Guest column

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Drought ‘Solutions’ Deserve Closer Scrutiny

By JJ Gasparotti
By JJ Gasparotti

How do all us water wise Lagunatics feel now? We saved and saved water while our neighbors in Newporsche Beach kept their sprinklers going full blast right up till the end. The result is they must cut back 28% from their profligate consumption and water wise Laguna has to cut back 24% from our already low consumption level. Doesn’t seem fair does it?

Puts me in mind of an old Murphy’s law, “No good deed goes unpunished.”

Well don’t worry too much because what is going on now is more like a government shutdown before they raise taxes rather than a rational response to drought.

Our use of water in the urban areas is about 10% of the total surface waters in the state. When we multiply the 25% cutback asked of us to by the 10% of the total water that urban areas use, we get a net contribution to the total solution of 2.5%. Not much of a contribution from all those dead lawns, two second showers and flushed every other day toilets.

It sort of seems like when they close the state parks and DMV during a financial crisis. More like they want you to feel the pain, not solve the problem.

Agriculture uses 40% of our surface waters and produces 2% of our economic activity. To really solve a water shortage you could stop flood irrigating monsoon crops in the desert so you can send alfalfa pellets to China’s dairy industry. That would save as much water as we use in all of urban southern California. That isn’t happening.

What is happening is we are being subjected to an old adage in the water industry, “Don’t waste a good drought.” Don’t be surprised when another big water bond is floated in time for the next election. Even though they haven’t found ways to spend the money from the last bond we passed.

The issue with this is a lot of money gets raised and spent in ways that don’t address the real problem.

A local example is the water district’s plans to spend $3 million on smart meters. How will that help?

It won’t. Sure, we’ll be able to check our consumption on line just like the instant MPG reading in our car. Has that improved your gas mileage? Didn’t mine.

A meter reader costs around a $100,000 a year, including benefits. If we fire the meter reader and put in automatic meters, it’ll take 30 years to recover the $3 million cost. But we won’t fire the meter reader; we’ll find something else for them to do. When before they were doing something very important. They were our eyes and ears visiting every water meter in the district six times a year. That smart meter only knows about a leak after the leak, not before. Any other problems, it has no idea.

And that $3 million, wouldn’t it be better spent on building a way to use all that water we dump in the ocean from the Aliso Creek sewer plant? This is millions and millions of gallons a day just going to waste. We need to clean it to potable standards and put it back in our existing distribution system.

Orange County Water District finds this source so valuable that when San Bernardino County wanted to start reclaiming the sewage they dump in the Santa Ana River, reducing that flow, Orange County sued to stop them and won.

Don’t get me wrong. This drought is real and we need to adjust. But we also need to watch out we aren’t sold a bill of goods during that adjustment.

Mark Twain once said, “Water is a funny thing. Money can make it run uphill.”

Let’s make sure our money makes it do that.

Retired general contractor JJ Gasparotti served five years on the Design Review Board and two terms on the Laguna Beach County Water District board.

 

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