When life gives you salt water, make subsidies

Posted on | November 12, 2009 | 1 Comment

CalvinHobbesSubsidizeMeModified625x468THIS week, the board of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California voted a hefty public subsidy for the Poseidon Group, a private company proposing a desalination plant in Carlsbad, CA, near San Diego. To this, Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute in Oakland, CA, has a two-part response in the San Francisco Chronicle. For part one, click here, for yesterday’s part two here.

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One Response to “When life gives you salt water, make subsidies”

  1. Steve Bilson
    November 22nd, 2009 @ 8:52 am

    I’ve closely followed the water saga the 20 years. In that time, there have been numerous mega water bonds yet the water situation just keeps getting geometrically worse. The reason is because nobody enforces the many water conservation and reuse laws, rules, and supposedly binding agreements on the Southlands. POWER is doing that right now.

    Those laws, rules, and agreements collectively are the federal “Beneficial Use” requirement that the feds routinely impose on northern California farmers. This clause is supposed to require everyone using federal water to use it wisely. But the cities, all of which use federal water, simply ignore it. They talk about water conservation and reuse, and they spend a lot of ratepayer money talking about it, but they don’t just do it.

    POWER has been involved in offering a plethora of private water conservation and reuse solutions and, all things considered, has gotten nowhere, despite that these solutions have consistently been proven to be cost effective compared to other means available to the southlands. Better yet, these methods – greywater irrigation, drip irrigation, plant selection, to name a few – are more environmentally friendly than what the cities are choosing to spend their ratepayer’s money on.

    For example, greywater irrigation, which takes showers, tubs, and laundry water, filters it, then uses it for watering the home’s landscape via drip irrigation, was determined by the State Water Resources Control Board in Sacramento to be the most cost effective new water supply in the state. (Let’s call it “Residential Water Reuse”, first coined by UCLA architecture and urban planning professor Murry Milne about 1977, the same year I graduated from college, because that sounds better.) These systems save the water districts money. But how many southland water districts offer financial incentives (which actually just return the districts’ windfall profits) to people who install such systems? None.

    City and water district staffs take the position that because greywater irrigation systems are not publicly owned and operated, then they must be second rate. But in the case of Residential Water Reuse, again according to the State Water Resources Control Board, these privately owned systems render more financial and environmental benefits than any public wastewater recycling project ever built. Residential Water Reuse is actually first rate.

    Residential Water Reuse reuses up to half the wastewater from inside the home or other types of residential buildings. They don’t use toilet or kitchen wastewater, so it starts out fairly clean. Then, a filter removes the hair and lint and other objects that could clog up the drip system. Then, the system distributes that water via valves and into tubing and then into drip emitters, for slow release right where the plants need it. It’s extremely efficient. By keeping that water out of the sewer, you save a fortune. By using that watetr underground in drip irrigation, you increase efficiency at least 30%. This also stops run-off pollution, the leading cause of water pollution on the California coast.

    For a small fraction of the price of building a sewer treatment and recycling plant, or a desal plant, you get half the water reused and used extremely efficiently.

    And, you don’t have the “end-of-pipe” problems that sewage plants or desal plants create. A huge US EPA study from the 90s discusses the tremendous problems associated with centralized sewer systems. These problems are usually forgotten until long after the sewer plant is built, when fish and other sea animals around its outfall pipe start mutating and dying. That’s also when the NRDCs and Surfriders of the world usually start litigating.

    There are billions of dollars at issue each year with water and wastewater, and there’s a lot of good that can come from the right choices. A 2001 study showed, if the money then being spent on water bonds was spent on residential water reuse instead, the difference could balance the then $8 billion state deficit. All the studies show that the least expensive solution is Residential Water Reuse and the most environmental benefits come from Residential Water Reuse. Yet, all the money flows to pork projects that prop up the status quo of water-wasting sprinklers on ever more lawns that pour pollution onto our beaches. Desal is the ultimate dirty pork.

    If people stopped whining about desal and helped fund Protect Our Water and Environmental Rights’ 6-year legal battle against the MWD, SDCWA, CVWD, and IID, which seeks to make conservation the standard, not just another option that will disappear once enough desal plants get built, then there’s hope. We go to trial in January and could use some help right now.

    Steve Bilson
    Founding Member
    Protect Our Water and Environmental Rights
    cell (805) 624-0533

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