Tag Archive for: water abundance

Eliminating Water Scarcity

After the deluge that inundated California during our most recent water season, there is no chance Californians will confront a water supply crisis this year. Water levels, as reported by the California Data Exchange Center, are above the historical average for this date in every one of California’s major reservoirs.

But storms of scarcity remain on the horizon, and conservation is not enough. If conservation is our only approach, we will not conserve our way out of anything, not scarcity, poverty, inflation, or fragility, much less water. If rainfall totals are destined to permanently drop, then we must invest, innovate, and build. There is nothing Californians cannot do, so long as we apply our creativity and our wealth from an abundance mindset.

To reprise the theme that we believe will solve the problems of the world (nothing grandiose there), the only solutions that can deliver sustainability, equity, affordability and resilience in all things are policies that create abundance. Here are the some of the challenges that stand in the way of water abundance in California.

Overdrafted Aquifers: According to the Water Education Foundation, “on average, California uses about 2 million acre-feet of groundwater more than is naturally or artificially recharged. Much of the overdrafting has occurred in the agricultural Central and San Joaquin valleys.” Over the past ten years, Californians have, on average, pumped up 19 million acre feet (MAF) of groundwater per year. Based on these figures, to stop further depletion of groundwater, a 2 MAF/year reduction is needed. To recharge depleted aquifers, and possibly to account for less natural recharge if rain totals trend lower in the future, a much greater reduction is needed. To put this into perspective, California’s farmers require approximately 30 MAF/year and California’s cities consume another 7.5 MAF/year.

Diminished Colorado River Flow: If you wade through this very recent update from the Congressional Research Service, you will begin to understand the convoluted history (and future) of Colorado River management. To summarize, withdrawals for the past 20 years for urban and agricultural use have averaged 15 MAF/year, but total runoff has only averaged 12 MAF/year during that same period. The deficit was filled by nearly draining two of the biggest reservoirs in the U.S., Lake Powell with a capacity of 26 MAF, and Lake Mead with a capacity of 31 MAF. From both being almost full in 2000, by 2022 the lake levels had dropped down almost to so-called “Deadpool,” where the water is so low it can no longer flow downstream. The rain and snow last season brought lake levels up out of crisis range, but California’s 4.4 MAF/year share of Colorado River runoff is in jeopardy despite holding senior water rights. It is possible that future cuts could reduce California’s share significantly. More to the point, because we’re all in this together, experts at the Bureau of Reclamation and elsewhere have suggested that in the future the sustainable yield from the Colorado River could be as low as 9 MAF/year. That means California, along with six other states along the Colorado watershed, would have to find 6 MAF/year of cuts.

California’s North-to-South Aqueducts Depend on Delta Levees: The federally administered Central Valley Project employs a series of aqueducts to deliver water from Lake Shasta and other northern reservoirs down into the San Joaquin Valley. The California Water Project does the same thing, with Lake Oroville the centerpiece of a state-run system of reservoirs and aqueducts. Lake Shasta today has 3.0 MAF of water behind the dam, out of a total capacity of 4.5 MAF. Lake Oroville has 2.4 MAF currently stored out of a capacity of 3.5 MAF. But getting that water down to San Joaquin Valley farms and Southern California’s coastal megacities requires transiting the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. And safely moving fresh water through the delta requires intact levees. One major earthquake in the area – even as low as a magnitude 5 on the Richter scale – could cause “liquefaction” along multiple sections of the delta’s 1,000 miles of aging levees. Levee breaches would flood the “islands” protected by these levees – many now between 10 and 25 feet below sea level thanks to over a century of groundwater pumping. If that happens, salt water will pour into the delta from the San Pablo Bay, making north-to-south fresh water transfers impossible.

These are the big three – depleted aquifers, nearly empty reservoirs on the Colorado River, and a precarious network of century old levees that are one big earthquake away from catastrophic failure. And then there’s always the next severe drought. What can be done? Sacramento’s only consistent legislative strategy seems to be use less water. But exceptions exist.

Already approved by the State Assembly and set to go before the State Senate early next year, SB 366 includes encouraging language. If the state legislature, and, more to the point, the bureaucrats who will be tasked with implementation, can embrace the empowering imperative of abundance instead of the Malthusian tyranny of scarcity and rationing, there are words in the bill they can rely on. It directs the Department of Water Resources to “develop a comprehensive plan for addressing the state’s water needs and meeting specified long-term water supply targets…” and then, “require the plan to provide recommendations and strategies to ensure enough water supply for all beneficial uses.” Taken the right way, SB 366 can change the game.

California is at a crossroads. For every essential – not just water, but energy, infrastructure, housing, transportation, agricultural production, forestry, mining, ranching – the legislative and cultural bias has been to restrict production and ration consumption. The balance between the interests of California’s human population and needs of the environment has been lost, and, ironically, often these policies harm the environment more than they help. This Malthusian bias can and must change. It is out of character for Californians to think this way. And nobody, anywhere on earth, wants to copy this example.

Is it really preferable to carpet the land with solar panels, new transmission lines and battery farms, and saturate our coastal waters with thousands of offshore wind turbines, when two or three nuclear power plants and a dozen retrofit, ultra-efficient natural gas power plants could provide just as much energy with far less disruption to the environment?

Is it really preferable to spend an estimated $7 billion to implement SB 1157 (urban water rationing), in order to save an estimated 400,000 acre feet of water per year? For that amount of money, even at California’s inflated prices, you could build ocean desalination plants with the capacity to produce 400,000 acre feet of fresh water per year, and doing so would only consume 160,000 megawatts of electricity, a pittance. Desalination is the most expensive option to supply more water. Every other solution would cost less. Why are we preparing to put Californian households through this ordeal?

Resolute certainty can be the enemy of progress. There could come a day when we realize we impoverished our population while at the same time we spent countless billions to install what will have become a colossal pile of obsolete junk. Such is the danger of betting big on ephemeral technologies.

This article originally appeared in the California Globe.

Creating Water Abundance in California

“And it shall come to pass, that every thing that liveth, which moveth, whithersoever the rivers shall come, shall live: and there shall be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters shall come thither: for they shall be healed; and every thing shall live whither the river cometh.”
Ezekiel 47:9

Water is Life. For as long as there has been civilization, access to water has been an unyielding prerequisite. California is no exception. As its population grew, the state built one of the most remarkable systems of interbasin water transfers in the world. Every year, nearly 40 million acre feet of water is diverted from remote rivers and transported to magnificent coastal cities or used to irrigate rich farmland. But the whole system needs to be upgraded for the 21st century.

Here are some water projects that ought to be moving forward in California:

(1) Desalination at scale: There is only one major desalination plant in California, located just north of San Diego. At a total project cost of just over $1.0 billion, the Carlsbad Desalination Project went into operation in 2015 and desalinates 55 thousand acre feet of water per year. Desalination has the unique virtue of being an inexhaustible supply of fresh water. Every other water source, ultimately, depends on how much rain we get. In combination with wastewater recycling, building several more large desalination plants could enable California’s coastal cities to become nearly independent of imported water. Potential sites for their construction are already available.

New desalination plants could be co-located with existing natural gas power plants on the California coast, or co-locate with Diablo Canyon, or on the site of the former San Onofre nuclear power plant. These power plant sites have infrastructure already constructed that can be repurposed, reducing construction costs. Desalination construction costs about $20,000 per acre foot of annual capacity, which is grossly overpriced, thanks to gross overregulation and incessant litigation. Those excess costs are the result of political choices that the state legislature could fix. Desalination plants are getting built for one-fifth that amount in Israel today.

But even at inflated costs, having secure access to desalinated water would give urban water agencies negotiating leverage when purchasing imported water. And desalination plants can be designed to have a useful life that greatly exceeds the period of time needed to pay off the financing which represents about 70 percent of the annual cost for desalinated water.

The idea that desalination uses too much energy is a myth. It requires 400 megawatts of continuous power to desalinate 1 MAF per year of seawater. This is roughly equivalent to the cost to pump water from Northern California into the coastal cities of Southern California.

(2) Off-stream reservoirs: The virtue of an off-stream reservoir is that it will not block the flow of a natural river with a high dam. Instead, off-stream reservoirs are constructed in arid valleys and flood runoff is pumped into them during storm events. The water is then redirected to farms and cities as needed during the summer months. Here are three badly needed off-stream reservoirs:

The Pacheco Reservoir in Santa Clara County. This proposed reservoir – to be located in a remote valley that is watered by a small stream, but not a major river – will store water from the California Aqueduct for delivery to South SF Bay customers. At an estimated cost of $2.5 billion it will store 140,000 acre feet.

The Sites Reservoir north of the Delta. At an estimated cost of $4.0 billion, this off-stream reservoir will store 1.5 MAF, tapping storm runoff in the Sacramento River. In the proposal stage for decades, this reservoir has secured about half the funding needed for construction, but like all reservoir proposals, remains the target of vigorous opposition from environmentalists.

The Del Puerto Canyon Reservoir. This proposed off-stream reservoir will store 82,000 acre feet of water. It will collect water from the California Aqueduct. Estimated cost $500 million.

(3) Wastewater Recycling Projects: Construction of the proposed Carson water recycling plant in Los Angeles County needs to be fast-tracked, with immediate follow up to construct another one in order to recycle 100 percent of water imported into Los Angeles. At a projected cost of $3.4 billion, the Carson plant is currently planned to recycle 168,000 acre feet of water per year. This is just a fraction of the total available wastewater stream in the Los Angeles Basin.

The problem with treated wastewater, in the Santa Monica Bay and also in the San Francisco Bay, is primarily the negative impact excess nitrogen has on aquatic ecosystems. If all urban wastewater in California as recycled (if it isn’t already), that would add up to nearly 2 million acre feet per year to the water supply, as well as improve the health of aquatic ecosystems.

In Northern California, all of the wastewater recycling plants along the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta need to be upgraded. These urban areas cumulatively are probably contributing nearly one million acre feet per year of treated but nitrogen rich discharge into the San Francisco Bay. Upgrading these plants would not only proportionately reduce the amount of water these cities have to import from the State Water Project, Hetch Hetchy, and elsewhere, but, crucially, these upgrades would improve the water quality in the San Francisco Bay. This in turn would lessen the quantity of floodwater that must currently be allowed to flow through the bay to dilute and wash out the pollution coming from these treatment plants.

The estimated cost to upgrade all urban wastewater plants in California to reusable standards (either irrigation or indirect/direct potable reuse) is $20 billion. I expect the real number is higher. It must be done.

(4) Environmentally Friendly Delta Diversions to San Joaquin Valley Aquifers: An exciting new proposal, the “Water Blueprint for the San Joaquin Valley” is a work-in-progress, authored by a coalition of San Joaquin Valley community leaders. The centerpiece of this proposal is to construct what are essentially gigantic French Drains within channels created inside Delta Islands. By drawing fresh water from perforated pipes situated beneath a gravel bed in these channels, flood water could be safely harvested from the Delta during periods of excess storm runoff. Preliminary plans for this system estimate the cost at $500 million per 200 acre facility. The estimated capacity for two of these facilities would be 2 million acre feet per year or more, at a cost of $1.0 billion.

The Blueprint also relies on construction of a central canal in the San Joaquin Valley to transport water from the harvesting arrays in the Delta to underground storage. Aquifer storage capacity in the San Joaquin Valley is conservatively estimated at 50 million acre feet. The projected cost for this canal, including connections to Friant-Kern, Delta Mendota, and California Aqueduct, as well as facilities to recharge and recover water from the aquifers, is $500 million.

These four projects have the potential to eliminate water scarcity in California forever. If Californians are destined to endure decade long droughts, where there is minimal snow and only a few big storms each year, these projects will ensure that sufficient water is harvested and stored to keep cities and farmland green.

These water projects aren’t the only desirable investments Californians should make to create water abundance. Also needed, for example, are facilities for harvesting urban storm runoff, and provisions to return some of this runoff to reservoir storage to maintain river flows. The Los Angeles River, for example, currently flows year round in the upper urban portion of the river, thanks to three wastewater treatment plants, which once upgraded, will no longer offer perennial outfall.

This evinces another crucial consideration; new water supply infrastructure, and water abundance, is also necessary to maintain ecosystem health. In barely two centuries, a civilization, now 40 million strong, has descended on what had been a nearly empty state. Massive civilization has a massive footprint, and nature in California will never be the same as it once was. Effectively nurturing the natural ecosystems of California requires recognizing they too require artificial, human inputs and human management. Against a backdrop of abundance, why shouldn’t desalinated water flow down a revitalized Los Angeles River? Why shouldn’t water stored in reservoirs guarantee perennial flows in the San Joaquin River?

It is possible to deliver 40 million acre feet per year to California’s cities and farms, while also diverting and releasing additional millions of acre feet every year to sustain flourishing aquatic ecosystems. Investing in water abundance, by upgrading California’s water infrastructure for the 21st century, can make this a reality.

This article originally appeared in Epoch Times.

Solutions to California’s Water Crisis

AUDIO: In the face of unprecedented cuts to available water, California cannot possibly conserve its way out of water scarcity. Fortunately there are a variety of solutions that would create water abundance, if the special interests that profit from scarcity can be exposed and overcome. Edward Ring with host Will Swaim on the National Review’s Radio Free California.

The 25 minute segment on water begins 1:24:00 into the podcast.


Fixing California – Part Three, Achieving Water Abundance

As Californians face another drought, the official consensus response is more rationing. Buy washers that don’t work very well. Install more flow restrictors. Move down from a 50 gallon per person, per day limit for indoor water consumption to 40 gallons per person per day. For California’s farmers, recent legislation has not only lowered what percentage of river flow can be diverted to agriculture, but now also restricts groundwater pumping. The impact is regressive, with consequences ranging from petty and punitive to catastrophic and existential.

Wealthy homeowners pay the fines and water their lawns, while ordinary citizens are forced to obsess over every drop. Corporate farm operations navigate the countless regulatory agencies while family farmers are driven insolvent. And the worse it gets, the more the story stays the same: We have wasted water, destroyed ecosystems, and now we must embrace an era of limits. But this is a perilous path.

Maybe the consensus model of water management in California works for corporations that want to consolidate the agricultural industry. Maybe it benefits developers who want to build apartments with no yards, where the interiors are equipped with “water sipping” (lousy) appliances. Maybe the public utilities prefer a model where they don’t have to build new infrastructure because per capita consumption is driven down. Maybe the “smart growth” advocates for “infill” love the idea they can sell high density more easily because if everyone uses half as much water, twice as many households can occupy the same square mile of urban space. But as demand is ratcheted down closer and closer to supply, the system loses all resiliency.

The concept of abundance isn’t merely to preserve the lifestyles to which we have become accustomed. Abundance also protects against downside risk. What if the next drought doesn’t last five years, but goes on for a few decades or more? There is historical precedent for that in California, regardless of current worries about climate change. What if there’s a terrorist attack, a cyberattack, a war, or another natural disaster and California’s water infrastructure suffers significant damage?

Abundance means redundancy, diversity, resiliency. The case for water abundance in California is compelling not merely so California’s residents can enjoy amenities that citizens of a developed, modern nation are entitled to expect. Water abundance also means Californians are better prepared for cataclysms.

This was well understood in the 1960s, when California’s pragmatic Governor Pat Brown, and his successor Ronald Reagan, presided over the construction of the California Water Project, which remains the most impressive system of water engineering ever built. But starting in the 1970s, when Jerry Brown (Pat’s son) first became governor of California, water infrastructure became less of a priority. For the last 40 years, apart from some investment in wastewater recycling, there has been no significant new project in California designed to increase the supply of water. Conservation, a commendable objective, bought Californians 40 years. In that time, the population has grown from 25 million to nearly 40 million, while the supply of fresh water for people and agriculture has remained fixed.

Coming up with projects to restore water abundance to California is relatively easy: Build a few more surface storage assets, most notably the proposed Sites and Temperance Flat reservoirs. Upgrade and increase the capacity of existing surface storage, such as the San Luis and Shasta reservoirs. Complete the transition to total wastewater recycling to potable standards in all of California’s major urban areas, and supplement that, especially in Southern California, with additional coastline desalination plants. Repair existing aqueducts and upgrade the Delta levees—and voilà, you’re done.

Even at California prices, this entire assortment of major civil engineering projects could be accomplished for around $50 billion. With some of the work financed through revenue bonds, the entire debt burden on the average California household would be under $100 per year.So why don’t we do it?

For one thing, special interests benefit from politically contrived scarcity and conservation mandates. And while these special interests exploit environmentalism, that doesn’t negate legitimate environmental concerns that can’t be ignored. Groundwater depletion has caused land subsidence. That’s the real reason for salt water intrusion into the Delta, far more of a factor than the relatively negligible impact of sea-level rise. Land subsidence has also damaged California’s aqueducts. And eventually depleted aquifers become so degraded they can no longer be recharged. Something had to be done.

Similarly, the health of aquatic ecosystems—California’s rivers and the Delta—are not only aesthetic and moral imperatives, but have a practical impact on commercial fisheries. Balancing the need to protect the environment with the needs of agricultural and urban consumers cannot be dismissed. But none of these considerations should preclude the commencement of new projects to increase California’s annual supply of water. Conservation is simply not enough.

And it is here where the role of California’s environmentalist lobby has been destructive.

Environmentalists and Other Obstructionists

Environmentalists in California, unfortunately, object to virtually every major project that would increase the supply of water. Desalination is relentlessly attacked, despite being in use throughout the world. Environmentalist litigation is the reason that desalination plants cost two to five times as much to construct in California as they do in other places, from Israel and Saudi Arabia to Singapore and Australia. As for surface storage, even off-stream reservoirs, such as the proposed Sites Reservoir that don’t impede the flow of any river, or those situated in-stream but upstream of existing dams, like the proposed Temperance Flat, or raising the height of the Shasta Dam, are anathema to environmentalists.

Objections to these projects are cases where environmentalists go too far. But they’re not alone. Libertarians and, more generally, anti-tax crusaders, are also unhelpful when it comes to the infrastructure that California badly needs. Even when projects are proposed that encounter fewer environmentalist objections, such as wastewater recycling, well-organized opponents who can’t accept any government spending on infrastructure dutifully join the fray. Both of these camps, the greens and the anti-tax gangs, have acquired influence that can only be countered by a broad revision in public attitudes.

Using general obligation bonds to finance water infrastructure socializes the cost of these amenities to all Californians. By financing half of a water project with general obligation bonds, the burden to the general public is reduced. For example, if half of a $50 billion water infrastructure budget were financed through general obligation bonds, the repayment burden on California’s 13 million households would only be $125 per year, and most of that would fall to the higher income groups for whom $125 means one less bottle of wine per year. But the benefit would accrue to allCalifornians. Because the other $25 billion in revenue bonds would be matched by general obligation bonds, the rates farmers would pay for water stored behind new dams would be cut nearly in half, as would the rates that urban households would pay for desalinated or recycled water.

This is a model for affordable abundant water in California. This is the achievement that has precedent in the water projects of the 1960s and could be realized in the 2020s if there were a change in attitude and a new consensus. This is the grand bargain that can inspire Californians to demand practical environmentalism and accept debt for worthy projects. This is a model to lower the cost of living.

By making California’s coastal cities independent of imported water, and by collecting millions of additional acre feet behind new dams during wet years to release during dry years, both farmers and California’s aquatic ecosystems have far more available water. Suddenly the tradeoffs between the needs of the environment and the agricultural industry become manageable.

Pragmatic solutions exist. Beyond a new resilience, abundance is possible. And optimism is the fuel to make it happen.

This article originally appeared on the website American Greatness.

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