The Real Value Of Water

Securing adequate water resources for all people is critical, but it’s not cheap.

You’ve all no doubt heard plenty about the drought in California and the new water use regulations that recently went into effect. 

Californians are in mandatory conservation mode and utilities are trying to figure out how to encourage water savings while policing the new regulations. 

The La Habra Heights County Water District, profiled in this issue of MSW, encompasses a small service area with only 5,500 customers. They’ve employed a monthly contest to encourage conservation, and it’s worked well. La Habra is able to meet most of its water needs from its system of wells. The district is currently at work rehabilitating one of its wells, and officials hope to meet the entire water demand with new wells in the future. 

But unlike La Habra Heights, many of the state’s water utilities don’t have the groundwater resources to meet demand. Over 80 percent of the state’s water supply comes from surface sources, and severe drought has a crippling effect on those sources. 

Conservation has been the big push, but if rain and snow don’t replenish those sources, conservation alone won’t be sufficient. New sources of water will have to be developed. 

Back in April, William Shatner announced his intentions to launch a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a pipeline that would bring water from the saturated Pacific Northwest to the driest reaches of California. In an interview with Yahoo Tech’s David Pogue, Shatner boldly laid out his plan to quench California’s collective thirst with a 4-foot pipeline of freshwater streaming from Seattle. 

“I want $30 billion … to build a pipeline like the Alaska pipeline. Say, from Seattle — a place where there’s a lot of water. There’s too much water,” Shatner said. “How bad would it be to get a large, 4-foot pipeline, keep it above-ground — because if it leaks, you’re irrigating!” 

Pipelines have been proposed and shot down in the past, but California is facing one of the most severe droughts on record. Gov. Jerry Brown has ordered urban communities across the state to cut water use by 25 percent. Farmers plan to fallow 500,000 acres this year because they don’t have enough water for crops. 

So while $30 billion may seem an absurd number, maybe it’s not that great a price tag in a state that brings in double that in tourism spending each year, not to mention the agricultural significance. 

“California’s in the midst of a 4 year-old drought,” Shatner told Pogue. “They tell us there’s a year’s supply of water left. If it doesn’t rain next year, what do 20 million people in the breadbasket of the world do?” 

This is an industry full of technology and proactive initiatives. Taking water from somewhere else would ease the pain, but it wouldn’t necessarily solve the problem. 

I recently saw a cartoon with an arrow pointing to California, which was labeled “Drought.” There was another arrow pointing to the Pacific Ocean, which was labeled “Water.” It’s not quite that simple, but maybe the time for large-scale desalination has finally arrived. The San Diego County Water Authority is building the largest desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere. Work on the Carlsbad plant began in 2012 and it’s slated to open next year. 

Cost is a major drawback of desalinated water. It may be cost-prohibitive in smaller communities and rural areas, but in heavily populated San Diego County, customers’ water bills are expected to rise $5 to $7 to pay for desalination. That seems like a small price to pay for access to such a massive, secure water source. 

Technology has come a long way in the last few decades. And drought isn’t limited to California. It’s time to start looking at new ways to provide water, and it’s time for Americans to start placing the proper value on clean, safe drinking water. It is not a right; it’s a service. And services cost money. 

Perhaps the water supply isn’t an issue in your service area, but funding for infrastructure improvements is an ongoing battle everywhere. Maybe it takes something like this for people to start to see the real value. 

Enjoy this month’s issue. 


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.