Sorry about that last rant – not sure I can keep anything short (despite my best efforts). But after being part of the sediment battle for my seven years at Coastkeeper, I just lost it when I got the latest email about several more months of delay while the board spends $152k on preparing a paperless record.
I’ll try my best to keep this post more to the point as I delve into a subject near and dear to my heart – sewage. First, a very short history: It was not that long ago that San Diego was gaining national attention as a sewer spill capital, averaging a spill per day and encountering massive spills like the 34 million gallon spill that went into the San Diego River and Ocean Beach and the 5+ million gallon spill into Tecolote Creek and Mission Bay. These spills prompted serious response from a then-strong Water Board, lawsuits form Coastkeeper & The Surfrider Foundation and, finally, action by a new City Council.
Since those dark days, the city raised sewer rates so it could invest nearly a quarter billion dollars in our crumbling sewage infrastructure, one-third of which was beyond its life expectancy. And the result of that investment has been one of the city’s bright spots in an otherwise torrent of bad news – an 83 percent reduction in sewage spills and nearly 75 percent reduction in beach advisories over the past five years. This progress is remarkable, and I will certainly miss the leadership of the Metro Wastewater Department Director Scott Tulloch, who came into that position shortly after our lawsuit and recently left to take a position with the city of Chula Vista.
While tremendous progress has been made, we are still holding much of our collection system “together with bubble gum” and additional investment is needed to ensure that we continue to upgrade our water and wastewater system, protect our local waters and public health, and to comply with all legal requirements and settlements for past violations. For these reasons, Coastkeeper fully supports Mayor Sander’s efforts to once again raise water and wastewater rates to invest in our sewer collection system. I do appreciate the burden this places on ratepayers – I am one of them – but we have let our infrastructure in San Diego get into far too much disrepair, necessitating a bold step like this. And as difficult as it may be, we should feel somewhat comforted by the success that Mr. Tulloch had in using previous rate hikes to actually reduce spills dramatically, and we can only hope his successor, Timothy Bertch, has as much success using increased funding to reduce spills and improve surface and drinking water.
What I really want to address, though, was The San Diego Union Tribune‘s recent editorial, which grudgingly supported the rate hikes, but also used its commentary to attack two projects that are not even connected to these hikes – upgrading Point Loma to secondary sewage treatment and reservoir augmentation (affectionately dubbed “toilet-to-tap”). More on this in my next post …