04/06/2015 03:59 pm ET Updated Jun 03, 2015

Unleash Competitiveness Against the Drought

Desalination is expensive. It requires a lot of electricity. It takes up valuable coastal land. It may require costly environmental remediation in order to protect marine species. It costs energy and money to pump water up hill to end users.

We can declare it a lost cause. Or we can get creative. We have 9 schools in the University of California system, not counting UCSF. We have world class engineering students and faculty from multiple engineering disciplines. Why not harness these brain power and their inter-collegial competitiveness? Let them compete. The State should offer a cash reward, say 5 million dollars, to the team that can devise the best desalination plant design. The designs will be judged base on innovation, compactness, energy efficiency, environmental impact, and of course, cost. To sweeten the pot, the State should also pay for and help fast track the application of any patents invented during the competition.

Better yet, we can recoup some of the money we spend on the reward by syndicating this competition on Network Television, say the Discovery Channel or the Learning Channel. With any luck, it could end up costing the State nothing. Hay, I always believe there ought to have engineering students as TV stars that kids can look up to. Do you?

Even if we shall fail to find any significant improvement over existing desalination techniques, it would have informed us what techniques won't work; It would have educated potential neighbors around future desalination projects about what goes on inside these plants and reduce their fear and uncertainty when it is their turn to decide. the televised competition would have increased the awareness about the drought.

Desalination is expensive; so is not being ready for a long drought.