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California’s water crisis

Hydrocarbon Engineering,

Joe Petrowski, Managing Partner of Energy Investment at Mercantor Partners has said that California doesn’t have a water crisis but an energy problem. Petrowski has said that the issues surrounding water are the foundate for the state’s energy woes, and are destroying the underpinnings of the agricultural industry and limiting economic growth. As water rates rise and rationing takes hold, he has warned that California’s economy will take a hit.

Petrowski said, “while there are some who take any opportunity to blame any adverse event, especially weather related challenges, on global warming, climate change or the expression du jour, the science shows clearly that California and the Southwest have had several mega droughts lasting multiple decades when carbon dioxide was clearly not a factor. In fact, serious scientists are pointing out that dry is the norm for Southern California, and the last several wet and temperate decades were an anomaly.”

The debate about cause and effect is continuing, however Mercantor Partners’ experts are urging a constructive and serious conversation about how the problem can be fixed in the long term. A review of under riding factors makes it clearer as to why there is a water crisis in California, energy and infrastructure policies.


  • The average price of water in the US is approximately 0.8 cents/gal.
  • In California, the average cost is 1.8 cents/gal.
  • In Boston, the price is 0.5 cents/gal., and in the Upper Midwest it is 0.25 cents/gal.

Petrowski commented, “while we can blame usage, per capita use in California is four times higher than Boston, and yes, almond trees and grade do use prodigious amounts of water, climatically speaking, California has been and is likely to remain a desert.”

A comparison

Israel provides a very close analogy to the California desert. And a deeper examination of Israel’s infrastructure shows that the country currently gets 40% of its water from desalination. This is not a new technology, Arab herders are reported to have been doing it 2000 years ago, mainly to extract salt to sell to Europeans. The question is why not Californians and the answer is the combined cost of energy and infrastructure costs, according to Petrowski.

In Israel, there have been investments in necessary infrastructure, the current cost of desalinating one acre foot of water is US$8000 or 2.5 cents/gal. One half of that cost is electricity, which is approximately 13 cents/kWh.

Back to California

California has just celebrated having the greatest percent of solar and wind generation in the US and now pays approximately 13.5 cents/kWh for power. The national average is reported to stand at 8 cents and some states including Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio pay under seven. However, while California’s kWh energy rates are on par with Israel, they lack the infrastructure to take advantage of desalination. Petrowski explained, “California’s air quality is important, so no one can fault them for shutting down coal facilities, and nuclear has its justifiable critics, but more natural gas power plants and pipelines supporting them are desperately needed. The Israeli state power authority just lowered the electric and water prices almost 13% because of new natural gas powered plants.”

It reportedly takes 25 kWh to produce 265 000 gallons of water. With amoritisation of plants and equipment, the cost of desalinating water with low priced power could be as low as 1 cent/gal., according to Mercantor Partners’ analysis of the situation. Low cost energy powers more than SUVs. It is the foundation of a prosperous community and, if that savings was invested in the plants and pipelines needed, could even make the desert bloom. In Petrowski’s view, politicians in California who celebrate the closing of low cost hydro and nuclear plants are sacrificing its people on the alter of green zealotry.

Petrowski concluded, “we need sensible and balanced energy and infrastructure policies in California and in our nation. Policies that support lower energy costs and boost economic development. The US is the richest country in the world, yet our ability to address fundamental issues such as energy costs, and the infrastructure we need to create and distribute that power effectively, are poor.”

Edited from press release by Claira Lloyd

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