Real and transparent saltwater markets

Salt, both surface and groundwater sources, was a subject in two recent pieces of reporting in California water news. Would anyone suggest that it will be less of a subject in coming years?


The problem isn’t the lack of a real and transparent water market, as Lester Snow recently argued at Water Deeply. The problem is that the demand for water is bigger than the supply, especially the demands of those who offer salt in trade.

NPR published an article on July 24th about how salt is slowly crippling California’s almond industry.  Where surface sources are scarce, more salt is moved from groundwater pumping to the surface by desperate farmers trying to keep their unsustainable orchards on the west side salt mine alive. Pumping increasingly salty water out of the ground means putting more of it in surface sources and ultimately, in the Delta. This makes the problem of salty water worse for everyone.

It would be nice to be able to monitor/regulate/tax the saltiness of pumped groundwater. Maybe in a couple of decades it will be possible to do that, if by then there’s any decent quality water left in the ground.

The Orange County Register reported on July 25th increasing salinity levels in Delta waterways. The article describes how the lack of water flowing into the Delta reduces its ability to keep salty water from the Bay from entering into it. Keeping the x2 line where it’s supposed to be isn’t easy right now, but I surmise that at least for those who hate wasting water on “three inch bait fish” this is an understandable rationale for why that tenuous and elastic line exists.

Without a long period of huge snowpacks and the simultaneous perfect timing of purging flows that are unlikely in the new climate reality, salt in the Delta - and in the aqueducts - only accumulates, year to year. This will happen without the tunnels, and of course with them the pace of Delta salinity increase would vastly accelerate.

I do not understand why the Delta is targeted as the first geography to be sacrificed. Why aren’t the salt-producing geographies first on the cutting block? The amount of water saved would be huge, and the cost to buy these geographies out no greater than the cost of building the tunnel project.

Posted by John Bass on 26 Jul 2015 | Comments (1)


In my opinion the answer is complicated and simple at the same time.
The simple answer is the Delta is the softest target.
Many here thought this was a settled issue with the defeat of the Peripheral Canal in ‘82.
Couple that with a highly fragmented political representation structure (5 counties with different priorities) and we are relatively easy pickin’s.
Certainly Westlands has a huge head start in organization and seriously deep pockets.
None of this is offered as an excuse, merely an answer to your question.
Guaranteed the fight is far from over.
Why no buyout and fallowing of the west side ?
Heck that’s an easy one.
You let Stewart Resnick and his posse upgrade their water rights to “senior” status while maintaining ownership of the land and they will be happy to end irrigation.
The water is worth way more on the market than any crops they produce.
It’s ironic, first the taxpayers paid to allow them to irrigate and now we’ll have to pay far more to make them stop.

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