Emptying reservoirs, empty words

Posted on | February 17, 2014 | 8 Comments

Rancho Mirage, where President Obama golfed last weekend, is located between Palm Desert and Cathedral City. The heavily irrigated areas, mainly denoting water-hungry golf courses, are highlighted in red.

Rancho Mirage, where President Obama golfed last weekend, is located between Palm Desert and Cathedral City. The heavily irrigated areas, many denoting water-hungry golf courses in California’s Mojave Desert, are highlighted in red. Source: NASA/Earth Observatory

*President Obama came to the Central Valley to address drought and climate change. Everyone “is going to have to start rethinking how we approach water for decades to come,” he said. After making the remark in a speech at a ranch in Los Banos, a farm town roughly 75 miles northwest of Fresno, the President spent the weekend at a golfing resort in the Mojave Desert.

*Republican Congressman Devin Nunes greeted the President’s outreach to the Central Valley by saying, “To blame the California water crisis on global warming is ludicrous.”

*The Mayor of Los Angeles highlighted local water harvesting as a way to relieve dependence on imports while posing in front of an infiltration ground parched by drought.

*The newly appointed sustainability officer of Los Angeles addressed climate change by traveling to a conference in South Africa. Describing the trip in a Huffington Post article, the mayor’s green deputy linked to the city’s sustainability page, where the background image is of a tap water lake surrounded by turf.

*At the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden, the lake surrounding Lucky Baldwin’s old cottage has been allowed to dwindle to a puddle while turf around it is emerald green and irrigation overspill still runs through the parking lot and down Baldwin Avenue. A sign posted next to the lake blames its state on drought.

Matt Petersen, the city of LA’s new sustainability officer, concluded his Huffington Post column with a call to action for citizens.  “While we need government to act, we each can be what I call citizen entrepreneurs. We can take responsibility as individuals for our corner of the world, and unleash the can-do attitude …”

Speaking as a citizen, if not “entrepreneur,” who has already installed low-flow devices, removed turf, planted a drought-tolerant garden and converted my home to zero-run-off for storm water capture, I must admit to feeling patronized and depressed by leaders at federal, county and city institutions whose actions belie their words.

Correction: Kevin Roderick of LA Observed wrote in a personal communication, “Never heard ever heard the Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage area referred to as the Mojave Desert before.” Meanwhile, Joshua Tree-based environment writer for KCET Chris Clarke wrote on Facebook, “A golf resort in the Mojave would have been better. In the Coachella Valley, one of the hottest sections of the Sonoran Desert, evapotranspiration is a double-digit percentage higher than it is in the Mojave.”


8 Responses to “Emptying reservoirs, empty words”

  1. Kazi Pitelka
    February 17th, 2014 @ 9:28 pm

    I’ll be working on unleashing my can-do attitude…..

  2. BMGM
    February 17th, 2014 @ 9:51 pm

    I’m curious to know where Chris Clark got his data.

    Is that evapotranspiration from plants due to the higher temp at lower elevation?

    What about increased evaporation from at lower atmospheric pressure (higher elevation) in the Mohave desert?

    What’s the total upward water vapor flux between the Colorado and Mohave deserts given the existing soils and vegetation?

    I truly don’t know the answer and am curious about the data.

    Meanwhile, I can’t believe that the politicians are as dumb as they act. But, then, if they act dumb long enough, then the data suggests that they really are that dumb.

  3. Chris Clarke
    February 17th, 2014 @ 10:42 pm

    BMGM, I’m afraid I only have a superficial answer to your question, to wit: I looked at a map.

    I’m curious, now that you ask, about the degree of importance of the factors you describe.

    Anecdotally, having spent the last 2 years living in the southern Mojave after a year and a half in the Coachella Valley, the difference in both summer and winter temps over a crows’-flight distance of just 25 miles is kind of amazing.

  4. BMGM
    February 17th, 2014 @ 11:19 pm

    OK, let’s simplify and compare bare soil at sea level and 1000 meters (slightly higher than the 3000′ cutoff for Mohave high desert).

    Assume a dry adiabatic lapse rate of 9K/1000 meters.

    Then use those temps to calculate the difference in water vapor pressure as a function of temp using this formula:

    Then compare to the atmospheric pressure at 0 and 1000 meters here:

    I earned a PhD in chemical physics in Boulder, elevation 5340′. I drank lots of coffee and observed it cooled much faster in Boulder than Berkeley (where I did my undergrad). However, I haven’t done the calculation. I’ll leave that as an exercise for the environmental reporters. 😉

    We can hire my husband to fly over the two deserts with his spectrometer tuned for the IR signal of water. Perhaps we can put that experiment on kickstarter? Or maybe KCET wants to fly along w/ a bunch of spectroscopists?

    It can’t be done by satellite b/c of the possibility of thin cirrus. It can only be done from a low-flying spectrometer that can sample a wide area. (So a stationary flux meter like the kind Vaisala sells won’t work unless you can move it around–and keep it away from blacktop.)

    February 18th, 2014 @ 1:04 pm

    So he went to a golf course after the speech? Are you kidding? Aren’t golf courses some of the biggest water sucks in the world? President Obama, I would recommend eliminating the golf game in the future when you are talking about the challenges we face with water.

  6. Spreck Rosekrans
    February 19th, 2014 @ 1:17 pm

    Chris and BMGM, your disagreement here is so civil it is refreshing. More golf courses are of course moving to recycled water which makes the difference less important.

  7. EmilyGreen
    February 19th, 2014 @ 2:01 pm

    Great comments, all. Spreck, it’s a good point that golf courses increasingly run on recycled water, but I’m not sure that I agree that this makes it less important. All water is recycled. The amount of energy and natural resources needed to maintain a huge belt of golf course communities in Palm Desert is immense.

  8. james
    February 21st, 2014 @ 9:16 pm

    Also the SE CA desert gets it’s water supply from the Colorado River, correct? Which is not experiencing the severe water shortage of the rest of California. The Sierra Nevada water storage and the Colorado River are completely different so technically the California drought is really not affecting those SE desert regions. Still, very unusual idea right after a drought meeting.

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