Hill Climb

Yesterday, to demonstrate a point–water is heavy and it takes a lot of energy to move it–I walked with a cubic foot of water on my back up Marin Avenue, a well-known hill here in Berkeley. A cubic foot of water is 62.4 pounds. To get it into a relatively manageable state–water has a mind of its own and is the ultimate shape-shifter when you try to confine it–I poured a couple gallons of water into several reasonably leak-proof plastic bags, double-bagged those bags, then put the bags into a single-compartment backpack. In the event, I had some leakage, but I’m pretty confident from weighing things out the gross mass of what I was hauling was pretty close to 62 pounds.

I chose Marin and a single cubic foot of water as a humble analog for a famous section of California’s State Water Project. Down below Bakersfield, the SWP has a facility called the Edmonston Pumping Plant. It’s job: Move water that’s been pumped uphill from the San Joaquin Valley up and over the Tehachapi Mountains. “Move water” is a bit of an understatement. Edmonston’s big lift blasts water from a battery of 14 pumps up 1,920 feet, over the top of the Tehachapis, through several miles of underground pipelines. It’s a waterfall in reverse–4,450 cubic feet per second, 2 million gallons a minute–made to defy gravity. Once it’s over the top, the water flows into a network of aqueducts and reservoirs for mostly residential customers throughout Southern California.

So, my single cubic foot of water, going up 650 vertical feet over three-quarters of a linear mile in about 20 minutes–my power output was probably several hundred watts (I’m trying to work out a calculation, but so far I don’t believe what I see). In human terms, I was breathing hard and sweating freely before I was halfway up. I wonder if those Edmonston pumps, which each operate at 60 million watts, ever get tired.

Anyway: Above is a little bit of what the effort looked like, shot with my iPhone as I headed up Marin; below is “the top”:

3 Replies to “Hill Climb”

  1. Our family did a lot of camping and my brother and I would carry buckets of water up from some river or lake so there would be something to put out the camp fire with at the end of the night. My water carrying days ended at an early age, thankfully. I was almost out of breath just watching you carry the water up that hill. Great demonstration, Dan.

  2. Cool.
    Question: they do anything to try to produce energy from all that water flowing down into the LA Basin?

  3. Marie, I was talking to a friend on Saturday who reminded me there are lots of places in the world where your method is the only way water gets from here to there. In those places, people’s lives are centered around carrying water.
    Pete: Yeah–ingeniously, the State Water Project is set up so that when it’s possible, the water that’s pumped uphill is used to generate electricity as it flows downhill again. It’s not a huge fraction of what the SWP generates (most of its hydropower comes from big upstream dams), and as Marc Reisner noted several times in “Cadillac Desert,” you can’t generate as much as you use in that process, but you can help balance the overall energy (and financial) books.

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