The West Without Water

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Erico Tavares of Sinclair & Co.

The West Without Water: An Interview with Dr. B. Lynn Ingram

Dr. B. Lynn Ingram is a professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Science at UC Berkeley, California. The primary goal of her research is to assess how climates and environments have changed over the past several thousand years based on the geochemical and sedimentologic analysis of aquatic sediments and archaeological deposits, with a particular focus on the US West.

She is the co-author of “The West without Water: What Past Floods, Droughts, and Other Climatic Clues Tell Us about Tomorrow” together with Dr. Frances Malamud-Roam, which received great reviews.

In this interview, Dr. Ingram shares her thoughts on the current drought in the US Southwest within the larger climate record and potential implications for the future.

E. Tavares: Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us today. Your research focuses on long-range geoclimatic trends using a broad sample of historical records. In this sense, “The West without Water”, which we vividly recommend reading, provides a very grounded perspective on the weather outlook for the US Southwest going forward. So let’s start there. What prompted you to write this book?

L. Ingram: My co-author and I decided to write this book because our findings, and those of our colleagues, were all showing that over the past several thousand years, California and the West have experienced extremes in climate that we have not seen in modern history - the past 150 years or so. Floods and droughts far more catastrophic than we can even imagine. We felt it was important to bring these findings to the attention of the broader public, as these events tend to repeat themselves. So we need to prepare, just as we prepare for large earthquakes in California.

ET: When you say “West”, which regions are you referring to?

LI: In the book we focus on the climate history of California and the Southwest, but also bring in examples and comparisons with other western states as appropriate (such as Oregon and Washington, Nevada, Utah, etc.), as the entire region experiences similar storms and is controlled by similar climate that originates in the Pacific Ocean.

ET: What type of evidence have you used in reaching your conclusions? How accurate are these records?

LI: In the book we bring together many lines of evidence, ranging from tree-ring records to sediment cored from beneath lakes, estuaries, and the ocean. Paleoclimatologists – those that study past climate change using geologic evidence – study various aspects of these cores, including the fossils in them, the chemistry of the fossils and the sediments, and pollen and charcoal remains. The charcoal provides evidence about past wildfires. The archaeological record also contains important clues about past climate and environments and how they impacted human populations.

ET: Can you walk us through some of the major climatic events of the past thousand years in that part of the US? How unusual was the 20 century in that context?

LI: We had a relatively dry period during the Medieval Warm Period, 900-1400AD. There were several prolonged periods of drought that lasted decades to over a century during that time. That period was followed by a cooler, wetter period (the Little Ice Age) that continued until the 19 century. However, the tree-ring records suggest that the 20 century was unusually wet, meaning we had fewer droughts on average than the previous 1000 years.

ET: Based on what you just described, what the current drought may be telling us is that we could be seeing the start of a decadal “mean reversion” to much drier conditions going forward. Is this correct?

LI: Yes – actually the past decade in California and the West has been pretty dry, and the concern is that these climate conditions could continue for several more decades. We've seen these broader cycles of wet-dry in the past.

ET: And what drives the long-term climate variability in the West?

LI: Over the long-term, natural climate variations are driven by a number of factors, including the ocean temperatures in the north Pacific (the so-called “Pacific Decadal Oscillation”), the El Nino Southern Oscillation, sunspots and even slight changes in the earth’s orbit over thousands of years. Volcanic eruptions can also impact climate. The human-caused increase in greenhouse gases is also impacting our climate, on top of those natural causes, and warming will have a number of affects, including reduced snowpack, drier soils and vegetations and increased wildfires.

ET: Presumably there were Native American populations who went through those protracted periods of dryness. How did they manage to survive? Is there anything we can learn from that?

LI: Actually during the medieval droughts, the Ancestral Pueblo or Anasazi civilization that inhabited the four corners region, whose populations had grown during the wetter periods leading up to the droughts, suffered greatly. There is evidence for conflict, disease and finally mass migration out of their region. The native populations in California also had increased violence, malnutrition and abandoned sites in search of water and other resources. We can learn that even during the wetter times we need to prepare for the eventual dry climate that always follows, as that is the nature of our variable climate here.

ET: These findings are quite concerning. Of course we have the benefit of advanced technologies now. Can human intervention help counter the adverse effects of a prolonged drought?

LI: We will surely have to begin some serious adoption of water conservation technologies (like water efficient appliances, recycling of treated wastewater, desalination, etc.) as part of a comprehensive strategy to adapt to water scarcity.

ET: Such measures can be quite unpopular. While your climate research suggests much drier days ahead, people may still think that at some point the rains will come back like they always have. So why ration water now? If you were a political decision-maker, how do you get past that perception and help focus people’s attention on the long-term risks? What should everyone be thinking about right now?

LI: We have still been using more water than the supply – in California each year we use about 6 million acre-feet from pumping groundwater, which takes a very long time to replenish. Farmers have been using groundwater with no regulation or monitoring in the Central Valley – drawing down the water table.

As our population grows as it’s expected to, we will need to begin serious water conservation and recycling even in the absence of a prolonged drought. This will clearly take a comprehensive plan that involves everyone. A recent analysis by the Pacific Institute outlines water management strategies that could potentially conserve 14 million acre-feet of water per year, which would be hugely beneficial (1).

ET: If you had to ascribe a probability of severely dry decades in the West occurring over the foreseeable future, what would it be?

LI: A team of researchers have analyzed past and present climate change and shown that there is a 50 to 60 percent chance of a 35-year drought occurring in the West.

ET: That’s a very high probability! And as you look at the historical record, what is the worst case scenario for the region? California in particular is such an important state for the US and indeed the world, so the consequences of a prolonged drought could be far reaching. As a state resident, what keeps you up at night? What other states could also be impacted?

LI: The worst case scenario is a repeat of the medieval droughts, which would primarily impact California and the Southwest. The past decade has been very dry in this region, and if it continues for more decades, that would be very difficult.

I also worry about a mega-flood hitting the region, as we've seen every one to two centuries. The last one was in 1861-62, and filled the entire Central Valley (350 miles long and 20 miles wide) with water 20 feet deep. This was caused by 43 days of rain from atmospheric river storms.

ET: And with that, here’s my last question. Are you planning to move out of California at some point? Where would you move to? And if it comes to that, which we hope not, what is the signal for people to start getting out of Dodge (perhaps literally in this case)?

LI: I love California too much to leave! I just hope that if the state begins a serious and comprehensive effort, we will be prepared to make it through the dry periods.

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Beard of Zeus's picture

And yet, the elites still won't do anything (close borders, stop development, deport illegals, etc.) to reduce demand.

Headbanger's picture


Ever see the movie "Dune" where they extracted all the water from the deceased ??

The illegals are the new water supply!

And Soylent Green is next..

rehypothecator's picture

Fortunately California has a fat budget surplus and a sensible energy policy, which, thanks to the sage planning of the leadership there, will make it easy to install nuclear power stations to power water desalination plants up and down the coast. Plus, its business-friendly climate will make lots of non-water-using businesses want to move there, which will significantly increase the tax base. Those things together will make this absolutely unforseen and unexpected and sudden drought a mere bump in the road, to California's well-deserved glory.

The Big Ching-aso's picture

If the West runs completely dry most Californians will just pretend it didn't run completely dry. So as you can see there'll be no problem.

Publicus's picture

Ebola will solve this water crisis.

TeamDepends's picture

This debate can not move forward without someone mentioning chemtrails, HAARP, and weather modification in general. We are that someone.

Herd Redirection Committee's picture

Whats interesting for me, is this Medieval Warm Period coincides with the rise of the Rus and the Mongols.  So if there is another warm period coming up, its looking good for Canada.

If its another 'Little Ice Age' coming up, well, that would probably be favorable to California.

Canada and Russia, not so much.

James_Cole's picture

In the bigger context (beyond cali) water conflicts get real ugly across the US + the world.

The only matter that could take Egypt to war again is water. - Anwar Sadat, 1979

But I say the best hting is to handle it the texas way, head in sand until it's a giant ass issue and then pray gawd fixes it all while simultaneously doing nothing to solve + everything possible to exacerbate the problem. 

FredFlintstone's picture

"Texas way"? Isn't that the American way?

James_Cole's picture

True, somewhere along the line a lot of america seems to have gone from the 'can do' nation to the 'la la la la la it's not happening' nation. 

NoDebt's picture

Talking to a guy in CA last week on the phone.  Complaining how dry it was.  Said they had "water restrictions".  Asked what that meant.  He said it meant they can only run their lawn sprinkers every other day.  

I think its safe to say, there's no water problem YET.  Keep watering your desert lawns, California.

nmewn's picture

Just think, in a few thousand years they'll be studying tree rings and saying how wet it was in his subdivision ;-)

Never One Roach's picture

Storms cut power to more than 600,000 in Michigan, Illinois


Hawaii island declares emergency over volcano threat


Looks like we're good for 200 Bullissh points Monday market open ... so far ... could get better ....

MeMadMax's picture

This is how you know that the "residents" of california put way, way, way too much faith in the gov'ment:

"I love California too much to leave! I just hope that if the state begins a serious and comprehensive effort, we will be prepared to make it through the dry periods."




And yes, I left that shithole 3 months ago... 


It was the best move of my life and you couldn't pay me to go back...

CrazyCooter's picture

I moved to a temperate rain forest in SE Alaska.

Best of luck y'all!



NidStyles's picture

If a drought lasts for a 100 years at a time, it's not a drought. It's the actual conditions of that location. Having rain every other century for a few decades is the anomoly for California, not the other way around, it's a desert after all.

UP Forester's picture

That's what you get for moving to a friggin' desert.

That's why I live by big-ass lakes that've been around for 10K years.

And, no, you won't get any.

manofthenorth's picture

Here at the North end myself Cooter.Wettest summer EVER !!! Over 3 times the average rainfall this year. I am here for the abundant resources ,clean air and water and not a single traffic light in town. Never have to lock our doors , keys stay in the ignition and the quiet can be deafening in winter , PERFECT. If you do not mind shoveling 20-30 feet of snow every winter it is paradise. If you make it up this way on the big blue canoe, you should come out to the mine and wash some rocks with me.


nmewn's picture

Dr. B. Lynn Ingram is a professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Science at UC Berkeley, California.

Good move, they're very good at developing plans to run the lives of whoever remains. I'm positive it will involve moar bans, fines, regulations, penalties and taxation.

Cuz, its worked so well in the past ;-)

knukles's picture

Article is socailsit planning horseshit from UC Berkley.
No, it is not unpolitical.
It is biased toward big government and government intervention and control.
UC Berkley is the most unabashedly leftist, state and federally funded bunch of commie thinkers in an already leftist academia gone butt fuck insane ....


McCormick No. 9's picture

This "report" is 100% fear-mongering, agenda 21, socialist, fabianist, NWO, fucking horseshit. Total fucking crap. Fuck you, you worthless, commie, Berkeley bitch.

The Anasazi did not die out because of a drought.They killed themselves off in an orgy of religious wars, complete with cannibalism and every other evil.

Population growth is slowing, and will soon reach the peak of the curve. After that, it is all long-term deflation for many years. We may help that trend along with our own orgy of religious wars.



mcguire's picture

finally, THANK YOU for the two above posts... i was waiting for someone to point out that what she is saying is utter bullshit.  there is no doubt that the estuary will be fucked because of dams, but to say that climate change is because of human activity.. that is absolute bullshit (unless you are talking about chemtrials of course)..

John_Coltrane's picture

She made two politically incorrrect admissions.  That there WAS a medieval warming period (a lot warmer and drier than the present) and it was followed by a little ice age from which we've been recovering, hence our temperatures are returning to the mean.  In other words there's nothing extraordinary in the climate now compared to the past due to say, extra CO2.  Its all natural variation which people can't predict nor control.  This admission is a no no in the people's republic of Berkeley.  The thought police will be coming to reprogram you dear author.

bigrooster's picture

It will be Black Dawn in Detriot tomorrow morning.  2 days from now will be EPIC if the power is not back on and EBT is down!

Calling Elvis's picture

Thanks for the timely postings.  And right why wouldn't the markets go higher.  

ebear's picture

I really don't understand the lawn mentality.  You water it, only to cut it, and for what?  So you can play croquet?  There are so many beautiful desert plants that thrive on very little water.  Why not make a garden of those?  Save yourself the time and energy of keeping a lawn, and still have nice surroundings to relax outdoors.

Herd Redirection Committee's picture

Its somewhere to kick or throw a ball, for someone with kids.  For those w/o, and no interest in ball games, it is merely 'keeping up w/ the Joneses'.

Dave Thomas's picture

Everyone wants their little pseudo bougois slice of property. Back in the olden days before lawn mowers they had scads of 'servants' cutting the thing all day. Now we dig wells so we can keep up apperances. Heh.


Mitzibitzi's picture

Couldn't agree more. I live in Wales, where the climate means the hard thing is stopping grass from growing everywhere, and even I can't see the point of a bloody lawn! We ripped our up years ago and replaced the area with a small area of decking surrounded by raised beds for kitchen herbs and other weather appropriate edible plants. Looks pretty, smells nice and you can eat pretty much everything.

toady's picture

Went from Mexicans to Mexican'ts

Statetheist's picture

Try posting something coherent next time.

Landrew's picture

I miss that witt! Sadly, it's not just Texas, it's the whole of the human race that deals with problems this way, myself included. It's cheaper than solving the problems (any problem) until it isn't.

SumTing Wong's picture

But is the answer to use fascistic methods to tell people what they should do? Do we really need to stop people from collecting rainwater in barrels to water their gardens? Do we need to tel lthem to stop using their wells so that a city or some other organization can supply them water at a price? This all just goes to keep someone else's thumb on people's ability to survive. I'm not for that.

And Al Gore sucks too!

nmewn's picture

"Do we really need to stop people from collecting rainwater in barrels to water their gardens?"

Why yes, yes they do.

You see its as simple as this. The central planning control freaks who run Cali think rainwater belongs to government. Therefore, illegal to collect what is free, literally falling from the sky. As a matter of fact I'm surprised they don't levy a tax on the working people everytime it rains ;-)

James_Cole's picture

You see its as simple as this. The central planning control freaks who run Cali think rainwater belongs to government. Therefore, illegal to collect what is free, literally falling from the sky.

^ stupid people logic.

And rainwater harvesting is illegal in California? Interesting, when did this happen?

California has ~40m people ffs, it's not bumfuck nowhere.


nmewn's picture

^ stupid people logic.

Are they or are they not trying to regulate its capture?

Why, yes. As a matter of fact they are. 

"The Calfornia Rainwater Capture Act of 2011, which would authorize a landowner to install, maintain, and operate, on the landowner's property, a rainwater capture system meeting specified requirements. This bill would additionally authorize a landscape contractor working within the classification of his or her license to enter into a prime contract for the construction of a rainwater capture system, as defined, if the system is used exclusively for landscape irrigation. (Edit: Meaning, no drinky the rainwater, for your own good of course, we have monopoly on the drinky) The bill would authorize a landscape contractor holding a specified classification to design and install all exterior components of a rainwater capture system that are not a part of, or attached to, a structure. The bill is also known as AB 275"

In other words, do it the "centrally planned way" or its illegal.

Miffed Microbiologist's picture

This is a serious issue here nmewn and as one of the 5% of residents here on a well I know we will see metering soon. Our well is accessible to the main road and we are tempted to house it securely when they make the first attempt. Our property adjoins a major seasonal creek that, in abundant rain, turns into a massive river. The topography of our property makes it collect in a wide gully as a natural lake. If we used our tractors we could expand this to a very large reservoir. A few 10k gallon tanks and we could pump a serious amount of rainwater used for our garden that could last a long time. Of course this is all illegal. However, it is not observable by any road and adequate shielding could make it unobservable by air. A rugged individual with a fertile mind is a scary thing.


UP Forester's picture

The topography of our property makes it collect in a wide gully as a natural lake.

This is all the EPA needs to declare your property a 'wetland' and boot your ass off.

Gun up.

nmewn's picture

Self preservation is a desirable thing, sounds like the "natural lake" runoff can go into a cistern until it overflows to me.


For you my Warrior Queen, make sure to show King Miffed as well ;-)

"So, the study looked at 14 Viking burials from the era, definable by the Norse grave goods found with them and isotopes found in their bones that reveal their birthplace. The bones were sorted for telltale osteological signs of which gender they belonged to, rather than assuming that burial with a sword or knife denoted a male burial.

Overall, McLeod reports that six of the 14 burials were of women, seven were men, and one was indeterminable. Warlike grave goods may have misled earlier researchers about the gender of Viking invaders, the study suggests. At a mass burial site called Repton Woods, "(d)espite the remains of three swords being recovered from the site, all three burials that could be sexed osteologically were thought to be female, including one with a sword and shield," says the study."

To be sure, a small sampling but it does point to a trained defense of hearth & home and that cultures recognition of it ;-)

Mr.Miffed's picture

Thanks for pointing out the ordenance. I was unawar of course. There are simply too many regulations (and ever growing) to know if you are incompliance. Miffed is off at work and I am cleaning the barrel of her modern version of her viking weapon nut I am sure she will be interested in this. We actually met and kissed for the first time while practicing with swords. So that is rather close to the mark.