HSR Is Drought-Friendly

Mar 30th, 2015 | Posted by

One of the more absurd attacks being leveled against California high speed rail lately is that it’s somehow “drought-intolerant.” This is absurd, as CityLab’s Laura Bliss explains:

Yes, it does. To pan high-speed rail (HSR) on the basis of the drought is short-sighted. Low-density development uses more water than high-density development does. HSR will encourage the latter, and not just in terms of accommodating induced growth.

Those millions of people coming to the SJV are going to set roots somewhere. No matter what, hundreds of thousands of acres of land that are currently used by agriculture are going to be sold to developers and become urbanized. And if California had no big infrastructure project planned, and merely allowed historical patterns to unfold, urbanization of the Valley would continue in its current shape: sprawling, low-density development, with greater quantities of farmland swallowed up. Think “ranchettes,” the bane of every SJV farmer’s existence: non-farming, suburban-style homes on ten-plus-acre parcels.

In other words, HSR will help reduce sprawl and fuel infill development – the very kind of development that is better for water conservation. Without HSR, the Valley’s growth will lead to more sprawl, which has terrible impacts for groundwater storage and overall water usage.

There’s a bigger point to be made, of course. Global warming has long been expected to lead to a drier Golden State, especially a smaller snowpack. The current drought is playing out as predicted.

California is a national leader in trying to reduce CO2 emissions, in part because of the knowledge that carbon emissions are contributing to the drought. HSR is a key part of the state’s work to reduce CO2 emissions, so that’s another important way that HSR will help fight the drought.

  1. JCC
    Mar 30th, 2015 at 18:26

    Wow. I am the first poster. What happened to the usual suspects that will state that HSR is the CAUSE of the drought, will be the end of your constitutional rights and the reason that there is human suffering in the world? These are just a sample of but a few gripes of course.

    JCC Reply:

    Has anybody blamed Obama for (fill in the blank) lately in the talk backs?

    joe Reply:

    you mean like

    “Obama Plays Water Guzzling Desert Golf Courses Amid California Drought”
    Time Magazine.

  2. synonymouse
    Mar 30th, 2015 at 19:51

    HSR is Developer Friendly.

    Travis D Reply:

    So are highways. Only they favor the bad kind of development.

    synonymouse Reply:

    There is no bad kind of development, just more development, or less.

    Travis D Reply:

    That is the attitude of an absolutist. Of course some is worse than others. We should encourage the good kind.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Not really. Why not ticky-tacky – it is going to be town down after a while anyway. Sin City leads the way. Back East, say Detroit, Cleveland, Columbus, they think nothing about flattening whole neighborhoods when they don’t like the people living there.

    Nil substantive difference between infill and high rises versus classic sprawl. The growth is just packed in more densely. And then used as an excuse for more growth, since we have been “smart”. And with the greater population you need support. Who’s going to feed this burgeoning population? Can they eat them hollow core? And you dumbshitz hate the farmers.

    It is all about the money. The only reason there is “parkland” is because it is seen as increasing the value of the adjacent property. It is deemed profitable to keep the Marin Headlands undeveloped or Yosemite; tourism pays well. But even then you cannot keep out urbanization. The parks become commercialized, with buildings and mass events, and the bums and low lifes appropriate them.

    Years ago I laughed when Charlie Smallwood suggested they should tear up Golden Gate Park and build housing. I think he was miffed because it had deteriorated so much from his day. But now I wonder if he was envisioning the future.

    Reedman Reply:

    Too bad CAHSR isn’t allowed to have a station at Los Banos. We could have fresh new “transit oriented” development within a nice commute time to Silicon Valley.

    Observer Reply:

    I have always wanted a station in Los Banos. It may not be a HSR station; but perhaps in the future when people better understand the value of regional rail service, a regional service from/to San Jose can be instituted using the HSR tracks. Where there is a will, there is a way.

    Observer Reply:

    Even ultra orthodox Kings County understands the value of regional rail service, as they steadfastly support their San Joaquin service. It is too bad that Los Banos can not have a San Joaquin type of service, they deserve it. Los Banos is a nice city, they they work really hard to enrich their city.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    Remember the Sierra Club was the one objecting to an HSR station at Los Banos. My guess is they feared sprawl that would have critical habitat outcomes.

    Reality Check Reply:

    Not just Sierra Club. And that was due to some pretty credible sounding rumors of well-connected folks who owned a lot of ripe-for sprawl land in the Los Banos / Santa Nella area who were part of the otherwise inexplicably purely political push to switch the preferred Bay Area entry route from Altamont to Pacheco. So the Los Banos station ban was pushed by enviro and rail transit advocacy groups in a bid to both prevent sprawl there and to save and/or restore Altamont as the preferred Bay Area access route by proscribing one of the suspected motivating drivers of the Pacheco push.

    The Pacheco heads argued there were too many environmental issues with the Dumbarton corridor passing through the Don Edwards SF Bay National Wildlife Refuge and with NIMBYs … while, quite ironically, the majority of enviros and rail advocates were arguing more or less the opposite.

    In the end HSRA, SJ interests and MTC cooked up a sop about how Pacheco would include an Altamont overlay or some such obvious political vaporware “promise” along with giving in to the Los Banos station ban to tamp down (“divide and conquer”) Pacheco opposition for what was long since already a political behind-the-scenes already fait accompli.

    Neil Shea Reply:

    It’s not just environmental groups that decide these things, believe it or not elected leaders of local governments have a voice. You had the City of San Jose and the County of Santa Clara – the most populous north of LA County – asking to be on the mainline route. You had City & Cty of SF and the MTC supporting that. And on the other side you had NONE of the cities or counties on an Altamont routing asking for HSR to go through there — not Fremont, Pleasanton, Livermore, not Alameda County. And you do have that sensitive National Wildlife Refuge in the way.

    I do think Los Banos will make a good commute city with with much lower cost housing not too far from Bay Area jobs. But no rush on that and it should be commute service rather than HSR.

    Observer Reply:

    You nailed it.

    joe Reply:

    The conspiracy is so much sexier.

    . And that was due to some pretty credible sounding rumors of well-connected folks who owned a lot of ripe-for sprawl land in the Los Banos / Santa Nella area who were part of the otherwise inexplicably purely political push to switch the preferred Bay Area entry route from Altamont to Pacheco

    Obviously those in the know had an economic opportunity to buy up land cheap and sit on it for a few decades until HSR makes it to Los Banos and then a station is added. meanwhile they pay property tax on drought stricken land.

    I’d probably get a better return on Savings bonds.

    J. Wong Reply:

    Hmm, 80% of water usage is agriculture. Maybe more development of farmlands wouldn’t be a bad thing for the drought? ;-)

    Observer Reply:

    Well, the west side of the San Joaquin Valley is drying up. Their water aquifers are going, going…….

    They will be asking and asking for more water storage and the delta tunnels, but they may not pencil out. They also may ask the that the senior water rights allocations be changed; whether they can do that – ?????

  3. Ted Judah
    Mar 30th, 2015 at 20:43

    When this article was posted on the last thread, I pointed out that HSR has the potential to both increase sprawl and the potential for drought as well as support density and sustainability.

    As you might guess, it’s all about design of all the stations and the land use around them.

    joe Reply:

    At the first order – not really. You have to compare HSR to the eventual HSR alternatives i.e. highway development. There’s no high density development with highway expansion.

    Same holds for water use. Less water used for landscaping per residence with higher density development.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    You have to compare HSR to the eventual HSR alternatives i.e. build nothing and tell people to travel less, or emigrate.


    Ted Judah Reply:

    Unfortunately, the American economy is stubbornly dependent on middle class people owning cars and dwellings. They can be all-electric cars and drought-resistant landscapes…but even without big interstates or major population growth…there will be more sprawl.

    BART is a good example of how even stations which originally favored parking and low density around stations can metamorphose into those that favor infill and walking.

    But the location of the stations still sets the tone.

    Jerry Reply:

    Location. Location. Location.

    Andrew L-A Reply:

    I’d like to propose a Cap & Trade system for California residents – If you lived in California in 2014, you receive a transferrable Residence Permit. If you did not live in California in 2014, you must purchase one from someone who is moving out. New births in California will receive residence permits, but their parents will not. This gives them a valuable asset to use when they turn 18, and can either move to CA or sell it to finance an education elsewhere.

    By putting a cap on the number of people living in California, we can put an absolute halt to new development, sprawl, and as denser housing is constructed in the Bay Area, LA etc we can start to return land back to agriculture and wilderness.

    joe Reply:

    I was thinking of putting stars on our bellies and letting those without stars do without homes.

    Travis D Reply:

    No, gems on our hands. When we turn 30 years old we go to carrousel and get recycled.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Looks like we’ve got a Runner.

    Zorro Reply:

    I doubt any such cap is Constitutional, it’s DOA.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Zoning is constitutional, and achieves the exact same result. Not my decision.

    JJJJ Reply:

    A cap on babies would be better. Children suck the economy dry with their required school systems and parks and countless productive adult hours lost.

    Meanwhile, immigrants come to do work.

    Charge people $15,000 per birth, problem solved.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    They are handy to have around 40, 50 years later when you need your diapers changed. Even if they aren’t yours and the state is paying them to do it, through Medicare.

    JJJJ Reply:

    I rather a hot 20 year old nurse change my diapers than my adult kids

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Someone would have to arrange for that 20 years and 9 months earlier. If there are few 20 year olds around they can find jobs that are less demanding.

    Elizabeth Alexis Reply:

    It’s kinda happening already (with exception of Bay Area). The Central Valley had outflow of people from 2010 – 2014. The only reason population grew was very hispanic growth rate – which is starting to slow. It is not obvious that the Central Valley will continue to grow over coming decades.

    From recent Fresno Bee article:

    “There are births, and lots of them. The Census Bureau estimates that more than 122,600 babies were born in Fresno, Kings, Madera and Tulare counties from 2010 to 2014. Those babies easily outnumbered the 46,800 deaths that happened during that time period.

    And there are people moving into or out of the region. Since 2010, in California and in the Valley, more people have been moving out than moving in.

    Collectively, the net effect of such domestic migration in the four Valley counties was an exodus of almost 35,000 people in the four-year span. Fresno County saw the biggest change, with more than 13,800 people choosing to settle elsewhere. Kings County rang in with a net departure of more than 11,400 residents, followed by about 7,200 from Tulare County and almost 2,500 from Madera County.”

    Edward Reply:

    For California as a whole the emigration has just about balanced the immigration. The population increase has been generated internally.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Okay, but if people immigrate, have kids, and then move away with their families, it makes it look like there’s more emigration than there actually is.

    joe Reply:

    Oh so smart and sassy. Tell people to emigrate == go fuck off.

    How clever.

  4. Kristin Sabo
    Mar 31st, 2015 at 11:25

    In Los Angeles at least, High Speed Rail has the potential to be the EXACT OPPOSITE of drought-friendly, if any of the Angeles National Forest routes that are being considered are selected.

    All of the proposed “E” routes go through Little Tujunga Canyon and Upper Pacoima Canyon. Dewatering of Little Tujunga and Gold Creek – vital contributors to the Tujunga Watershed and the San Fernando Ground Water Basin – will occur if High Speed Rail is allowed to go through the Angeles National Forest.

    The San Fernando Ground Water Basin is the largest location of locally-sourced drinking water for the City of Los Angeles.

    Huge systems like the Little Tujunga and Pacoima Cyn water sources cannot be simply excised by High Speed Rail from the Tujunga watershed. Watersheds like the Tujunga Watershed are synergistic systems where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. They share water sources in intricate ways with the surrounding
    canyons. The water we have now in the San Fernando groundwater Basin is the result of that synergistic watershed system feeding this basin for thousands of years, if not longer. To simply amputate entire subsystems on this watershed and expect no impact is careless and short-sighted. In fact, it is the opposite of a Best Practice.

    As the leader in conservation and reclamation planning, the City of Los Angeles should be demanding that these HSR routes be withdrawn right now. Other municipalities and corporate entities have done so with previous planned routes for reasons that are far less integral to the fundamental survival of everyone in the City and the State as water, and they have been successful.

    Yet Los Angeles has said nothing on this issue. To shortsightedly not protect current water sources for whatever reason – maybe due to a lack of foresight or due to local, small-issue political choices – is pretty much exactly how Los Angeles historically got itself into the crippling water situation we have here now.

    Read more about this at —


    synonymouse Reply:

    Sir, I suggest you check out a DVD of “Chinatown” from the local library. Sometimes fiction is indeed not as strange as the truth.

  5. Reality Check
    Mar 31st, 2015 at 12:55

    O/T, but a somewhat surprising variable “HOT lane” pricing story nevertheless:
    $1.40/mile toll can’t keep LA MTA’s 110 Harbor Freeway HOT lane from filling up

    Metro’s algorithm modifies the per-mile toll as frequently as every five minutes, based on how many cars are using the lanes. Tolls range from 25 cents to $1.40 a mile, for a maximum one-way price of $15.40 along the 11-mile route. As cars enter the lanes, the price at that moment appears on overhead digital signs. In theory, a higher toll will discourage some drivers from using the lanes, freeing up space and speeds for the remaining users.

    But that isn’t always happening. Paying the maximum charge along some miles of the route is “almost a guarantee” during the 5 a.m.-to-9 a.m. rush hour, said Kathleen McCune, Metro’s congestion reduction director. Even then, toll-lane traffic stays thick.

    “The fact that the speeds are getting low suggests prices aren’t high enough,” said Clifford Winston, a Brookings Institute economist who focuses on transportation policy. “There’s no such thing as a price ceiling. If tolls went up to $10 per mile, I’m sure it would have an effect.”

    But drivers who don’t pay tolls from their own wallets have made it more difficult for Metro to influence demand through prices, McCune said. Contractors, lawyers and consultants who bill clients for the toll will pay the price, no matter how high. “It could go up to $2,000 a mile and it wouldn’t matter to them,” she said.


    Elizabeth Alexis Reply:

    “Contractors, lawyers and consultants who bill clients for the toll will pay the price, no matter how high. “It could go up to $2,000 a mile and it wouldn’t matter to them,” she said.”

    Now we know why the HSR project is so expensive…

    Neil Shea Reply:

    Aren’t you one of those highly paid consultants Elizabeth?

    Miles Bader Reply:

    She could be a “50 center”…

    Elizabeth Alexis Reply:

    Uh… no. We are purely volunteer effort.,

    mark Reply:

    She’s just being snarky. It’s a coping mechanism.

    Elizabeth Alexis Reply:

    I wish it were just snark… have been pouring through Caltrain consultant invoices and contracts for last six months. Quite disturbing, a little disgusting and truly disappointing.

    Neil Shea Reply:

    Are Caltrans highway building operations efficient and corruption-free by comparison? How do the consulting invoices look on the $6.5B Bay Bridge eastern replacement, the $1.4B one-mile (!) Presidio Pkwy/Doyle Drive replacement, or LA’s $1B+ project to add a carpool lane to the 405 through the Sepulveda Pass?

    How was it that it cost $72m for Palo Alto to get 3 miles (!) of a carpool lane that they didn’t need? No inflated invoices there I’m sure. We should be more responsible everywhere, not just on HSR projects that go near our house.

    Elizabeth Alexis Reply:

    CAHSR is the offspring of Caltrans and bay area transit agencies – each parent with dysfunction all its own.

    Jerry Reply:

    As even theologians say,
    It’s in their DNA.

    joe Reply:

    dysfunction is when wealthy cities cannot make their quota of home development. Dysfunction is when highways get added merge lanes to assure local side streets in wealthy cities do not back up.

    Neil Shea Reply:

    So I think we’re now saying that HSR is not uniquely dysfunctional nor more dysfunctional than the bureaucracy that builds the status-quo fossil fuel consuming highways and airports. So we can think again about availability of alternative modes, and whether having only highways and airports in 2030 is the future we want.

    Neil Shea Reply:

    “Commuters who drive alone represent about one-third of total toll-lane drivers” meaning 2/3 are carpoolers, and 2-person carpools already pay a toll during rush hour. It seems it’s 2 HOT lanes + 4 regular lanes for much of its length.

  6. Reedman
    Mar 31st, 2015 at 16:47

    Not everyone who uses the Frankfurt train station is there to take a train ride.


    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Irrelevant to California, where construction-contractor-profitable airport-style strict segregation into landside and airside guarantees that battleship-sized station construction costs balloon while retail opportunities are hamstrung by the Vaterlandssicherheitsdienst barriers that cut up the space, cut down foot traffic, largely eliminate through traffic and local destination traffic, and halve or worse sales volumes.

    When was the last time you visited an airport to take advantage of the fine retail and dining opportunities?

    PBQD=CHSRA is building airports, not train stations. Germany (shared platforms between inter-national, inter-city, inter-regional, regional, and local trains; zero ticket barriers; human-scale, human-oriented, urbanistic stations) is irrelevant to what we’re being served up/

    Miles Bader Reply:

    Haneda airport has been having crowding issues because of unexpected non-passenger retail traffic… It’s apparently become a shopping/dining destination (it does have some very nice shops and restaurants, and is relatively close to the city).

    swing hanger Reply:

    I’ve heard that Zurich Airport (as well as railway stations in Switzerland and Germany) benefit from non-passenger retail sales due to the retail laws in German-speaking nations that restrict business hours/days for traditional high street businesses, which do not apply to transport oriented locations.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Zurich Airport has a lot of landside retail, in addition to very good airside chocolate stores that aren’t any more overpriced than anything else in Zurich.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that you equate controlled-access transit stations to Nazi Germany in response to an article about a train station in …Germany.

    Lots of people, as I understand it, go to Union Station in DC for their retail needs. But if you are going to presume that CAHSR will look like BART…sure keep on with the cute Nazi metaphors…

    I doubt though, that in the search for revenues that both the Authority and the cities won’t take a hard look at expanding their retail footprint. In fact, I’d be surprised if BART didn’t do the same too as a way to leverage more revenue in the years ahead too…

    joe Reply:

    “When was the last time you visited an airport to take advantage of the fine retail and dining opportunities?”

    They charge too much for parking.

    Joey Reply:

    Not everyone drives, but airport transit links usually have a premium price attached too.

  7. morris brown
    Mar 31st, 2015 at 17:20

    The Palo Alto Daily Post had a front page article detailing more about the really scandalous appointment of Jim Hartnett to lead CalTrain. On March 16, Dave Price the editor had an opinion piece on this appointment.

    The article can be viewed at:


    joe Reply:

    scandal because as a former board member when HSR began to cooperate with Caltrain on blend d and electrification.
    he is going to make caltrain cooperate with HSR. The worse possible outcome for Palo Alto.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    The Half Moon Bay harbormaster ought to be put in charge of US Navy strategic planning. S/he’s as qualified for that job as Jim Hartnett is for his triple-play positions.

    joe Reply:

    The correct analogy is putting a politician in charge of the defense dept which is exactly what they do to assure the organization has a peer working with the stakeholders.

    The position is not for an engineer or planner. The org head hires those skills. He is supposed to find funding and keep the system coordinated with a complex set of organizations and interests.

    That’s exactly why it pisses off HSR opponents.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    It’s a fucking catastophe for Caltrain. Business as usual.

    “HSR opponents” couldn’t care less about the tiny tiny tiny incestuous mutual back-scratching of San Mateo County kickbacks. But it fucking sucks for anybody who ever wanted to see Caltrain move out of the 19th century.

    joe Reply:

    oh noes! I missed the part where they promised to radically transform the service with this hire.

    What they needed was an outsider with no ties to local pols, no preconceived notion of what to do or familiarity with the area.

    synonymouse Reply:

    In line to replace Hemminger.

    Jerry Reply:

    Why do they have to have ONE person fill THREE jobs/positions?

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