Guest Column: What about the supply side?

By JIM SIMMONS

With all the innovations, breakthroughs and encouraging new legislation regarding water supply, it is troubling to behold a recent Los Angeles Times editorial calling for more government coercion on citizens without mention of more supply (July 11, 2014, “Before the taps go dry”).

Unfortunately, it is not just the Times. There has long been some innate inclination in private sector practice and public sector policy to look first at the negative side of the ledger. Not long ago, with expense budgets already cut to zero, a distant community college gathered its managers to agonize over the horrible last step: layoffs? A lonely suggestion to instead consider marketing and charging for the use of the spectacular but dormant football stadium was met with genuine bewilderment. Bring in money? Build a new revenue stream? Harrumph…beneath our collegial dignity.

The Times is correct in calling for prudent use and stewardship of vital resources. Californians need to make conscious choices to save water. But that isn’t an answer to the real problem. We have at hand smart, intelligent and brilliant solutions for a more abundant water supply throughout the state. We should be focused on those, the positive side of the ledger.

Ever notice our state’s enormous geographical neighbor to the west? It’s called the Pacific Ocean, and it happens to be full of water. And today’s desalination capability is no longer your grandpa’s desalination. At least one of our national laboratories has demonstrated world-changing nanotechnology filtration systems that are efficient, cheap and ready. At least one California company is touting processes for the capture and marketing of every salt and substance removed from desalinated seawater. Like software apps and rooftop solar, soon there will be hundreds more such companies.

Further, most of the state’s water-delivery infrastructure is already in place and nearly interoperable. Kern County, the only energy net-exporting county in the state, now has the largest wind-energy production region in the world. Much of that is made possible by generous tax incentives. Is it so hard to imagine that a slice of that taxpayer-provided power could be traded to help operate modern coastal desalination facilities?

The Delta Diablo Sanitation District in Antioch has led dozens of Bay Area water suppliers and processors in a remarkable coalition to envision and create wholly new ways to recycle, reclaim and reuse water that was formerly discharged into the bay. It’s visionary and it’s working.

Faced with the arrival of 18,000 new soldiers and families, El Paso’s Fort Bliss simply had no alternative. New water supplies were a must. They now have the world’s largest inland desalination plant.

Section 331 of the 2012 Defense Authorization Bill enables DOD facilities to enter into “public-public, public-private partnerships (P4)” to build, rehab and retrofit water systems, wastewater treatment plants, electric grids and almost any infrastructure necessary to assure readiness, sustainability and adjacent community requirements. Private capital is already committed to funding such public works, which can be structured to eliminate most city and base capital investment dollars.

There are other examples of visionary leadership in the modern age of water supply production. But championing high-profile, but essentially toothless, grandstanding penalties, like a $500 fine for washing off your sidewalk, just doesn’t help. It’s time for Eisenhower Interstate Highways and Kennedy Man on the Moon action. This is not that hard.

America is not supposed to be a place where the first answer is no, and the second is to penalize citizens. We can do much better.

Story First Published: 2014-07-30