Category Archives: Headlines

Bomb Investigation Ongoing at Dwyer/Smith Schools

The Surf City Voice has learned that police and fire officials have blocked off the intersection of 14th and Crest streets to investigate a possible bomb, although they say that they don’t believe at this time that students or others are in any danger or that evacuation will be necessary–from observation by the Voice, the investigation seems little more than a formality but precautions are being taken. “Something suspicious” was noted at one of the schools and is being

Photos: Surf City Voice

investigated, one official said.  Officials would not say which school the investigation eminated from or for how long the streets would be blocked off, but they are asking that residents outside of the blocked area stay away and that people who live inside of the area stay in their homes so as not to attract other spectators. Smith school is an elementary school, Dwyer is a middle school and as been the site of a recent controversy and protests over solar panels that are being installed on the front lawn of the school. In the unlikely even that there is an evacuation, a route has been selected, a police official said.

Saving Face: Councilman Matt Harper didn’t disclose his own drunk driving conviction

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Councilmember Devin Dwyer’s proposal to post the names and photos of habitual DUI suspects on the police department’s Facebook page ignited nationwide news coverage and controversy, but it also opened a broader discussion about Surf City’s alcohol problem and what to do about it.

A study by the Huntington Beach Police Department showed that the high concentration of bars and restaurants selling alcohol downtown is linked to the city’s number one public safety threat –drunk driving (“Surf City’s Alcoholic Downtown”).

But on Jan. 18 the City Council voted 4-3 to direct the Chief of Police not to use Facebook to post DUI suspects’ profiles, whether they are “habitual” offenders or not. There were council concerns that the measure wouldn’t work, that it would humiliate innocent family members, and that it would scare off tourists.

HB City Councilmember Matt Harper. Photo: Arturo Tolenttino, SCV

Matt Harper was one of three council members (with Dwyer and Don Hansen) who supported Dwyer’s proposal and who opposed restricting the police. He had opposed Dwyer’s original idea of announcing every DUI arrest on Facebook, he told the council, but favored his “more deliberative and much more vetted” revised approach of exposing only “habitual” offenders.

Harper said he was glad to have the discussion.

“I do like the dialogue,” Harper assured the council. “I do like the council members getting out onto the table what their thoughts are because I think they’re representative of a lot of the thoughts that are happening in our community.” In light of changing Internet trends, he added, the council probably should periodically revisit the idea rather than implement it permanently.

But Harper was being obtuse or perhaps evasive, despite his call for a public dialogue.

Nobody on the council, including Harper, challenged the assumption that first-time arrested drunk drivers should be let off the hook. The reason given for that in other discussions was to respect the presumption of innocence. But that presumption is already overlooked in arrest logs that the police are mandated by law to publish and that have always been available at police stations and, more recently, on regular city websites.

The so-called habitual offender is also presumed innocent when arrested, so why not expose first-time (alleged) DUI offenders on Facebook as well as the alleged habitual DUI offenders?

The first-time alleged DUI offender would also be tempted to drive on a suspended or revoked license, same as the habitual offender. If that person did drive illegally, he could be reported to police by family members, friends or public citizens who know of his driving restrictions and recognized him from Facebook; again, same as for the habitual offender.

And, perhaps, the threat of being placed on Facebook might prevent the first-time DUI suspect from becoming a repeat offender or prevent some other potential drunk driver from getting behind the wheel in the first place. In other words, the same logic applied to the habitual offender argument can be applied to all alleged DUI offenders.

Surely, making one size fit all would be more consistent with the idea that a good Facebook flogging would serve as a deterrent and alert to others and help to ensure public safety.

Harper might be excused for not addressing the full range of possibilities for using Facebook to combat the city’s alcohol problem if not for one detail that he failed to bring up at the council meeting and that has not been reported in the press until now:

On Dec. 19, 2004, at about 1:30 in the morning, Harper was arrested by the HBPD on Beach Blvd. and Bishop Street in the city of Westminster and then booked in the Huntington Beach City Jail for driving under the influence and being well over the blood alcohol concentration limit (BAC), according to court records. Harper was serving as an elected member of the board of the Huntington Beach Unified High School District at the time.

When contacted by the Voice, Harper spoke willingly about the incident and acknowledged that on the night he was arrested he had eaten but also downed seven alcoholic drinks between the hours of 6 p.m. and 1 a.m.

Put another way, Harper was arrested for binge drinking, which the Center for Disease Control says contributes to 80 percent of “impaired driving events” and which it defines  as having a BAC of 0.08 percent from a single occasion—an occasion being from 2 – 5 hours long–usually from five (for men) or more drinks.

A breath test he took at the time of arrest showed an blood alcohol concentration of .131.13, which means that he was legally drunk to a point that could significantly impair balance, judgment, memory and motor skills.

Harper admits that what he did was both “illegal” and “inappropriate” but added that “some people will have different views” about what happened. He offered his own interpretation of why he was pulled over by the police.

In Harper’s view, he fit in well among the drunk driver profile types that the police were looking for when he was arrested: a 30-year-old male driving without his car lights on, late at night, three nights before Christmas.

“There were a lot of fish to be caught and I was one of them that night,” he said.

Harper’s DUI charge (count 1 of two misdemeanor charges) was dropped and he eventually pled guilty to the second count of driving over the legal limit of .08 percent blood alcohol content.

Harper was given three years informal probation with driving restrictions for 90 days, mandatory counseling and he paid over $1,500 in fines. After successfully completing his probation he changed his plea to not guilty for the second count, which was then dismissed by the court.

Harper had no prior arrests for drunk driving and has been clean since 2004. But as he pointed out, and as an HBPD study shows, many drunk drivers aren’t caught. Full disclosure: twice in the mid 70s and once in the early 80s this reporter was one of those people who drove under the influence but did not get caught. Luckily, there were no accidents.

The Voice was aware of Harper’s drunk-driving conviction prior to the November election when he ran for his first term on the City Council but did not report the incident then because it was deemed irrelevant as a news item.

In Harper’s view, his arrest and conviction for drunk driving is still irrelevant, despite that he voted on an issue that was directly related to his own personal experience, an experience that might have given him insights that he could have shared for the public benefit at the time of the vote.

Although Harper is required by law to disclose his conviction in response to “any questionnaire or application for public office, for licensure by any state or local agency,” etc., he believes that its dismissal separated him from it forever. “It was as if I had a car and I sold the car and no longer have the car,” he explained.

 “I didn’t feel that it would contribute significantly to the discussion in the same way that others [on the council] didn’t think they should have disclosed about speeding tickets under item 13,” he said, referring to a council discussion and vote (also on Jan. 18) on an ordinance that would change speed limits on city streets.

Harper’s take on the cause of the downtown area’s huge DUI problem is that it’s the result of the city’s unique geography–backed up against the sea rather than centrally located or near a freeway that would take drunk drivers away to be arrested elsewhere–and its highly concentrated younger (18-30) demographics. The long term remedy, he says, is to increase the diversity of businesses and store fronts downtown, with mixed-use residential to create clients who can walk rather than drive to and from the bars and restaurants.

If nothing else, Harper’s arrest and conviction for drunk driving, along with the entire Facebook controversy, helps illustrate how easy it is to blame others while ignorning the effects of our own policy decisions.

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Dwyer Students Protest Solar Panels Placement

About 200 students from Dwyer Middle School in Huntington Beach, CA, marched from their school to nearby Lake Park to protest the planned installation of solar panels on

Dwyer protest
Dwyer students speak out at protest in Lake Park. Photo: John Earl, SCV

the grass field in front of their school. Parents’ groups and students say that they were not adequately informed about the plans and that the solar panels will block the view of the school, which is recognized as an important historical site. School officials say that the public was fully informed throughout the process but strong opposition to the plans came only after it would be too expensive to move the panels to a new location. The protesters focused on critcizing Chevron, which the Huntington Beach City School District has contracted with to provide solar energy panels for five schools, including Dwyer, Hawes, Seacliff, Smith and Sowers to provide 33 percent of districts electrical power–at a minimum estimated savings of $75,000 a year. The students plan an overnight protest on the school site. A full report will appear in the Surf City Voice over the weekend.

Addendum: Apparently there is no “overnight” protest at the Dwyer school afterall. The report was based on information posted on signs distributed by protest organizers earlier in the week. There is no such overnight protest, however.

Also, on another note, foundations for the solar panels have already been installed on the lawn at the front of the school.

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Desalination: Focus on affordable solutions

By Debbie Cook
Special to the Surf City Voice

Debbie Cook is the former mayor of Huntington Beach. As a member of the Huntington Beach City Council, she opposed the Poseidon desalination project proposed for the city. She served on the state’s Desalination Task Force and has written extensively on the relationship between water and energy as well as peak oil. Her articles have appeared in a wide array of publications and she is well known for her expertise on energy related issues. This is the last of three parts.

Worldwide, humans have quickly and wastefully consumed water from the cheapest sources by over-pumping aquifers and over-allocating rivers. We’ve turned to technology to eke out more but technology is not without its costs. Every remaining incremental gallon of water will come at a higher and higher price. Are we nearing a breaking point?

Prior to the 2008 run-up in oil prices, gasoline, like water, was widely believed to be inelastic–that consumption of such an essential commodity would grow despite the price. But as gasoline prices headed toward $4/gallon, discretionary spending shrank and the economy shrank.

The rising costs of essentials like food, shelter, energy, and water have a disproportionate impact on low-income households. Low-income assistance programs for water vary significantly from one jurisdiction or utility to the next. For example, in California, San Jose Water provides a 15 percent discount on the total bill while Valencia Water provides a 50 percent discount off the monthly service charge. Such programs shift the costs onto remaining consumers and businesses many of whom are also facing economic distress. Are these programs sustainable in the face of continuous water rate increases and growing economic challenges?

“A solution isn’t a solution if it isn’t affordable.”

Those were the cautionary words of Cuban energy expert Mario Avila who visited California in September of 2010. Cuba has lived through a number of energy crises. The one with which I was familiar was the oil shock that resulted from the collapse of the Soviet Union. But Mario explained that it was the lesser known electricity crisis following the 2005 hurricane season that exposed the vulnerability of their water system. Two power plants were destroyed by two storms plunging the island into relentless daily blackouts. Without electricity, water didn’t move, it could not be treated, and it could not be discharged. Castro declared an “energy revolution” and within a six-month window, thousands of “social workers” were deployed to inventory and replace every incandescent light bulb on the island and promote zero-interest loans for efficient appliances. Rather than replace the two large power plants, the nation built smaller, distributed power plants improving the resiliency of their system and restoring power and water.

Resilience should be the goal of water planners but most options that improve resilience–water harvesting, conservation, demand management– receive a tepid reception. One major reason is because water providers are paid to sell water, not conserve it. And there isn’t an ongoing assurance for funding conservation or efficiency. When budgets get tight, the conservation budget is the first to be eliminated as was done last year by Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD). Ironically, while eliminating the conservation fund, MWD was approving subsidies for desalination and raising water rates because their conservation message had resulted in lower water consumption. Conservation and low tech options for reducing water demand will never compete against capital projects in the current regulatory framework.

Level the playing field
It isn’t surprising that an industry that can’t even quantify water in a consistent unit of measure (acre-feet, gallons, cubic meters, units, cubic foot), would apply different criteria to different water options. The result is a misleading comparison between options.

Here’s an example. Say a proponent tells you that the new desalination project will produce water at $1000/acre-foot. You’re told that your city is buying water from MWD for $750/acre-foot. The natural reaction will be to compare $750 to $1000. But MWDʼs actual production costs are closer to $200 of that $750 figure. That means $550 is covering their fixed costs. So even if you reduce your imported water by 10 percent, the remaining costs (including your city’s 90 percent remainder) will have to be leveled across all water purchasers. Communities that are not the recipients of the desalinated water will nevertheless be footing the bill through subsidies and cost sharing.

Similarly there has not been a fair method for comparing conservation measures to traditional water sources. For example, the cost effectiveness of rainwater tanks has traditionally been calculated by comparing the cost of installation against the savings on household bills. But this ignores the broader cost savings to the community in deferred water infrastructure, storm water infrastructure and environmental externalities like greenhouse gas emissions. When those are accounted for, rainwater harvesting is superior to desalination.

A model already exists for a regulatory framework that would address such conflicting motivations. In 1982 California became the first state to adopt an electric revenue decoupling mechanism. This gave utilities the incentive to promote conservation and efficiency because their ability to recoup their fixed costs was decoupled from the volume of their sales. In addition to decoupled rates, California has a “loading order” of energy preferences that place priority on the least expensive and most environmentally protective resources. When meeting California’s energy needs, conservation and efficiency are considered before additional generation is added.

A sustainable conservation budget would give priority to cost effective programs like water capture, drip irrigation, water recycling, low-flow devices, and water management programs that reduce demand, costs, and bring true resilience to the water sector.

Left to compete on an uneven field, conservation will remain the bastard step-child to desalination. In 2006, many communities in Australia were offering substantial rebates on water tanks. By 2007, demand was so high that prisoners were put to work building tanks. Buoyed by studies that demonstrated other options would be more cost effective than desalination, twenty-three government leaders pledged $250 million toward their goal of reaching 500,000 households. Then in 2008, with the collapsing economy and in the midst of the desalination boom, the Bligh government dismissed wide scale rollout of water tanks. Some officials sensed a threat of competition to their capital projects, going so far as to suggest the licensing of water tanks so as to enable levying taxes on rainwater collected.

Remove the rose-colored glasses
Technology has its place. But it is not magic and shouldn’t be seen as the solution to all our problems. That which is technologically feasible is not necessarily economically feasible. Desalination cannot be “greened” by utilizing solar or wind energy for its energy requirements. Not only is the scale of such a proposal enormous, it ignores the fact that all renewable energy resources are backstopped by fossil fuels. Moreover, the price of such a proposal would significantly increase the cost of desalination, exacerbating the economic problems of water pricing and availability.

Perhaps the most important lesson I have learned over the past eight years of observing the desalination/water industry is that we create our own problems. And we are stuck in a perpetual feedback loop applying fixes to yesterday’s solutions. That’s the perfect recipe for rear-ending our future. The remedy is to increase our awareness of unintended consequences and the dynamic relationships between water, the environment, and human settlements. It is a systems thinking approach that starts with a willingness to open our minds and apply critical thinking.

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Desalination – Yesterday’s Solution: Exhume the dead

By Debbie Cook
Special to the Surf City Voice

Debbie Cook is the former mayor of Huntington Beach. As a member of the Huntington Beach City Council, she opposed the Poseidon desalination project proposed for the city. She served on the state’s Desalination Task Force and has written extensively on the relationship between water and energy as well as peak oil. Her articles have appeared in a wide array of publications and she is well known for her expertise on energy related issues. This is part 2 of three parts.

Everyone has skeletons in their closets, desalination is no exception. Burying them does a disservice to the millions of public dollars that have been invested. Let’s celebrate their weaknesses so that we may never repeat their mistakes. There may be many dozens of such projects, but here are a few that have experienced their share of controversy: Santa Barbara, Key West, Santa Catalina, and Yuma.

  • Santa Barbara’s project was mothballed before a single drop of water was introduced into its distribution system.
  • Key West built a 130 mile pipeline and implements water rationing when necessary, thus avoiding operation of its plant.
  • Catalina Island hasn’t operated its plant in years, relying on price signals with water rates that are perhaps the highest in the nation. Their top water tier is over $10,000/acre-foot. In response to the utility’s rate increase request, the California Public Utilities Commission had this to say about the Catalina facility: “…for Catalina Island in 2005, desalinated water accounted for only 25 percent of total water production, but desalination accounted for approximately 70 percent of total electricity usage.” Despite repeated requests, the operator, Southern California Edison, would not divulge information about the plants operation.
  • The 72mg/d Yuma desalter, constructed by the Bureau of Reclamation, was built to comply with a treaty with Mexico. It was completed in 1992, operated at 1/3 capacity for 6 months and then shut down in 1993. Other, less expensive options for treaty compliance made it unnecessary.

In addition to these projects, there are many pilot projects that litter Southern California. I’ve often wondered why every proposed project has to be preceded by a pilot project. There is one in Los Angeles County that has already expended $23 million of public money. It follows one built in Long Beach which follows one built in Carlsbad which follows one… You get the picture. It’s insane.

Go slow, include all stakeholders
Australia began its desalination building boom in 2004 amid a prolonged drought, ultimately committing $10 billion for six projects. Public participation consisted of after-the- fact review of incomplete details. Construction contracts even contain backed out details of critical information. Decisions were made at Cabinet level and one officialʼs rationale for excluding the public was that information would be “incomprehensible” to the them.

Officials further aggravated their problems by approving multiple projects that competed with each other for materials and labor. Perth, completed its first project in 2006 with the lowest projected water costs of $1677/acre-foot. Later projects came in significantly higher. The Productivity Commission, the government’s independent research and advisory body, announced in July an investigation into the financial and environmental impact of Australia’s water sector. A final report is expected in July. The number of customers seeking financial assistance has risen by 20 percent in two years. The auditor-general of Australia has estimated that the $5.7 billion Wonthaggi plant in Victoria will cost $24 billion over the life of its 28-year contract11 and water increases of 20 percent per year for five years have been recommended. The first political backlash occurred in November’s elections where the Labor party took a beating. With rain returning and reservoirs rising to normal, the Queensland/ Gold Coast Tugun plant and Victoria’s Wonghaggi plant are proposed to be placed on standby to ease the burden on ratepayers.

Assess the weak links
Energy makes up the lion’s share of the costs of producing water, whether from the reverse osmosis process or a thermal process. Like the oft reported stories of “new energy” sources, the desalination industry is constantly bragging about new technologies that have reduced the energy demands of their process. I hope they are true, but until the industry can convert those promises into lower costs, they are no better than the hype of biofuels or perpetual motion.

Despite the widespread belief that the Middle East has unlimited energy resources, both water security and energy security are a real threat to their economy and world security. How long will the Middle East, where as much as 90 percent of water is coming from ocean desalination be able to afford the luxury of desalinated water? According to some reports, water rates in Saudi Arabia cover less than half of one percent of the cost of producing desalinated water. Subsidizing water, food, and gasoline is seen as a way of sharing the country’s oil wealth. But the absence of any price signal has led to some of the highest per capita water consumption in the world, and highest greenhouse gas emissions in the world. Saudi Arabia now ranks 6th in greenhouse gas emissions, half directly attributable to desalination. Authorities are straining under the burden of water and energy demands pushed by burgeoning population growth. Despite allocating $150 billion over the next five years for power and water projects, they have been forced to abandon their goal of becoming self-sufficient in wheat production. With natural gas in short supply, the feedstock to produce electricity will continue to be oil. The irony is that oil revenues make up 90 percent of the Saudi government’s budget so every barrel diverted to water is a barrel that cannot be sold on the market to fill state coffers.

The rising costs of energy are not just impacting the cost of electricity, they impact the entire desalination supply chain: mining of materials, (e.g. 6 million pounds of titanium alone are required for the worldʼs largest desalination plant in Saudi Arabia); manufacturing and shipping of components; construction; continuous supply of chemicals that are derived from fossil fuels; maintaining equipment; and any necessary treatment for the discharged brine and chemicals. We have long assumed that water was the limiting resource for societies, but water is just the end product of a very long supply chain, with any link capable of affecting reliability.

To be continued.

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Water Down the Drain: SoCal squanders badly needed rainwater, but there are solutions

By Sarah (Steve) Mosko
Special to the Surf City Voice

Southern California (SoCal) imports about half of its water from northern California and the Colorado River. 

Question: What’s wrong with that picture? 

Answer: It threatens the ecosystems of both those sources of water and contributes to global climate change via the enormous energy expended in transporting water over long distances. 

What’s more, SoCal manages its rainfall through a storm drain system that directly contributes to ocean pollution while squandering opportunities to put a precious source of water to use. 

No wonder northern Californians are reputed to be less than enamored with their neighbors to the south. 

The heavy downpours which made December 2010 one of the wettest in SoCal history serve as a reminder that, despite being semi-arid, the region’s rainfall is by no means inconsequential and might be put to better use than overwhelming sewer systems and polluting coastal waters. 

SoCal is home to two-thirds of the state’s population yet receives just one-third of the rainfall and has relied on imported water for over a century. The problems this imbalance has created are now well known. 

The ecosystems of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and the Colorado River are both in dire straits from the demands placed on them and management shortfalls. The California State Water Project, which pumps the water some 400 miles and up 2000 feet over the Tehachapi Mountains, is the state’s single largest user of electricity and consequently a significant source of global warming-producing greenhouse gases. The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has calculated that “it takes up to twenty times more energy to supply water to southern California through the State Water Project as it does to supply groundwater locally.” 

Water experts agree no one solution is likely to completely solve the southern region’s water supply problem. With that said, a study recently published jointly by the NRDC and the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB), “A Clear Blue Future”, outlines practical measures, collectively referred to as low-impact development (LID), which could be applied to homes and businesses by developers and governments to put SoCal on a better footing toward a sustainable water future. 

The main thrust of LID is simple: prevent rainwater from entering storm drains by capturing and repurposing it where it lands while simultaneously replenishing groundwater aquifers.

For homeowners, LID means funneling rain gutter outflow either directly onto local landscaping, via downspouts and hosing, or alternatively into rain barrels or cisterns for future irrigation. It also means grading driveways to prevent runoff onto streets and sidewalks and choosing pervious paving materials (like bricks, tiles or permeable cement) specifically designed to foster seepage into groundwater. Businesses would do the same and could also collect cistern water for toilet flushing and install so-called “living” rooftops to further minimize runoff. 

Developers would do their part by promoting water-retaining landscape designs and permeable paving. 

The internet is fairly awash in information about rainwater collection systems, some do-it-yourself and at low cost. They can be as small as 50 gallons or up to 25,000 gallons for large scale applications and can pay for themselves through savings on water bills. 

The NRDC-UCSB report also calls on municipalities and governments to require LID practices for new developments, redevelopments or retrofits and to offer tax incentives and/or subsidies to homeowners and businesses that adopt LID strategies. 

The beauty of allowing rain to percolate through soil on site is it prevents urban runoff which, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is the greatest non-point source of water pollution. Streets and sidewalks look clean after a rain because all the oil, grime and trash gets washed into storm drains, along with synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, animal waste and bacteria from landscaping, all of which are harmful to aquatic life. Directing rainwater instead onto landscaping allows the soil to naturally filter out pollutants. What’s more, rainwater is easier on plants because it does not contain the chlorine that is added to tap water. 

By raising the levels of groundwater aquifers in the SoCal region, more potable water would be made available locally for extraction and at lower cost in terms of both money and energy. And, together with rainwater collected for irrigation, the demand placed on imperiled, far-away water sources is eased. 

Lest anyone think SoCal does not get enough rain to make harvesting it worthwhile, consider that most cities in the area average between 10 and 17 inches of yearly rainfall spread out over about 33 days, and just one-half inch of rain on a 1000 square foot roof could yield over 300 gallons of water. 

Consider also the NRDC-UCSB study’s estimate that implementation of LID practices in California could, by 2030, save 1,225,500 megawatt hours of electricity each year, enough to power well over 100,000 homes. Similarly, relying less on water from energy-intensive sources like northern California or from desalination (see “Unlocking Solutions”)  could reduce annual atmospheric emissions of carbon dioxide by over 500,000 metric tons, an impact equivalent to eliminating nearly 100,000 cars per year. 

The cities of Los Angeles and Long Beach recently implemented pilot rainwater harvesting programs which provided a limited number of property owners with free rain barrels. San Diego undertook a study at selected municipal sites to figure out the best roofing materials and rain barrel collection systems. Today, property owners in Santa Monica can earn rebates on rain barrel or cistern installations. In June 2010, a first-in-the-nation ordinance took effect in Tucson requiring new commercial  constructions to meet 50 percent of their landscape demand using harvested rainwater.

A sobering article in the Los Angeles Times on January 14 reminds us that, despite the record rainfall of late, the Pacific Ocean is nevertheless in the grip of powerful La Niña conditions which generally portend an extra dry winter for SoCal. Whether or not the rest of the season will be as dry as some meteorologists are predicting, the pressure to locate more potable water will be increasing in the future as a result of population expansion. The U.S. Census Bureau is predicting that populations in the region’s already four largest counties – Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange and Riverside – will by 2050 have swelled by anywhere from 32 to 122 percent. 

Simply harvesting rain could go a long way toward helping all SoCal cities reach the 20 percent per-capita reduction in urban water consumption by year 2020, as mandated in the Water Conservation Act of 2009 enacted by then Governor Schwarzenegger.

Tiered water rates, where water guzzlers pay more for their greater consumption, are becoming commonplace and also foster conservation by pinching consumers in the pocketbook for the wasteful practices ratcheting up their water bill. As example, the Metropolitan Water District of SoCal estimates that up to 70 percent of residential water use is for irrigation which could be scaled way back by replacing lawns with drought-resistant plants. 

Huntington Beach
The city of Huntington Beach (HB) stands out among SoCal communities for not yet implementing tiered water rates, primarily for lack of a billing system that supports it, according to the city’s Water Conservation Coordinator Bill Crisp. HB’s official website talks up the merits of installing rain barrels, and Crisp says the city is seriously kicking around the idea of selling rain barrels for cheap to residents but needs to figure out first where to store them. 

However, HB does already have an ordinance limiting yard irrigation to cooler parts of the day and just once weekly during the rainy season and three times a week in April through October, though the program runs primarily on the honor system. And, the city participates with 12 water agencies in the area in offering rebates of $1 per square foot for turf removal. Applications are available on the city’s website, and although the deadline for submission is January 31, Crisp hopes the program will be extended another year. Rebates for other water-saving upgrades – rotating sprinkler heads and weather-based irrigation controllers – are available as well.

 HB’s website touts that water consumption per household has dropped 20 percent over the last decade, largely through installation of water-saving upgrades like low-flow toilets and faucet aerators. Under the Water Conservation Act, the per capita daily consumption goal for the coastal SoCal area, which includes Huntington Beach, is 149 gallons by 2020. As is true for other seaside communities which view the ocean as their own backyard, HB has already surpassed this goal at its current per capita consumption of 106 gallons per day. 

Nevertheless, Crisp concedes residents could do a lot more to save on irrigation which still accounts for at least half the typical household’s water usage. He encourages people to look into harvesting their own rainwater and to visit the Shipley Nature Center on Goldenwest Street to experience the beauty of native, drought-resistant landscaping as alternative to water-thirsty lawns. 

Conscientious parents teach their children personal responsibility through the idiom “Waste not, want not” and the wisdom of savings accounts and living within one’s means. So too, we southern Californians can take more responsibility for our water consumption through efforts to capture and make good use of the precious allotment nature blesses us with, free of charge. 

Turning off the water while brushing our teeth, no matter how well intended a gesture, is not near enough.

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Desalination: Unlocking Answers from Yesterday’s Solution

By Debbie Cook
Guest Columnist

Debbie Cook is the former mayor of Huntington Beach. As a member of the Huntington Beach City Council, she opposed the Poseidon desalination project proposed for the city. She served on the state’s Desalination Task Force and has written extensively on the relationship between water and energy as well as peak oil. Her articles have appeared in a wide array of publications and she is well known for her expertise on energy related issues. This is part 1 of a three-part story.

There is powerful information waiting to be unleashed in water data. If it were set free it would force us to re-think how we use, develop, sell, transfer, and dispose of water. Rather than focusing on the miles per gallon our cars get, we might consider how much water per mile we get from that fuel. Rather than arguing over how much energy is being used to produce water, we would give credit to how much water is required to produce energy. Rather than focusing on whether our food is grown locally, we would consider how much water it took to grow that food in our locality.

For all the lip-service we give to water and its pivotal role, why is there not a U.S. Water Information Administration modeled after the U. S. Energy Information Administration? Established in 1977 as a response to the 1973 oil disruptions, the EIA “collects, analyzes, and disseminates independent and impartial energy information to promote sound policymaking, efficient markets, and public understanding of energy and its interaction with the economy and the environment.” With a budget of $111 million per year, the agency produces data and analysis free of influence from the Executive Branch. The water sector screams for such a resource.

My particular interest in water began in 2003 when I served on the California Desalination Task Force, a group appointed by the State Legislature to look into the opportunities and impediments of desalination. Data is at the heart of reaching conclusions on a technology. Where did the data come from that allowed the committee to write its findings and recommendations? Who verified the veracity of the data? Would it stand up to scrutiny? I have spent eight years chasing such questions.

Information is not easy to come by. There are over 52,000 public and private water utilities in the U.S alone operating largely in anonymity. Public utilities offer varying levels of transparency, private utilities virtually none. The desalination industry consists of over 30,000 companies producing membranes, tanks, chemicals, pipes, monitoring, design, construction, mitigation, engineering, drilling, waste management, and consulting services. Many are competitors and hold data close to the vest. Foraging through public information, industry publicity, scientific papers, and news stories produces information that is contradictory and confusing.

There are 19 desalination projects proposed for Californiaʼs coast. With billions of dollars at stake, the public deserves more clarity on financial and environmental impacts. What are the assumptions that underlie our decisions to move forward? What issues are being left unaddressed? What lessons have we missed that could inform better water planning? Water agencies may be satisfied with the industryʼs propaganda, but my research suggests they should pause and re-examine where we have been and where we are going.

Remembering the past
Desalination proponents throw out numbers that cannot be verified or replicated and those numbers are repeated by the media and government officials as if they were fact.

An article published by the Los Angeles Times on December 4, 2010 is an example.

“Although still not cheap, the cost of desalinated water has been cut by more than half since 1998, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.”

I contacted the reporter to find the source of this statement and received no reply. I searched the USGS website and found an out-of-date overview of desalination with an unsourced sentence that looked like it might be the culprit of the reporter’s “fact.”

“As of 1998, the high cost of desalination has kept it from being used more often, as it can cost over $1,000 – $2,200 per acre-foot (1992 cost basis) to desalinate seawater as compared to about $200 per acre-foot for water from normal supply sources. Desalination technology is improving and costs are falling, though, and Tampa Bay, Florida is currently desalinizing water at a cost of only $650 per acre foot.”

Thinking there might be additional data available from the USGS, I contacted them. They were unable to direct me to any reports or studies to verify the veracity of the claim that Tampa Bay is producing water at $650 an acre-foot. Most likely the figure came from the original presentations made to Tampa Bay Water over a decade ago. Price was probably the motivating factor in Tampa Bayʼs decision to construct a project, but as NOAA stated in a 2003 publication, “Time will not only tell the environmental impacts of Tampa Bay’s desalination plant, but it will also determine if it’s really producing the cheapest desalted seawater in the world.” It would be wonderful if time did tell its secrets. Unfortunately for truth seekers, time may tell but no one is listening.

Last March, according to Tampa Bayʼs General Manager, the cost of production was $1140/acre-foot. Itʼs anyoneʼs guess how he came up with that figure. If you calculate the marginal cost of water based on what the plant has actually produced since 2003, then the cost of water is closer to $1826/acre-foot. Either way, the reporter did the public a disservice by perpetuating the myth that desalinated water can be produced at $650 per acre-foot. I could almost hear the gullible politicians jumping on board.

The reporter could have provided a valuable public service had she written about Tampaʼs twelve years of bankruptcies, technical challenges, and cost overruns. A search of news archives produced an interesting collection of stories, likely with similar fact checking issues, but nevertheless, interesting for the overall picture they paint.

  • 1998 engineering contract awarded to Stone & Webster
  • 2000 Stone and Webster declares bankruptcy
  • 2001 Covanta (partnering with Poseidon Resources) hired to construct and operate for 30 years at $7 million/year
  • 2003 (March) initial output begins producing 3 million gallons but acceptance test fails
  • 2003 (August) plant is shut due to clogged filters
  • 2004 Tampa Bay pays $4.4 million for Covanta to go away
  • 2004 (September) American Water Services hired to fix plant at cost of $29 million. Completion projected for 2006.
  • 2006 (January) Agreement reached between Southwest Florida Water Management District (Swiftmud) (agency funding $85m of project) and Tampa Bay for payments: 25% when plant is running, 50% when it operates at an annual average rate of 12.5 mg/d for 12 consecutive months, 25% when plant produces 25 mg/d for four consecutive months.
  • 2006 (November) Tampa Bay Executive Director announces additional delays
  • 2007 (August) Tampa Bay announces plant should be running by Halloween
  • 2007 (December) Officials complete 14 day acceptance test. American Water contracts to run plant for 15 years.
  • 2008 $48 million over its original budget of $110 million, the plant is operating
  • 2009 plant producing 16-19 mg/d
  • 2010 (February) plant passes final benchmark, receives final payment
  • 2010 (April) plant put on “standby” due to Tampa Bayʼs budget constraints
  • 2010 (October) Pinellas County (customer of Tampa Bay Water) projects water rate increases of 16% by 2014
  • 2010 (December) SWFMD looks into sanctions against Tampa Bay Water for failure to operate facility in accord with agreement.
  • 2011 (January) Tampa Bay announces plans to reach 9 mg/d production by end of January.

Reviewing the news accounts of the Tampa Bay experience gave me pause. Having served in public office, I am familiar with the face-saving, “circle the wagons” mentality that takes over an agency when problems start to mount. Unfortunately, it means others are not likely to learn any lessons.

No one contemplated a standby plant at Tampa Bay. Now, faced with real production costs higher than the rate guaranteed to customers ($841/acre-foot versus $1140 or more), Tampa Bay will eventually have to raise rates or renegotiate an agreement that locks them a 17 mg/d production rate.

To be continued.

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Cowabunga: It’s Dana’s Epic Fundrager

Surfing with Dana

By The D-u-u-u-u-d-e!
Surf City Voice Columnist

Howzit, brahs and sistahs?

Dudes and dudettes, take note.

Blackwater Christian soldier and Rohrabacher supporter, Erik Prince.

Surf City’s way cool and fully-macked dude of dudes, our surforexic congressman and former Mujahedin (Taliban) warrior, I mean Dana Rohrabacher, recently explained to his disappointed fans why he had to hold back his long awaited St. Patrick’s Day campaign fundrager at the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.

Jon Voight, the acclaimed actor of Midnight Cowboy, Deliverance, Ali, and other way cool movies fame was to be the main act at the fundrager, besides Dana, and I was looking forward to getting his autograph on my sponge.

Voight is a former anti-war protester and McGovernite, a genuine rattly who, an unconfirmed but totally believable rumor has it, suddenly fell in love (rightly so) with Sara Palin after wiggin’ out on a slab of raw moose meat—and something else happened that he won’t talk about—on a Santa Ana River canoe trip with a bunch of Orange County neocons.

Dude, Dana bud was fetched to Washington D.C. by sistah Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the house of representatives, for the epic showdown vote on “Obamacare,” that “government run” health care plan you probably heard all you need to know about from bodacious Glenn Beck.

Well, as any surfmastering Foxophile knows, Pelosi is one gnarly dudette to hang with.

Shyau!!! We got snaked over the rails and it was pure buggery.

We sympathize with you Dana bud, but no apology needed.

But not to worry, Danaphiles! Voight has agreed to come to a rescheduled fundrager at a date to be announced, soon we hope.

But d-u-u-u-u-d-e-s, hang on to your baggies, cawz I’ve got even better news.


Have you ever heard of Erik Prince?

No, I’m not talking about the singer who sprays a night club audience with water from a hose extending out of his crotch in that rad MTV movie in the 1980s.

Dudes, I am talking about Dana bud’s former intern who is now the founder, owner and commander in chief of Blackwater, the Christian-supremacist mercenary army that killed lots of innocent citizens of Iraq with impunity during the Bush’s epic invasion of that country.

Prince will hold a special fundrager for Dana, and if that doesn’t make your radalescent surfboner hard enough, Robert Duvall, another great actor and mack Republican dude, will also be there in all his manly splendor.

In Dana dude’s own e-mail words: “We are in the process of organizing a wonderful weekend for people from California who may want to have a memorable weekend in the nation’s Capitol as well as the historic Virginia countryside.”

That weapons-grade (wink wink) event will take place on Sunday, April 18 at Prince’s Virginia estate, located close to THE capital so that his holy A-Team can turn and burn on over to the White House and blow away those tea party crazies if they get too gnarly again.


Mr. Prince, no doubt, has a princely humongous fortune of dead presidents to give away to Danatypes from the $1 billion in no bid government contracts awarded to his private army (cowabunga, I bet he was stockaboka about that) to protect American officials from the evil doers on the ground in Iraq.

Note for ambitious dudettes: the dude factor that night promises to be pretty high, enhanced by a surge of testosterone oozing from the pores of a lot of rich poser freedom-fighters scoping for sweet nectar.

Word of caution to poser dudes looking for sweet nectar: make sure to bring your dude packs to prevent any accidents from friendly fire.


Maybe you forgot, but the Blackwater freedom fighters became famous after they terminated seventeen unarmed Iraqi dudes, dudettes and gromets and wounded at least 18 others at Nisour Square in Baghdad in Sept. 2007.

Blackwater said its men were under attack; and who would doubt it, right?

But just in case those hodaddy journos and outside investigators forgot what side they are on in the War on Terror, the potentially incriminating evidence was scrupulously washed away by an administrative tsunami, i.e. a Bush administration decree that still protects mercenaries hired by the State Department from prosecution in Iraqi courts—mondo!

It’s buggery, but even that didn’t stop separate investigations by the Iraqi government, U.S. Military, and F.B.I. , which each determined that most or all of the Blackwater killings were unprovoked and unjustified.

But standing by their buds, the Bush administration was in no hurry to prosecute Blackwater in courts of U.S. jurisdiction either. So, none of Blackwater’s soldiers of fortune have been fully tried in criminal or civil court so far in the Nisour incident or 128 other cases where Blackwater fired first, although some of them were fired from their $600 per day jobs and given free plane tickets home—ouch!

A U.S.federal court judge dismissed charges against five Blackwater defendants in the Nisour killings in December on technical and constitutional grounds—they were promised immunity from prosecution by State Department officials who were not authorized to do so.

A sixth operative already pleaded guilty to one killing, but his case remains in limbo after the dismissal of the charges against his colleagues.

For a lot more details about Blackwater, check out Jeremy Scahill’s book, Blackwater: The rise of the world’s most powerful mercenary army. Scahill is an investigative reporter for the Nation magazine and Democracy Now ( The book won the George Polk Book Award, which is given to writers who expose government or corporate malfeasance.

Alright, dudes, I know what you’re thinking: “Why should I read the book when I can watch the paintball tournament at the pier?”

Hmmm…Let me think….

Dude, the answer is that Scahill’s book really peels and will whack you like the gnarliest wave. That’s because Scahill explains everything about Blackwater, how it went from a tiny and unheard of security firm before the war to become the strongest mercenary army in the world a few years later, thanks to neocons George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and friends, who wanted to privatize the U.S. military, and to the coalition of the willing—meaning the Republicans and Democrats in congress who allowed it.

Scahill explains the righteous and Christian supremacist spirit that drives Erik Prince and his soldiers to fight for top dollars. Maybe it will inspire you too.

Here’s a sample of Prince’s philosophy in his own words: “Everybody carries guns, just like Jeremiah rebuilding the temple in Israel—a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other.”

If that’s not the way to give Osama a wabblybutthole, dudes, then what is?

Gale warning! This book does have its share of acid drops, dudes.

The book’s most obvious bummer is that killing innocent people seems pretty bogus.

And Scahill also explains how our top military leaders complained that the blowback from Blackwater’s indiscriminate killings of Iraqis worked against their efforts to win the respect and cooperation of the Iraqi people and endangered the lives of our regular troops.

Not only that, but a mercenary army violates the concept of sovereignty in other countries, thus increasing the chances of wars breaking out.

It also threatens American democracy. HELLO—have you ever heard of the Roman Praetorian Guard or a right-wing coup d’état?


But d-u-u-u-u-u-d-e-s, Dana and Erik are way cool, so who cares?



Time to get rubberized and hit the beach for some Dana spotting.

Latronic, dudes.

The D-u-u-u-u-d-e is a Surf City (that’s Huntington Beach, dudes)hodaddy who parties all night and stands on the beach all day watching the waves and hoping to catch a glance of Dana Rohrabacher, the man who invented surfing.

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