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More on the drought



I know I’ve been harping on this damned drought out here in California for months, ever since it appeared (by early December) that 2013 was going to be the driest year in California’s history, with records going back to the Gold Rush.

That’s exactly how it turned out. People were hoping the rains would return in January, but now, with the month half over, that hasn’t happened, and the extended forecasts–completely dry and warm–mean we’ll now have to pin our hopes on February and March, both of which can be extraordinarily wet. February historically has been the wettest month of the rainy season, with 4.61 inches falling, on average, in San Francisco. That’s about one-fifth the seasonal total. This is why Gov. Jerry Brown has not yet declared a Drought Emergency in California, although he’s been urged to do so by Sen. Dianne Feinstein and others; the Governor feels it’s a little too early to panic, and he may be right.

On the other hand, vintners, as well as farmers of all crops, are starting to panic. Or maybe “panic” is too strong a word. They’re concerned. They’re forming contingency plans. What will they do if there’s no water to fight off Spring frosts? What will they do for irrigation when the heat spells return next summer? There are no easy answers. The San Francisco Chronicle reported a few days ago that “residents in many parts of California are being asked – and sometimes ordered – to scale back their water use.” It’s not only been a dry winter, it’s been a warm one. Yes, we had an unusually chilly early December, but since then, it’s been more like May. Oakland, where I live, has set numerous high temperature records lately, including yesterday, when it was 74 degrees. Other records were set in San Francisco, San Jose and Santa Maria, where it was an unbelievable 83 degrees. The flowering trees in Oakland (magnolias, plums) are in full bloom. We’re in Day Three of a high fire danger, Red Flag warning in the East Bay and North Bay hills. This morning, the situation has grown even worse; the state now is under an Extreme Fire Danger alert, and Southern Californians are on edge, as those dreaded Santa Ana winds kick up, howling through the canyons where wildfires erupt and roar through places like Malibu and Laguna Beach. The warnings extend all the way up and into the Sierra Foothills.

I see red-breasted robins, honeybees and tiger swallowtail butterflies flying around–things you shouldn’t see in the Bay Area in deep winter. It doesn’t make sense. My T.V. weatherman last night called the weather “eerie,” a good word. He’s a trained meterorologist and he doesn’t understand what’s happening. Nobody does.

As the website,, reported today, “The prospects for any significant rain or mountain snow in California over the next seven to 10 days look dismal, according to the latest computer model forecast guidance. If this type of pattern were to persist through the final week of the month, many January precipitation records could fall by the wayside.” That should cause everyone–not just Californians–deep concern.

  1. Is this this “dry spell” a canary in the coal mine, or more like Big Bird in a wine barrel, or an anomaly? While this persistent high pressure has made for great surfing conditions along the coast and the Southern California like weather is easy to enjoy, knowing that we’re in a serious water deficit makes it difficult to rest easy. Regardless, I am hoping that the jet stream can move straight across the pacific, blow out the high pressure and set up a strong flow of moisture in our direction… filling reservoirs, recharging aquifers and getting the dust out of stream and riverbeds. Fingers crossed for February & March!

  2. David, it’s got to rain again someday, doesn’t it?

  3. One would think… just don’t want to wait until next season.

  4. And then there’s the modern “conservative” sitting in his/her fact free bubble, screaming irrationally, with ire.
    Blind, in denial, and hatred…

  5. Bob Henry says:

    UPDATED JANUARY 19, 2014 . . .

    Quoting myself:

    “But come the Spring, California’s governor will be forced to impose draconian water conservation measures as the snow pack in the Sierras will not lead to sufficient melt-off spring water for our farms and urban centers.”

    Saturday’s front page Los Angeles Times:

    “[California Governor] Brown Declares Drought;
    Emergency decree calls for voluntary conservation and steps to aid farmers.”



    “Gov. Jerry Brown officially declared a drought emergency in the state Friday, urging residents to cut water use by 20% and directing state agencies to take a range of steps to ease the effects of water shortages on agriculture, communities and fish and wildlife.

    . . .

    “Brown’s drought proclamation follows California’s driest year on record and comes amid dropping reservoir levels and no sign of relief in the near future.”

    ~~ Bob


    Addressing your question to The Saint on accounting for those water “waste” numbers, see the 2009 Wall Street Journal article titled “Yet Another ‘Footprint’ to Worry About: Water.”


    Citing the article on how much water it takes to make:

    (1) beer (one pint takes 20 gallons);
    (2) coffee (one cup takes 35 gallons);
    (3) soda pop (one 2-liter bottle takes 132 gallons);
    (4) beef (one hamburger takes 630 gallons)

    Right now, our uncommonly warm (80 degrees on Christmas) drought condition in California is “good” for tourism in the cities (no rain to chase them away), and bad for tourism in our mountain ski resorts.

    But come the Spring, California’s governor will be forced to impose draconian water conservation measures as the snow pack in the Sierras will not lead to sufficient melt-off spring water for our farms and urban centers.

    California has “in barrel” two stupendous vintages — 2012 and 2013 — assuring future sales revenue and cash flow for wineries.

    But the 2014 vintage will be imperiled without rainfall. “Dry-farming” will take on a whole new meaning in the wine country.
    ~~ Bob

  6. Bob Henry says:

    FURTHER UPDATE JANUARY 24, 2014 . . .

    “Brace yourself for California’s Driest Winter in 500 years: UC Berkeley Professor”


    “Yes, 2013 was the driest year in California since the 1840s, when recordkeeping started. But Lynn Ingram, a climate expert at the University of California, Berkeley, thinks this could be the Golden State’s driest year in half a millennium.

    “‘This could potentially be the driest water year in 500 years,’ said Ingram, a paleoclimatologist.

    “She studies fossilized records of earth’s climate going back millions of years — layers of rock or sediment, shells, microfossils — or other indicators, including rings in trees, seeking a long view.

    “Based on the width of old tree rings, Ingram concludes California hasn’t been this dry since 1580.”

    Link to interview:

  7. On the subject of drought and wine grape growing, see today’s front page newspaper article . . .

    Excerpt from the Los Angeles Times “Main News” Section
    (November 23, 2014, Page A1ff):

    “The Case for Dry Wine;
    Drought revives interest in a ‘forgotten art’:
    growing grapes using no irrigation, a technique some say yields better flavor”


    By David Pierson
    Times Staff Reporter

    . . .

    Everyone used to dry farm wine grapes until the late 1970s, when irrigation was introduced. Dry farmed wines put California on the global map by winning a seminal blind tasting test in 1976 called the “Judgment of Paris.”

    Today, only a handful of producers continue the tradition — and only where there’s just enough rain. Adherents are discovering revived interest in the practice now that California’s $23-billion wine industry is facing an emerging water crisis of historic proportions.

    . . .

    “It’s like a forgotten art,” said Frank Leeds, head of vineyard operations for Frog’s Leap Winery in Rutherford, a leading dry farm and organic wine producer in Napa Valley. “There’s very few guys that dry farm and less guys that actively dry farm. It’s easier, I’m sure, to turn on the tap.”

    Leeds estimates that up to 85% of Napa Valley has enough rain to practice dry farming. But it’s hardly an option in Temecula, or in the largely bone-dry San Joaquin Valley, which produces more than 70% of the state’s wine.

    . . .

    Research that [Larry Williams, a professor at UC Davis’ Department of Viticulture and Enology] . . . conducted on Chardonnay grape vines in the Carneros region of Napa Valley found it took 14.2 gallons of water to produce a four-ounce pour of dry farmed wine. A same-sized pour of wine made from irrigated grapevines required 15.3 gallons of water — more than half of which was rainwater.
    . . .

    Leeds, who was hired on at Frog’s Leap in 1992, estimates he saves 65,000 gallons of water per acre each year by dry farming for the winery. Leeds says he primarily dry farms to make better wine.


    Excerpts from The Wall Street Journal “Main News” Section
    (February 17, 2009, Page A11):

    “Yet Another ‘Footprint’ to Worry About: Water;
    Taking a Cue From Carbon Tracking, Companies and Conservationists Tally Hidden Sources of Consumption”


    By Alexandra Alter
    Staff Reporter

    It takes roughly 20 gallons of water to make a pint of beer . . .

    . . .

    . . . A cup of coffee takes roughly 35 gallons. . . . A typical hamburger takes 630 gallons of water to produce — more than three times the amount the average American uses every day for drinking, bathing, washing dishes and flushing toilets. The bulk is used to grow grain for cattle feed.

    . . .

    . . . as high as 132 gallons of water per 2-liter bottle of soda if you add the water used to grow ingredients such as sugar cane . . .

  8. Bob Henry says:

    Overlooked in the discussion of drought and vineyard irrigation is: how much waste water is created for every gallon of wine?

    “On average . . . 6 gallons” reports the San Francisco Chronicle “Food & Wine” section back in October 2011:

    “Turning Water Back Into Wine”


  9. Bob Henry says:

    An alternate source for the above “Turning Water Back Into Wine” article was found at this research resource: The International Wine Research Database.

    A serendipitous discovery.

  10. Bob Henry says:

    “California Has About One Year of Water Left. Will You Ration Now?”

    By Jay Famiglietti

    . . . senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Caltech and a professor of Earth system science at UC Irvine.


  11. Bob Henry says:

    UPDATED JULY 2, 2015 . . .

    “California residents cut water use by hefty 29% in May, officials say”


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