Category: Water Issues

New York Primary “Fracking” Fight

Bernie Sanders is demanding a nation-wide ban on hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” while he campaigns in the state of New York against Hillary Clinton, using the anti-fracking position of the state of New York to sway more voters over to his side.

Bernie’s campaign aligning with the anti-fracking effort claims that the drilling process has extremely hazardous effects. However, some very extensive studies prove otherwise.

Last year the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducted an extensive study on the effects of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water. The study:

  • Did not find evidence that these mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.
  • Of the potential mechanisms identified in this report, there were specific instances where one or more mechanisms led to impacts on drinking water resources, including contamination of drinking water wells.
  • The number of identified cases, the study concluded however, was small compared to the number of hydraulically fractured wells.

In addition to the EPA’s findings, the processes of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling created an energy/economic boom in the United States.

Draconian California Water Restrictions

California has been plagued by a highly-politicized water crisis for months now, despite crisis warnings for years.

The state has fallen prey to the “tragedy of the (water) commons”, where each person feels their single contribution to the water crisis will not impact the overall situation. With this thought, each Californian uses water like it rained yesterday, with no regard to the desperate calls from Governor Jerry Brown for water conservation.

Until now, Californians have faced few real incentives to lower their water consumption levels. Past water infrastructure subsidies have kept the price of water down as political forces ensured a disastrously low price for California’s many residents. The result was a low water price of less than 0.7 cents per gallon in 2014 for San Diego and Los Angeles. In cities such as Irvine, next to the University of California, the price can be as low as 0.2 cents per gallon.

Economists believe simply raising the water price by 10 percent could cut consumption by 2 to 4 percent.

Not limited to simple price increases, however, new California laws are mandating significant decreases in water consumption. These policies include:

  • New cuts affect 276 rights held by 114 entities to pull water from the Delta, Sacramento, and San Joaquin watersheds. Each of these entities could be supplying water to dozens of additional users.
  • Farmers in the Central Valley have already had their surface water allotment lowered or erased in the last few years.
  • In May, about 200 farmers agreed to lower their water usage by 25 percent in exchange for a promise to face no deeper cuts during the growing season.
  • Other restrictions implemented in May limited yard watering to twice a week and between the hours of 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.
  • Owners of large farms will now have to hand over detailed reports of their water use to state regulators.
  • A recent executive order calls for the replacement of 50 million square feet of ornamental turf, such as municipality-owned lawns or private lawns.
  • For wealthy consumers, districts now reserve the right to install flow restrictors for private use.
  • Top water users are facing cuts up to 36 percent.

While these policies might lower water consumption, they may be a little too much too late. In the end, these draconian measures are sure to enrage those who can afford higher water prices, while also punishing farmers and low-income water consumers.

The Demise of Traditional Hydro-Power

Traditional hydroelectric power, generated by the storage and release of water in reservoirs, has faced regulatory and environmental restraints on growth for decades. The current generation capacity of hydroelectric power, in the form of conventional and pumped storage, in the United States is around 101,000 megawatts. According to the Electric Power Supply Association, this is enough energy to power 75 to 100 million homes.

In 2013, hydroelectric power accounted for 7 percent of energy production, about 50 percent of total renewable energy produced that year. This represents a sharp decrease from ­­­­about 25 percent of electric generation in 1920.

While the federal government owns only 8 percent of the total number of hydroelectric facilities, it accounts for 52 percent of total hydro generation due to the large size of its facilities. The private sector, public utilities, and state or local governments own the other 92 percent of the facilities, 89 percent of which have a generation capacity of less than 30 megawatts. The non-federal market for hydroelectric power is therefore significant, operating over 1,600 hydropower facilities in states across the country.

While initial investment costs for hydropower projects is high, overall costs in dollars per kilowatt hour are comparatively low. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, hydro power plants cost $0.08/kW-hr, while coal plants and nuclear plants average costs around $0.10/kW-hr. Natural gas power plants are more competitive with costs between $0.07/kW-hr and $0.13/kW-hr. The increase in natural gas plants, which provided 27 percent of U.S. energy in 2014, stems from the cheap supply of gas from hydraulic fracking and the relatively quick construction process of plants. As traditional hydro investment slumps, natural gas is there to pick up the slack and provide cheap electricity for American homes.

Other key reasons for the lack of growth in hydroelectric development stem from considerations outside of average cost, including:

  • Intentional removal of existing dams to restore wildlife habitats.
  • Locations for new reservoirs are lacking as most were constructed on in the twentieth century.
  • Many key rivers in the United States are drying up as a result of changing weather patterns and outdated water sharing laws.
  • Regulations implemented in 1992 drastically increased the waiting time for project development, discouraging future investors who already faced large initial investment costs. Licensing, through Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, for traditional hydro projects can take anywhere from 16 months to 10 years, depending on the environmental concerns on the project.
  • Intentional removal of nearly 900 dams in the last 25 years to restore wildlife habitats.

While one of the easiest methods for boosting generation capacity is installing hydroelectric generators on existing dams, the destruction of current dams is hindering this prospect. Future increases in hydroelectric capacity will stem mostly from new technologies focused on closed-loop pumped storage systems, tidal, and hydrokinetic power (using river water flow). These technologies offer an alternative to outdated methods of controlling and releasing water gradually, which effectively decrease the environmental concerns about hydroelectric power and provide a strong alternative to traditional hydro projects. While the costs for these projects are still too high to be commercially viable, investments in research and development have been increasing throughout the world.

Lauren Aragon is a research associate at the National Center for Policy Analysis.

Water Price Increase Solution for California Drought

Adapted from Richard B. McKenzie’s My California Water Is an Undiluted Bargain in the Wall Street Journal:

A neighborhood in the epicenter of rain-deprived Southern California pays only $0.002 per gallon for water. Other Californians pay up to three to four times more, but that’s still less than a penny per gallon.

While the obvious effect of extremely low prices is to encourage people to use more water, the less obvious effect is to discourage people from incurring even modest costs to curb water use.

At current water prices, many water-saving methods do not make economic sense in many areas of the state:

  • Dual-flush mechanisms can be installed in existing toilets and cost $20 to $40 each ― a median cost of $90 for three mechanisms. Assuming five “half-flushes” per person a day, at current price, the water bill saving for a family of two would be $12.41 a year. It would take more than seven years to recover mechanisms’ cost.
  • New, water-saving toilets use 1.28 gallons per flush instead of 3.5 gallons. Three high-quality water-saving toilets cost $2,254 installed. The saving on annual water bill would be $16.21. It would take more than 138 years to recover the cost of the new toilets, not including interest costs.

If the price of tap water were raised to the price of water sold by the gallon at the local Costco, then cost of the three toilets could be recovered through lower water bills in a little more than five months. That 325-fold price increase might be politically unacceptable. However, if the price of water were raised to just a nickel a gallon, many homeowners may adopt the new water-saving toilets.

Antarctic May Be Thicker than Previously Thought

Underwater vehicles have been used to better map the sea-ice of the Antarctic and have come up with some interesting findings:

  • Maps of sea-ice draft for ten floes mean draft range from 1.4 to 5.5 m and up to 16 m.
  • On average, 76 percent of the ice volume is deformed ice.
  • Floes are much thicker and more deformed than previous reports.

The large packs of floating ice (ice-floes) are about 20 meters or 66 feet across. The thick ice in the near-coastal and interior pack may be under-represented in existing original assessments of Antarctic sea ice. Therefore, Antarctic sea-ice may be thicker than previously thought.

New Fracking Process Benefits Environment

A new step that removes salt from the water that is used for the fracking process makes the water reusable. Researchers at MIT and in Saudi Arabia can now add a new step to fracking called electro dialysis.

Produced water from fossil-fuel wells can have salinity three to six times greater than that of seawater; the new research indicates that this salt can be effectively removed through a succession of stages of electro dialysis.

The idea would not be to purify the water sufficiently to make it potable, the researchers say. Rather, it could be cleaned up enough to enable its reuse as part of the hydraulic fracturing fluid injected in subsequent wells, significantly reducing the water needed from other sources.

Lienhard explains that if you’re trying to make pure water, electro dialysis becomes less and less efficient as the water gets less saline, because it requires that electric current flow through the water itself: Salty water conducts electricity well, but pure water does not.

While the electro dialysis technology is available, new fracking equipment is needed that will utilize the new step. This new step will help recycle water that can be used again for fracking and will draw less resources from water starved states like Texas.

Western Water Market Needed

Outdated laws and lack of a water market in western United States, continues to cause problems and increases the chance for dire consequences.

Droughts continue to cause more damage to farmers and the regional economy. As the population rapidly increases in these already dry western states, the water laws must be reformed, at least for now, to allow for:

  • Short-term leases of water.
  • Basic market institutions.
  • Risk-migration tools such as dry-year options.
  • Basic controls such as regulating how much water can be pumped.

Opening up water markets will improve the efficiency of water supply and demand and provide water at the most appropriate price to everyone. Such a system will be better prepared for droughts and other consequences to the increasing water shortage in the west.

Hydropower has Renewable Energy Flaws

Out of all the renewable energy options, hydro powered dams have been a very popular option. Many see it as one of the cleanest options which produces lots of energy. However, dams and reservoirs are currently — and have been for a long time — caused all kinds of harm to the environment and water eco systems.

Some of the damage the hydropower effort have had includes:

  • Contributing four percent of all human emissions.
  • Pollute water ways.
  • Blocks the natural developments of the rivers, waterways and the eco systems.

Efforts are under way to remove dams and other water structures that are already having a positive effect on the water eco systems in those regions. There is no need to let government make the push for renewable energy, when there are already plenty of resources available, even in the United States.

Water Policing vs. Water Pricing in California

California is in significant drought, with a water crisis that has caused acres of crops to die or go unplanted, as water reservoirs continue to be depleted. According to one NASA water scientist, “If this drought continues, we’re going to be in a terrible situation within the next 12-24 months.”

The water crisis has caused municipalities to take action, sending “water police” out to monitor water usage and charging violators for excessive watering and other violations. Neighbors have begun to report one another to city authorities for using their sprinklers too often.

Water usage in California is suffering from the “tragedy of the commons.” In fact, water use in the state has increased by 1 percent this year, despite the worsening drought.

Why are Californians unwilling to curb their water use?

  • The authors explain that the state has incredibly low water prices: it costs less than 0.7 cents per gallon in San Diego and Los Angeles.
  • McKenzie himself writes that he pays just 0.2 cents per gallon for water in Irvine, California, meaning that he can purchase over 2,000 gallons of water for the same price as a single gallon of gas.

McKenzie and Shelton write that because water is so cheap, few Californians see it as a precious resource. They encourage raising the price of water in the state:

  • According to economists, raising the price of water by 10 percent will lead to a drop in consumption of 2 percent to 4 percent.
  • In order to reduce consumption in California by 20 percent, rates will have to rise by 50 percent.
  • By raising the price, consumers will give greater thought to their water usage and find ways to be more efficient.

To prevent the price hike from hurting the poor, a progressive pricing structure (in which the price of water rises as use increases) should kick in after a consumer has reached a minimal level of water usage.

NCPA Senior Fellow Richard McKenzie and Kathryn Shelton of the America’s Future Foundation

Water Desalination Efforts Can Really Benefit Texas

Water issues are becoming a growing problem for many places around the United States, especially in Texas. Droughts and a population boom are continuing to put more pressure on the state’s water supply. On top of that, the process of fracking (very popular in Texas) uses lots of water that is turned into waste water. The process of desalination can turn waste water, brackish water and even sea water into water that can be used as drinking water, irrigation and other uses.

An article by William McKenzie of the George Bush Institute in the Dallas Morning News highlights the desalination efforts in Texas, with a focus on the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Plant in El Paso.

He includes some recommendations for Texas:

  • The Texas Water Development Board can hire more geologists to research brackish water.
  • Communities can work on efforts to recycle brackish water.
  • Private/Public desalination plant partnerships, like in California, can provide enough water to millions of residents.