Oct 22 2014
The Browning of San Diego–Bad? Not necessarily!
This blog has raised many questions about current and past actions by San
Diego water policy implementers. Recently the Water Policy Coalition
produced a presentation that does a good job of outlining the future for
water in San Diego.
While this blog does not entirely agree with the strategy and goals put
forward in the presentation, it is worthwhile to consider and shows a lot
more promise than anything that has been produced thus far. Where water is
concerned, political realities have to be considered almost more than any
technical hurdles. As Mark Twain said, “Whiskey if for drinking. Water is
for fighting over”. And the fights are unending.
The largest problem I see is a statistical one. All of the literature
produced uses the statement that when Pure Water San Diego gets to its goal
in 2035, one third of the water will be made available by potable recycling.
Not true. SDCWA’s estimates of water use in 2035 tell us we will be using
700,000 a-f. Pure Water by that date will be producing 83 million gallons a
day, or 254 a-f per day, and in a year 93,000 a-f. That is just 13% of San
Diego’s water needs, not one third.
It may be possible, to give the benefit of the doubt, that by 2035 San Diego
will come down from its current per capita usage of 160 gallons per day. If
agriculture and residential users can come closer to 100 gallons per day,
then the 700,000 figure may be reduced to say 400,000 a-f, then the 83 mgd
would be about 25%, but still not one third.
If that happened (700,000 to 400,000 a-f) what would San Diego look like? It
would be the “browning” of the city. Lawns would be non-existent, water
consuming shrubbery will have been uprooted, replaced with drought tolerant
cactus. Much of the landscaping would look like the back country in San
Diego County. Farming would be history, except for those farms that could
exist on minimal water for drought tolerant produce. Decorative fountains
will have been shut down and replaced with statuary.
It is happening now. The green grass strip along the street in front of my
condo was removed yesterday. As you may notice, looking around San Diego,
artificial turf is becoming more and more popular.
But is that all bad? Not necessarily. Travelers to foreign locations where
water is scarce don’t see lush green lawns. Buildings are painted white to
reflect the sun, and are considered picturesque and romantic. A visit to the
island of Santorini on the Aegean Sea is a good example. It is a microcosm
of San Diego, and like San Diego, a very popular tourist destination.
Importing water is not sustainable so desalination and recycling are the
main sources. Similar to San Diego, groundwater is scarce and of poor
quality. Water use in Santorini is 0.3 cubic meters or about 90 gallons per
day per person, even during the months when tourists swell the population on
Instead of trying to make San Diego look like an eastern seaboard city (albeit with non-native palm trees),
why not follow the example of the Greeks? It is worth considering.
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