Monday, February 23, 2009

Free Car Wash!

I got a free car wash last week. No, not with a coupon from the local wash-n-dry but, a gift from mother nature in the form of rain. I used to avoid washing my truck because I was lazy. Now I can mask that laziness and say that I am being a good environmentalist by conserving water.

Right now Southern California is facing a critical point in dealing with our freshwater supply as drought conditions continue in spite of the recent rains. Where does our water come from, how will we use it and what will we do with it after? These issues have direct impacts on the ocean as the ill-planned desalination plant in Carlsbad moves forward and municipalities continue to dump treated wastewater in the ocean. According to the City of San Diego:

“During a normal year about 10-20 percent of the City's water supply is made up of local rainfall and is captured in one of our reservoirs. The remaining 80-90 percent is imported … from two separate sources. A 242 mile-long aqueduct brings Colorado River water from Lake Havasu to the southland. This water may have originated as snow melt on the mountain slopes of Utah, Wyoming, or Colorado and traveled more than 1,000 miles before being diverted to Southern California.

San Diego also receives water which originates in Northern California from the State Water Project. This water is captured in reservoirs north of Sacramento and released through natural rivers and streams into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The 444 mile-long California Aqueduct then carries the water from south of the Delta to (Southern California).”

Wrap your head around that for a moment. Most of the water in San Diego comes from hundreds of miles away and some of it can travel over 1000 miles from the source before it reaches our taps. That alone should speak volumes on how precious our freshwater really is. Unfortunately, developers and planners have not historically treated water as a limited renewable resource in our semi-arid climate. Excessive sprawl and water intensive non-native landscaping have over-burdened the water supply.

The Surfrider Foundation has worked with policy makers to mandate low-impact development and strengthen over-watering ordinances but the solution goes much further than that. The Surfrider Foundation San Diego Chapter has launched a campaign titled Know Your H2O to educate the public about the three most common options proposed to increase our water supply: conservation, Indirect Potable Reuse (IPR), and ocean desalination.

Water conservation takes many forms; from turning off the faucet while you brush your teeth to the local mobile home park that reduced their water usage by one million gallons last year through a community effort. Most people have done a good job conserving water indoors with low-flow showerheads, more efficient toilets, etc. but lots of work still needs to be done conserving outdoors.

Ocean Friendly Gardens (OFG) is an ongoing campaign that covers the outdoor water conservation aspect. OFG is all about CPR, which stands for Conservation, Permeability, and Retention. Whenever water leaves a property it has the ability to take pollutants with it. Fertilizers, pesticides, and oil are easily picked up by the power of water and transferred directly to our storm drains and into our rivers and oceans. While this runoff is greatest during rainstorms, urban runoff occurs all year round as a result of improper irrigation, washing cars on pavement, and hosing down driveways. In addition to conserving water by using native plants, requiring little to no fertilizers, and reducing or eliminating pesticide use, Ocean Friendly Garden’s have the added benefit or reducing urban runoff.

Imagine if we could stop sending treated wastewater out to the ocean and reuse this water to increase our local water supply. Indirect Potable Reuse (IPR), which is a funky name for water recycling, would help achieve that goal. Instead of spending time, built-in energy and money to send secondary or tertiary treated water to the ocean, we could take a couple of extra steps to treat the water further than health standards and mix it back in with our water supply. Sounds far-fetched to some, but the reverse osmosis and UV light treatments remove all bacteria and endocrine disruptors from pharmaceuticals and the resulting water is much purer than what is currently being delivered to Southern California. Reclamation for potable uses is the future; it has lower costs and is less energy intensive compared to desalination. Reclamation should be considered as the first choice in Southern California’s sustainable fresh water plan. Our current paradigm for reclaimed water – using it for irrigation – does nothing to promote conservation or the use of drought tolerant plants. Instead, it subsidizes golf courses and inappropriately planted public spaces such as highway medians.

Ocean desalination has received the most press and publicity lately as the largest ocean desal plant in the western hemisphere is planned for Carlsbad. Surfrider does not oppose desalination. We oppose desalination done poorly, and when it is prioritized over reclamation and conservation. Responsible desalination requires alternative intakes, unlike what is being proposed in Carlsbad. The Carlsbad proposal uses antiquated once-through-cooling infrastructure as the primary intake source for ocean water. This 30+ year-old dinosaur technology that has direct and unmitigatable impacts on marine life has been found to be illegal by federal courts. Mitigation of marine life impacts from impingement and entrainment through the use of the intake system by offering offsite wetland restoration misses the point – the law requires the use of new technologies to avoid the impacts in the first place. To continue to threaten marine life continually and indefinitely is short-sited and inexcusable while better technologies are available. Finally, the Carlsbad desalination plant sets a bad example for the issue statewide. The fact that we are in a drought condition does not justify ignoring our environmental laws.

We spend so much energy and effort to get water here that we must use it wisely. Visit to check out some great Know Your H2O videos, find more info on the issues along with links to great blogs and various ways to get involved. Share the videos with your friends and stay tuned for our action alert to let the decision makers know that you demand responsible ocean desalination.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Need.

We wash our hands, wash our dishes, take long hot showers, wash our whites and colors separately, boil water for pasta, water our lawns, make slip n' slides.......

When the world is running short on water.

"Today, one-third of the world's population has to contend with water scarcity, and there are ominous signs that this proportion could quickly increase.
Up to twice as much water will be required to provide enough food to eliminate hunger and feed the additional 2.5 billion people that will soon join our ranks."

The United States has every ability to be a leader in the push for conservation. If sub-Saharan Africa can prioritize environmentalism and create environmentally sustainable infrastructure, why can't the US? Why can't California?

We can. Whether we will is yet to be seen.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Poseidon's interpretation

Poseidon received a unanimous vote to postpone the final permit of their project in Carlsbad until they can produce an acceptable mitigation project for the damages their plant will cause. Here is an example of how they view it:

Dear ,

The Regional Water Quality Control Board met last week to consider approving the final condition of the discharge permit that they issued for the Carlsbad Desalination Project last April. The Board voted unanimously to consider final approval of the outstanding permit requirements at their hearing April 8, 2009 in Dana Point. This will draw the permitting process that began in 2003 to a close, clearing a path to begin construction later this year.

We will keep you updated on the Project developments,

Poseidon Resources

New Desalination Company Claims Better Methods

Oasys Water, a Massachusetts based desalination start-up company, has recently received $10 million in funding. By using what they called "Engineered Osmosis", rather than reverse osmosis, their method of desalination claims to reduce electricity and fuel costs by more than 90%. In effect, while reverse osmosis produces water at a cost of about $0.68 to $0.90 per cubic meter, Oasys estimates that engineered osmosis will cost about $0.37 to $0.44 per cubic meter.

For the Oasys Press Release Click Here.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Know Your H2O Stats - The Numbers Behind Your Use

Some Numbers
The average household in San Diego uses 10,500 gallons of water each month, or 350 gallons per day. By installing more efficient water fixtures, households can reduce daily water use by about 30%.

If every household in the U.S. installed these water-saving features, we would save an estimated 5.4 billion gallons of water per day, which results in a savings of $11.3 million per day or more than $4 billion per year.

How Small Changes Can Make Big Differences
Replacing your showerhead with a low-flow model can save up to 230 gallons a week.

Catching the water that comes through your pipes while waiting for hot water can save up to 50 gallons a week per person. Save the water in a bucket and water your plants or run your garbage disposal.

Hand-washing dishes just once a day using the least amount of detergent possible and a sprayer to rinse can save up to 100 gallons a week.

Water your lawn before dawn or after sunsets when there’s less evaporation. Adjusting your sprinklers so they don’t spray on sidewalks, driveway or street can save up to 250 gallons a week.

For more tips Click Here.

Coming Soon to a Beach Near You! Why Desalination is BAD.

While these images are not from Tampa Bay, they are engineering photos used to demonstrate what open ocean intake really looks like.

The following text was added to Wikipedia's Desalination page to lend some balance to the discussion. It is a summary of the Tampa Bay Desal project as adapted from the Tampa Bay Water website.

"The Tampa Bay Water Desalination project was originally a private venture led by Poseidon Resources. This project was delayed by the bankruptcy of Poseidon Resources successive partners in the venture, Stone & Webster, then Covanta (formerly Ogden) and its principle subcontractor Hydranautics. Poseidon's relationship with Stone & Webster through S & W Water LLC ended in June 2000 when Stone & Webster declared bankruptcy and Poseidon Resources purchased Stone & Webster's stake in S & W Water LLC. Poseidon Resources partnered with Covanta and Hydranautics in 2001, changing the consortium name to Tampa Bay Desal. Through the inability of Covanta to complete construction bonding of the project, the Tampa Bay Water agency was forced to purchase the project from Poseidon on May 15, 2002 and underwrite the project financing under its own credit rating. Tampa Bay Water then contracted with Covanta Tampa Construction, who produced a project that did not meet required performance tests, and Covanta Tampa Construction filed bankruptcy in October 2003 to prevent losing the contract with Tampa Bay Water, which resulted in nearly 6 months of litigation between Covanta Tampa Construction and Tampa Bay Water. The plant was not fully operational until 2007."

Click Here for the whole history.

Calculating your "Water Footprint" - Does conserving mean more beer and less clothing?

A journalist at the Wall Street Journal, Alexandra Alter, recently wrote an article titled "Yet Another 'Footprint' to Worry About: Water". Companies concerned about water rationing (and who have been burned by it in the past) are now tracking water use patterns to find more efficient ways of using this resource vital to life, manufacturing and production, and so can you! (see below)

In the article, Alex writes "It takes roughly 20 gallons of water to make a pint of beer, as much as 132 gallons of water to make a 2-liter bottle of soda, and about 500 gallons, including water used to grow, dye and process the cotton, to make a pair of Levi's stonewashed jeans. Though much of that water is replenished through natural cycles, a handful of companies have started tracking such "water footprints" as a growing threat of fresh-water shortages looms. Some are measuring not just the water used to make beverages and cool factories, but also the gallons used to grow ingredients such as cotton, sugar, wheat, tea and tomatoes. The drive, modeled partly on carbon footprinting, a widely used measurement of carbon-dioxide emissions, comes as groundwater reserves are being depleted and polluted at unsustainable rates in many regions."

I guess it reasons to follow that if we are serious about conservation, we ought to drink more beer and wear fewer clothes.

Click Here to read the whole article and view interactive graphics.
Water Footprint Calculator for your own customized water footprint!

And finally, a novel way to conserve water.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Is it time to stick a straw into the Pacific Ocean?

About 20 water agencies up and down the California coast seem to think so.

From Marin County to San Diego, small and large projects that turn seawater into tap water are gaining favor, propelled by events unprecedented in California's history: worsening drought, dwindling species of freshwater fish, crumbling plumbing systems and unyielding demand.

"People are worried about water supply," said Michael Carlin, assistant general manager of water at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. "Desalination is for drought supply, for an emergency, and it augments existing supply - it's another tool in our toolbox."

But critics argue that desalination is an expensive, environmentally questionable last resort in a sprawling state that misuses one of its greatest assets.

"People are looking for an easy solution, and they look to the ocean," said Linda Sheehan, executive director of the California Coastkeeper Alliance, a watchdog group. "They're ignoring the opportunities we have for conservation, storm water reuse and water recycling."

This is not the first time the desalination debate has surfaced in California. Dry spells and government funds for infrastructure often prompt new studies and investment in the process, which strips salt, debris, bacteria and other substances from saltwater and funnels it to local taps.

But climate change, rising water costs and threats to wildlife have increased the stakes.

for the full story from the San Fran Chronicle/

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Desalination Timetable Delayed (hopefully permanently)

Poseidon Resources was dealt a blow in their quest to build a desalination plant in Carlsbad today.

Under their scheme, to produce 1 acre foot of drinking water, 5 acre feet of sea water must be pulled directly from the ocean. That same 1 acre foot of sea water requires approximately 4700 kilowatt hours of electricity to remove the brine and other pollutants.

In contrast, by recycling wastewater to drinking water quality the same 1 acre foot of drinking water can be rendered using only 1.17 acre feet of wastewater, and would only require 2200 kilowatt hours of electricity. I believe the old adage "more bang for your buck" applies here.

Doing the math, it is far more economical to render wastewater into drinking water than render sea water into drinking water. Yet the battle for common sense rages on. See the article below for an update.

Carlsbad Desalination Plant Timetable Delayed
Poseidon's project output is 10% of region's daily water needs

While drought-stricken San Diegans brace for water rationing, a desalination project that could meet 10 percent of the region's water needs has been delayed for two more months. While drought-stricken San Diegans brace for water rationing, a desalination project that could meet 10 percent of the region's water needs has been delayed...
The $300 million proposal by Poseidon Resources Corp. needs approval from one more state regulatory agency, the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, to break ground on the project later this year, working toward a completion date in 2011.
"Every regulatory agency that has reviewed this project has determined that it's environmentally benign," said Scott Maloni, a Poseidon vice president. "Let's build this project. We need the water."

But the board voted unanimously Wednesday to withhold final permits at least until April, to allow the agency's staff and Poseidon to work out what Poseidon officials called "minor issues" relating to environmental concerns that already have prompted lawsuits against Poseidon and the state's Lands and Coastal Commissions, which have granted approvals.

Click Here for the full article from

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Shrinking Water Supplies Imperil Farmers

From today's Wall Street Journal:

"If the water situation doesn't ease soon, industry experts expect numerous farmers to go out of business in a year or so. Particularly vulnerable are farmers who have loans tied to being able to secure water supplies, said Richard Howitt, a professor of agriculture economics at the University of California at Davis. In essence, these farmers use their water rights as collateral for loans that go toward crops and equipment."

Water and water rights are big business in a desert. Lots of good pics and comments by readers too. This whole issue is so complex, but as a simple solution, why are our leaders not screaming for more conservation efforts?

Read the entire article.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Toilet to Mouth

Ever wonder just how much feces we ingest by swimming or surfing in polluted water in San Diego? Recycling wastewater will prevent this kind of life-killing filth from entering the water.

The following link is a graphic representation of raw untreated sewage flowing from the Tijuana River north to Coronado Island and Point Loma in the Pacific. The issue is not ought we consider recycling our wastewater, but it is one of need. We need to lead the world on this.

Enough quibbling.


Make Your Voice be HEARD!

Mayor Sanders will be blessing us with access to his staff to discuss immediate cutbacks and water rationing in San Diego. Come out one of the three nights and ask why the city is structuring cutbacks the way they are, why this wont be fair to people who tore up their grass and planted drought tolerant gardens, who benefits and who loses, why new developments continue to pop up and why the city continues to be anticompetitive by subsidizing rates and won't charge a fair price for water!

Meetings are February 9th in Otay, February 10th in Rancho Penesquitos, and February 12th in Balboa Park. Click the link for locations, and BE THERE!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Special Report: Our Water Supply

The Voice of San Diego has compiled a special report on our water supply that includes recent articles highlighting the issue as it increases in importance.

"The arid San Diego region is struggling to come to terms with a diminished water supply. Ideas abound about how to do so: implement mandatory water conservation, build a desalination plant, recycle sewage into drinking water -- but finding agreeance about which ideas to implement is slightly more difficult."

CLICK HERE to check out the special report for some great articles such as "Who uses the most water?", "What is killing the Delta", "How sewage gets recycled" and much more.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Desalination: A Gift or a Myth?

In a version of one founding Greek Myth, Athena competed with Poseidon to be the patron deity of Athens, which was yet unnamed. They agreed that each would give the Athenians one gift and that the Athenians would choose the gift they preferred.

Poseidon struck the ground with his trident and a spring sprang up; this gave them a means of trade and water —Athens at its height was a significant sea power, defeating the Persian fleet at the Battle of Salamis— but the water was salty and not very good for drinking. (In an alternate version, Poseidon offered the first horse to the citizens, but horses also are associated with Athena in some myths.)

Athena, however, offered them the first domesticated olive tree. The Athenians (or their king, Cecrops) accepted the olive tree and with it the patronage of Athena, for the olive tree brought wood, oil, and food. (taken from

That said, we await for our Athena to come bringing a gift that will allow sustainable growth in San Diego.

Check out the following KPBS report:;id=13770

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

So fresh and so clean...

Right on N County Times! Go Go Escondido!

EDITORIAL: Most natural thing to do: Recycle water
OUR VIEW: Colorado River water far from pristine

By North County Times Opinion staff | Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Recycling water may well serve Escondido residents for decades to come.

Thus, we support city officials in their efforts to explore the feasibility of transforming sewage water into a reliable secondary source for Escondido's drinking water needs. Indeed, we encourage all regional water agencies to do the same.

(However, we also believe the region has yet to fully exploit cheaper ways to meet the growing need for water, including strong, serious attempts to improve conservation of our existing supply.)

Californians have led the nation in various recycling areas. It just clearly makes sense for us to lead in being more aggressive about recycling one of the key essentials for life.

Those squeamish about the prospects of recycling water (often referred to derisively as "toilet to tap") ought to reconsider the reality of what now flows from their taps.

Approximately 90 percent of all San Diego County's water is imported, most of it from the Colorado River. Think that river water is fresh from the proverbial mountain spring? Think again.

Space does not permit us to list all that is routinely dumped directly into the Colorado or indirectly into its watershed. However, that list does include water from sewage wastewater plants and toxic, heavy-metal and chemical waste that has leached into the Colorado's watershed. And yet for decades, we have been cleaning that water up for "recycling."

An extensive review of the expenses involved with recycling sewage water may show that the process, using current technology, is cost-prohibitive at this time.

But the facts remain that for generation upon untold generation, life on this planet has been thriving on water that has been "recycled" in one form or another, over and over again: It is the natural thing to do.

Additional information:

ESCONDIDO: City ponders converting sewage to drinking water

Monday, February 2, 2009

More 301(h) Details:

Last week Surfrider, Coastkeeper and Sierra Club entered into a cooperative agreement with City of San Diego for non-opposition to Clean Water Act 301(h) Waiver. All groups have received numerous inquiries regarding the San Diego environmental community’s decision not to oppose EPA’s tentative order to grant a CWA section 301(h) waiver for discharges from the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant in San Diego.

Local Surfrider activists know that this is an integral part of the Know Your H2O campaign. To explain the history and process of this groundbreaking agreement Marco Gonzalez compiled a great document, CLICK HERE to read it.

Here are some of the recent news stories regarding the agreement:

Voice of San Diego / San Diego Tribune / San Diego 6