Earlier this summer, the San Diego County Taxpayers Association gave its Golden Watchdog award to the Carlsbad Desalination Project, reflecting the group’s support “every step of the way” for what many in the environmental community consider the region’s biggest boondoggle in recent memory.

Commentary - in-story logoWhile much of the fight against the desalination plant has focused on the devastating environmental harm to marine life and huge output of greenhouse gasses, this recognition from the Taxpayers Association really has environmentalists scratching our collective head.

Of course, it would be quite simple to explain the award by pointing out the multiple Poseidon Water representatives who have sat on the Taxpayers Association’s board of directors “every step of the way” while the project was in development – Poseidon is the company behind the desal plant. At this point, however, perhaps it is more appropriate to point out the absurdity of the award by showing how the desalination plant is horrible for taxpayers.

It’s the most expensive water available. This should be enough of a reason. Imported water costs less than half as much as desalinated water ($830 to $942 per acre foot versus $2,131 per acre foot for treated water). Every credible report on the subject finds that conservation is the cheapest and most effective way to increase water supplies, and San Diego County residents have proven highly capable at conserving when they want to. Why would the Taxpayers Association support charging taxpayers for the most expensive water possible?

The agreement between the San Diego County Water Authority and Poseidon is a 30-year “take or pay” contract, which unduly benefits Poseidon. It’s unfathomable how SDCTA sees a taxpayer benefit when a company gets a contract with the government obligating taxpayers to purchase the most expensive water available in minimum quantities for 30 years with absolutely no consideration for need. In fact, the desalination plant has barely opened for business and we’re already dumping treated water into reservoirs because we have to buy the water whether we need it or not.

We still don’t know which ratepayers will shoulder the long-term burden of the desalinated water. The Water Authority has parroted Poseidon’s claim that the desalination plant will add a mere $5 to ratepayers’ monthly bills regionwide. This increase, however, contemplates that all of the region’s water districts will be forced to buy more expensive treated water from the Water Authority, which they should not. Some of the districts have their own treatment systems (e.g., the city of San Diego, Padre Dam Municipal Water District, Helix Water District) and instead buy raw, or untreated water from the Water Authority at a discount and then treat it themselves prior to distribution. Though equity suggests the districts that rely on the Water Authority to provide treated water should pay the higher unit cost, the fact is if this occurs, the ratepayers in smaller districts (i.e., farmers and suburban homes) will see monthly bill increases from tens to hundreds of dollars. In other words, unless the Water Authority can inappropriately saddle thousands of ratepayers in the city of San Diego with the bulk of the cost of desalinated water, the rest of the county’s ratepayers will surely revolt. Although the Water Authority has come up with an interim allocation that allows the cost to spread out among ratepayers who don’t actually benefit from the treated water, this rate structure is both impermanent and illegal.


We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

Water recycling makes more sense. Without qualification, both indirect (clean water put in a reservoir or groundwater) and direct (clean water piped straight to users) potable reuse make more sense environmentally and economically than desalination. The city of San Diego is drawing ever closer to approval of its Pure Water project that will result in tens of millions of gallons per day of raw sewage recycled for storage in a local reservoir for eventual treatment for potable uses. In addition to providing a cost-effective, equitable, drought-proof supply of potable water, the Pure Water project will have the secondary benefit of reducing discharges of treated sewage to the ocean (in stark contrast to the desalination paradigm that results in massive mortality to marine life near those plants’ intakes and outfalls). City of San Diego ratepayers are expected to shoulder the bulk of cost for Pure Water, and yet the Taxpayers Association and the County Water Authority would also have them paying for highly treated and expensive desalinated water that they neither need nor want.

I get it, understanding how and why water rates change is difficult. But, at the end of the day it’s not hard to see that we have two vastly superior options to the expensive fraud that is and will be the Carlsbad Desalination Project: water conservation and water recycling. It’s just a shame the Taxpayers Association has become a mouthpiece for corporate greed and agency malfeasance rather than a true protector of San Diego taxpayers.

Marco Gonzalez is a partner with Coast Law Group LLP and executive director of the Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation. Gonzalez’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

    This article relates to: Opinion, Water

    Written by Opinion

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    39 comments
    Bruce Higgins
    Bruce Higgins subscriber

    I'm coming to this debate late, but my approval of the desal plant is strategic rather than financial.  I agree that right now it is expensive, have said that we live in a desert, at the end of the water pipeline.  The West is in a long term drought, we have little political influence compared to other players and the MWA has proven that they are not our friend.  We should be doing everything we possibly can to become both energy and water independent.  This includes recycle water, another delsal plant or two further south in the county, and conservation.  Given California's decades long approval process, we should start looking at where and who we want to supply our water plants now.  Construction costs will only increase and we are going to need the water in the future.  Given the above, we may not be able to rely on our traditional sources of water and should be looking out for ourselves.


    Sean M
    Sean M subscriber

    A great irony is how san diego built a desal plant to get fresh water from the ocean while northern CA pumps 800k acre feet of fresh water from reservoirs into the ocean, to save the smelt. Los Angeles uses about that much water per year.

    I lost respect for SDCTA lost credibility when they voiced support for the now infamous Post CAP bond measure...

    The author of this piece was mentioned as representing the climate action campaign group, which wrote the SD climate change bill in the recent VOSD piece "climate plan's biggest booster threatens to sue to enforce it."

    This is a strong reason to not support any bills put forth by Saldana or others in the city council: they may help a few people but will increase everyone's cost of living. It is clear from an earlier comments that Marco does not respect Saldana, but at the same time he depends on her to keep supporting bills that will generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees for his firm, from taxpayers. The city council's signatures on that bill are like signing a blank check to environmental law firms.

    It's quite hypocritical for a group to pretend to care about taxpayer money when they kept suing over fourth of July fireworks, until they got paid $250k by the city.

    lorisaldana
    lorisaldana subscriber

    @Sean M FYI- I was never a city council member. I was a state assemblymember when I supported the Poseidon desal plant as a means of increasing the San Diego regional water supply. We may not need the water now, but if we continue to have severe drought, the plant will be a valuable addition to other water sources.

    Also, state legislators do not set water rates. The negotiations the author is complaining about are up to regulators  and agencies in San Diego.

    I began working on water supply and water quality issues over 20 years ago, when I was asked to be a named plaintiff in a case regarding a border sewage treatment plant, brought forward by the Sierra Club. We prevailed in the complaint vs. the US Environmental Protection Agency and International Boundary and Water Commission. 

    The settlement included reimbursement of costs for the attorneys who did the work pro bono  on behalf of Sierra Club, myself, and Surfrider Foundation. 

    I also volunteered and assisted with the research, and learned quite a bit about the legal and policy complexity of water in the border region- and the impacts of lobbying and contributions to and from special interests when it comes to water. 

    I went on to serve in the Clinton and Bush administrations as a presidential appointee to the Border Commission, and also was a policy research fellow at UCSD's Center for US/Mexico Studies, where I wrote commentaries and   journal  articles about the issue, and then authored legislation on the topic. 

    Water- especially along international borders- is a complicated area of work. 

    Lawsuits come with the territory on complicated policy issues.

    La Playa Heritage
    La Playa Heritage subscribermember

    WASHINGTON.  Federal Register August 5, 2016.  Bureau of Reclamation Prepares EIS for Pure Water San Diego Program, North City Project in California.  The Department of Interior published the following notice in the Federal Register from the Bureau of Reclamation:

    Notice of Intent To Prepare an Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement for the Pure Water San Diego Program, North City Project, San Diego County, California. The Bureau of Reclamation and the City of San Diego will prepare a joint Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement to evaluate the effects of the North City Project, the first phase of the Pure Water San Diego Program (Pure Water Program). The Pure Water Program is a water and wastewater facilities plan to produce potable water from recycled water. Interested parties are invited to comment on the scope of the environmental analysis and the proposed alternatives. Two public meetings are scheduled.

    DATES: Please submit written comments on or before September 6, 2016.  Public meeting dates:
    1. August 23, 2016, 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Scripps Miramar Ranch Public Library. 10301 Scripps Lake Drive, San Diego, CA
    2. August 25, 2016, 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., City of San Diego Public Utilities Department. 9192 Topaz Way, San Diego, CA.

    ADDRESSES: Send written comments to Doug McPherson, Southern California Area Office, Bureau of Reclamation, 27708 Jefferson Avenue, Suite 202, Temecula, CA 92590; or email to dmcpherson@usbr.gov.  951-695-5310;

    Public meeting locations:
    1. Scripps Miramar Ranch Public Library, 10301 Scripps Lake Drive, San Diego, CA.
    2. City of San Diego Public Utilities Department, 9192 Topaz Way, San Diego, CA.

    lorisaldana
    lorisaldana subscriber

    It's important to note that, overall, San Diegans are doing a very good job of conserving water, and now discharge less into the ocean via the Pt. Loma outfall than they did over a decade ago, despite population increases. 


    But it took lawsuits to achieve many of these goals. 


    Much of our regional conservation success has been achieved due to a legal settlement, reached over 20 years ago, after the Sierra Club took the side of the City of San Diego vs. USEPA. I chaired their Legal Committee at the time, and the settlement required legally enforceable conservation & reclamation methods vs. upgrading treatment levels at the Pt. Loma facility. 


    That's why every house in San Diego is now required to install low-flow water fixtures when built or sold. It's also why we are the only major city in the US that does not treat sewage to full secondary levels.

    This exclusion required special federal legislation- the Ocean Pollution Reduction Act (OPRA)  of 1995- that allows the Pt. Loma Treatment Plant to avoid needing to upgrade to secondary. The cities that pump sewage to this facility supprt this, and maintain it is saving the region billions- though I can't tell where those savings are going. 


    OPRA requires a renewal every 5 years. (see: http://dockets.sandiego.gov/sirepub/cache/2/ctxnyhpq5oejeazu0ntrcdzu/73547808102016022359862.PDF)


    The two regional water reclamation plants were also part of the deal.

    Sean M
    Sean M subscriber

    I know why surfrider and bay keeper liked that settlement Saldana negotiated, they got paid: $30923.44 + $110000 from the consent decree.

    Lori gets to say she did a good thing for the environment, the attorneys pocket a cool half million dollars and the taxpayers complain about potholes and the city complains they are broke.

    lorisaldana
    lorisaldana subscriber

    @Sean M  This was a Sierra Club lawsuit- Surfrider and Baykeeper didn't participate. And

    I'm not an attorney, and had no involvement with negotiating those other  cases. 


    Also- $30,923 + $110,000 doesn't add up to a half million.


    Maybe you are confusing another lawsuit with the one I was party to in 1994? There have been many, but I've only been a named plaintiff in the federal case- not the local litigation.


    I received no settlement money, and the attorneys worked pro bono. The only funds they received went to cover costs- about $95,000 for a lengthy discovery case.


    Public interest law, along with good investigative journalism, is needed to ensure justice and good policy for tax payers. 


    Finally- I've often criticized the legal profiteering you are describing. That is one reason I have angered some attorneys who do not do this work pro bono.

    Jason Lee
    Jason Lee subscriber

    Thanks for bringing this to the public's attention, and also for the work you've done in your career defending the environment.  But I wish more words were provided for the article, as I have more questions raised than answered. For example:  


    -Is there a chance that the cost of the water from this contract will get cheaper over the life of the contract? I can't tell how the amount quoted in this article is calculated.

    -Is the financial issue with desal in general, or with Poseidon in particular?  Iow, is there any way we can know that Poseidon provided the "best deal"?

    -Similarly, is the environmental issue with desal as a whole, the way we are suing the water, or both?  You bring up dumping desal'ed water into reservoirs, but also talk about the harmful effects of desal on the local marine life.

    -It is my understanding that the desal plant is not going to replace much of the water we get from other sources, but to provide a small amount of water to the area. In other words, the water we get from desal will be in addition to the current conservation efforts, the potential recycled water solution, etc. Is this true?

    -What, if any, is the benefit of desal use being a further diversification of our water supply in anticipation of further  / long term future water shortages? 


    For the record, I don't disagree with any implications in your article about SDTPA having interest in assisting large corporations and organizations. I just feel like the article needs more meat.


    Thanks. 

    marco gonzalez
    marco gonzalez subscribermember

    @Jason Lee I'll try to provide some answers:


    -Is there a chance that the cost of the water from this contract will get cheaper over the life of the contract? I can't tell how the amount quoted in this article is calculated.

            *The cost of water will not get cheaper in and of itself. It may become more economically viable (equitable) as the cost of imported water increases, but the overall cost will only go up, not down.


    -Is the financial issue with desal in general, or with Poseidon in particular?  Iow, is there any way we can know that Poseidon provided the "best deal"?

                *This deal is specific to the Carlsbad plant. If the plant was truly government owned, it could be operated only as absolutely needed, and not on the "take or pay" framework that now exists. Poseidon certainly did not provide the best deal for ratepayers; it provided the best deal for its investors.


    -Similarly, is the environmental issue with desal as a whole, the way we are suing the water, or both?  You bring up dumping desal'ed water into reservoirs, but also talk about the harmful effects of desal on the local marine life.

               * We've always said that desal may have a place in the greater water supply portfolio. However, this is conditioned on four important criteria: (1) appropriate location for the plant; (2) subsurface intake of source water to minimize impingement and entrainment; (3) appropriate brine disposal (outfall to area where hyper-saline discharge will not have impacts; i.e. not close to reefs); and (4) based upon developed sources of renewable energy (to minimize greenhouse gas discharge). 


    -It is my understanding that the desal plant is not going to replace much of the water we get from other sources, but to provide a small amount of water to the area. In other words, the water we get from desal will be in addition to the current conservation efforts, the potential recycled water solution, etc. Is this true?

            * The desal plant proposes to provide as much as 10% of the region's water needs. Yes, this will be in addition to conservation and recycling, but the point we are making is that the environmental and economics costs of providing water this way do not make sense. They reflect laziness and political unwillingness to make real change, all for the benefit of a corporate entity that got its approvals by lining the pockets of elected officials. The science does not support desal as a smart alternative for our region.


    -What, if any, is the benefit of desal use being a further diversification of our water supply in anticipation of further  / long term future water shortages? 

             * If and when we've maxed our on conservation and recycling, only then should we be considering desalination -- and then only when we condition it to require sub-surface intake and 100% carbon neutrality.


    Ed Harris
    Ed Harris subscriber

    Thanks for pointing out that the SDTPA is nothing but a lobbying arm of SD big business.  They are like many other SD organizations that have catchy titles to fool those who do not pay attention. Look at the funding, follow the money. 


    Janet Shelton
    Janet Shelton subscriber

    If Mr. Gonzalez is correct, some water users are in for a rude surprise when the true cost of desal finally lands in their bill.  And this information was not disclosed by the media when this project was being discussed.  It was represented as a minor increase in the overall bill to attain water security. 

    Frank Landis
    Frank Landis subscriber

    Speaking as another environmentalist, I'm torn.  On the one hand, I agree that desalination water, especially powered by fossil fuels, is among the dirtiest water available.  It's probably even more expensive than the water that's pumped down from the San Joaquin Delta, over the Tehachapis, and through Los Angeles for our use, and certainly more expensive than the water pumped from the Colorado River.  And all that brine dumped back in the ocean probably causes some problems too, although I'm not clear on how far it goes before the salt is diluted back into the ocean.

    Unfortunately, that's not the whole story.  To put it bluntly, Southern California is a stupid place to put 20 million people.  It only works because we import water, power, food, people, landscapes, dreams, and technology.  It's at best meta-stable, and when the Big One earthquake hits, we're likely to lose our taps to the Delta and the Colorado River for months, along with all those food imports.


    If you read any history (and I recommend Fernand Braudel's famous "The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II"), you'll know that the Mediterranean (same climate we have) is littered with dead cities going back at least 5,000 years, and the living cities have all experienced droughts and famines that have decimated their populations.  Our climate, beautiful as it is, can be an unforgiving bitch sometimes.  We haven't been here long enough to feel the worst of it, but that failed "monster" El Nino from last winter should be the warning that we could easily be in the middle of a decade-long drought, like the one in the 19th Century.


    So that's where we are: we're wedded to a philosophy of growth at all costs in an environmental region that can't support such growth it on its own, and, like cities all the way back to ancient Ugarit from 1200 BC (or if you want a more recent example, try Rome, or Venice, or Genoa), we're dependent on imported food and supplies.  


    This is where, unfortunately, desalination plants come in.  Yes, they're horribly expensive and polluting, and we need to get Poseidon switched over to solar power ASAP.  On the other hand, when conditions get truly sucktastic, they provide water.  That turns out to be critical, and if you've been paying attention to the Middle East for the last ten years, you know this.  The examples are Syria and Israel (http://www.timesofisrael.com/lack-of-water-sparked-syrias-conflict-and-it-will-make-egypt-more-militant-too/).  One of the causes of the Syrian Civil War was a drought, coupled with a massive cutback in river water, coupled with unregulated tapping of groundwater.  When the cities started running out of water, that's when their civil war started.  It wasn't caused exclusively by water, but it was a major cause (see also http://www.pnas.org/content/112/11/3241.abstract).  


    Contrast Syria with Israel.  Israel has just as much trouble as Syria did, but they're not facing the same unrest, and one reason is that they manage their water much better.  They also have a bunch of desalination plants.  

    And that's the ultimate, nasty problem with desalination.  Politically, we're in a better place than Syria ever was.  The headwaters of the Colorado aren't in another country, and we're starting at long last to get a clue that we'd better manage our groundwater.  On the other hand, we've got the San Andreas waiting to do its thing, and climate change is pushing this region to be hotter and droughtier.  

    It's a tough situation to be an environmentalist in, but if you want to protect the native plants, animals, and environment that we have (and San Diego's the most diverse County in the US), then political stability is important.  Unfortunately, one of the strategies that seems to help with political stability is having access to water, even expensive water.  And that's where desalination appears to earn its keep.  That's why, very reluctantly, I've got to support it.  While I'm aware of the costs, I don't think that San Diego will keep its good environment if we get hit by an earthquake in the middle of the drought and we've got millions of desperate people trying to survive by any means possible.

    As for the pro-growth crowd, I'd really suggest you read some history, if you think this ideology ever turns out well in Mediterranean climates.

    William Charles
    William Charles

    1. Mr. Gonzalez has never cared about taxpayers... he sues the taxpayers constantly

    2. Its very bizarre that environmentalists are against a new and independent supply of water

    3. I'm tired of dead lawns and short showers... we have plenty of water in California, its the environmental lawyers who are restricting our ability to capture and store it.

    marco gonzalez
    marco gonzalez subscribermember

    @William Charles - it's true, I sue government agencies when they don't follow the law, and sometimes get paid out of taxpayer funds. However, if they weren't breaking the law, I'd never get paid, and the taxpayers deserve government that follows laws that are in place for a reason. And for the record, environmentalists aren't against a new and independent supply of water, we are against public-private partnerships that reek of corporate welfare and bad environmental decisionmaking. Those same funds spend on expensive Poseidon desal would be better spent educating users, converting landscape, and supporting development of additional water recycling.

    rhylton
    rhylton subscriber

    @William Charles Two days  ago, I made comment,  on KPBS, about the Charger's refusal to meet with the SDCTA; a group that promised an "independent" analysis of the stadium proposal. My objection was based on a recollection that SDCTA always seemed to be aligned with moneyed interests, and appears to have or to have chosen a name intended to give the opposite impression.


    With his opinion, Mr. Gonzales has confirmed my impression. 


    Unlike you, I believe that suing the City is often in  taxpayer's interests.

    Janet Shelton
    Janet Shelton subscriber

    It's interesting that so many people continue to insist that we can't deal with water problems by conservation.  This county just demonstrated that yes, we can greatly reduce usage.  And there is still plenty of room for improvement.  I walk early in the morning and it is a rare day that I don't find water running down the street.  I don't report these; I leave a nice note for the owners; sometimes they fix the problem and a lot of times they don't bother.  That's not even to mention the grass and other waterhog landscaping that dominates the area and continued going in during the drought.  

    One of the things that really bothered me about the 30 year deal is that technology changes a lot in 30 years.  We've signed up to be married to this company for that term, come what may.  Yes, it provides a secure source of water albeit at a high cost, but how is this deal going to be looking in 10 or 20 years.  It's not even looking good after the first year.

    lorisaldana
    lorisaldana subscriber

    @Janet Shelton  Thanks for alerting people to water leaks. Not everyone realizes when one occurs.




    Richard del Rio
    Richard del Rio subscriber

    "It’s the most expensive water available. This should be enough of a reason. Imported water costs less than half as much as desalinated water."   Yes, today it is relatively expensive due to the expense of building the infrastructure the costs to operate the plant. It is also a secure source that does not flinch when there are drought conditions or other future supply disruptions. Just as I purchase insurance for my house for an unlikely future event, or bonds for my retirement portfolio when stocks may be volatile, I support the idea of diversifying our water sources, including desalination, conservation and reclamation. 

    marco gonzalez
    marco gonzalez subscribermember

    @Richard del Rio - Environmentalists absolutely support the notion of diversifying our water supplies. However, like we do with energy, there should be a "loading order" policy that guides expenditures and project development. Only after maximizing conservation efforts, eliminating wasteful practices, and developing environmentally superior options (like potable reuse) should projects like the desalination plant be considered. And then, such projects should be government owned and operated and constructed to the highest environmental standards (i.e. sub-surface intake of seawater to minimize marine life mortality).

    Richard del Rio
    Richard del Rio subscriber

    @marco gonzalez @Richard del Rio The chances of the govt. funding, building and operating a desalination plant in a way that responds to a looming water crisis are quite remote. If, as many citizens  suspect, the lawsuits and environmental complaints will slow the process down regardless of the form of ownership, or the state of conservation and reclamation. I am in favor of prioritizing but we must move forward on all fronts simultaneously. The decision about open ocean sources of water and sub-surface water are site specific and are impacted by the scale of the project. There might be good reasons for choosing open ocean sources as desalination projects throughout the world indicate. I find your point of view to be an outstanding example of letting the perfect get in the way of the good and using a seemingly virtuous goal (minimizing impact of environment) to delay or prevent any project from going forward.

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    Mr. Gonzelez' views on the Poseiden issues aside, he helps raise a point often ignored by the media. This association is not a grassroots group aiming to protect the public from unreasonable use of taxpayer funds. It's a group of mostly conservative insiders and business interests working to feather their nests.

    Michael Robertson
    Michael Robertson subscribermember

    I'm sure astute readers understand what is happening here. The author Is an environmentalist which means he wants nothing ever built because anything humans build spoils nature.

    So he takes on the cloak of taxpayer protector only because in this instance he can use it to oppose desalination.

    His notion that "conservation is better" is unrealistic nonsense like proposing windmills. You can't fuel our modern economy and high living standards with conservation. 

    Ms Saldana is correct that diversification of our water supply is critical.

    If the author really cares about taxpayers then he should demand we get the government out of the water business. The govt is an inefficient and expensive operator. Water companies are crammed with expensive union workers with luxurious pensions. This is the component of the cost of water we can control not the physics of desalination or repurification.

    marco gonzalez
    marco gonzalez subscribermember

    @Michael Robertson - You obviously have no idea who I am and what I do. For most of my career as an "environmentalist" I have also represented developers of responsible projects throughout the County, from residential subdivisions to multi-family compounds, commercial centers, hotel expansions, marina expansion, etc. The "nothing ever built" accusation is a lame talking point rooted in your fantasy of us-versus-them society. And on the facts, conservation is better, and we've proven able to achieve it. Only because conservation success results in less revenue to the water districts are we seeing this roll back of watering restrictions and wise use education.

    Michael Robertson
    Michael Robertson subscribermember

    @marco gonzalez @Michael Robertson Your hyperbolic words indicate you are an enviro who routinely exaggerates human impact as you're doing with the desal plant. 


    As for conservation, it's really a toy - meaningless numbers and doesn't scale. Yeah we could all live like we're camping and then we'd be conserving and you'd be happy right? That's just crazy. I'm taking my long hot showers if I want. We have the means to move and make clean water and we should do it. 

    Michael Robertson
    Michael Robertson subscribermember

    @Janet Shelton @Michael Robertson @marco gonzalez I strongly encourage you to look at the numbers. The amount of water saved through shower heads is meaningless. It takes lots of water to live our modern lifestyle. I know it's politically correct to talk about not leaving the water on while brushing your teeth but the reality each San Diegans use lots of water and that's COMPLETELY OK! 


    There is no water shortage. It's completely manufactured by incompetent government management of resources. Nobody talks about broccoli shortage or gas shortage or anything else - ONLY WATER. Yes, the material that covers 70% of our planet. It's pure lunacy. 

    The free market is great at moving resources to where they are needed efficiently and timely. We should get the government out of the water business and turn it over to private industry. The cost of water would drop by 50% and people would stop telling others what kind of shower they can take. 

    Janet Shelton
    Janet Shelton subscriber

    @Michael Robertson @Janet Shelton @marco gonzalez  No, people choose to live "our modern lifestyle."  And bits do help when millions of people are using.  Personally, I choose not to live the modern lifestyle which has as its centerpiece waste of all resources.  Not that I don't waste some, but very little.  I have 2 acres and use much less than most people who have a small lot.  Conserving water and other resources does not cause me any personal pain. People could cut back in lots of ways without difficulty, but most really don't care how their behavior affects other people, animals, plants, watersheds, our state, our country.

    Michael Robertson
    Michael Robertson subscribermember

    @Janet Shelton @Michael Robertson @marco gonzalez You're free to live anyway you want of course - that's called freedom and it's awesome. If you choose to use a small amount of water that's your choice. 

    I'll reiterate you've been brainwashed to think there's a water shortage. Water is recycled by the earth. It just circulates between the sky, the ground and animals. Rinse and repeat. The religion of environmentalism is very strong. It has people like you thinking that if someone takes a long shower they are hurting everything on the planet. It's illogical and unfactual. Humans are incredibly ingenious. We move water where we need when we need it. It's why Phoenix and Abu Dhabi exist. Humans create life they don't destroy it. 

    lorisaldana
    lorisaldana subscriber

    The author asks: “Why would the Taxpayers Association support charging taxpayers for the most expensive water possible?”

    The simple answer (as I've often noted) is: Because in California, water runs up-hill, towards money. 


    Basically: The San Diego (Corporate) Taxpayer's Association is in favor of Poseidon's business model because they recognize it ensures water will continue running in the anticipated direction: towards our region. And since ratepayers will be providing the money- not the corporations SDCTA really represents- they are fine with these financial arrangements. 


    Frankly, anyone who thinks the SDCTA actually cares about individual taxpayers- or ratepayers- hasn’t reviewed their policy history and board membership. Look who they have on their board: representatives from the Building industry. Tourism industry. Healthcare industry. Realtors. Big oil. Utilities. Developers. Conservative political organizations...


    Why in the world would the author think these board members are concerned about what rates individuals are charged? 

    SDCTA’s constituency is corporations, not ratepayers.

    marco gonzalez
    marco gonzalez subscribermember

    @lorisaldana - I agree with your take on the Taxpayers Association, but the point of writing this OpEd was twofold. First, since there are a lot of San Diegans who look to SDCTA for guidance on tax issues, I wanted to spotlight the absurdity of the organization's name and purported role in light of this particular award and circumstance. Second, it's imperative that ratepayers in San Diego and other districts that don't typically buy treated water realize they are being fleeced by the County Water Authority. If Pure Water is to succeed financially, there must be equity in water rate allocation, simple as that.

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    I guess I missed Mr. Gonzalez’ explanation of the “..devastating environmental harm to marine life…” he claims.  Perhaps he can furnish more detail on that one.


    If you believe the advocates of zero population growth in San Diego county will be successful it is perhaps proper to be confident current supplies from other sources will be adequate.  My understanding is that Colorado River water is reaching it’s limit and other areas may have superior claims to what’s left in the future, so we could suffer a reduction of that availability.


    The Metropolitan Water District has already demonstrated it’s unreliability and it’s duplicity, so I’ll relax knowing there’s a new source, albeit expensive, that meets the area’s needs and is reliably available.


    Our lifetime governor has shown he's capable of sudden mandates based on his personal whim, not legislative action, so for the next couple of years that threat exists.  What if he suddenly decides the farmers are getting screwed and demands city folk tighten their belts further in order to save the California agricultural industry?  This is, after all, "Governor Moonbeam". 


    I share Mr. Gonzalez’ enthusiasm for recycling waste water including sewage, but it’s expense here has not been established and may prove higher than the generally optimistic projections we seem to get on every public project, and there are still major political hurdles to acceptance. 


    As for Gonzalez' concerns about increased greenhouse gasses, it seems to me recycling sewage will take new power just as desal does.  Maybe he can give us an analysis of the per acre foot cost by each method, including disposal of the sludge and fecal matter involved in "toilet to tap".


    All in all, I think the Carlsbad plant is a plus.It is additional water, not water that must be created by reduced consumption or recycling.The sooner we can achieve total independence in water, the better I’ll sleep.  

    lorisaldana
    lorisaldana subscriber

    @Bill Bradshaw  Good questions! FYI- I supported Poseidon while I was serving in the state legislature. I believed then- and now- that San Diego needs a diversified portfolio of water, from a variety of sources. Climate change, over exploitation of water supplies, population growth and many other factors will continue to make access to water more tenuous for our region- and more expensive.


    The author also writes: "The city of San Diego is drawing ever closer to approval of its Pure Water project that will result in tens of millions of gallons per day of raw sewage recycled for storage in a local reservoir for eventual treatment for potable uses."

    Fascinating. Please- provide details. How much will this facility and distribution system cost? Where will the facility be located? Who are the potential buyers of this water? What permits and regulations must be modified or updated for raw sewage to be treated and used in this way? And what are the timelines for its completion?

    marco gonzalez
    marco gonzalez subscribermember

    @lorisaldana - why don't you just cop to the fact that you sold out the environment when you voted in favor of this environmentally unjustifiable alternative? Just like you did by helping to tank the Bajagua project at the border because there wasn't really a sewage spill problem and a lot of better solutions were supposedly in the mix. How's that working out for the southbay?


    And don't throw out a bunch of questions just because you're too lazy to do the homework yourself. You were sitting at the table when we started the process that led to Pure Water 15 years ago, so don't pretend you're in the dark by calling this information "fascinating". The information is out there. https://www.sandiego.gov/sites/default/files/160210purewaterdrafteir.pdf


    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    @marco gonzalez @lorisaldana I don’t have any personal axe to grind with SDCTA, Poseidon, Mr Gonzalez or San Diego politicians on this subject.I’m just a retiree interested in water availability.I’m going to ignore his insulting comments to several other people who raised issues.I raised a few questions Mr. Gonzalez chose not to address, and I’m hoping for information, not a lecture on my motives, in response.


    The first was to question his basis for his claim of “…devastating impact on marine life…”.  I heard this claim several decades before when they were building the San Onofre nuclear plant.  Since I was an active surfer who frequently was a hundred yards or less from the place I expected to glow in the dark but it didn’t happen.  The waste cooling water also was supposed to “ruin the fishing”, and tales of Frankenfish abounded.  Particularly concerned were a bunch of surf fishermen who hung out nearby.  What actually happened is instructional:  Surf anglers were joined by offshore recreational anglers in small boats since the warm water outflow attracted more and larger fish!  And so it goes with some environmental scares. 


    My second question was on Gonzalez’ automatic assumption that recycled sewage would be far cheaper than desal.  Maybe, but I’d like to see his numbers on that one, including the source.  I’ve lived here for decades and honestly can’t recall a single public construction project that didn’t come in far above the initial projections, whether it was a stadium, convention center or lifeguard station.


    My last one was a challenge to give us dumb VOSD readers some specific information about the greenhouse gas production of recycling sewage vs. desal, if any is available.  


    Thanks in advance, Mr. G, for your help.  

    marco gonzalez
    marco gonzalez subscribermember

    @Bill Bradshaw - In a direct comparison to potable reuse and the Pure Water program, it takes almost 50 percent more energy to desalinate ocean water due to its high salt content. Similarly, desalination produces 46 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than water purification processes. The cost for pure water is estimated to be $1700-1900 per acrefoot - still expensive, but less than desalinated water and with the added benefit of reducing ocean discharges of treated sewage. These figures have all been derived as part of the analysis for the Pure Water project, and are discussed in the draft EIR available from my previous link, and on the City's website: https://www.sandiego.gov/water/purewater/purewatersd


    Regarding the negative marine life impacts of Carlsbad co-locating with a once-through-cooled power plant, the document I linked addresses the issue. Suffice it to say, we worked for decades to phase out these dinosaur plants due to their marine life impacts, and it makes no sense to continue the outdated technology just because there is a desal plant attached. And San Onofre impingement and entrainment impacts were indeed devastating, resulting in obligations to construct massive mitigation projects offshore and in coastal lagoons.

    lorisaldana
    lorisaldana subscriber

    Calmate Marco. It's unseemly to appear so sensitive when asked a question.


    It's true that I was "at the table" for the early stages of the project that is now called Pure Water- that was over 12 years ago. Much has changed.


    I was also on the binational board of the Border Environmental Cooperation Commission, which gave me a broader perspective on water issues along the US/MX border. That’s why I have doubts about this project- where is the funding coming from for all these miles of pipeline, additional pump stations etc?

    There’s only 1 site ID’d in the document you link to- the Post Office location. There are significant land use and geologic considerations that need to be addressed.

    There are no funding sources identified in this report. This is an environmental document- not a financial plan. Where/when can ratepayers review the financing proposals?

    As for past history: I acknowledged my support for Poseidon. It's a matter of public record.

    Still waiting for you to disclose how much you were paid Bajagua during your years of defending and promoting their absurd crossborder water pumping scheme.


    FWIW- Tijuana is using binational funding for many projects, and is now approaching zero-discharge and 100% reclamation. Perhaps San Diego could learn from their expertise re:Pure Water.

    marco gonzalez
    marco gonzalez subscribermember

    @lorisaldana - Seriously, the last thing I need is you telling me to calm down (or should I play for the public that voicemail you left me so long ago? Or have you forgotten?). 


    The Pure Water program will be expensive, no one has ever hidden that fact. However, City of San Diego and Metro JPA ratepayers have to balance the cost of potable recycled water against the potential cost of upgrading the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant to full secondary standards, both of which would cost billions of dollars (though the plant upgrade would not result in the added benefit of a drought proof supply of water). 


    Ultimately, the full financial implications of Pure Water will be developed after the Final EIR is completed and an alternative selected. Until relatively recently, we expected that San Vicente Reservoir would be the most appropriate location to discharge the advanced treated water. Now it appears that Miramar Reservoir provides a number of economic and environmental benefits. Once the final project is developed, the rate implications will be honed and disclosed. You've been involved in enough projects, you should know how the process works.


    And seriously, you're still claiming that TJ has its sewage spill problem under control? Maybe you weren't down at the beach just a couple of months ago: http://fox5sandiego.com/2016/05/07/sewage-runoff-closes-coronado-imperial-beach-shoreline/



    Give it a rest already, or get back in the game.

    lorisaldana
    lorisaldana subscriber

    @marco gonzalez 


    I'm claiming that Tijuana now reclaims and reuses more water than San Diego, and has done a better job to leverage federal funds from the USEPA Border Environmental Infrastructure Fund to achieve their goals and deal with reduced water allocations from the Colorado River. 


    As for sewage spills: they continue to happen on both sides of the border- see recent breaks in LA area. I don't know of any major city that avoids them.