$64 Billion Ain't the Half of It

Monday, March 27, 2017

From the California Political Review comes an analysis of what that state could be doing with the now $64 billion estimated cost of its project to build a bullet train between Los Angles and San Francisco. One item in particular caught my eye because it matched the original estimated cost of this fiasco:

(3) Build plants to reclaim and reuse 2.0 million acre feet of sewage per year, supplying 2/3 of ALL California's residential (indoor and outdoor) water requirements for $10 billion.

Californians produce about 3.0 million acre feet of sewage per year, and today only a small fraction of that sewage is treated to "potable" (drinkable) standards. In California's huge coastal urban centers this sewage is treated sufficiently to be released into the environment where it wasted as outfall into the ocean. A recent installation in Orange County, the "Ground Water Replenishment System" (GWRS) plant, reclaims as indirect potable water 70,000 acre feet of sewage per year, at a capital cost of only $350 million (not much when compared to the bullet train budget). This equates to a capital cost of $5,000 per acre foot of annual output, which is one of the most cost-effective ways to increase the supply of fresh water for Californians.

Sewage reuse combined with desalination not only have the potential to fulfill 100 percent of California's residential water requirements for a combined price of $25 billion, but the treated water can be injected into coastal aquifers, combating saltwater intrusion. Currently these aquifers are often replenished with water transported from rivers hundreds of miles to the north, at equal or greater cost. [links and emphasis in original]
This train is Jerry Brown's pet project -- the governor whose "solution" to the drought was rationing, even in unaffected areas. The list as a whole is similarly striking because it shows that this latest estimate is enough to fund solutions to California's three biggest infrastructure problems: water, electricity, and transportation.

Even more striking to me, as an opponent of central planning, is that the article probably grossly underestimates what this amount of loot could do if allowed to remain in private hands. (See previous link regarding water, for example.) The figures Ed Ring of the California Policy Center cites admittedly assume the current centrally-planned means of addressing these problems, which he admits are (also) plagued with cronyism. So if the article as a whole reminds one (as it should) of the parable of the broken window, one should further imagine each of the businesses affected being inefficiently run by the government. There is more than one problem here, to say the least.

Finally, the article concedes from the start that, "California's High-Speed Rail project fails to justify itself according to any set of rational criteria." That stands to reason. As Ayn Rand once put it:
Since there is no such entity as "the public," since the public is merely a number of individuals, any claimed or implied conflict of "the public interest" with private interests means that the interests of some men are to be sacrificed to the interests and wishes of others. Since the concept is so conveniently undefinable, its use rests only on any given gang's ability to proclaim that "The public, c'est moi" -- and to maintain the claim at the point of a gun.
When voters willingly allow government to meddle in areas well outside its proper scope, they really have no room to be surprised when they find themselves on the hook for ridiculous things they'd never purchase on their own, and at the expense of what they know they need. Nor should they be baffled when such obvious lists like this one fail to change the government's course. That can only happen when enough people become morally outraged at the whole idea of central planning.

Central planning is wrong and it fails to bring prosperity. This is inherent in its improper, forcible removal of man's mind from the problem of his survival at at least two points: the individual's autonomy to make his own financial decisions, and the attempt to replace the plans of millions with those of a relative handful of government officials.

-- CAV


Anonymous said...

Hi Gus,

Our capital city is plagued by a mayor and his coterie of blue-stater cronies that have expressed a desire to turn Boise in Portland. Geez, if you love Portland so much, why not just move there?

Almost on an annual basis, he floats either a light rail project or a downtown trolley loop. All the big corporations think it's a great idea - but only so long as it is taxpayer money being spent. They certainly won't pony up the cost themselves.

In addition, he has reduced motorized vehicle lanes by 1/3 to help his beloved bicyclist cronies. I've seen the numbers. Downtown Boise has 35,000 cars daily and 500 bicycles. And he gives 30% of the available roadspace to 1/70th of the transit vehicles?

For a relatively small town, Boise has some incredible traffic issues. Crony thinking - do I really need to point out he's a Democrat? - is a large part of that.

As far as California is concerned; there was a movement in the 1970s to divert Idaho water to that state. There was a saying that went the rounds; "Flush your toilets, California needs the water".

I believe there was a pilot project outside of San Jose back in the 70s where a Quaternary sewage treatment - the final stage being a marsh of water hyacinths - that would produce cleaner water than the city's main potable water inputs. I've not heard since whatever became of it. But I think that the easiest way to fix the water shortage - given their feast or famine climate - would be to put floating barriers that could be expanded in radius at will beyond the mouths of the rivers and retain the rainwater in the good years. Low cost, particularly as compared to upstream reservoirs, and flexible as well. One entire bay of the Great Salt Lake has returned to freshwater because a Union Pacific causeway segregated it from the rest of the salt water. No reason they couldn't do that in CA. Except for the 'viro wackos of course.

c andrew

Gus Van Horn said...


I am shocked at myself for being surprised that this is going on in Idaho ("of all places"): I know better. I am old enough to remember when recycling was new. Now it's everywhere, even including a rural Mississippi, where I go to visit relatives from time to time.

So long as people take things like this lying down, California will remain the trend-setting state it is.