Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Columbia River Would Exactly Replace All of California's Rainfall

Aerial view of the mouth of the Columbia River
I'm reading Cadillac Desert, Marc Reisner's excellent book on water and the West, and it got me wondering if California would ever come to Oregon for its next water source.

William Shatner was recently reported to be looking for $30 billion on Kickstarter to fund such a pipeline, but I don't see it there now. But he does have a brainstorming site going, Shatner's Water.

Anyway, here's an interesting numerical coincidence. My first thought was that there couldn't possibly be enough water in Oregon to do much for California and its drought. But what if you diverted the entire Columbia River to California? I still guessed that wouldn't do much at all, but that's wrong.

At its mouth, the Columbia River discharges an average of 265,000 cubit feet a second, or 63 trillion gallons in a year.

California's surface area is 163,696 square miles. Surprisingly (to me), all of the Columbia River's water would cover that to a depth of 22 inches in a year. The entire state.

By coincidence, that's also the average rainfall for California in the 20th century: 22 inches a year.

So, in theory, all of California could go 100% permanent drought, and still be kept the same California by simply diverting the entire Columbia River there and spreading it around.

Don't forget the lawns
Of course, you wouldn't need to take all that water -- just enough for agriculture in the valleys and for swimming pools in LA and San Diego. (And the lawns.) So you could still let Oregon have some of its own water -- but let's face it, most of it is just draining out into the ocean, going to waste*. [Sarc.] It sounds preposterous, but reading Reisner's chapter on how Los Angeles and William Mulholland muscled away possession of the Owens River water makes you think anything is possible when it comes to water and California.

And -- I didn't make the connection until now -- he's where the name of the famous Mulholland Drive comes from.

* Reisner writes about a night at Mulholland's club when he angrily proposed to the Superintendent of Yosemite National Park that the entire Yosemite valley be flooded with a dam on the Merced River. He was probably a little drunk at the time, but also likely saw that water as being wasted.

1 comment:

Brian said...

Columbia River's watershed is larger than California, so (except for the effect of transpiration) the figure you got isn't too surprising.