In a warm, dry and mobile California, water rationing, mileage fees possible

Unless there is a dramatic change in weather and the drought that has gripped California (and other parts of the western U.S.) suddenly relents, on tap could be water rationing. Drought in the Golden State has now entered its fourth year.

Couple that with higher in-state vehicle miles traveled (VMT). In 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, Office of Highway Policy Information’s “Highway Statistics Series – State Statistical Abstracts 2012” report, Californians collectively drove 326.272 billion miles. This surpassed 2011’s numbers by 5.488 billion miles as Californians logged 320.784 billion miles of road travel that year. The presumption is the total miles traveled on California roads in both 2013 and 2014 mirrored the upward trajectory evident in 2011 and 2012 and the same will hold true in 2015.

So, what does one have to do with the other?

Less water usage could mean energy savings and this could, to some extent, counter the effects of the increase in driving which, no doubt, has added more pollution to the air.

Rising temps/falling water tables

In the Mar. 2015 FGN (Fruit Growers News) article: “California drought showing no sign of relenting,” author Vicky Boyd wrote: “At the beginning of the current water year, Oct. 1, 2014, the CVP’s [Central Valley Project] six main reservoirs had carryover storage of 3.1 million acre-feet – or 49 percent of the 15-year average, [Louis Moore, Bureau of Reclamation deputy public affairs officer in Sacramento] said. That compares with carryover storage of 5.1 million acre-feet at the end of the 2013-14 water year.

“An acre-foot, about 325,900 gallons, can meet the annual water needs of a family of four or five, according to the Department of Water Resources,” wrote Boyd.

For added perspective, the rainy season’s end is typically April or May. Should this dearth of much-needed precipitation continue through the remainder of March and throughout all of spring, what it will mean is that the last month the state will have seen any rain of any real significance is February.

And records show, just for February 2015 alone, all up and down the state, above-average temperatures were recorded. In Fresno, for example, the temperature averaged 5.5 degrees above what is considered normal. Redding, in northern California had the highest: its average temperature was 6.9 degrees above its norm. Sacramento was second highest with a mean temperature for Feb. of 5.7 degrees, just ahead of Fresno which is in the number three spot. San Francisco was next with an average temperature of 5.4 degrees for the month. LA City and San Diego tied – average Feb. temperature: 5.2 degrees, surpassing San Jose’s 4.3 degrees and Eureka’s 3.8 degrees.

Now, add to this the findings of a snow survey done in the Sierra Nevada mountains on Jan. 29, 2015, whereby revealed was that snowpack water content was only 2.3 inches which represents but 12 percent of the long-term average, according to Boyd. In this regard, California’s loss seems to be the upper Midwest’s and Northeast’s gain. Besides the record Midwest and northeast snowfall amounts, many areas – even in the southeast at times – saw sub-zero temperatures, making for a quite interesting juxtaposition to say the least.

Relatedly, in the article: “Climate change: Growers will have to adapt to changing weather patterns,” also gracing the very same Mar. 2015 FGN issue, Managing Editor, Matt Milkovich wrote: “Last year was Earth’s warmest since 1880, according to NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“The two agencies recently announced that Earth’s average surface temperature has warmed by about 1.4° F[ahrenheit] since 1880, and that the ‘majority of that warming has occurred in the past three decades.’ In fact, the 10 warmest years in the instrumental record have occurred since 1998.

“This long-term warming trend is ‘largely driven by the increase in carbon dioxide and other human emissions into the planet’s atmosphere,’ according to NASA,” Milkovich continued.

As it were, Fresno’s temperature on Sun. Mar. 15th reached a high of 90 degrees – a record. That high a temperature ordinarily doesn’t show up until the end of April/the beginning of May.

On the map and on tap?

California undergoing extreme drought conditions the way it is, expect water use to be closely monitored. If dry conditions persist, this could mean rationing of water could become the new normal.

Meanwhile, as with the drought the advance of sprawl, too, seems relentless.

There has been much in the news as of late about Quay Valley, a 7,500-acre housing development proposed to be located near the Kern County line in southern Kings County and along the Interstate-5 corridor. If built, whether built sustainably or not, the reality is it will take water – and lots of it – to sustain life there.

As for how much water, using the Department of Water Resources numbers, should there be as many as 25,000 homes built, a water supply in the neighborhood of 25,000 acre-feet could be needed each year. Converting that to gallons of water required, that’s 8,237,500,000 (again, that’s assuming four or five residents per household) and this doesn’t include the H2O needed for any on-site commercial and/or office property housed there as well. Efficient water and watering systems, no doubt, would be called for. And, who knows?! At full build-out, perhaps in lieu of a gasoline tax, instituted in its place at that time will be a mileage-based tax which is otherwise known as a vehicle-miles-traveled or VMT fee.

And, not a moment too soon as the motor vehicle impact on the I-5 corridor in that area will likely be considerable. Remember: Quay Valley is only one such proposed development. Proposed/planned others are doubtless in the pipeline.