The EIR for the Integrated Water Plan invoked “public health and safety” to justify the increased fossil fuel use of using desalination. We ask, “Are health and safety really at stake?” We are dubious when a strategy that would degrade the environment for future generations is presented as necessary for public health. Our conviction is that when there is an apparent conflict between the needs of the present and the needs of future generations, we need to take a closer look at how we define our present needs.
Just what is the effect on health and safety of a worst-case drought? The language of Water Department documents evokes a sense of emergency. The Water Shortage Contingency Plan (2009) categorizes five stages of drought severity. “Stage 3” is a drought event requiring system-wide peak-season curtailment of 25%. The Plan states, “A Stage 3 water shortage constitutes an emergency situation.” Yet in a Stage 3 drought, golf courses would get half of their normal year allocation.
According to the Draft EIR on the desal project, a worst-case drought, happening once in a hundred years, would result in a water supply that is 29% short of current demand. . That is very close to the goal of 25% set by the Water Commission a decade ago. Hardly a level that threatens public health.
There are a variety of ways in which the City could reduce the 29% shortfall. The Draft EIR mentions two: treatment of turbid (muddy) water would reduce the shortfall five percentage points. The Water Department estimates that conservation could reduce water demand by 200 million gallons (44% of the output of a desal plant). And their estimate is probably quite low.