Environment Report: Pipeline Plan Takes a Small Step Forward (With Some Drama)

Science/Environment

Environment Report: Pipeline Plan Takes a Small Step Forward (With Some Drama)

A little battle is brewing between nations for sewage, the new public energy player hired a top officer and more in our biweekly roundup of environmental news.

A meeting of the San Diego County Water Authority. / Photo by Sam Hodgson

Things got a little wild at the San Diego County Water Authority meeting last week when its 36 directors argued over whether they should spend more money studying a controversial $5 billion pipeline to the Colorado River.

Outrage after leaders apparently skipped over female directors waiting to add comments during a discussion period sparked some to change their vote on the matter.

“There are three women on the line that are left, and they probably should have been given an opportunity to speak,” said Joe Mosca, a director who represents the San Dieguito Water District.

He initially voted to end discussion and move onto the final vote, but changed his mind at the last minute. His comments also spurred vote changes from several of San Diego’s directors.

Others complained that the exact language of what they were voting on wasn’t clear to the public watching the meeting online.

The new chair, Gary Croucher, who represents the Otay Water District, pushed directors to vote anyway. “You may the not agree with it and you have [the] ability to vote no,” Croucher said.

Further study of the pipeline project — to the tune of $1.7 million — moved forward by a razor-thin margin.

That additional money will pay for more forecasting from consultants who are trying to predict how much the L.A.-based Metropolitan Water Authority might charge San Diego in the future to transport Colorado River water here. It also pays for staff to forge partnerships with groups interested in the project and begin some technical analysis of the kind of tunneling and placement a future pipe might need.

Who carried this step of the project to victory? Curiously, it was San Diego, which gets 10 directors and about 40 percent of the vote because the city represents the largest ratepayer base of any member agency. The other member cities have just one or two directors.

The vote by hard numbers would have failed without the weighting system because 20 directors voted no and just 14 voted yes. But just one San Diego representative’s vote tipped the scale.

Why is that curious? San Diego’s financial officers told the Water Authority last week they wouldn’t empty their pockets for the pipeline. That’s mostly because the city is already spending $3.5 billion to build a wastewater recycling project called Pure Water.

Despite a clear signal that San Diego’s budget managers weren’t that interested in the new pipeline, six of its Water Authority appointees voted in favor of continuing the project. They include directors Jimmy Ayala, Jerry Butkiewicz, David Cherashore, Lois Fong-Sakai, Tony Heinrichs and Jim Maddafer, the former Water Authority chair.

Cherashore, a local hotel mogul, said the Water Authority has a “fiduciary duty” to further explore the pipeline and its costs. Two separate economists have already looked at the problem with polarized opinions, however.

The city’s other directors, Councilman Chris Cate, Elsa Saxod, Fern Steiner, assistant chief operating officer Almis Udrys, all voted against it.

“If I already know that the agency I represent can’t commit funding for this project, how do I engage potential partners and how do I expect them to respond?” Udrys asked.

But future votes may go another way, depending on who Mayor-elect Todd Gloria decides to appoint. (The City Council still has to approve his appointees.)

Heinrichs and Cherashore (who both OK’d the further study of the project) will finish their six-year board terms next year.

Now That Money’s Available, Nations Want Sewage

ICYMI, there’s an interesting little battle between nations for the sewage from the Tijuana River.

Two forces, one from each nation, want to recycle it into irrigation or even drinkable water instead of sending it to the Pacific Ocean (which is what happens now).

They have their sights set on the $300 million that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set aside to fix the decades-old problem but has yet to dedicate to specific improvements.

Milkweed Isn’t Poisonous

An article in the Union-Tribune claimed that the sap of a milkweed, the staple in a Monarch butterfly’s diet, is “toxic to (human) skin and eyes.”

“All parts of the plant are poisonous if ingested. Protection is needed when planting and pruning,” wrote Chris McDonald, a natural resources adviser for the University of California Cooperative Extension, and Francie Murphy from the San Diego County Master Gardener’s club.

That’s dangerously unspecific.

As a Midwesterner who grew up among prairies filled with milkweed, I balked at such fearmongering. The article seems to blanket all milkweed as killer, but that’s just not true.

“The milky sap is not dangerous to the touch and is a plant adaptation to trap small insects that are feeding on the plant itself,” said my friend Ben Hoksch, a Monarch researcher and wild food instructor in Ames, Iowa. He was talking about the common milkweed that is well-known in the parts of the Midwest, where Monarchs travel to lay eggs.

The authors could be referring to tropical milkweed, but that’s not native to San Diego and contributes to Monarch disease, Hoksch said.

“Plant native California milkweed instead,” he said.

Hoksch has been eating common milkweed (and a lot of other weird stuff) for over a decade.

Here’s a milkweed recipe for you via Hoksch:

Harvest common milkweed seed pods. (Don’t worry about harming the plant. They are perennial and spread mostly by roots.)

When they are tender and about two inches in length. Split the pods open and remove the interior (young seeds and silk). Sauté this with spices you prefer. Mix this with a soft cheese (goat is my favorite) and fresh herbs (maybe sage and chives).

Stuff the mixture back into the pods and place on a baking sheet. Drizzle the pods with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, black pepper, and coarse sea salt and bake at 400 degrees, stirring once, until starting to brown.

Remove from the pan and mix this with more soft cheese. Then try not to eat them all.”

In Other News

  • San Diego Community Power hired Cody Hooven, the mastermind of the new energy-buying entity, as the public power agency’s chief operating officer last week.
  • Here’s a weird article about a state-led effort (partnering with the San Diego Zoo Global) to locate and rescue the last remaining, sexually active southwestern pond turtles in the San Gabriel mountains.
  • My dudes, this is most dope: UC San Diego engineers are sending soil to space to better understand how gravity plays a role in deadly mudslides typically spurred by heavy rains after land scorched by wildfires.

Correction: An earlier version of this post misidentified Joe Mosca.

What do you think?
Loading