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Desalinization is not the answer

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
April 22, 2005


Self-fulfilling prophecy is a harsh master, just as inevitability is an addiction better avoided. Yet here in Southern California we trade in inevitability like tweekers on crystal meth. Regardless of the social ills facing us we brush them aside with the broom of inevitability. Traffic gridlock? Inevitable. Lost of wild space?Inevitable. Air pollution? Water pollution? Overflowing landfills? Inevitable. Over-population? Inevitable. Buried beneath mountains of inevitabilities we continue to pile them on.

Considering San Diego County is situated in a semi-arid region, limited rainfall is a key environmental element. Water scarcity has been the norm since the early settlers of the region began raping the land at the turn of the previous century. Nothing has changed, except the technologies we use to deny the environmental realities of a region with limited water resources.

Over population is at the root of all of southern California's problems, the deepening deficit of drinking water being first and foremost. Unwilling to address the root of the issue of uncontrolled growth, regional water officials are once again scheming to build a desalinization plant in Carlsbad at the Encina Power Plant. Once completed, the proposed plant would process 50 million gallons of seawater a day.

Suffice it to say there are a host of environmental problems associated with water desalinization. As a biocentric, borderline luddite, I have issues with drinking sea water. Millions of years of evolution did not prepare humans too drink from the sea. Had it done so, there would be no need for million dollar facilities.

Here in southern California we are beginning to see the hardships that result from failing to live within limits, biological or otherwise.

Desalinization is not the answer.

Having hit a hydrological wall, it's clear population and consumption has reached a natural limit. Instead of pandering to the false prophets of inevitability, regional planners should stop planning for more and beginning preparing our communities to get by with less. Desalinization would not be necessary if local municipalities weren't so eager to allow native, drought resistant species, to be replaced with water intensive, irrigation dependent exotics, and thirsty green lawns.

Sadly, planning in San Diego County is dictated by economic interests advocating continuous population growth, regardless of available biological resources, with quality of life constantly being sacrificed to the bottom line of commerce and construction. The mantra being mouthed by city councils, county administrators, and state legislators is always the same. Profit before preservation, consumption before conservation and economics before the environment. Desalinization is just a high tech way of making matters worse.

Smart growth is managed growth, and managed growth is only possible when limits are respected. Desalinization does nothing to recognize natural limits. Sure, drinking water can be mined from the world's oceans, but by artificially maintaining human populations with what amounts to water subsidies, only encourages further development in already overburdened and over developed population centers.

With desalinization will come more people, more pollution, and the need for more of everything else. Once built, developers will point to the new desalinization plant to justify the construction of even more homes. With the construction of new homes will come the call for more schools, more freeways, more shops, more landfills, more jobs, cops, and more taxes to support the church of more. As they say, "It's inevitable."

With the move to desalinization to meet the needs of existing population, wise stewardship calls for a much stronger commitment to water conservation, and population limits. Gone are the days when we could afford the luxury of green lawns, and tropical landscaping. Also past is the time of encouraging population increase as a way of generating sales revenue. Having reached a tipping point, it is vital the leaders, planners and residents of San Diego County reevaluate our priorities and our commitment to environmental sustainability.

Toilet to tap, desalinization, and conservation measures are just different ways of dealing with the same problem of over population compounded by over consumption, an equation that will long be with us. As a culture of excess, sooner or later we will be forced to accept the limits imposed by nature. Desalinization is a high tech band-aid that will only prolong the inevitable, which many believe will be wars over water where future Californians battle over the most precious of resources we so wantonly squander under the illusion of anthropocentric entitlement.

Happy Earth Day!

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