California’s Water & Power Wars

Water_in_California_newImagine having a fight with a relative over watering their chem-lawn or converting it to native grasses!  California has a problem with too many people who’ve migrated here with the cultural mindset that they must have a grassy lawn and if possible a swimming pool while living in a semi-arid desert climate.  Imagine what such a disruptive lifestyle shift could look like if just 50% of California homes started linking their actions to a larger climate oriented vision?  If you crunch the numbers (6 million homes x $200 a month) we are talking about over $1 billion a month in water bills that could be redirected to expand the phaseout of fossil fuels!

You would have to live north of Portland or go back to other parts of the country to maintain a grass lawn without manually watering it all summer long. One of the most innovative impacts of the ongoing drought was the statewide initiative for home owners to replace their chem-lawns with native grasses and other water wise plants that could save $200 a month or more in water bills. Even though arguments for removal are extensive, including the impacts to our threatened bee population, some state residents continue to maintain their lawns with impunity, despite being publicly shamed over water bills reaching $5,000 a month or higher.  Thank goodness a growing number of people as well as many local governments are replacing chem-lawns with appropriate landscaping with native plants.

This mindless, fashion driven insistence of mimicking the royal courts of Europe has drowned out the state’s long history of drought cycles, not to mention the decades of political battles it took to get a stable water supply with construction of the Central Valley Project (CVP). When finished in the early 1950’s, the CVP was the world’s largest water system that included both water and hydroelectric power.  It was expanded even further in 1960 by the State Water Project that was severely tested during the 1975-77 drought.   With a population that continues to grow the state water system’s ever more complex problems have barely begun.  It wasn’t until the 1990’s when tree ring studies revealed two historic droughts each lasting over 100-years that hit in the last 1,300 years – neither of which have been acknowledged as cause for concern.

The CVP’s predecessor was the statewide1922 public initiative known as the Water & Power Act (Amendment 19) that failed to win due to a massive PG&E led campaign. Roosevelt resurrected the plan in 1932 that when finished promised to deliver water to small farmers and energy cooperatives across the state. As the massive dams for the CVP were being completed conservative congressmen killed the funding for the grid, which destroyed the planned electric cooperatives across California, letting PG&E build its own grid to distribute the power just as it stole control of San Francisco’s Hetch Hetchy system in 1925.  In addition the federal rules for the CVP’s agricultural water distribution was originally meant for small farmers but was hijacked by large corporate farms that played a prominent role in making California a modern plantation state that more or less continues up to the present with agribusinesses using most of the state’s water.

On the flip side, there has also been severe flooding being prepared for by the Corps of Engineers.  After much of the state was inundated during 1861-2 season when it rained every day for the entire winter Chinese laborers built the massive levee system that is now 150 years old and in dire need of rebuilding.  Reports show the Sacramento Delta could sustain damages as severe as the 2005 flooding in New Orleans.  Our flavor of Climate Disruption does appear to be on the dry side, but the Missouri basin, for example, has had (2) five hundred year flooding events, and a (1) thousand year flood over the last 25 years.

Pressures on the Colorado River have never been higher as other southwestern states are now demanding their full share of water. Historic Colorado water scandals date back to the Salton Sea, but more recently activists blocked plans to build the Ward Valley nuclear waste dump on top of the Colorado Aquifer 20 years ago, with the ongoing cleanup of the massive uranium tailings site, while a new push to build a large nuclear complex in Utah just overcame a legal challenge to block the use Colorado River water.

Global Sacrifice Zones & the Ice Free Arctic Ocean

Water problems are not confined to California by any means.  Earlier this spring, thousands of cotton Indian farmers committed suicide due to drought, with earlier years having higher rates possibly caused by Monsanto Genetically Modified crops. A UN study suggests the world will have a 40% shortfall of water by 2030. Substantial portion of the on-going political conflict in the Middle east is over water. The massive dam project financed by the U.S. in Turkey in the 80’s has reduced available water to countries like Syria, Iraq and Iran, leading to poverty and loss of traditional farming cultures. This past spring, UN climate scientists were predicting that by 2030 the Middle East and most of Africa would become global sacrifice zones where humans would no longer be able to live. Another prediction suggesting that we could see the Arctic free of ice this fall came true as reported by a National Public Radio story which hit the airwaves about a Cruise ship leaving for a-30 day cruise between Anchorage and New York City.  What an ironic connection bridging water and climate change!

California’s Climate Change Battle Shifting Gears

California has long been a leader of renewable energy development going back to the 1980’s.  Even though the state’s population has nearly doubled since 1975, its per capita consumption of energy has dropped by 20%.  The state’s 2006 plan to make renewables 33% of California’s energy supply set off years of funded programs.  Even though the state continues to lead the U.S. with rebate programs (see what programs are available to you), Governor Brown’s arrival set off a corporate attack on roof top solar waged by utility companies and the California Public Utilities Commission(CPUC).  The CPUC took over control of solar rooftop programs and then let them die, followed by an ongoing grid hookup fee battle(1) (2) with solar panel owners that nearly led to the destruction Net Metering this year.  At every turn the CPUC continues to attack any independent energy development from their recent decision on Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) programs or the control over EV powering stations. While the ongoing corruption scandal within the CPUC has led to partial reforms that include stronger disclosure rules but hardly handles all of the larger problems like who can become a commissioner and their relationship to the governor.

New legislation like SB-32 pushes goals to 50% renewables by 2030 or Diablo Canyon’s closure proposal both include support large centralized solar programs.  Germany’s grid and storage problems highlight similar concerns here even though solutions in areas like Fuel Cells continue to hit the news.  Jerry Brown just delayed plans for a western U.S. super grid along with agreeing to sign legislation blocking coal ports.   Just prior to the delay Wyoming pushed for taxing any wind power being shipped to California that would have damaged any financial potential for the plan!

The Sierra Club opposed the super grid because it opened the door for the expanded sale of Pacific Corp coal fired facilities.  Warren Buffet’s recent buyout of Pacific Corp and NV Energy that just won the right to kill solar rooftop Net Metering in Nevada!

But there is a new problem that has surfaced in the last year with a growing number of billionaires throwing large amounts of money into the energy field, that includes people like Bill Gates. Its resulted in a growing number of major mergers like Buffet’s that are pushing for a rehash of the late 1990’s that led to California’s Energy crisis.  For example, the holding company of Florida Light & Power just lost its campaign to stop rooftop net metering in Florida.  It runs two nuclear stations, while its holding company Next Era is the biggest promoter of large centralized solar power systems here in California and in the U.S.!  This new merger movement would result in just a handful of giant monopolies that are too big to regulate.

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