Perspectives: Is Your Cup Half Empty or Half Full?

By Marla J. Barnes

One of my hydropower industry mentors, Carl Vansant (the previous editor-in-chief of this publication), often pointed out to me: “When a glass is halfway filled with liquid, is it half full or half empty? You get to decide. There’s two ways to look at every situation — either the ‘half empty glass’ way or the ‘half full glass’ way. I prefer the ‘half full’ way.”

That philosophy is one I’ve carried with me over the years and generally apply to most situations I face … both professionally and personally. However, sometimes a “half full” viewpoint is hard to adopt, especially when the situation is affected by non- controllable circumstances.

Consider, for example, the following excerpt from my colleague Michael Harris’s March 16, 2015, “Hydro Talk” blog posted on

California has about one year of water left.”

According to Famiglietti, “January was the driest in California since record-keeping began in 1895,” with groundwater and snowpack both at all-time lows.

Data from NASA satellites shows the total amount of water stored in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins — each home to a number of hydroelectric facilities — was 34 million acre-feet below normal in 2014. Meanwhile, water levels have dropped more than 12 million acre-feet per year statewide in California since 2011, with about two-thirds of those losses stemming from agricultural pumping of groundwater in the Central Valley region necessitated by surface water allocations being cut by more than 80%.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, hydroelectric generation in California alone dropped 8,000 GWh through 2014, with other surrounding states also suffering significant impacts.

The conditions are such that some of the state’s water districts are already considering mandatory rationing. And, in somewhat of a throwback to the creation of the federal Soil Erosion Service and other legislative actions resulting from the Dust Bowl, California Gov. Edmund Brown enacted a three-bill package known as the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act in September 2014 that will require local agencies to establish plans for the water in their area. The legislation states that agencies must submit their plans by 2017 and adopt them by 2022, with the ultimate goal of attaining sustainability two decades following.

Reading the above excerpt, you would quickly conclude the situation is ominous. How in the world can the current drought in California be looked at as a “glass half full” scenario? What can hydro professionals possibly do to overcome the cruel hand being dealt by weather patterns … completely out of their control?

As Michael Harris writes in his blog, “It is without question a pivotal (if not precarious) time for hydro in the West, and in somewhat cruel coincidence, the current impacts are being felt hardest at many of the projects spawned as a direct result of the Dust Bowl eight decades ago and the Works Progress Administration created thereafter.”

Yet, all across the state and throughout the region, I see subscribers to the “glass half full” philosophy coming forward — looking for solutions, finding ways to approach problems from different angles, applying lessons from the past, learning from one another.

In fact, it’s not just in California I see this philosophy emerging. A theme coming out loud and clear in the pages of this edition of Hydro Review is the importance of applying lessons learned. To me, that’s taking a “glass half full” philosophy … recognizing the situation may be far from perfect but finding a way to make incremental improvements with the “hand you’ve been dealt” and not repeating the same mistakes from the past.

So, think about it: is your glass half empty or half full? You decide.

Marla J. Barnes
Publisher and Chief Editor

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