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Despite Drought, Some Experts Say It's Too Soon For Drastic Measures

CA Dept of Water Resources

As the California drought wears on, it might seem like more creative solutions are in order. But as Capital Public Radio’s Katie Orr found out it might not yet be time for drastic measures. 

Here in California it can be frustrating to see the East Coast and Midwest buried in snow while the west remains bone dry. But the news can be hard to avoid. 

Snow piling up so high, cities are struggling to get rid of it, while the west remains stormless. Seems like a waste. Surly there’s a way some of that extra snow can be moved to where it’s needed.

Jay Lund: “A lot of people have thought about this problem and there have been all kinds of really interesting and somewhat crazy ideas.”

Jay Lund is the Director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC Davis.

Jay Lund: “There are ideas of towing icebergs. There are ideas of filling up big bags of water and towing them behind barges. There are ideas of railcars. There are ideas of taking that fog on the coast and condensing it or collecting it on big screens.”

But are these ideas so crazy? After all, we’re in an epic drought that’s stretching into a fourth year. Isn’t it about time we do everything we can? Well, Lund says no. He says it would extremely expensive to ship water and it is not yet valuable enough to justify the effort. Take rail cars. Lund says you’d need about 12 to move one acre foot of water across the country. And an acre foot currently costs about $1,000 in the drier parts of the state.

Jay Lund: “In order for it to be a good business proposition over in California, you have to be able to load that snow onto a rail car, move that rail car all the way across the country and unload it in California and put that water on the field for less than about $80 per rail car.”

Lund says last year California was short about 6 million acre feet of surface water in the Central Valley. That would mean more than 70 million rail cars.

At Folsom Lake, a reservoir northeast of Sacramento, people ride their bikes and walk along the receding lake front. The calendar may say it’s winter, but the sun is shining and the trees are already in bloom. Still the early spring-like weather isn’t enough to convince people in California that it’s time for something like a coast-to-coast water pipeline.

Folsom visitors Sally Adam, Tracey McKinney and Londa Halase: "No because if we bought it from Boston we would just ship it down to Los Angeles and that would just cost us more money… I think building an infrastructure like that is maybe short sighted because weather changes… It would cost a lot of money so I think it would be more economical to do some kind of other reservoirs in the area instead."

The state does plan to build more water storage, which is part of the $7.5 billion water bond voters approved last year. But Governor Jerry Brown says it’s too soon to consider more drastic measures, like desalination plants. 

Brown: “Desalination plants are very expensive, so water would have to get a lot more expensive before people start building desalinization plants.”

So for now all we can do is keep conserving water, mange the water we have better and pray for rain or snow.

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