Feb 19 2014
There once was a prince that ruled Peaceful Valley who was 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 and put out severe warnings with the negative catch phrase, “Bed Bugs to Bed Sheets” .However they became 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 not recycling our water and importing water from several hundred miles away, subject to natural disasters and a capricious court system. And now the drought is in its third year, compounded by the shut down of the State Water Project that supplies about 25% of our imported water .…with the prospect of a La Niña looming. For more on that subject see a prior blog.
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 not know was the supply of “new” bed sheets into Peaceful Valley 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 a 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.
The “water crisis” could turn into a mild inconvenience 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, because water pricing would necessarily have to increase to fund the expense of indirect or direct potable recycling. From a cost point of view, it is less costly to change sewage into drinking water using reservoir augmentation than it is to change ocean salt water into drinking water, and the one million gallon per day San Diego Water Purification Pilot Plant has proven we can safely convert wastewater into potable water There have been estimates it would require $2.2 billion dollars to build the infrastructure to treat one hundred million gallons per day, half of what we daily dump into the ocean.. The question is do we pin our hopes on a strong El Niño that could be years away, or do we assure water security for San Diego? Seems like an easy question to answer.
Note: This piece was originally published at San Diego.com in 2009. It has been updated.
Milton N. Burgess, P. E., FASPE
Author of “Water Shock, The Day Southern California Went Dry”