FLOBECK: Knowing what to do next with water shortages

By: Jack Flobeck
June 10, 2013 Updated: June 10, 2013 at 8:30 am
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Our governor's three-year water task force should heed Herbert Hoover's sage words. With limited space; we will outline low hanging fruit, middle-term possibilities, as well as billion-dollar futures. Our goal is to put a dent in the 500,000-acre-foot shortage by 2050.

First, REUSE in every new home. A home with reuse saves 20,000 gallons/year, and we build 20,000 homes per year. Let's assume we put reuse in one half of homes built, or 10,000 homes per year. Our water savings would be 200 million gallons per year, but we enjoy these homes for 46 more years until 2050, and have new batch of 10,000 homes for 45 years, and so on; saving over 660,000 acre-feet without considering apartments. We certainly dent a 500,000 acre-foot deficit.

The next irony is in the beautiful color picture of Denver on the cover of the June Water Efficiency magazine which features a long spread on water harvesting. Guess no one told the editors that in the progressive state of Colorado; rainwater harvesting is illegal. The answer is to buy twice the number of barrels you need, let rain fill them, use half to water roses, wash cars and dogs, while dumping the other half of the barrels into the nearest creek. In the past this has stumped most prior appropriation gurus.

Why not add 15 simple English words to the law of appropriation in the spot where it says, "if you don't use it, you will lose it,' For centuries, farmers dumped water at the end of the year to avoid such legal losses. To 'if you don't use it,' let's insert "or lease it, sell it, trade it, or put it in a water bank/local pond." Easy?

Two Florida scientists have concocted a product that draws heavy, usually toxic, metals out of tainted water. Florida has a multitude of used citrus husks. They cook them, coat filters with the resulting gunk, then pump suspect water through, catching all those dangerous metals. They assure me that sugar beet husks would work just as well. Do we have any husks, or do we have any mining polluted streams in Western Colorado? Instead of crony capitalism wind systems, we suggest that state funds should be used to investigate this opportunity to rework all that water in settling ponds and streams near the far west corners of the state. Of course, rework might conflict with the law of prior appropriation?

Now, we look at the billion dollar babies. The Dave-Miller-proposed Central Colorado Project uses existing water rights in a patented process to pump water from Blue Mesa, using off-peak rates, to high altitude low evaporation storage, at Grand Union. Then using gravity the water flows to a variety of locations creating power as it goes. This technique has a half century of success by Union Electric in Missouri, but in past ten years the spread between off-peak and peak rates has shrunk.

The Space Water Consensus Group in Colorado Springs plans a satellite in a synchronous orbit, always seeing the sun, to produce power for transmission to crisis cities, while also sending energy to off shore, decommissioned oil rigs in California and Texas Gulf, where DESAL (desalination) units, away from shore, benefit from reliable, inexpensive power and eliminate environment criticisms of sucking up small marine life in the intake, and damaging clams and oysters from brine output. (Full disclosure: I am a water technologist for this group.)

The billion-dollar, 800-pound gorilla, in the room is nuclear powered DESAL. New Mexico with its two national labs examines small nuke reactors to DESAL for anyone and everyone. With cheaper power, the cost of piping and pumping is minimized against the production of potable water for New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and Colorado.

No water saga finishes without mention of the fog catchers of Peru. Simple Indian villagers living on the coast of the Pacific, without Harvard degrees, government grants or subsidies, prior appropriation lawyers, without ecological, environmental, or global warming guidance - have for years produced their own water relying simply on God and gravity. On top of their mountain, they erect simple, concrete, refrigerator sized cisterns with two metal poles supporting a fabric flag, God sends clouds, the flags absorb it; water drops into the cistern, into a pipe running down the hill into each family's storage tank. They average about three hundred gallons a day, but Swedish scientists have donated tech help to redesign the fabric, producing upwards of six hundred gallons.

Colorado is not by an ocean, but we do have mountains. Can we learn something from these happy, unsophisticated villagers, who simply rely on God and gravity?

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