Coffee and politics: replacing inefficent water

An Oregon State University professor explained his proposed system to replace inefficient water use practices across the West at a Coffee and Politics talk on Wednesday.

Political science professor Edward Weber said the main issue with water is the water-energy nexus, which concerns the relationship between the water used for energy production and the energy used for water production. This is seen as unsustainable due to scarcity of water, climate change and pressure to save the environment. Because of this, there are many tradeoffs and competing values.

“What’s good for the environment is going to be less for humans,” he said.

He said the traditional water system uses a canal system with a pump, but loses 50 percent of the water through salt in land. This system offers no energy production, he said, and to combat these issues, Weber offered a solution based on a case study at Whychus Creek in Oregon to test a new water system.

His said small hydro plants that propel 25 cubic feet per second of water into the Whychus Creek use less energy than the traditional system, while also preserving the environment.

The system is built apart from the creek and has a $2 million fish screen that prevents death of steelhead trout.

“You get the water,” he said, “you don’t get the fish.”

However, he said the system does have issues with meeting the Clean Water Act. But Weber believes it won’t be an issue when it moves to 33 cubic feet per second in the next few years. In addition to increased water sales with this new system, he said farmers would save $20,000 a year in electricity costs.

He said there is obvious stream and habitat degradation, including increased endangered species like the rainbow trout, which the new system can address. In addition, he said the system is easy to implement even if it comes at a cost.

He said the best way to implement this system across the West is through collaboration and leadership with nonprofits, environmentalists, irrigators, politicians and others working together.

“Collaboration is positive sum, not zero sum,” he said. “It’s not ‘I win you lose,’ it’s ‘win, win, win.’”

Though evidence shows there is no solution to water issues, and Weber said they won’t be easy, he argued there is hope.

“Change is possible,” he said. “If we want long-term solutions to these wicked problems, we need to recognize them as such and act accordingly.”