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What Water Crisis?

How to save 240 million gallons per day
By Milton N. Burgess P.E.
Posted on Sun, Jun 28th, 2009
Last updated Sun, Jun 28th, 2009

There once was a prince who ruled Peaceful Valley very concerned about bed bugs.
He did not like bed bugs so much he decreed that only new sheets for all the beds in
Peaceful Valley be used once and then thrown away. The problem was there became
what was known as the “Bed Sheet Crisis” caused by various court orders and bed
sheet suppliers. The supply started to diminish, and there was a disposal problem
with the once-used bed sheets which were filling up the landfills around PV.
Various conservation plans were put in place. “Those with even numbered addresses
would use bed sheets on even numbered days and those with odd numbered
addresses would use bed sheets on odd numbered days.”
Then a smart inventor from PV came up with what became known as “The Prince’s
Washing Machine. Now certain citizens of PV heard of this new device. Theyput
out severe warnings with the negative catch phrase, “Bed Bugs to Bed Sheets”.
However the oppositionbecame fewer and fewer in number, with a decree from
the Prince that his Washing Machine was now the order of the day. Suddenly,
the bed sheet shortage was over, and peace reigned again in Peaceful Valley.
A silly story, well slightly. But not as silly as sending 240 million gallons per day of partially treated San Diego sewage (used once) out to the ocean.
Let’s analyze what happened in Peaceful Valley. To begin with, the Prince, unaware the bed bug problem could be solved by technology made bad public policy that caused one-time use of bed sheets. Once the Prince was aware of a way to clean the bed sheets, despite the naysayers, and the idea of recycled bed sheets, he made a good public policy decision as the leader of PV. He had the political will to do it. Initially scorn was heaped upon the Prince since the whole idea was abhorrent to most citizens who had grown accustomed to one-time bed sheets. What the PV citizens did notrealize was their supply of “new” bed sheets came from a laundry in the adjacent town. The supply shortage occurred because the laundry in that town was being shut down. The negative Bed Bugs to Bed Sheets campaign had been successful.
There is a huge difference between a benevolent dictator, the Prince, and a democratic society. But the matter of leadership remains constant providing the agenda of the leadership is to focus on the welfare of the people and not on being appointed or elected in the next political cycle.
Let’s look at a few numbers, rounded for easier reading. The local water authority (SDMWD)[1] buys the bulk of our water from the Southern California water authority (MWD). For 2010 they estimate they will have to buy 542,000 acre-feet[2]in that year. If San Diego’s political leadership had made good public water policy in the past, it would have been possible for SDCWA to reduce the water purchased from MWD by 43% and still provide the 768,000[3] acre-feet
How is that possible? We take 269,000 acre-feet of water from the Sacramento-Juaquin Delta and the Colorado River, which by the way is far from drinkable, spend millions bringing it to drinking water quality, use it once and send it on its way through the Point Loma Municipal Sewage Plant to the ocean.
There would be no “water crisis” if good public water policy is put in place. This is a “political crisis”. I have talked to various water officials. When I ask why not recycle our sewage to drinking water quality, the answer is, there is not the political will to do it. From a cost point of view, it is much less costly to change sewage into drinking water than it is to change ocean salt water into drinking water. Cost is not an issue when the City can afford to build a new central library. Without water, there will be no central library anyway.

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