Now, let’s move to the issue of conservation. I can’t emphasize enough that if we hope to meet the state’s water needs, it must include water conservation. It reduces energy consumption, and may be more necessary than ever in a growing California.

In July, the state Department of Finance projected that California’s population will grow from its current 38 million people to 60 million by mid-century. That type of growth is staggering and even more significant because 19 million of those current residents live in dry, desert like areas common in Southern California. How we bring water to people in those areas is the million dollar question. Better yet, it’s the billion dollar question.

Transporting water across the state through canals and pipelines is terribly expensive and requires large amounts of energy. By relying more on water conservation, we reduce the amount of energy otherwise needed to move that water from Northern California and the Colorado River. This in turn lowers the greenhouse gas emissions that pollute California’s air. That’s a plus for all state residents.

Other measures must also be considered. Long Beach implemented water conservation measures in September that prohibit residents from watering lawns and gardens more than three times a week — and even then, only between 6 p.m. and 7 a.m. It’s the first city in California to do so and likely won’t be the last in the coming months.

Perhaps the best part about water conservation is that San Diegans understand the need for it. According to a recent poll conducted by the San Diego Institute for Policy Research, 66 percent of county residents believe water supply is a very serious issue. And almost 60 percent were trying to conserve water — most by reducing outdoor watering and shortening showers.

Fortunately, San Diegans responded well to the last drought which hit our region from 1986 to 1992. People installed low-flush toilets and low-flow shower heads in their homes. And they installed drip irrigation systems in their outdoor gardens. These and many other practices — like water metering — helped drop water usage in our region 11 percent between 1990 and 2004 despite a 19 percent population increase in San Diego County during that same period.

We also seriously need to discuss the issue of recycled water. When it’s described as “toilet to tap” it naturally turns people off. Any word combination with “toilet” is bound to hurt perceptions. A poll conducted last month by the San Diego Institute for Policy Research found that 49 percent of county respondents are opposed to “toilet to tap.”

But when the discussion reminds residents that they’re already drinking treated wastewater via the Colorado River, the debate changes. When poll respondents were told that 400 million gallons of treated wastewater is currently discharged into the Colorado River, support for recycled water jumped to 61 percent.

I know the water challenges facing Southern California — and San Diego County specifically — are longstanding but I’m optimistic that we’ll find a solution that helps businesses, agriculture, and homeowners meet their water needs.

— CHRISTINE KEHOE

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