Water woes

Did a little checking today, and it turns out that since I started this blog in 2019, I’ve written 170,000 words and 700 posts. That’s a couple of average-sized novels, one little essay at a time. Who knew?

But I think today’s theme will be water, not word count. Here in Socal the biggest issue isn’t the cost of gasoline, or wildfires, gun control, or immigration – it’s water. More precisely, the lack of water.

The first five months of 2022 have been the driest ever recorded in Socal, and that’s on top of a gradually increasing drought of the last ten years. Once every few years we get a decent amount of rainfall, but looking at long term trends the average is headed down. For example, this year it has rained nine inches (measured July 2021 to present, and almost all that rain was in 2021), versus a long term average of 14 inches. Three of the last five years we’ve been significantly below that long-term average, and the same for the previous five years. Right now the lakes and reservoirs are drying up, there’s no mountain snowpack to melt, the Colorado River is drying up, and in the Central Valley, the land itself is dropping feet per year after the area’s ancient aquifer has been pumped dry by farmers. Entire forests are dying or burning due to lack of water. The situation is grim.

The only slightly good news is that Socal has a unique solution for water problems that is within our grasp once people get desperate enough. Desalinization. What’s unique about Socal (at least in America) is that we have an ocean on one side of the densely-populated coastal region, and vast deserts 30 or 40 miles east. That geography is perfect for an environmentally friendly solar-desal solution.

Desalinization requires vast amounts of electricity – you need to force millions of gallons of water through filters it doesn’t want to go through, and that requires electric pumps. Lots and lots of big pumps. And of course it requires an ocean. The electricity required for a desal plant on the Socal coast can be paired with a photovoltaic solar farm in the desert. The same hot dry conditions that created the problem can be used to solve the problem.

Each desal-solar farm pair would cost around four billion dollars (a very rough estimate), and to supply the water for 30 million thirsty people we’d need 60-70 systems. And a lot of coastal real estate. This solution isn’t cheap, but it’s so very achievable that it gives me hope that eventually we’ll decide to do it. At some point it will be the only choice left other than depopulation of the region.

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