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Water Independence or Socio-Economic Disaster?

Front page article in the San Diego Union Tribune November 15, 2012, “Suit Could Threaten Supply”

Once again a judge has his thumb on the jugular vein supplying water to San Diego. Here is an idea. Instead of a judge and 25 attorneys attempting to band aid San Diego’s water supply, how about an elected public official and 25 engineers working to overcome public resistance to recycling sewage for reservoir augmentation? Lay definition: process the sewage to the same quality as Imperial Valley water and dump it in the San Vicente Reservoir to be treated as our water is now.

If Mother Nature doesn’t screw up SD’s water sources from hundreds of miles away, Judge Connelly might. We don’t have a water crisis, we have a backbone crisis. Will it cost more? Absolutely. San Diego’s socio-economic future is hanging in the balance. Water independence is within reach. All it takes is political courage to change the current misguided public water policies of the past. Quit studying and do it.

Setting aside the transfer of water from the Imperial Irrigation District, consider that San Diego is served by a 440 mile-long man-made river subject to land subsidence and earthquakes called the State Water Project. This project was originally sold to the public by then Governor Edmund G. Brown on the premise over pumping of the Central Valley would cease. Surprise, surprise that did not happen, and the Valley continues to subside. It is huge, as anyone who has traveled I-5 knows, and can be seen from space.

A typical section has a concrete-lined channel 40 feet wide at the base and an average water depth of about 30 feet. The widest section of the aqueduct is 110 feet and the deepest is 33 feet. Channel capacity is 13,000 cubic feet per second and the largest pumping plant capacity, Dos Amigos, is over 15,000 cubic feet per second. This system conveys fresh, salt-free water from the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers through the Delta near Sacramento to Los Angeles and San Diego, providing agricultural irrigation water along the way.

To give an idea of how much water 15,000 cfs is, it is equivalent to the flow of the Colorado River in a good wet year.

If the Sacramento-Joaquin levies liquefy and fail during an earthquake, salt water will invade the pump intakes and literally destroy the quality of the water going south. Seismologists have long been predicting such an event will happen.

But that is only part of the story. Two other factors weigh heavily into whether or not this desert city called San Diego that gets at best eleven inches of rain a year can survive. They are a protracted drought and as noted above the political consequences an army of lawyers, plus a judge have on our tenuous water supply coming from the Colorado River, also hundreds of miles distant.

Chicken Little and the sky-is-falling? I think not. San Diego could return to near 18,000 residents of 112 years ago when, not if, our imported water dries up, and we have not funded and built for water independence. Think about it—our first imported water facility was built only 65 years ago by the Navy. Growth was fueled by cheap water.

Desalination plants to use our nearby ocean? Not likely. The energy cost is enormous. And what to do with the resulting brine? Remove the salt, okay. But what to do with all of the waste salt? Dump it back into the ocean? Not a chance. It has taken well over a decade to put down all of the environmental lawsuits in an attempt to get the Carlsbad plant even started construction, and that serves at best 143,000 people—a literal drop in the bucket.

Bottom line? Recycle our sewage for reservoir augmentation. Pipe the effluent to the San Vicente Reservoir, mixing it with run-off water and whatever we can salvage from the Colorado River, retreat it to drinking water standards and run it through the system again. Carlsbad does 50 million gallons per day. Recycling could be as much as 240 million gallons per day. Make sense? I think so, but it will require an increase in the cost of water to San Diego residents. The decision for those charged with setting and implementing San Diego water policy is not hard to articulate—water independence or socio-economic disaster. Which will it be?