Cheap Water In California Is Drying Up

Southern California’s water prices are ready to shoot up, as supply dries up, writes Paul Kedrosky, in a post called “The End Of Cheap Water.” It’s time to turn off the sprinklers and accept the fact that you live in a desert, Southern Californians. Your water doesn’t just fall from the sky, sorry.

There are two things underlying the new urgency. First, water supplies are declining because of a serially lower-than-normal (a dubious notion, but I digress) Sierra snowpack, which is the source of much California water. Second, and this is related, the Colorado river flows have been lower than normal (see above) for at least five years now.

The whole idea of “normal” is, in this context, nearly useless. With respect to Sierra snowpack, we don’t know what normal is, because we don’t have enough data, and, more importantly, whatever normal was, we are headed in a lower direction. At the same time, and as the following figure shows, we have now reconstructed Colorado River flows back to 1500 (via tree ring data), and it demonstrates that long periods of drought and reduced flows have been a regular phenomenon. Notice, in particular, that the period during which the Colorado River compact put together was abnormal in the first place, so the state straws — Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and California — sucking from the river are simply too big.


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