How engineers see the water glass in California

Engineering a water glass at 50 percent. Source:

This is another dry year.  How do California’s engineers see a partially-full water glass?  Mostly the same as they did in the original 2012 version of this post, but we’ve added a few more perspectives.

by Jay R. Lund

Depending on your outlook, the proverbial glass of water is either half full or half empty. Not so for engineers in California.

Civil engineer (and George Carlin): The glass is twice as big as it needs to be.

Flood control engineer: The glass should be 50 percent bigger.

Army Corps levee engineer: The glass should be 50 percent thicker.

Mexicali Valley water engineer: Your leaky glass is my water supply.

Delta levee engineer: Why is water rising on the outside of my glass?

Dutch levee engineer: This water should be kept in a pitcher.

Southern California water engineer: Can we get another pitcher?

Northern California water engineer: Who took half my water?

Lower Colorado River water engineer (outside of California): California took half my water.

Lower Colorado River water engineer (inside California): Sorry for shortages in other states.

Tulare Basin water engineer: I’m saving that empty storage to capture floods for recharge.

California Water Commission engineer: Would a bigger glass provide public benefits?

USBR CVP or NOAA engineer: Is that water cold?

Consulting engineer: How much water would you like?

Environmental engineer: I wouldn’t drink that.

Water reuse engineer: Someone else drank from this glass.

Groundwater engineer: Can I get a longer straw?

Google engineer: Stereo view disabled on device.

Academic engineer: I don’t have a glass or any water, but I’ll tell you what to do with yours.

Lawyers, NGOs, managers, regulators, and elected officials also seem to have different views of glasses at 50% of their capacity.  We can start a collection of these perspectives.

Quote Investigator has a more scholarly view of the subject.

Jay Lund is a professor of civil and environmental engineering and half-director of the Center for UC Davis’ Watershed Sciences.

Further reading

Munroe, Randall. Glass Half Empty.

Quote Investigator (2022),” Optimist: The Glass Is Half Full. Pessimist: The Glass Is Half Empty. Comedian: The Glass Is the Wrong Size,”

About jaylund

Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Director, Center for Watershed Sciences University of California - Davis
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6 Responses to How engineers see the water glass in California

  1. A physicist would say, “water will boil at room temperature in a vaccum.”

    A climate scientist would say, “the ice cubes in the glass melted.”

    A stock broker would sell you an option to buy the glass in the future… or the empty space in the glass.

  2. Bill Entz says:

    Ecologist: Why can’t we share like we did before? There should still be enough for your needs and we get to have nature.
    Politicians and bureaucrats: Those other people know more than you do.

  3. SFPUC contract holder: I know there’s more water than that. That’s just what the rest of the state has to live with.

  4. jaylund says:

    Some good raw additions from twitter and emails:

    – The habitat restoration engineer plants a reed in the cup.
    – The state agency PR person puts put a hopeful press release about the new eco-cup initiative, a new collaborative multi-benefit climate resiliency effort.
    – The biologist would like to point out that the “cup” is actually an ecosystem.
    – The business dumped half the water out of the cup and painted it green, helped by a state agency.
    – The stock broker will sell you an option to buy the glass in the future.
    – The water lawyer has a paper cup without water in it.
    – Omniboire: I’ll drink what’s left in the glass.
    – CA Water Commission Engineer also doesn’t say “Would more glasses provide a bigger public benefit?”

    Clearly, California’s water professionals are learning how to live with less water.

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