Calhoun’s Can(n)ons, for The Bay News, Morro Bay, CA
August 16, 2006
When I was a kid I used to love to look through the wrong end of the binoculars. Instead of seeing only part of something up close, the reverse view allowed me to see the whole scene, albeit reduced to a very small size. I found something comforting in that as a child; the big, complex world, with its huge fragmented pieces, could suddenly be reduced to a miniature world with all the puzzle pieces in view.
I was thinking about that flipped binocular view as I listened to the Ripley Pacific’s Wastewater Project Update Report at the Community Center on August 4th. For years, regulators, engineers, government officials have confused “sewers” with “clean water.” They’re not the same. And for years, they have been looking through their binoculars and only seeing a sewer plant that spent pots of money to remove something considered a “waste” (nitrates) and in doing so, created a product – treated water and sludge – that had to be “put” someplace. And getting stuff out and putting everything someplace kept getting harder and more expensive to do.
Ripley has reversed the whole thing by looking at a broader but much simpler issue: How much does it cost to produce an acre foot of potable water and get it to your door? The answer can be found by linking WATER with ENERGY.
And that linkage is something that needs serious consideration. Like it or not, deny it as you will, the fact remains that global warming is our future. It is a future that will bring weather changes to a state that is already short of water, while energy costs will do nothing but escalate. From this point forward, no community can afford to continue to do business as usual. Build for the 19th century, and you will not survive the 21st.
Ripley also asked another couple of critical questions: Septic tanks use no energy to work 24/7 to digest 90% of biosolids. Why spend pots of money on expensive energy needed to daily remove, treat and haul away that 90% in for form of sludge, which has to be taken to a “somewhere,” a “somewhere” that keeps getting harder and more expensive to find?
And why spend pots of money on the energy needed to get nitrates out of the wastewater when nitrates left in the water can be sent to farms where it is a valuable resource needed by the plants grown by farmers who then don’t have to spend pots of money buying sacks of increasingly expensive nitrogen fertilizer to put on their crops? And, by receiving nitrate-laden water for their crops, farmers can stop irrigating with lower aquifer water, thereby leaving that water in the ground to use for drinking. (Irrigating crops with drinking water makes about as much ecological and economic sense as watering your lawn with bottles of imported Fiji Water.)
In short, by reversing the view, Ripley’s proposal correctly sees “waste” as a “resource,” views “sewers” as only one component of a flexible basin-wide WATER MANAGEMENT problem, and links water and energy as the key method to determine both long term sustainability and cost.
This being Los Osos, the hidden-agenda monkey wrenchers and Sewer Jihadis on both sides of this issue are out scurrying about in the chaparral, cranking up their various spin machines. So, Caveat lector. The Ripley Report is both online at http://www.losososcsd.org/ , with hard copies available for review at the CSD office. I urge all Los Ososians to read the information for themselves.
And then do one simple thing: If/when the county takes over the wastewater project, the Ripley update will end up on the table along with all the other studies. When that happens, if the citizens of this fair burg don’t want to get spun and conned and threatened and bamboozled off another cliff, they’d better let the engineers and regulators sitting at that table know that this time, they’re watching. This time, they want an honest evaluation of the options. No unsupported “over riding considerations,” no “bait and switch,” no phony “strongly held community values,” no personal nose-out-of-joint pique putting sly fingers on the scale. Let’s have the best science, the best engineering, the best long-term sustainability criteria, no hide-the-salami “deferred” costs, no hidden agendas, then a fair vote.
After which we can all go home, pay the piper, and then pick some other topic to argue about.