The first response when ever discussion reservoir augmentation is mentioned is that it will never fly – we have still not overcome a decade-long stigma over “toilet-to-tap.” However, many things have changed since San Diego first went through that battle.
First, RA is now a tested technology, with much more scientific backing that in enjoyed in the 1990s.
Second, there is a much more united front supporting RA, including the business community and a much-stronger environmental community than existed a decade ago. Conversely, much of the opposition to RA might not enjoy the same clout it did, though I think this still remains to be seen.
Finally, I think the public is more aware of the need to develop local water supplies and, with a proper outreach campaign, will be supportive of RA. In fact, the City did start a fairly comprehensive public outreach campaign, even engaging San Diegans from diverse backgrounds through the American Assembly process to review the Water Reuse Study. After an exhaustive review of the six reuse options (with many of the participants coming in predisposed against IPR), the American Assembly remarkably came to the same near-unanimous support of RA.
What we learned from this processes is, the more the public is educated on RA, the more likely they are to support it.
So, what is needed to make RA a reality: (1) an intensive public education efforts and (2) political leadership.
While we’ve touched on the former, let me just say one interesting paradox I have seen in this process is that virtually all our elected leaders who oppose RA base this position on “public opposition,” rather than good policy or sound science. Yet, sufficient resources to truly engage the public in this process have not been made available, which undermines its prospects for success.
Which brings us to our second point: the need for local political leadership (in so many ways). It has been said that our elected officials are too often weathervanes in a time when we need compasses. In San Diego – the home of deferred maintenance and political weathervanes – we need our elected officials to put the “lead” back into “leadership.”
Coastkeeper, Surfrider, Sierra Club and Audubon have been meeting with many city officials, and will be sitting down with Mayor Sanders at 2:00 p.m. today. Our main message has been that if these officials do not lead, then we will have a self-fulfilling-prophecy where the pubic will not support RA. But, if the City Council and mayor take up the leadership mantle, then there is a good chance that the public will follow.
While Café San Diego only offers so much opportunity to discuss an issue with as many ramifications as RA, I encourage all voiceofsandiego.org readers to attend the next Natural Resources & Culture Committee hearing on this issue on Sept. 27 from 6-8 pm.
– BRUCE REZNIK