Being a borderline Luddite, I must admit this is my first foray into this type of writing. I’ll do my best to shape the rest of entries to respond to emails I get, the first of which was “why is reservoir augmentation (RA) critical for San Diego.”

To answer this, a few basic “truths” must be revealed. First, we must recognize that it is impossible to separate water quality (the main focus of Coastkeeper ) with water supply, energy policy and land-use issues, as all of these are intertwined into a larger discussions of regional sustainability.

Second, while recognizing that all water supply choices have some costs attached (there is “no free lunch”), the rule of thumb is the closer the water production is to where it will be consumed, the better.

In San Diego, we need local supplies of water. It is critical for our sustainability so that we are no longer 95 percent reliant on imported water supplies, which can dry up with droughts or political wrangling, and which are extremely expensive and environmentally damaging to bring hundreds of miles from their source.

So, why reservoir augmentation? First, other than conservation, RA is one of the cheapest supplies of local water (far cheaper, for example, than desalination … but more on that later). As detailed in the city of San Diego’s Water Reuse Study that was developed as part of a legal settlement between the city and Coastkeeper, The Surfrider Foundation and Sierra Club to determine how we can actually reuse the 45 million gallons a day (mgd) of reclaimed water the city currently has the capacity to treat, several different options were reviewed. Many options, like traditional “purple pipe” (piping reclaimed water directly to large customers, like Balboa Park or Mission Bay Park) would still costs hundreds of millions of dollars to get very little actual reuse – a few mgd.

For the same amount of money, RA can get us virtually all the way to our 45 mgd goal.

RA – if done properly – is also a safe option. It’s safer than the current source of most of our water, the Colorado River, which is fed by 650 permitted dischargers – including over 400 million gallons a day of treated sewage – before it reaches our tap as drinking water … with far less treatment and monitoring than what is proposed through reservoir augmentation.

Importantly, RA also treats a waste – one that is currently discharged into the ocean – as a resource. Once properly treated, RA will lessen the amount of discharge from the Point Loma Wastewater Facility, which is currently the largest facility in the nation that is exempt from secondary treatment standards before 170+ mgd is dumped into the ocean. For a group like Coastkeeper, this is critical.

Lastly, RA or other forms of indirect potable reuse (IPR) – turning wastewater into drinking water – are now being used throughout the country and world.

This presents an interesting opportunity for the City. Being out in front on a technology is often good as it can bring needed R&D resources (e.g. federal and state grants) as well as public attention. Being too far out in front, though, can be risky as new technologies have their bugs that must be worked out. I believe the timing is perfect for RA in San Diego n RA and IPR are now fairly proven technologies, but still new enough for the city to secure much of the funding needed to proceed from outside sources (especially critical in the city’s current fiscal climate).

I think I’ve rambled more than enough for this entry n I will next focus on whether RA can actually work in today’s political climate, before turning my attention to other coastal issues.


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