Feb 16 2014
The Drought, is a clear and present danger to the socio-economic health of
San Diego County. Do we sit on our hands and wait until it is too late to
Print, broadcast and cable media are buzzing with various renditions of
the drought and its impact on California. It may be instructive to be
brutally honest with where we are and what the solutions to the drought can
be, short of a miracle.
1. Snowpack is 17% of the average annual, and winter is essentially
2. Reservoirs in California are at less than 50% of capacity.
3. San Diego reservoirs are at 37% of capacity.
4. Governor Brown has declared a drought emergency, but little is
5. President Obama has had a photo-op and is throwing a few million
Federal dollars at the problem.
6. The Colorado River provides seven states and nearly thirty million
people with water, and it is diminishing.
7. The State Water Project has been shut down, leaving Southern
California with only the Colorado River for a source of supply.
8. The San Diego County Water Authority says there is plenty of water
stored to get San Diegans through 2014. After the next ten months have
passed, then what?
1. Immediately declare that San Diego County is in a drought emergency.
2. Double the current rates of water. This will have the immediate
effect of causing users to reduce water usage including the 7000 farms in
San Diego County to buy time for the next steps.
3. Apply to FEMA for emergency funds to develop the criteria for Direct
Potable Recycling and/or Indirect Potable Recycling.
4. Hold a special election to pass a water bond issue to finance
5. Pass legislation in Sacramento to give the State Health Department
permission to approve IPR/DPR projects.
6. Fast track design and construction of the systems and infrastructure
for DPR/IPR using firms such as Bechtel and CH2M Hill on an expedited basis.
Cut the bureaucratic roadblocks and make it happen.
Or we could just wait until it is too late to take remedial action. There is
much hand-wringing about businesses exiting the State of California due to
the poor business climate. Should we run out of water, there will be a mass
exodus of people moving to where the water is, not just business firms
seeking more profitable venues.
Doubling the price of water would bankrupt water users? Let us take a look
at that. Current water use is around 200 gallons per day per person in
California. For a family of four, it is 800 gallons per day, or 24,000
gallons per month. Measured in cubic feet, that is 3,208 cubic feet. Current
water rates average $3.60 per hundred feet, so for this example the bill is
If the rate is doubled to $7.20 per hundred feet, what will this
family of four do? Will they still use 800 gpd? No, they will cut their
usage, perhaps in half, so they will still be paying the same amount as they
did prior to the increase. That green lawn will turn brown, showers will be
shorter, and laundry will be done less often.
Now this family of four is using about the same amount of water as users in
other water stressed areas of the world, like Australia. And what happens to
the stored water. Doesn’t it go twice as far? Yes, and that buys the time to
get IPR and DPR up and running on an expedited basis. Maybe instead of the
nearly 500,000 acre-feet annually coming into San Diego County, the total
could be 250,000 acre-feet. What a concept!
For people who are living at or below the poverty level, just as there is a
lifeline allowance for energy, a lifeline allowance for water would be
established that would provide a safety net.
And many of the 7000 farmers in San Diego County will decide having a farm
in a desert maybe isn’t a good thing after all. This county has more farms
than any other county in the entire United States. That does not make any
sense, regardless of the romantic idea that, gee, we can grow our own
vegetables here. Priorities. It’s all about priorities.
The facts are we cannot sustain our present consumption of water while
living in a desert, and it is possible to reduce the quantity of water
coming into the County while we become water independent with IPR/DPR. If
any of the above does not make sense, please let me know.
Milton N. Burgess, P. E., FASPE
Author of “Water Shock, The Day Southern California Went Dry”