EIR makes life difficult for desalination opponents
By Mike Rotkin
Santa Cruz Sentinel, 5/26/13
The city of Santa Cruz recently released a Draft Environmental Impact Report that clearly demonstrates that the city faces a serious water shortage and that no alternative to desalination can produce enough water to meet the needs of both the community and fish in local streams. It also shows unequivocally that the desalination plant planned by the city in conjunction with Soquel Creek Water District can be constructed with no significant negative environmental consequences.
Faced with a document and process that has addressed every one of their concerns, the opponents of desalination have responded with a number of fundamentally dishonest or ignorant approaches:
First are the plethora of suggestions for alternatives that were given serious consideration in the draft EIR and rejected for lack of feasibility, or because they produce or save insufficient water to replace desalination as a source. It would have helped had they bothered to read the EIR and see why their proposals are not serious alternatives to desalination.
Second are those who would now try to switch from a fact-based discussion of the city's water needs to more emotional attempts to sway voters. The best example of this is the attempt to characterize desalination as "manufacturing" water as opposed to the ostensible "natural" way we obtain it today. Why desalination is more of a manufacturing process than the current way we collect, store and process water through our treatment plant remains completely unclear. It's been a while since we all drank our water directly from a stream or lake.
Third is the attempt to delegitimize the study itself or, when that doesn't work, to directly attack the public officials who have overseen the city's EIR. Opponents have tried to make a big deal out of the city water director being a member of a state desalination association. But the city and its water director belong to large numbers of associations related to water issues, including several related to water conservation. I suppose that if he were being paid by such groups or had some way to personally make money from a desalination project (or conservation), there would be a real scandal here, but neither is the case.
Fourth is the attempt to simply delay the process. One letter multiplies the number of actual pages in the draft EIR by 10 and then demands more time to read it before responding. The city already extended the timeline for responses beyond the minimal requirement for EIRs and anyone seriously interested in this issue has plenty of time to read and understand the EIR and its implications.
Fifth is the dishonest attempt to make the issue about UC Santa Cruz growth. The EIR makes it very clear that the need for desalination is only about future droughts and saltwater intrusion and not generated by future growth. We need desalination even if UCSC does not add a single additional student or build one new building!
Finally, and most pernicious, is the attempt to silence elected officials on the issue of our water needs. While it is true that public money cannot be spent on advocating one position or the other in the desalination election we will have in 2014, there is nothing to prohibit public officials, who ought to be the most knowledgeable about our water situation, from speaking out and advocating what they feel to be our best response to our water shortage. In fact, anything less would be a serious dereliction of the responsibility of public officials. It is their job to make sure that the voting public truly understands the seriousness of our water crisis and the best solution to it.
Too bad that desalination opponents now have to directly confront a detailed, scientific environmental document that demonstrates the need for desalination and that the program can be implemented without triggering any of the dire consequences they have imagined.
Mike Rotkin is a former five-time mayor of the city of Santa Cruz.