Water pipe dreams
Updated: Sep 25
California is experiencing historic drought conditions right now. And I frequently get asked two questions by the general public and professionals alike about our dwindling water supply and possible solutions:
The ocean is right next to us. Why are we not drawing water out of it, desalinating it and spreading it out to all of in south Orange County and beyond? Well, in a previous blog, I've already discussed the pros and cons of desalinization, so in this blog I'll address the other question I often get asked....
Why don’t we just pump water from those areas getting more than their fair share of rain? Seems like every night on the national news we see another state east or north of us experiencing epic floods and rainfall. If we took some of that water off their hands, that would help them and us, right? After all, we transport oil, gas, and jet fuel all over the country through pipes—likes arteries that keep the country alive and moving. Water is just another resource our society needs to function. Pipes could also transport this necessary fluid to regions in need of water. So...why aren't we doing this already?
Well, because it's not nearly as easy as it sounds, and we're talking apples and oranges if you're trying to compare fossil fuels to water.
Use it and lose it
Let's start by looking at usage. The average US consumer uses roughly 2.5 gallons of crude oil a day (Nasdaq) (that's averaging your gasoline usage, home energy usage, and what industries use to help put food on your table and get you the products you need). Could you live off of 2.5 gallons of water a day? (Just one flush of a "low flow" toilet takes 1.6 gallons....) In reality, the average person uses about 58 gallons of water at home per day (or nearly 140 gallons per day per household) (Water Research Foundation). And this figure doesn't even take into consideration all the water needed to grow the vegetables you eat, the animal products you consume, or the landscaping around you that you enjoy. How big would those pipes have to be to get enough water transported to make a real difference?
So we use more than 20 times the amount of water vs the amount of fossil fuels per person.
Big pipes, big dollars
Now, let's look at cost. We all know, after what we saw this summer, gas ain't cheap! When you can get that kind of money for a gallon, you can afford to create the infrastructure it takes to transport the gas by pipe, train, and tanker truck all over the country. Do you know how much you're paying for a gallon of water? The average US citizen pays around $5.85 per1,000 gallons of water! (EPA) (That's less than a penny a gallon.) You don't have to do the math to see a problem here....
Then there's other barriers to consider—like mountains. It takes a lot of energy (think, "expense") to run a pump powerful enough to get that much water up and over natural barriers. And there's also "geopolitical" factors to consider. How long would it take to get all the various farmers, neighborhoods, industries, environmentalists, local governments, and taxpayers in a state like, say, Nebraska to approve a ginormous water pipe (or several pipes) going through the middle of their land on its way to give California water?
After all of that, water really would be the new oil...just because of how expensive it would be!
But this isn't just my take on it... The LA Times featured an article not long ago with some of the reasons why piping water from East (or North) to West is just an unrealistic "pipe dream." You can read the full article here.
Our best response to the drought is not to get caught up in unrealistic "pipe dreams" but to conserve what we have now. As Director, Moulton Niguel Water District, I always like to say: We're not asking you to use less water; we're asking you to waste less water.
Go to MNWD.org for tips on how to waste less water every day.