GrokSurf's San Diego

Local observations on water, environment, technology, law & politics

Where’s the public outreach for San Diego’s IPR project?

Posted by George J Janczyn on August 9, 2010

[Revised. Please note the correction at bottom]

On January 26, 2010 the San Diego City Council approved an agreement with RMC Water and Environment to perform project management and public outreach for the Water Purification Demonstration Project (IPR project). Of the $3,281,353 approved for the entire contract, $1,499,611 was specified for the public outreach and education program.

More than six months later, on July 27 the City Council approved a contract to build the advanced treatment facility for the project. During discussion before the vote it emerged that numerous meetings have been held with key stakeholders on the development of the outreach program, that a speakers bureau was being set up, that public tours of the facility will be available, and that a website redesign is in the works.

That news surprised and disappointed me, because until that meeting I hadn’t heard a whisper about the outreach program, much less been asked for input — even though I had asked in January to be placed on a mailing list for people interested in being informed and possibly participating in the outreach program. And all this time I’d been assuming Mayor Sanders was dragging his feet on processing the contract since he doesn’t care much for the project.

Okay, so I’m just a cranky blogger, who cares what I think? But shouldn’t a respected organization and IPR stakeholder like San Diego Coastkeeper be consulted for ideas about how to conduct the outreach program? I checked and was told they have not been asked for input either. who has no idea who all those stakeholders the city consulted with are.

Meanwhile, there’s been plenty of discussion about IPR in the local news media, in blogs, on Twitter, in coffeeshops, in neighborhood planning groups, and certainly in official settings. Those conversations could have benefited from authoritative moderation that an outreach program would presumably perform.

So, the outreach program seems to be both closely guarded and slow to implement.

Maybe the Water Department thinks it would be treading forbidden waters by involving people who support IPR because the outreach program is barred from being promotional?

That may or may not explain the remote manner in which the outreach program seems to be developing, but San Diego has another organizational impediment. Most of the water agencies in the county have boards and committees composed of water experts managing things in public but in San Diego the City Councilmembers, rather than water managers, make the city’s water policies and they are distracted by unrelated city business. That makes for a reclusive and defensive water department and a confusing and politically charged information environment for the public.

In this particular case, though, I hope the IPR project planners will work around the obstacles and quickly open a dialogue with the public. They must not neglect the ‘outreach’ in the public outreach and education program.

Correction: regarding my statement (crossed out above) that San Diego Coastkeeper had not been asked for input, I’ve learned that’s not true. I had based that assertion on a casual conversation I had in passing with a staffer who was apparently unaware of higher level contact that had been made. Before writing what I did, I really should have double-checked with Bruce Reznik, Coastkeeper’s Executive Director.

Also, as Burt Freeman mentioned in his comment below, an IPR presentation was given for the Tierrasanta Community Council and it was conducted by the City’s IPR outreach and education program, so in fact the outreach program is getting underway.

I would like to apologize to the San Diego Water Department as well as San Diego Coastkeeper for my incorrect and misleading statement. I alone am fully to blame and I pledge to be much more careful in the future.


3 Responses to “Where’s the public outreach for San Diego’s IPR project?”

  1. Burt Freeman said

    Well, at its last monthly meeting the Tierrasanta Community Council welcomed a presentation by the city Utilities Department on IPR (very well done, too). A fact sheet was available and distributed. Some good discussion followed.

    I’m sure that there will be more. My understanding is that there presentations are to be strictly a recounting of what is currently known; after all, the Demonstration Project aims to establish a more comprehensive basis. If, on the other hand, these turn out to be a promotional effort, I’m sure it will be counterproductive. We need a sound, technical discussion based on best engineering information.

    • Interesting to hear about Tierrasanta. Do you know if the Community Council there requested an IPR presentation, or was it offered to the group as part of the official outreach program?

      On your other point, I completely agree. The more people know about it the better.

  2. Burt Freeman said

    I just checked with Scott Hasson, president of Tierrasanta Community Council re your question. The Utilities Department volunteered; Amy Dorman and Cathy Peironi made the presentation.

    Incidentally, I talked with one of the authors of the Equinox report. We agreed that the cost of NC-3, based on the 2006 Water Reuse Report, is now best and most expertly estimated to be ~$1800/AF in 2010 dollars. Whether the Demonstration Project will estimate more or less remains to be seen.

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