Utilities failure

by WCE

Pacific Gas and Electric may declare bankruptcy over liability for California wildfires. Given that utilities are heavily regulated and limited to ~5% profitability by those regulators and that trimming trees and burying power lines are both expensive, I’m not sure that having some other company owning the pipelines and power lines in California will make much of a difference. Based on maintenance of school buildings and public housing, I suspect state or federal governments would do a worse job of funding routine maintenance if government owned utilities outright.

PG&E to file for bankruptcy following devastating California wildfires WaPo

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98 thoughts on “Utilities failure

  1. I suspect state or federal governments would do a worse job of funding routine maintenance if government owned utilities outright.

    Because the LA Department of Water and Power and the TVA have been so troubled? I don’t believe that to be the case at all.

  2. Rhett, dams require a lot less routine maintenance than school boilers or public housing. Pipelines are somewhere in between.

  3. Because the LA Department of Water and Power and the TVA have been so troubled? I don’t believe that to be the case at all.

    The LA Dept of Water and Power aka the Met, represents people in LA and south of there. The battles between San Diego and the Met are often fun to watch.

    Consider the California DMV….and then think about what life would be like having them provide electricity and gas while not killing people. Much as I hate PG&E, I like having power more. PG&E is a San Francisco company that provides power for the interior of California. The ratepayers, customers, victims have no voice in regulating them. PG&E regularly kills people and there have been few to new real repercussions.

    My solution would be to have PG&E go through bankruptcy and wipe out any current shareholder value, increase both the profit that PG&E could make and then attach criminal liability to the board of directors if the actions of PG&E result in death for random civilians, as is often the case.

  4. “Rhett, dams require a lot less routine maintenance than school boilers or public housing.”

    Yes, but when you neglect to maintain them, they can almost dissolve during a big storm, see Oroviille Dam 2017.

  5. WCE – in Seattle, Seattle City Light (electricity) and Seattle Public Utilities (water, sewer, garbage/recycling) are part of local city government. However, each is funded with their own dedicated rate payer funds – that can only be used to support those utilities (i.e. the money people pay for their electric bill can only be used to support Seattle City Light – you can’t use the money to support some unrelated function like parks or schools).

    What that means in Seattle is that the utilities are well-funded compared to some other parts of city government. Having the utilities be operated on their own or being part of city government doesn’t make a difference in terms of how much revenue they have – and thus how much they spend on maintenance. This is true for Washington State – not sure about other states.

    I do agree that I don’t think it would have made any difference with respect to the wild fires if PG&E had been operated by state or local government vs. an independent utility.

  6. And it was the California Department of Water Resources, also the biggest purchaser of electricity in the state, that neglected to maintain the Oroville Dam until it almost failed.

  7. I think local governments do a pretty good job with utilities because they have the bandwidth to focus on doing a good job. AFAIK, no one, liberal or conservative, made a deliberate choice to allow substandard living conditions in some public housing- it’s an example of why I think government should regulate and some other entity (can be nonprofit if you hate corporations) should sustain. It’s hard for an entity to effectively regulate itself and hold itself to expensive standards in light of competing priorities. If there were a way to have government sustain and some other entity regulate, that would work too.

  8. On the electric side, my state has a combination of Investor-Owned Utilities (IOUs), Electrical Cooperatives (COOPs), and Municipal-Owned Utilities (MOU). A number of years ago, the state introduced competition and reduced the number of electrical monopolies in the state.

    I live in a city that has a MOU. One of the “features/bugs” of MOUs is that there is no competition; I must buy my electricity from the MOU. For certain where IOUs operate and I am less sure about COOPs, utility customers can buy from different providers. There is usually one IOU that owns the transmission/distribution system, but it must allow other generators to push power to customers and pays a fee for using the transmission/distribution system.

    Overall, I don’t have issues with our MOU. They do own a portion of a nuclear plant that has not provided the amount of energy at the rate that was expected and they have some green initiatives. Friends who live where there is competition say it is the same as the phone, internet & cable competition – you have to put in a lot of time to figure out if changing providers and the rate structure is more complex.

    Given our system, I wonder if in California, if they put the infrastructure on the government’s plate and the generation on the utilities plate and set the rate they’d pay for transmission if that would help the situation? I am not sure that Texas has any similar provision about making providers liable unless they were non-compliant or negligent.

  9. “Given our system, I wonder if in California, if they put the infrastructure on the government’s plate and the generation on the utilities plate and set the rate they’d pay for transmission if that would help the situation?”

    Some time ago, Meme mentioned something about the Western states have been treated like/felt like they were treated as colonies. One of the issues with the the government providing electricity, especially in the areas PG&E serves, is that those areas have sparse populations and are not represented by the state government. The state has had the responsibility to regulate PG&E for decades, and yet, PG&E regularly kills people through negligence. The list is shockingly long, San Bruno pipeline explosion, Sacramento house explosion, the wine country fires, the camp fire, the fire last summer in Yuba County that got no national press.

    The California state government has proved itself incapable of regulating itself. The Oroville Dam that almost failed in 2017 (188,000 evacuees) was built, maintained, and regulated by the State of California. For at least a decade and a half before the almost catastrophic failure, parts of the dam infrastructure would break and were not replaced or fixed because it was “hard”.

    The State can’t manage to figure out how to issue REAL ID, I don’t see have they would be capable of maintaining infrastructure.

  10. The state has had the responsibility to regulate PG&E for decades, and yet, PG&E regularly kills people through negligence. The list is shockingly long, San Bruno pipeline explosion, Sacramento house explosion, the wine country fires, the camp fire, the fire last summer in Yuba County that got no national press.

    So why is that primarily a state failure vs. a failure of private enterprise?

  11. So why is that primarily a state failure vs. a failure of private enterprise?

    It is the state’s responsibility to regulate and inspect the utilities so that they don’t use substandard parts or nonexistent inspections that end up killing people.

    It is also a state/federal responsibility to maintain their forests so they don’t burn down and kill people.

  12. And, based on the State of California demonstrated incompetence with the DMV, the Department of Water Resources and other state departments, why is it plausible that the state government could run a utility?

  13. It is the state’s responsibility to regulate and inspect the utilities so that they don’t use substandard parts or nonexistent inspections that end up killing people.

    That responsibility starts with the utility. Why are you letting them off the hook and putting all the blame on CA?

  14. “That responsibility starts with the utility. Why are you letting them off the hook and putting all the blame on CA?”

    I’m not letting them off the hook. PG&E regularly kills people. But I don’t think that having the State of California take over power generation and distribution would be any better. People would still die, but the state would not be liable.

    Whoever generates and distributes power needs both the incentive to produce power and significant personal and financial liability if the company kills people. Otherwise, there isn’t the incentive in place to trim trees, use actual parts when replacing lines, inspect the pipelines, etc.

    The best options would be being able to purchase from competing power companies, but that doesn’t seem to be an actual option.

  15. Otherwise, there isn’t the incentive in place to trim trees, use actual parts when replacing lines, inspect the pipelines, etc.

    So then why do LA Water and Power, Seattle City Light and the TVA work so much better than public for profit PG&E?

  16. Seattle City Light residential customers currently pay about 8 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity. Seattle has the lowest residential and commercial electrical rates among comparably-sized cities in the United States.

    Shows you what happens when you let government run things.

  17. Wasn’t TVA notorious as a pit of corruption? I wouldn’t view them as a positive example.

  18. Wasn’t TVA notorious as a pit of corruption?

    The CEO, who is a federal employee, makes $6.5 million/year and bought two private jets and a helicopter. So if you think typical corporate behavior is a “pit of corruption” than yes.

  19. Electricity competition is available in TX in certain cities. You have to choose your provider from a list regularly (contracts can be fixed or variable rates for 3-24 months in duration and can be compared on a website). Service is basically identical except for billing. Studies have found higher rates in these areas not due to competition but due to a majority of consumers failing to monitor the rates and taking the default option, which of course is higher (16c/kwh vs 8c/kwh). The publicly traded company responsible for the lines had issues in the past post-hurricane due to not maintaining the trees near power lines. I’m sure it was a cost-cutting measure that yielded an exec or two a bonus.

  20. I don’t have anything to add about California power and what is better – government run or private.

    However, utilities usage has been a recent topic for my local city council. A recent proposal to turn an older block of commercial office buildings into residential apartments was denied because the city water and sewer said that there isn’t enough infrastructure in the city to support the increase population. There has been a big push from developers (and council) to add additional housing to our inner-ring suburb and this was a rare denial, and I think the first time that utility infrastructure was used as the reason.

  21. Cassandra and Rhett –
    1. In my state, the state doesn’t generate or transmit power in general. There are some small scale exceptions like universities or prisons that generate only for their “campus”.

    2. I agree with Cassandra that having the state regulate itself is a poor idea – budget concerns unfortunately trump safety. In theory, having the state regulate private or local government operated entities works better.

    3. The point of the state regulating something/anything is to ensure that it/they (company – public utility/individual – engineer) are complying with the minimum standards set by the state. This means the state must (a) set the standard (which they can do by adopting something that already exists), (b) must inspect or in some way verify that the standards are being met, and (c) if the standards are not being met need a process to identify and monitor that corrective actions are taken OR take away the authority (license/permit) of the company/individual to operate in the state (effectively shutting them down). Oftentimes fines come along with non-compliance to encourage speedy corrective action – such as $10,000 fine/per day until the corrective action is completed.

    4. Rhett, Cassandra isn’t letting the private company off the hook, but if the state is not performing adequate regulatory oversight, then the private company has less incentive to comply.

  22. “The CEO, who is a federal employee, makes $6.5 million/year and bought two private jets and a helicopter.”

    Not corruption in that case, but is that financially prudent? You think someone making $6M can afford TWO private jets? (Joking and serious at the same time here)

  23. You think someone making $6M can afford TWO private jets?

    The TVA bought them. He just gets to use them…and the helicopter.

  24. “denied because the city water and sewer said that there isn’t enough infrastructure in the city to support the increase population.”

    Here in our county, the largest employer is the University/Research & Teaching Hospital. They want to expand/modernize stuff all the time and are getting close to capacity for sewer services. So the county and the university got together on an upgrade plan where the university will kick in $4M when the sewer upgrades are completed and then there will be enough to accommodate their long range plan.

    I think that’s the solution for places like Lemon’s or Westchester, cited last week. The developer(s) have to have some skin in the improvement of infrastructure required to support additional housing stock. Just build it into the price per unit (apartment or single family home)

  25. I don’t know who owns the power plants that we use, but my town has its own electric dept and our rates are regularly 100% lower than the next town over, which uses National Grid.

  26. The Pacific Northwest, including Seattle, has cheap power because of the hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River. Rates are similar with our corporate utility and with the power cooperative I was with at my last residence. Electricity costs are a function of the Columbia, not a function of Seattle’s power company being public.

  27. Fred, I agree that systems development charges are appropriate for utility upgrades but such charges mean the resulting housing isn’t “affordable” here, which causes some controversy with Affordable Housing Advocates. (And in case you wondered, I’m not aware of any engineers on the side of the Affordable Housing Advocates, because regardless of our political affiliation, we understand what it takes to create systems that work.)

  28. Rates are similar with our corporate utility and with the power cooperative I was with at my last residence.

    So corporate utilities do about as well as government utilities?

  29. Rhett, glad you’re around. Can you paste that pic in properly? It’s in the article at that link.

  30. TVA is a little different because it’s an authority, so although the workers are federal employees, it’s not really government run. It’s self run, much more like a private company.

  31. Rhett – It depends. There are many factors that go into the rate. In theory, those affect all utilities the same way, but in practice that isn’t so true. On the flip side, private utilities have share holders who want dividends and/or share price to increase, while government shouldn’t be making a “profit”. If it does, it should be reducing the rates charged.

  32. it’s not really government run. It’s self run, much more like a private company.

    But isn’t that how all these kinds of government owned service providers are run? I’m thinking in MA of the MWRA – the Mass Water Resources Authority for water and sewer, MassPort for the airport, etc.

  33. S&M, interesting article. One of the frustrating things about articles like that is the complete absence of a discussion of forest management. The forests that explode like the one in Paradise, are completely overgrown. There are 200+ trees per acre where there should be 35 or less trees per acre.

    Climate change may play a part, but if climate change is real, I don’t understand why there isn’t a push to reduce the problems that climate change will make worse, e.g. overgrown forests. And of course fires have been bad the last five years. There was a drought that ended in 2017. 2017 was a flood year, so lots of grass and brush grown aka fire fuel. There has been a push to reduce the activities that reduce fire fuel, then 2018 was dry…..all the ingredients for a conflagration. And whoosh, the forest catch fire….who would have thunk?

  34. But isn’t that how all these kinds of government owned service providers are run?

    I don’t know about the ones you named, but I know that GA Power/Southern Company employees are not government employees.

  35. WCE – ok, I get what you’re saying. So maybe a portion of the system upgrade is borne by the new units specifically and a portion goes into everyones’ rate per kwh/gallon/therm?

  36. Rhett, slumlords have to meet standards in order to be on the Section 8 list. Maybe their reputation is bad in some areas, but in cities with adequate housing overall, pubic housing is quite livable. Iowa, Denver and where I live now all have Section 8 housing with adequate maintenance. My uncle has the same services (24 hr call for emergencies, ongoing relationships with tradespeople, contractors and suppliers to fix urgent problems, carpet replacement every 5 years, etc.) for his Section 8 properties as for his other ones.

    Maybe in the bad areas, regulations aren’t actually enforced against Section 8 landlords because bad landlords pay off their local politicians, or for some other reason.

  37. WCE,

    It could certainly be the case that natural monopolies with their own revenue stream work well as government entities. Housing, not being a natural monopoly, might be better with the government providing subsidies.

  38. Right. And TVA is run like a private company, even though it is a governmental one and its employees are federal workers. I was trying to distinguish TVA from other utilities here.

  39. I would not want the government to run my utilities or housing. The number of people without heat last week in NYC public housing or NYCHA run buildings was shameful. It is 2019 and thousands of people are freezing in city run housing in one of the richest cities. It is horrible.

    I hate Con Ed. I’ve lived in other places but Con Ed is the utility company that I am most familiar with, and they are really the pits. I still wouldn’t trade Con Ed for the government because at least Con Ed eventually fixes stuff. My Local and state governments – it might take years to get something fixed vs days/weeks.

    The situation in CA is so complicated and I am glad that Cassandra is a regular because it is very interesting for me to read her opinions as a local consumer and resident. Most of my knowledge of that market is based on a deal that I worked on with solar power and bonds in CA and other western states. It was almost ten years ago, but it is very sad to see how little has changed in a decade.

  40. I still wouldn’t trade Con Ed for the government

    But as Lark mentioned, it wouldn’t be the “government” so much as it would be what amounts to a government sponsored non-profit like they have in Seattle, LA, Sacramento, Memphis, Nashville, etc. It looks like 25% of Florida is serviced by municipal power companies including Orlando.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florida_Municipal_Power_Agency

  41. I guess I’ve been lucky for gas/water/electric. I’ve lived in places served by ‘private companies’ (most/all of which publicly traded…PG&E, So Cal Edison, here), government entities (LADWP). The only gripes I’ve ever had are not getting the power back on quickly enough after an outage starts and having to pay whatever was a lot to me at the time.

  42. The MIT Technology Review has some suggestions for mitigating the fire problem in California. It’s a longish article; here are some excerpts.

    Land use and zoning
    States, cities, developers, and residents need to reconsider whether to construct or expand communities on the edges of California’s forests and hot-burning shrub lands. And towns need building codes more suitable to the fire zone…

    Forest management
    The growing severity of fires deep within forests is an entirely separate problem that requires an entirely different response.

    The long-standing US policy has been to put out fires and otherwise minimally manage most federal and state forest lands. That’s created a dangerous buildup of fuel, setting the stage for fires that spread farther and are harder to combat…

    Preventing sparks
    Humans spark some 90% of wildfires, by burning debris, failing to put out campfires, flinging cigarettes, and the like, according to the National Park Service. But after a half-century of Smokey Bear warnings, it’s clear that public service announcements aren’t enough.

    One area where focused efforts could make a bigger difference is utility-sparked fires…

    Warning technology
    Many of the Camp Fire deaths occurred as residents were fleeing their homes, in some cases while trapped in their vehicles on clogged roads.

    Hill says there are various technologies that could help provide earlier detection and warning to towns…

    https://www.technologyreview.com/s/612430/california-must-reinvent-its-practices-and-policies-for-a-deadly-new-fire-reality/

  43. For many of those quasi-government agencies (at least the ones I’m familiar with), you are still a ratepayer. It’s a separate bill that goes for whatever utility is covered by that agency. So you still have the same “power” as you do with ConEd now.

  44. And towns need building codes more suitable to the fire zone…

    Why doesn’t the market provide that without a regulatory requirement?

    Concrete houses cost 4 to 8 percent more nationally than traditional frame houses, depending on the floor plan and finishes…Homeowners insurance costs up to 25 percent less for concrete houses because they are more resistant to fire, high winds and pests.

    IIRC they don’t build with unreinforced concrete and reinforced concrete has perfectly good earthquake resistance. So that should be fine for CA.

    https://www.seattletimes.com/business/real-estate/concrete-houses-they-cost-more-to-buy-but-owners-will-see-savings-in-monthly-bills/

  45. And towns need building codes more suitable to the fire zone…

    Why doesn’t the market provide that without a regulatory requirement?

    In this society we tend to expect a minimum level of safety, energy efficiency, whatever and have decided that there are minimum standards so that no one needs to learn everything about building codes, fire danger, electrical wiring, medical standards, etc. The discussion is where on the margins these standards are and how to structure incentives to enforce them given that the government is filled with people who are no more competent, intelligent or diligent than the rest of the population, and many times know significantly less about the industry than the people they are regulating.

    And this…And towns need building codes more suitable to the fire zone… is a red herring. Building codes have been in place for a very long time calling for fire resistant shingles, stucco is a normal building material. Nothing really works when a building is sitting in front of a blow torch.

  46. Rhett, in that picture it looks like the fire didn’t even advance on those houses, though (how?). Notice the trees and grass, which would have been burned just like those on the upper left.

  47. Notice how the lawn of the burned house on the bottom to the right isn’t burned either. I bet it’s the same product.

  48. This topic is depressing. We are having a lot of problems with flooding and ice in my Town. There is too much water and there is a lot of run off from a year of too much rain. Our Town Supervisor essentially said there is nothing that they can do except to keep throwing ice and salt on the problem areas. The sad thing is that two of the major flood/ice problems are where Con Ed cut down hundreds of trees after Sandy. The towns and villages never wanted to spend the money to bury the power lines, so Con Ed is constantly pruning and cutting. When my power went out last week, it was because a car hit ice during the evening and then crashed into a utility pole. It is just an endless cycle, but it has gotten much worse in my Town because they cut so many trees near a brook and river.

  49. I’m fascinated by the idea of a super sturdy house. I love gadgets so it would be awesome to have it concrete and steel with automatic shutters. Maybe you could have a generator and/or battery backup powering pumps in your pool and a network of pipes to soak the area around your house. Or something similar with the beach house and have generators and batteries so you could ride out a CAT 5 with a chilled cocktail. Have an anemometer rigged so when the wind hit 40mph the shutters would close automatically.

  50. The overhead power lines are a perpetual source of outages – strong winds bring down trees, too much rain – tree falls, car crashes into utility pole – tree falls and so on. Very bad in the hurricane season. Newly constructed apartments are served by newly reinforced utility poles. DS and myself were looking at the poles yesterday – so UGLY !

  51. The reader comments on that NY Times article that WCE linked to are enlightening. The majority of commenters dropped their usual bleeding heart leftist tone and just spewed resentment that some people get large, subsidized apartments. The fact that the apartments are falling apart and decrepit doesn’t seem to bother anyone.

  52. “The towns and villages never wanted to spend the money to bury the power lines, so Con Ed is constantly pruning and cutting. ”

    I thought local government approved a price hike that ConEd was supposed to use to bury lines and instead ConEd used it strengthen poles?

    ConEd is awful. So is Verizon.

  53. The unburned grass is fascinating. I truly had no idea that anyone in this great country had fake grass in their yard like the Brady Bunch.

    Honestly, when I look at that photo of the beach home standing amid the rubble, I don’t see a success. I see some poor family that has no roads, power, or water, and no insurance payout. Their view is horrible and will be that way for a very long time. I would hate to be that family, says the woman putting the beach house on the market ASAP.

  54. I am fascinated with the fake grass too. The only places I have seen something like this, is people who like golf installing mini golf in their back yard.

  55. There was similarly a house that survived Sandy when all nearby houses were destroyed. This Old House visited that house and highlighted some design decisions that enabled it to survive.

  56. Apparently fake grass is popular in Phoenix for obvious reason. I’m fascinated that you can get it with built in mow marks.

  57. The mowing stripes are too pronounced in that picture. I think I’ve seen this on HGTV, but my main concern would be what happens, really, to dog waste, settling dust, insect carcasses, mouse droppings, etc. I know that it’s *supposed* to wash through.

    My grandparents retired to the Scottsdale area. I wouldn’t mind a peoperty of desert sand and decorative rocks and a few saguaro cacti, with a nice pool and shaded veranda. When in Rome…

  58. I wonder if those fake lawns are anything like the synthetic turf fields used for sports. Because the synthetic turf fields just radiate heat when it’s hot and sunny out. I can’t imagine being on one when it gets really hot in the summer in some place like Arizona.

  59. Those fake lawns probably make a lot of sense in places like SoCal where water conservation is important.

  60. “Those fake lawns probably make a lot of sense in places like SoCal where water conservation is important. ”

    Developed water use in California is broken up as:
    50% environment
    40% agriculture
    10% urban

    There isn’t enough water use in urban areas for any feasible level of conservation to make much difference.

  61. Fake lawns, if they’re pervious, also would make sense in place of impervious cover in places prone to flooding.

  62. Cass, OTOH, I can remember when residential water use was strictly limited, to the point that people were letting most of their landscaping die, and using water from washing machines to keep select plants alive.

  63. Cass, OTOH, I can remember when residential water use was strictly limited, to the point that people were letting most of their landscaping die, and using water from washing machines to keep select plants alive.

    i remember that too, and I have always wondered what the purpose of that was. The numbers are pretty clear, there just isn’t enough urban use to really matter. I suspect that is has a political purpose. The only place there is enough water to fight over is in the ag/enviro use.

  64. “I have always wondered what the purpose of that was.”

    My perception was that some water districts had limited supplies available and were trying to parse it out.

  65. Developed water use in California is broken up as:
    50% environment
    40% agriculture
    10% urban

    There isn’t enough water use in urban areas for any feasible level of conservation to make much difference.

    If there is half as much water due to a drought doesn’t that mean each group gets half as much water? So a SF was used to getting X acre feet and now it’s getting .5X acre feet? Or is it a water rights issue where certain groups get 100% of their due before the one with subordinate rights gets any?

  66. My perception was that some water districts had limited supplies available and were trying to parse it out.

    Somewhat correct, but there has been a somewhat functioning water market for years. Although some cities are cut off from the distribution city and rely almost exclusively on local supplies (e.g Cambria) most are able to bring in additional water. The problem is that it costs money. I suspect given the current cultural climate we are in, that it might be more politically palatable to spend money advertising conservation than to spend money to buy more water.

  67. “If there is half as much water due to a drought doesn’t that mean each group gets half as much water?”

    No, that is not how water rights work. There is a carve out for health and safety needs, but that is small and we will set it aside for this discussion. Water rights in California can be roughly separated in riparian and appropriative rights, Riparian rights refer to water in a river than can be used on adjoining lands…come from England/east coast law, places where is rains all the time and there is isn’t much need to pull water from rivers.

    Appropriative rights stem more from Spanish law, a place with a Mediterrenean climate, where rains falls in only part of the year and water is much more scarce. The appropriative doctrine is where “first in time, first in right” comes from.

    Actually SF is a bad example, because they have water rights to the Tuolumne River in Yosemite National Park and have really solid, senior water rights.

    Los Angeles has less senior rights and so is often in the water market. One of the reasons that the Met and the Westlands Water District and trying to get tunnels built through the California Delta is so that a) they can get their share of the water rights they own through the Delta and B) so that they can purchase water in the north and move it south.

    So a SF was used to getting X acre feet and now it’s getting .5X acre feet?

    No

    Or is it a water rights issue where certain groups get 100% of their due before the one with subordinate rights gets any?
    Yes

  68. What does “environment” mean, as opposed to “agriculture”?

    Although this is way to shorthanded for a serious answer, here goes:

    Environmental water use

    is water that is held in the dams to flow through the rivers later in the year to keep water cold enough for salmon spawning….not really working…there are too many invasive predators and not enough food in the river for the salmon, adding more water doesn’t help

    water that is flushed out to the ocean to keep the Delta smelt from going extinct without paying any attention to the reality that there are massive amounts of invasive species eating smelt and sewage dumped into the Delta from Sacramento

    Ag use…water pulled from the rivers and used to grow food.

    If we were to build more dams, there would be more capacity to store water during flood events for drought years. In this climate, the difference between drought and flood is 2-3 storms. More water for the cold water pool in the dry years.

    There are also ways for ag and the enviro community to work together to provide fish habitat. The really frustrating thing is that there have been studies that show that to grow salmonids that will more likely survive the trip out to the ocean it is really useful to flood rice fields in the winter and have the hatchlings spend some time there eating bugs.

  69. Cass, my recollection (which may be incorrect) is that during drought situations, pretty much all the water districts guarded their allotments pretty jealously, i.e., there was little if any to be bought.

    BTW, I remember the local paper daily publishing the water levels at all the local reservoirs.

  70. Finn, your memories are from the 1976-77 drought? In the 2000s the market, although still rocky, was functionalish.

    Although there was one year when almond prices were high and the ag districts outbid the Met. Shortly thereafter, almonds became the demon nut.

  71. “If we were to build more dams, there would be more capacity to store water during flood events for drought years.”

    I’m under the impression that one purpose of some of the bodies of water in the Bay Area (e.g., percolation ponds in Campbell, Lake Cunningham, Vasona) is just that, as well as to facilitate recharging of groundwater and mitigating flooding.

  72. Cass, no, more recent. Early 90s was the most recent direct experience.

    “SF is a bad example, because they have water rights to the Tuolumne River in Yosemite National Park and have really solid, senior water rights.”

    My understanding is that SF pretty much had first dibs on Hetch Hetchy, and some other water districts on the peninsula get their water from SF. My recollection is that in the 80s, rationing was pretty severe in SF, and the water districts on the peninsula that relied on Hetch Hetchy also had severe rationing.

  73. Okay, thanks, I’m pretty sure I get the distinction. It was a genuine question.

  74. Palo Alto gets their water from Hetch Hetchy. Here endeth my recollection of where the water comes from.

  75. I wish to hell I’d actually listened to my Dad the civil engineer when he was talking about all the reservoirs and dams and water rights, instead of staring out the window of the car reflecting on which boys in my class were cute.

  76. Finn, water markets really started making headway in the mid to late 90s. I had a grad school prof who was instrumental in their development. So, maybe my recollection is of the development instead of implementation.

    RMS, how could you tune out the most fascinating topic there is?

  77. RMS, how could you tune out the most fascinating topic there is?

    LOL. I do find it fascinating now. Somehow it all seemed very distant at the time. You grew up on a farm or a ranch, didn’t you? So it was much closer to home for you, literally.

  78. RMS, you’re right, availability of water has always critical. I don’t know when I learned the difference between appropriative and riparian rights, although I apparently can’t spell appropriative today, but water rights were a part of dinner table conversation from when I was very young.

    I didn’t mean to snap about the ag/enviro water thing, but I have spent the last few months going to meetings listing the State Water Resource Control Board bureaucrats explain how they were going to require more water to be left in the river to help fish populations even as they agreed the problem wasn’t the amount of water in the river, rather it was the predators and lack of food. It has become clear that the environmental community has figured out that it will be cheaper to steal water from the ag community than buy it.

  79. I don’t know when I learned the difference between appropriative and riparian rights, although I apparently can’t spell appropriative today, but water rights were a part of dinner table conversation from when I was very young.

    I remember a guy in college who would get wild-eyed and practically turn handsprings when talking about riparian rights and the difference between East Coast and West Coast water laws. That’s when I first started focusing on it.

    Sorry about the State Water Resource Control Board. I certainly don’t have any confidence that their decisions are well-reasoned or even accidentally correct.

  80. water markets really started making headway in the mid to late 90

    Isn’t that the key to the whole thing? IIRC Israel primarily uses drip irrigation and as a result (with a similar climate to CA) uses a small fraction of water per unit of crop yield. Farmers in CA have less incentive to switch due to the poorly functioning water market.

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