Reuters has an excellent article on the impact that water shortages and floods are going to have on the US West Coast. The region is both the hardest hit by water shortages and the home of the three fastest growing states in the US: Arizona, Utah, and Nevada. The obvious problems that this creates are only predicted to grow worse. As well as providing an overview of the crisis, the article explores the competing proposed responses: dams, desalination, and demand management. The only thing it overlooks is the likely impact on internal migration. Some highlights after the jump.
The U.S. Climate Change Science Program sees the entire West on average getting less precipitation, but there is plenty of debate about that. There is a consensus, however, that most of today's snow will turn in coming decades to rain, often in the form of blinding thunderstorms early in the year, when it is needed least.
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a drought emergency last month, and Los Angeles plans to ration water for the first time in 15 years. Courts are limiting the amount of water taken from into rivers to save decimated fish populations, which is cutting back even more to farms
California farmers lost more than $300 million in 2008 and economic losses may accelerate to 10 times that this year as 95,000 people lose their jobs. Farmers will get zero water from the main federal supplier.
A study put the price of new dams at up to $1,400 per acre foot. Current supplies cost about $700 for one acre foot -- a year's supply for two houses. Urban water conservation costs $210, local stormwater $350 and desalination of ocean water or contaminated groundwater about $750 to $1,200 an acre foot.
The NRDC estimates that California could get 7 million acre feet per year from conservation, groundwater cleanup and stormwater harvesting.
Even energy-intensive desalination is cheaper than dams, the group argues. "People always used to think that desal was the lunatic fringe of water supply. (Now) desal is the mainstream, and dams are exiting the mainstream," said policy analyst Barry Nelson.