Posted tagged ‘reservoir’

Legacy of Goldrush—California’s Water Crisis

March 7, 2017

CONTROLLING THE FLOW
California’s Water Supply Eroding under Pressure

Water trickles down massive failure in Oroville spillway February 8, 2017, causing town to be evacuated

Water trickles down massive failure in Oroville spillway February 8, 2017, causing town to be evacuated

Building a dam spillway—theoretically for excess water release in storms—can have its engineering headaches, especially when material chosen for landfill is a legacy of California’s 1849 Goldrush.

Silt built up during 19thC. gold-panning days was used in early 1960s, alongside local sandstone, to construct a backup system for California’s second-largest [electricity-generating] dam at Oroville, despite knowledge that sand and silt from river erosion takes years to settle. And preferably a series of dry years, without rain storms. When it rains, the emergency—earth sluice—is expected to handle any excess.

This year at Oroville both main spillway and emergency failed.

Dammed if we Do and Damned if we Don’t

Oroville Dam, California's 2nd largest, overflows February 2017

Oroville Dam, California’s 2nd largest, overflows February 2017

Department of Water Resources has charge of maintaining an adequate water system for agriculture in the adjacent Central Valley, but it is also responsible for maintaining water aqueducts and two pipelines to supply 3.8million households in Southern California.

In addition to the bonus of the Dam’s production of hydro-electric power for the State.

But background to this important water resource reveals shaky foundations.

Despite a crucial rainstorm flood over Christmas 1964, the incomplete dam was launched by Gov.Ronald Reagan in May 1968, during a week-long festival in Oroville attended by 50,000 visitors.

Ten years later, a massive series of earthquakes hit Oroville in August 1975.

Lori Dengler, Professor Emeritus of Geology at HSU, then a graduate student at UC Berkeley, was obsessed with the seismic ‘swarm’ that shook the dam and its surrounding “surface faulting”—a cluster of fault lines—similar to Petrolia. To her, earthquake reaction came after water levels were dramatically changed.

During the winter of 1974-1975, the lake was drawn down to its lowest level since inauguration, to repair the intakes to the power plant. It was then rapidly refilled and followed by the earthquake sequence of 1975.

Cluster of seismic fault lines, with epicenter at Oroville, CA

Cluster of seismic fault lines, with epicenter at Oroville, CA

August 1, 1975 a Mag.5.8 earthquake hit Oroville. Quakes of this size can occur anywhere in the state, so its size was no surprise. This had been a seismically quiet area, however, and those of us working in the lab noticed when seven earthquakes in the Magnitude-3 range occurred in a tight cluster near the lake. On August 1st, the seismicity ramped up—a Mag.4.7, a Mag.5.8 and 35 additional tremors in the Magnitude-3 range. Vigorous aftershocks continued with over 200 earthquakes in the magnitude-3 range recorded over the next 18 months. Then things quieted down and no earthquakes of Magnitude-3 or larger have been recorded near Oroville since 1992.

It’s not unusual for an earthquake sequence to pop up out of the blue, but the difference in Oroville was two factors linking the earthquakes to the filling of the reservoir. The first was the proximity to the lake, the location of surface faulting and the tightly clustered epicenter locations. The second factor was that the earthquakes followed an unprecedented seasonal fluctuation in lake levels.
Lori Dengler, Prof. Emeritus, Humboldt State University

Time Travel to the Tertiary

Taking a time machine back to 1975 and 1968, Oroville might never have been built

Taking a time machine back to 1975 and 1968, Oroville might never have been built

The Foothills Fault System—which includes faults like Cleveland Hills, Spenceville, Deadman, Maidu, Prairie Creek, Swain Ravine and Willows—skirts east of Folsom Lake and runs through Auburn, Placerville, El Dorado Hills and Shingle Springs. The system runs from Mariposa to Chico. The 1975 Magnitude 6.1Richter Oroville earthquake was caused by movement along the Cleveland Hills fault.

For more than a century, the Foothills were considered seismically inactive. That changed with the 1975 Oroville earthquake. The temblor did not cause much damage outside the sparsely-populated Oroville area, but it did have a major impact.

The scientific community had to reassess the large Sierra Foothills area as seismically active, according to the California Geological Survey.

Sutter Butte extinct cinder cone, foreground, overlooks valley of Sacramento River channeled, top, east to Oroville dam along Sierra Foothills Willows fault-line

Sutter Butte extinct cinder cone, foreground, overlooks valley of Sacramento River channeled, top, east to Oroville dam along Sierra Foothills Willows fault-line

“The Auburn Dam was being built at the time and for design purposes we were asked to estimate how large an earthquake the system could generate. We estimated a Magnitude-6.5 Richter, capable of displacing the dam’s foundation by about three-quarters of a foot. That sent the dam back to the drawing board. The cost multiplied over time, and the dam was never built.”
Michael Reichle, Asst. Director Dept. of Conservation
California Geological Survey


Oil and Gas Wells in Sunken Bedrock Add Instability

Data from a number of (USGS) sources indicate that the Willows fault is far more extensive and complex than previously thought and that Tertiary deposits in the Foothills are in motion. The first clue that the Willows fault branched into a multistrand fault system was provided by an analysis of seismicity of the northern valley and Sierra foothills after the Oroville earthquake. USGS (in 1978) located a number of small-magnitude earthquakes along a zone that originated near the Marathon “Capital Company No. 1” well in the Willows-Beehive Bend gas field and extended north, rather than following the northwest trend of the Willows fault. A slew of seismic events suggested that a north-trending fault splayed off from the main stem of the Willows fault and passed west of the Corning domes.

On the east side of the valley, Upper Cretaceous sandstone and shale rest uncomfortably on metamorphic and plutonic rocks of the Sierra Nevada.

These bed companions are not made any more comfortable by the instability of the great seismic rift which stretches from Mariposa (Yosemite) in the south to Chico and Cottonwood, just S of Redding, in the north. The bedrock first went through onset of marine sedimentation (W to E) in the late Mesozoic era, and through intermittent periods of uplift and subduction the sand and shale—along with their mountain bedfellows—tilted to south and west. In late Cretaceous the reverse occurred and the sand/shale deposits slid westwards—’marine regression’ (E to W).

During these upheaval and subsidence cycles, four submarine canyons developed—cut and then filled, rifting and then flooded with sediment. Where they meet, near Sutter Butte cinder cone, above, movement both east and west continues.

Riverbank Collapse on Dam Shutdown Leaves Salmon Floundering

Riverbank collapse after dam spillway shut off March 3, 2017 leaving salmon hatcheries & farmers floundering

In the Corning gas fields, analysis of well records by the Sacramento Petroleum Association (1962) showed an anticlinal fold in the area of the Corning domes, with about 121m of maximum closure on the base of the Tehama Formation in the north dome and a steeply dipping southeast-trending fault located at the north end of south Corning dome, but it did not identify a fault west of them.
California Geological Survey

With a new gap in the main spillway now stretching like a fifteen-lane freeway across the cement foundation, immediate closure of Oroville Dam was announced this week. Such a drastic move is in part attributed to safety of those displaced valley residents who have since been allowed to return to their homes and orchards.

Oakdale Heights school children release Chinook hatchlings into Feather River last fall

Salmon young and riverine residents are now without a river bed, as most of the banks have collapsed. Almond, peach orchards and fruit farms, dependent on a seasonal flow of water, were unprepared for such extreme measures, their irrigation systems now high and dry. Salmon fingerlings and immature Chinook die in stranded pools, life-expectancy zero.

Children from Oakdale Heights school, above left, releasing babies last fall into the river, expected their hatchlings to have at least a one-percent chance of survival, on their return from the ocean, are now dismayed by the zero percent outcome for the salmon after dam failure.

Governor Jerry Brown has pledged financial help for storm-affected communities, but the state of California has already unmet infrastructure costs of $187 billion, not including roads. While $2.7 billion has been approved [Prop.1, 2014] for new water storage, that doesn’t cover old dams.

Remembering the warning of seismologists Reichle and Dengler, above, against any sudden changes in water body movement—which can trigger volcanic fault movement—we await the outcome of the shutdown decision with anxiety. It’s not only the salmon spelt, rescued manually from puddles, it’s the water supply for most of the Great Valley.

At times of flood and deluge like these, the slow approach to dam containment—like that of the Klamath River tribal community, with four Atlas Copco dams to maintain until they are dismantled and removed—seems preferable to acting on impulse.

Where Mother Nature rules, we mortals are still fallible.
©2017 Siderealview

Five Crop Circles: Mexican Wave & Water Wakeup Call

March 26, 2011

One of five crop circles in Tlapanaloya, Hidalgo, Mexico last weekend

In the last few years the eyes of the world have been fixed on Crop Circles in the (Northern hemisphere) summer months. The eyes of the world are elsewhere at the moment. So it is not surprising that five crop circles which appeared over last weekend’s Vernal Equinox in two oat fields in Tlapanaloya, 33 miles north of Mexico City were given little media attention. Reuters, the Washington Post and Mexico’s El Universal seemed to be the only news media interested in the phenomenon. They are the first new appearances since the January surprise in Java.

TLAPANALOYA is the old name for this fertile farming region, still tilled and irrigated along indigenous/traditional lines and miraculously spared in Mexico’s headlong drive for industrial ‘revolution’. In its new guise as Tepeji del Rio de Ocampo, Hidalgo, Mexico, it is surrounded by industrial development: several hydro dams, effluent canals, a bauxite-cement works at Cruz Azul, a large military installation, several multi-lane highways (autopista), a national rail line and access roads to feed nationally-supported mineral extraction and mining operations to north and west.

Tlapanaloya lies at latitude 19º52’ N longitude 99º21’W.

Mexican Cordillera L to R: Iztaccíhuatl, Popocatepétl, volcano Malinche, Cofre de Perote and Citlaltépetl

Latitude 19º is significant as the Parallel along which the southern boundary of the North American tectonic plate meets with the Central American plate. Here a line of volcanoes rising to 16,000 feet –the Cordillera de Mexico (or Neovolcanic Ridge)– stretches from the Revillagigedo Islands in the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. Seismic activity is frequent here, and the valley is considered an earthquake-prone zone.

Located thirty-three miles north of central Mexico City, Tlapanaloya lies within the closed basin of the ancient Valley of Mexico. At around 7,000 feet, it was the original picturesque Lake District of five lakes, and domain of the people of Teotihuacan, the Toltec and Aztec. The Toltec and Aztec spoke Nahuatl.

The Nahuatl name for the Valley of Mexico was the Anahuac, meaning the plateau or ‘place between the waters’.

Now those waters are crying out for help.

There were originally five great lakes in this stunningly beautiful setting, hemmed in on all sides by mountain peaks that rise to 16,000 feet. But in the last 200 years successive dams and reservoir construction schemes have funneled and tunneled the waters away from their traditional lakebeds and aquifers. Their clear streams were instead diverted to become waste carriers: ‘effluent’–glorified drains for the population of megalopolis Mexico City–now bursting at the seams with a central population in excess of nine million souls (2010 census 8,851,080, see MCMA, below).

Image of Eagle on Cactus in miraculous growth from Stone: Mexico-Tenochtitlan in the Mendoza codex

Mexico City’s ancient name was Mexico-Tenochtitlan after the Nahua-Aztec tribe, Mexica: it means the ‘co-‘ ‘place of the Mexica among stone cactuses’. In symbolic terms, the image (represented in Mexico’s coat-of-arms and flag) is one of an eagle perched on a cactus which grew from a stone (supreme achievement through the greatest of adversity in environment)

The Rio Tula–the Tula River, from which the nearby industrial town of Tula Allende takes its name–is, according to Mexico’s National Water Commission [Comisión Nacional del Agua de México], one of the most polluted rivers in the country. Tula (Tollan) was the Toltec capital, Tollan-Xicocotitlan in its heyday–AD8th-10thCC (Post-Classic period)*–but suffered brutally under Spanish invasions of 16thC, when its society collapsed.

The Toltec called their capital Tollan, surrounded by natural wetlands–a fertile gift from their Sun-and-star god Quetzalcoatl–Xicocotitlan, the ‘place among the reeds near the home of the wasp/bee’.

The Atlanteans of Tula Grande, basalt figures over 12feet high carved from volcanic rock guard the Toltec Tollan temple to Quetzalcoatl (AD10th-12thCC)

The great Atlantean statues which guarded the temple of serpent-god/Venus-morning-star-Queztalcoatl, prior to Tollan‘s destruction by the Spanish, have been reinstated to stand on their original plinths, rescued from the ignominious ditch where they were found buried–hidden by retreating Toltec from Spanish gaze.

Today Tula and Tlapanaloya reflect Toltec civilization in name only. And even that has changed. Tlapanaloya is now called Tepeji del Rio de Ocampo and Tula is Tula Grande or Tula Allende– a far cry from its original endearing Toltec-Oromi name: Tollan-Xicocotitlan: ‘place of the bumble-bee.’ Implication is that bees flourished in a rich hinterland where agriculture, flowers, and fruit trees blossomed. Much has changed since their culture died.

Popocátepetl, Aztec 'smoking mountain' stands at 17,802feet 33miles S of Mexico City

Coincidentally, 33miles SE of Mexico City stands the stratovolcano Popocatépetl. At 17,802 feet, its massif is also contained within the 19th parallel and its location is within one degree of longitude of the Tlapanaloya crop circles–at 19°1’24″N 98°37’20″W. It erupted last year (2010) and its present rumblings are ongoing. Its eruptions were recorded in Aztec codices and its legendary lahars and pyroclastic flows (mud and ash slides) are seen as a constant threat to Mexico City in modern times–since the city’s massive sprawl has gradually spread into the volcano’s sphere of influence.

FIVE LAKES: how many remain?
Although originally flowing through the wide Tula Valley, which could accommodate its wild seasonal fluctuations, the river was guided by an ingenious 17thC drainage system, itself a replacement for indigenous waterworks built with native stone, which for the previous 500 years supplied the local population with much-needed water in the dry season. The Tula works simultaneously provided essential water for agriculture (as the ancestors had done) and allowed excess floodwaters in the rainy season to channel from the Basin of Mexico into the Gulf. Now–thanks to gigantic 19thC dams and, more damaging to culture and ecosystems, massive bureaucratically-driven hydro-related and industrial concrete construction from 1930s onwards, the Tula River is catchment for what is left of the rivers of the Valley of Mexico basin which originally tumbled out of the five lakes: Texcoco, Chalco, Xochimilco, Xaltocan and Zumpango.

Five Great Lakes of (15thC) Valley of Mexico: only one remains and it is dammed

Tula River is part of the Pánuco Hydrologic Region, which has a long history of exploitation for its fresh artesian ground-water. The Tula itself feeds into the Rio Moctezuma which empties into the Pánuco, one mile outside the industrial ports of Tampico/Altamira and Cuidad Madero on the Gulf Coast. Altamira has major industry-standard docks for container-vessel traffic. It is no longer known for its (previous reputation as a) bird sanctuary. Tourist traffic is usually carefully diverted south to the coastal resorts of Vera Cruz or the Yucatan peninsula.

According to data from the National Water Commission of Mexico, the Tula is one of the most polluted rivers in the country. It ‘generates 409.42 million cubic meters of “wastewater” annually.’ Tula River’s pollution stems from this stream’s manmade adaptation as a channel for solid (untreated) human waste along with industrial effluent from both the Mexico City Metropolitan Area (MCMA, sic), and the ‘industrial zones’ around Tula de Allende.

Lake Texcoco was described in 15thC historical records as a huge natural reservoir–a ‘visual masterpiece’ of mountain-fed streams, wildlife-filled marshes and brackish pools. It was home to the Pelican. Agriculturally-adept and innovative, the native Indios harvested salt from the saltlakes and dammed the ‘sweet-water’ lakes for use in their agricultural terraces (traditional Chinampa ‘gardens’ or small fields). Aztec tradition records that the northern lakes were inaccessible by canoe during the dry season between October and May. When the (summer) rainy season came, Texcoco was known to ‘join up’ with its four sister lakes and canoes were again able to navigate within the lake system.

Lake Texcoco is now dry. The other lakes have gone.

Zumpango Lake (Nahuatl=Tzompantli), the northernmost of the historical lakes in the main basin of the Valley of Mexico, between the towns of Zumpango and Teoloyucan, is the only body of water left of the original five. It lies within 12 miles of the five Equinoctial crop circle formations. It is a manmade version of the original whose boundaries were formed when a canal begun in 1605 started the process of drainage in the Valley, North into the Tula River. It is still home to the 10-meter-deep canyon, the sewage-laden Gran Canal. The original lake has been drained. Only the canal and west drainage tunnel system remain.

Zumpango reservoir has suffered a gradual process of degradation by the presence of industrial operations on its shores and the influx of sewage from Mexico City. The ‘West Issuer’ tunnel, which was originally used exclusively for stormwater drainage, now transports wastewater with a high heavy metal content while increasing tonnage of human waste is discharged into Presa tributaries. Currently, state and local government officially designate it a ‘Water Sanctuary’, but there are no active conservation plans to maintain its high ecological value in the Basin for numerous migratory bird species that take refuge in its waters.

Pelican persevere here. But pollution continues by the local population, compounded by motorized tourism (aquaplaning, outboard motors), and water verges are not maintained. Motor boats disturb avian habitat. Few tourists shown the neighboring solid waste effluent make return visits. At this rate, it is a matter of time before both birds and visitors will have no refuge here.

Formerly part of five legendary lakes that made the Valley beautiful, the name Zumpango is also derived from the Nahuatl meaning ‘the place of the row of skulls’. It was a place of sacred prayer and reverence for the Ancestors. That, too, has gone.

Tourist trajineras on the canals of former lake Xochimilco

The remaining three lakes were drained by settlers from the time of Spanish Conquest, accelerated by subsequent labor, military and government initiatives. The old lakebeds are now almost entirely covered by urban development. One remnant canal at (former Lake) Xochimilco is maintained as a tourist attraction where visitors tour in trajineras (gondolas).

The axolotl, a rare salamander endemic to Lake Chalco, moved house when that Lake was drained, to take up fragile residence near the Canals of its neighboring ‘Lake’ Xochimilco, It is now considered a ‘critically endangered species’ by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Otherwise, the historic Lake Region is now without lakes.

A whole settlement flooded by the Army in 1931 to form Presa Taxhimay

Tlapanoloya is itself ringed by further waterworks–all artificial. They are called Presas=reservoir, dam.
Presa Escondida at the southern end of the Requena Reservoir, is a small dam 3km N of Tlapanaloya; the Presa Requena Tepeji itself, within the town limits, is a reservoir still frequented by wildlife, including pelican; the Presa Escondida, a dam to the west, is polluted and has no wildlife whatsoever; the Presa Encinillas 5miles distant at Jagüeyes is skirted by six-lane Highway 57 at a busy intersection. It no longer attracts fowl and is polluted by industrial effluent from the Cruz Azul plant. It seems ironic that Highway 57 headed 100 miles NW brings pilgrims to the tiny rancho Chahin at Tlacote near Querétaro. There Señor Jesus Chahin gives away samples of spring water from his own ‘miracle’ well, an artesian supply of unrivalled purity believed to cure all ills.

Back in Tlapanaloya, the largest dam, Presa Taxhimay, formerly Laguna Taxhimay, three miles south of town, is the largest man-made Presa of them all. It was flooded by design in 1931 on the order of General Manuel Avila Camacho. In so doing he completely annihilated the Post-classic, colonial and Spanish settlements of Hacienda Catarina and San Luis Rey, whose church towers remain above the waters of Taxhimay dam surface.

Tlapanaloya Crop Circles in Chinampa ‘Gardens’

Farmer Enrique Hernandez in one of 5 crop circles in his oats in Tlapanaloya

Fortuitously, all five of last weekend’s crop circles appeared in oat meadows still farmed in the Chinampa style–planted and lovingly tended in traditional small rectangular-shaped fields by local Tlapanaloya farmer Enrique Hernandez. He was reported to be mystified by their choice of location but delighted that his crop was not spoiled. On the other hand, if he had been assured that his own way of life and his organically-grown porridge oats–now with their hugely enhanced CC/ET-vibration–were teetering on the edge of extinction, he might feel proud.

It is becoming clear that–whatever one feels about the provenance of crop circles the world over–they do occur in locations which require our attention.

Given that the Tlapanaloya crop circles did NOT contain elaborate interior designs–as are now commonplace in sophisticated annual formations on Salisbury Plain and the fields of Wiltshire’s electromagnetic aquifer–it seems a simple intuitive leap from the five Mexican crop circles to a crisis water situation, symbolized by the five extinct Great Lakes of the Basin of Mexico–along with their important historical contribution to this crucial aquifer.

They also occur as part of a triangle of 33: Their point is 33miles N of Mexico City. Also 33 miles NE of the city lies Teotihuacan, where equinox is seriously celebrated each year. And Teotihuacan lies approx.33 miles E of Tlapanaloya.

Equinox sunset over the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, Valley of Mexico, March 20, 2011

The crop circles appeared on Equinox weekend when hundreds of thousands of Mexico City residents head for the pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan–to pay their respects to the setting sun as it disappears behind the pyramid. Teotihuacan, Toltec ‘place where men become gods’ lies just 33miles east of Enrique’s field. Its central avenue’s due N-S alignment, on which the pyramid’s shadow casts a precise shadow at the moment of dusk, remains today a fascination for Mexicans who traditionally celebrate the onset of spring on Equinox. This year was no exception. Teotihuacan was mobbed.

It was also the weekend before the world-wide celebration of World Water Day, March 22nd.

Water is becoming scarce in many countries with over-population and rising mean annual temperatures. Water will soon be a commodity more precious than the metals mined in the Mexican hinterland.

The present explosion of shanty towns — barrios — which have sprung up in the last decade around the Mexican megacity have bolstered the population of MCMA (see above) to 21 milion people. While canals and drainage systems channel their human waste North into the Valley of Mexico agricultural region centered on (the crop circles of) Tlapanaloya, a clean drinkable water supply continues to be a problem in the city.

Industrial growth within an enclosed basin has not only produced pollutants in smog, but water quality issues for the Valley. Over-extraction of ground water has caused new flooding problems for the city as it sinks below the historic lake floor. Seasonal flooding was thought to have been historically ‘cured’ by the Spanish and successive Mexican governments by the very act of drainage. Now excessive drainage–and extraction of more water than is being replenished naturally causes subsidence and the need for further infrastructure–more pipes and tunnels.

For a high mesa totally enclosed within mountain ranges, the Valley is completely dependent on its groundwater supply. This has traditionally come from the underlying aquifers, the upwelling of seasonal springs supplemented by (previously unwanted) flooding and rains. These underground springs and wells are now almost exclusively the source of drinking water for the greater metropolitan area of Mexico City. With the rapid addition of shanty barrios around the city’s outer limits, more water is being pumped out of the city’s underground reservoirs than Nature is pouring in–[main aquifer currently pumps 880,000 USgallons/minute while the water table refreshes at around 440,000 gals/min]–that is, water is replenishing at around half the extraction rate.

Much of the city has now sunk below the ancient lakebed level and it continues to sink at around 15 inches per year. Water from the surrounding mountains which always flowed towards the city, now passes through shanty towns where there are no city ‘services’ (water supply or sewage removal), so the rivers become sewers–which contribute to an ongoing health risk in the capital. MCMA is struggling to prevent this contaminated water from entering the drinking supply.

The present dilemma is specific to Mexico. But in the West, clean and clear water is a blessing and a gift we may not have appreciated enough until now.

All this communicated by a chance appearance in two traditionally-planted-and-irrigated Chinampa fields in a rural district of central Mexico? you ask?

Perhaps not explicitly, but we have had a little experience of messages transmitted in the last decade of crop circles in other areas of the world where aquifers–and their underlying electromagnetic mysteries–have contributed enormously to the medium.

This Mexican Wave may indeed be sending us a High Five: a reminder to reconnect with our traditional lifestyles. But it is more likely to be a distress signal–a wakeup call.

We would be well-advised to listen and heed its message.
©2011 Marian Youngblood
*Postclassic in its historical context refers to Mexico’s original peoples whose culture flourished until Spanish domination: Aztecs and Toltecs in Central Mexico, the Mixtec in Oaxaca, the Tarasco in the West, the Huasteca in the northern plain of the Gulf of Mexico, and the Maya in the Yucatan peninsula and Guatemala|


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