Scientists estimate that one inch of rain falling over an area of one square mile is equal to 17.4 million gallons of water. One would think that with the current rainy season and the availability of technologies such as desalination and water recycling, the drought would have long passed. However, as California enters its fifth year in a drought, it is evident that the lack of water in the state is not due to nature or to a lack of technology, but rather the politics within the water industry.
We can look at the $1 billion desalination facility in Carlsbad as an example. Proposed in 1998, the construction of this project was delayed until 2012 because a number of state agencies approved of the project separately, thus wasting crucial time. After beginning construction in 2012, it took only three years for the facility to be fully functional. Thus 14 years for permitting, and only three years for construction. The Carlsbad desalination facility demonstrates that the effects of the drought are prolonged by the government-controlled water monopoly, which hinders the construction of essential water production and storage facilities.
At first, this inefficient approval process may not seem to have much of an impact on the drought. However, when we look its long term, cumulative effect, the current approval process wastes Californians time and money. According to Poseidon Water, the organization responsible for the Carlsbad Desalination Project, four separate state agencies individually were required for approval. The costs incurred wound up amounting to 10 percent of the $1 billion project. The long term solution of building water production and storage facilities is a near impossible task in the face of constant environmental reviews and lawsuits.
Not only does creating an effective water storage or production system depend on an effective approval process, but also on a free water market. The proposal of a free water market, brought up by the Public Policy Institute of California, would facilitate the process of buying and selling water rights. Trading allows water-right holders the opportunity to reallocate water, which in effect reduces the monetary and environmental cost of the drought. However, trading is limited in the status quo because it is difficult to conduct under the current, inefficient approval process.
In the current drought, we can see the drastic effects of having a government-controlled water monopoly in place of a free water market. As noted by Steven Greenhut, columnist for the San Diego Tribune, because pricing is determined by politicians and regulators, there is a lack of competition within the water industry. In effect, the government controls rate hikes to control behavior. In other words, people must accept the prices and regulations created by local water monopolies because they have no cheaper or better alternatives. In comparison, in a free water market, companies drive down their rates in order to stay competitive.
In addition to this, the current water market allows the government to create unnecessary rules and restrictions on water usage. In April 2015, Gov. Jerry Brown ordered cities to reduce water usage by 25 percent, despite the fact that agriculture uses about 80 percent of the water in California. Even after this goal was achieved, the price of water still increased. This only happens in a monopoly where there is not free supply and demand. Moreover, the State Water Resources Control Board gives local agencies the authority to fine up to $500 a day for those who waste water. These examples demonstrate that reasonable rates are achieved through competition, not through statewide legislation. When we look at the status quo, the path towards solving the drought harms Californians through unjust and inefficient rules. These harms can be avoided only through taking the water market out of the hands of the controlling, micromanaging government.
Ultimately, the California drought can be solved by using technologies that are already available. In order to achieve progress, we need to cut the red tape, bypass the bureaucrats and stop playing politics.