The state of California is in a severe drought right now, with two years in a row of very low precipitation.
But governor Jerry Brown doesn’t think there’s much he can do
“Governors can’t make rain”, he says. And while that’s true, to me it feels he’s underestimating the problem. He also states this drought to be a simple rehash of the drought in 1976-1977. But there are many differences:
• Compared to the start of 1977, the reservoirs are significantly lower.
• Also, since then, the water tables in some spots have dropped over 50 feet.
• There are 16 million more Californians.
• The Colorado River Basin is also under severe drought plus population has boomed in Nevada, Colorado and Utah.
What does governor Jerry Brown do?
While he is wondering whether to declare a drought emergency, he knows very well he does not have any solutions at the ready.
Simply pitching the slogan “yellow is mellow” (and reminding people to not flush the toilet after a pee) is not a thorough or fundamental solution.
Nor are the “twin tunnels”
The twin tunnels are a gigantic water conveyance system around the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta to the south state proposed by Brown. This rather bombastic project won’t provide the Californians with any new water, but they will secure massive amounts of water for California’s most powerful corporate agribusinesses at the people’s expense.
And what’s more, the tunnels would further degrade the Delta’s ecosystem by removing excessive amounts of fresh water. The best way to preserve and protect the Delta as a long-term source for L.A.’s water is to greatly reduce water exports to unsustainable corporate agricultural operations.
For some people, there’s only one real solution: desalination
In this article, Dennis Wyatt proposes to allocate the $23 billion that is to go to the twin tunnels to building desalination plants in southern california.
The technology is there, and it certainly is effective. Think of the fact that the space shuttle is recycling its water to perfection. It has to. The astronauts have no other water source than what they brought with them.
Others say that desalination isn’t the solution it is presented to be
They say it’s too expensive to produce potable water from seawater. It costs about $2,000 per acre foot, while importing water costs about $1,000 per acre foot. The high cost stems from the enormous amount of energy that’s needed to purify saltwater.
In addition to that, there are potentially serious environmental impacts from pumping the leftover/residue from this operation back into the ocean.
Long Beach has already shelved plans for their desalination project.
A promising project that does work
A promising technology to replenish the groundwater supply is being practiced in Orange County.
It has a model water recycling operation in Fountain Valley, in which sewage water is purified in a treatment plant, after which it is pumped into large ponds. In these ponds it has the chance to percolate into the groundwater supply. This method costs about $900 an acre foot and uses one-third the amount of electricity of a desalination plant, according to the Orange County Water District. And it reuses waste water.
A governor can’t make it rain…
…but I feel his first and foremost responsibility would be to make the people more aware of what’s happening. Governor brown could use his time to create public consciousness. He could use the media attention he gets to show Californians the state they’re in. He could walk across the exposed bottom of reservoirs where the dried mud has cracked in the summer heat. He could walk through fallow fields or orchards of dying trees. He could meet with idled farm workers. He could stand in front of public fountains shooting up plumes of water and talk about how Californians can no longer flush toilet every time.
He really needs to hammer home how important it is not to waste a drop and to stimulate the setting up of sustainable systems.
He has the power to lead a campaign to save Californians from hurting themselves through needless waste of water. And he can build a legacy that will fuel California for generations to come.
What do YOU think? Do you think desalination plants are worth it?