Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Yuck Factor

  • I had mentioned earlier that the decisions about what we do to resolve the California Water Crisis will be controlled by Southern California. The thought behind this was the urban population of S. California will provide the most political power. This is reflected in the relatively strong weight given to So Cal in the selection of Assembly members for the "working group" on water issues.

There is yet another reason why the So Cal (specifically San Diego) situations will go a long way towards determining what happens. That has to do with the use of recycled water and is reflected in the title of this entry. Actually, the title is taken from the cover story in the current issue of High Country News.

For our consideration, there are two important things in this article. The first is the unique situation of San Diego with court imposed deadlines for improving waste water disposal practice coming up in 2008 and 2010. The other is the research being done on the effects of endocrine disruptors in the treated waste water all over the West.

San Diego is in a rather unique position.
It is a telling comment on the disjointed nature of much water management in the United States that San Diego has both a water-supply and a water-disposal problem. On the supply side, the city imports between 85 and 95 percent of its water from distant sources - specifically, from the Colorado River and the California State Water Project, which conveys water from Northern California to the state’s dry southern half.
The need to have water now and will continue to need increasing amounts of water over the coming years. When faced with drought, as we currently have and as is expected to continue under the current La Nina conditions and to worsen with the effects of global warming, San Diego must have water or it will die. Thence the political pressure and the reason that Nuñez appointed Assembly member Mary Salas (Chula Vista) to the working group on water legislation.

The real time constraint for San Diego comes on the waste water side.
For wastewater disposal, San Diego relies on a water-treatment plant at Point Loma whose technology is antiquated. It discharges effluent that does not meet Clean Water Act standards into the Pacific. San Diego has a waiver from the federal Environmental Protection Agency allowing it to dump that effluent, but the waiver expires in 2008. The cost of upgrading the Point Loma facility to meet EPA standards has been estimated at $1 billion, and the city has yet to make plans to raise that money.
They have a partial solution, two new treatment plants that produce non-potable water that can be reused in San Diego. They produce 37.5 million gallons per day. The cost is really in the distribution system, as to use his water they need a new piping infrastructure that can not be mistaken for tap water.

You might think t hat they could find a way to reuse the (Yuck) waste water by introducing it into the drinking water system in some manner. This is not politically acceptable. It has been tried before and it failed. Here, however, is the rub.
That, indeed, is one of the principal ironies here: Before it could even be used for reservoir augmentation, the water would be treated to a higher standard than what San Diegans are drinking now. Water discharged from the North City facility has already been shown to be at least as clean as water in some of the city’s reservoirs. If it were to be dedicated to potable reuse, it would be subjected to further intensive treatment, such as reverse osmosis, before being pumped to the reservoir.
What San Diego is drinking from the Colorado River is the waste water of Las Vegas, who dumps some 60 Billion Gal. of treated effluent per year into the Colorado.

If there is a real danger, it is from the organic chemicals that are not removed by even the best treatment processes. The effects have been studies in Boulder Creek, Boulder CO.
Hormones naturally work at very low levels; a human estrogen concentration as low as 1 part per trillion - so dilute that it’s near the lower limit of what monitoring equipment can detect - has been shown to affect fish. The effluent dumped into Boulder Creek typically contains from 1 to 10 parts per trillion of human estrogen.
That, according to the researchers quoted by HCN, is enough to accumulated effects in humans.

So, what is the true case for San Diego? The Union Tribune has it's opinion, it's a boondoggle. Not only that, they focus on the "cost" while ignoring the huge delivery infrastructure (purple pipe) for the greater use of recycled water. This is opinion, not news, so I guess that we can expect them to produce spin, not facts.
Dealing with this situation – through a court appeal, conservation, desalination, greater use of recycled water for irrigation (the city currently dumps thousands of acre-feet of recycled water into the ocean because of a lack of users) – demands a deliberate and comprehensive approach. Instead, Aguirre has penned a feverish memo to the mayor and City Council demanding an immediate moratorium on large developments in San Diego. This followed his urgent demand a week earlier for revival of the hugely costly and widely reviled toilet-to-tap boondoggle.
Right now, Greens in all part of this state should be demanding more from the media. This is especially true in So Cal where the Orange County Register and San Diego Union Tribune are compounding the problem.

Here is what I want to happen:

I want to see letters to the editors of the Union Tribune from San Diego County Greens that praise them for devoting so much ink to the Water Crisis and then takes them to task for not getting their facts right.

I want to see letters from Greens all over California to their own State Senators and Assembly members that:
  1. demands a sustainable solution to the water crisis;
  2. refuses to accept any cross delta conveyance (peripheral canal in disguise); and
  3. expresses a preference for the Perata proposal over that from Schwarzenegger.
If you don't know which district you live in, or your Senator or Assembly member's name, you can find them at the League of Women Voters web site.


Lisa said...

Okay, I just emailed my Assemblymember and State Senator, Karen Bass and Mark Ridley-Thomas.

Alex Walker said...

Question: Why should we agree to either Arnold or Perata's "Hurry Up" strategy?

I am uncomfortable with rushing yet another big bond issue onto the ballot for February on a question that has otherwise had so little public debate.

Don Perata is a crook, so some of his campaign donors must be expecting to make some money out of this deal. At the risk of sounding a bit like an old Republican, why does this Golden State always squandering so much money? I am not convinced these guys are really serious about conservation.

Wes, I know you've followed this issue closely. Please advise.

Wes said...

I might need to revise this. What I am saying is that, of the two proposals, Perata's in distinctly better, if only for the reason that it does not fund the conveyance and it does not fund any new dams. Both of these actions in Schwarzenegger's plan are distinctly 19th Century exploitation of the environment.

And, you are right about not being truly serious about conservation. They are truly serious about funding growth... economic and residential. That is where the money comes from for local politics and since Prop 13 where the money comes from for local government.