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Environment Report: In Rush to Build Homes, Don’t Forget About Water

A fish hatchery in Carlsbad isn't replenishing the ocean as hoped, officials make the case against offshore drilling and more in our biweekly roundup of environmental news.

The Village of Escaya, a housing development in Chula Vista. / Photo by Ry Rivard

California and Arizona both have laws meant to ensure new housing developments have enough water.

In California, major new developments with more than 500 units must prove they have access to enough water for at least 20 years. Most water agencies, including the San Diego County Water Authority, have water already set aside for population growth, so this is usually a pretty simple thing to do.

For San Diego, the state’s rules haven’t been a major problem, largely because per capita water use has generally fallen for the past three decades. In 2016, amid emergency drought restrictions imposed by Gov. Jerry Brown, we used about a third less water than we did in 1990, even though we have a third more people. (The one exception was a legal dispute created by a poorly written water plan that made it look on paper like a new development proposed near San Marcos wouldn’t have enough water.)

Still, if the drought returns, water agency projections may not be able to keep up, and as pressure increases to build homes to “solve” the housing crisis, there could be renewed attention on these water rules.

In Arizona, new subdivisions in certain areas — including all the state’s biggest cities — must prove they have enough water for 100 years. Lately, there’s been talk of reducing that time frame, but there’s also some concern that new businesses may be scared away.

Arizona is also beginning to consider some unconventional ideas to secure its water supply, including an ocean water desalination plant. If you’re trying to remember which part of Arizona touches the ocean, you get an idea of how unconventional their idea is. The landlocked state would help fund a desalination plant, perhaps in Mexico. In that scenario, Mexico would keep the desalinated water but cut back on how much of the Colorado River it takes and turn that river water over to Arizona.

Surviving and Breeding

A recent report on efforts in Carlsbad to breed white seabass to replenish the ocean with fish documented a few problems with the program.

I highlighted some of the big points in a recent story, but here are two other findings I didn’t mention: One is that hatchery fish, for whatever reason, were far less likely to survive in the wild than wild fish.

The study compared wild and hatchery fish of the same size to see how many would become big enough to be legally caught by a recreational angler. The hatchery fish, according to the study, had less than 2 percent chance of getting big enough to be caught. A wild fish had a 12 percent chance of reaching the legal size.

I also touched on some of the genetic problems that hatchery fish could pose to the wild population, focusing on one in particular. The report mentions three: “loss of diversity within populations, loss of diversity among populations, and loss of fitness.”

None of those things happen if the hatchery fish aren’t surviving to mate with wild fish.

Lobbying Against Offshore Drilling in D.C.

Last week, Councilwoman Lorie Zapf went to D.C. to talk about the city’s opposition to offshore drilling. Along for the trip was Len Hering, a retired rear admiral, who expressed some of the military’s concerns.

Hering said he hopes the Department of the Interior will hold more public meetings in California — not just the recent one in Sacramento, which isn’t even a coastal city that would be directly affected by drilling. He also hopes that Reps. Duncan Hunter and Darrell Issa come out in vocal opposition to offshore drilling.

The Navy and Marines are concerned that offshore drilling could interfere with their training and operations, endangering national security. Hering also echoed other defense officials when he questioned the urgency of drilling. If it’s pumped now, it won’t be around later.

“Pumping it all out of the ground is not a strategically smart thing to do,” he said.

Several of these points were also expressed in an op-ed last week written by Imperial Beach City Councilman Mark West.

In Other News

Jerry Brown has one last shot at a plan to expand the western grid. He suggests the move will help California export its renewable energy to other states. His critics, including several major environmental groups, worry that the opposite will happen and that California will end up importing dirtier fuel from states that rely more on coal and natural gas-fired power. That concern goes hand-in-hand with worries that California‘s plan would hand more power over to the federal government, which is currently run by fossil fuel proponents. The Union-Tribune has been trying to keep track of where San Diego lawmakers stand on the proposal.

The head of Sempra Energy, the parent company of San Diego Gas & Electric, is retiring.

A local lawsuit against the federal government for cross-border sewage spills has been filed.

From the Actual Environment

Earlier this month, I went hiking near Ramona. For a while, I was on a pretty unexceptional hill near a pretty unexceptional subdivision. But once I got high enough, things started to come into view.

Suddenly, I could see peaks rolling in and out of clouds, rain brushing here and there, and the back of the El Capitan Reservoir in the distance. The sound of aircraft behind the clouds mixed with the sound of birds off the ground. Then the sun broke through a final time and the hike became one of the best I’ve done in San Diego.

The view from a hiking trail near Ramona. / Photo by Ry Rivard

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