COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | JIM SCHMIDT

Public interest says let's fight the desalination opponents

It has been very discouraging in recent days to see articles, an editorial and letters to the editor and Daily Transcript articles on the attacks against Poseidon's Carlsbad desalination plant. The terrible thing is that the opposition attorneys have just filed their fifth lawsuit against the Carlsbad Desalination Plant.

The first four lawsuits were dismissed. The writings indicate that the goal of the opponents is to mess up the badly needed project with the hope that Poseidon will either want to give up or have to give up because of the costs of the long delay, delay, delay situation, which is now over 10 years.

This writer recently saw a television interview with the owner of farm property in the Fresno area where he told about how he cannot plant things on most of his property because of the cutbacks in water due to the continual fighting over delivery of water from Northern California. He mentioned how he and other farmers have had to lay off most of their staff and that farm worker unemployment in the Central Valley of California is enormous because of the water problem. Our San Diego County Farm Bureau members face the same situation. The governor has been battling legislators on this issue and the environmental groups continue to fight important changes and the fixing of problems that will allow more water to flow to Central and Southern California.

This writer testified at the Coastal Commission hearings on the Carlsbad Desalination Plant. Fortunately, the Commission approved the project on an 8-2 vote over the strong objections and opposition of the staff of the Commission. The staff has continued to find ways to delay the project. When you see the name "Carlsbad" as the name of the plant, one needs to be aware that eight water districts will receive water from the project, including 180,000 people in the Sweetwater Authority District, which serves National City, Bonita and parts of Chula Vista. Sweetwater is a long way from Carlsbad.

Our San Diego region is at the end of the line with minimal sources of water. The city of San Diego and our water districts continue to inform the public about rate increases, water cutbacks and the need and directions to cut back on the use of water. The Carlsbad plant is not only a must for our region but it should just be the start of our San Diego area getting several more desalination plants. Why not? The water is right next door. There are a number of plants in California. A second San Diego County plant is being proposed for Camp Pendleton. We can and must get more water from the ocean and lead the way to help end our current scary water situation.

One reason this writer was and is a strong supporter of the desalination idea is the horrible story situation I saw in Monterey about 30 years ago. As part of attending a trip for a group of business groups a lot of us played golf and we were shocked to see the golf course. The area had severe water problems. Each fairway had a strip of land covered with grass about five yards wide that was watered. The other areas, except the greens, were not watered. Each golfer would hit the ball down the fairway and then pick up the ball and drop it in the five-yard area to then hit his next shot. Some friends in Santa Barbara told me about the same time that they were not allowed to water their lawns and that a company that sprayed lawns green made a lot of money. Santa Barbara was not in the state water project because of environmental opposition. This situation was corrected later.

In addition to joining the fight to continue to have water sent to us from Northern California two additional things need to be considered for our region and all of our local state legislators should team up to help San Diego. First the Coastal Commission staff is a real problem, as it seems to oppose everything. The governor has no control over the commission staff and only gets to appoint four of 12 commissioners and none of the staff. If he can line item veto the monies for the commission staff, then it should be considered. Then at a later time, after they are laid off, the funding can be returned and a new staff can then be selected by the commission to provide a positive approach for coastal oversight.

The second issue is litigation. Unfortunately frivolous litigation in California is easy and lawsuits like the one against the Carlsbad project do not require the litigators or their clients, when they lose, to pay all of the legal fees and damages to those who they attack in the litigation. Now sometimes there can be some minor recoveries of costs and losses but not all. This writer is not an expert in this area, so others who know the unfairness of some attacks need to help with ideas. The fifth lawsuit by same plaintiffs in the Poseidon case should require them to pay for all of Poseidon's legal fees and costs of delay. Is it possible?

The bottom line for San Diego is that we are at the end of the line for water. The problems of water delivery from the north and being able, with desalination, to use the ocean water (which is right next door) are major issues for our region. Something has to be done and must be done, otherwise our San Diego region is going to be hurt badly. Without an adequate water supply, San Diego faces a future where the ballgame may be over. Let's fight and help. Being able to water our lawns is a must!


Schmidt is retired banker and attorney, active in civic affairs including transportation, housing and sports, and with two major Chambers of Commerce. He also served as Gov. Reagan's appointee to three positions in state government.

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James McKeown 9:58pm October 29, 2009

THE DESALINATION FOES HAVE INSTITUTED THEIR 5TH lAWSUIT WHICH IS FRIVOLOUS. THEY SHOULD BE MADE TO PAY COSTS RELATED TO FURTHER DELAYS. WE NEED WATER NOT ENVVIROMENTAL CLOWNS.

Livia 7:50pm October 29, 2009

It's sad to see watering lawns and unemployed farm workers being defended with equal force. Mr. Schmidt, you claim you aren't an expert in litigation. Since 60 percent of the water in the county is put to residential use, and 60 percent of that is used for irrigation, we might think about conserving some of that water for more important uses. I for one don’t think golfing is more important than our ocean ecosystem. After all, it's right next door.