13 May 2015

Your reservoir is better than a low flush toilet

While I was based in Vancouver, I worked on selling WaterSavr in California. WaterSavr is a safe compound that reduces evaporation on reservoirs (think "oil on water") by about 20-30 percent, at a cost of about $150/acre foot (about $185/ML).

What bothers me is seeing California sink deeper and deeper into doom without managers adopting products like watersavr that deliver way more bang for the buck.**

I blame three factors for this zombie response from water managers:
  1. They are terrified of making a mistake on a "new" idea. It's easier to watch reservoirs drop and say "it's a drought."
  2. They do not understand a technology that does not involve pipes and pumps.
  3. They do not need to worry about failure because no water managers have ever been fired for incompetence in California.***
Bottom Line: Water managers should think about WaterSavr as the "low flush toilet" response to their shortage concerns. The Pacific Institute reports (PDF, table 4) that low flush toilets will save water at a cost of $1,500/af. That "solution" was just made mandatory across the State. Then water managers should think of all the praise they will get if use WaterSavr to save water at a much lower price (and hassle). Or they should think of the alternative: getting fired for gross negligence for allowing their customers water to evaporate.****

* And takes 10+ years to put into operation. WaterSavr takes a a day (after less than a month to deliver) to put into use. It can be stopped --- with all product biodegrading -- in three days

** Wichita Falls, TX put it into use last year

*** Send me ANY story to this effect. Fraud and theft do not count.

**** OTPR has a simple rule: farmers (and corporations) need to share out the value of the water IF they're taking it from others


  1. Putting an oil film on open water to limit evaporation seems like a skeptical tech to me, so maybe others aren't buying because they have doubts too. Some of my worries: Does wind cause it to be thinned on the windward side of the lake? Since evap. is aided by wind anyway, measuring the tech's benefits under idealized weather conditions might be far off. Do storms or high winds cause mixing? Does the film evap in some way or even alter air quality? How does it impact lakeside soil or vegetation, particularly on the leeward side? Is the water surface's interface with the air impacted so as to reduce the oxygen content of the lake, with environmental consequences for lake life? Are there no environmental damages? Where does the oil end up? (in the water, air, on piers or boat hulls) Being a "no free lunch" person and having encountered a wide array of supposed solutions with where an uncontemplated (or swept under rug) environmental consequence becomes a regret, I'm a skeptic of this approach. Maybe others are too for these and other reasons. It's prudent to go slow when a strategy is novel.
    ron griffin

    1. The product has no short or long term enviro impacts
      Efficiency drops from 30% to 10-15% with winds in field conditions on large reservoirs
      So your concerns, while common, are not substantiated with watersavr.

    2. wow, "no" environmental impact! Might be the first such thing I've ever heard of.
      ron griffin

    3. Yes. It is benign in treatment concentrations and biodegrades in 3 days

    4. Conservation of mass. "Biodegrades" isn't the same thing as "disappears". I'm not just being argumentative here. I'm curious about the material and what it becomes. Even if it's just bacteria food, that goes somewhere, and if we're going to be reapplying it every few days, ... Again, I'm curious. The world is full of environmental consequences that were originally unimagined, unstudied, or denied by their promoters. For these reasons, prudence is not unjustified on the part of potential subscribers.
      ron griffin

    5. "Conservation of mass. "Biodegrades" isn't the same thing as "disappears"."

      Ron: If you take a look at the molecule, it's just a very, very large, fairly unstable (hence biodegradable) alcohol, so the reaction outputs are just O2 and CO2. Chemically, conservation of mass doesn't seem to be a big issue here.

      That said, I think "no detected first order environmental impact" would be a better way to put this, since it might lead to other effects (for example, I'd be curious about dissolved gas concentrations through the film, and subsequent water acidity changes).

      The big plus to me seems to be the reversibility; I could imagine this being deployed with proper ecosystem level monitoring as a cautionary and a predefined procedure for ending use if needed. Empirically, it already seems to be safely in use elsewhere, though the specifics of each location could certainly differ.

      Not that water managers would care.

    6. Excellent DB. Thanks for beginning to address my questions, which you seem to share.

    7. Thanks DB. This report (http://kysq.org/docs/AWWA_WaterSavr.pdf) discusses chemical tests/balances in detail. Indeed, the product "disappears" in the sense that one kg/ha/3 days leaves a VERY SMALL film at the bottom of the reservoir...

  2. Since you are both Davids, I will use David Z and David V.
    I think that reason 3 is the right one. From David Z I learned, years ago, about agent based economics and how you can understand an organization by learning the rational behavior of each member/agent in that organization.
    Yesterday I had the latest conversation on the topic "Why doesn't Los Alamos National Laboratory move into new fields in order to ensure a healthy future for itself?" The answer appears to be that there is no 'itself.' Each person is working for their own benefit. The product of the Lab is not actually better science. It is job security. Thus, people behave in ways that get them safely to retirement. The safe way to retirement is to follow the mantra that nuclear weapons are needed by the country and will be needed forever. The sub-mantra is that the Department of Energy will provide billions of dollars a year, in perpetuity, in support of the main mantra.
    If I try to apply this to California's water problems, I get the mantra that 'doing what we have always done will get me safely to retirement while changing what has been done jeopardizes my retirement.' So each water management person continues to do what they have always done in the knowledge that such behavior protects their job. For WaterSavr to sell, you have to A. Find a champion who wants something different. (I would start at the governor's office or with a large campaign contributor.) B. A lever that makes the individual water manager's job insecure unless they adopt the product.


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