“The largest and least expensive source of water to meet Californiaâ€™s needs is the water currently being wasted in every sector of the economy. The potential for conservation and improved efficiency is so large that no new dams or reservoirs will be needed for the foreseeable future, even with expected growth in population and the stateâ€™s economy.â€
-The Pacific Institute
Building a dam is the most economically inefficient way of dealing with California’s water supply issues.
Basic Economic Theory:
Individuals are driven by marginal incentives and self-interest.
A Feasible, Brighter Future Based Upon This Simple Theory:
According to the Pacific Institute, total water demand in California could DECREASE by 8.5 million acre feet per year by the year 2030.
How? Not by investing a ton of capital in new facilities, but merely by introducing cost effective policies and alternative practices that induce homeowners, businesses, and farmers to use water more efficiently.
A Quick Overview Of The Options:
HUGE capital investment in a multi-purpose Auburn Dam that would provide, at best, an additional 360,000 acre feet of water a year.
OR, invest a small amount of money in policy, education, and farming changes that could decrease demand by as much as 8.5 million acre feet per year.
What would the responsible tax-payer decide?
What Kinds of Changes Are We Talking About?
That’s a good and valid question. “Policy” is a very broad, and sometimes scary, term. It is understandable that one might say, “Well great, policy changes are a lot cheaper and more effective than capital investment in new infrastructure, but are we talking about policies that infringe on anyone’s rights, are unfair, put someone out of business, or have other hidden costs?”
And here is the amazing, beautiful answer: No.
Conserving water is efficient and COST EFFECTIVE!!!
Water Conservation in Urban California:
There are many ways that government and educational programs can encourage people to reduce their demand for water and save money, without changing lifestyle or the services obtained from their current water use.
The following are examples of some of the most potentially impactful changes for individual homeowners:
Goverment policy that either requires or gives rebates toward the purchase of Low Flush Volume Toilets to replace older, less efficient models. If all inefficient toilets in California were replaced, reductions in water demand in the year 2020 could be as high as 200,000 acre-feet per year. This takes into account the increasing population, and is in addition to the savings that existing government requirements will achieve by 2020!
Government policy that either requires or gives rebates toward the purchase of more efficient washing machines. If all current residential washing machines in California were as efficient as the average of the efficient models currently on the market, water use in California homes would be reduced by another 110,000 acre-feet annually.
Comprehensive audits and proper maintenance for residential leaks, with a target leak rate of 4.2 gallons per household per day, would result in a total savings of 240,000 acre-feet per year.
A Note on The Cost-Effectiveness of Such Policy Changes, Price Incentives, and/or Educational Programs :
In the long run, people save much more money on metered water bills (now a statewide requirement) and on reduced energy usage than they spend on the initial capital investment required to replace and/or repair their existing infrastructure.
There are also other benefits to society not directly felt by the individual homeowner, such as lower wastewater treatment costs that result from using and polluting less water, and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that result from using less energy.
The Commercial and Industrial Sector:
The California Department of Water Resources, in their last Water Plan Update, created a series of Best Management Policies for water suppliers and customers. Although well-meaning, these Policies (BMP for short) were created as suggestions, rather than regulations; the result being that many of them were not actually implemented. Making these BMPs a requirement, rather than voluntary, could lead to substantial savings in water demand and usage.
Also, the commercial and industrial sectors could conserve the most significant amount of water using techniques similar or identical to those that should be applied by individual homeowners, including low flush volume toilets and more efficient dishwashers and washing machines.
Water Conservation In The Agricultural Sector:
In many cases, irrigation techniques that are less water-intensive are also more cost effective, and produce better crops. As a result, the percentage of crops in California to be irrigated by these more efficient methods is continually increasing.
Government-sponsored educational campaigns geared towards farmers, as well as more realistic water pricing, could lead to even more substantial savings by the year 2030. In it’s “Waste Not, Want Not” report, the Pacific Institute estimated that improved irrigation and water-use efficiency in California’s agricultural sector could reduce demand by as much as 5.8 million acre-feet by the year 2030. The following is an example of one of the most promising of such irrigation improvements:
Regulated Deficit Irrigation: Showing especially promising results in its first few years of testing, this irrigation technique can save significant amounts of water without negatively affecting yield or profit. Developed for use on trees and vines, it can be utilized by California’s pistachio, olive, prune, citrus, and grape (wine) farmers. Some farmers have even found that regulated deficit irrigation improves the quality of their product, for example producing a larger percentage of pistachio nuts with shells already partially opened. (A desirable characteristic for pistachio consumers.)