Tag: "ground water"

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.

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.

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.

The New Climate Economy

A new report from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate claims that the appropriate action to reduce the risks of global climate change will have many positive effects on nation’s economies.

Without (undefined) urgent action:

  • Global warming could exceed 4 degrees Celsius.
  • Delay in action could cut global consumption growth by 0.3 percent per year in the decade 2030 to 2040.
  • If we act on climate change now, consumption growth may only go down 0.1 percent.

This whole report is centered on the fact that a warming planet is inevitable and that acting now would save more money in the long run. The study supposes the global warming will cause natural resources to dwindle, arable land to be less available, and food and water to become scarce. Furthermore, they believe that regulations now to curb global warming would be beneficial, even if it means short-term economic losses, because it staves off larger economic losses in the future.

Sure, if that were the case anyone with half a mind would say that we should act now rather than later. Unfortunately, that is not the case. We don’t have to accept that global warming will cause unprecedented human disaster. According to the NCPA’s global warming primer, there are several things wrong with the new report:

  • First, we find that 96.6 percent of carbon emissions come from nature, and not humans. The regulations would do nothing but hurt the economy and not solve the problem.
  • Second, there is no consensus on the magnitude of the impact, it is likely that the apocalyptic scenarios won’t pan out even if the Earth is to increase by 2 degrees Celsius.
  • Finally, stabilizing carbon emissions at even 550 ppm would cost trillions of dollars.

These are some things that the report has not considered.

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.

Fracking Provides a Safe and Environmentally Friendly Energy Source

As recently as a decade ago, many scientists believed the U.S. was running out of oil. Peak oil was a major concern and many questioned whether the U.S. way of life was at risk. Hydraulic fracturing (fracking), developed more than 60 years ago, has eliminated fears of running out of oil. Although fracking was impractical and very expensive when first developed, it has become more feasible in the last few years due to technological advancements and rising oil prices over the last decade, leading to an 800% increase in shale gas production over the last decade. Fracking has led to an economic resurgence in many places across the country. And while oil and gas has to be removed correctly, using gas collected by fracking reduces greenhouse gases more than burning coal.

But that is not enough for some environmental groups who see fracking as a dangerous detour on a path to 100% renewables. The Green Party has complained that fracking squanders water. While fracking does use water, the amount of water used to drill all 3,000 Marcellus wells in Pennsylvania (and obviously not all are being drilled at the same time) equals the amount of water used by residents of Pittsburg in one year. Additionally, fracking is using the water once consumed by shuttered industries such as steel manufacturing which have been offshored or curtailed by the EPA. In fact of the 9.5 billion gallons of water used daily in Pennsylvania, natural gas consumes 1.9 million gallons or two thousandths of one percent.

Others claim natural gas is dirty. Actually natural gas is much cleaner to burn than oil or gasoline. It emits half as much carbon dioxide, less than one third the sulfur oxides and one percent as much sulfur oxide as coal. While the fracking process does release some excess methane, a good portion can be prevented by sealing condensers, pipelines and wellheads.

Fracking will not cause water wells to blow-up as in did in the movie Gasland. In the movie, the Colorado home’s well was actually drilled directly into a naturally occurring pocket of methane. The drilling occurred before any fracking in the area. Hollywood is not in the business of fact checking. As long as companies use stronger cement and processing casings to ensure an impermeable seal, the methane cannot move into anyone’s home.

Finally, some claim that fracking will lead to radioactive drinking water. While shale has a radioactive isotope, tests of treated water and brine in New York and Pennsylvania found no elevated radiation levels. The treatment of water used in fracking makes the presence of significant amounts of radiation impossible.

While fracking requires following strict protocols, the natural gas supplied has been a boon for the United States. Fracking is cleaner than oil and coal, increases energy supplies and enhances economic activity. Some of the purported claims of the anti-fracking crowd are scare tactics created by those who have an economic incentive to see fracking fail.

Fact-Check: Fracking Water Contamination in Texas

Last year, a number of complaints were filed to the Railroad Commission of Texas District 7B Office concerning the apparent increase in methane in the water wells in Parker County, Texas. The complaints claimed that the contamination was the result of the nearby activities of the Barnett Shale production and fracking.

A blog post this week on Ring of Fire’s website titled “Scientists: Fracking Linked to Groundwater Contamination” states in its opening paragraphs:

Last week a Texas TV station broke the news that new independent scientific analysis refutes the claim by the oil and gas industry that “there’s never been a confirmed case of fracking polluting drinking water.”

WFAA, the ABC affiliate in Dallas, reported that two independent scientists using data from Texas regulators confirmed fracking in Parker County, TX by Range Resources polluted resident Steve Lipsky’s drinking water with dangerous levels of methane from the Barnett Shale.

However, the “data” that Ecowatch and Earthworks is referring to states the complete opposite in the conclusion of the Railroad Commission of Texas Water Well Complaint Investigation Report:

Based on the information described above, Commission staff has determined that the evidence is insufficient to conclude that Barnett Shale production activities have caused or contributed to methane contamination in the aquifer beneath the neighborhood.

Earthworks, Ecowatch and others are really trying to stir up fear of the process of fracking. However, they lack the scientific evidence that they claim to have. It is just sad that they claim one thing, and a fact-check proves another.

Adaptation Strategies for Climate Change

Although negligibly, climate change is happening, and addressing the issue in the short-term may prevent drastic future effects. When determining how to actually address climate change, two main strategies exist: mitigation and adaptation. While these two may appear similar, a nuanced difference distinguishes the two. Mitigation addresses the causes of climate change, while adaptation addresses the effects of climate change. Even though adaptation is a form of mitigation, it attempts to mitigate the harmful effects, not the causes. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), adaptation strategies can be either protective (guarding against the negative impacts of climate change) or opportunistic (taking advantage of any beneficial effects of climate change).

While an exact range is not agreed upon, most studies predict that the global mean in temperature has and will continue to rise. Some predict marginal gains, while others predict a drastic spike. Nevertheless, most agree that climate change is happening, and the evidence clearly reveals a trend in increasing temperatures. However, even though a consensus exists with regards to the veracity of climate change, no consensus exists on its causes. If the exact causes are unknown, nations spending money on mitigation strategies are taking shots in the dark at trying to stop climate change. Thus, nations may find adaptation measures more economically sensible than mitigation, as these strategies are a guaranteed way of protecting society.

As adaptation clearly appears the appropriate method of addressing climate change, many different strategies have been proposed to protect various sectors and industries. However, while the strategies may differ, the process of planning effective adaptation strategies tends to follow a similar, cyclical pattern for most nations. Here are the most common and effective six steps, according to the National Research Council:

  1. Identify current and future climate changes relevant to the system.
  2. Assess the vulnerabilities and risks to the system.
  3. Develop an adaptation strategy using risk-based prioritization schemes.
  4. Identify opportunities for co-benefits and synergies across sectors.
  5. Implement adaptation options.
  6. Monitor and reevaluate implemented adaptation options.

With this established methodology for discovering and implementing adaptation strategies, the EPA has given various examples of policies for each sector.

Agriculture and Food Supply
  • Breed crop varieties that are more tolerant of heat, drought, and water logging from heavy rainfall or flooding
  • Protect livestock from higher summer temperatures by providing more shade and improving air flow in barns
  • Promote shore protection techniques and open space preserves that allow beaches and coastal wetlands to gradually move inland as sea levels may rise.
  • Identify and improve evacuation routes and evacuation plans for low-lying areas, to prepare for increased storm surge and flooding.
  • Protect and increase migration corridors to allow species to migrate as the climate changes.
  • Promote land and wildlife management practices that enhance ecosystem resilience.
  • Increase energy efficiency to help offset increases in energy consumption.
  • Harden energy production facilities to withstand increased flood, wind, lightning, and other storm-related stresses.
  • Removing invasive species.
  • Promoting biodiversity and landscape diversity.
  • Collaborating across borders to create habitat linkages.
  • Managing wildfire risk through controlled burns and thinning.
Human Health
  • Implement early warning systems and emergency response plans to prepare for changes in the frequency, duration, and intensity of extreme weather events.
  • Plant trees and expand green spaces in urban settings to moderate heat increases.
  • Developing plans to help elderly populations deal with more extreme weather.
  • Relocating communities where in-place adaptation is not feasible.
  • Considering how the private sector can support and promote adaptation.
  • Understanding the specific needs of sensitive populations.
  • Raising the level of critical infrastructure.
  • Changing construction and design standards of transportation infrastructure, such as bridges, levees, roads, railways, and airports.
  • Abandoning or rebuilding important infrastructure in less vulnerable areas.
Water Resources
  • Improve water use efficiency and build additional water storage capacity.
  • Protect and restore stream and river banks to ensure good water quality and safe guard water quantity

Often times, an effective strategy takes the dual-mandate approach, implementing adaptation and mitigation processes. However, with mitigation looking less effective each day, going all in on necessary adaptation strategies seems to be more appropriate. While mitigation strategies may buy a little more time in the long-run, adaptation strategies must take precedence as they will have definitive positive impacts. Rather than implementing new regulations to curb carbon emissions or regulate business, the federal government should work to prioritize the protection of these industries.

Tanner Davis is a research associate at the National Center for Policy Analysis.