California Dreaming: “Only as a Last Resort”

Over the last 45 years, California has made some very questionable choices about the future needs of stored water and energy starting with banning new hydroelectric dams back in the 70’s, decommissioning nuclear power plants in the 80’s, ignoring desalination during the epic drought in the 90’s, preventing coal from getting a foothold in the 00’s and recently, limiting fracking. What were they thinking? How much time is there after the decision “ONLY AS A LAST RESORT” is made can they actually build something new? There isn’t any energy or water resource that doesn’t require a 10-20 year lead time to propose, design, develop and implement. Add another 5-10 years to that for regulation court cases that always go with these multi-decade projects. The only new energy sources available to California in a reasonable time frame are wind, solar and natural gas turbines. The alternative for California is to purchase electricity from the National Grid, which is mostly nuclear and coal base generated, two sources that California no longer allows in state. There is no new water available for the state either, that will make a difference in their current drought. When the rains came back after the previous drought in the Southwest, San Diego County decided to seek out a positive solution. They started the largest ocean water desalination project in the Western Hemisphere at a cost over a billion dollars which is schedule to come online in late 2015. This plant will only provide 10% of the fresh water the county needs in 2016 and will drop to 7% by 2020 (population increase). However, that is 10% less dependence on diverted water from Northern California and Colorado River which represents 80% of San Diego County’s water usage today. California does have one operating desalination plant at Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Station, currently running at half its capacity, for plant operations and local community water needs. During that same 20 year time line, Israel also decided not to get caught in another drought. Israel has always had a chronic water shortage problem and as the population and industry continued to grow it became critical and needed to be resolved to sustain their economy. Ground water in Israel wasn’t going to do it anymore so Israel turned to the Mediterranean Sea. Through aggressive desalination programs, Israel has created the possibility of transforming the region in ways that were unthinkable just a few years ago. Israel is actually drought proof and has so much extra fresh water that it is now supplying its neighbors, even the ones that are hurling rockets at them. Back here at home, there is a grandiose idea in New Mexico to divert water from the Gila River, west of the Continental Divide, to the east side.  This proposal would require a diversion structure and some combination of a pumping station, a power station, a massive pipeline, canal system, an off-stream dam reservoir and a huge price tag. When asked in a June 2013 poll by the Interstate Stream Commission which approaches the residents would prefer to address the state’s water situation, New Mexican’s overwhelmingly supported alternatives to diversions. Recycling treated wastewater would be a better approach. Congratulations to UTEP for their second place finish in the Desal Prize ($600,000) designing a clean water solution for brackish water contest. Now they have some funding to take their design to a pilot project here in New Mexico which has plenty of brackish water. Without new technology, the alternatives for fresh water are to do nothing, hope for the best, pray for rain or spend $1B for water diversion. Reference Link to a solution: http://www.haaretz.com/life/nature-environment/1.596270

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