Q&A: South-state sprawl isn’t drought’s biggest culprit

Published: Monday, Feb. 10, 2014 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Monday, Feb. 10, 2014 - 8:16 am

Readers appear to be curious about Southern California in Week 2 of Bee reporters answering a daily question about the drought. A sampling of the week’s questions are printed below, but new questions are answered Monday through Friday at sacbee.com/water, where you can also submit questions of your own.

Who is behind the propaganda “news” stories that recently popped up on TV that Southern California has a good record of water “conservation”? Anyone who has visited Southern California recently has seen how the urban development is increasing geometrically in what was, until recently, open desert in areas like Lancaster, Victorville, Palm Springs, Rancho Mirage, Moreno Valley, Murrieta, Lake Elsinore, Perris, etc. – Patrick Mitchell, San Leandro

Every part of California – north or south – can take some of the blame for the state’s water troubles. And even if most people left California tomorrow, the state’s farms would still need a lot of water.

About three-quarters of fresh water used in California goes to irrigate the state’s farms, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. So in both absolute and per capita terms, the Central Valley in Central and Northern California uses the most water. Those farms use water irrespective of how fast the state is adding people.

Central Valley counties also use more gallons of water per capita from the public water supply than other California counties, USGS figures show. And Sacramento County uses more water per capita from the public supply than Los Angeles County.

In absolute terms, Los Angeles County uses the most water for non-irrigation purposes; it also has the most people and homes. Most Southern California counties use far more water than they “produce” through rainfall or snowmelt, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

It is true that population growth puts a strain on the state’s water supply. But Southern California hasn’t cornered the market on population growth. Except for a few rural counties in the mountains, each county in the state has more people today than it did in 2000. Half of the 10 fastest-growing counties in the state since 2000 are in Northern California, including Placer, Yolo and Yuba counties.

– Phillip Reese

The National Hockey League created an ice rink in Dodger Stadium to host an ice hockey game between the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks. How many millions of gallons of water (or acre-feet) were used to create the rink? What happened to the water after the game? How many millions of dollars did the NHL rake in from this gimmick? How can the city of Los Angeles and the counties of Los Angeles and Orange justify such a waste of this precious commodity in a time of drought? – Wendy Reddish, Grass Valley

Ice for a hockey rink takes far less water than you might guess: about 12,000 to 15,000 gallons. The ice surface typically is 0.75 to 1 inch thick; the thicker the ice, the slower and softer it becomes during play.

Made slightly thicker to make up for evaporation, the Dodger Stadium rink used about 15,000 gallons, according to the NHL. Under current Los Angeles Department of Water and Power rates, that water cost about $95. It probably was the cheapest component in creating the rink.

A NHL regulation rink is 200 feet long by 85 feet wide; that’s 17,000 square feet. So, less than a gallon per square foot is used to form the ice. By comparison, weekly irrigation (1 inch of water) of a lawn that same size would be almost 11,000 gallons.

More than 54,000 fans – three times a capacity crowd at Staples Center, home of the L.A. Kings – turned out Jan. 25 for the first NHL regular-season outdoor game to be held in California. That attendance definitely was a big win for both hockey franchises and the NHL, which uses profit sharing among its teams. (Total gate receipts and profits were not disclosed.)

Those fans paid taxes on not only their tickets but also concessions and souvenirs; that was a winner for the city of Los Angeles and state of California. The average NHL fan spends $76 a game including tickets, food and drinks. That adds up to more than $4.1 million for this one-time event.

After play, the ice melted and the water irrigated the stadium’s turf and landscaping. The rink’s recycled water took the place of irrigation water that would have been used for that purpose.

– Debbie Arrington

With the state declaring there will be no deliveries from the State Water Project, does this mean the pumps that take water out of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the pumps that lift water through the aqueduct, and the big pumps south of Bakersfield which lift the water over the mountains will be turned off? – Thomas Cluster, Lincoln

At least for now, the answer is no. Officials declared on Jan. 31 that water diversions from the Delta will continue for “health and safety purposes” only. This generally means the cities that rely on Delta water will continue to get some, mainly to ensure they have safe drinking water and water for fire protection. As a result, all the pumps that move water through the state and federal canal systems, which run along Interstate 5 through the belly of the state, will still be operated as necessary.

The range stated for this limited pumping is 800 to 1,500 cubic feet per second. That limit applies to the combined pumping of both the state and federal water diversion systems in the Delta near Tracy. As of Feb. 2, the two systems together were diverting about 1,100 cfs. That’s about one-third of what they were diverting a week earlier.

– Matt Weiser

Read more articles by Bee Metro Staff



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