Expert Says “We May Have to Migrate People out of California”

by , 05/15/15

California drought, extreme drought, exceptional drought, Western US drought, California water, California groundwater, California surface water, California migration, western water issues, US drought, drought costs, drought solutions, California drought solutions

Fire, earthquakes and one of the worst droughts in recent history – these days California is not looking like the best place to settle down. In fact, things have gotten so bad that the state could run out of water in just two years. If things continue down this road, some experts think that the only solution will be to abandon the place.

California drought, extreme drought, exceptional drought, Western US drought, California water, California groundwater, California surface water, California migration, western water issues, US drought, drought costs, drought solutions, California drought solutions

One week ago, 36% of California was in a state of exceptional drought. Just seven days later, that number has jumped to 58%. Lynn Wilson, academic chair at Kaplan University, warns that the situation is reaching a point where we may have to put migration out of California on the table. He says that it wouldn’t be the first time in history that people have left an area because of drought, and if current water-saving measures don’t work, it may be the best option to help alleviate water shortages.

Related: The Latest Drilling Boom in California is All About Water

The drought has cost the state billions of dollars and at least 17,000 jobs and with some scientists expecting the drought to last 100 years, it could be just the tip of the melting iceberg. Obviously other options like importing water and desalinization should be exhausted before moving some people out of the area, but as surface water quickly vanishes from the state, sometimes the best option is to just admit that some places aren’t meant to hold a lot of people.


Lead photo from Shutterstock, image via Michael Righi

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  1. Craig Schaffer May 19, 2015 at 6:18 pm

    Salt water can now be cheaply converted to drinking water using solar panels as invented at MIT: Channel salt water to LA dams and pipe to homes.

  2. Craig Schaffer May 16, 2015 at 10:40 pm

    Instead of moving the people out, why not question the amount of water used by agriculture – after all Almonds use 3x the water usage of Los Angeles, and growing rice in a desert should make anyone question the sanity of a political system that allows the buying of votes.

  3. Rogério Kreischer August 10, 2014 at 8:55 am

    Wait! Where is the technology? Going down through the water? Go to Africa

  4. donnakclark August 7, 2014 at 4:27 pm

    My recommendation would be to start the exodus with those people who insist on building homes with swimming pools and golf courses in the middle of the desert? Next would be the corporations and politicians that appropriate precious water away from the commons: in order to supply those who feel the need to move to a desert then change it into an unnatural oasis; or for mere profit.

  5. vertical August 7, 2014 at 4:24 pm

    Sadly, it is projected that California will grow by 12 million by mid century.

  6. philatonian August 7, 2014 at 3:24 pm

    Pretty far fetched, especially the migration part. I wouldn’t really consider anyone from Kaplan University a credible expert on something so extreme.

  7. anthoni cristallo August 5, 2014 at 9:59 pm

    Perth Seawater Desalination Plant, Australia

    Key Data

    With the official opening of the Perth Seawater Reverse Osmosis Plant in November 2006, Western Australia became the first state in the country to use desalination as a major public water source – and this may be simply the beginning. Facing a drying climate, the Water Corporation of Western Australia is actively exploring a variety of options to meet growing demands, which makes building a second SWRO facility a serious prospect to consider.
    Located at Kwinana, some 25km south of the city, the new plant has an initial daily capacity of 140,000m³ with designed expansion to 250,000m³/day, making it the largest of its kind in the southern hemisphere and the biggest in the world to be powered by renewable energy. Ultimately supplying 17% of Perth’s needs, the plant will be the largest single contributor to the area’s integrated water supply scheme and provide an annual 45GL, to help serve the 1.5 million population.
    “Supplying 17% of Perth’s needs, the plant will be the largest single contributor to the area’s integrated water supply scheme.”
    The project was delivered under an alliance arrangement, implemented in two phases covered by separate Design/Construct and Operate/Maintain contracts. The Multiplex Degrémont Joint Venture was selected to build the plant along with the seawater intake, pre-treatment and product water facilities, pipeline and new pumping station required by the project.
    Degrémont is the plant operator for the 25 years of the contract, in alliance with the Water Corporation.
    The total project cost was AUS$387m, with annual running costs of under $20m – less than one dollar per week per household. The anticipated water cost has been estimated at $1.17/kl.

    Growing concern over the dwindling natural supplies of water across the region in the wake of the hotter, drier shift in the climate acted as the main driver on the project. The winter of 2001 saw the poorest inflow of water to the reservoirs serving the Perth metropolitan area since 1914 and by 2002 it was clear that the region was suffering the worst two-year drought on record. In 2005, it was confirmed that in the eight years from 1997 stream flows had dropped to an annual average of 115GL compared with the 161GL/yr over the previous 23 years (1974–1997).
    The initial response was to implement a medium-term drought recovery plan, which included restrictions on sprinkler use, obtaining a temporary increase in groundwater allocation and the provision of $142m to further augment supply capacity.
    This led to the construction of three bores into the Yarragadee aquifer deep below Perth’s northern suburbs and a further nine into the shallower aquifer at Mirrabooka. Two new dams were also constructed in the South West, where rainfall is naturally more plentiful – at Samson Brook and Wokalup Creek.
    By 2004, these combined initiatives had added nearly 40GL of water to the municipality’s integrated supply system.
    To safeguard the future of supply in the longer term, the Water Corporation have adopted what they have termed a ‘security through diversity’ strategy. Competitive tendering for the new plant design began in September 2004 between pre-qualified consortia and bids were received in the following February. In April 2005, the contract for the plant was awarded and construction began almost immediately, with work beginning on the pumping station in May and pipeline construction in September.

    The Cockburn Sound is an area of environmental sensitivity so the potential impact of the new plant on this water has been extensively considered and strict monitoring conditions have been imposed on TDS, temperature, DO and the sediment habitat in the vicinity.
    The plant is designed to operate continuously, drawing water with an input salinity of 35,000mg/l to 37,000mg/l at 16°C to 24°C via the new intake structure. This amounts to under 0.02% of the water in the sound being removed per day, which first passes through a pre-treatment filter to protect the pores of the membranes, before being forced through the spiral wound membrane elements of the RO treatment trains.
    After treatment, the product water is treated with lime, chloride and fluoride before being stored and ultimately being blended with water from other sources and entering the municipal integrated supply system. The filter backwash and concentrate stream is returned to the sound.
    Although the concentrate flow is about 7% salt, the discharge nozzles are designed to act as diffusers, ensuring that mixed water salinity falls to less than 4% within 50m of the discharge point. As a result, there will be less than 1% increase in the salinity of the receiving waters.
    Electricity for the desalination plant – which has an overall 24MW requirement and a production demand of 4.0kWh/kl to 6.0kWh/kl – comes from the new 80MW Emu Downs Wind Farm, which consists of 48 wind turbines located 30km east of Cervantes. Developed by Stanwell Corporation, a power generation corporation owned by Queensland Government and Western Australia’s Griffin Energy, this facility commenced operation in 2006.
    “Electricity for the desalination plant comes from the new 80MW Emu Downs Wind Farm, which consists of 48 wind turbines located 30km east of Cervantes.”
    By 2010, around 107GL/year of new water will be needed to meet the rising demands of a growing population. While the new SWRO plant will contribute 45GL of this, the need for a further source is inescapable and the Corporation has accordingly been examining a number of options, with additional extraction from the South West Yarragadee aquifer being their preferred one.
    The necessary environmental approvals have not yet been gained, though the Environmental Protection Authority did give the project conditional support in December 2006 and full agreement is expected to follow later in 2007. However, a second desalination plant remains a firm possibility at some point in the future to help secure water supplies until 2015 and beyond.

    The client and plant owner is the Water Corporation of Western Australia. The main contractor was the Multiplex-Degrémont JVC and the plant is being operated by Degrémont in alliance with the Water Corporation.
    McConnell Dowell Constructors were the subcontractors on the mechanical installation works and the lime systems were provided by Transmin. Western Power is the energy supplier, using renewable power from the wind farm developed by Stanwell Corporation and Griffin Energy.

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