Sunday, August 02, 2009

Good News, Bad News, Weird News

First, the weird news:

Though Lake Mead, near Las Vegas, is at 43% capacity; all of the other reservoirs on the Colorado River are near full capacity. And Pat Mulroy, acting head of Southern Nevada Water Authority (who penned the lake deal with the other Western States) says that's a good thing. On the other hand she says that's a very bad thing, and that if it gets any worse, Southern Nevadans are going to have to spend billions of dollars to get more water.

view Lakes Mead/Powell paradox video

Pat Mulroy has told State lawmakers that Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) is in financial trouble – but still plans to spend billions on the pipeline to draw water from the Central Great Basin high desert (that's right, desert).

Pat Mulroy also says that her quasi-municipality, SNWA, has more than enough oversight (where?) – and has pressured Nevada lawmakers to drop bills that would create any kind of oversight committee.

veiw SNWA oversight resistance video

Say What???

  • SNWA sees the river deal that leaves Lake Mead empty as a good deal, but because of the deal, the lake is drying up is so bad that they have to spend billions get more water?
  • SNWA doesn't have enough money to build another straw into Lake Mead, but somehow can afford to build multiple straws as far away as 250 miles away?
  • Though the public has no real idea of what may really happen to billions of their dollars, SNWA, a public entity, wants no part in public oversight.

Now the bad news:

SNWA is addicted to growth.

SNWA gets $6,310 for every new home hookup.

But SNWA only gets 57 cents for every cubic meter of water they “deliver”.

The fix would seem simple. Lower the hookup fees and raise the price of water. SNWA would have more money. People would use less water. And there would be no need for a watergrab pipeline.

But it ain't gonna happen.

Or, at least it isn't going to happen without a lot of public pressure. And who's going to pressure SNWA to raise water rates – even if they're absurdly low now.

Now the good news:

greentechmedia reports that energy recovery in reverse osmosis desalination plants has drastically reduced energy costs:

It took around 20 kilowatt hours per cubic meter to desalinate water with traditional multi-stage systems... Reverse osmosis membranes dropped that to 8 to 10 kilowatt hours per cubic meter. Putting a turbine in the waste stream … drops it to 5 to 6 kilowatt hours per cubic meter... Energy Recovery's pressure harvesting technique drops it to 2 kilowatt hours per cubic meter.”

Since power rates in Nevada and California for industrial use are less than 10 cents per kilowatt hour, that amounts to less than 20 cents per cubic meter. Recall that SNWA charges 57 cents per cubic meter for the “delivery” of water... The numbers work out.

Now, if Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) were only considering the costs to bring fresh water to Southern Nevada, desalination would be cheaper. (Forget any pipeline. SNWA could just trade the desalinated water with California for a bigger allotment of water from the Colorado River. That would save billions right there.)

Not only would desalination be cheaper, it would be a safer investment. Nobody knows how fast (or even whether) Southern Nevada will grow. Who's going to pay for this multi-billion dollar pipeline project if Las Vegas doesn't grow? SNWA will, of course. But who will pay SNWA? The present residents of Las Vegas (who already have plenty of water).

Not only would desalination be cheaper, it would be a more reliable investment. Sure, it may have been scientists who guessed how much water is under the Central Great Basin, but they still guessed - and there was a lot of political pressure (from you know who). The simple truth is we really don't know when this water will run out. But there will always be plenty of water in the ocean.

Not only would desalination be cheaper now, but it might be far cheaper in the long run. When the expected environmental damage occurs (and the expected environmental damage is massive), who will pay to repair the damage? SNWA will, maybe. But ultimately, ratepayers in Southern Nevada and the taxpayers of Nevada and America will have to foot the bill – to fix something that isn't broke now, and never would be if SNWA chose desalination.

So, you got to wonder; why?

I think I know why...

If they make fresh water, there will be more water, and it will be less expensive.

But if they steal water, there will be less water, and it will be more expensive.

Whoever “delivers” this scarce and depleting water to Southern Nevada would be in the position to rape their ratepayers.

The video Blue Gold recently reported that Las Vegas was somehow involved with the French water company Suez. I have no supporting evidence of that, however it would make so much sense for all of SNWA's seemingly irrational behaviour. SNWA exectutives may have somehow figured out how to privatize key functions, and it makes more sense to get as much of Rural Nevada's water rights as possible before they make the deal public.


Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, did you say SNWA is a "pubic" entity??? Proofread, proofread, proofread!

Rick Spilsbury said...

Oops! Must be some kind of Freudian slip. I'll fix that right now.