Shorter Showers?
Nine More Ways the State has to Change its Water Ways

Originally Published in the LA Times OP ED on April 24, 2015

Heading into the fourth summer of drought, water agencies are looking for ways to get Californians to conserve at home. Tear out lawns. Install low-flow toilets. Irrigate with gray water. But what should the whole state be doing? Opinion asked nine water experts what needs to change about how California handles its water.

Confront the Price Tag

By: Wade Graham

What California doesn’t know about its own water use is staggering and scandalous.

The state has no precise idea how much water is diverted from rivers by farmers. It knows even less about how much groundwater pumping is going on. California has promised five times as much water as exists — and officials show no interest in reconciling “paper” water with reality.

Just as important, we know nothing of water’s total price tag. Although every H2O molecule is identical, volumes of water aren’t delivered at equal cost. To pump it from the ground and over mountains to distribute it takes enormous amounts of energy. Subsidies make this all artificially cheap: Taxpayers pay for the dams, aqueducts, electricity and interest.

What California doesn’t know about its own water use is staggering and scandalous.

We need an honest metric for water’s true cost so that Californians can judge whether investing in local conservation is a better deal than pumping water hundreds of miles, or whether allocating 80% of our water to agriculture, which makes up just 2% of our economy, still makes sense.

Wade Graham is an adjunct professor at the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy and trustee of the Glen Canyon Institute.


Congress Can Deliver Relief

By Jason Peltier

The big lie in California right now is that there must be a choice between urban and rural water use, rather than a solution that meets all the state’s needs. Congress could deliver immediate relief to both groups by passing legislation to minimize water-supply reductions.

Due to overzealous application of the Endangered Species Act, the federal government has defaulted to the most water restrictive policy possible, without regard to science or drought conditions. Over the last 20 years, that has meant redirecting some 2 million acre-feet of water a year from human to environmental purposes, causing nearly continuous shortages for our farmers, weakening our water system and, sadly, producing no measurable benefits for the fisheries.

Asking the federal government to respond to a drought is no different than telling FEMA to handle floods, fires and earthquakes.

Legislation could require the release of more water from state and federal projects — the highest amount within the law’s environmentally acceptable range — for use by cities in Southern California and farms in the Central Valley. Laws protecting wildlife would remain in force and determinations about the environmental conditions would continue throughout the drought.

Asking the federal government to respond to a drought is no different than telling FEMA to handle floods, fires and earthquakes. The federal government should be required to demonstrate some balanced consideration of human conditions and permit the capture of excess water for cities and food production when the situation is appropriate.

There is bipartisan support for a legislative solution. With the crisis upon us, Congress must pass relief legislation immediately.

Jason Peltier is the principal deputy general manager of the Westlands Water District.


A Renewable Source: Wastewater

By Doug Owen

In a drought, is it possible to discover new sources of water?

Every day in California, billions of gallons of highly treated wastewater are discharged into the ocean or inland waterways that could be recycled. Our 2014 study estimated that by 2020 purified wastewater could yield more than 1 billion gallons a day of potable water, enough to meet the needs of more than 8 million Californians.

Today’s purification technologies — combining micro- or ultrafiltration, reverse osmosis, ultraviolet disinfection and advanced oxidation — are safe and reliable. After this process, the water is cleaner than most bottled water.

The amount of water on Earth doesn’t change. All water is reused water. Recycling wastewater is drought-proof, cost-competitive and safe.

Wastewater reuse compares favorably with other new water supply alternatives — desalination, stormwater capture, importing water — in terms of cost, energy requirements, environmental considerations and reliability. Although cost depends on many factors, generally potable water reuse in California costs between $2.50 and $6 per 1,000 gallons.

The amount of water on Earth doesn’t change. All water is reused water. Recycling wastewater is drought-proof, cost-competitive and safe.

Doug Owen is executive vice president and chief technical officer of the Water Division of Arcadis North America and board chairman of the WateReuse Research Foundation.


Stop Sucking the Aquifers Dry

By Giulio Boccaletti & Brian Stranko

Under the surface of our state is a vast network of groundwater basins, like underground reservoirs, that sustain our rivers and streams.

Currently, hundreds of thousands of wells are sucking water out of these aquifers faster than nature can replenish them. Normally, about 40% of California’s water supply is from groundwater. In drought, that rises to about 60%. Since 2013, we have used more than 63 trillion gallons of groundwater. How much is that? Imagine 4 inches of flooding across the entire U.S. west of the Rocky Mountains.

Our over-reliance on groundwater is like having a hole in the state’s water bucket. This giant leak needs to be fixed.

Last fall, historic groundwater reform was signed into law, making California the last state in the West to regulate groundwater. Its implementation will be rolled out over decades. But we must monitor rates of depletion now and craft sustainable plans to refill these depleted aquifers.

Giulio Boccaletti is the global managing director for water and Brian Stranko is the California water program director at the Nature Conservancy.

This article was originally published on April 23, 2015 in the OP-ED section of the LA Times, click here to view it in its complete version.


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