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KPBS Commentaries

The Politics of Water or Goodbye to Street Showers

When I was growing up in Brooklyn, the dog days of summer were marked by the delighted squeals of children, and sometimes their parents, cooling off under the shooting geysers of city water freed from neighborhood fire hydrants. Someone had managed to dismantle city property, sending streams of public water shooting skyward before falling back to the steamy streets to soak and refresh the sweltering kids. It wasn'tlegal, of course – but, boy, was it fun! The fire, police and water departments never pursued the offenders. Instead, city workers, with good humor, reassembled the fire plugs, watched the wasted water flow down the streets and then into the storm drains. There was no angst over wasted water at that time and in that place. Those times are certainly gone (if they ever existed) in San Diego. Children dancing around lawn sprinklers and other playful uses of water are at end. Water is serious business with predictions of a "looming crisis" compounded by rate hikes and warnings to consumers to conserve water.

The looming crisis is the result of a confluence of factors ranging from a strange little fish called the Delta smelt, to the drought, to shrinking Colorado River supplies, to global warming. KPBS TV will take on these issues with "Tapped Out: San Diego's Water Future," the evening of October 18th. 

But let’s consider now whether the city of San Diego is handling the impending water shortage in a politically astute fashion.  After all, the word politics is based on the Greek polites or citizen , and politics is the art or science of government. And whether city government imposed the water and sewer increase artfully, scientifically, or even intelligibly is questionable.

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Take time to examine your latest bill from the water and sewer department and see if you understand what the increases are all about. Look at the last mailer and see if that makes it all any clearer. Check out the part that asks you to "conserve water by taking the 20 gallon challenge" and see if you can figure out how many gallons you now use and what percentage of your current usage you would have to cut to hit that 20 gallon goal. Finally, check out the water department's Web site and see if that helps you conserve water. 

If all else fails, you can voice your frustration or register your protest before the City Council at a public hearing,  at 2 p.m. on October 8th. Sounds good. But what’s the political sense behind scheduling the Council’s consideration of water and sewer rate changes for a  Monday afternoon when most working San Diegans are on the job? Why not an evening meeting?

Yes, our water situation is changing fast in both availability and cost. This is the time when responsible politicians provide their constituents with the tools they need to prepare and cope.

Judy Elliot
September 11, 2007 at 10:41 PM
I couldn't agree more. I do believe we need to conserve more, but I would like to see the City at least apologize or acknowledge their past use of our sewer money. I also agree, that on major issues such as this it should be required for the City Council to hold the meeting in the evening. Lastly, I would like to see the City and Water Authority be more proative on greywater use, & water storage for residential customers, e.g. rain barrels. It would be helpful if they could offer some kind of rebates or incentives for use of rain barrels that your can hook onto your rain gutters and use that water for outdoor watering. We lose thousands of gallons of water running off our roofs every time it rains. Hopefully, it will rain again sometime. Since the City Council hearing is on October 8th, it would also be more timely to have your program before this hearing. Just an observation. No doubt scheduling does not permit. -----

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Allan Mercer
September 13, 2007 at 06:56 PM
Ms. Penner, You got my interest when you talked recently about your own water bill. I don't listen to KPBS 24/7, so I could have missed it, but I have not heard anything from you recently about your water bill and the inability of the S. D. Water Department to explain it to you. Don't tell me you made some type of "deal" with the W. U. D. not to discuss it on your radio show any more. I believe the general incompetency of that city department, as well as others needs to be discussed more frequently on TV as well as KPBS radio. Thanks, Al