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Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

San Diego lags on smart water policy

Posted by George J Janczyn on May 16, 2010

Even though the rainy season was a good one for California, it really doesn’t change San Diego’s supply picture or our near-complete reliance on water imported from hundreds of miles away through pipelines and canals. It’s good that San Diego’s residents are becoming increasingly aware of the precarious position we’re in and have responded positively, although sometimes relatively small accomplishments are overblown with hyperbole and politics. We’ll briefly look at that and then I have a few suggestions for what should come next.

941 two-bedroom market-style apartments under construction a few years ago near Naval Station San Diego

The San Diego City Council recently approved an ordinance that requires new apartment developments to have a separate water meter for each unit. Councilmember Marti Emerald’s press release calls the initiative “cutting edge” and boasts that San Diego is “setting the standard for water conservation in our region and the rest of the state.”

I wonder if she knows that Santa Monica passed a similar ordinance ten years ago. Anyway, the new measure only applies to new apartment construction, not existing structures, and even with new construction, high-rise apartment buildings are exempt from the submetering requirement.

Meanwhile, Councilmember Donna Frye worries that with mostly good news about the state’s water reserves, San Diegans will quickly revert to more wasteful ways, so she wants to make San Diego’s water restrictions permanent. The San Diego Water Department and Mayor Sanders are opposed to that idea, though, partly because the city’s policy would be at odds with the policies of the other county water agencies where the restrictions are temporary, which would lead city residents to complain about being singled out.

The San Diego Union-Tribune jumped on Frye’s bandwagon saying:

“San Diego County has two main sources of water, the Colorado River and Northern California. Supplies from the Colorado are not likely to increase much in coming years. Our water future lies in Northern California, more storage capacity, more desalination plants and conservation…. Voters in Northern California will have to be convinced that residents of Southern California are doing everything we can to conserve…”

[i.e., in order to garner northerners’ support for the $11.1 billion state water bond to finance local and regional water projects]

First, Colorado supplies “not likely to increase much” is a bit off the mark: the truth is that we were taking more Colorado River water than we had rights to and we can’t do that anymore (it belongs to Arizona and Nevada). If anything, we can expect even more reductions from the Colorado. Plus, take a look at this chart showing the river’s supply vs. demand:

Contrary to conventional wisdom, it is increased demand causing our shortages, not drought.

Second, implying that we’ll take even more water from Northern California (and suggesting we should keep conserving in order to counter objections from the north) is hardly the message we want to be sending. The signal we should send is that we’re well aware we shouldn’t be taking more than we already are, although we do need to do something to defend against a catastrophic cutoff of the existing flow due to delta levee failures from an earthquake and/or salt water intrusion from rising sea levels.

The editorial correctly observes that storage capacity, desalination, and conservation are important and indeed, we’re making progress there: we’re more than doubling the capacity of San Vicente Reservoir, the Poseidon Desalination project is proceeding, and we’re doing a fair job of conserving water and should definitely go on conserving.

That brings us to two things we hear very little about.

1. Water pricing to reward conservation and penalize waste. San Diego ought to enact a water rate structure modeled after the one used at the Irvine Ranch Water District. Their rate structure defines a typical household’s size and water needs with a water budget. Price tiers are: low-volume, base rate, inefficient, excessive, and wasteful. Prices are graduated to penalize use above the estimated household need. There’s flexibility, too. If one’s household holds more people than average and requires more water than the standard model provides, one can apply for a variance to accommodate the extra need and avoid being penalized.

For some reason, this idea of water budgets with pricing incentives has been resisted by city officials and unless we put some pressure on, they’re likely to continue avoiding the issue.

2. Indirect Potable Reuse (IPR). In my opinion, IPR has the potential to provide San Diego with a tremendous amount of “new” water, although at present it is only being contemplated as supplying a small fraction of our water needs. San Diego is currently setting up a study to determine whether IPR can be used to augment our water supplies.

IPR is usually defined as the augmentation of a drinking water source (surface water or groundwater) with recycled water, followed by an environmental buffer that precedes normal drinking water treatment.

Alvarado Water Treatment Plant at Lake Murray

In San Diego’s IPR study (also referred to as Reservoir Augmentation Demonstration Project), basically it is to determine the feasibility of taking recycled water and purifying it with highly advanced treatment. This treated water would then be blended with raw water coming in from the Colorado River and Northern California and stored at San Vicente Reservoir to age for a specified period of time. Incidentally, the purified recycled water would actually be of better quality than the imported raw water in which it is blended! Next, as is done now with imported raw water in San Vicente, the blended water would eventually go for drinking water treatment at a plant such as the Alvarado Water Treatment Plant at Lake Murray.

During the IPR study, 1 million gallons per day (MGD) will be produced. If the study proves IPR is feasible and if the city council and mayor ultimately approve an IPR reservoir augmentation plan, 16 MGD would be produced, according to Eric Symons, Public Information Officer from the San Diego Water Department.

How much water is that? Consider that irrigating Balboa Park requires around 1.5 million gallons per day.

Personally, I think even 16 MGD is too modest a goal. We should be thinking at least 50 MGD…for starters. Over the long term, IPR opens the possibility to very significant amounts of water, limited only by how much we use in the first place!

Unfortunately, there is a public perception problem. Some people have taken to using the terms “Toilet-To-Tap” or “Purified Sewage” to refer to water produced through the Indirect Potable Reuse (IPR) process. These not only sound disparaging, they also obscure the extra processes which IPR represents.

To summarize: wastewater (or sewage) is treated to tertiary recycled water standards. IPR then puts that tertiary water through advanced treatment for purification and disinfection.

A 2007 city study found that IPR water quality was equal to or better than the imported raw water stored in our reservoirs. That water then goes to a potable water treatment plant like Alvarado.

Still, the public perception problem is only that: perception. Consider: Las Vegas and other communities along the Colorado River empty their treated wastewater into the river (one of our imported sources), so it would be correct to say that we’re now doing unintentional or unplanned indirect potable reuse — without the benefit of additional treatment. The planned indirect potable reuse program being studied gives water more treatment and more rigorous quality control than our current water gets. If you look at it that way, it’s actually strange that people would react so negatively to the idea of planned IPR to augment our supplies.

So, how about some support, Councilmembers Frye and Emerald? With a smart water pricing policy and expansion of the reservoir augmentation program beyond 16 MGD, we might just offset the effects of reduced deliveries of imported water.

Posted in Indirect potable reuse, Politics, Water, Water conservation | Tagged: , | 5 Comments »

I’ll take purified recycled water, thank you

Posted by George J Janczyn on April 26, 2010

What should we call it? Toilet-to-tap? Purified sewage? Purified recycled water? I think it depends on whether you’re feeling disdain, hold-your-nose neutrality, or support.

“It” is Indirect Potable Reuse, or IPR, a process of purifying wastewater to the point where it’s at least as clean as the raw water that the city imports before it’s treated further for drinking.

I’m a supporter.

On Saturday I had a disagreement on twitter with Rob Davis, a reporter from Voice of San Diego. I suggested that his use of the term “purified sewage” makes it sound nearly as bad as “toilet-to-tap” used by opponents. I said sewage sounds too much like shit. He replied (it is shit. proponents need to embrace that fact; otherwise it seems like they’re trying to hide a basic fact.). Well yes, it’s a component of wastewater but why emphasize it? We never did settle that disagreement, and I lost the Voice of San Diego’s CEO from my twitter follower list after that.

The next day, Rob posted an item entitled”Guide to Purified Sewage” on Voice of San Diego. It’s a Q&A that describes Indirect Potable Reuse “in a nutshell”. Here’s a snippet:

The chatty Q&A is spruced up by the liberal use of the word “sewage” (40 times altogether, no doubt to help us “embrace that fact”).

[June 16: Sadly, almost two months later, the Voice of San Diego continues to use “recycled sewage” when talking about the IPR process]

Here’s how I would describe the process in a nutshell without rubbing your nose in sewage:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Indirect potable reuse, Politics, Water | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

A Peripheral Canal

Posted by George J Janczyn on April 23, 2010

I was saving a comment about a possible Peripheral Canal to post here at an appropriate time and today I saw two interesting perspectives on it, one from On the Public Record and the article it references from the LA Daily News. They make some good points and after reading them, now seems as good a time as any for my comment:

I’m concerned how controversial and emotional issues have clouded discussion about a peripheral canal or pipeline. As far as I’m concerned, a new delivery route around the delta is probably the only way to protect the southern half of the state against a complete cutoff of water from the north due to potential delta levee failures and saltwater intrusion from rising sea levels. As long as we’re pumping water out of the delta, that danger exists. When the breaking point for the delta is reached, it will be catastrophic for SoCal — and taking the long-term view, such a delta malfunction seems inevitable. As for the argument that a bypass development would allow greedy SoCal agribusiness and cities to take more water than ever, I believe safeguards could and should be implemented to assure it would not be used to increase the amount of water sent south. For me, the most important thing is to provide a safer route for transfers of agreed-upon amounts. Reliability and security is my concern.

See also this recent comment about north-south water transfers, and from about a year ago this interesting observation, both from On the Public Record.


Posted in Environment, Politics, Water | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Comment: health care reform

Posted by George J Janczyn on March 24, 2010

I find it odd that so many people call this a government takeover of health care. With government barred from competing with for-profit insurance companies, prohibited from negotiating lower prescription drug prices for Medicare (or shopping for generics or importing meds from Canada), and all citizens required to subscribe to private insurance company programs, this looks like a corporate takeover to me. And the beauty of the Republican opposition strategy (and Republican corporatists do benefit from this plan) is that they get to blame the Democrats for anything that goes wrong. I suspect many progressives are aghast at passage of this bill what’s happened. They certainly are in turmoil about it.


Posted in Health care, Politics | Leave a Comment »

Mayor’s office explains (sort of) why it wouldn’t answer my question

Posted by George J Janczyn on March 16, 2010

Tweets from Rachel Laing (Press Secretary to San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders) after I complained about his office’s failure to respond to my question “why doesn’t the city have a staff directory?”:

Followed by:


So, instead of answering my question why there isn’t a directory, they’re arguing with the post I wrote later after being unsuccessful in getting them to respond. Click here for the story.


Posted in Government, Politics | Leave a Comment »

Beach parking fees on Mayor Sanders’ agenda?

Posted by George J Janczyn on March 4, 2010

At yesterday’s San Carlos Area Council meeting, President John Pilch said that Mayor Sanders recently attended a Past Grand Juror’s Association luncheon and wanted to know how many people support paid parking at the beach. Mr. Pilch asked for a show of hands in this meeting as well. This stimulated a few questions and a little discussion.

One outspoken individual, who said he was born and raised in Ocean Beach and owns commercial property there, said that he had suggested the fee. He said in a community he saw in Virginia with a beach parking fee “the beach is clear, the homeless folk are not all over the place…like, just simply walk down to the foot of Newport in Ocean Beach and you can’t sling a dead cat without hitting some homeless folks and panhandlers and all that sort of stuff.”

A woman then asked him, “Just how would charging a fee change the homeless population?”

The man continued, “Well, also they clean the beach, police the beach, they hire college students during the summer, they clean the area up, there’s a greater security presence, it prevents people from parking their motor homes there, from sleeping there, we could buy fire rings.”

People wanted more details. Mr. Pilch said the basic idea is to install parking meters at the beaches, which would accept cash (paper or coin), credit card, or parking card. One idea for the fee would be between $5-8, whether you stay the whole day or not. 45% of meter revenue would go toward improvements in that community.

(I’m curious about that because my understanding was that the high-tech “pay and display” meters they’re using downtown allow the purchase of individual amounts of time)

Most people didn’t seem to like the idea of having a fixed day-use fee as opposed to hourly metering. Then people started wondering about other ways of funding things, but the president had to stop discussion because it was just an informal poll not on the agenda, and asked for a show of hands. A large majority voted no for beach parking fees.

So, I wonder what was behind the mayor bringing this up with the (old) grand jury?

Posted in Government, Politics | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Cracked teapot rally oozes Republican brew in El Cajon

Posted by George J Janczyn on February 21, 2010

‘Cracked teapot’ is what comes to mind when I read about the latest “movement” they say is sweeping the country.

My Sunday morning reading included a report about a group called East County Tea Party which held a rally in El Cajon on Saturday, attracting a delegation of prominent Republicans to the mix. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that Republicans in attendance included El Cajon Councilman Bill Wells, Assemblyman Joel Anderson, Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone, Rick Powell, candidate for the Assembly, and Rep. Duncan Hunter.

Amusingly, the U-T observed that “The crowd, including a few people wearing Colonial-style costumes and hats with dangling tea bags, listened to speakers and wandered past candidates’ booths” and then quoted Duncan Hunter saying “This is America, look around…These are just normal folks.”

On Twitter, Tony Krvaric, Chairman of the Republican Party of San Diego tweeted to his followers: “Fantastic turnout here in El Cajon at the East County TEA Party, organized by Barry Willis. Hundreds of freedom loving patriots here!”

The U-T’s printed edition headline was “Tea Party rally brings out sizable crowd” but the headline changed in the online edition to “Tea Party rally draws about 1,000.” More soberly, I think, KFMB channel 8 reported that dozens of people attended.

KFMB also noted that “a recent CNN poll showed that half of Americans don’t know what the Tea Party is all about.” That half, I suspect, includes most Tea Party members.

As for Duncan Hunter’s “these are just normal folks” comment, I’d reply that who’s really normal is the person who wrote this viewpoint in The Moderate Voice:

“I will not sit idly by while these tea party fools moan on and on about supposed attacks on their “liberty” when the real beast that threatens us is an out of control private health insurance market and not the Federal government.”

To the wandering Tea Party attendees, these Ten Lessons for Tea Baggers are highly recommended (thanks to OB Rag for the find).

Feb 23 update: a couple of other perspectives on the rally.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

How to poison relations between Imperial Valley and San Diego

Posted by George J Janczyn on February 14, 2010

While the decision to invalidate the Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA) simmers, an editorial in the Imperial Valley Press Online serves as a good reminder that even in San Diego (!) there are those who view California water resources selfishly and cynically (the QSA contains an agreement for water transfers from Imperial Valley to San Diego). The editorial observes:

…the North County Times in San Diego County recently wrote an editorial that was stunning in its lack of understanding of the dangers of a dried-up Salton Sea and its lack of interest in any region — or its people — other than its own. Of the judge’s ruling and a possible appeal, the paper said:

“Since we believe a higher and better use is to move the water conservation in the Valley (the essence of the deal) to the thirsty parts of San Diego County, we hope the appeal succeeds, the judge is overturned and the Salton Sea is ultimately left to dry up.”

I think San Diegans should be more appreciative that the people of Imperial Valley have made sacrifices to send much-needed water our way. At best, the North County Times editorial was thoughtless. If our attitude is ‘let them breathe dust’ they might as well have the stance ‘let them drink seawater!’ (the Poseidon plant notwithstanding).

Click here to read the entire opinion from Imperial Valley Press

Click here to read the offending North County Times opinion. To their credit, they printed a rebuttal to their editorial.

Feb 15: Interesting timing–the KPBS “These Days” program will discuss the QSA today, apparently from the same angle that I used here. They wrote “Not only has the story been under-reported … but calls to let the Salton Sea dry up are really provoking anger. An audio recording of the broadcast will be posted on their website.

Mar 17: S.D. is not against I.V. / editorial by Tom Wornham, Chairman, San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce Secretary, Board of Directors, San Diego County Water Authority, published in the Imperial Valley Press.

Posted in Environment, Imperial Irrigation District, Land use, Politics, Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA), Salton Sea, Water | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Mayor Sanders lowers his guard against San Diego’s indirect potable reuse study

Posted by George J Janczyn on February 12, 2010

In 2007 Mayor Sanders vetoed the city council’s plan to conduct a feasibility study for indirect potable reuse (advanced purification of wastewater to potable standards). The city council overrode his veto, however, and project planning went forward. That project is now entering its Phase 2 stage.

Meanwhile in 2010, during an interview with the Voice of San Diego on Feb. 9, the mayor said he now supports the project. The San Diego County Taxpayer’s Association (SDCTA) posted this reaction:


I’m going to reserve judgement about the mayor. When he vetoed the project, the mayor was quoted as objecting for economic reasons. Now, project funding seems to be fairly secure, despite the city’s desperate financial situation, but additional funding will still be needed. As we can see, though, the mayor wasn’t exactly planning to formally promote the project here, he was simply being interviewed on a variety of topics, this happened to come up, and he made a diplomatic reply. So I’m not sure there’s great significance in his remark, at least not yet.

[note: Lani Lutar, president of SDCTA, informed me she contacted the mayor’s office to verify a shift in his position prior to issuing their congratulatory letter]

As for the project, I strongly hope it will prove the possibility of making recycled water a significant portion of potable, not just irrigation, water for San Diego. If you haven’t seen it, please do look at my earlier essay Water reuse is imperative for a sustainable San Diego.


Posted in Environment, Politics, Purified recycled water, Water, Water reuse--San Diego | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Football first, water last

Posted by George J Janczyn on February 4, 2010

In his State of the City speech on January 13, Mayor Jerry Sanders devoted 434 words to the possibility of taxpayers shelling out hundreds of millions of dollars for a subsidized Chargers stadium and 174 words to the idea of those taxpayers paying for an expansion of the convention center. But Sanders devoted only 114 words to the subject of water — far and away the most critical short-term and long-term problem facing San Diego. He devoted zero words to water conservation.

Click to continue reading this article in the San Diego Reader

Posted in Politics, Water | Leave a Comment »