentality. Tucson, however, was very big on the xeriscaping, and actually forbade new commercial development from having grassy lawns, and required golf courses to use reclaimed water.

I'd want to see a flat ban on water use in desert climates for landscaping plants other than trees. Trees for shade and long-term benefit, food-providing plants for, well, food, but grass and flowers? Nope. If they can't live on what the climate provides, they don't belong in the climate. (I've lived in both Arizona and southern California, and we practiced Darwinian gardening in both places - if it survived, great, if not, try something else. This was also a great excuse to be lazy with the garden.)

#39 ::: odaiwai ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2014, 10:53 AM:

Dave Luckett @30

More rain in the far north of the State, but that means 1600 miles away. Some loons want to build a bloody great dam and a sort of enclosed canal to bring it down.

You're in WA, right? I was down there recently dealing with MRWA and someone in govt asked about weather, so I explained that I can see 1 metre of rain per month in Hong Kong in the summer time. They had difficulty believing it, even though Queensland gets pretty much the same weather.

Lasso an iceberg from the Antarctic fringe, tow it offshore here and mine it.

I'm pretty sure that was an episode of Salvage One: Hard Water

#40 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2014, 11:42 AM:

When my parents moved to west Texas, my father ran an underground drip-irrigation system, mostly for the windbreak. They ended up with a striped lawn, as well. One of the interesting stripes had dichondra growing in it, which came from Ghu-knows-where. (It was also handy for the garden, except that he'd get enthusiastic when doing the spring tilling and have to patch the broken lines.)

#41 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2014, 11:48 AM:

I think you're thinking of Las Vegas, which did do that at least 10 years ago. (Nine years ago I worked at a wholesale nursery where about 30 percent of their business was with Las Vegas. They had a list of permitted plants.)

#42 ::: Robert West ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2014, 11:49 AM:

> Even without approving the big-ticket projects that have hit CEQA problems, state officials could simply allow enough freshwater diversions from feeder rivers to kill off the delta smelt and its nichemates

It's not clear to me that this is the case.

The water which is held in the rivers to preserve the delta smelt is held there under federal court order. As such, the smelt have become the highest priority water users -- any other behavior by the california water agencies would leave them liable to being held in contempt by the Eastern District of California, who ordered the protection.

But in a drought year, this causes a huge problem, since it means (a) the federal and state water projects will be forced to release water from behind the dams even if the result is that the water level drops too low to power the hydro plants, and (b) farmers will not be able to get their legally required allocation.

Long-term, California is faced with a serious water allocation problem anyway - the dams were built to hold an amount of water needed to provide water in october and november *assuming the peak snowmelt was in april/may*. If the peak snowmelt moves to march/april as a result of global warming, then the dams won't hold enough water to meet the state's needs *in a normal year*, let alone in a drought year.

#43 ::: Robert West ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2014, 11:51 AM:

> I have this dreadful feeling that the Midwest is getting California's snowpack.

I think that's basically correct.

The explanation for the drought seems to be that there's a persistent high pressure ridge off the coast of California and Oregon (and by persistent I mean, the thing has been there for on the order of 18 months) which is diverting the jet stream - and the normal pacific storms that water California - north, such that it crosses through B.C. and Alberta and then drops down into the midwest.

#44 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2014, 12:12 PM:

SFGate has a story about how the drought might stop the water tunnels.
I posted a comment about how the drought plan exempts the state from CEQA rules.

#45 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2014, 12:53 PM:

Robert West @42:

That's a very good point: just because they're not bound by CEQA doesn't mean that they're not bound by any environmental constraints at all.

I do still worry, leaving aside the smelt, that they will make decisions that will cause irreversible harm to ecosystems. Then when the drought is over, the ecosystems will already be damaged, and the argument will be that there's no sense trying to preserve them.

#46 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2014, 12:54 PM:

Stefan Jones @29: Golf originally was a game played on a natural, native landscape. I think the correct way to play golf is on the natural, native landscape wherever you are. Scotiaforming is not only bad from an environmental perspective, it makes the game less interesting and fun. For example, the dynamics of hitting a ball into a meadow of waist-high bunch grasses are completely different from a rocky desert. I'd like to see golf not just saving water, but in the forefront of native plant restoration.

#47 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2014, 01:05 PM:

Abi @45: There is an interesting historical precedent. Los Angeles took the water from Rush Creek and allowed it to run dry, killing all the fish. But then, during the Mono water wars, there were a couple of years when water was plentiful and LA allowed excess water to run down the creek again. Amazingly, somehow the trout came back. They were discovered, and from that point on, the stream needed to be preserved and the riparian habitat restored.

#48 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2014, 01:23 PM:

TomB @46:

As I observed during a bike ride last weekend, it happens everywhere. In California, it turns the hills green. Here in the Netherlands, it turns the green hilly. Equally weird, though much less ecologically damaging.

#49 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2014, 02:00 PM:

There are some golf courses that have done that. They're visually more interesting, too. (There's one in Big Tujunga wash where they still have greenish fairways, but the rough drops off through riprap into the wash. You'll notice, in the aerial view, that the rough is deeper green than the fairways themselves.

#50 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2014, 02:02 PM:

Abi #48 - wait, how much are they raising hills in the Netherlands for golf? The links where it was born are about as flat as much of the netherlands; we only have golf courses on hills because we ran out of links to put courses on, compared to the demand for the game.
Just seems a bit odd really.

#51 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2014, 02:09 PM:

guthrie @50:

We're only talking links-style hillocks, maybe a meter or two high at most. But when the rest of the country is pancake-flat, it really does look odd.

#52 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2014, 02:36 PM:

Abi@#51 what does the Netherlands do about garbage disposal? There are a number of ski hills around Eastern Canada that have been build as part of landfill construction, usually deliberately.

#53 ::: Cheryl ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2014, 03:06 PM:

@52 Henry Troup

There are a number of ski hills around Eastern Canada that have been build as part of landfill construction, usually deliberately.

There are? I'd never heard that. Not that I ski. Which ones, do you know?

#54 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2014, 03:47 PM:

Sorry to have the snowpack question confirmed. Normally, we get "Alberta Clippers" (usually out of the WNW) a couple of times a week, which leaves 1-3 inches of snow as they come through. In a normal year, we get more rain than snow.

Our big snow storms either come out of the Southwest, then up the Appalachians (with amount of snow determined by which side of the range they follow) or out of the East when an Alberta Clipper mates with a Nor'easter coming up the coast.

The weirdest snowstorm was the 1978 blizzard -- it started out as a hellacious thunderstorm then became a blizzard. Apparently, three Low Pressure Centers met over the Ohio River Valley and decided to have a menage a trois -- 21 inches of snow overnight and it shut the whole state down.

I hope the ridge of high pressure subsides soon enough to send California enough snow!

#55 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2014, 04:00 PM:

@0: Oh my. That's...terrifying. (Though let's pray the weather ghods don't decide to make it all up in one go, like they did on the Colorado Front Range....)

#56 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2014, 04:06 PM:

Waffle gardening is one possible solution for drought or normally dry climates.

#57 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2014, 06:02 PM:

Very nice, the waffle garden. It took me a while once to convince a beginning gardener in California that raised beds were not the be-all everywhere, but fortunately he was an engineer and got the reasoning.

Xopher, grass lawns in California make plenty of sense -- lots of the whole state was grassy pre-Garcia -- but they should mostly be let go brown in summer. Golden, really; there are still beautiful paintings from before the 1950s of how lovely this is. Works for me in Washington, too, and it greens right up in the fall. To my surprise and pleasure, the dry grass is still cool underfoot in summer. (In Washington and Berkeley, anyway. In unirrigated parts of the Central Valley, no. Good time to hang out in the sloughs and washes.)

#58 ::: Cygnet ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2014, 06:54 PM:

Unfortunately, one problem with dry grass is that it burns like flash paper and can throw off a surprising amount of heat and flame height. If you're in fire country, a dry lawn is also known as a fire hazard.

#59 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2014, 09:17 PM:

Cheryl @#53 they're mostly local hills, like Etobicoke Centennial Hill. Big enough to ski or toboggan, not major resorts.

#60 ::: Cheryl ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2014, 12:23 AM:

@59 Henry Troup

Cheryl @#53 they're mostly local hills, like Etobicoke Centennial Hill. Big enough to ski or toboggan, not major resorts.

That makes more sense. Thanks.

#61 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2014, 01:29 AM:

odaiwai @39:

Yes, I'm in Perth, Western Australia. I've seen it rain 50 cm an hour, but that was in Canungra, Queensland, and was only the crowning glory of the cornucopia of miseries to be suffered there.

Yes, there is actually a crazy idea of towing a berg from the Antarctic and mining it off the coast. Never was the saying "We have the technology" so abused.

#62 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2014, 01:37 AM:

unfortunately the native grasses don't compete well against the imports. (I don't know how the imports have survived; they're used to a wetter summer, even in the Mediterranean area.)

#63 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2014, 10:05 AM:

P J Evans #62: unfortunately the native grasses don't compete well against the imports. (I don't know how the imports have survived; they're used to a wetter summer, even in the Mediterranean area.)

They probably left their parasites at home. That is the usual problem with exotic invasives -- the natives are getting nibbled on by parasites and other things, but those don't know what to do with the new guys. The difference can easily overcome minor environmental problems.

#64 ::: Mishalak ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2014, 02:41 PM:

The Colorado Rockies are currently at about 102% of normal snowpack. So I think California will not have to deal with a lack of water from Colorado on top of everything else. Still a lot of winter to go.

Colorado still does not allow gray water use. But I am working on reducing my own use by planting native grass this year. I am currently in process of laying down cardboard over the dryer sunnier half of my yard to kill the blue grass (and bindweed) and also moving around soil to slope the yard away from the house.

#65 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2014, 04:19 PM:

Mishalak, #64: For future use, collect large political campaign signs in the wake of an election cycle. You can generally find them in up to 4'x6' size, and they're printed on coroplast, which is sturdier than cardboard. Storing a few of them doesn't require much space, and they have lots of uses. We used a bunch of them as giant shingles to cover the hole in our roof after the tree came thru it during Hurricane Ike!

#66 ::: Mishalak ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2014, 06:41 PM:

Lee @ #65
For future use, collect large political campaign signs in the wake of an election cycle. You can generally find them in up to 4'x6' size, and they're printed on coroplast, which is sturdier than cardboard. Storing a few of them doesn't require much space, and they have lots of uses. We used a bunch of them as giant shingles to cover the hole in our roof after the tree came thru it during Hurricane Ike!

They may be useful for other things (Impermeable barrier under gravel maybe? Something to keep the dust down in the crawlspace?), but for the lawn cardboard is the right choice because I will just leave down permanently. I am going to cover it over with compost and leaves rather than exposing all the weed seed present in top layer of the alleged lawn that has been there. I will just plant the buffalo grass plugs right into the compost on top of the cardboard.

#67 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2014, 06:50 PM:

You could try a mix of buffalo and one of the gramas. The grama can take a little more shade. My parents used a buffalo/blue grama mix in Texas; the grama mostly grew in the areas where there was a little more shade. (Buffalo grass loves sun.)

#68 ::: Mishalak ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2014, 07:18 PM:

I am actually going to get the plugs from my parent's house out in the country. So it may very well contain grama grass as part of the natural mix. I am also going to purposefully plant some low growing wildflowers like littleleaf pussytoes (I think that is what they have) and broadbeard beardtongue. What I hope to do is establish a nice low growing bit of wild(ish) plains.

#69 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2014, 08:20 PM:

Mishalak, #66: Good point. I thought about that, but only after I'd already hit Post. We're trying to establish native Texas wildflowers in our yard, but it's a slow process.

#70 ::: Cygnet ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2014, 09:40 PM:

Good luck with killing the bindweed. My father poured a 6" pad of concrete over a patch of it, with a few pipes plumbed through it. (The concrete pad is for a water tank.)

The bindweed is growing up through the concrete, in the near-microscopic cracks around the pipes.

The only nice thing about bindweed is that my goats like it. They seem to suffer no ill effects from eating it, but the bindweed doesn't seem to suffer any ill effects from being eaten, either. It just grows back. Overnight.

#71 ::: Matthew Jude Brown ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2014, 09:49 PM:

I don't think it helps either that much of California has shockingly low water rates, which do nothing to encourage conservation.

I just moved from dry SoCal to Seattle, WA and find that the water costs here are in excess of 10 times higher. Despite the raininess of WA and the dryness of CA.

#72 ::: CZEdwards ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2014, 10:27 PM:

Mishalak: the only way I've managed to kill bindweed was with fire. We tried the cardboard. It went through it. Also plastic barriers, painting the individual leaves with a bindweed specific, sacrificing to the Elder Gods...

Hitting the whole infestation with a propane torch so that the bindweed got crisped but not blackened did the trick and managed to kill much of this end of the block's infestation. The problem with the property line boundary methods is that the stuff can tunnel under 50 feet of pavement, and the patch in our yard was tied to the patches across the street. But by killing our patch with fire, it stressed the rest of the colony enough to break it down.

The torch isn't easy and should only be applied on a still day after plenty of rain, and with a spotter nearby with water. And it will kill everything in the range of fire, including the grasses and plants you want to keep. Our clover and buffalo grass actually handled it pretty well, and made a nice comeback.

#73 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2014, 11:55 PM:

So just to add to the knowledge base, California traditionally has less than an inch of rain in between May and October. That's not per month, that's for the four-month spread. The months with the highest level of rain are usually February and sometimes March. The current 90-day forecast is for "below average rainfall"—they don't expect the high-pressure ridge to break up until April.

The hills are brown. This is usually the only time of the year they're green.

Oh, and Governor Brown has allowed fracking in Southern California. Because a half-tested technology that could possibly contaminate crucial water tables is very important. (My parents developed a deep and abiding loathing for Brown's policies during his first go-round as governor; nothing he's done this time has done anything to change that view.)

#74 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2014, 12:12 AM:

It may be hard to believe, but I think he's worse this time around. (The first time, he wasn't so obviously in the pockets of big donors.)

#75 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2014, 12:27 AM:

Also, there a couple of places online you can find historic rainfall data. These are monthly numbers:
San Francisco, 1849-2013:
Los Angeles, 1877-2006:

#76 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2014, 01:19 AM:

Water bills are very expensive is rainy Portland, Oregon. That's because we're paying for a massive replacement of our sewer system, which is a very good thing to be doing. We had combined storm and sanitary sewers, with sad consequences for the river when there's heavy rain. My Q3 bill in September (after summer watering) was nearly $400. My Q4 bill in December was $290. This is for a medium sized house, small yard, and 2 people. Tiny lawn.

#77 ::: Mishalak ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2014, 11:15 AM:

Another set of numbers to evaluate what is normal in water bills. In (quite dry) Denver for one person in a very small house for three months was about $85.00. Given that I do very little watering except with saved water during the winter I expect that two people would nearly double it to $160.00. Denver water is one of the most senior right holders in Colorado so I expect that bills are more expensive in the suburbs due to having pay off more expensive water right purchases.

#78 ::: Quixotic James ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2014, 11:22 AM:

CZEdwards @ 72

Propane torch is my neighbor's preferred method for killing weeds. I agree with your safety recommendations after the incident:

I say hi to the neighbor while he's torching dandelions. Putter around in my garage for a bit. Come out to see that the fence between our yards is smoldering. Wander around corner of house to grab the garden hose. Come back to find that the smouldering is now open flames - albeit, not that high - yet. Hose down the fence and surrounding area. Gently admonish neighbor to pay more attention next time.

I'm thankful to have been around for that, seeing as how the fence in question runs right up to our shared duplex.

#79 ::: Quixotic James ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2014, 11:28 AM:

Growing up in different climates certainly affects your ideas about water. Despite living in one of the drier areas of Canada, I still very much take it for granted.

While on a walking tour of Scotland, I overheard two other people in the tour - both Australians - discussing this.

"This country has an extravagance of water."

I'd certainly never heard it described like that before, but it makes sense given where they were from.

#80 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2014, 01:46 PM:

Re: 73

Sounds like the Governor is not aware that fracking can set off earthquakes.

Is this really something the drillers should be doing in a state with thousands of active and inactive fault lines?

#81 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2014, 02:42 PM:

Lori: one wonders if we might eventually see preventive earthquakes, in the way that they deliberately set off, frex, avalanches. I imagine the state of the art has to, um, improve a mite, though.

#82 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2014, 02:58 PM:

I am a bit perplexed. Brown was governor before I stayed there and I heard him nicknamed as Moonbeam. He seems to have changed a tad.

#83 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2014, 03:15 PM:

The other thing is that fracking uses lots and lots of that water we don't have.

#84 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2014, 03:31 PM:

Jacque @81:

The main issue there is legal liability.

There are already some significant problems with the way the courts deal with risk around flash flood remediation, because one landowner's drainage channel can be another landowner's source of flooding.

Imagine the lawsuits if a stress-relieving earthquake damaged property or hurt people. And the lawsuits if a natural earthquake strike, and the plaintiffs blame whoever should be setting off prophylactic quakes for not doing it, or doing it wrong...

#85 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2014, 05:58 PM:

Elliott @ 37, re downspouts: when we bought our Boston house 20 years ago, we got in a plumber to look at a basement pipe low enough to bang our heads on; he took it out because it was disconnected, being a downspout-to-sewer connection that used to be legal here. (Possibly somebody caught on to the irony of throwing away local rainwater after piping water from a distant reservoir.) I'm surprised Chicago hasn't caught up; do they figure the lake will save them?

We went to a low-maintenance lawn a few years ago; the basic cover isn't pretty and the ~wildflowers look a bit strange in an area dense enough that most of the houses are 2-family, but we haven't watered since it got going. We've even been able to skip running the soaker hoses; barrels under the downspouts catch enough water for the young plants (which, like Elliott, we're trying to encourage to develop deep roots). I don't how common any of this is in this neighborhood -- the local-assn. news-email hasn't said anything -- but maybe I should start asking.

#86 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2014, 08:27 PM:

CHip @85: There is no thought around here that water is something in short supply. The problem MWRD (treater of drinking water and sewage; Water Dept runs the pipes and billing, I THINK) has their eyes on is ability to treat enough water to meet our needs. Since the loss of one of the only three intake pipes* that serve the entire city (and the suburbs that buy their water from us), they've been running up against hard limits lately in terms of being able to treat enough to meet needs.

However, they were estimating 30-50% of all the water they treated were lost to leaks under the streets, from very, very old (original, in many cases, to the installation of municipal water: the first decade of the 1900s) water mains and service pipes.

Thanks to TIGER and similar, Chicago is now amidst a multiyear upheaval of ALL THE STREETS EVER being dug up, as they replace all the water and sewerage lines with brand new. Some of the pipes they're taking out were wood -- and still in service. *shudder* The ones that were iron were significantly narrowed with mineral deposits, and most were only 6" pipe to begin with. They're putting in modern materials, coated on the inside to retard deposits, and most of them 8" or larger, so we should get a good 80 years of service out of these too. :->

They figure to save enough from loss of waste to be able to not worry about increasing treatment capacity for at least another decade. Also, the other end of treatment has been going towards zero-waste for a while; they're now selling sterile biosolids to farmers and outputting water clean enough to drink. In fact, they do put some of it into a long, deep tunnel which eventually sells it to very-far-from-the-lake suburbs and communities (who treat it again on their end) for drinking water.

* And therein lies a tale, o best beloveds; they planned to clean the inside of a brick tunnel running along the lake bed out to the 'crib' (looks like a squat lighthouse) where the intake was housed, because it was getting full of zebra mussels and was generally almost a hundred years old. They decided it would be cheaper to pump out the water and send in dudes in coveralls than try to get scuba divers into the constricted pipe. However, it turns out the water was structural, and when they emptied it -- it collapsed. Oops. There has not been budget to run a new line out to the crib, so that crib's been out of commission for going on a decade now.

#87 ::: CZEdwards ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2014, 11:26 PM:

Ya know, I think I would mind California fracking less (only less; it's bad tech) if they were doing something with the gas to mitigate the issues it creates. If the gas was going to, say, power pumps to pump sea water into dry lake zones/existing salt lakes with the intent of making moisture sinks (a la Kim Stanley Robinson's Sixty Days and Counting) to both maintain sea level and increase precipitation, I could cautiously accept it as a short-term bridge technology. But that's not what they're doing with it. And not what Colorado is doing, either.

I wonder if we've lost an association between water and power generation in the last couple generations. Before electricity, mills of all sorts were closely connected to water both for power and transport. Boiler technology required a source of water at hand to work, and hydroelectric is exactly what it says on the tin. But that's diminished in the last few decades with sealed boiler systems and direct generation. A mistake, I think.

Another water use data point: Boulder County Colorado, two person house, typical middle class equipage optimized for low water use, no outdoor watering at all*. We use about 2000 gallons a month** for which we are billed about $16 for water, and an equal amount for sewer.***

* I grew up in the Mojave desert. To me, Colorado looked brilliantly green and lush when I arrived after college. I can't bring myself to water anything I didn't plant, and with worsening dander allergies, I have had to give up outdoor gardening entirely. (My neighbors have dogs right next to my former garden.)

** We have had a couple of transcription errors on our water bill, so I watch our meter rigorously and take a photo once a month.

*** which I still find extravagant given it's about 33 gallons per person per day. 4 1.7 gallon flushes and 2 3.4 gallon flushes, 6 for cooking and drinking, 8 gallon load of laundry, 6 gallon dish washing, 1.5 showers a day. But that puts us at about 1/2 of the city average for water usage, so...

#88 ::: Mishalak ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2014, 01:42 AM:

Elliott Mason @ #86
Thanks to TIGER and similar, Chicago is now amidst a multiyear upheaval of ALL THE STREETS EVER being dug up, as they replace all the water and sewerage lines with brand new. Some of the pipes they're taking out were wood -- and still in service. *shudder*

Funny enough Denver water recently celebrated taking its last wooden pipe out of service... in January, 1964. And went on to say that they are continuing to regularly replace our water system. I suspect it was more urgent here in Colorado since we have so little water to start with.

I think there was something in the newsletter about finally shutting off water to an irrigation canal to save water in a recent newsletter as well.

#89 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2014, 02:10 AM:

It was very disconcerting to me to move from southern California, where drips were expensive and fixed immediately, to upstate New York where I get a water bill twice a year and dripping faucets and running toilets are ignored. Economically, paying $200 to fix a dripping faucet might not be a wise choice. But from the standpoint that I may move back to dryer conditions (Albuquerque eventually), I want to keep my water frugal habits.

#90 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2014, 02:20 AM:

The first year I was here, I heard lots about the drought conditions and how bad lawns and the like were looking. They looked fine to me. Until I realized I was viewing them thru the lens of "patchy lawns are normal for SoCal in the fall" and that there are no lawn sprinkler systems here.

#91 ::: Buddha Buck ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2014, 08:15 AM:

Lin Daniel: I don't like my leaky faucets, and I am slowly working on getting them fixed. But I feel certain that the leaky faucets helped prevent my pipes from freezing in the Polar Vortex conditions where I am in upstate New York.

#92 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2014, 08:31 AM:

Mishalak #66: but for the lawn cardboard is the right choice because I will just leave down permanently. I am going to cover it over with compost and leaves rather than exposing all the weed seed

I've also seen solarization used -- covering the area with clear or black plastic for long enough to cook the soil. The article implies it does deal with seeds, and it certainly deals with roots and bugs. Of course, it works better in summer....

Elliott Mason #86: However, it turns out the water was structural, and when they emptied it -- it collapsed.

That sounds almost SFnal... I'm guessing the water pressure was balancing exterior weight, but I can think of a couple of other possibilities (wood buoyancy, or held together by the mussels).

#93 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2014, 09:07 AM:

Dave Harmon @92: Also, the water tunnels were built empirically in the by-guess-or-golly period of engineering, and they were probably never intended to be empty by their makers. I doubt they thought about cleaning them at all -- after all, they were six feet wide with a grate on the outer end, what's to need to clean?

I heard an awesome interview with the guy who is overseeing the building of London's new CrossRail tunnel (brand new subway end to end of London, deeper than most things already there -- when they can KNOW what's already there). He also did the Jubilee line, and his discussions about how they dealt with their work's impact on things like Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament is instructive.

He and his team, before the digging started, went ALL OVER Big Ben and placed sensors and stress monitors and laser measurers and so on. They also did a structural inventory of it and built a pretty detailed 3D model. Then they dug a bunch of boreholes around it and hooked them up to pumps that can put pressurized concrete into the holes to push up against the foundations in very specific ways (to counter the shifting caused by tunnel-digging nearby).

He and his crew were a little wide-eyed by the middle of the process, because by modern engineering standards Big Ben's tolerances are less than paper-thin. Of course, nobody modelled it first or even did very much math; they just built it and Bob was their uncle. The interview subject was clearly both admiring of their gonzo Let's Do It! spirit and more than a little squeamish at the prospect of how MUCH of London might be currently held up by baling wire and chewing gum (or their brickwork equivalents). The stabilization pumps are still running, years after Jubilee's finish, because the building's still settling in and they want to make sure they leave it more stable than they found it.

#94 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2014, 10:55 AM:

CHip @85: I'm surprised Chicago hasn't caught up; do they figure the lake will save them?

Yes. I was visiting a friend back in '95, when he was still going to school, and lived in an apartments full of college roommates. One evening, he goes in, turns on the shower full bore, then comes back into the living room, and sits down with a book while he brushes his teeth. I'm like, "!?" When asked why, I pointed out that I'm from Colorado and, well, "!?" Another friend says, "Go about a mile north of here." Meaning the lake, of course. Leaving aside the water wastage, I guess they didn't care about the resources to treat the water, heat it, and then treat the graywater.

#95 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2014, 11:17 AM:

Elliott @93:

Technically, you're talking about the clock tower that houses Big Ben, which is the bell.

#96 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2014, 11:37 AM:

Dave Harmon @92: I'm guessing the water pressure was balancing exterior weight

During the flood back in September, we had to refill our pool, which had been emptied for renovation. Seems the saturated ground produces enough upward/inward pressure on the empty pool to, like, break it.

#97 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2014, 12:40 PM:

Jacque @ 96

Water is one of the more powerful forces of nature and underground water flow can be quite fun to deal with. For a given value of "fun".

My local university built a new basketball training facility (to become more Title IX compliant) shortly before the nearby football facility went through an expansion phase. Between digging out a handful of 30 year old cedar trees up-slope, and creating a water retention pond down-slope to catch the runoff from the newly installed impermeable surfaces... the local water table rose. A leak developed in the 1st floor wall six months after the building was completed. (The facility has a basement, 1st, 2nd, roof arrangement where the basement and first floor are dug into the hill on one side and exited out into open air on the opposite) They finally figured out the leak was actually a spring after flooding everything they could possibly flood looking for the leak. The key to them figuring out what was causing it was the fact the leak up-slope would only happen when the water retention pond down-slope was filled by a fast, heavy rain. Then the new facility would leak for a week or three while until the water table stabilized. They're still trying to find a solution to the problem because the water retention pond is a necessity to keep the lower parts of the watershed from flooding in rains heavier than 2 or 3 inches.

Well. Worse flooding. That particular watershed is well developed. It's so developed that heavy rainstorms allow the residents to innertube down a main thoroughfare like it's a water slide. The college students love it. The cops an the city hate it. (Especially since they sometimes drown their cruisers while helping stranded motorists.) Long time locals know to avoid that part of town in heavy rains.

There's been talk about installing water gardens in at the headwaters of the local creek to take advantage of the flooding/runoff from uphill. But so far, it's just talk. There's no money in anyone's budget to make it happen.

#98 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2014, 12:55 PM:

Victoria @97
heavy rainstorms allow the residents to innertube down a main thoroughfare like it's a water slide

Reminds me of the year it rained so much (40 days of rain, altho it wasn't nonstop), the street I lived on stayed flooded for several weeks. The kid down the street took advantage of it to practice his kayaking skills.

#99 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2014, 01:38 PM:

A couple of drought cycles back, Santa Barbara was about to break ground on a desalinization plant when the drought broke. I was annoyed. One more year....

#100 ::: Michael Johnston ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2014, 01:44 PM:

I turned off my watering system on Halloween, when it was first beginning to look bad. Haven't watered since, but the little rain we got has kept the lawn mostly green, though it's fading quickly to brown. We're giving considerable thought to replacing the lawn with native plants.

#101 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2014, 02:00 PM:

I caught a glance of Mt. Rainier yesterday- it's been dry here since mid-October, but so foggy most days that we haven't been able to seen anything. So foggy, indeed, that even after the driest December on record, more or less, there was mud in the dip at the south west corner of my orchard until this past week.

In any case the entirely of Success Cleaver, the arrete between the Tahoma and Kautz glaciers, is naked blue rock. It looks like May. My pastures, on the other hand, look like March, lush green grass dotted with early spring cow-pies, light brown and deformable, instead of the dark, compact cylinders produced by cows on a hay diet. There are a few white flowers on the chickweed under the apple trees. Hazelnut bushes and pussywillows are blooming.

And the ridgeline of the Cascades is dark and dry, the brown fog in the Puget Trough capped by dry air and temperatures above 50F at 2500 feet. The whole coast is dry, up as far as Haida Gwaii.

If you poke around online you can find a North Pole Satellite animation which shows quite clearly the process by which west coast rain is being pushed north into the Yukon delta and then east along the continental orogeny into Alberta, eastern Montana, and points east.

#102 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2014, 02:52 PM:

I noticed yesterday that one of the big old oaks down the street is starting to leaf out.

#103 ::: Clifton ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2014, 03:30 PM:

Apparently I am an evil person, because I feel the need to let you all know that "What happens to the baby when the bathwater runs out?" scans unfortunately well to the tune "Does the chewing gum lose its flavor on the bedpost overnight?"

#104 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2014, 07:20 PM:

Jacque #96: Yikes!

#105 ::: Anne Sheller ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2014, 10:59 PM:

Clifton @103 - You would point that out.

What happens to the baby when the bathwater runs out?
When California's burning in the middle of a drought,
If your lawn looks more like tinder, will you shake your fist and pout?
What happens to the baby when the bathwater runs out?

Where do you get bathwater when the aquifer's pumped dry?
When there's no snow on the mountains and the rivers start to die,
When the sun just keeps a-shining in the clear and cloudless sky,
Where do you get bathwater when the aquifer's pumped dry?

When you want a glass of water, you can't get it from your sink
When the chemical tank's leaking and it makes the river stink.
You can scrub coal with the water now, but it ain't fit to drink.
When you want a glass of water, you can't get it from your sink.

#106 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2014, 11:11 AM:

Anne, that's marvelous. So marvelous, I'm earwormed.

#107 ::: Buddha Buck ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2014, 12:49 PM:

Anne #105: I'm not quite as familiar with the chewing gum song, so it was hard for me to mentally sing those verses.

On the other-hand, with the exception of the refrain in each verse, it scans to the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

#108 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2014, 02:41 PM:

Jacque @81: my recollection from a freshman geology course a few decades back went as follows: Preventative earthquakes need to be small enough not to cause damage, so something like a magnitude 4 or less. The goal is to dissipate enough energy to prevent a really serious earthquakes, say magnitude 8. Earthquake magnitude scales are logarithmic; a magnitude 8 releases 10 to the 4th times as much energy as a magnitude 4. So you'd need at least 10,000 preventative quakes to prevent one big one. And that's assuming that all your preventative quakes were effective, in the right place, etc. Any inefficiencies would increase the number of quakes needed.

My impression is that we still don't know enough to be really certain where the next big quake will hit, though we're getting better at estimating probabilities. I suspect we'll see much better earthquake prediction long before we see effective earthquake prevention.

As Abi said @84, earthquake prevention has liability issues, but even earthquake prediction has similar issues. There are problems with false positives (predicting an earthquake that doesn't happen, making people take "unnecessary" precautions) and with false negatives (if you claim or exhibit an ability to predict earthquakes, and then miss one, it's all your fault!).

Regarding Governer Brown, once again I find myself wishing our slightly less conservative politicians would live up to their slightly more conservative opponents' accusations!

#109 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2014, 03:12 PM:

Jeremy @108, that's a very good explanation; the only thing I would add (since my undergraduate seismology course was only about 15 years ago) is that the magnitude scale is logarithmic in earth movement, not in energy release; a magnitude 8 earthquake is actually a million times stronger in terms of energy released than a magnitude 4. (There's a nice calculator at ).

#110 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2014, 03:50 PM:

I live under half a mile from the Hayward Fault, which should blow any time now. I do not expect earthquake prevention to happen in my lifetime or indeed, in this century, and I am skeptical about useful earthquake prediction; that is, I am not sure how useful it would be even if it were accurate. I can imagine what would happen on the local freeways if, for example, car radios starting blasting an earthquake warning. ("This is not a test. Repeat. This is NOT a test.")

It would not be pretty.

#111 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2014, 03:55 PM:

In related news, they've found that the New Madrid fault zone is alive and well. This isn't good news for the region.

#112 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2014, 04:21 PM:

PJ Evans: It's not good news for Chicago, certainly (my mother did her Master's thesis in Earth Science analyzing exactly what'll happen to the John Hancock building on north Michigan Avenue in the case of different magnitudes of earthquake ... it only has three good footings, so once you get past a certain point it pirouettes and takes out a whole swath as it goes down. :-/

That said, Memphis will have it so, so much worse than us.

#113 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2014, 04:55 PM:

Elliott, Frisbie described St Louis as 'the world market for used brick is not that big'. (There's a reason why there aren't many brick buildings in California. It's usually described on the Richter scale.)

#114 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2014, 05:02 PM:

P J Evans #113: that should be, "...there aren't many brick buildings left in California"

Adobe brick was once a popular building material in California.

#115 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2014, 05:38 PM:

There are a lot more left than you would think. Taking a train into downtown LA from Glendale, you see a nice selection. Most of them have the Frankenstein bolts that indicate they've been retrofitted.
(Retrofitting is controlled at the local level, so some places only require it when a building changes function.)

#116 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2014, 07:26 PM:

Re New Madrid... ObSF: allow me to take a moment to recommend Allen Steele's The Jericho Iteration, which is set in St. Louis after New Madrid has thrown the big one. The primary plot has to do with AI and corporate corruption, and it's a very cinematic read -- I could almost see the movie scrolling past as I was reading it. (At one point I had an entire dream cast selected, starting with Clint Eastwood for the Top Corporate Bastard, but by now that's all going to be dated and I'd have to start over.)

#117 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2014, 12:48 AM:

P J Evans @ 113: After I had my house bolted to the foundation, a friend talked to the same company about having their house done. Their house has a brick foundation, and the contractor told him that "structural engineers call that rubble."

#118 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2014, 01:14 AM:

lorax @ 109: That calculator is great! I'm been struggling to explain to people why "The Spring Break Quake wasn't a big deal" (it was a 5.4) isn't relevant to a conversation about a subduction zone quake that could be a 9. I recommend Sandi Doughton’s Full Rip 9.0: The Next Big Quake in the Pacific Northwest for a fascinating tale of how scientists pieced together the picture of the earthquake risk in the PNW.

#119 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2014, 02:41 AM:

Lee @116: The Rift, by Walter Jon Williams, shows what happens when the New Madrid fault ruptures again. It's a huge, sprawling novel that made me wish it was longer. And it's dedicated to Willie Siros.

#120 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2014, 05:33 AM:

Anne @105:

I like the pastiche, though I'm not familiar enough with the original. What the entry title is earworming me with is Warren Zevon singing, "I was in the house when the house burned down," but I have absolutely no idea why.

And I have no idea how I managed to earworm myself, or where I got the title in the first place. That's not uncommon, though. I sometimes wonder if I'm quoting the popular poetry of an alternate universe in some of these post titles.

#121 ::: Anne Sheller ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2014, 12:20 PM:

It's and old song, though I guess it still gets some play on Dr. Demento. The version that's in my head was done by Homer and Jethro, so my parody in my own head has a bit of a hillbilly twang. I also spent several years in West Virginia, and am only 50 miles away from there now.

#122 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2014, 05:37 PM:

I know it from the British (music hall? later?); the first youtube hit for it was the one I remember.

Having said that, "When you eat your Smarties do you eat the red ones last" is, if not the same tune, the Jimmy Hart Version (warning, searching that leads to TvTropes). So if you know that one...
(is that one Canadian-specific?)

#123 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2014, 05:40 PM:

I learned 'Does your chewing gum lose its flavor' from my mother (I think her youth may have been somewhat misspent). Unfortunately, about all I can remember is the first line.

#124 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2014, 06:05 PM:

My mother once made snarky remarks about "that music you listen to" so I burst into a rousing but off-key rendition of Does Your Chewing Gum Lose It's Flavor. No further remarks were heard.

#125 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2014, 06:08 PM:

That one still gets me.

#126 ::: Clifton ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2014, 07:21 PM:

Anne @ 105: Bravo! Brilliant!

#127 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2014, 07:41 PM:

Mycroft, #122: Given that the U.S. candy called Smarties doesn't have red ones, I would say likely so.

P.J. Evans, #123: I'm primarily familiar with the Irish Rovers version. Some years back I even wrote a filk of it, with the chorus:
"Do your particles change their flavor in the chamber overnight?
Do you put 'em in with left-hand spin and take 'em out with right?
Then you change them into tachyons which exceed the speed of light!
Do your particles change their flavor in the chamber overnight?"

#128 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2014, 08:39 PM:

UK/Canadian Smarties were originally from Rountree, now Nestlé. They have some similarity to M&Ms, but are harder candy. Is there a US name for them?

The latest reformulation advertises all natural colors, but to me is lacking in the flavor department.

#129 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2014, 09:11 PM:

Lee writes in #127:

Some years back I even wrote a filk of it...

Wow. Some years back, Barry Gehm and I wrote a filk of it. We've performed it now and then, here and there, since 1989. I don't think we ever published it.


by Bill Higgins and Barry Gehm
Copyright 1989 by William S. Higgins and Barry D. Gehm

(To the tune of "Does Your Spearmint Lose Its Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight"
by by Marty Bloom, Ernest Breur, and Billy Rose)

Oh cee, oh pi, oh mu
Whatever shall we do
Search for neutrinos in cups of cappuccino
But maybe carbon tet
Would be a better bet
For though we've drunk a thousand cups, we ain't seen any yet

Do your particles lose their flavor in the chamber overnight?
Do they change their quantum number when they think you're out of sight?
When you put them in with left-hand spin, do you draw them out with right?
Do your particles lose their flavor in the chamber overnight?

To win a Nobel Prize
We'll use a giant-size
Superconducting machine we are constructing
Whose beams will have the stuff
Hit atoms hard enough
To crack the protons open and expose quarks in the buff

Do your particles lose their flavor in the chamber overnight?
Do their masses all go infinite when the reach the speed of light?
Do they break down into gamma rays and ultraviolet light?
Do your particles lose their flavor in the chamber overnight?

Lee, it is surprising to learn that lines in your chorus are so similar to ours.

#130 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2014, 10:04 PM:

Bill, #129: I don't think it's all that surprising that people who have some familiarity with the language of physics, under the specific constraints of the original lyrics, would independently invent similar choruses. "Light" and "right" are sort of obvious rhymes for "night" in this case, and they suggest the remainder of the line.

OTOH, your verses are markedly superior to mine, which even I considered somewhat under-inspired at the time.

#131 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2014, 11:23 PM:

Mycroft 122: For some reason, we have M&Ms instead of Smarties and our Smarties are little sugar tablets.

#132 ::: Ryan Viergutz ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2014, 03:47 AM:

Hahahaha, that filk is brilliant. :)

#133 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2014, 12:12 AM:

I meant to get this illustration for my post at 101 up earlier this week, but better late than never, I guess?

Three photos of Mt. Rainier from the middle of my pasture showing normal snowfall a year ago, a little short in December 2013, and after the warm dry weather of January, 2014.

#134 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2014, 09:56 PM:

Elliott @ 93: I guess the bell tower was so iconic they \had/ to protect it? Here in Boston, four decades after setting a skycraper's foundations hurt the monumental church across the street, somebody still hadn't learned; I had a concert weakened because an organ was unusable, because some induhvidual had dug too close to the church's foundation and caused a crack in an outside wall. Ironically, they were digging to improve accessibility of the adjacent subway station.

#135 ::: Robert West ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2014, 12:25 PM:

Two pieces of (possible) good news:

* it finally rained

* it looks like the high pressure dome has finally shifted out of the way meaning that storms can get through again.

Whether or not it's *enough* remains to be seen.

#136 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2014, 07:10 PM:

The state has announced that the water allocations this year are zero.

#137 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2014, 10:33 AM:


It's raining. Right now.

#138 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2014, 10:56 AM:

I think I'm going to sit here and contemplate the memory of rain.

#139 ::: D. Potter ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2014, 11:02 AM:

Indeed, I heard the hissing around 5 am or so, but that is also the interstate's soundtrack; only the plunk on something metal out back convinced me that we were getting unforecast precipitation.

Whooopeee! Puddles!

#140 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2014, 11:30 AM:

I guess i'd better bring an umbrella when I fly to the Bay Area next week.

#141 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2014, 11:41 AM:

P J Evans #136: Yikes... looking that that article, that seems to mean that the state of California is basically out of water. Hydrologically bankrupt.

#142 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2014, 01:06 PM:

That's a good summary of the situation. Here's another (quite similar): check the link to reservoir photos.

#143 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2014, 07:03 PM:

Story in SFGate, tongue far into cheek, on the rain.

#144 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2014, 09:37 PM:

Whee! light rain in my area!
(It's been cold the last couple of days, so I wasn't sticking my nose outside today.)

#145 ::: Andrew Wells ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2014, 01:07 PM:

I'm thinking of setting up a kickstarter to build a 5,000-mile-long pipeline. That way, we can send some of the surplus water* from the south-west of England to California. I'm sure I'll get support for it ...

*There are places in Somerset that have now been under water for fifty-two days, and will remain so for at least another three weeks even if no more rain falls.

#146 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2014, 02:34 PM:

Andrew: yikes, I thought we were having a wet winter!

I guess the equivalent of the 5000-mile pipeline would be substantial reduction in carbon emissions paired with the establishment of a lot of carbon sinks--trees? ocean fertilization?

Which sound pretty impracticable until you start comparing them to the cost of a 5000-mile pipeline.

#147 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2014, 05:52 PM:

Lila @#146 a big issue is people comparing costs and risks of doing anything to a non-existent status quo reference. They need to compare to the "it gets worse" model. Conscious planetary engineering, as opposed to the current on-going changes, has had opposition from both greens and climate change deniers. The greens tend to be risk averse, which is understandable, but often frustrating.

On ocean fertilization, I want to see some closely observed and carefully monitored trials. But instead we have outlaw attempts, poorly monitored and unpublished.

#148 ::: Cygnet ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2014, 12:09 PM:

Our resident barn swallows have started building nests. Bit early for that, but it's been in the 70's here. Some of the trees, and the roses, are leafing out, and the fall-planted garlic in our garden is a foot high. We live at 6,000 feet ...

This time last year, we had snow on the ground and a storm rolling through every week or so to replenish what melted. All we have is dust this year.

#149 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2014, 01:02 PM:

The big, old oaks down the street are leafing out. They still have dry leaves from last year. And the other trees are also coming out. The western redbud at the train station had flowers on it a couple of weeks ago.

#150 ::: Mishalak ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2014, 07:26 PM:

I am going to suggest a useful website to the group relating to the droughts ongoing in the US.

NOAA's US Seasonal Drought Outlook
From it there appears to be little hope of the drought breaking.

Also useful is the temperature and precipitation outlooks. No idea how accurate they are.

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