Solving California’s Urban Water Scarcity

A study by the Public Policy Institute of California in 2019 found that per capita urban water use in the state has dropped consistently over the years, from 231 gallons per day in 1990 to 180 gallons per day in 2010, then dropping to 146 gallons per day during the drought in 2015. This clearly bodes well for addressing the next drought, which could be on the way, but doesn’t address the challenges posed by suburban households with yards, which tend to use far more water than average.

In 2014, as Californians coped with the last severe drought, the Pacific Institute compiled data from the water districts serving urban consumers across the state in order to report per capita water use by region. The findings indicated that suburban households in the drier parts of the state were consuming water a per capita rate nearly three times the average; well over an acre foot per year per household.

Confronting this challenge addresses one of the key arguments of the anti-suburb movement: If every one of California’s 13 million households consumed an acre foot of water per year, residential water consumption in the state would be 13 million acre feet per year instead of the current 5 million acre feet per year.

There are many answers to this challenge, but exploring these answers, and the attendant policy solutions, should not merely rest on draconian restrictions on water use combined with a war on new suburban development. The other […] Read More

Objections to Desalination are Shopworn, Discredited Cliches

Anyone who still thinks that the Huntington Beach desalination plant poses a significant threat to the environment should ask themselves: Why would Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat who depends on donors that never saw an environmentalist overreach they didn’t like, going out on a limb to support this project?

The reason is simple. Newsom’s talked with all the experts, he’s weighed the costs and benefits, and he supports desalination. An article earlier this week discussing the progress this project has just made towards finally getting built has triggered several in-depth criticisms, which deserve a response. But before all that, consider Exhibit A: Gavin Newsom is fighting to get this plant built.

It’s about time. Nothing gets built anymore in California, thanks to a powerful partnership between environmentalist litigators and anti-tax libertarians. Both of these special interests, both wearing ideological blinders, oppose anything that uses public funds to make so much as a scratch in the ground. From the left and from the right, they’ve combined forces to leave California’s infrastructure in tatters.

Other special interests benefit from this game. Back in a saner, less corrupt era, California’s public infrastructure was often built and maintained out of operating funds. Now bonds are even issued for “deferred maintenance,” i.e., we’re borrowing money just to maintain what we’ve got, and all that money in the state and local government budgets that used to pay for infrastructure is now fed into the insatiable maw called CalPERS, CalSTRS, and the rest of the public employee […] Read More

SoCal Desalination Plant Inches Towards Approval

In a rare and commendable display of political courage and common sense, California Governor Gavin Newsom has been working to finally grant permits to construct a second major seawater desalination plant on the Southern California Coast.

But don’t count on this new water source just yet. Despite clearing major hurdles, the “environmentalists” and their allies in the media are not going to quit.

In a predictably slanted hatchet job, poorly disguised as an investigative report, the Los Angeles Times is doing everything it can to derail the project. According to their February 26 article, “environmentalists” have serious concerns about the proposed plant, set to be constructed in Huntington Beach and using a similar design to one already successfully operating about 60 miles south in Carlsbad. But why are the only environmentalists used as sources for supposedly objective journalists the ones that disparage desalination?

Here are some of the problems that “environmentalists,” who purport to speak for everyone who cares about the environment, have with the proposed desalination plant in Huntington Beach. Quoting from the LA Times article:

“Though the Huntington Beach facility meets the state goal of diversifying California’s water supply, it would undermine other environmental policies. The plant would require large amounts of electricity; it would sit next to a rising sea; and it would continue the use of huge ocean intakes harmful to microscopic marine life.”

These objections are easily answered. Every drop of water that is produced by the plant is water that […] Read More

How to Make California’s Southland Water Independent for $30 Billion

The megapolis on California’s southern coast stretches from Ventura County on the northern end, through Los Angeles County, Orange County, down to San Diego County on the border with Mexico. It also includes the western portions of Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Altogether these six counties have a population of 20.5 million residents. According to the California Department of Water Resources, urban users consume 3.7 million acre feet of water per year, and the remaining agricultural users in this region consume an additional 700,000 acre feet.

Much of this water is imported. In an average year, 2.6 million acre feet of water is imported by the water districts serving the residents and businesses in these Southland counties. The 701 mile long California Aqueduct, mainly conveying water from the Sacramento River, contributes 1.4 million acre feet. The 242 mile long Colorado River Aqueduct adds another 1.0 million acre feet. Finally, the Owens River on the east side of the Sierras contributes 250,000 acre feet via the 419 mile long Los Angeles Aqueduct.

California’s Plumbing System The major interbasin systems of water conveyance, commonly known as aqueducts

California’s Overall Water Supplies Must Increase

Californians have already made tremendous strides conserving water, and the potential savings from more stringent conservation mandates may not yield significant additional savings. Population growth is likely to offset whatever remaining savings that may be achievable via additional conservation.

Meanwhile, the state mandated water requirements for California’s ecosystems continue to […] Read More

What Californians Could Build Using the $64 Billion Bullet Train Budget

California’s High-Speed Rail project fails to justify itself according to any set of rational criteria. Its ridership projections are absurdly inflated, its environmental benefits are overstated if not actually net detriments, and its cost, its staggering cost, $64 billion by the latest estimate, overwhelms anyone with even a remote sense of financial proportions. To make this final point clear, here is an assortment of California infrastructure projects that could be paid for with a $64 billion budget.

If these projects were built, instead of the bullet train, Californians would have abundant, cheap electricity, abundant fresh water, and upgraded roads and freeways capable of handling all the traffic a surging economy could possibly dish out.

(1) Build 10 natural gas power plants generating 6.2 gigawatts of electrical output for $5.7 billion.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, a modern natural gas power plant generating 620 megawatts can be built at a capital cost of $568 million. Someday, when electricity storage technologies are inexpensive and safe, the solar age can ripen to maturity, but in the meantime, California’s private energy companies can tap abundant in-state natural gas reserves, enabling California’s public utilities to provide cheap electricity to the public.

Since California’s peak demand rarely exceeds 50 gigawatts, increasing capacity by 12% will drive the price for electricity way down, making California competitive again with other states. Cheap electricity will also obviate the need to force consumers to purchase extremely expensive “energy sipping” appliances that are internet enabled, monitor […] Read More

Resource Development vs. Rationing

California’s decision to “decouple” the amount of revenue their regulated public energy utilities receive from the amount of energy they deliver is hailed by environmentalists as a breakthrough. But the consequences of this decision to enforce artificial scarcity are not fully appreciated. It might be argued that this policy of “decoupling” the amount of money you collect from the amount of value you produce is a dangerous tampering with the natural laws of supply and demand, and is orchestrated by special interests who benefit while the consumer is victimized. Now the NRDC, in a report released last month entitled “Making Every Drop Work: Increasing Water Efficiency in California’s Commercial, Industrial, and Institutional (CII) Sector,” wants to do the same thing to California’s water supply.

Here are two of the recommendations the NRDC makes that make chills run down my spine:

(1) Prioritize water conservation above increasing supply. The State of California should codify the requirement that efficiency improvements precede supply side resources—as it did in the energy sector—to motivate investment in water efficiency and recycling by agencies who might otherwise be awaiting development of traditional water supplies.

(2) Decouple water agencies’ sales from revenue. Water agencies should not need to rely on water sales to assure their fiscal stability. Water agencies should instead adopt a structure that allows them to recover additional money from customers if sales are significantly below projections. This revenue adjustment […] Read More