Water Security in California – Technology and Politics
There is no better place to look than Israel for insights on cultivating water security in California. Our state shares not only a Mediterranean climate with that nation, but the technological capabilities for responding to the problem of water scarcity. In five years Israel went from water scarcity to water security through a combination of water conservation measures, an incredible water reuse program and numerous desalination plants. They lead the world in water reuse. The Global Water Forum estimates the country recycles 75 percent of its wastewater and is predicted to hit 95 percent by 2017. Spain recycles 13 percent; the US, one percent.
It is time for a dramatic increase in our reuse of water in this state and for creating the framework for adapting advanced water technologies of others worldwide to our needs and promoting our own innovations.
I can imagine digitally directed management of water capture and storage and computer monitoring systems that eliminate leakages and other forms of waste. I envision a new generation of entrepreneurs running start-ups in California whose missions are to solve water storage, capture, distribution and conversion problems. Just as the oil industry is considering Carbon Storage ventures, why couldn’t there be public/private partnerships for water capture and storage?
The nation’s largest government collaboration to create solar energy is in California. The West Winton Landfill project involves 19 agencies in Alameda, Santa Clara, Contra Costa and San Mateo counties pooling resources to reduce costs and create jobs. What about a similar collaboration for water capture, storage and distribution? Why not piggyback water capture and storage pipes with solar panels on the very same roofs?
A project funded by the Bill Gates Foundation in Washington State converts sewage water to drinking water, creating its own energy as steam in the process. This was intended to benefit countries in which safe drinking water is not readily available. California could certainly benefit from this sort of technology with the proper mindset.
Low tech conservation needs to be part of the solution to California’s water with across the board consistency. Developers of new projects are now required to drain water onsite. What about the rest of us? The new stormwater codes apply to new developments, those still in the planning stages, but do not address existing housing stock, commercial and industrial structures that are in the majority of things built. If we add existing structures to new projects, the amount of water captured would be utterly amazing and accomplished easily and with little cost, relatively speaking. The result will be new opportunities for plumbers, roofers, architects, landscape designers and building and landscape contractors. There will certainly be more jobs for lawyers to handle water rights cases and hydrological engineering consultants to sort out the water wastage mess we now have in California.
Some areas of the state, L.A. for one, are now providing rain barrel rebates.
Perhaps this should be a state-wide phenomenon? A nonprofit organization in Marin County (SPAWN) in collaboration with various agencies and businesses has introduced the 10,000 Rain Gardens Initiative. Such initiatives need to be more widespread and could be with appropriate state-wide incentives administered through water districts. The city of Irvine has a water reuse program. Homebuilders in the City of Lancaster are installing a graywater system from Australia in new homes. Retrofits are the answer for older homes. Tech startups are a means to develop the systems.
Dwelling in Possibilities
I have taken a ½ acre section of public land and created a dry climate garden that is biodiverse, diverts massive amounts of organic waste, is wildlife-friendly, uses no water and relies on human energy. I have installed rainwater harvesting and graywater systems. I know what is possible for an ordinary citizen with no special skills in engineering.
What the individual can do: invest in rainwater and graywater systems, plant region-appropriate trees to reduce desertification and sequester carbon from the atmosphere.
What educators can do: link rainwater catchment with school garden projects, teach the preciousness of water and the role trees play in the water cycle. Schools can partner with businesses as in Benicia (Contra Costa Sunday Times, May 24, 2015) for projects that inspire green careers and further curriculum goals.
What businesses can do: Incorporate low-tech water systems. Invest in innovative water projects. Banks, financial institutions and alternative lending sources can make loans available for start-ups promoting water conservation and efficient delivery systems.
What legislators at state and local levels in collaboration with water agencies can do: Develop a long-range water management policy for our state that incorporates new thinking on water rights and new technologies that are founded upon the realities of California’s climate.
Offer a challenge grant like the one USAid offered for the best designed Ebola suit for – in this case, the design of the most efficient water distribution system. In this way, a team of scientists, engineers, university students, hydrogeologists and others would be engaged in a collaborative effort.
Change municipal codes to reflect new thinking about water conservation, recovery, recycling and reuse. In Arizona, rainharvesting has taken hold in a significant way. Brad Lancaster works collaboratively with public agencies on street design projects to capture and hold what rainwater is available in a desert environment. He has planted native trees and returned 25 species of wildlife to his modest neighborhood in Tucson.
What business/government partnerships can do: Develop the water equivalent of the LEED organization serving the green building industry by setting standards for “green” water projects.
What plumbers and roofers can do: Learn the new systems and apply the techniques in order to expand the services their businesses provide.
What retired engineers can do: Under the auspices of Compatible Technology International (CTI) based in Minnesota (www.Progressiveengineer.com), a group of retired food industry engineers used their skills in developing simple chlorination devices to purify water in developing countries. Engineers in California, retired or not, could have a role in inventing simple systems related to protecting water quality and supporting conservation here.
What water agencies can do: Provide incentives for water capture and storage equivalent to ”removing the lawn” rebates. Rethink BMPs to enable capture of otherwise wasted water from water main breaks for reuse elsewhere (pump into a truck or onto bare land rather than into the storm drain system).
This is the third part in a four-part series. To read the other installments, click below: