Management, Not Technology, Will Solve California's Drought

It should come as no surprise that Eduardo Porter, who writes the Economic Scene column for The New York Times, is not enamoured by technological silver bullets like desalination as ways for California to survive it's four-year plus drought.
April 9, 2015, 10am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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California’s main challenge is not technological, but economic and political," writes Eduardo Porter. "One thing to keep in mind is that the state still has plenty of water. It just doesn’t have enough for every possible use, no matter how inefficient and wasteful."

However, he does list some of the innovations mentioned by the former state secretary of food and agriculture, Mr. A.G. Kawamura, used to reduce and replenish water supplies:

  • Irrigation systems have evolved from furrows to sprinklers to drips in the three generations since his family began farming in what is now the highly urbanized Los Angeles basin.
  • These days, he said, there’s a water district experimenting with human waste, extracting methane and hydrogen to use for fuel and injecting the water into the aquifer. 
  • Australians have developed a technique to irrigate with brackish water, using the brine as fertilizer and cleaning out the water for use on site. 
  • He also sees promise in techniques to harvest water from the air.

Porto is critical of Gov. Jerry Brown's decision "to exempt farmers from California’s first restrictions ever on water use, even though they consume some 80 percent of the surface water used in the state." It "underscores the scale of the political challenge," he writes.

But he's critical of urban and suburban water users as well—pointing to their over-consumption compared to other areas.

California’s cities consume 178 gallons per person per day, on average. That’s 40 percent more than the per capita water consumption in New York City and more than double that of parched Sydneyin Australia.

Porto goes on to discuss the role of of climate change, not as the cause of the drought, but how it will impact water supplies "in the not-so-distant future," citing two recent studies.

His warning to those believing in 'silver bullets'—"the risk is that belief in our technological capabilities to adapt to whatever comes our way might get in the way of a more comprehensive response."

Hat tip to Michael Keenly.

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Published on Tuesday, April 7, 2015 in The New York Times - Economy
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