The Singapore Public Utilities Board (PUB) is known globally as a leading water utility. Because of the nation’s precarious geographic and political situation, PUB has led the way in developing alternative sources of water, such as reuse and desalination. The agency has undertaken and supported significant R&D work for water technology, which serves the dual purposes of meeting its own long-term water supply goals and helping new products reach international markets.
Although PUB has led in reuse and desalination, it plans to expand its capacity further to meet projected water demands of population growth and industry through 2060. Existing and planned future water supplies are shown below. Note the relatively small proportion of “traditional” local water supplies, compared to reuse and desalination, and that future water supplies will be derived 100 percent from alternative supplies.
This raises the question: what agency in the United States might assume such a leadership role here? There have been several “water technology hubs” on a smaller scale, such as the Milwaukee Water Council and Houston Water Innovation Hub, and agencies such as Orange County Water District in California have adopted new technologies. But will a large agency commit to investment in water supply and treatment technologies on a larger scale for a longer term? Will such a program be implemented by the City of Los Angeles through its One Water LA program? Or will another agency step forward, such as the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, City of Houston or New York City?
In recent decades, US cities, districts and states have been reluctant to invest in new water supplies based on the perception of cost and environmental impacts, even when those concerns have been shown to be chimeric. Moving forward, however, certain areas must act, if they are to maintain safe, reliable water supplies. For example, California cities and agriculture will need to make substantial investments based on regulatory changes that will reduce the quantity of surface and groundwater available in future, as will Texas industry in order to make water available for economic development along the Gulf Coast. But who will have the courage to step up and make real investments?
On January 27, 2014, Governor Brown released a California Water Action Plan (CWAP) to address the ongoing drought and long-term challenges such as environmental protection, population growth and climate change. While the document was released several months ago, the implementation actions are only now starting to be clarified, especially regarding groundwater. This post reviews that document and evaluates the various actions identified in the CWAP from the perspective of a legal practitioner.
The McKinsey Global Institute has published a new report entitled Urban world: Cities and the rise of the consuming class (2012) on increasing global urbanization and meeting the increased demands associated with urban consumption, including municipal water demands. The speed and scale of urbanization today is unprecedented in global history and, significantly, is distributed unevenly, with the majority of urban growth occurring in emerging regions.
On October 8, 2011, Governor Brown signed into law Assembly Bill No. 849, which amends California Water Code § 14877.3 related to local agency standards for graywater systems. Graywater systems allow reuse of wastewater within residences, primarily through the reuse of bathing and laundry water to flush toilets or irrigate landscapes. The current statute allows a city, county or other local agency to adopt standards for graywater systems that are more restrictive than state standards. The new amendments, which will go into effect on January 1, 2012, require a local agency to find after a public hearing that “local climatic, geological, topographical, or public health conditions … necessitate building standards that are more restrictive” and to limit the restrictions to the area where such conditions exist. AB 849 states the intent of the Legislature to encourage prudent water conservation efforts and use of graywater systems through consistency and uniformity of standards.
While this law is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, it’s a very, very modest step. Couldn’t we ask a little more from the Legislature to promote efficient water use?
On February 10, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published new maps showing drought conditions across the southeastern US. States that are experiencing particular drought include Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Georgia and Florida. In all of these states except Arkansas, drought is expected to persist or worsen over the spring of 2011 and possibly beyond.Combined with the drought and possible effects of climate change are demographic and regulatory challenges facing water supplies, including population growth in the Texaplex cities (Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio) and litigation in federal court that is limiting access by metropolitan Atlanta to Lake Lanier.
These challenges collectively mean that the southeastern states, which only recently emerged from a multi-year drought, will need to continue developing their physical, institutional and legal infrastructure for water supplies. There is likely to be appropriate emphasis on water use efficiency, recycling, desalination, conjunctive use and interbasin transfers. Texas, Georgia and Florida are likely to be the most active. Texas has the clearest path, while both Georgia and Florida are tied up in interstate stream litigation with Alabama. Water resource managers and strategic advisors certainly are living in interesting times.