Pat Bates Baits us with Bogus Doomsday Drought Scenario.




By Debbie Cook, cross-posted from Surf City Voice

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On March 11, the San Diego Union-Tribune posted an op-ed, “Desalination makes sense for Orange County,” “written” by Assemblywoman and former OC Supervisor Pat Bates (Laguna Niguel).  It’s not clear why she was addressing the California Coastal Commission, as the project is not on its March agenda.

The Tribune chose not to allow comments on her article.  So here’s my response to her piece, a piece which reads as if it were lifted from a Poseidon Resources press release.

I felt like she was goading me from her first sentence: “Anyone who has stepped outside in the past year has undoubtedly seen the effects of our state’s historic drought conditions.”

Perhaps Ms. Bates should take a look around her own district before she spouts off with her dire news of “empty reservoirs, dry wells, and brown, arid landscapes across California.”

lush 2Orange County is the poster child of disregard for the drought: lush green expanses of grass in front of strip malls, road medians, HOAs, government facilities, and private properties. Any claim she makes that South Orange County has “tried” to do its part is laughable.

It’s telling that Bates would chime in on a project proposed outside her district (which runs roughly from Dana Point to Cardiff by the Sea in San Diego County.)  Her district imports nearly 100 percent of its water.  North Orange County imports only 30 percent and it could be zero if we managed the groundwater basin equitably.

“Trying” isn’t good enough, especially when it places the burden of costly boutique desalinated water on those who are actually “doing” something.

Residents of Santa Ana and Westminster are close to an ideal goal of consumption of 100 gallons per person per day.   At the other extreme are communities like Villa Park and Northern San Diego County, where your average person squanders 500 gallons a day.

And WHY is 100 gallons per person per day ideal?  Because at that level, North Orange County could get nearly ALL of its water from the groundwater basin.

The manner of water allocation used by the Orange County Water District and its member agencies places a disproportionately higher cost burden on those who consume the least amount of water.  In effect, those who aren’t just “trying” but are implementing conservation will be subsidizing the explosive costs of ocean desalinated water.

lush 3And if North Orange County went all in for an ocean desalination project, would Bates be sponsoring a bill to enable the OCWD ratepayers to subsidize water sales to South Orange County water agencies?

Bates then goes on to cheerlead for desal: “Southern California communities have rallied behind desalinated ocean water as a reliable, safe and environmentally friendly solution to long-term water shortages.”

It’s interesting to note that a small consortium of communities in Bates’ own district have spent millions of dollars building and evaluating a pilot project in Dana Point only to discover they couldn’t “rally” enough support for such an expensive endeavor.

Bates mentions the “nearly completed” project in Carlsbad.  But we are still waiting to see how the San Diego County Water Authority allocates the costs of this project, a painful task they have been discussing and postponing since 2012.  The devil is in the details, details that were not sorted out prior to signing a “take or pay” contract.

Bates laughably refers to desal as “out of the box” thinking, but in reality it’s a knee jerk reaction by politicians who have ignored California’s failed water policies, archaic water laws, and fractured governance.

Addressing long term water needs requires long term thinking which will never be the domain of politicians in Sacramento.

lush 4It’s much easier for elected officials to apply a “technical” “fix” when they know they’ll be out of office before the bill arrives.

What we DO need are courageous politicians who dare to engage with citizens in understanding and exploring solutions that actually address water needs and not water wants.

North Orange County doesn’t need an ocean desalination project, and we haven’t even figured out what we’d do with the water.   If Ms. Bates believes she needs one in the South County, then by all means she should deal with that there.

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About Surf City Voice

John Earl is the editor of the Surf City Voice. Frequent contributor Debbie Cook, a former Huntington Beach Mayor, is board president of the Post Carbon Institute.