Epic 500 Year Drought Exacerbated and Exaggerated by Water Officials

Posted on 04 April 2014

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By Patrick Porgans

Water officials’ and scientists’ claims that the Golden State is in the grips of an epic 500 year drought is not supported by the facts. Government documents show back in January that this year’s drought was not the worst in 500 years.

“We are on track for having the worst drought in 500 years,” said B. Lynn Ingram, Paleoclimatologist, professor of earth and planetary sciences at the University of California, Berkeley. That story was released on January 30. Although an effort was made to reach Ingram to ascertain the scientific data to support her contention, she has yet to respond.

Contact was also made with NOAA’s World Data Center for Paleoclimatology, Boulder, Colorado to ascertain quantifiable data to validate Ingram’s assertion. Based upon a discussion with personnel assigned to the Center for Paleoclimatology, there is not enough data to say with certainty that this is the worst drought in 500 years.

Data obtained from the California Department of Water Resources’ (DWR) Public Information Office indicate that, at best, the state may be experiencing the fourth driest water year in recorded history. (A water-year is measured by the Sacramento River Unimpaired runoff dating back to 1906 and, by definition, begins on October 1 and ends on September 30 of the following year; currently, we are in water year 2014.) DWR officials depend heavily on Sacramento River watershed runoff to meet State Water Project demands.

In DWR’s February 1 report, Bulletin 120, DWR officials’ forecasted water year 2014 for the Sacramento River Unimpaired Runoff at 6.1 million acre-feet (MAF). One-acre foot of water contains 325,851 gallons of water. Critics point out that when DWR’s forecast was made, we were only 16 weeks into the water year. However, DWR’s March 1, 2014 report showed that this water year forecast at 6.2 MAF, stating it as the fourth driest on record. The March rains will require water officials to go back to the drawing board, casting doubts on the motives and severity of this drought.

Contrary to Ingram’s and water officials forecast, public records show that the driest recorded water year occurred in 1977 (5.1 million acre-feet (MAF), followed by 1924 (5.7 MAF), and 1931 (6.1 MAF); data extrapolated from a 2010 DWR report.

According to the record, the worst set of extended drought events occurred during the 1929-1934, 1976-1977 and 1987-1992 periods, respectfully, according to DWR’s Figure 1, Comparison of Previous Droughts. The 1976-77 and 1987-1992 droughts occurred post SWP construction, as indicated in Figure 1, .

Figure 1

Government Projects Operate on Flawed Computer Models

The facts contained in the public record do not support government officials and scientists assertion that the Golden State is currently in the grips of an epic 500 years drought. Their comments are prefaced on tree rings and limited Paleoclimatological information and computer-generated models.

The question is how accurate are models water officials’ use for management and operation of the State Water Project (SWP). Ironically, it is common knowledge that “All models are wrong, some are useful,” according to an article published by Professor Jay Lund, UCD, quoting statistician George Box.

Dependence on tree-ring records have intrinsic shortcomings, including divergence problems and proxies applied in the models. Furthermore, the models failed to identify California’s worse drought of record in recent history (post SWP), which occurred in the 1976-1977 water years.

“Every day this drought goes on we are going to have to tighten the screws on what people are doing,” said Gov. Jerry Brown, who was also governor during the last major drought here.

Although California has experienced its share of notable droughts since 1906, officials could not provide a drought contingency plan, when requested last month. Instead they are holding public workshops to get the peoples' input on what to do about the drought.

Officials made it clear that there is no universal definition of when a drought begins or ends. Drought is a gradual phenomenon, according to DWR.

Figure 2

Figure 1 and Figure 2 failed to list the driest individual water years, 1977 (5.1 million acre-feet (MAF), 1924 (5.7 MAF), 1931 (6.1 MAF). however, the recent series of storms experienced in March may require it to amend that forecast. Figure 4 does not include the 1987-92 droughts, which was comparable to the six-year drought event that occurred during the 1929-1934 six-year droughts, as shown in Figure 1.

Sacramento River Unimpaired Runoff

Values in Figure 2 represent the estimated unimpaired flow for the Sacramento Valley floor and the minor streams from the Stony Creek drainage area to the Cache Creek drainage area, from the Cache Creek drainage area to the mouth of the Sacramento River, and from the Feather River drainage area to the American River drainage area.

Figure 3

Monthly Average Runoff of Sacramento River

Figure 3 provides the average runoff for the Sacramento River system, which illustrates that March, April, and May as three of the five highest months that runoff occurred historically. All the numbers are in millions of acre-feet of water.

Figure 4 indicates the water year in precipitation, when comparing the severity of historical drought. Critics point out that this is where DWR officials began to compare apples with oranges, as it is common knowledge in the water world that water years are measured in acre-feet.

Cloud of Doubt Rising as to the Severity of the Drought

In the first year of the 1976-77 droughts, DWR officials delivered 600,000 acre-feet of water, stored at the SWP’s Oroville reservoir, to agricultural contractors in Kern County for $2.95 delivered, even though it was warned that was not a prudent management decision.

During the 1987-92 droughts, DWR delivered record-breaking amounts of water to its contractors in Central and Southern California in the first four years, playing the odds that the drought would not continue. DWR officials water management and delivery practices exacerbated the severity of the droughts.

DWR officials responded to the most recent dry conditions by exporting and delivering significant amounts of water to SWP contractors; i.e., in 2010 it delivered 2.44 MAF, in 2011 it delivered 3.55MAF, and in 2012 it delivered 2.84 MAF.

In light of all the recorded data, questions are being raised as to the motive behind the governor's, water officials' and Ingram’s claim that this is the worst drought in 500 years.

Critics claim that it is all promoting more water development and bilking the public out of hundreds of millions of dollars for drought relief giveaway grants. The majority of those funds are borrowed money that is given to some of the biggest water districts and landowners in the state. Back during the 2007-2009 “drought" DWR held grant giveaway meetings at the Irvine Ranch Water District’s Duck Club.

Figure 4

Drought Proclamation Opens Floodgate Releasing $870 Million in Public Funds

DWR personnel's claim that this is the third dry year in a row includes water years 2012, 2013, and 2014, yet it was not until mid-January that California Governor Jerry Brown issued a Proclamation, declaring the drought as a State of Emergency.

Corporate media ran with the “500-year drought” story, heightening public fears and uncertainties, claiming that the drought will devastate California’s $44.7 billion agricultural industry and result in massive farm-related job losses, higher unemployment rates, a rise in food prices, and a relaxation of water quality standards and environmental protections.

The situation apparently was so bad that President Obama flew into Fresno on Air Force One and observed the devastation personally, and immediately pledged $183 million from existing federal funds for drought relief programs in California.

Meanwhile, Gov. Brown’s Administration opened the floodgates and is doling out $687 million in drought relief grants using borrowed money that will ultimately cost state taxpayers in excess of $1 billion in new debt to offset the devastation.

The largest share of the drought relief package - $549 million - comes from accelerated spending of General Obligation (G.O.) bond money voters previously approved in two ballot propositions.

"This legislation [appropriating drought relief funds] marks a crucial step - but Californians must continue to take every action possible to conserve water," Brown, a Democrat, said in a statement.

As of late, government officials are holding hearings laying out plans for a new $4 billion reservoir, when the Golden State is already inundated with $74.6 billion in G.O. bond debt, of which $19.6 billion was expended on water and drought-related giveaway grants.

According to state treasurer Bill Lockyer, it cost $2 for every dollar borrowed using G.O. bonds. The money to repay the bonds comes from the state’s heretofore deficit-ridden General Fund.

Ironically, California agriculture experienced a nearly three percent increase in the sales value of its products in 2012. The state’s 80,500 farms and ranches received a record $44.7 billion for their output in 2012, up from $43.3 billion in 2011 and $37.9 billion in 2010, according to the latest published government reports.

Almond acreage during the period of 2009 through 2012 increased from 720,000 to 780,000 acres, averaging 20,000 acres a decade. Between 1995 and 2010, almond acreage expanded from 440,000 to 870,000 acres, increasing cash receipts to growers from $800 million to more than $4 billion.

Using a conservative average of 3.4 acre-feet of water per acre to grow almonds indicates that the demand on California’s developed water supply and groundwater would have increased by about 1.36 million acre-feet of water.

The amount of water required to irrigate just the 870,000 acres of almonds planted would require an estimated 2.9 MAF of water that is about 800,000 acre-feet more than the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California provides annually to 18 million urban water users in its service area.

Essentially, DWR and SWP agricultural contractors gambled on the odds that even if the drought continued, they would get the unsuspecting public to bail them out by issuing G.O. bonds.

Because DWR has not produced all of the pertinent information, it is difficult to account for the extent and gravity of this drought. Currently, Planetary Solutionaries (PS) is conducting a forensic accounting of the “management” of the SWP going back to the worst drought experienced since the SWP became operable. PS’ findings will be continued in Part two of this series.

Patrick Porgans completed 75-fact finding volumes on water- and drought-related issues in the Western United States. As a Forensic Accountant, he conducted 15 volumes that assessed every major aspect of the California State Water Project (SWP). Those reports were the subject of legislative hearings that brought to light the intrinsic shortcomings of the Project and the $10s of billions of dollars in cost overruns that have been paid for by the taxpayers that the law requires be repaid by SWP contractors. This article was originally published at the Planetary Solutionaries blog.