Environmental Group Challenges San Diego County Water Authority's Master Plan Update
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition, I am Maureen Cavanaugh. How will San Diego County manages water needs through the year 2013 five? That is what the updated San Diego County water Authority master plan is in and did to tell us, the water authority tells us that the 2013 plan is a conference of evaluation of infrastructure requirements needed to keep supplying water to its member agencies. For months, the document was the subject of public hearings and incumbents. It was moving towards the broadest gratification until an environmental group stopped the process in its tracks. A group committed to stopping urban sprawl in San Diego backcountry says the master plans environmental impact study is flawed and is asked for a formal evaluation by the California environmental quality act. I would like to welcome my guests, Ken Weinberg and Jack Shu. Give us a little background on how a document like this is prepared, speaking about the master plan. What input do you get from cities and water agencies from around the county? KEN WEINBERG: We get a lot of input from water agencies in the county and we've been working of the master plan for a couple of years The facilities master plan is part of an overall come pick a conference of planning process in the first part is what we called the urban water management plan and that is our week project out the need for water out to 2035, where the supplies that we're going to have to meet that need for water The facilities master plan really looks at that focus on water need and sources of supply. And then it looks at what the infrastructure requirements are and that is what we're working on now through this process, and we work with the twenty-four retail water agencies with developing this plan to make sure that we're coordinated with how they operate their system and how they supply water and in some cases to meet their own needs, it all works in a coordinated fashion in determining what the infrastructure requirements are. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What are the hallmarks of this plan? Are there big introduction programs that are part of it? KEN WEINBERG: This is a good question, this is an update of the first master plan we did in 2003, and really because we have made some sick if can investments in supply infrastructure and water storage infrastructure, in treatment plants and pipelines and last twenty years, this plan is more about optimizing and getting the biggest aid for the buck out of what we're party put in the ground, one of the reasons we're able to do that and not really look at large new infrastructure is that we have really reduce our demand for water, if you compare 2007 which is a high water used here, now we have dropped the per capita use of water by about 27% and that really lets us use the existing infrastructure for a longer period of time MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Jack, the Cleveland national Forest foundation has but to this planets is that the water authorities environmental impact report does not apply with CEQA, tell us the problems with this. JACK SHU: There are two main problems, what is that the plan did not account for the growth inducing impacts of this plan, by simply supplying more and more water the plant is going to induce more suburban development, that which uses twice as much water as urban use, and also endangers our watershed and causes other pollutants, the other areas in regards to greenhouse gas emissions, we're all supposed to reduce greenhouse gas missions and in this plan they do not account for the greenhouse gas emissions that the water is caused by moving from my moving or producing the water. That is a critical issue to reduce the impacts of climate change and climate disruption all agencies have to take the responsibility. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now the criticism and the formal complaint that you had made against the master plan has to do with this environmental impact report but you also have problems with the idea that the way that the water agency is going to be providing water for the county general, besides that there whether or not they've given that the enough information about what impact the development would make. JACK SHU: Certainly there are legal issues involved including the violation of the CEQA. But also that it's business as usual to continue to build on the notice of the water authority is working, let's get more water and some more water. Let us see if we can continue to keep this cycle to produce more, we can use a lot less water, we can really deal with this water crisis in the number of other ways that are much better environmentally and economically and improve our improve our quality of life, that is so with the water authority is not addressing. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I understand that you cannot address this directly the criticisms put forward because you are now preparing a formal response, is that right? KEN WEINBERG: I would characterize it differently, Jack's organization is not drawing the process to halt, this is part of the CEQA process. We also prepared a action plan to comply with state laws in terms of greenhouse gas reduction copy of provided a document to address the impacts associated with those plans, and Jack's foundation has submitted a comment letter, that is part of the process for public involvement. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How does the report that you submitted, how does that indicate the growth in terms of proposed new housing progress will be affected by the water authority? KEN WEINBERG: For small the water authorities, not a land-use jurisdiction, it had over the last ten years of or more there's been a lot of focus on where our venues decisions being made and what water supply for the that. Ten years ago there was state legislation that requires water agencies to prepare was called the water supply assessment or verification, and submit that to cities and the county for them to make land-use decisions, basically what you are showing their is that you have supplies for the next twenty years, and the water authority board exists to provide water to the region and make policy decisions about that, and we freely followed the lead of the land-use jurisdictions and we focus our product planning for supply around what those decisions are in state laws. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Jack, what you would like to see in the environmental impact report on the master plan, is how the proposed housing projects that could be supplied by water that is available, how that would in impact our environmental quality? JACK SHU: That is right and legally they have to account for growth inducing impacts. They cannot pass the buck. If you enable it, you have to be accountable for that. We're talking about thousands and thousands of new homes going into our watershed, that is going to impact the watershed itself increase the use of our waters, and that water use goes up with suburban use is twice as high as ever use parenthesis. That is going to impact all of our water rates and we have everyone in the county has to pay for that. We're not the only ones who commented on the greenhouse gas emissions issue, three other letters were submitted, one from a consortium of environmentals and other cultural commissions, and these groups saw the same problems with this plan, and what we're asking for demanding that they do is to go back and not go forward business as usual, let's look at real measures to reduce our water rates and reduce our consumption, this is where we need to go forward. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm surprised to see in part of the letter that you send as a criticism and is a demand for this provision to be reviewed by CEQA is that the San Diego County Water Authority is under emphasizing conservation. I've heard from the water authority that we have cut back our consumption by 27% How has the master plan underemphasized conservation? JACK SHU: Actually all of the alternatives in the plan called for an increase of use, and in terms of conservation we have a long way to go. There are other communities that use less water per capita than we do. We can do quite well, and it me with your we are of using our water. San Diego Water Authority uses water like a commodity to buy and sell and we should be using it as a vital resource and that is what we're not doing. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Are these challenges having the potential to delay any projects planned by the water authority? KEN WEINBERG: We're in this formal review and comment to respond process I cannot get specific, but the way that the process is designed it's that groups have submitted formal comments on our environmental impact report that we are required under law to respond to that, and our board will have decisions with her responses are adequate and whether the want to certify within the product process and some of the commenters don't agree with us, they have recourse to the courts, that saw the process works. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now the Cleveland National Forest Foundation also challenged the authorities 2050 transportation plan and you are successful that Johnson a lot of the challenge revolves around the same concept that the plan was too much reliance on old ways of thinking, old transportation and new freeways, things that would not be innovative enough to check face the challenges and the environmental and air quality challenges that we have in the future, do you feel that the counties are responsible to come up with a whole set of new ideas and new ovation innovations in order to be able to conform to the CEQA requirements? JACK SHU: Certainly we can and we must think differently, we have to put aside old myths that thinking environmentally of the good for the environment hurts us it economically, it's the other way around. It will help our economy. If we reduce our water use and reduce getting water from high-cost sources like desalinization, this will reduce our rates and we had to pay. That is what is not happening here, we have to work towards a process in which we can reduce our use and reduce our cost of 400 and in many ways there are many ways to do this. That some of the problems is that the water authority since very little on conservation, they say they do it and out of their budget for this year we have a $1.5 billion budget, less than one half of 1% goes towards an office that deals with conservation, public outreach and conservation department department, how much of that less than .005% put in conservation? That is such a small drop in the bucket. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you both, since you're both here. Does this have to be an adversarial process? Is there any step along the way where you might sit down and see where the master plan might be able to be changed or conform in some way? To reach a consensus on this, is this possible? KEN WEINBERG: Talking for the water authority this is not adversarial, itis part of the public process that we try to address these issues, and I think it would disagree that we are not focused on conservation, we've been focused on conservation and it's been our most successful resource effort over the last 20+ years, and by reductions in demand we're assuming that continues, ethically you can to need to look at supply and reliability, but that does include developing supplies and that is the decision whether this local supply like seawater desalinization or water recycling, they produce energy or require energy to produce the water, and we have to balance that off with reducing greenhouse gas reduction and other environmental impacts and that is with the process does. Allows us through these discussions to wind up at the right balance between water supply reliability and protecting our Economy and quality of life, both sitting in an environmentally responsible matter. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: My last question, what is the next best step in the process? KEN WEINBERG: We're reviewing the comments and then we have to respond to those, and we think the earliest we will be back in front of our board and have responded to those questions will be in March. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you for coming in. I've been speaking with Ken Weinberg and Jack Shu. Thank you both very much.
How will San Diego County manage its water needs through 2035? That's what the updated San Diego County Water Authority master plan outlines.
The water authority says the 2013 Master Plan is a comprehensive evaluation of infrastructure requirements needed to to keeping supplying water to its member agencies.
For months, the document was the subject of public hearings and comments. The water authority said they expected the plan to be adopted in March, but a letter from an environmental group raised questions about whether the plan complies with the California Environmental Quality Act.
The Cleveland National Forest Foundation is committed to stopping urban sprawl in San Diego's backcountry. The group said the master plan's environmental impact report is flawed and called for a revised report.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story implied that the Cleveland National Forest Foundation stopped the progress of the San Diego County Water Authority's Master Plan. The challenge to the plan is part of the CEQA process.