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Water flows uphill? Maybe, in California drought


SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Water has flowed from Northern California's snow-capped peaks to the south's parched cities ever since the California Aqueduct was built in the 1960s. Now, amid one of the worst droughts in history, state officials are considering an audacious plan to send some of the water back uphill.

State water engineers say using pumps to reverse the flow of the aqueduct would be a first in a drought. It would also be a complex engineering challenge, requiring millions of dollars to defy gravity.

Still, water agencies in the desperately dry farmlands around Bakersfield say the investment is worth it to keep grapevines, pistachios and pomegranate trees alive. Agencies as far north as the San Francisco Bay Area are talking about a similar project.

"There is no place on planet Earth where an aqueduct is designed to go backwards," said Geoff Shaw, an engineer with the state Department of Water Resources who is reviewing the proposal. "But they have a need for water in a place where they can't fulfill it, and this is their plan to fix it."

The plan the department is evaluating was drawn up by five of the local agencies, or districts, that sell irrigation water to farmers. They would bear the cost of the project, which they have estimated at $1.5 million to $9.5 million.

They hope to get approval from the state in June and start pushing the water uphill later in the summer.

Long celebrated as an engineering marvel, the California Aqueduct is a 420-mile system of open canals and massive pipelines that serves millions of Californians, including those in the state's biggest population centers: the San Francisco Bay area, Los Angeles and San Diego.

Under the plan, water districts would be allowed to pump into the aqueduct the emergency supplies of water they store in underground reservoirs in Kern County, about two hours north of Los Angeles. That banked water and other extra supplies would raise the level of water within a small, closed section of the aqueduct.

Then, pumps powered by diesel engines would push the water over locks and back upstream, against the southward pull of gravity. Farmers upstream could then pump the water out to their fields.

All together, the districts want to move 30,000 acre-feet of water along a 33-mile stretch between Bakersfield and Kettleman City. An acre-foot is enough water to cover an acre to a depth of one foot.

Even if water is pumped upstream, some will still flow south, so no customers downstream will be harmed, state officials said.

The water districts came up with the idea after a bleak February forecast showed the Sierra Nevada snowpack was so thin that those who depend on the state system would get no water delivered this year.

A rash of spring storms improved the picture, but only slightly. Districts will now receive 5 percent of the water they would get in a normal year, and the supply won't arrive until September.

"Our crops need some amount of water just to keep alive," said Dale Melville, manager-engineer of the Fresno-based Dudley Ridge Water District, one of the agencies proposing the project.

The flow has been reversed only once before - in 1983, when heavy rains forced state officials to operate emergency pumps to send floodwaters northward, Shaw said.

Water agencies in the San Francisco Bay Area want to take part in a similar project that would push water along a 70-mile stretch.

"This is a year where you really have to look at every single possible way to move water around to where it's needed," said Joan Maher, operations manager for the Santa Clara Valley Water District.

As the project awaits final approval, water districts are already ordering pumps and making arrangements to get diesel engines.

Nearly half the water Dudley Ridge hopes to receive would irrigate the orchards of Paramount Farms, owned by Los Angeles billionaires Stewart and Lynda Resnick, who produce POM Wonderful pomegranate juice and Wonderful pistachios.

If it doesn't rain much next winter, the districts might seek to continue pumping the water backward in years to come, Melville said.

"Ideally we would hope it's a one-time thing," he said, "but it would be worthwhile to have this as an insurance policy."


Join the discussion

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spectrumprodec2 May 07 2014 at 9:38 AM

now and in the foreseeable future there are tremendous amounts of water being rained down on the US, 22 in. in the Fla. Pan handle recently, since there is no plan to reverse global warming and climate change, forecasting becomes an important part of the equation, since we cannot control the weather we should try to take advantage of these huge downpours and capture as much as possible in reservoirs. once enough is reserved we can build pipe lines and pumping stations to distribute it to draught regions. the ancients were better at this than we are today.

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ChingOW Mango May 07 2014 at 1:48 AM

First of all bring in someone who actually has a plan and knows what they are doing - then California my favorite place in the whole world - stop spending all your money on immigrants/aliens and spend the money on this water system. California is so beautiful with so many different types of climates and areas - please please please fix this major problem!

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tomatescaliente May 07 2014 at 1:22 AM

They built a desalinization plant north of santa barbara some years ago during the last big draught but let it go to ruin after the rains came. they spent a billion or so on it and then it just went to hell. if they would've used it once in a while it would have been available but those ******** let it collapse.

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dhartson May 07 2014 at 1:18 AM

So, let me understand this, Jerry Brown wants you to flush ever other time, and now move water uphill? What's next?

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Phil May 06 2014 at 11:49 PM

We need to put into place a water dispersal system. When one part of the country is flooding we should pipe the excess to a drier region. With the possibilities of major doughts out in the west we need to think of this. It may be expensive but it will come back to the people by way of jobs. Think of the construction,maintenance,water for crops, water for livestock, water for people,less stress for western states water demands and a possible water reserve. it would be good for America! What a concept!

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1 reply
Dwaine Phil May 07 2014 at 12:18 AM

I also thought of this many years ago. A nationwide canal system. It would do the same, but also pump water to deserts to make them productive and in the future "dust bowl" we would need to build desalinization plants along the ocean to pump water inland when needed.

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Scott Schaffner May 06 2014 at 11:47 PM

I thought that might be in the works.
I told my wife a few weeks back that it was time that the south state should send our water back to us up here in the northern Sacramento Valley. And they should pump it back...I guess I should work for Calif Water Resourses...lol.

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mcfarlinim May 06 2014 at 11:40 PM

BUT WE MUST DO IT..........

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bdhauto May 07 2014 at 9:29 AM

Just take it out up stream before it gets down stream. Idiots,!!!!!!!!!

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Stan May 06 2014 at 10:29 PM

Wow, using pumps to move water uphill. Amazing, but only on AOL.

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1 reply
moeelmore Stan May 06 2014 at 11:29 PM

I just wish the genius crowd we have in state and federal governments would get their collective heads out of their asses and develop some imaginative ways to collect and/or divert water as needed. We need to replenish aquafiers instead of just depleting them; we have repetitive floods and so much water runs out to sea doing little but move silt. There is no reason some positive actions could be taken that would employ thousands (can you spell national service?) and provide water where needed. Oh, and quit watering grass and grow something productive. Every time I see some idiot in a desert with a manicured lawn I want to scream! But oh no! they prefer to fund studies and set their hair on fire and run in circles

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3 replies
tiger750 May 06 2014 at 10:12 PM


"The plan the department is evaluating was drawn up by five of the local agencies, or districts, that sell irrigation water to farmers. They would bear the cost of the project, which they have estimated at $1.5 million to $9.5 million."

Superfluous details omitted.

"Nearly half the water Dudley Ridge hopes to receive would irrigate the orchards of Paramount Farms, owned by Los Angeles billionaires Stewart and Lynda Resnick, who produce POM Wonderful pomegranate juice and Wonderful pistachios."

Let's help these good folks out with some water so they can make a few more billions. It is absolutely appalling the way we treat the rich in this country. If it wasn’t for them, I couldn’t make $7.25 an hour picking those pistachios. My wife and I pick all day and with food stamps and Medicaid, we were able to get a trailer last year. I never owned my own little spot before. But I have to find a place to move it, because they need to plant more pistachios.

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2 replies
child of God tiger750 May 06 2014 at 10:51 PM

If it wasn't for them, and the available water which sustains their crops, you would be making nothing, and have no trailer. Work hard, save what you can, invest in some acreage. Save those profits, buy more acreage. Hire a few ranch hands, pay them $7.25 an hour; perhaps they will be grateful, perhaps they will resent you and your success and disparage you for the water you use.

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2 replies
tiger750 child of God May 06 2014 at 11:03 PM

Oh. You must be the Resnick's. Or just a stupid idiot.

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msherer260 child of God May 06 2014 at 11:56 PM


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Scott Schaffner tiger750 May 06 2014 at 11:52 PM

I just told my wife to stop buying POM Juice.I had no idea at all. Thanks for that bit of info.

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