Utah's Governor Herbert came to the West Desert to hear public input about the two state agreement between Utah and Nevada (or actually Utah and SNWA). The agreement essentially divides remaining water in Snake Valley between Utah and Southern Nevada. Apparently Governor Herbert has been pressured to sign the agreement within the next few weeks (by whom, he never told us, but most likely SNWA). In addition to information I will be publishing on this blog soon, this was my presentation:
I would like to state that I am against signing this Interstate Agreement now. But not for the usual reasons.
I am convinced that Utah would be forfeiting an opportunity to get more water. And I'm not talking about drilling or piping more water you already have. I'm talking about Utah literally getting more water!
New technology sometimes has a way of opening up new opportunities. And new desalination technology is a game changer. As recently as five years ago, desalination looked prohibitively expensive. But more recently, a number of far less expensive new desalination processes have been invented, and one is already on the market. Moreover; offshore desalination promises to bypass almost all of the environmental concerns – and make desalination much more reliable.
A new company called Oasys is already desalinating water far cheaper than traditional reverse osmosis in Gibraltar and Oman. Their process is called forward osmosis – and they are reporting 90% savings in energy costs. There are also a number of other good designs coming out of labs – including a reverse osmosis membrane that is 100 times more permeable than present designs and a nano-material that could be used to desalinate water with sunlight (not concentrated sunlight – just sunlight).
Presently, reverse osmosis desalination costs about $2,000 an acre/foot. I've heard an estimate that this watergrab water will cost about $4,000 an acre/foot. Desalination is already cheaper. And with new less expensive desalination processes, desalination should be even cheaper – even if it is done offshore with solar, wind or wave energy.
So, why hasn't SNWA jumped on the idea? Because politically it would be very embarrassing. They have already spent hundreds of millions of dollars on this watergrab. And even though nobody knew the price of desalination would drop this precipitously, SNWA management would look like idiots if they admitted they made such an expensive mistake. Apparently, they would rather waste billions of dollars on a bad idea than face the consequences of admitting they wasted hundreds of millions.
I have an idea instead.
Las Vegas could build offshore desalination plants on barges 15 to 20 miles off the coast of California. And they could provide this desalinated water to communities on the coast – in exchange for more water from the Colorado River... and so can Utah.
Hopefully, somewhere in the near future, water agreements (on every American river that runs to the ocean) could be renegotiated.
Presently, due to lack of organization; the only desalination option realistically considered in America is for communities on the coast to build desalination plants that only benefit themselves. However, Dana Point, a community on the California coast, has already approached Nevada with the desire to arrange a trade. The incentive is obvious; more water. If California communities can get more water, of course they'd be willing to give up some of the allocation to the Colorado River.
Desalination provides abundance. Done right, it means more water for everyone. SNWA needs to realize the obvious; this watergrab is in no way creating long-term abundance for Nevada or Utah. Trying to take water from the desert is just fighting over the scraps.
There now is an opportunity for Utah that would be lost by signing this agreement. If SNWA commits 15 to 20 billion dollars to this watergrab pipeline, it may be decades before they can afford to commit to desalination. Whatever influence Utah has on Nevada to change their mind and make the right decision would be lost on signing this agreement.
Southern Nevada has the opportunity to pioneer a new way of thinking about water that could change the whole outlook for the West. Utah still has the opportunity to influence Nevada's decision. Signing this agreement now reduces Utah's influence on Nevada to pursue a process that would ultimately lead to more water for Utah.