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San Diego's failure to treat sewage costs us money

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Poseidon Corp. is proposing to desalinate seawater, producing a veritable flood of, they say, cheap water. The Metropolitan Water District (MWD) was called upon to root for this scheme by promising subsidies of $250 per Acre-Foot of water (one acre one foot deep in water is an Acre-Foot, or AF). Normally, in California, we pay $30 to $220 per AF; in places that failed to provide enough water for their development, like San Diego, as high as $580/AF.

The connection between Poseidon's desalting schemeand the San Diego Waiver allowing them to avoid secondary treatment standards for sewage is that since San Diego need not recycle its sewage water, its bribed pols and others have a better argument for borrowing loads of money ($535 million in tax-free bonds) and spending it on a desalting plant that is completely DOA.

"Public subsidies approved for San Diego...",0,1148730.story

I think the MWD Commissioners know it's a scam; they sort of talked about it tongue-in-cheek in private conversations with me. But that's business; not all enterprises have to produce a salable product to reap huge piles of money for the in-crowd. After all, look at Enron, GM, and AIG. They all know of Poseidon's sorry record (its only desal plant, in Tampa Bay, was marred by controversy, bankruptcy and public takeover); there are no positive things you can say about Poseidon, the MWD Commissioners only say that Tampa Bay "doesn't matter".

Meaning, the Board members running MWD don't care if it's a scam, it's not their money. And since they are not elected or even publicly visible, there's no downside to running with this otherwise laughable idea.

The funding will be via Private Activity bonds most likely carrying "junk" rating, meaning a consortium of banks will guarantee it via Letters of Credit (according to the State office which oversees this sort of thing -- bond insurance is dead, so they have to use LOC).

So not only will all MWD Ratepayers support this boondoggle, but so will the FDIC, which will make good the losses when the bonds inevitably default.

There is a disanalogy between the Israeli plant, the only major desalting plant using RO, and California: the Israelis, who already recycle 70% of their wastewater and use a much higher percentage of available water for domestic use (25% domestic, according to an article by Mark Gold, vs. 10% domestic in California), don't have a choice: they have to pay $3000 per AF, more if necessary. They get by with 50 gallons per day per person; according to one report, the Palestinians, who depend on the Israelis for water, eke by on only 17 gallons per day per person.

The more reliable "flash" technology is not available to Israel because they don't have enough energy (using imported coal for electric generation), unlike oil-producing countries that can spend 60 mwh of "free" energy for each AF.

So, looking at the numbers, there's no way that our situation makes RO desalination economically viable. It's a "story" kind of thing, like the "miracle battery", "lithium mining", "dietless weight-loss" or "Ballard fuel cells" that hit the stock market from time to time and make a lot of money for the "pump and dump" crowd.

Obviously, it's a self-stultifying idea to produce water here for $3000/AF; unless it's mixed with cheaper water, and the cost hidden and spread over the rest of us, no one will buy that water. It's not viable even with the MWD subsidy of $250/AF. So MWD approval was needed solely for selling the bonds, since it's unlikely they will be called on to spend much of that subsidy, LOL.

San Diego uses over 150 gallons per day per person of potable water for domestic use alone, mostly for watering lawns (to keep a lawn green costs almost 1 gallon of water per square foot -- about 10 gallons per square meter) PER WEEK.

Per year, that's almost 6 AF of water per acre, a stack of water 6 ft. high on each green lawn. That's almost 4000 AF per square mile of lawn per year, in gallons too high a number to comprehend (1.1 billion gallons). Understand that for each 1 million homes having .01 acre lawn there's a total of 10,000 acres of lawn, or more than 16 square miles of lawn taking...lots of water.

And what's a lawn good for, anyway? If you've got one 20 square meter lawn in your neighborhood, why do you need another one, too? Mostly, it's for appearance, for golf curses, and for dogs to pee on.

Potable water, also, is wasted on producing gasoline: at least 20 gallons per barrel of oil, or about a half-gallon of water for each gallon of oil (some estimates are four times as high; the toxic refinery effluent is dumped into rivers and Ocean).

Conservation could and will easily produce more water, via avoided use, at a lower avoided cost, than wild-assed desalting schemes; the Ocean Desalination plans are simply a way to raise money and produce a shower of revenue for those in the right place on this gig. In Carlsbad itself, water bills are going up 10%, according to the city, to $80/month; you can see many canny Citizens tearing up lawns and putting in Xeriscape, saving 200 gallons of water per week for the average 20 square meter lawn.

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