The needs and use of water for power, industrial plants and people

I was recently in a meeting with some State officials, and representatives of a large fossil energy supply company. The meeting was largely focused on State-centered efforts to increase the amount of renewable or sustainable energy. In the course of the discussion the company representatives raised the issue of water availability, and how this might impact some of the options. It is a subject that is starting to raise its head in more than just this type of discussion. If we look at the current drought status of the United States, for example.

The exceptional drought in the South East and the extreme drought in the South West are both evident. The growing impact of the sustained lack of water, or the need to provide water to an increasing number of people or a growing industrial base, from a fixed resource, is one that will have an impact that goes beyond just the immediate short term. And so, being curious, I looked at the major users of water, and what they did with it. And it was in this light that I then looked at one of the promising new technologies that Dave Rutledge had mentioned at the ASPO conference, the use of concentrated sun power (csp), and in the process I also looked at how they are handling process water in the oil sands of Alberta.

So where does the majority of the U.S. water go? Best folk to ask seem to be those folk over at the US Geological Survey. And to quote one of their reports:

Estimates of water use in the United States indicate that about 408 billion gallons per day (one thousand million gallons per day, abbreviated to BGD) were withdrawn for all uses during 2000. This total has varied less than 3 percent since 1985 as withdrawals have stabilized for the two largest uses—thermoelectric power and irrigation. Fresh ground-water withdrawals (83.3 BGD) during 2000 were 14 percent more than during 1985. Fresh surface-water withdrawals for 2000 were 262 BGD, varying less than 2 percent since 1985.

About 195 BGD, or 48 percent of all freshwater and saline-water withdrawals for 2000, were used for thermoelectric power. Most of this water was derived from surface water and used for once-through cooling at power plants. About 52 percent of fresh surface-water withdrawals and about 96 percent of saline-water withdrawals were for thermoelectric-power use. Withdrawals for thermoelectric power have been relatively stable since 1985.

Irrigation remained the largest use of freshwater in the United States and totaled 137 BGD for 2000.

That is a fair volume of water, particularly for the amounts that are single-use pass through. Now a lot of this water is returned to the source, but still a significant amount is lost to evaporation. And thus there is currently a program within the National Energy Technology Lab (pdf), to look into this. But before I get there I think it is useful to put the current conditions in context.

I am one of those folk that think that we can learn from the past, and so I went to see what the history of droughts were in the South-West. I found that we appear to be heading back into the same sort of cycle that hit about 1100 years ago. And one of the things of concern, if one looks at the following graph, is the length of time that the droughts lasted. I have noted, earlier, that droughts in New York at this time lasted around 200 years. The evidence from Southern California, reported by Seager, Herwijer and Cook seems to show the same sort of duration.

And again, as one of the intriguing little quotes that illustrate the point let me add a quote from the paper

In a remarkable paper ('Late Quaternary bison population changes on the southern Plains', Plains Anthropologist, v 19, 180-196, 1974), Tom Dillehay successfully sketched the medieval climatological history of the southern Great Plains based on little more than the numbers of bison bones found in archaeological sites. At this time few Indians were dependent on bison hunting - that was yet to come when European expanded into the moister areas to the east and displaced Indians from areas where they both farmed and hunted. In Dillehay's study it is striking how few were the bison remains a millennium ago compared to the periods before and after. He also drew what now appears the correct conclusion - the climate was drier and bison populations shrank as grasslands became desert.

One can follow this further, the drought conditions in the South-west at the time led on to significant health issues (pdf) (not to be topical!).

In coastal California, the effects of a punishing late Holocene environment are found in recent archaeological discussions. Arnold (1992) and Raab and Larson (1997) identify patterns of site abandonment, increased rates of disease, malnutrition, and interpersonal violence along the Santa Barbara coat during the MCA (Lambert 1994, Lambert and Walker 1991). Stress-related phenomena, such as elevated levels of disease and incidents of warfare, stemmed from the competition among prehistoric peoples for the resources which were severely diminished by the climatic changes discerned (Fischman 1996). Similarly Jones et al. (1999) document settlement pattern hiatuses, shifting dietary regimes, sharply increased levels of violence, disruption of regional trade networks and other cultural patterns that correlate with the MCA in California, the Great Basin, and in the American Southwest.

These drought conditions extended much further south, and one also reads of this being a reason for the Collapse of Mayan Civilization .

During its Classic period (250–950 A.D.), Maya civilization reached a zenith. At its peak, around 750 A.D., the population may have topped 13 million. Then, between about 750 and 950 A.D., their society imploded. . . . . . In his fascinating book, The Great Maya Droughts, independent archaeologist Richardson B. Gill persuasively argues that a lack of water was a major factor in the terminal Classic collapse. Gill pulls together an enormous amount of information on modern weather and climate, draws on the record of historical droughts and famines, and heaps on evidence from archaeology and from geological studies of ancient climates. . . . . . . Gill builds an impressive case. When his work was first published (five years ago), the most compelling evidence for drought came from sediment cores that David A. Hodell, Jason H. Curtis, Mark Brenner and other geologists at the University of Florida had collected from a number of Yucatán lakes. Their measurements of these ancient deposits indicate that the driest interval of the last 7,000 years fell between 800 and 1000 A.D.—coincident with the collapse of Classic Maya civilization.

Looking at the current wet and dry pattern over the United States, one is then led to wonder what happened in this time interval in the central part of the country. This is the part that is currently not in the drought zone. And it turns out that it wasn’t then either. This was the time of the rise of the Indian Civilization at Cahokia Mounds in Illinois.

The archaeological remnants at Cahokia Mounds, near Collinsville, Illinois, have been preserved to tell the story of the most sophisticated prehistoric Indian civilization north of Mexico. According to the finds, the ancient city of Cahokia, from about A.D. 700 to 1400, covered nearly six square miles. Originally, there were over 120 mounds. . . . . . . . It is believed that the population of the city peaked at 20,000 from 1100 A.D. to 1200. The fate of the culture is unknown, although historians attribute a climate change that may have affected crop production, plant and animal resources and possible war, disease and social unrest.

This could perhaps have been the start of the Little Ice Age.

Hmmm! So if we are going back to the weather of about 1100 years ago, how do we stop everyone leaving the drought stricken coasts and moving to Illinois – which might start to get a tad overcrowded after a while.

Well this is where I go back to what we are doing with the water from the power stations. The majority of the water used in power stations is either turned into steam to drive turbines, or used in cooling – this is one of its functions also in some of the biofuel refineries. A 500 MW power plant that uses once-through cooling, uses over 12 million gallons per hour for cooling and other requirements. Currently most of this water is recycled and returned to the environment from which it came, so that the absolute use in power stations, for example, is only 3 percent when this is taken into account. But it is another figure in that report that is also relevant. Power stations take up 60 BGD of saline water, to reduce the demand on freshwater that they would otherwise impose.

So there are two points that can be made from this, the first is that power stations can be engineered to use water that is not currently viable as potable water for use domestically and by industry, and the second is that, in the processing of the water for their own use, industry is already cleaning up the water, so that the resulting condensed steam and clean product can then be fed back to society to remediate some of the coming problems with water shortage. Consider, if you will, that this is converting power plants into concurrently becoming desalination plants.

Remember that each kWhr of electricity currently requires 25 gal of water .

I have used the word desalination, since there are many power stations near the coast that could provide this additional water source (and perhaps some already do) But water cleanup is an ongoing process in many mining operations. There is, for example, a program in South Africa that is desalinating mine water for use in power atations. If one looks at the video shown in the description of the concentrating solar power the very hot oil from the concentrators is fed through water to generate steam, which drives turbines. There is nothing but some clever engineering that precludes this from using contaminated or saline water as the feed,, and condensing the steam to provide a rsource for those who are starting to become starved of it.

One of areas of the world where water supply is already causing concern, in its ability to restrict future expansion is in the oil sands of Alberta. Here, even though the processes are increasingly efficient in their recovery of water, the projected growth will still place an increasing burden on the supply of make-up water to the various processes. This becomes increasingly so where Steam-Assisted Gravity Drainage is used to recover the heavy oil from underground deposits. In a traditional Once-Through Steam Generator (OTSG) some 20% of the water will form a concentrated brine that carries the water treatment and pollutant chemicals, and this has to be either disposed of or further processed through a Zero-Liquid-Discharge facility that produces a dry product for disposal. In the more modern technology, which uses vertical-tube evaporators the process water that is recovered after the steam has been injected, is recycled through the plant for re-use. The simpler evaporation system is now becoming increasingly adopted, and is largely considered to also be more economic. Of additional interest it also lowers the fuel cost requirement for the process by about 1-5%. Energy demand for the operation of the evaporator runs at around 60 – 70 kWh/ 1,000 gallons distillate (the higher end includes crystallization of the solid waste stream).

The ability of industry to utilize undrinkable water, and to convert this, while utilizing it in pass-through mode, to water that can be provided as a resource to the community is something that we may need much more of in the future. It is perhaps reassuring to find that there is a technology out there that will allow this to happen.

With all due respect, you appear to misunderstand that the systems which use steam to generate electricity are based on a cycle which is closed to the environment. That is, they do not boil water which is passed thru the turbines to be released to the environment afterwards. That water is condensed to produce a pressure below atmospheric, which increases the efficiency of the cycle as the pressure at the turbine output is also below atmospheric. The water which exits the condensers is pumped back into the boilers to again become steam. The water which is used is that which cools the steam inside the closed cycle at the condensers. The cooling water is never heated to boiling, but is warmed above the supply temperature and then returned to the environment. The condensers could just as well be cooled by dumping heat directly to the air, but this approach would have implications for efficiency on hot days.

E. Swanson

No, I think the article addressed this:

That is a fair volume of water, particularly for the amounts that are single-use pass through. Now a lot of this water is returned to the source, but still a significant amount is lost to evaporation. And thus there is currently a program within the National Energy Technology Lab (pdf), to look into this. But before I get there I think it is useful to put the current conditions in context.

There is the point that the warmer water released to the environment will tend to evaporate more readily than the cooler water that they started with.

There is another factor related to cooling water we need to consider. The river/body of water that the cooling water is released back into has to have enough volume to absorb the extra heat without dramatically increasing its temperature. Some power plants in the southeast are closed, not because there isn't enough water for cooling, but because the river ecosystem it's returning to would be completely killed off by 70/80/90/whatever degree water.

When droughts reduce the volumes in bodies of water, they can't accept the cooling water and the plant shuts down. So minimum required water levels for plant operation are significantly higher than you would expect just from looking at plant usage/evaporation.

My apologies if I oversimplified, I was trying to integrate a number of different technologies into a relatively simple comprehensive point. If in the process I generated some inaccuracies then I regret the error.

Disclaimer: I do not work in power engineering.

However the way I understand it, Black_Dog is correct: a power station will have an "inner loop" driving the steam turbines with ultrapure water in a closed cycle (any crud in the water is hard on turbine blades). You could use any number of working fluids, anhydrous ammonia for example, but plain water steam has perhaps the highest latent heat content of any fluid. Hydrocarbon liquids tend to be sort of indifferent -- not much energy is moved about in changing between states.

Now, you could certainly employ a power station's water purification plant for desalination, etc. but it would cost some energy, much as carbon sequestration does. As for the open loop, its purpose is just to dump waste heat into the environment at the lowest possible temperature; thermodynamic efficiency and all that.

The problem will solve itself.
But not in a nice way.

I know next to nothing about power station engineering. However, I'm curious to know whether it would be possible to use a working fluid with a higher boiling point than water, thus having the overall system hot enough to boil the cooling water and implement HO's idea?

Also, some loss of efficiency could be tolerated if the value of the desalinated water was high enough (and that of the sea salt - which would have to be mechanically removed somehow).

Quick answer: yes, it's possible, but very expensive in capital and loss of efficiency.

In power engineering there are 'topping' cycles, and 'bottoming' cycles.

Topping cycles are designed to use a fluid that can be handled effectively at temperature for which H2O offers serious difficulties. One fluid that I have heard of being used in this application is Mercury. It boils at higher temperature. The vapor maintains reasonably high density at very high temperatures. The condenser can be used to warm the H2O on its way to the main boiler. Condensing the Mercury is technically very easy. Keeping the piping absolutely leak free probably requires different gasket materials than H2O. Topping cycles have some importance in coal fired plants and less importance in nuclear plants because it is often hard to keep the reactor from melting at typical temperatures of topping.

Bottoming cycles are used in solar boiling water power stations. The fluid is one that boils at a lower temperature than H2O. Various fluids that have application in refrigeration systems also are used here. Boiling the fluid is done in the steam condenser. Recondensing the vapor is done in yet another condenser which itself requires either
cool air or cool water to carry away the reject heat. Bottoming cycles allow the use of a higher density vapor at low temperatures. This allow the use of physically smaller turbines.

I a physicist. I don't know much detail about these systems. There a lot of tricky ideas that have been tried to improve the efficiency of power plants. Part of the design process is figuring out how to build plants that have good survival under the stress of handling the nasty fluids and vapors. I suggest that great caution be exercised discussing this technology. A lot has been left out of THIS presentation. BEWARE!

Sorry, but when I first went to the csp site I found a neat little video that showed that an oil was used to carry the heat from the collectors to the power plant, at several hundred degrees. It doesn't appear to be there now, though there is one at Youtube on the subject. Pity since it showed off the project quite well, and I had thought I had referenced it.

Naval ships use a combination of exhaust heat and vacuum pressure to desalinate water to make up for steam leaks and use by the crew. Steam and fuel efficiency are even more important on a ship than it is on land. Powerplants throw away 2/3 of the energy in the fuel and at least half of that energy could be used for desalination.

I live in Fort Smith NWT, a small community downstream from the Alberta Tar Sands. Fort Smith is situated on the Slave River, [whose major tributaries include the Athabasca and the Peace Rivers, both of which have oil sands deposits], and marks the boundary between the North West Territories [NWT] and Alberta.

Certain rights for First Nations are in the Canadian constitution, these include things such as [right to hunt, fish, trap, etc] on traditional lands. If a First Nation can demonstrate the "nature and extent," of an impact to these rights, they have the grounds to take the party responsible to court, and have these impacts mitigated. And yes i recognize that their are some difficulties associated with this process, but properly done can result in some positive change. [ex: the gate house to the road to CZN's prarie creek mine to keep hunters out of certain prime habitat]

The First Nations in the NWT are way more organized and politicized than most people think, and are already starting to take aim at the oil sands. [the majority of the people in the NWT live in the Mackenzie watershed, which includes the tar sands].

These court cases and cross boundary demands for consultation will have an interesting impact on how the development of the tar sands proceed. For the crown has a legal obligation to take these rights into consideration. And no matter how badly the Alberta government would like to ignore these the courts will always force them to. Thank my lucky starts that our supreme court judges are elected hacks.

This summer we had a large gathering in Fort Smith concerning water use. The NWT will never let water become a commodity, the FN's basically have access to it guaranteed to them in the constitution.

Hello Taiga Cowboy,

As editor of TOD:Canada, I'd be very interested to hear more about your part of the country. Could you email me at Stoneleigh(at)theoildrum(dot)com please?

Considering what the Oil Sands represents to the "current" Alberta Economy, Canadian Economy & US Economy. I still would not trust the courts or the constitution's abilities to uphold the FN's "guaranteed" rights to clean and abundant fresh water.

Here in British Columbia, the Liberal Gov't is changing legislation to suit their's and their supporter's greed. And it is widely recongnized that Alberta's former Premier Klein's political handlers have played a hand in advising Premier Gordon Campbells Gov't on how to deal with anyone who opposes them. They play a no-holds-barred type of politics. And thats not even to mention George W's biggest admirer north of the 49th, Stephen Harper!

I do and will support the FN's rights. But the current existing political paradigms do not respectfully do so.

Uranium is currently very important to the world economy at the moment and look at the massive exploration projects that were shut out of the Thelon Basin due to the rights of FN's.

But yes the oil sands are on a completely different scale.

But you will be delighted to know that the upper limits of oil sands water use will ultimately be due to the seasonal fluctuation in the water levels of the Athabasca River. She can get pretty low in the winter. Sometimes as low as 50 cubic meters per second.

Even in the summer now that we're spending our reserves [glaciers in the Jasper area] faster than we can replenish them. I'm no hydrologist but, it shouldn't be too far off that we see low summer flows once most of the glaciers are gone.

So how much water are the Oil Sands using? It almost sounds like they are about to run out of water in the Athabasca? Where do they pipe water from next?

Back to the FN's though. If push comes to shove, what is the feeling up there, will they sell out for the right price? A moot point, wouldn't you think.

Water is an extremely serious issue already in many parts of the world - thanks HO for providing more detail on the drought in the American south and pointing out the looming water issues in Alberta.

Those interested in more information on the water situation in Alberta might enjoy William Marsden's recent book on the oil sands Stupid to the Last Drop: How Alberta Is Bringing Environmental Armageddon to Canada (and Doesn't Seem to Care).

The Energy & Environment Round-Up is also focusing on water today, and the implications of water shortages for stability and security. See, for instance, this photo of the Jialing River from Chongqing in China:

Side bar: Lawns in the US. pix from NASA.

The map shows how common lawns are across the country, despite a wide variability of climate and soils. Indeed, the scientists who produced the map estimate that more surface area is devoted to lawns than to any other single irrigated crop in the country. For example, lawns appear to cover more than three times the number of acres that irrigated corn covers.

see link: american society of landscape architects

It is all a matter of definition. ‘single’ irrigated crop - etc.

more here: earth observatory

I've never understood the fascination with large lawns. It takes me about 10 minutes to mow my "lawn" and that's ten minutes more than I want to spend on it. When I first moved to the county seat of an otherwise rural county in Appalachia a few years ago, I was surprised at the number of people living outside the city who maintain very large lawns, sometimes mowing as much as 20 acres. Someone might tell me that they live on 15 acres out this way or that, and I would innocently ask what they did with their land, thinking there would be some reason like "we have a couple of horses", or "I keep a small mini-farm", or "I like to hike on the wooded part" or something like that. To my surprise people would look at me like I was crazy when I asked this. Obviously they thought no explanation needed to be given. I found out that many of them spend all weekend on riding lawn mowers. One nurse I know even answered my question of what do you do with your land with "I mow it" and thought that was explanation enough. I can see the appeal of the country and can understand wanting to live away from the city, but can anyone explain why people are willing to spend large amounts of money and 6 hours every weekend to mow large grass lawns? I don't think it is status, these are people that live in the middle of nowhere and who don't give a hoot what their neighbors think.

Phineas: I don't get it either. I watched a doc one time- I think it was called "Lawns" about this. One guy would come home from work every day and spend 3-4 hours working on his lawn (he cut it daily). I guess it is just an obsession like any other.

Because they don't know any better.... they were raised that way... some grew up without it and covet it still... they're addicted... it's mind-numbing... you can do it stoned, drunk, happy or sad and never do it wrong... it fulfills the desire to do something 'outside'... it's part of vicious cycle and they are trapped in it... need I go on? ;-)

If only there was some way to gather all the grass clippings and sequester them so they do not rot - then an American middle class behavior could be enlisted in the fight against atmospheric CO2!

Maybe it's a form of (or outlet for) self-controlled/self-created prejudice? If you talk to many of these people they view people with "untrimmed" lawns as being "not normal."
However, I could be wrong; I too am willing to hear any explanation that fits.

We only had an acre where I grew up, but it was a good 2-3 hour job twice a week, plus maintenance on several tractors. We had crab grass, clover, dandelion, and a few nice 'desirable' grasses, on different parts of the lot. But our house was on 5% of the land, a fenced yard was on 20% (which we actually used on occasion, and for dogs), the front semi-gardened part was on another 5%... and we never really used the rest for much of anything. Nice fruit and oak trees that were there when my parents moved in were cut down one by one in order to make it easier to mow, and a shed was erected to keep various tractors/mowers.

Even so, it was a 2-3 hour job to take care of everything on both sides of the fence, around the house, and around difficult hills, two times a week in spring/summer. Yet my dad took care of it religiously. I imagine that taking care of 20 acres of grass would at least rise to the status of part-time job.

I don't get it. None of our neighors gave a shit what our lawn looked like - we were even blessed with a few lots near us (the whole neighorhood was 1 acre lots) which had never been developed or tended, in the middle of suburbia. All of our neighors had at least 50% of their land that they only ever visited to mow it. It was something on the order of grazing land for whitetail deer.

And come to think of it, what we did was considered low maintenance. Every other street had someone with sprinklers and a "warning: pesticides applied, do not walk" sign on it. I understand that not having to mow the lawn is an attraction to move off a large yard, and into an apartment or townhouse or quarter-acre. Some of our neighors cited that they were getting too old to take care of the place as their reason for moving out. What I don't understand is why it's considered a requirement in the first place.

Having a nicely manicured green with which to throw lawn parties on was supposed to indicate that you're wealthy enough to have a stable of gardeners, who can do the job that filthy livestock would have in an actual country estate / plantation. Why did we, the middle class, take on that workload, even with the assistance of oil? What's the point?

A few reasons come to mind, but I do believe that it is primarily perceived as an issue of aesthetics and status. I've asked this question with the following types of answers:

- A mown lawn looks better than an unkempt, weedy plot.
- I want my place to look nice.
- All my neighbors do it and I don't want to have the worst looking place.
- A need for room for the kids to play.

There's a new wrinkle on this, at least in California. More and more homeowners are contracting out the lawn maintenance to crews who are usually Mexican immigrants.

I followed the links to find out if they actually had a number on the acreage. If I recalculated it right it comes out to approx 31.5 million acres of lawns.

If all of the parts of these lawns suitable were converted to gardens think of the volume of food which could be produced. And if the owners also chose not to use any water on the areas not being used for gardens think of the water savings.

The slack we have in the system is staggering. Wyo

I wonder if that includes the massive acreage of grass seed for lawns

round here there are pristine "lawns" as far as the eye can see.


Well, this seems like a good place to stick this. Guess what, I spent the last 1/3 of my working life as a sports turf manager. Yes siree, turf 24/7. And, FWIW, I also have landscape contractor and pesticide applicator licenses. Kind of a strange change of occupations for a guy who was a chemical plant manager. Anway...

I speak about turf at pesticide applicator's continuing education seminars (in northern CA) a few times a year. As it happened, I was speaking at one last week. I spent the first 15 minutes of my hour talking about peak oil, peak water and peak budgets (not just for lawn care operators and landscape contractors but also for public agencies).

Without getting into how to use less water on turf or why to have turf at all, the reality is that many, if not most, developments have CCR's that require lawns and the people who bought those properties also bought into the CCRs. This is going to become a legal can of worms as less water is available.

Public agencies and schools are sort of caught in a Catch 22 regarding turf. Well manintained turf does reduce accidents especially on playgrounds. Take them away and the might be sued for negligence if a kid is injured. Some years ago I wrote a legally oriented article for Sports Turf magazine entitled, There is No Such Thing As a "Safe" Field,. Case law is hardly helpful.


I wonder if it would be possible to convert a grass (or mostly weeds, in my case) lawn to an alfalfa lawn?

Alfalfa is a legume and adds fertility to the soil instead of taking it away. IIRC, the root systems of alfalfa are deeper as well, and thus might be better able to get by with less moisture than grass?

I am planning on raising rabbits in the next 2-4 years, and I know that fresh alfalfa is a good thing to feed them. If I could raise my own alfalfa and hand mow it with a scythe, I am thinking that I could keep my rabbit feed bill to a minimum.

I suppose that if someone kept a "pet" milk goat (probably OK in more permissive, non-snob-zoning communities), the alfalfa would make for better grazing than turf grass.

This could be one strategy for putting otherwise useless lawn acreage to productive use.

Of course, the Swiss plowed up all their lawns and planted potatoes during WWII - that was how they avoided starvation. I've got so many trees around my place that I'm not sure how practical that is.

There is also a movement promoting "edible landscaping" - plant strawberries and other soft fruits, plus fruit trees, in place of grass. I'm planning on doing some of that, too.

More people will be thinking and acting along these lines when the costs of gas for the mower, fertilizer & pesticides for the grass, water for the sprinklers (if they can get it at all), and food (that they could have grown themselves but grew grass instead) all become too expensive.


Here's the problem with edible landscapes - even urban areas have animals that will eat them too. And, suburban areas are full of hungry animals from deer to coons to possums to rabbits. Deer are a special problem.

So, what are people going to do? Whack Bambi illegally in their back yard? Buy a big dog that eats more food then the garden will produce? Try the cutsy-pie repellent sprays that will also cost more then the food produced? Turn their yard into a fenced in fort?

I'm not trying to give a smart answer. These are serious problems. Wine grape growers south of me, and surrounding counties, have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars to deer who eat the grapes.

In my case, I do have a special fenced off area from the main 2 Ac fenced garden and orchard that I call the "Melon Prison." It is really small, about 15x20' but it keeps out the rabbits, grouse, coons, skunks, deer and wild pigs. But, if push comes to shove - I whack em.


I keep deer away from my orchard by tying pieces of white rag around the trees. When the rag blows in the wind it simulates the deer's warning signal (flashing the white underside of their tails to warn of danger). I also collect shed undercoat from my dog sled team and spread it around areas I want to protect.

Hi Stoneleigh,

Well, we've been up on our mountain for about 30 years. We don't have dog sled dogs for hair but we've tried everything else known.

We have two major problems. The first are the bears that crush our fence so the deer can get through. In retrospect my wife and I wonder if we'd have purchased this property if we'd have known what a pain the bears would be. Plus, it's no fun to find bear paw prints on our sliding glass doors. The best years we had were when we had a lot of lions around. OTOH, my wife had to stop walking down our road for exercise because of them. It was just too potentially dangerous. One was a female with cubs that I not only tracked on the road but around our house.

The other problem is the typical CA climate - we get a ton of rain in the winter and none in the summer. There is sufficient, but not too attractive deer browse in the summer, so our stuff is like a magnet.

This year we are going to try something called Rex Plus which is an electronic "dog" with a motion detector. It might stop the bears and the deer.


At first I was going to reply with something like "I'd consider building a solid fence." As I started to write I thought, bears?... geez, if I had to contend with bears AND the decline of peak oil, ummm, I dunno. Deer are enough for me. Yesterday my neighbor killed one. Guns going off give me a nervous feeling. I'm not the killing type, never killed a deer. Drew the line there... dove and quail, yes. Asked him how long he'd let the deer hang in the tree before skinning - oh, a day. Thought about asking to go along.

Then I recalled the time my dad took my brother and me to the farm house to skin a deer he had hanging in the kitchen over some plastic. Blood splattered. Imagine our surprise as we had not been told what awaited us. I remember how cold it was. How I shivered and wished I didn't have to do it. Deer season.

Today as I sat on the sofa reading TOD most of the day I looked out to see a young buck (his nubs barely visible) and fawn making their way along the ridge. No mama today. Later I saw the buck out front, on the road, alone... kinda wandering. Against a background of blond grass blowing in the cool winds on a gray November day.

...saw this a couple years ago - funny and sad at the same time...


GOD: Francis, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there? What happened to the dandelions, violets, thistle and stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect, no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honey bees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now. But all I see are these green rectangles.

ST. FRANCIS: It's the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers "weeds" and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.

GOD: Grass? But it's so boring. It's not colorful. It doesn't attract butterflies, birds and bees, only grubs and sod worms. It's temperamental with temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?

ST. FRANCIS: Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.

GOD: The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.

ST. FRANCIS: Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it-sometimes twice a week.

GOD: They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay?

ST. FRANCIS: Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.

GOD: They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?

ST. FRANCIS: No Sir. Just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.

GOD: Now let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. And when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?

ST. FRANCIS: Yes, Sir.

GOD: These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.
ST. FRANCIS: You aren't going to believe this Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.

GOD: What nonsense. At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. Plus, as they rot, the leaves form compost to enhance the soil. It's a natural circle of life.

ST. FRANCIS: You better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.

GOD: No. What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter and to keep the soil moist and loose?

ST. FRANCIS: After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something which they call mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.

GOD: And where do they get this mulch?

ST. FRANCIS: They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.

GOD: Enough. I don't want to think about this anymore. St. Catherine, you're in charge of the arts. What movie have they scheduled for us tonight?"

ST. CATHERINE: "Dumb and Dumber", Lord. It's a really stupid movie about.....

GOD: Never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from St. Francis.

Now that's brilliant! It really does seem like we've gone out of our way to come up with the most wasteful, inefficient and back-asswards approach to gardening possible, doesn't it?

I remember reading in John Muir's "Story of My Boyhood and Youth" that he put a lot of it down to the Protestant work ethic - the idea that if you weren't working really bloody hard for at least 20 hours a day, 6 days a week, then you were doing something wrong. So people would work far more land than they needed to (or any use for), in deliberately inefficient ways, just to have more work to do. It's really hard to argue with that sort of obtuseness...

Personally, I've always hated lawns - my hayfever is mainly triggered by grass pollen.


I'm sure that deer can be a big problem in some areas. We have very few around here, mainly because there are no corn farmers in our valley.

Electric fences are pretty easy to set up, and are now charged by solar power units, so that would be one way to keep the deer out. A dog would take care of the smaller critters.

If I could raise my own alfalfa and hand mow it with a scythe, I am thinking that I could keep my rabbit feed bill to a minimum.

Plus, hand-scything is awesome. Great fun.

I suppose that if someone kept a "pet" milk goat (probably OK in more permissive, non-snob-zoning communities), the alfalfa would make for better grazing than turf grass.

You'd likely want a mix and to be careful about the level of alfalfa consumed, due to a risk of founder. Goats tend to be pretty robust, though, and alfalfa's good to have around for its protein content.

Goats are also more likely to damage a field, as they crop the grass down lower than many animals, but that's probably only an issue in summer, and is easy enough to fix (keep 'em off of at-risk parts). For the same reason, though, they can live off of land that wouldn't support cows or horses.

Oh, and have good fences - goats are good at getting out and into trouble. Most people find their milk easier to digest than cow milk, though, and one goat is certainly less to take care of than one cow, so they're not a bad option.

Dunno if anyone ever looks at this, but I made an animated GIF of the drought monitor map from 10/1999 through some time in 2006 ... if someone could tell me how I'd happily suck the rest of the data and make an MPG out of this stuff ...

It appears from the titles to be only two weeks in 1999. It would be cool to see that data at regular times intervals for the last ten years. I think if you googled something like "making animated GIFs" or something like that you could find something that tells you how to do it. As a software developer, whenever I need to figure out how to do something, I can almost always find examples on line like that. That's what we all do.

I have heard this from others but I don't see it that way - I click the link and I see a little GIF movie of oct 1999 through some time in 2006 ... it does take a bit to load each page, at least from my perspective, but I've got pretty much ISDN like speeds here.

I am going to update it and make sure it works for the whole time period ...

I had to download the gif-file (30MB!) and open it with a different pic-viewer than explorer. Explorer only showed the first 3 weeks. With the other viewer, I at least got up to 2004...

Cheers, Dom

Which browser are you using to see the link? I use Firefox, which is infinitely better than that stuff that comes with Windows.

OK, I will recall that I once took a couple of English composition classes while attending a well recognized four year state university and majoring in computer science, and try to express myself a little better.

The UNL drought monitor GIF dataset spans 5 October 1999 through this week in one week increments. The data is accessible from their web site with just a little guesswork on URL conventions.

I wrote a messy little perl script that created a shell script which pulled and organized all the data using wget and mv, providing a corpus of 423 GIF files representing the preceding 423 weeks in sorted order.

I hunted around a bit and found whirlgif in the ports for FreeBSD while allowed me to create animated GIFs of the dataset, which I have placed in the URL below. The fast ones have a 1 ms delay and the slow ones have 100 ms.

Once I had the animated GIF I spent several hours hunting for some sort of package that would let me turn the large animated GIF into some usable format such as MPG, AVI, etc. I found nothing that would do this. I started looking in FreeBSD ports, went to that stinky RPM find business for my SuSe machine, and even resorted to downloading some stuff and trying it on Windows.

What I am in need of now is a very specific answer to the question "How do I convert an animated GIF into a usable movie format?" The name of a package capable of performing such a feat would be most welcome - I have FreeBSD, Linux, Windows, and I've added a Mac Mini to the collection since I last worked on this problem. If such a thing were available as a BSD or Linux tool I would set up an automagic movie updater so this thing would always exist in a current form ...

I've been a lurker here for 2 years and I registered just to say thanks for that slow, animated gif. Makes me glad I left LA 30 years ago.

Get it while you can.
-- Janis

I was looking at logs and it appears a few people took the time to look - its nice to get some acknowledgment, especially from one of our many lurkers :-)

" GIF video converter: Converting GIF(Animated GIF) to 3G2, 3GP, AVI, DIVX, DV, GIF, MKV, MOV, MP4/M4V, MPEG-1, MPG/MPEG-2, OGM, RM, SVCD, VCD, VOB, WMV, XVID

Animated GIF is not really a video format. It is a sequence of GIF frames stringed together. Due to the 256-color limitation of GIF, the color is dithered. The compression is not that great, so the file size tend to be large given the frame rate and resolution.

However, since GIF is supported by all web browsers without any add-on, it is a great way to create small video thumbnails. Generally, the resolution should be kept small (80x60, for example), the frame rate should be kept low (4 fps, for example), and the duration should be kept under a few seconds.

Animated GIF is not really a video format. It uses 256-color GIF compression, with low quality and relatively large files. It is not suitable for video playback. However, since it is supported by all web browsers without any add-on's, it is a great format for video thumbnails and should be used for this purpose only. "

I was talking with a fellow at work I know who has family in Wyoming. There are ancient treaties that essentially mean that Wyoming has to give water to some of the neighboring states, but given the drought, people are starting to get riled up about this.

The ethanol thing is making it worse, of course.

The agreement you are speaking of was drawn up between the states that comprise the drainage of the Colorado River. One of the main tributary's is the Green River which drains a large amount of western Wyoming. It was a nice concept for its time but they made a significant error in that the allocations were determined from the average flow of one of the wettest years on record. Not a sound choice in an arid country.

This has not been a huge issue until the current prolonged drought in the SW which has resulted in river flows far below normal. Up until the current point Wyoming never had requirements that resulted in their using their full allocation, thus allowing for those downstream to exceed theirs.

As the flows have decreased water is being allocated per long established water rights lists. The lower you are on the list the sooner you get cut off from water. In the river drainage most of the water used in Wyoming is for irrigation of alfalfa fields which provide feed for the cattle operations. If I recall correctly the oldest list, which has priority, is called the Territorial list and dates from prior to statehood in 1890. The other list dates from after statehood but still in the 1800's.

One of my best friends owns an 8000 acre ranch on a tributary of the Green. His water rights are the 2nd highest on the State list. His water was cut off in June I believe. He lost $25K in income because of that this year. If you know ranching margins this is really serious.

Unfortunately the water problems of the west/southwest are only going to get worse. Wyo

Hello Wyoming,

Your Quote: "Unfortunately the water problems of the west/southwest are only going to get worse."

Sad, but very true. IMO, if FEMA was on the correct Peak Outreach and Foundation course: they already would be encouraging a gradual and controlled multi-million migration to the wetter areas of Cascadia, the Great Lakes, New Vermont Republic, Canadian provinces, and Alaska.

Instead, it appears that FEMA will wait until an uncontrollable crisis erupts, then impose very harsh measures to drive precipitious decline. Such is life.

IMO, the insanity of ignoring water scarcity until it is largely gone will have very high societal costs. Mentally extrapolate the info in the following link with further drought blowbacks:
The aquifer runs thousands of feet beneath the cities of Flagstaff and Williams. As Flagstaff's and Williams's water supplies dry up, they are drilling down into the aquifer. The new wells are 3,000 to 4,000 feet deep and there is no telling how many more they intend to build to meet their future needs.

In Mojave County there are approximately 300,000 homes being built north of Kingman to handle the huge growth and population overflow from Las Vegas.

These homes are apparently being built with clear knowledge there is not enough ground water to service even a fraction of that number of homes.
Bob Shaw in Phx,Az Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

Yes the situation is just another of a long list that makes ones head hurt.

I am a little surprised that there is not a major effort afoot to adapt to catchments systems. I visited Australia a few years back and in many areas they channel all the rain water from their roofs into large cisterns. I understand that it requires the use of non-toxic roof material. The tanks they use are light tight and apparently they do not have to treat the water (though I might filter it myself :). I was told that even in areas that are similar in rainfall to places like many in the west (perhaps not a place like Phoenix) they can capture enough water to satisfy yearly needs. Obviously they don't waste any of it on lawns.

I also saw some use of composting toilets there (illegal in many US locations).

There are so many things that we can do if we make the effort. Wyo

I was talking to a guy about our drought and rainwater catchment systems and he said, "If it's not raining why would you spend the money on a system like that?"

We have a lot of work ahead of us.

Water sources have important implications for alternatives to oil.

The World Energy Council: "There are two conventional approaches to oil shale processing. In one, the shale is fractured in-situ and heated to obtain gases and liquids by wells. The second is by mining, transporting, and heating the shale to about 450oC, adding hydrogen to the resulting product, and disposing of and stabilising the waste. Both processes use considerable water. The total energy and water requirements together with environmental and monetary costs (to produce shale oil in significant quantities) have so far made production uneconomic. During and following the oil crisis of the 1970’s, major oil companies, working on some of the richest oil shale deposits in the world in western United States, spent several billion dollars in various unsuccessful attempts to commercially extract shale oil."

The U.S General Accountability Office: “it is possible that in 10 years from now, the oil shale resource could produce 0.5 million to 1.0 million barrels per day.” But the GAO noted that the development of oil shale faces key challenges, including: “(1) controlling and monitoring groundwater, (2) permitting and emissions concerns associated with new power generation facilities, (3) reducing overall operating costs, (4) water consumption, and (5) land disturbance and reclamation.”

Walter Youngquist of the Colorado School of Mines provides a detailed history and analysis of Colorado’s oil shale. After spending billions of dollars, industry has terminated oil shale operations due to a low net energy recovery and a lack of necessary water resources.

Canadian National Energy Board: "natural gas costs, the high light/heavy oil price differential, management of air emissions and water usage, insufficient labour, infrastructure and services are concerns that could potentially inhibit the development of the [oil sands] resource. There is now a clearer understanding that large water withdrawals from the Athabasca River for [oil sands] mining operations during the winter could impact the ecological sustainability of the river. As well, it is uncertain if land reclamation methods currently employed will be successful. These issues have moved to the forefront of environmental concerns."

The National Research Council: "The analysis shows the increasing importance of water as a potential limiting factor for the increased production of electricity from fossil or nuclear fuel, and of synthetic fuels from coal." (page 203)

Here's an interesting article on the western drought.

Why the Great Plains Are Dying
Much of the western United States has been experiencing a severe drought for nearly a decade, and the future only looks drier. One of the conclusions of the new United Nations study on global climate change is that wet places on the planet will probably get wetter and dry places, like much of the American West, will become even more parched. John Wesley Powell is rolling over in his grave.

Powell isn't a household name any more, but in the era after the Civil War he was among the most prominent American scientists and explorers. His expedition down the Colorado River became the stuff of heroic legend in the late 19th century.

But Powell was not simply an adventurer. Between 1881 and 1894 Powell directed the United States Geologic Survey. Based on his research he concluded that there were really two Americas, one wet and one dry, divided almost exactly down the middle, roughly at the 100th meridian. That unalterable fact of the climate, Powell warned, would force limits on the way Americans settled the West.

More here.

Nice quote from a commenter of the article:

John W Bland on June 12, 2007 at 3:57 AM

"Mother Nature gives the test first—and then the lesson. Survivors may retest if they choose."

And I didn't know about the 1880's drought.
Was also when the Bison were slaughtered and
First Nation Sioux were put into Reservations.

Arkansaw of Samuel L Clemens

liquid ammonia as fuel (a more convenient and practical form of hydrogen carrier synthetically made from renewable sources) can not only provide energy but also fresh water as the by-product. for more details, see:

An interesting example of using hot water byproduct (at about 40C) is that of a crocodile farm taking the cooling water from a bagasse burning sugar mill nearby
The problem of course with exploiting the energy savings of co-location is that back in the old days few people thought that far ahead.

We have a paper 'Burning Water - EROWI - The Energy Return on Water', (still) pending publication. The bottom line is our research showed that the LEAST water efficient method of procuring energy used 10-100 times less water than the MOST water efficient biofuel technology. Water will soon join energy as one of the scarce limiting inputs to society - when addressing answers to the energy crisis, systems thinking needs to be incorporated otherwise we'll quickly go from the frying pan directly into the fire, where we will be a little thirsty.

Thanks Heading Out!

Yet another extremely important topic concerning our shared future.

The following NASA link talks about the 170 meter (500 foot) increase in the thickness of the troposphere between 1979 and 2003. (see also

This change is a direct result of global warming. Imagine wrapping yourself in a 500 foot thick blanket! You are bound to get a bit warmer.

Why does this matter for rainfall distribution? One of the major consequences of this extra insulation and CO2 is that more infrared radiation is trapped by the atmosphere. This reduces the nighttime cooling. Thus average nighttime temperatures increase a great deal. Daytime temps only increase slightly if at all. For the far northern and southern latitudes this effect is most pronounced and accounts for much of the global temperature increase associated with global warming.

Weather is driven by heating and cooling cycles. Changing these cycles will affect global weather patterns in potentially unpredictable ways. As global warming progresses, we are unlikely to be able to rely on the historic rainfall records to predict what is to come. Accurately identifying similar conditions in the past seems quite problematic. We are in uncharted territory.

We can however predict what is going to happen using increasingly accurate climate models. Wikipedia gives a good summary of the weather effects Unfortunately I was unable to find the global maps I've seen before showing the expected changes in rainfall distribution.

Those maps might cause wars.

Remember that each kWhr of electricity currently requires 25 gal of water.

I once calculated how many gallons of water it takes me to grow one orange. Surprisingly it's also 25 gal of water. Most years I would be happy to receive for that orange what a kWhr of electricity costs me, 4.745 cents (Generation Related Charges Only).