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Substituting Freshwater: Can Ocean Desalination and Water Recycling Capacities Substitute for Groundwater Depletion in California?

Author

Listed:
  • Pierre Badiuzzaman

    (School of Geography and Sustainable Development, University of St. Andrews)

  • Eoin McLaughlin

    (School of Geography and Sustainable Development, University of St. Andrews)

  • Darren McCauley

    (School of Geography and Sustainable Development, University of St. Andrews)

Abstract

While the sustainability of resource depletion is a longstanding environmental concern, wider attention has recently been given to growing water scarcity and groundwater depletion. This study seeks to test the substitutability assumption embedded in weak sustainability indicators using a case study of Californian water supply. The volume of groundwater depletion is used as a proxy for unsustainable water consumption, and defined by synthesising existing research estimates into low, medium and high depletion baselines. These are compared against projected supply increases from ocean desalination and water recycling by 2035, to determine whether new, drought-proof water sources can substitute for currently unsustainable groundwater consumption. Results show that maximum projected supply of new water, 2.47 million acre feet per year (MAF/yr), is sufficient to meet low depletion estimates of 2.02 MAF/yr, but fails to come near the high baseline of 3.58 MAF/yr. This does not necessarily indicate physical limitations of substitutability, but more so socio-economic limitations influenced by high comparative costs. By including capacities in demand-substitutability via urban water conservation, maximum pre-dicted capacities reach 5.57 MAF/yr, indicating wide room for substitution. Based on these results, investment in social and institutional capital is an important factor to enhance demand-side substitutability of water and other natural resources, which has been somewhat neglected by the literature on the substitutability of natural resources.

Suggested Citation

  • Pierre Badiuzzaman & Eoin McLaughlin & Darren McCauley, 2017. "Substituting Freshwater: Can Ocean Desalination and Water Recycling Capacities Substitute for Groundwater Depletion in California?," Discussion Papers in Environment and Development Economics 2017-09, University of St. Andrews, School of Geography and Sustainable Development.
  • Handle: RePEc:sss:wpaper:2017-09
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Arrow, Kenneth J. & Dasgupta, Partha & Goulder, Lawrence H. & Mumford, Kevin J. & Oleson, Kirsten, 2012. "Sustainability and the measurement of wealth," Environment and Development Economics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 17(3), pages 317-353, June.
    2. Ayres, Robert U., 2007. "On the practical limits to substitution," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 61(1), pages 115-128, February.
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    Cited by:

    1. Fogarty, James & Polyakov, Maksym & Iftekhar, MD Sayed, 2017. "Equitable and Efficient systems of water utility charges in the face of a changing water supply mix," Working Papers 264780, University of Western Australia, School of Agricultural and Resource Economics.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Substitutability; Weak Sustainability; Water; Desalination; Water Recycling; California.;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • Q01 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - General - - - Sustainable Development
    • Q25 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Renewable Resources and Conservation - - - Water
    • Q56 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Environment and Development; Environment and Trade; Sustainability; Environmental Accounts and Accounting; Environmental Equity; Population Growth

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