Feb 20 2014
San Diego City Council President Pro-Tem Sherri Lightner and Lani Lutar, executive director of Equinox Center, have done a good job laying out the water issues for San Diego in their commentary in the 2/20/14 UT. http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2014/feb/19/San-Diego-water-conservation-desalination/ . However they stopped short of being brutally frank about the need to raise water pricing to fund indirect and/or direct potable recycling. Not surprising since a third rail in the water business is talk of rate increases.
The consensus among experts is that the cost paid by water users is far below the economic value of a reliable water supply. it is also a given that when the cost of a commodity rises, demand goes down.
In prior blogs I have shown the economics of water pricing can be supported when the price rises and demand drops together with the establishment of lifeline allowances. Actual cost to the water user may not rise, due to reduced water consumption.
The conundrum of leadership is how to convince water users their rates need to go up, when the toilets still flush and the taps still run. Unfortunately when the well runs dry, it is too late. So how do the water policy makers and doers provide leadership, defined in this instance as taking those who are led from where they are to where they should be?
History has many examples where courageous leaders, with a vision of what should happen, have powered through all of the naysayers and have, in the end, been honored for getting the job done, starting with the founders of the United States in 1776. That may be viewed as an extreme example. Closer to the present time, and closer to home, mandating the installation of seat belts in cars has saved countless lives, yet there was much opposition to this now-accepted safety feature. How about right here in San Diego, where the largest desalination plant in the US is currently under construction that could supply 10% of our water locally? At any time over the past ten years crushing opposition from diverse groups could have discouraged the leadership, but they kept on keeping on, and it will soon be a reality.
In every advancement, a small group of highly dedicated, motivated people have won the day who have the courage to keep going to reach the intended goal. Rarely is the public behind the effort initially. So it is with indirect and/or direct potable recycling (IPR/DPR) of our wastewater to achieve water independence for San Diego. The naysayers will still be there when the valves are opened to a reliable source of water, but it will have happened.
The San Diego Water Policy Task Force has presented forty recommendations, half of which have been approved and the rest are under consideration. Among them are IPR and DPR. During this time, when the broadcast and print media are buzzing with California’s drought is an opportunity to introduce Mr. and Mrs. “What-water-crisis” to the facts of life-giving water imported from hundreds of miles away subject to natural disasters and a capricious court system.
The same folks who give no thought to paying ten dollars a gallon for water that comes in twelve ounce clear plastic bottles, are the first ones, when higher water rates are proposed, assemble a crowd of irate people to take after the water authority in a pitchfork and torchlight protest march. As prickly as this latter group is, they are the ones who need to be educated, for they are also the ones who, when the toilets don’t flush and the taps run dry will be looking for scapegoats.
The management guru, Peter Drucker, has said the true test of an organization is the presence of a spirit of performance. An organization that is high in spirit builds on and develops the strength of each person, and this results in common people doing extraordinary things. To guard against weaknesses created by an emphasis on strengths, a highly spirited organization will cover members’ weaknesses.
And to get common people to do extraordinary things is exactly what we need to get IPR/DPR in place in San Diego. Sherri Lightner and Lani Lutar and the San Diego Water Policy Implementation Task Force have begun that process, now let’s build on it.
Milton N. Burgess, P. E., FASPE
Author of “Water Shock, The Day Southern California Went Dry”