Peter Senge once said “Today’s problems are yesterday’s solutions.” I would argue that we shouldn’t let today’s ‘solutions’ be tomorrow’s problems.

Yes, we need water — but not at the expense of devastating coastal impacts and greenhouse gas emissions that will be borne future generations. Not when there are cheaper, more efficient, more protective options available.  

So, why have our representatives abandoned us? Part of the answer is that Poseidon has been incredibly well funded, well organized and have a very slick pitch if you don’t look too deep.

But, more importantly, despite how things have been spun, many (though certainly not all) of our officials have stood strong. The State Lands Commission recognized they did not have sufficient information on carbon neutrality or marine mortality, and decided to delay a decision until Poseidon provided them concrete information on these impacts.  

The San Diego City Council, led by a bipartisan coalition that included Jim Madaffer, Scott Peters and Donna Frye and joined by Ben Hueso and Toni Atkins, approved a controversial, but much-needed indirect potable reuse pilot project, only to be subsequently vetoed by Mayor Sanders. 

Even at the Coastal Commission, which did approve the CDP, three Commissioners correctly concluded that there was insufficient information to approve the project.  And even those that ultimately did approve the project, did so with important conditions on mitigation and greenhouse gas emissions that will minimize the impacts of this facility or result in a redesigned project that is more appropriate for the site.  

That said, the basic contradictions presented previously should have alerted our officials that this project, which seems too good to be true, is just that.  What has been most disappointing, though, has been the lack of leadership (or more appropriately leadership in the wrong direction) from our mayor. Not only did he make a point to testify at both the State Lands Commission and Coastal Commission on the CDP to support the project, citing our dire need for water, but he sandwiched a veto of a far superior water recycling project between the two hearings. While he claims this decision was made on economics, nobody can figure out where his numbers come from on the water reuse project, which most experts believe is a more cost-effective strategy for developing local water supplies than desalination.  

What really made my jaw hit the ground, however, was his testimony last week in front of the San Diego City Council while supporting San Diego’s application to pursue another exemption from federally-mandated secondary sewage standards for our Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Facility (the nation’s largest facility with such an exemption). Again, his cost numbers for upgrading the facility are highly exaggerated (upgrading will likely cost one-third to one-half of his estimated $1.5 billion), while his assessment of environmental benefit was understated. 

But what caught my attention most was his staff’s extensive focus on the carbon footprint upgrading the plant, which he viewed as untenable as it would add 100,000 tons of CO2 to the atmosphere — the same total as has been projected for the CDP. We’re currently having our experts review this assessment for Point Loma, which could alter our support for upgrading the plant if proven accurate. Regardless of whether or not this number is accurate, however, one must ask how can 100,000 tons of CO2 be acceptable for the CDP but not to decrease discharges to the ocean?  How, if water is such a dire need that required the Mayor to testify at two hearings, can he justify vetoing a water recycling project that would have a smaller carbon footprint than the CDP?

When I testified at the Point Loma hearing, my first statement is that it was a sad day for San Diego — not so much for the decision to apply for a waiver which was opposed only by Councilwoman Frye, but because it seems like truth, an honest dialogue on the issues and sound public policy has given way to political expediency and public relations. San Diegans deserve better. 


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