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Mark Belden
06/26/2014 1:14 PM

About 60 percent of California’s developed water sources come from the Sierra Nevada mountains, in the form of snow melt and rain runoff. One of the world’s largest fresh water reservoirs (in the form of snow pack) is right here in California. Snowmelt finds its way through mountain streams, tributaries and large river systems eventually making its way toward California’s delta. Much is expelled to the Pacific Ocean. Over the years, dams and reservoirs have been built to meet the state’s current and future drinking, industrial and agricultural needs.

Along with other water sources, about 2,800 local water agencies deliver it to 38 million residents and 9 million irrigational acres. We now know this just is not going to be enough for California.

Proposals as grand as two large tunnels syphoning water at locations in the Delta that will not affect its ecology, to building more dams and water storage have been proposed to meet California’s growing needs. That’s all good if you have a reliable source in which either plan can be implemented. California no longer can rely on abundant and reliable sources of precipitation and snowmelt. In the past 100 years, we have seen a steady decline in snowpack. Snow pack in one region (there are 3) has declined as much as 23 percent. (I am aware the southern Sierra has seen a slight increase in snow pack, though not nearly enough to offset the total decline.) For those who want to argue that the decline is a direct cause of man’s industrialization or simply a natural warming cycle of the earth that occurs like clockwork over history, go ahead and debate the issue until the cows come home. I am interested in solving problems, not just talking about them.

Water conservation and recycling are musts, but we still need to find new sources if we can no longer rely on Mother Nature. Drag an iceberg from the north pole? They are melting. Comets are mostly water (scientists theorize comets were earth’s original and only source of H2O way back when). I am not sure how we would coax a comet to land on our planet without annihilating the human race. The polar vortex is causing the eastern portion of the U.S. to experience unusually wet winters. Can we figure out how to steer it to the West? So, if conservation and recycling are not enough, where are the new sources of water going to come from?

But wait. Didn’t I see on the news recently a visit from the prime minister of Israel to our very own governor, extolling the virtues of sea water desalinization, and how it has played an important part in the development of their country?

The largest desalinization facility being built in the western hemisphere is right here, in Carlsbad, California. A private American company (Poseidon Water) will own and operate this facility. They will receiverevenue only from water that is delivered. The technology, considered the most advanced and efficient, is Israeli in origin (IDE Technologies). This is most likely the technology the prime minister of Israel was trying to sell our governor.

Developed decades ago, reverse osmosis pushes water through microscopic sieves, clearing it of any impurities. Although the cost associated with reverse osmosis is twice as expensive as current costs to procure water, it is expected to fall as technological advances (primarily in filter design) are implemented and the reduced costs from solar and other forms of electricity generation offset reverse osmosis’s appetite for power.

The $1 billion project cost will be borne totally by private developers. This is a good example of private companies delivering public services. The six-acre site will produce 50 million gallons per day of drinking water for more than 112,000 residents of San Diego County by 2016. The same facility is scheduled to double its production by 2020. Developers say desalination water rates (projected at $2,000 per acre-foot) will become competitive with current rates in the very near future. That’s good enough for me, because there might not be any imported water to be competitive with.

And for those who have an opposing opinion or a better solution for the Sierra Nevada, let the policymakers in Sacramento know. Tunnels, dams and the creation of additional water storage facilities (including filling empty underground aquifers which now seems the most popular water storage fix) won’t work unless there is a reliable source to fill them with.

Based on actual cost to build a desalination facility like Carlsbad, 40 or so can be built with the proposed costs ($20 to 40 billion) to build the twin tunnels and could supply fresh drinking water for more than five million thirsty Californians. Money, most likely from taxpayers, would be better spent addressing the much more serious problem of our dwindling supply of fresh water sources.

Although the production, cost and future projections are from press releases and the Carlsbad Desalination Project’s own information site, other desalination facilities around the world have achieved success with this process. I encourage readers who want additional information to visit the websites of Poseidon Water, IDE Technologies and the San Diego Water Authority.

Copyright © 2014 Amador Ledger Dispatch
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