Jack Keller: Understanding Peak Water

Jack Keller had a long career as an internationally recognized expert in the design, implementation, and management of irrigation systems. He spent many decades sharing his expertise by consulting municipalities, corporations, and governments about efficient irrigated agricultural development; river-basin water management and conservation planning; irrigation water monitoring, verification and conservation planning; and developing efficient low-cost irrigation technologies for small farms.

We had Jack on as an interview guest two years ago to speak about one of the greatest and least appreciated predicaments facing society today: Peak Water. And just a few weeks ago, he and I agreed that he'd return as a guest in December with an update on how the situation has evolved since.
With heavy heart, I'm saddened to report that Jack Keller died unexpectedly this week at age 85. He was in the midst of preparing for yet another international consulting trip, this time to South America sharing his passion and talents until the very end. We're running his initial interview below in memoriam.
We'll miss you, Jack. ~ Adam

"A very, very large amount of our total food production is depending on a diminishing supply of water," remarks Jack Keller, one of our own regulars here in the PeakProsperity.com community and an accomplished world expert on water management.

Similar to oil and other key natural resources that are mined and consumed, water is subject to the same exponential trends. Both surface supply and underground fossil stores of clean water are depleting at alarming rates, and the energy and economic costs of extraction are swiftly increasing.

Water is our most precious natural resource (well, perhaps after oxygen). Advances in irrigation in the past century ushered in tremendous prosperity (the "green revolution"), particularly in food production, power generation, and a dramatic increase in the supportable populations for vast regions of land. If the water supply in future years dwindles to less than today's, those societal gains are going to have to retreat to some extent.

Jack sees us as "nearing the end of our string" in terms of the efficiencies new technologies can bring to water management. The story that's going to matter more is conservation -- how well we use what we have left.

The good news is, he remains optimistic that a sustainable state can be reached. But getting there will require adopting very different habits towards water than we do today. And unfortunately, the bad news is that Jack has little confidence our political leaders have any real plan to deal with the core issues. Meaning, it will take a national water crisis occurring to force us to sufficiently focus on developing the right kind of long-term solutions.

For those who similarly predict a much-higher future value for water than we see today, Jack shared his thoughts:

Investing in water is kind of a messy and difficult thing in my view. I personally tried to figure out how to invest in water, and I really am not quite sure how to do it.

The only way that I know to directly own water because water is a property, and usually it is tied to land is to own irrigated land that has water rights. A city has water rights, but that is usually already in the public domain if it is a city water right. The one way to own water directly, like owning an oil patch, is to own a piece of agricultural land with water right on it.

The next thing is to approach it as mining. Look to obtain the right to take water out of the ground, like mining.

The next thing you could own is you could own things that move the water, like pumps and pipes. So you could invest in water infrastructure hardware. That includes both from the domestic side, all the stuff that goes to making municipal city urban water system, and from the farm side, the people that make irrigation equipment the infrastructure, the hardware for using and moving water. 

So what should we do as we look to the uncertain future of our water supplies?

Shift from consumption to stewardship, advises Jack. It means going from taking water for granted to thinking much more carefully about it: understanding that the system itself is not just the water we each personally use, but learning where it's from, where it goes, and the effects of irrigation, drainage, and evapo-transpiration throughout the usage cycle. It's a complex system that will require much more conscientious management if we want to avoid painful adjustments in the future.

Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Jack Keller (runtime 48m:39s): 

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://peakprosperity.com/jack-keller-understanding-peak-water-4/

Aloha! Mahalo for the pcast! There have already been "mini-water crisis" already. I became very aware of water shortages just from my stint living in both Southern California and Northern California going back to the 1970s and 1990s. I recall the water shortages in the 1970s that had pool owners emptying their pools. I recall a ban on restaurant water served automatically. I recall a ban on lawn watering. And there still is to this day a constant resentment in Northern California that Southern California is stealing "their" water supply so much so it reminds me of an upcoming "mini-civil war" … the north vs the south!
I now live in Hawaii on the Big Island. In 1996 I was looking for a place to live where I could retire and not have to worry about major crime, over-crowding, polluted air, water shortages or the dreaded 3-day supply chain that killed many  people in Katrina when the supply chain broke down. During Katrina one of the most sought after entities was water and its derivative ice! We also wanted a place to live where the cost of utilities like heating and cooling were not a major factor. Here in Hawaii many homes have no insulation and some not even drywall. Food grows wild and needs no cultivation at all and it grows year round. We live on five acres and we have such an abundant supply of food and water. We are orchid farmers and literally I have not had to turn on sprinklers in years. It is all watered by rain. There are times when I see so much water coming off our greenhouse gutters its like Niagra falls. 

I offer one way to invest in future water rights and food rights is to buy property on the Big Island!! Which at this point is dirt cheap compared to the other islands and just about any major California city. In fact we are seeing an influx of Californians retiring here for much of the same reasons I mentioned above.


Another good man gone.
I was watching a video on a bronze age Indo-European people, the Hittites. They left cuneiform writing on clay tablets. (Much more durable than either paper or code.) So we have an accurate record of their inner world.

What struck me was their reliance on the rear view mirror for knowledge on how to plan the future, for how the world works. This conservatism has a place in planning but it fails when up against The Limits. Their civilization died out before the invention of iron. To the Hittites bronze was all there was.

Fast forward to today. Carbon is all we have got. But is it all there is?

I am reading Rupert Sheldrake's book, "Science Set Free" (a wishy-washy title to make the book palatable to an American audience) in which he deals with Morphic Resonance.

The point is that there is something amiss in the foundations of our knowledge. In the assumptions and axioms upon which our world view rest.

For instance Richard Feynman discovered that all forces are mediated by virtual photons. Particles that pop into existence ex nihilo, serve a purpose and disappear again. Your bottom is being supported by a sea of these particles right now, preventing you from falling through your chair. And yes, they do exist.

Using the Bronze/Iron age discontinuity metaphor, perhaps we might be forced into a new Iron age where energy is harvested from a very different place.

This will be a necessary but not sufficient element for our survival.


i think i can help you arther…chris says {whether or not it is a realistic idea to just say we will take it from where it is and move it to where it is needed.} do we even have to wonder about that?
anytime a people can;t realize that they should move to where the water is, they deserve to die of thirst. purify the gene pool.
does anyone out there understand what i do? i moved to where i thought water was…let fools b e fools
hubrisatic…somebody help me make the term that encompasses the stupid of wasting energy nd thought of how to move water to the dessert…if this isn’t status quo i don’t know what is…move the water to me? good g-d , are we even talking like this?
up until lately, mankind has gone where the clean water was…what is so different now?
just that our stupidity has exponentiated
a hockey stick of stupidity…on the rise

We are merely building a tower of babel. CHS's overlooked but poignant diminishing returns ties into this construct. The more we specialize in attempt to construct a unified language, the more esoteric each specialized language becomes, therefore no one can understand what the other is saying. Feralhen's point on purifying the gene pool is but interrupted by the geneticist that suffers from her god complex, attempting to deny mortality. We are asking the wrong questions. The I Pet Goat II piece of art was asking the right question(s).



To me it is obvious that the gene pool will not be cleansed- it will be replaced.
Sheldrake argues well for his "Morphic Resonance" and it is congruent with my thought that Portia the Jumping spider has more skill than can be locked up in a bundle of genes in a zygote. If he is correct then there IS a direction to evolution and we Will be replaced by our superiors. (I thank the Lord for this heresy.)

However this is a subject for another thread-we were speaking of Water.

Water and energy are different manifestations of the same thing. There is a mob here in Australia who make a wind powered refrigerator that condenses water from the air.

Aloha! To your point the standup comic Sam Kinison had the solution for World Hunger back in the 1980s … UHAULS!https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P0q4o58pKwA

Though I never personally met Jack, I recognize his face as one of the 400 Professors Who Question 9/11.  He is one of the 2,000+ Architects and Engineers who have signed the petition requesting an independent study of the 3 collapsing buildings on 9/11.
His statement on signing the petition:

"Without any serious study I had simply accepted that the events of 9/11 were as commonly perceived, although I was not happy with the way the disaster was being used to promote what I felt were illegal and self defeating imperialistic policies in the guise of the War on Terrorism.


It was not until early 2006 that I stumbled upon sufficient information to become suspicious of the "official" and generally accepted 9/11 storyline. This led me to do my own investigation during which I discovered the demise of WTC 7, which I was heretofore unaware of. Obviously it was the result of controlled demolition and scheduled to take place during the confusion surrounding the day’s events.

I now feel morally obligated to deal with and expose the "politically unthinkable" issues surrounding the 9/11 phenomena by participating in such undertakings as signing this petition."  http://www.ae911truth.org

Jack also endorsed one of the books by David Ray Griffin on this subject:
Endorsement of 9/11 Contradictions: An Open Letter to Congress and the Press by David Ray Griffin: "This book describes in very straightforward and non-technical terms some major inconsistencies in the government's official story about the events on September 11, 2001.  It points out many attempts in the 9/11 Commission's report to cover up evidence. ... As an engineer, I am especially troubled by the cover-up of evidence relevant to the collapse of the three major World Trade Center buildings.  I hope that Congress and the public will heed this call for a full and impartial investigation to determine what really did happen on that fateful day." 
I am reminded of the quote by Mark Twain on the high cost of being one of the "ones who know" during the early stages of a movement when "everyone" knows that a thing cannot be true.  It takes a clear intellect and tremendous social courage.
In the beginning of a change the patriot is a scarce man, and brave, and hated and scorned. When his cause succeeds, the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot. - Mark Twain, Notebook, 1904

ok back to water
we had a record drought last year, the corn crop failed but thanks to crop insurance the farmers still got paid for their efforts…more complexity? how does one eat insurance?
back to the water…the farm house across the street from me, built in the 1870;s, has a 1000+ gallon cast iron cistern in the basement to collect rain water.what we they thinking? i really would be interested in knowing their reasonings. my rain barrels dried up within a week of no rain.
my land slopes down into a swamp, so i put the garden where the water table is about 1 ft below the surface. i did not water my garden last year and had a very good harvest in the middle of a once in a hundred year drought.about 2 ft up for root plants. this was no accident…i planned for this, and decided on this parcel because it had so much surface water. i’m working onhow to purify the water with out electricity or gasoline. anyone out there doing this please pm me . i’d like to kick some ideas around.
i lived in LA, in the 70;s, we had restricted water, even and odd days according to one’s address. no one really followed it,and those that did…watered their yards heavily on their designated day.
i would have preferred to live in colorado, but the water issue…of trucking in water didn’t make sense to me, ,neither did an 899 ft well also the forest fires.
so i live in boring melba toast michigan, and there again, while we have ample water supply, alot of it is polluted.
there is a term teshuvah that means a turning from, a repentance. a turning away from acts that are not righteous…what concerns me is that i do not see much of a turning away from our own selfishness on any level of society. i hear so often, well while i still have it. i’m going to use it and enjoy it.
righteousness aside, i think we should be turning away from ruining the very things we need to exist. we are killing ourselves , friends, families by failing to exercise self control…

Water is the source of all life. How can we leave the subject when all is attached to and a part of it? Genetic engineering may in fact determine in the future who is allowed to drink first from the watering hole, and then where will the bedrock of our ideals of equal rights and democracy be? Why do we approach subjects one at a time as if they are detached from the others?
Superior beings? One might argue that superior animals already exist on our planet. Take your pick. We have the "smartest" people running things already…???

Ferralhen wrote: righteousness aside, i think we should be turning away from ruining the very things we need to exist. we are killing ourselves , friends, families by failing to exercise self control.
Exactly!  Nice quote. But that may mean turning away from the things that we see as "bettering" our lives.


…choice or chance, Michigan strikes me as an inspired choice of places to live, with shoreline on four of the five Great Lakes (GL).  That's 20% of the world's surface fresh water on your figurative doorstep.The eight GL states and two provinces have been working together for decades to protect those waters from diversions to the southwest and plains states.  Of course, in the end political power will determine whether that happens.  But, it is good to be aware of those possibilities because the GL are a treasure we should protect.

As a resident of the San Joaquin valley I found this podcast painful.  Part of my attraction to this area 30 years ago was abundant surface water, a local run-of-the-river hydroelectric facility, great soils, and a great climate that allows us to grow over 150 crops.  What could possibly go wrong?

The San Joaquin valley (Sacramento to Bakersfield) can be further divided into two distinct regions:  the Northern region, which is both surface and groundwater rich and the Southern region, which is both surface and groundwater poor.  Fresno and Bakersfield have heavily over-drafted their groundwater to make this one of the most productive agricultural areas in the world. 


We live in the Northern region of the valley and have 'assumed' our water situation would continue as it has the past 125 years.  Our local irrigation district is undergoing relicensing to comply with state laws.  Every stage of this process has been contentious - the state regulators clearly have another agenda.


Since outright stealing of surface water would be difficult, Governor Brown has established a new (unelected) state water board to oversee surface water.  The board has decided that from 35% to 98% of the natural run-off from mountain snow melt needs to flow down the river to increase the salmon populations. Coincidently Brown is purposing massive tunnels around the delta to capture this water and run it down to Southern California.  The local newspaper writers are beyond dense - I have called numerous times and explained what is really going on. They continue to say it is about the salmon.  I can't fix stupid.


Recently I attended a groundwater talk.  I have known the speaker for 30 years and consider him a solid and honest individual.  I assume what he presented is accurate.  The groundwater has been mapped  topographical and is well understood.  We have about 7 times as much ground water as surface water.  Three levels of groundwater exist, separated by clay layers. Shallow ground water (from about 40 feet to 120 feet) is where we draw our drinking water from.    The mid-level aquifer is where most agricultural pumps draw from.  Both shallow and mid-level aquifers are very high quality water.  The final deep water (~400 feet deep) is rich in minerals and deemed undesirable for irrigation.


Under normal circumstances we could muddle through the surface water issues.  Recently a group of investors have purchased large blocks of rolling hills between the valley and the mountains.  Thousands of area of almonds and walnuts are being planted.  Groundwater is being heavily tapped to make this happen.  Remember the theme song thread - The Last Resort:


                          Then some rich man came and raped the land

                          Nobody caught 'em


The rich investors have been rumored to be John Madden, Oprah Winfrey, Nancy Pelosi, and Condoleezza Rice.  Ground water flows from the mountains to the valley, so guess who gets first dibs?  Does anyone on this site want to bet who wins and who loses?


I have spoken with local irrigation district individuals and they already have attorneys lined up.  One individual I spoke with said our best chance of preserving surface water and hydroelectric power is to get Dianna Feinstein involved.  She has consistently provided a reasonable balance between agricultural and urban water users and has the clout, respect, and common sense to preserve agriculture in our area. 


                               peak water + peak oil = peak people

Jack was my major professor at Utah State University decades ago.  He always had a wonderful grin as he was sharing his keen understandings and observations with people.  We could sure use more like him.  

i’m certainly not going to worry about losing a luxury or let that stop me from using my common sense to survive.or to stymie me into doing nothing. i can’t let fear or lofty thought keep me from acting in a responsible way.
what it ends up meaning who knows, but it will happen only if we first turn from our destroying behavior. we can’t even begin to speculate if we aren’t here.
debt of all kinds, mean future choices have already been spent. whether it’s water, air, money,…we are spending many resources like there is no tomorrow…and maybe that is what is going to happen. no tomorrow.
i don’t know what will happen, but it makes sense to me now to live in a sustainable way as much as i can.
every gallon of gasoline i use up completely, never to exist again…carries alot of responsibility.
talking and thinking are useless if i still burn gasoline thoughtlessly, dump the byproducts in the drinking water, and pollute the air with the exhaust.
why are any of driving today? it’s something to ponder. when do you say ok i will stop now?
if not now, when?
i find many of the answers i seek come only after i have embraced a change and begin to understand what the actual problems are that i encounter.
i used cheap gasoline to build a place where many can survive without it.i’m not saying that is the only answer, only what i have come up with so far. my building phase is over now, so now i start to innovate ways for myself to get the things i need to live…in a natural as possible way. because at the rate people are spending the earths inheritance, that’s all i’ll someday have to work with.

[quote=Arthur Robey]Using the Bronze/Iron age discontinuity metaphor, perhaps we might be forced into a new Iron age where energy is harvested from a very different place.
This will be a necessary but not sufficient element for our survival.
Whenever I start to think that a scientific solution will magically appear to solve our dilema, I refer back to the Thomas Malthus essay on population, or Albert Bartlett's presentation.  When you hit the vertical portion of the exponential curve slope, your choices are limited indeed.
I wish I could say that poor population/resource use planning got us to where we are today, but the reality is that lack of populatoin/resource consumption planning got us to where we are today.
I recall a National Geographic article on energy published around 2005.  The summary indicated that an immediate effort equivalent to the US World War II mobilization was needed to address the coming energy crisis.  The article had a picture of an ocean covered with war ships all steaming in the same direction.
Obviously, the effort never materialized.  New scientific breakthroughs or not, we have not planned and prepared adequately to address the coming shortages in resources, including water and energy.  We may move in that direction as time progresses, but we are now destined to pay the price for our lack of planning, regardless of science.
I missed any mention, in the podcast, of recent trends to use aquifer water to frack oil and natural gas.  Perhaps it was mentioned and I missed it.
Capitalism has proven to be extremely bad when it comes to financially rewarding future planning.

Condolences to the family and friends of Jack Keller - an obviously impactful human being who will be greatly missed. Another lost warrior. I hope there is a successor in the wings.
I was always intrigued by water usage and its cycles. I found some great info on the extraordinary documentary called "Home", narrated by American actress Glen Close. It is about an hour and a half but well worth it. A key part on the cycle of water is at about the 08:00 minute mark.


I wish there was far greater global exposure for this important documentary.


[quote=LesPhelps]Capitalism has proven to be extremely bad when it comes to financially rewarding future planning.
Capitalism has nothing to do with the lack of future planning, rather the lack of capitalism is the problem.  As Chris M. pointed out in a recent article, when markets are massively manipulated it leads to only short term thinking.  How can you plan when things are unstable?  We have manipulated money, resulting in manipulated energy prices, which leads to all kinds of unsustainable behavior.
It takes stable money and proper signals to know what is sustainable.  Just look at energy, how do you expect people to know that we have an energy problem when the propaganda from the news and political entities proclaims we are going to be energy independent?  How do we expect people to know that oil is a scarce commodity when we have the petro-dollar making it appear that oil is cheap?  That then leads to things like large SUVs, urban sprawl, etc.
On the water side, we have no idea how valuable water is because it is not even remotely a free market where the value is determined by need.  It's artificially kept low by hiding the costs through taxes that subsidize poorly maintained infrastructure, poor farming practices, and out right price setting by central planning.  Want people to know how valuable water is, let them be billed the actual price, not through some hidden taxation scheme.
So, while I agree we have had very poor planning, capitalism is not the problem.  The problem is manipulation of all the measurements that give us signals on the value of resources.

Capitalism has proven to be extremely bad when it comes to financially rewarding future planning.
Capitalism has nothing to do with the lack of future planning, rather the lack of capitalism is the problem.  As Chris M. pointed out in a recent article, when markets are massively manipulated it leads to only short term thinking.  How can you plan when things are unstable?  We have manipulated money, resulting in manipulated energy prices, which leads to all kinds of unsustainable behavior.
It takes stable money and proper signals to know what is sustainable.
So, while I agree we have had very poor planning, capitalism is not the problem.  The problem is manipulation of all the measurements that give us signals on the value of resources.
I can agree with you regarding the market.  However, I don't think of the markets first when I think of capitalism.  I think of large corporations, like the one I worked in for almost 40 years.
The entire focus of executive decisions is aimed at the next 5 years, with particular focus on the current year.  Traded corporations today are not being run for the benefit of customers and employees, they are being run solely for the benefit of executives and stock holders.
The other short term thinking aspect of capitalism that we see all the time is environmental impact.  It requires outside regulation to get industry to moderate their extraction, emission and discharge practices.  
Unfortunately, capitalism is indeed flawed and part of the problem.
I was raised to almost worship capitalism and democracy.  We are now seeing the results of the flaws in these systems.  I haven't come up with anything better to replace them with, but that doesn't mean I have to ignore the evidence of my own eyes regarding their on going effectiveness.

Wow, what a powerful film.  The cinematography is mind blowing and the places, peoples, resources, cultures and lives portrayed really sum up the many balances necessary to keep our planet functioning as a biosphere.  It further shows how drastically, perhaps catastrophically, we have altered those balances in my lifetime, particularly with respect to water.  There is no doubt, to paraphrase the first Clinton campaign slogan, it's the environment stupid.  That must be our focus if we hope to save the world.

I think you can shorten that list of beneficiaries to "executives", but this really only applies to the large corporations that are benefiting from government largess.  Yes, the decision making has been drastically reduced to only short term, but again I believe that is largely a consequence of free/cheap money in the system.   It's no longer necessary to actually provide value and benefit to get the bucks.  Why even strive to make shareholders happy by running a good business when the Fed will just print and drive up stock prices no matter what you do?

I really disagree with this.  I think you and I as consumers have much more power over corporate behavior than do industry captured regulators.  Voting with your dollar, particularly in the age of the Internet where you can have your voice much more easily heard is very powerful.  However, if you have a large corporate entity that can use regulating authorities to crush competition, then it reduces your power as a consumer.  Why do you think all the regulation is authored by the large corporate players, do you think it's for your benefit?  They are giving you some lip service while using regulation to crush their smaller more nimble competition. Look at some of the more recent examples, particularly in the food industry, when the Monsantos/AGMs of the world are crushing smaller farmers and producers via regulation that is very expensive.

I don't worship either, I believe capitalism is just an outreach of free choice. Democracy is mob rule and will bring out the worst behavior.  Individual choice and freedom are the antidotes.   Notice I don't equate capitalism and democracy.  Capitalism (free markets) should be a voluntary agreement between producers and consumers.  What we have now (and for the last several decades) is neither.  We are much closer to Fascism.  Democracy is forced compliance by the majority against the minority.

But is what your seeing truly capitalism?  Or is it Fascism, Corporatism?  Just calling something capitalism or democracy doesn't make it so, anymore than claiming we are going to be energy independent, in recovery, etc? wink