have to be able to tolerate lot of cognitive dissonance to be
in the water business in Southern California. Either that, or
a great deal of ignorance combined with that awesome human power
known as denial.
All were in bloom in San Diego
at recent public hearings addressing the problem of confronting
the region's increasing water demand in the face of decreasing
water quality and supply.
When does use become abuse?
When the users don't want to face to consequences of their habits.
The City of San Diego is attempting to face the consequences
of our habits in its plans to reprocess treated sewage effluent
into drinking water. There is no better proof that we must have
really reached the bottom of the well than that they are selling
The natural freshwater systems
upon which we all rely in the southwest are tapped out. Both
of the main watershed systems that supply 90% of our water -
the Sacramento/San Francisco Bay/Delta (the Sierras) and the
Colorado river systems - are in critical condition. We simply
cannot continue to draw so much water out of our watersheds that
it threatens their health and vitality. No matter what your special
interest or profit center, anyone can see the bankruptcy of this
Californians don't like limits.
The human species in general resists change. These two human
factors are colliding with the limits of freshwater supplies
in the southwestern United States. Our demand for water will
easily outstrip the ability for the watersheds to supply.
But, like an addict that hasn't
hit bottom, San Diego's water brokers are still asking for more.
This was the list presented
by the County Water Authority to the State water planning process
known as CALFED:
- Must give us more water
- Must give us more reliability and regulatory
certainty [this really means more water]
- Must improve ability to convey water and
facilitate water transfers [yet another way of asking for more
- Improve water quality [more water would help
with this too]
- Comprehensive ecosystem restoration to support
water quality for all beneficial uses.
[Well, at least the "e" word made the list, if at number
5, at least it wasn't last. Unfortunately, about the only way
to accomplish this is to actually leave some water in the system.]
- Make it affordable. [Note - this is not to
be equated with suggesting that water system pricing should be
deregulated or existing subsidies reduced.]
do you do when what someone demands is bad for them? What do
you do when the demand exceeds the capacity of the systems to
supply it - and there's nothing left in the system to give?
In our existing economic system,
which doesn't account for environmental damage and restoration,
the system crashes and starts to die. The evidence for this is
the increasing lists of endangered, threatened and extinct species,
increasing concentrations of pollutants and toxins, lower water
quality and increasing salt water intrusions into the system.
What can be done? Toilet to
tap may be the right technical answer. But the psychological
impacts of that has people reeling. The yuck factor is real.
As State Senator Steve Peace repeatedly stated, "It doesn't
matter how great the idea or the technology behind it, if you
can't market it to people, it's going to be a loser." Call
it demand management politics.
The fact is that San Diego
is downstream from almost 200 different municipal and industrial
discharges going into its current water supply - including the
entire treated sewage effluent from the City of Las Vegas. People
should be demanding that advanced treatment technologies be used
to treat the water already incoming to our taps.
Many water treatment technologies produce a cleaner product than
the standard San Diego tap delivers.
The most effective - and,
I might add, least expensive way to craft a sound solution is
1. Require sufficient freshwater flows to the supplying ecosystems
first. This is critical to protecting the health of all Californians
who rely on this as a portion of their water supply. The water
politicians, regulators and brokers need to establish, with unbiased
scientific and biologic data, the minimum flows required to keep
the natural systems healthy - and not to entertain a demand that
will kill those systems.
2. Require and maximize conservation on farms and in cities.
When we establish effective and performance-based standards for
users, conservation goals are advanced. When we maximize conservation,
we avoid building new, expensive and damaging facilities. And
it's fruitless to build new facilities when the water isn't there
or the water isn't clean.
3. Protect the watersheds and reduce pollutant discharges into
As San Diego Council member
Judy McCarty stated, "I'd rather drink water treated through
reverse osmosis that Colorado River water any day." Anyone
who's been to the Colorado River would as well. Many San Diegans
already pay an equivalent of $60,000 per acre foot for drinking
water via local stores. As in Mexico, the local market for filters
is bound to grow. One entrepreneur came to Howard Wayne's toilet-to-tap
hearing to pass out literature on home water filters.
We all need clean water. The
question is - will that commonality be used to unite or to divide
people? Will we compete for water or share it? Will we support
leaders smart enough to lead us in sufficiently protecting the
systems upon which we all depend?
The only way that we thirsty
southern Californians, and SoCal wanna-bes, will develop alternatives
and deal with our problems of unsustainable growth will be to
protect the underlying systems. Without that, we will suck the
systems dry. We must confront the limits directly. Only in this
way, will our leaders be able to resist our demands for unsustainable
practices and be compelled to develop creative, local alternatives.