Salton Sea Import/Export Plans

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Published: September 29, 2015
Author: Michael Cohen

 


Click here to view video on YouTube.

California’s Salton Sea fast approaches a tipping point, driven by declining inflows and the continued absence of mitigation or restoration projects. Salton Sea import/export plans, often known as “Sea-to-Sea” plans, have been proposed and promoted for more than 30 years to address this challenge. They come in a variety of different designs and routes but the general concept is this: raise and stabilize the surface of the Salton Sea and lower and then maintain its salinity.

Sea-to-Sea plans would augment the declining volume of water flowing into the Salton Sea by importing water from either the Gulf of California or the Pacific Ocean. Because such ocean water will bring tens of millions of tons of new salts into the Salton Sea, such plans also need to either pump a lot of water out of the Salton Sea to export the millions of tons of salt, desalinate the water before it enters the Salton Sea, or run multiple desalination plants at the Salton Sea itself.

The Salton Sea is so large – currently covering about 350 square miles and filled with approximately  six million acre-feet of water (an acre-foot is a quantity of water that would flood an acre of land one foot deep, or 325,851 gallons) – that such plans would need to import about approximately 2.8 million acre feet (2,800 KAF) of water to the Salton Sea each year, or more than twice as much water as runs through the Colorado River Aqueduct to supply L.A., San Diego, and Orange County. Import/export plans could cost $49 billion or more.

As described in the Sea-to-Sea video, there are two general routes by which ocean water could be imported into the Salton Sea: from the Pacific Ocean via the California coast, or from the upper Gulf of California via Mexico. The Pacific Ocean route would require more than 100 miles of pipelines and an elevation gain of more than 3,600 feet. Importing water from the Gulf of California would require pipelines running more than 160 miles, to extend beyond the internationally recognized biosphere reserve and the refuge for the endangered vaquita porpoise. A gulf route would require much less energy for pumping, but would require the negotiation of a new treaty with Mexico.

Challenges

Sea-to-Sea plans face many logistical, financial, and energy challenges.

Designing, permitting, and acquiring rights of way for a project of this scale would be a tremendous undertaking that would require many years and multiple land use agreements.

The costs of constructing a hundred or more miles of pipelines or canals would be measured in the billions of dollars.

The additional energy demands of pumping tremendous amounts of heavy saltwater scores of miles and, in some configurations, up thousands of feet, would come at the same time that California seeks to reduce its carbon footprint.

Many of the proposed plans would require negotiations with Mexico, adding many unknowns to the equation, including the amount of time needed to come to an agreement.

Perhaps the greatest challenge, however, is the amount of time required for the plan to show results at the Salton Sea. As shown in the timeline in the infographic, even given the most ambitious, accelerated schedule indicates that Sea-to-Sea plans would not meet their own goals for at least 30 years. If a Sea-to-Sea plan were approved and adopted this year, the elevation and salinity of the Salton Sea would not stabilize until 2045, at the earliest. Such an approach would not solve the many short-term or medium-term problems of the declining Salton Sea, including the crash of the current ecosystem. It also means that public health would not be protected for a generation.

One of the biggest problems is that Sea-to-Sea plans distract attention from feasible, practical plans that can be built quickly and can show results in the near future.

Although Sea-to-Sea plans are intuitive and appealing, they are not the answer to the imminent collapse of the Salton Sea.

For more information on the Salton Sea:

Read the latest National Geographic blog, New Hope for the Salton Sea.
Download the September 2014 report Hazard’s Toll, outlining the importance of the Sea and the likely consequences of failing to act on its behalf.

New Interactive Map of California’s Residential and System-Wide Water Use

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system-wide-water-use-mapJanuary 14, 2015, Oakland, Calif.: A new web app from the Pacific Institute shows how different California cities are responding to the ongoing drought. This web feature brings to life newly-released data on residential and system-wide water use, and allows users to explore trends and patterns in that use.

Since July of 2014, the State Water Resources Control Board, has required urban water utilities with more than 3,000 customers to report their water use each month. These new data show total system-wide water use, as well as residential water use, i.e., the estimated portion used by residents in and around their homes. Per-person water use is reported in units of gpcd, or gallons per capita per day.

The Pacific Institute has created an interactive online map and table to help readers decode this wealth of new information on water use in California. These web features allow readers to examine how water use varies within regions, across the state, and over time. Colored zones of our online map show a gradient of water use across the state, from green for lower per capita water use to bright red for the highest users. Additionally, graphs show how per capita use varies over time and how it compares to the regional and state averages.

system-wide-water-use-tableThe Pacific Institute has also developed an interactive table—providing a more detailed view of the data. You can easily filter and sort the data, inviting you to pose your own questions. For example, why is water use higher or lower in some areas? How have cities responded to Governor Jerry Brown’s call to reduce their water use by 20 percent? Have high water users had more success at conservation than areas where water use was already low?

Many factors affect per capita water use, and cross-city comparisons have some limitations. Water use can depend on the level and type of industry, income, climate, and mix of single-family and multi-family homes. Thus, a city with a high degree of water-intensive industrial or commercial development would tend to have a higher per capita demand than a mostly residential city. Comparing residential use removes some of these factors, but all else being equal, a city in a hot, dry climate would likely have a higher outdoor water use than a city in a cool, wet climate. While cross-city comparisons are imperfect, they can offer valuable information and insight on how and why water use varies across the state.

We will continue to update this site each month as the State Water Board releases new data. Each addition to the dataset offers new information about water use in California. For example, in many areas, water use has dropped off dramatically now that winter has arrived and there is less need for landscape irrigation, while in others, water use has remained steady. Stay tuned to our blog as we examine various elements of these data.

Find the interactive map here.

Find the interactive table here.

Interactive Map of California’s Residential and System-Wide Water Use

Posted on:
system-wide-water-use-map

A new web app from the Pacific Institute shows how different California cities are responding to the ongoing drought. This web feature brings to life newly-released data on residential and system-wide water use, and allows users to explore trends and patterns in that use.

Since July of 2014, the State Water Resources Control Board, has required urban water utilities with more than 3,000 customers to report their water use each month. These new data show total system-wide water use, as well as residential water use, i.e., the estimated portion used by residents in and around their homes. Per-person water use is reported in units of gpcd, or gallons per capita per day.

The Pacific Institute has created an interactive online map and table to help readers decode this wealth of new information on water use in California. These web features allow readers to examine how water use varies within regions, across the state, and over time. Colored zones of our online map show a gradient of water use across the state, from green for lower per capita water use to bright red for the highest users. Additionally, graphs show how per capita use varies over time and how it compares to the regional and state averages.

system-wide-water-use-tableThe Pacific Institute has also developed an interactive table—providing a more detailed view of the data. You can easily filter and sort the data, inviting you to pose your own questions. For example, why is water use higher or lower in some areas? How have cities responded to Governor Jerry Brown’s call to reduce their water use by 20 percent? Have high water users had more success at conservation than areas where water use was already low?

Many factors affect per capita water use, and cross-city comparisons have some limitations. Water use can depend on the level and type of industry, income, climate, and mix of single-family and multi-family homes. Thus, a city with a high degree of water-intensive industrial or commercial development would tend to have a higher per capita demand than a mostly residential city. Comparing residential use removes some of these factors, but all else being equal, a city in a hot, dry climate would likely have a higher outdoor water use than a city in a cool, wet climate. While cross-city comparisons are imperfect, they can offer valuable information and insight on how and why water use varies across the state.

We will continue to update this site each month as the State Water Board releases new data. Each addition to the dataset offers new information about water use in California. For example, in many areas, water use has dropped off dramatically now that winter has arrived and there is less need for landscape irrigation, while in others, water use has remained steady. Stay tuned to our blog as we examine various elements of these data.

Find the interactive map here.

Find the interactive table here.

Read past blog posts.

(8/15) New Data Show California Cities’ Progress towards State-Mandated Conservation Requirements by Kristina Donnelly

(3/15) New Data Show California Cities’ Response to Drought Is Highly Uneven by Matthew Heberger

California Drought Website

Posted on:

drought.orgThe Pacific Institute has launched the website www.californiadrought.org. This compiling of tools, research, and information on the California drought serves as an invaluable resource to facilitate the work at every level to address current issues and plan strategies in the face of a drier future for California and the western United States.

Responding to the drought is responding to a “new normal” water future with climate change, and an opportunity to move to more sustainable water use and water policy for California. With a third dry year in a row, the California drought highlights the serious challenges we face in sustainable water use in the western United States as a whole. It is dry by all measures: the amount of precipitation, of snow in the mountains, in reservoirs, in soil moisture, even in groundwater depth. Impacts are already being felt in cutbacks of water deliveries to agricultural users; impacts on ecosystems, particularly fisheries; urban mandatory and voluntary cutbacks; some small systems literally running out of water from their single source.

We know we can do the things we want to do with a lot less water, and at the same time save money, ecosystems, energy, and water. As part of our leadership work in responding to the California drought, the Pacific Institute created www.californiadrought.org as a resource, come rain or shine, for the “new normal” water future that requires real action today.

Visit californiadrought.org 

Pacific Institute and Partners Release Climate Change Survivor Workbook with Games

Posted on:

Published: April 24, 2013
Authors: Ariana de Lena, Catalina Garzon, Kristian Ongoco

Oakland residents can take steps to protect their communities in the face of climate change impacts. Are You a Climate Change Survivor? is the fun new activity workbook, game, and handy fact sheets from the Pacific Institute and Oakland Climate Action Coalition (OCAC) that provide engaging activities to raise awareness about climate change impacts like heat waves, flooding, and poor air quality – and the tools that community members can use to build safety and resilience.

From “Climate Justice Human Bingo” to “Community Resilience Lifeboat,” the projects, games, and discussions in the Are You a Climate Change Survivor? activity workbook provide resources and things to do that range from basic learning about climate change and how climate change affects us, to how community members can prepare and how to create more resilient communities.

One activity is the board game Climate Change Survivor – the atmosphere’s version of Sorry! Community groups, community health workers and educators, church groups, schools, families, and even groups of neighbors can download the game board and game cards free online and have a great time while learning about different climate change impacts, how we might be vulnerable, and what we can do to better prepare and protect ourselves from these impacts.

The activities and resources were developed by the Pacific Institute and OCAC and piloted at community meetings, events, and workshops. The focus is on creating a space where diverse people and organizations can imagine and implement solutions that protect Oakland residents as they face the local impacts of climate change, such as heat waves, floods, wildfires, poor air quality, and rising utility costs.

The activity workbook is complemented by colorful Community Resilience Factsheets providing more information about how climate change will impact Oakland communities in Oakland. They include practical tips for how to protect yourself, save money, and build resilience to climate change impacts while encouraging friends and neighbors to do the same.

These tools are an extension of the 2012 Pacific Institute study Community-Based Climate Adaptation Planning: Case Study of Oakland, California, which identifies social vulnerability to climate impacts shaped by a variety of factors, including income, race, health, age, English fluency, etc.

If you have questions or feedback, please contact Pacific Institute Program Director Catalina Garzón at cgarzon (at) pacinst.org.

Download:

Are You a Climate Change Survivor? Activity Workbook
Climate Change Survivor Board Game

Climate Change Survivor Press Release
-Report: Community-Based Climate Adaptation Planning: Case Study of Oakland, California

California Farm Water Success Stories: Interviews with Innovative Growers and Water Managers

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Innovative growers and water managers throughout California are finding sustainable ways to manage water, providing benefits both on and off the farm. Here are the California Farm Water Success Stories interviews.


VIDEOS

Farm Water Success Stories Overview



John Stephens – Oakdale Ranch, Yolo County


Tom Rogers – Almond grower, Madera County




Craig McNamara- Walnut grower, Yolo County

 

Karen Ross – Former President of the California Association of Winegrape Growers

 

Dale Huss – Sea Mist Farms, Salinas Valley

 

Dan Balbas – Berry Grower, Pajaro Valley

 

Chris Kapheim – Alta Irrigation District


The Impacts of Sea-Level Rise on the California Coast: Thematic Maps

Posted on:

Published: February 26, 2009
Authors: Matthew Heberger, Heather Cooley, Pablo Herrera, Peter Gleick, Eli Moore

This information is being made available for informational purposes only as part of the project Impacts of Sea Level Rise on the California Coast. Users of this information agree by their use to hold blameless the State of California, and its respective officers, employees, agents, contractors, and subcontractors for any liability associated with its use in any form. This work shall not be used to assess actual coastal hazards, insurance requirements, or property values and specifically shall not be used in lieu of Flood Insurance Studies and Flood Insurance Rate Maps issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Vulnerable Population

Vulnerable Roadways

Railroads

Electric Power Plants, California

Electric Power Plants, San Francisco Bay Area

Electric Power Plants, Southern California

Wastewater Treatment Plants, California

Wastewater Treatment Plants, San Francisco Bay Area

Existing coastal wetlands

Viability of potential coastal wetland migration area, Northern California

Viability of potential coastal wetland migration area, San Francisco 

Viability of potential coastal wetland migration area, Central California

Viability of potential coastal wetland migration area, Southern California

Replacement value of buildings and contents

 

Desalination, With a Grain of Salt: Video

Posted on:

Desalination, With a Grain of Salt: A California Perspective
Heather Cooley, Senior Research Associate, Pacific Institute
Water Resources Center Archives , University of California, Berkeley (4/2008)

Long considered the Holy Grail of water supply, desalination offers the potential of an unlimited source of fresh water purified from the vast oceans of salt water that surround us. The public, politicians, and water managers continue to hope that cost-effective and environmentally safe ocean desalination will come to the rescue of water-short regions.

Interest in desalination has been especially high in California, where rapidly growing populations, inadequate regulation of the water supply/land-use nexus, and ecosystem degradation from existing water supply sources have forced a rethinking of water policies and management. In the past five years, public and private entities have put forward more than 20 proposals for large desalination facilities along the California coast. Project proponents point to statewide water-supply constraints, the reliability advantages of “”drought-proof”” supply, the water quality improvements offered by desalinated water, and the benefits of local control. Along with the proposals, however, has come a growing public debate about high economic and energy costs, environmental and social impacts, and consequences for coastal development policies. This presentation discusses the advantages and disadvantages of seawater desalination within the context of California.

 

Learn more about Desalination, With a Grain of Salt – A California Perspective 

 

Bottled Vs. Tap Water

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Bottled vs. Tap: The Choice Is Clear
Santa Clara Valley Water District
(11/2007)

For the Santa Clara Water District, the recent resolution promoting tap water over bottled water was a clear choice–a choice largely bolstered by Pacific Institute research. The District’s recognition of the economic and environmental impacts of bottled water led them to ban the sale of bottled water in district facilities.

 

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