Consistent access to water is required for society to thrive. Without water there is no food, no industry, no energy, no prosperity. In geographies susceptible to drought like California, innovative solutions are needed to meet California’s demand for water. The California Water Plan 2013 Update released in October 2014 focuses on stable investments in water innovation and infrastructure. The report predicts that California will need to invest $200 billion ($5,000 per Californian) over the next few decades to maintain its current water system and as much as $500 billion ($12,000 per Californian) in future investment to update the system. In March 2015 Governor Brown announced a $1-billion plan to deal with California’s persistent drought in the wake of yet another dry winter. While this plan will help with some short-term relief, it is no where close to what is needed to address water issues in California in the long-term. This is particularly worrisome since California may be entering a prolonged drought, that will transform our water sources and require significant changes in our water consumption. Without immediate innovation there will be an unprecedented reduction in public safety related to severe drought, extreme fires, and intense flooding, which will result in a significant decrease in quality of life and irreversible environmental change.
To reduce some of the impact of sustained droughts in California, the state of California is currently trying to pass the Bay Delta Conservation Plan that aims to stabilize water diversions and repair ecological health of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, where water is diverted to serve 25 million Californians and three million acres of farmland. The $25 billion plan provides limited restoration to the delta, no new water sources to California, and does not address the future impacts of prolonged drought. Instead the plan simply diverts existing water more easily to parts of Southern California. Rather than focus on consuming existing water resources, the state of California needs to consider how to develop new sources of water that will meet California’s demand for water during prolonged drought periods. The most effective way to meet this need is through desalination.
Historically, the biggest prohibitive factors preventing widespread adoption of desalination was the high operational costs and energy needs for conventional desalination plants. However, since the 1970’s significant advancements in desalination technology and energy generation has been made, specifically through forward osmosis (FO), and Thorium-Molten-Salt Reactors (LFTRs), which combined make desalination a feasible reality for many communities. FO desalination plants use less energy, produce less waste, and create more fresh water and LFTRs provide carbon free clean energy 24-hours a day that is safer, cleaner, and more efficient than light water reactor designs (the most common form of nuclear energy in use today). Incorporating LFTR powered desalination plants into California’s water planning can provide a consistent, secure source of potable water, that is not dependant on natural water cycles. Access to water and cheap energy will not only help solve some of California’s water issues, but will also enable for a higher standard of living and prosperity for all Californians.