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Water Today Title November 23, 2017

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This story is brought to you in part by Water Conservation Company

CALIFORNIA - The real cost of water

California is in the fourth year of one of the state's worst droughts in the past century, one so intense it has led Governor Jerry Brown to impose mandatory statewide water restrictions for the first time in the state’s history.

The region has been prone to drought since well before the area was settled by Europeans in the 1800s, but what differentiates this drought from previous ones is the added dimension of climate warming which is decimating the Rockies snow pack. The U.S. Drought Monitor for March 31 notes that "as of April 1, with temperatures averaging more than 10°F above normal, the state’s total snowpack stood at a meager 5 percent of average. while streamflows have dropped into the 5th percentile or lower over much of California."

Meanwhile, the Colorado River Basin which provides water for more than 40 million people in California and the Southwest, through a series of reservoirs, has been plagued by drought for over a decade .Lake Mead which is one of the basin's largest reservoir and the source of 90 per cent of the water in Las Vegas, stands at 45 per cent capacity. In the mountains, Lake Tahoe, the largest alpine lake in North America, is so low no water will flow from the lake into its sole outlet, the Truckee River.

Governor Brown has stated that the drought proves "climate change is not a hoax", a view that was echoed in a new report published by the Risky Business Project, which suggests that California could face "significant disruptions to its water supply, agricultural productivity, and coastal infrastructure unless businesses and policymakers take immediate action to address climate change."

Scientists have also been warning of the dire consequences of our warming planet for decades, yet the advice has most often fallen on deaf ears.

In the meantime a host of solutions are being contemplated to alleviate the water shortage. Unfortunately, aside from conservation most of these are costly and have their own downside.

It is expected that Gov. Brown's unprecedented step of forcing urban water agencies to reduce their water use by 25 percent.will save an estimated 1.5 million acre-feet, or nearly 500 billion gallons of water,over the next year. However, with domestic water use representing only 20 per cent of the water usage in California, as compared to irrigation which accounts for 80 per cent, will this be enough in the long run?

Groundwater pumping
Californians are already depleting their groundwater reserves at an unprecedented rate, as they resort to drilling deeper and deeper into the aquifer in search of more water to irrigate the state's water-thirsty crops. And the practice is having dire consequences. According to the New York Times,"In some places, water tables have dropped 50 feet or more in just a few years. With less underground water to buoy it, the land surface is sinking as much as a foot a year in spots, causing roads to buckle and bridges to crack. Shallow wells have run dry, depriving several poor communities of water.

Desalinating seawater is another solution which is popular in many drought-stricken areas around the world. In California, the huge billion dollar Carlsbad desalination plant is expected to be operational by 2016. It will produce 50 million gallons of water per day and provide 7% of the potable water needs to the San Diego region. The downside of desalination is its cost, three times higher than normal water, and its potentially disastrous effect on the oceans as the process essentially sends double the salt back to the ocean floor.

Other proposed solutions include cloud seeding, diverting flood waters from the Mississippi, trucking snow from Boston, dragging icebergs from Alaska and so on and so forth. But one solution that is rarely mentioned and when so, immediately discarded as ecologically unsustainable and too expensive, is shipping water.

Water by Rail
While extensive rail networks are used to transport crude oil and natural gas at great risk to our water resources, it seems that the valuation of water is too low to justify shipping it in by train even when emergency situations such as the current drought in California arise.

In fact, as we witness water in the Southwest disappearing before our very eyes, as the price of oil plummets by the day, is water not worth more by the day? How does one determine its actual value?

What is the real cost of water compared to the price of oil? Ironically, the only source we found that directly compared the price of water and oil was an article written by David G. Rensink in 2010 for the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (APPG), entitled The Real Cost of Water - Going up

Rensink's estimates are based on USGS 2005 water usage statistics and the price of water and oil in 2005.

    "In 2005, Americans used an average of 1,367 gallons of water per day per person (410 billion gallons and 300 million people). Depending on location, we currently pay approximately $0.002 to $0.004/gallon for domestic supply. If we assume that $0.002/ gallon approximates the real cost of water, applying that to the total U.S. usage yields a cost of $2.73/day per person.

    In the same year, the United States used an average of approximately three gallons of crude oil per day per person (21.1 million barrels/day). The average cost of crude oil in 2005 was $50.04/barrel or $1.19/gallon. That represents a daily cost of $3.52/person.

    It is not difficult to envision a time in the near future when the real cost of water will have a greater impact on the world economy than the cost of a barrel of crude oil."

In fact, while water should be a human right, in view of the current drought in California and the increasing water shortages around the world, it is hard to see how the value of water has not hit the roof and the real cost of water not sky-rocketed. At last then, creative emergency solutions would not always be seen as too costly.

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If crude by rail why not water?

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