Solving California’s Water Crisis

California has the answer to its water problems, but it appears the anti-nukes are making sure it doesn’t happen. Instead there is talk to bring water from the East in railroad cars when they have unlimited water right next door in the Pacific Ocean. Go figure!


Exclusive: Scientists Art & Noah Robinson blast ‘anti-technology liberals’ for plant shutdown

By Art & Noah Robinson,, April 14, 2015

(Editor’s note: California is currently in the grip of the worst drought in state history. Gov. Jerry Brown has signed an executive order that imposes water restrictions on residents, businesses, and farms across the state. In this column, two scientists argue that the state’s water problems could have been solved if it had tapped the energy in an existing nuclear power plant – now shut down due to opposition by anti-nuclear activists – to desalinate seawater, producing enough fresh water for the entire population of California.)

Numerous news media have recently reported the water rationing program that has been mandated by the California governor. A combination of drought and transfer of water resources away from human use (50 percent of California water is designated for fish) has left California with too little water for household and agricultural use.

Less widely reported is the closure of the San Onofre nuclear power station located on the Pacific coast between Los Angeles and San Diego. The station once had three nuclear reactors, but one was closed some years ago by California’s “anti-nuclear” politics. The other two are now being similarly destroyed.

So, anti-technology liberals are feeling very good about themselves because of their success in depriving California of San Onofre’s nuclear-electric energy, but they’re whining because they can’t water their lawns.

Units 2 and 3, which were recently permanently closed at San Onofre, produced 1,080 megawatts and 1,070 megawatts of electricity respectively. This is 51,600,000 kilowatt hours per day.

Current desalinization technology produces about 70 gallons of fresh water (from sea water) per kilowatt hour. So, the electricity generated by San Onofre units 2 and 3 was sufficient to produce 3.6 billion gallons of fresh water per day. Estimating personal water use at 100 gallons per day, California’s 38.8 million people use 3.9 billion gallons of water per day.

San Onofre (before they closed it) could have provided enough electrical energy to produce all of the fresh water used personally by the entire population of California. San Onofre is located on the ocean, so the water source for desalinization is right beside it.

Located at the base of the Sierra foothills in Northern California's Placer, El Dorado, and Sacramento Counties, Folsom Lake Reservoir is one of California's most popular recreation areas with more than 2.5 million visitors annually. Releases from the reservoir, managed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation as part of the Central Valley Project, go to the nearby American River for urban use, flood control, hydropower, fish and wildlife, and water quality purposes

Desalination equipment cost at California prices for this project would be about $78 billion (estimated from California’s small Carlsbad project) to supply 100 percent of all personal water supply in the state (the equivalent of one San Onofre). In Texas, however, the estimated cost would be $26 billion. California’s Carlsbad plant has required six years of permitting and 14 lawsuits and appeals.

Therefore, the capital cost of equipment (in Texas) to supply 100 percent of all personal water needs for California’s 38.8 million people by desalination and restarting San Onofre would be less than $700 per California resident. Gov. Brown has ordered a 25 percent cutback in private water use. The capital cost of preventing this cutback with San Onofre and desalination would be less than $200 per person.

Considering agriculture, California uses an estimated 34 million acre-feet of irrigation water per year. This is 11.1 trillion gallons per year. San Onofre units 1 and 2 could desalinate 1.2 trillion gallons per year (including downtime for refueling). So providing all of the irrigation for California agriculture would require nine more San Onofres. Agricultural water need not be as pure as personal water, so this is an overestimate.


If instead of destroying San Onofre, nine more units like it had been built, this electricity could produce all of the water used personally and in agriculture for the entire state of California. Then California liberals could feel even better about themselves because every drop of rain that fell (except on farm land) could be given to the fish.

Building nine more San Onofres at U.S. costs (federal multi-year delays and permits) would be about $61.2 billion (reported by International Energy Agency), while the cost in China would be $36 billion. (China is currently completing a set of 50 nuclear power plants. American entrepreneurs will compete against these 50 nuclear plants with – windmills.)

So, equipment costs to supply all agricultural water in California by desalination (assuming that government impediments become as benign as those in Texas and China) would be $300 billion, which must be compared to the gross California agricultural output of $45 billion per year.

Spread over 10 years, however, the equipment and operating costs of avoiding a 20 percent drought would be about 0.3 percent of California’s $2 trillion gross domestic product per year. If irrigation stops in California altogether, then the 10-year cost of equipment to desalinate 100 percent of the water for agriculture and personal use is about 1.5 percent of California GDP. After 10 years, the equipment is paid for and costs drop substantially. The costs of operating these plants are negligible compared to the costs of construction.

In 1976, industry experts estimated that 100 10-reactor nuclear-electric power stations would be built in the United States with private capital by the year 2000. One such station was built at Palo Verde near Phoenix, but only 30 percent was completed with three reactors. Politicians stopped construction. These three reactors produce the electrical energy of six Hoover Dams. Palo Verde produces electricity at less than 2 cents per kilowatt hour – about one-fifth the current U.S. average cost.

Almond farmers have been forced to uproot their trees because they don't have access to water during California's drought

Had this industrial advance not been stopped by corrupt career politicians and the bureaucrats they empowered, California would likely already have 12 such power stations – the equivalent of 60 San Onofre stations. With this resource available, California would almost surely already be awash in inexpensive fresh water from desalination through nuclear-electric energy.

Technological advance in the United States has been badly stunted by corruption in government. A large part of our industrial base has moved abroad, and the remainder is continuing to leave our shores. As a consequence, living standards in the U.S. are beginning to fall, and the future of most Americans is increasingly bleak.

Anti-technologists empowered by career politicians are depriving us of nuclear-electric energy. They are currently working to destroy our coal-fired electric energy. And, the Keystone pipeline debacle indicates that the assault on oil is already underway.

Why destroy San Onofre? Californians have become poorer as a result of this unprincipled political act.

Californians are being led to believe that their lack of water is a result of natural causes and probably also human technology, from claimed human-caused global warming. This unprincipled lie about human technology is being used to diminish their access to hydrocarbon energy.

Energy is the currency of technological progress. The Earth is a wonderful place to live, but nature is not entirely benign. Technological progress can, however, mitigate unfavorable natural events.

The political tragedy that has destroyed the San Onofre nuclear power station has been perpetrated in the shadows. Few Californians realize that, had this power station remained, it could have been used to prevent the grass around their homes from dying.

Arthur Robinson, Ph.D., is a research professor of chemistry and co-founder of the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine. After graduating from the California Institute of Technology in 1963 and earning his Ph.D. from the University of California at San Diego, he served as a UCSD faculty member until co-founding the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine with Linus Pauling in 1973. In 1981, Dr. Robinson, his wife, chemist Laurelee Robinson, physicist Martin Kamen, and later joined by Nobel-winning biochemist R. Bruce Merrifield, cofounded the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine. In recent years, Dr. Robinson has also directed the Petition Project, which has obtained the support and signatures of more than 31,000 American scientists for a petition opposed – entirely on scientific grounds published in peer reviewed journals – to the hypothesis of “human-caused global warming.”

Noah Robinson earned his Ph.D.from the California Institute of Technology. He is a research professor at the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine and a chemist who is widely respected for his work in biochemistry and climate science.


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