For anyone who has or intends to attend Mayor Jerry Sanders’ town hall series on water, I suggest going with a critical mind, and doing some homework in advance. The mayor, for all his good intentions, is using misleading and outdated facts.
In discussing options for conservation, the mayor focuses on what homeowners can do and applauds the truncated watering practices in city parks. This is a start, though our city is not making the best use of all of our water. To do so, homeowners will be more conscientious about how they consume water, businesses and commercial property owners will make better use of water recycling technology in their disposal and buildings, and the city must stop dumping almost 40 percent of our water each day into the ocean.
As a city, we have the ability to save nearly 180 million gallons of water each day. Currently, San Diego purchases and imports more than 486 million gallons of water every day, and the wastewater we all create from that results in 180 million gallons of water being dumped off of the Point Loma Treatment Plant into the Pacific Ocean. To put it another way, just under 40 percent of our water that we pay for is dumped into the ocean. However, wastewater such as ours, is being purified in Orange County and in Fairfax, VA, to name two places, and drunk again. The technology behind this is well refined and extremely safe.
Mayor Sanders has provided misinformation about purifying wastewater. Rather than present the facts and go with the healthiest, most prudent and cost effective project, he has opted for another water resource: desalination. Desalination uses more than twice the amount of energy than purifying wastewater (4700 KWH/acre foot vs. 2200 KWH/acre foot), and costs 30 percent more. Due to the high salinity of ocean water, it takes 5 gallons of ocean water to make 1 gallon of drinkable water. In comparing purified wastewater to desalination, the mayor has selectively chosen the information to present to us. He has used a most expensive and ineffective model of recycling water, while relying on a private corporation that is cutting corners to provide extremely expensive water. This company, Poseidon, screwed up their last desalination plant so badly that the city of Tampa Bay was forced to bail them out (taxpayers bailing out private companies … sound familiar?).
The sense of prudence that the mayor attempts to appeal to in his statements calling into question the health implications of purifying wastewater is misleading. The mayor is correct in asserting that there are trace amounts of pharmaceuticals in our current drinking water. This is due to the fact one of our main sources of drinking water, the Colorado River, has 600 million gallons of treated sewage dumped into it every day prior to reaching Southern California. The mayor points to desalination as being the cleanest, safest way to guarantee a new source of drinking water. What makes it so clean and safe is the fact that one of the purification steps is reverse osmosis. Reverse osmosis is the process that removes everything larger than a water molecule, including pharmaceuticals. What the mayor chooses to overlook is that reverse osmosis is also the second step of the four-step process of purifying sewage water so it can be drunk. There are steps to purifying sewage water beyond what is used in the proposed desalination plant to double and then triple check that the water is safe. This is why purifying sewage water has become so popular throughout the world.
Before we explore creating new sources of water from a desalination, which has resulted in black dead matter covering the beaches of the cities that desalinate in the Middle East and Australia, we must stop wasting water. Individuals, businesses and the city conserving together enable us to keep living in a desert. New showerheads, recycling water in buildings and businesses, and turning our wastewater into new drinking water is as necessary as new leadership who will not deceive us.
Jared Criscuolo is the integrated water campaign manager for the Surfrider Foundation