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Michael Babich, Ph.D. Auburn, California USA firstname.lastname@example.org
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Abstract Water drought conditions have often occurred in different locations and times throughout history. Recently, California (USA) has been alerted to a water shortage that has implications across many sectors such as farming, ecology, potable water, cost-of-goods, and the environment. Unfortunately, solutions generally require discussions and the cooperation amongst a collective group of agencies and representatives from multiple jurisdictions (i.e., local, regional, state and federal). The process is time consuming and inefficient, often leading to increased costs to the taxpayers. The objectives of the present paper are to: 1) Further exemplify how such political processes hinder the creation of solutions to the water problem as typified in Placer County, and California as a whole; and 2) suggest an idea with potential to alleviate the water drought condition problem while simultaneously addressing energy needs. Background and Statement of the Problem The Auburn Dam and California water management in brief It is unfortunate that governments and politics are major impediments to resolving water problems in spite of the obvious importance of water to the economy, ecology, and life in general. The situation in California (1) represents a model of this dysfunction. Occasionally the common media and other outlets (e.g., peer-reviewed articles, institutional publications) report on possible countermeasures to potable water shortages. Unfortunately, many of the suggestions only relate to either conservation or alternatives that upset various interest groups (2), such as the presumably now dead Auburn (California) Dam project. Of course, despite the recent State Water Resources Control Board decision to revoke the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation water rights permits, nothing should be discounted when it comes to politics and government (e.g., 3; “the Auburn dam must remain on the table”, Representative Tom McClintock, R-CA 4th). The Auburn Dam was proposed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers as a means for increased water storage, electricity and flood protection to the Sacramento region. Construction, which began in 1967, was halted due to earthquake hazard and environmental concerns (4). The dam would be a 2 million acre-foot reservoir located in the Northern California Sierra Mountain foothills, with variable annual usable yields (~50,000 acre-feet of water) dependent mostly upon rain and snowfall. Three different scenarios have also been examined for 300-800 MW power plants associated with the dam. The cost estimate ranges between 6-10 billion dollars (5). In addition to dam building, among the most recurring ideas that surface are how to improve water reclamation and conservation. These are certainly important elements of the solution; however, at this point it is questionable as to how much further this tactic can go towards increasing water supply in the absence of novel approaches or implementation of alternative solutions. A paradigm shift is therefore needed in the thought processes surrounding the potable water problem by relevant authorities and lay citizens. A major source of potable water for much of northern California is derived from the Sierra Nevada Mountains‟ snowcap, which also serves to convey water to southern California via the “Governor Edmund G. Brown California Aqueduct” system of canals, 2
tunnels, and pipelines (6). Unfortunately, rain and snowfall is unpredictable, and over the past few years reservoirs have fallen to their lowest levels since 1992 (7), a problem which is further compounded by increased demand associated with the population growth. In the wake of this crisis, relevant agencies and community representatives seem inept in their ability to resolve the crisis. Inept decision making: Food and financial waste Following are rather bewildering examples to highlight consequences of ineffectual authorities and politicians: 1) Farmers are in a conundrum. Crops cannot be grown without water, yet the federal government has paid over $657 million in subsidies over the past two years to plant water-dependent crops (7-9). 2) Lack of legislative initiatives. The California aqueduct system has several problems both structurally and in terms of efficiency (e.g., evaporation across the hundreds of miles the water travels), and the matter of improvements to the water system has the attention of state legislatures, yet no action was taken at a recent session (10). 3) Delays lead to financial waste. For instance, the cost to merely produce a preliminary design for a wastewater treatment plant for Placer County is currently about $2 million, whereas the cost when similar efforts were first raised a few years earlier would have been only about $40,000 (11). Thus, there is a waste to the taxpayers by delaying proactive ideas. Unfortunately, there is a tendency to be reactive rather than proactive in resolving the issues such as those raised in the present paper. It is therefore imperative to produce timely and reasonable solutions that involve collective input from the academic, business, and political arenas. Desalination as a key component to an overall water supply strategy An idea that can address the water shortage that seems simple, yet is economical and environmentally friendly, is to build desalination plants in southern California (Los Angeles and San Diego, in particular) that are conveniently coupled to wave-energy capture technology. The timing may be right because, although more studies and engineering advances are necessary and ongoing, there is presently a significant amount of information on the subject (12-16). In addition, the first plants of their kind have recently been introduced in the US that may serve as a template for design and costs. Before enumerating how the plan will benefit all Californians, an overview of desalination plant abilities should be examined. A recently built desalination plant in Tampa Bay, Florida that cost $108 million will lower overall water prices while increasing supplies (13-15). The plant produces 25 million gallons of water per day which provides a drought-proof supply to ~10% of the population. The output is only 12% of the Jebel Ali desalination plants in Saudi Arabia, signifying that an even greater water yield is feasible. Using a conservative estimate of the Tampa Bay plant production rate, and assuming there were only one plant each in San Diego and Los Angeles, over 18 billion gallons of water would potentially be produced per year. To gain some perspective, that amounts to over 2,800 gallons per year for each of the ~6.5 million citizens in those two cities. Of course, there are other water needs such as farming and industrial use, but these numbers at least provide a context of the potential impact. To put this in further perspective, in early 2009 Folsom Lake (in northern California) was 73,676,000,000 gallons (i.e., 226,000 acre-feet) below average due to the drought (17). Had there been four moderately productive 3
desalination plants in operation over just a two year period, the shortage would have been compensated. For the present paper the Tampa Bay plant is used as a model because it has the most recent extensive information available for the US. Certainly other plant designs could be used and cost-to-benefit analyses should be performed (e.g., model after the Jebel Ali plants or other engineering plans currently under design). Desalination coupled to ocean wave-energy harnessing There remain several drawbacks to desalination (12, 18, 19). The most common concerns raised involve the environment or ecology (e.g., energy consumption, coastline preservation). However, some of the problems have either been abated (e.g., 16, 20) or can be resolved. For instance, with respect to energy consumption and the production of greenhouse gases by building such plants, it is convenient, then, that desalination plants are located near the ocean because generating energy from the ocean waves is now feasible. Studies by the U.S. Department of the Interior (21, 22) further supports this means of energy harnessing, or “wave farms”. The proposal suggested herein would combine the desalination plant and wave energy-collecting into one facility as an efficient and cost effective measure, rather than building two separate facilities. Cost estimates to harness ocean wave energy vary, but a recent proposal to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for permits to harness energy from waves off the coast of six states, including California, was $28 million (see 23). With respect to potential political support, on occasion it appears funds become available, but such funds are unreliable given changing political winds and the whims of the citizenry. For instance, the Marine Renewable Energy Research and Development Act of 2007 (United States; HR 2313) committed $200 million in federal funds toward wave energy technology to be allocated from 2008 through 2012; the Bill never became law. The Congressional Representatives from California, and even from Nevada, should ensure that as similar legislation is passed, a fair portion of the tax dollars be allocated to these project types. As alluded to later, a balance between public and private entities hold the likely solutions to getting both the funding and work accomplished. Desalination-wave energy benefits It is difficult to assess the exact number of plants with which to begin. Further, the present proposal should not be seen as an end-all to the problems of water (as noted in 12). Given the available productivity and cost data, four desalination energy-harnessing plants may be an ideal number. In support, the following are examples of benefits that would occur: 1. Water. Aside from the obvious, in case a catastrophe interrupts the flow from the Sierra Nevada Mountains and California aqueduct, the citizens in southern California will not be totally cut off from water and at least have a source for potable water. A disaster may not occur and droughts may not increase, but if or when they do happen, it would be an affirmation of proactive thinking to have operational water-energy plants. Of importance to northern Californians in the Sierra Nevada Mountain area -- less delivery of water to southern California translates into more water being retained for northern California (see also the impact listed under #2 & 3 below). 4
2. Farmers and food. The food supply will already be short in 2009 due to farming adjustments in response to the limited water supply. Assisting farmers will help to increase food supply and, consequently, to stabilize grocery costs. 3. Recreation. Besides water shortage and energy, some people consider an Auburn Dam as another recreational facility. However, why argue for a new dam when boating activities are routinely curtailed or prohibited because of a depleted nearby Folsom Lake? By reducing the amount of water transported to southern California, regional northern California dams can retain more of the local water runoff (24). As described earlier, had the plants already been in place Folsom Lake would be consistently full and the recreational bans not enacted. 4. Ecology/environment. There would be reduced stress on the Sacramento-San Joaquin fisheries. Taking less water from the Delta regions will minimize the potential for its ecological collapse. As for the coastline, the Tampa Bay plant serves as an initial model that has the approval from various environmental groups and agencies. Finally, the need for dams that will destroy the natural beauty and ecology associated with the American River, or any other potential area for dam construction, are rendered moot (however, see reservoir comments under the “Summary”). 5. Energy. The desalination plants would be energy independent facilities (see also 25). Excess energy may be routed and sold to the “grid”. This will help minimize brownouts and, additionally, at the end of each year any funds from selling the power can be applied towards the consumer water bills (i.e., taxpaying public as the rightful owners). On a related point: It is recommended that, although the private sector is invariably more efficient than a government entity at running a business, this is one example in which the public sector should maintain complete, or at least a majority, of ownership (12); management is a separate issue. At present, water flow per se is required as a means to capture and convert energy, as well as to continue providing a major source of water to southern California via the aqueduct. However, energy loss that would occur due to water flow restriction (i.e., due to less demand of water in response to the desalination plants) would be compensated for by wave energy harnessing. Other alternative energy (e.g., solar, wind) produced at the plants would likely be negligible and mostly go towards plant operations. Current estimates are that ~1.2 million homes will have energy supplied by the desalinationwave energy harnessing plants (21, 22, 26). Rhode Island is an example of a state that is capitalizing on this technology (26): At least 20 percent of the state‟s energy from renewable sources are planned to be supplied by ocean wave-energy by 2011. 6. Jobs. Short-term, construction-related jobs will exist for a few years until that phase is completed. However, long-term there will be ~80 new jobs created by the four plants (27), not to mention additional positions related to the energy producing component. Summary The present proposal represents one aspect to an overall water production and use strategy. It will be interesting to observe new data from a pilot desalination plant in Carlsbad, CA, and how, or if, it is well received, expands capacity, and at what expense (28). Based on the costs for the Tampa Bay plant, plus available ocean wave energy harnessing requests, the total costs for four desalination-energy plants come to about 5
$640 million (includes 20% overage). Compared to up to $10 billion for a single dam, funds would be saved by the taxpayers even after applying some towards flood control measures (e.g., levees), reinforcement of existing structures (e.g., Folsom Dam), and improved water storage. Plans for the later idea have already been raised, such as a water reservoir in Colusa County (the Sites Reservoir) that would provide 2 million acrefeet of water. However, it is yet another example of a dysfunctional legislation process, if not certain legislators themselves, as well as interest groups: The Sites Reservoir has been identified by the California Department of Water resources as cost-effective and environmentally sound, yet was proposed more than 15 years ago with no real progress on the idea to date (29). Proactive thinking and action is necessary to resolve our water and energy problem. To call the present proposal proactive is somewhat of a misnomer because a crisis is already looming -- it reflects the unfortunate human nature of “preparing for a crisis only after we are already in one”. The suggestions presented herein are merely introductory; there is certainly room for discussion and expert advice about the specifics (30). A long range plan is also needed to determine the feasibility of additional desalination-wave energy harnessing plant sites (e.g., northern California). It would be encouraging to see representatives from local, state and national levels convene in a genial manner at the planning table with ideas that are forward thinking, cogent and economical. References 1. A Schwarzenegger. “State of Emergency - Water Shortage”, proclamation by the Governor of the State of California. http://gov.ca.gov/proclamation/11557, 27 Feb 2009. 2. G Miller. “In the drying West, dams are not the answer”, Open Forum/On Water in the West. San Francisco Chronicle, 8 Jan 2009. 3. G Thomson. “US rep rails against spending”. Auburn Journal, 27 Aug 2009. 4. J Duffield. “Auburn dam: A case study of water policy and economics”. J Am Water Res Assoc., 16(2):226–234, 2007. 5. United States Department of the Interior. “Auburn-Folsom South Unit Special Report”, Jan 2007. http://www.usbr.gov/mp/ccao/docs/auburn_rpt/index.html. Retrieved 9 Sep 2009. 6. DWR Public Affairs Office. "California state water project overview". Department of Water Resources, State of California. http://www.water.ca.gov/swp/index.cfm. Retrieved 9 Sep 2009. 7. T Cone and G Burke. “California farmers idle crops in face of continued drought” (Associated Press writers). Auburn Journal, 26 Jan 2009. 8. G Burke. “Feds to pay farmers to till the desert” (Associated Press writer). Auburn Journal, 15 April 2009.
9. L Johnson. “Waste and unreasonable use of water”, California Farm Water Coalition, 27 July 2009. http://www.farmwater.org/Current-News/Waste-andunreasonable-use-of-water.html. Retrieved 9 Sep 2009. 10. J Williams. “Legislative session ends with a lot of unfinished business” (Associated Press writer). Auburn Journal, 13 Sep 2009. 11. J Ruffalo. “Stop the press: Project bids lower than estimate”, Perspectives. Auburn Journal, 16 Aug 2009. 12. H Cooley, P Gleick, G Wolff. “Desalination, with a grain of salt: A California perspective”. Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security, June 2006. http://www.pacinst.org/reports/desalination/desalination_report.pdf. Retrieved 10 Feb 2009. 13. Tampa Bay Water. “Tampa Bay Seawater desalination”. http://www.tampabaywater.org/watersupply/tbdesaloverview.aspx. Retrieved 9 Sep 2009. 14. E Schiller. “Tampa Bay seawater desalination: The business model”. http://www.ncppp.org/resources/papers/schiller_desalination.pdf. Retrieved 9 Sep 2009. 15. M Rapp and M Duffy. “Drought-Proof Water Supply Delivering Drinking Water”. http://www.prnewswire.com/mnr/tampabaywater/31679, 12 Feb 2008. 16. MHBM Zahar. Water for the future: Challenges and potential solutions. SCRIBd, http://www.scribd.com/doc/20379298/Water-for-the-Future-Challenges-andPotential-Solutions, 29 Sep 2009. 17. B Lindelof. “Dry weather leaves Folsom Lake thirsty”. Sacramento Bee, 18 Jan 2009. 18. Food & Water Watch. “Desalination: An ocean of problems”. http://www.scribd.com/doc/11609006/Desalination-An-Ocean-of-Problems, 2009. 19. P Gleick. “State needs innovative, aggressive water solutions”. Sacramento Bee, 1 Jun 2008. 20. “Case history: Tapping the oceans”. The Economist, Science Technology Quarterly, 5 June 2008. http://www.economist.com/search/PrinterFriendly.cfm?story_id=11484059 & http://www.scribd.com/doc/3704507/Nanotube-Membranes-Offer-Possibility-ofCheaper-Desalination. Retrieved 29 Oct 2009. 21. “Wave Energy Potential on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf”, technology white paper by the U.S. Department of the Interior. http://ocsenergy.anl.gov/documents/docs/OCS_EIS_WhitePaper_Wave.pdf. Retrieved 16 Jan 2009. 7
22. M Robinson. “Ocean energy technology development”, US Department of Energy. http://www.nrel.gov/docs/gen/fy07/40461.pdf. Retrieved 9 Sep 2009. 23. N Kalani. “Ocean-wave rigs latest green energy idea”. Pacific Business News (Honolulu), 28 Dec 2008. http://pacific.bizjournals.com/pacific/stories/2008/12/29/story3.html. Retrieved 11 Sep 2009. 24. Personal communication (re: feasibility of the statement); Lynnette Wirth, Folsom Dam/Bureau of Reclamations Office, Feb 2009. 25. Energy Recovery, Inc. “Carlsbad Seawater Desalination Plant Sets Low Energy Use Record”. ArticlesBase ID #565118, 16 Sep 2008. http://www.articlesbase.com/environment-articles/carlsbad-seawaterdesalination-plant-sets-low-energy-use-record-565118.html. Retrieved 11 Sep 2009. 26. G Beckett. “Wind and waves to generate juice”. Boat U.S. Magazine, March 2009. http://www.iaee.org/documents/newsletterarticles/209beckett.pdf. Retrieved 10 Sep 2009. 27. Personal correspondence (re: number of employees); Ken Herd, Water Supply Program Director, Southwest Florida Water Management District, 17 Jan 2009. 28. N Voutchkov. “Water supply: Tapping the ocean for fresh water in Carlsbad”, Water and Wastewater.com, 16 Sep 2008. http://www.articlesbase.com/environment-articles/carlsbad-seawaterdesalination-plant-sets-low-energy-use-record-565118.html. Retrieved 10 Feb 2009. 29. Donn Zea. “Time for California to „insure‟ against dangers of drought”. Auburn Journal, 20 March 2009. 30. Personal communication (re: feasibility of desalination-wave energy combined plant concept); Heather Cooley, Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security, 26 Feb 2009.
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