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New solutions, conservation can help weather drought

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Water is not the only thing in short supply as California enters its fourth consecutive year of what is becoming its worst-ever drought, putting the world's eighth largest economy and the nation's breadbasket at risk.

Although solutions also are scarce, a portfolio approach of new supply solutions and conservation can buttress California's dwindling water supplies.

Desalination and potable reuse essentially are the solutions for augmenting water supply. The city of San Diego has embarked upon its "Pure Water" reuse program, which, when fully implemented, will recycle up to 83 MGD of water that otherwise would be discharged into the Pacific Ocean. But it will take at least half a decade until water starts flowing into city taps under Pure Water, and more than two decades until the program is fully implemented.

Meanwhile, after 15 years of planning, permitting, negotiating, legal challenges and construction, the Carlsbad seawater desalination plant will become operational around November of this year. The San Diego County Water Authority will purchase the entire 56 million gallons-per-day output of the plant, which will provide 7 percent to 10 percent of the county's water needs.

The merits of expediting new water supply projects could and should be debated. If CEQA could be suspended for new football stadiums in Los Angeles, could it not be suspended, or at least streamlined, for new water supply projects?

Conservation is an answer, but as Israel discovered, it alone is not the answer. It is a bridge that spans the distance to new water supplies.

Conservation is the main theme in Gov. Brown's recent executive order. Among other things, that order requires mandatory, statewide potable water cuts of 25 percent, directs adoption of rate structures encouraging conservation, calls for replacement of 50 million square feet of lawn and directs rebates to replace water inefficient household appliances.

Since new homes are extremely water efficient, conservation efforts should be directed to existing homes. San Diego long has required that water efficient toilets and shower heads be installed upon sale of an existing home.

Many people have lived in their homes for decades, have no plans to move and are unwilling to make the capital investment conservation requires. It's time to create a fund for water efficient household appliances, and then have the applicable water supplier offer to install them for existing homeowners, at no cost to them.

This program should be voluntary, as existing homeowners should not be forced to make upgrades they don't want. Those opting out still would be required to make the upgrades, at their cost, upon sale.

This program also should focus on outdoor water usage, and should fund replacement of water guzzling sprinkler heads. Once again, if existing homeowners opt out, they would be required to install water efficient lawn sprinklers, at their cost, upon sale.

Finding funding always is difficult. If, however, San Diego can find ways to fund a billion dollar football stadium, it can find ways to fund water efficiency improvements to help weather severe drought and create a bridge to new supplies.

Written by Keith Solar, managing shareholder at Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney.

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