Well, so much for my goal of succinctly addressing our CDP concerns, though hopefully they are at least a little clearer now. One question many of you asked in your responses to previous posts is what exactly are environmentalists supporting?

The first, most obvious tactic is conservation. . . real conservation that might require some of us to move away from green lawns for betterment of the overall community. . . not the “20 Gallon Challenge” that has done virtually nothing to reduce our use of or dependence on water. At the Coastal Commission hearing, many project proponents pointed out what a great job the region has done on conserving water, and correctly noted that we have kept our water usage fairly steady despite population growth over the past couple decades. This is true, and San Diegans should be commended for their efforts. But that said, our conservation record is not nearly what it could, should or must be. Let us compare per-household water usage from various California cities:

  • Long Beach n 121 gallons/day
  • Santa Barbara – 121 gallons/day
  • Santa Maria – 123 gallons/day
  • Goleta n 123 gallons/day
  • Los Angeles 141 gallons/day
  • San Diego n 173 gallons/day
  • Carlsbad – 217 gallons/day

In other words, in a region that imports over 85 percent of its water, we are using 30-90 gallons per day per household more than other cities in California. That is irresponsible and inexcusable, considering our water shortage.

In addition to reducing our dependence on imported water, conservation offers many other benefits, including: reducing our region’s carbon footprint by reducing need for supplies from more energy-intensive options; reducing urban runoff pollution (the region’s number one source of pollution) since most water wasting is in residential landscaping which often goes into storm drains carrying pesticides, herbicides, pet waste and other contaminants; and saving money because conservation is our most cost-effective water supply option ($0-$200/acre-foot compared with $1,100-0$1,500/acre-foot for desalination).

We must implement much more aggressive voluntary conservation programs, providing significant incentives for water savings. We must conduct a full assessment of industrial and residential water users to determine where we can achieve the most water savings, and consider implementing mandatory conservation if needed. According to a recent poll by Competitive Edge, 52 percent of San Diegans had heard “nothing” or “almost nothing” about the city’s voluntary water conservation measures. Meanwhile, 67 percent of San Diegans support mandated conservation, with the highest percentage (38 percent) saying they “strongly support” such efforts while only 29 percent oppose such measures. This indicates that the public is much more aware and ahead of our officials on this issue.

In addition to real conservation, Coastkeeper and other environmental groups have been vocal proponents of Indirect Potable Reuse (IPR), also called toilet to tap by its critics.

While I won’t go into excruciating detail on IPR as it has been covered in several op-eds and articles, suffice it to say that San Diego has already spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build two water reclamation facilities; much of the water is not being reused currently as it is too expensive to build a conveyance system for industrial and irrigation customers; and the city could use 16 million gallons of this water daily in the San Vicente Reservoir with some additional investment in treatment and conveyance. The City Council recently approved a pilot project to test IPR on a limited basis, which was vetoed by Mayor Sanders, who was placing public relations over public policy. IPR contains several advantages over the CDP: it will provide a municipally owned source of local water; it is more energy-efficient than open-ocean desalination (and would actually result in a decreased carbon footprint compared with water from Northern California); it would result in decreased sewage discharges to the ocean because we will be reusing the water; and (despite the Mayor’s claims) is a more cost-effective water supply strategy ($800-$900/acre-foot compared with $1,100-$1,500/acre-foot for desalination).

Lastly, there are desalination technologies that use subsurface intakes rather than open-ocean systems that eliminate marine mortality through impingement and entrainment and are more energy-efficient than open-ocean intakes. Poseidon Resources correctly points out that we could not do a 50 MGD facility in Carlsbad using subsurface intakes. However, maybe a 10 or 20 MGD facility is more appropriate and less environmentally damaging at this site, and would be sufficient if combined with needed conservation, IPR and other water supply strategies. This is exactly the type of analysis that has been missing from this debate so far.

Nobody disputes we need water for our region. How to get that water in the most ecological and cost-effective way possible is the question. It is frustrating that many of the same people (including Mayor Sanders) who are supporting one of the costliest, most environmentally damaging ways to get water are obstructionists when it comes to real conservation programs or implementing water recycling plans that could create a municipally owned water source for San Diegans at a fraction of the cost and harm of the CDP. Yet, these options will continue to be put on the backburner because of the false promise of the CDP.


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