GrokSurf's San Diego

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

Posts Tagged ‘Marti Emerald’

Which San Diego politicians really support water recycling?

Posted by George J Janczyn on July 1, 2010

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders just yesterday announced a new recycled water hookup with Canyonside Park for landscaping irrigation (see video of announcement).

In his speech, Mayor Sanders proclaimed “Finding more uses for recycled water is an important way to maximize resources.”

Councilmember Sherri Lightner also spoke, saying “I have always and will continue to support the expansion of recycled water in San Diego as a smart reuse of water and as a water conservation measure.”

Was this really a sign of wholehearted support for water reuse, or was it just lip service?

That item should hardly be making the news. It belatedly brings the City a little closer to compliance with a 1989 City ordinance mandating the widespread use of recycled water. It’s a good, but modest project using only 13 million gallons of recycled water per year.

On the other hand, a few Councilmembers (probably with the Mayor’s secret blessings) actively resist implementation of a water reuse project that could produce an additional 16 million gallons of potable water per day, a project that was approved by the full Council years ago.

Quick history:

  • On October 29, 2007, after considerable debate and public discussion, the City Council voted to approve the Indirect Potable Reuse Demonstration Project.
  • On November 14, 2007, Mayor Sanders vetoed the resolution.
  • On December 3, 2007, the City Council voted to override the Mayor’s veto and directed him to develop a plan to begin the potable reuse demonstration project by July 2008.
  • On November 18, 2008, the City Council approved a temporary water rate increase to fully fund the Demonstration Project.
  • In May 2009, the Public Utilities Department issued a Request for Proposals for Project Management and Public Outreach for the project.
  • On Jan. 26, 2010, the San Diego City Council directed the Mayor to execute “an Agreement between the City of San Diego and RMC Water and Environment, to perform the Project Management and Public Outreach for the Demonstration Project.

In summary: the City got so far as to approve the Indirect Potable Reuse Reservoir Augmentation Demonstration Project (aka Water Purification Demonstration Project), then approved a contract for project management and public outreach, and the next step was to approve a contract to build the facility to treat the water. How did that go?

Two weeks ago, at the June 16 Natural Resources and Culture Committee meeting, the contract to build the facility was blocked from going to the full Council because Councilmembers Sherri Lightner and Carl DeMaio still had objections to the basic premise of the project and they forced a continuation of the matter saying they needed answers to more questions.

Today, the Natural Resources and Culture Committee held a special followup meeting to address those questions.

Lightner, for all her earlier interest in continuing the matter so that her questions could be answered, didn’t even show up for the meeting. That left DeMaio. Marti Emerald quickly made the motion to recommend council approval (Donna Frye obviously would vote yes). DeMaio didn’t bother asking questions and only reiterated that he remains steadfastly opposed to the project and would not vote for the committee to recommend approval of the contract. So the vote was taken and that’s how the matter will be sent to the Council.

We’re obviously dealing with foot-dragging by disgruntled politicians intent on hindering an already-approved project.

Please, it’s time to move on.

 

Posted in Environment, Politics, Water, Water Purification Demonstration Project | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

San Diego’s IPR water treatment facility sidetracked by DeMaio and Lightner

Posted by George J Janczyn on June 16, 2010

Councilmembers Sherri Lightner and Carl DeMaio took advantage of councilmember Marti Emerald’s absence at today’s Natural Resources and Culture Committee meeting and threw a wrench into the gears of San Diego’s Indirect Potable Reuse/Reservoir Augmentation Demonstration Project (IPR Project).

The IPR Project is a City Council-approved study seeking to determine whether the Indirect Potable Reuse process can be used to give San Diego an additional high-quality and reliable source of drinking water.

Months ago, the City Council approved a contract for project management for the IPR project. The next step in the project was to identify who would construct the advanced water treatment facility required for the project. The San Diego Water Department put that out to bid in February, evaluated the candidates, and in April made a selection.

A contract for the new treatment facility was on the agenda for today’s committee meeting (I wrote a preview about it on Monday). It was on the agenda as a routine informational consent item that would be sent to the City Council for approval. Marsi Steirer, Deputy Director of the Water Department (morphing into Assistant Director of the Public Utilities Department under a reorganization), was on hand to answer questions.

When Donna Frye, chairing, summarized the agenda for the day, Sherri Lightner announced she wanted to pull the item from the consent agenda because she wanted to ask questions. Shortly, she had her chance.

“What’s the difference between this facility and the one they have in Orange County?” she asked. Answer: no real difference, the same technology is used.

“Then why do we need a study if we already have that information from their facility?” Answer: because Orange County is augmenting groundwater supplies while San Diego would be augmenting reservoir water, and because the source water for San Diego’s project is from reclaimed tertiary water while the source for Orange County is from secondary treatment water. Also because of regulatory requirements.

Lightner didn’t seem to care for these answers and said she doesn’t see why we can’t partner with Orange County and have some kind of cooperative venture with them and that she’d like to see more “philosophical” background information on how that might be accomplished.

At this point, Carl DeMaio made a motion…for a continuance. When pressed to say what for, he indicated that he thinks this project needs more examination, and besides, he thought Marti Emerald really should have the opportunity to vote!

Continuing, Frye allowed that the committee would hear the people who had signed up for public comment. Obviously they had planned their comments without suspecting this untoward development, so they had to think on their feet quickly. They all opted to address DeMaio’s motion to suppress (er, continue).

Jill Witkowski and Bruce Reznik from San Diego Coastkeeper, Jim Peugh from the San Diego Audubon Society, Marco Gonzalez from the Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation, Angelika Villagrana from the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, Cary Lowe from the San Diego River Park Foundation, Amy Harris from the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, all took turns standing before the committee to plead for them not to use a continuance to impede the project.

Lightner seemed quite annoyed by the comments and at one point indignantly asked the chair, “are they actually commenting on the motion to continue?” To which Frye replied, “It sure seems like it to me. Try listening to their words.” (or something like that). Lightner obviously wasn’t pleased having the public enter the debate on the motion!

The pleas were unheeded, however, and when Frye called the vote, she was alone in voting against a continuance.

So there you have it. Even though the IPR project was vetted and approved by the City Council, DeMaio and Lightner have decided to question the premise of the project just as it’s getting under way, with questions that sound like they’re from someone who is hearing about it for the first time. Further, the stalling technique employed with Marti Emerald conveniently absent seems like immature politics, not the behavior of one with a sincere desire for understanding. Such questions, if genuine, could and should have been asked when the overall project approval was being discussed.

I don’t know if the committee will meet in July; if not, it could be August before the matter can even be sent to the full Council.

I wonder if DeMaio and Lightner will come to understand that this is not a useful way to handle taxpayer time and money. I have a feeling this would not have happened if Marti Emerald had been present.

 

Posted in Natural Resources and Culture Committee, Politics, Water | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

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 »