Could piping in water be the solution to California’s drought?
Credit: The remains of Cachuma Lake, the main water source for 200,000 people in southern Santa Barbara County, motherjones.com
When it rains, it pours
In the midst of an epic drought and with an estimated one year’s worth of water remaining in its reservoirs, California just enacted mandatory water use restrictions for the first time in the state’s history. Some of the more cynical among us may think it’s actually somewhat impressive it has taken this long, considering the large population and agricultural needs of a region that is largely a desert.
Cynic or not, everyone wants to find the best possible solutions for California’s water problems for a number of reasons. One, California provides much of our nation’s food supply. According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, it produced nearly half of all fruits, nuts and vegetables grown in the United States in 2013. Two, California won’t be the last state facing this issue. The coming years in California might just end up being a proving ground for water solutions in other states.
Aside from hoping for rain, which may or may not include dancing, or some rather…creative options, what can realistically be done?
You may have heard of a fairly large water source that resides just outside California’s back door. It’s known as the Pacific Ocean. Could converting this seemingly infinite supply of seawater into fresh water be the answer to all of the state’s problems? Could it actually be that simple? Well, Israel has certainly proven the capabilities of desalination, but the problems associated with the process need little explanation. Namely, it’s quite expensive, and environmental concerns loom large. Still, unless there is a dramatic change in the rain and snowpack outlook for California’s immediate future, it appears desalination will become a large part of the state’s water supply, including the soon-to-come-online San Diego facility, which will be the largest desalination plant in the western hemisphere.
It seems likely transporting water via pipeline from areas rich with the stuff to more arid locations will inevitably be part of any long-term solution. That’s right; pipelines aren’t just for petroleum products. In fact, there is a plan more than 20 years old being brought to the forefront once again. It called for piping water from Alaska’s abundant resources to California. Now, this particular plan is once again being tossed off the table as soon as it’s presented because of what would undoubtedly be an exorbitant price tag, but that doesn’t mean other pipeline projects won’t be part of the answer.
There are already many pipelines dedicated to water transportation, and many more are in the works. Similar to their petroleum counterparts, these projects are not without controversy and handwringing among policymakers. However, also similar to petroleum pipelines, as long as humans have a need for water, it will need to be transported from areas of abundance to areas of scarcity, and given current technology, pipelines will be a huge part of that transportation for the foreseeable future.