Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Watergrab(gate) Cover-ups

Those of you who are old enough to remember the 1972 Watergate break-in may also remember the most politically damaging act to the Nixon presidency – the cover-up.

Much in the same way, the most potentially politically damaging aspect of Watergrab(gate) is also the cover-up. Mistakes were made – big mistakes. But the cover-up makes them look trivial by comparison.

Maybe it should be excusable that SNWA wasted millions on overpriced rural ranches and overpriced water rights. Because at the time, this may have seemed rational. But times have changed. The cost to desalinate sea water has rapidly dropped. Apparently, nobody at SNWA anticipated this – and nobody at SNWA wants to admit to it now. They would rather pretend that it is still more expensive to desalinate sea water than it is to cannibalize water from rural Nevada. They're apparently so afraid of the truth that they will perpetuate a costly mistake into an ecological and economical disaster.

So, what is it that SNWA is terrified you might find out? In the past, electricity costs were almost half of the cost of desalination. However, very recently, smart people have figured out ways around this:

  • UCLA spin-out NanoH2O has developed a nanoparticle membrane that the company claims can process 70% more water with 20% less power.

  • Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory spin-out nanOasis has also developed nanoparticle membranes with similar potential.

  • The Norwegian-American-Kuwaiti company; Energy Recovery, utilizes pressure harvesting of the reverse osmosis wastewater stream to reduce the energy necessary for desalination from 8 to 10 kilowatts per cubic meter to 2.

  • Yale spin-out Oasys has developed forward osmosis technology that reduces the amount of energy to desalinate seawater by 90%.

  • New Mexico State University spin-out Sterling Water has developed a market capable prototype to desalinate water which they claim “the overall cost of desalination by this process becomes almost insignificant.”

About four years ago, I read a SNWA report that claimed that desalination was about 30% more expensive than watergrab water. Now, if even one of these companies delivers on their promises (which they are), the cost of desalination has dropped below that of the watergrab (using SNWA's numbers). But there is also another cover-up. There is this matter of the low-ball price quote for the watergrab that hasn't changed much since the 1990s (which is a blatant disregard for inflation). Now, if you consider an independent estimate of the cost of the watergrab (at up to $20 billion), desalination has already dropped far below Las Vegas taking water from their neighbors.

The watergrab(gate) cover-up is the most hideous perpetuation of a bad idea I have seen in Nevada history. And this cover-up continues on – just to keep a few incompetent administrators from being exposed.

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