John Allan Peschong | February 10, 2014

The topic: How do we deal with drought, now and in years to come?

Much has been said recently about what is the worst drought our state has experienced in recorded rainfall history. Farmers are being forced to drastically reduce their water use or ditch their plans to grow this year, ranchers are not able to afford additional feed for their cattle and are being forced to sell and counties and cities are looking for ways to dampen the effects of the drought on their communities. No one is questioning the severity of the drought and the ramifications on our economy and the people of California, but where do we go from here? We need to be discussing the short-term and long-term solutions to the problem.

The first logical short-term solution would be to conserve water. Recently, The Tribune published an article discussing the possibility of local agencies requiring mandatory water conservation. Some local agencies have already taken, and more are considering some form of mandatory conservation. The Templeton Community Services District recently informed residents of mandatory restrictions such as no spray watering between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. and no washing sidewalks or driveways. No one likes the government telling us what to do, but these are common-sense changes to lessen the impact of the drought.

These small changes can include washing your car once every two weeks instead of every week, watering your lawn in the morning or evening, installing more water-efficient appliances, or taking shorter showers. These commonsense changes certainly won’t solve the crisis at hand, but they can help avoid future shortages.

Coupled with the short-term immediate changes, we must begin to also take a look at the long-term solutions to the problem. We don’t know how long this drought will last. It could be months, years or even decades. In a recent Time magazine article, it was noted that our state hasn’t been this dry since 1580. There is even evidence that shows that our state has a history of decades or century-long mega-droughts. We must take a look at all options on the table.

Let’s start with an idea that has been gaining popularity as of late: desalination plants. There is one desalination plant in California. This facility, the Sand City Desalination Plant, produces 300,000 gallons of drinking water per day. Several more have been in the works, including a Carlsbad plant that will produce nearly 50 million gallons of drinking water per day. To put this into perspective, we could construct nearly 75 of these with the amount of taxpayer money that is going to be used for the high-speed rail boondoggle. With just 75 desalination plants (Texas has 100 with less than half of California’s shoreline — just for comparison) we would provide access to 3.75 billion drought-proof gallons of drinking water per day. That’s enough drinking water for 75 percent of households in California.

The people, farmers, and ranchers of San Luis Obispo would reap huge benefits from this technology. A plant similar to the Carlsbad model would provide water for every household in the county, with some to spare.

Improving the water infrastructure is another step that needs to be taken to improve our water security, in San Luis Obispo County and in our state. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated that more than $6 billion is needed to update and develop the water storage in our state. That is a huge investment, but small compared to the waste of taxpayer money that the high-speed rail project is going to be.

Confronting our state’s nearly unprecedented drought emergency is going to take more than changing lawn watering schedules. As individuals, we need to make the small, common-sense conservation changes, but at the county and state levels, we need leaders that will make the hard decisions and smart investments to put our state on a path to water security. Improving our water infrastructure, looking at the possibility of constructing desalination plants, and developing other water-efficient technology will provide the means to get us to where we need to be.

John Allan Peschong served in President Ronald Reagan’s administration and as a senior strategist for the campaigns of President George W. Bush. He is a founding partner of Meridian Pacific Inc., a public relations and affairs company, and serves as chairman of the San Luis Obispo County Republican Party.

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