The dominant water issue facing our community and every community in California today is the insecurity of the water supply. The California Legislature is facing up to the serious need to take less water from the surface and groundwater for human use to preserve wildlife habitats and industries such as fishing. Both depend upon water filling the streams and waterways that ultimately find their way to the ocean. Additionally, the groundwater in some parts of the state has been seriously depleted making this dilemma even more difficult.
At a recent Commonwealth Club lecture by WaterNow Alliance Executive Director Cynthia Koehler, she was asked, “Why not force the agricultural industry to reduce its use of California’s water supply to solve this problem?” Koehler’s reply made two points: California’s agricultural is already using less water as water is a major cost of business. Secondly, food cannot be produced without water. And we all need to eat.
Koehler believes conservation is a better and less expensive way to secure the water supply.
In suburban settings like ours, roughly 30 percent of water use goes to gardens and lawns. Some of this water recharges local aquifers, but most of it is lost to evaporation. Drought tolerant gardening has the potential to reduce suburban water use by 10 percent or more. Conservation efforts already dominate California’s agricultural industry. Our coastal community has also made great strides toward conserving water, and we can do more. Conservation alone, however, is not a silver bullet.
There are other things we must do to secure our water supply, most notably recycling. To do this efficiently will require cooperation between the five water and sewer authorities in our community. Cooperation between the two water districts to share resources should be a first step.
Each district has unique advantages and disadvantages that are complementary. The Coastside County Water District has excess capacity to clean and disinfect surface water and water from shallow wells. The Montara Water and Sanitary District has recently brought into service an extraordinarily productive deep well. Both districts have abundant sources for local water that are not fully developed. CCWD has access to the Hetch Hetchy water supply that can back fill any temporary shortage that nature might create here locally.
If both districts would jointly develop and share our abundant local water supply, that could make both districts more drought resistant, more able to cope with increasing water scarcity, and would benefit California’s larger water supply problem by our community relying even less on Hetch Hetchy.
A new effort to cooperate must include water recycling. After decades of discussion, it is time to act.
Currently, the three agencies responsible for wastewater — MWSD, the city of Half Moon Bay, and the Granada Community Services District — are not cooperating. They are locked in a costly legal dispute over who is responsible to pay for needed maintenance and system renewal. The joint powers agreement that created the Sewer Authority Mid-coastside has only been able to respond to costly fines created by sewage releases and catastrophic failures of essential infrastructure. The system’s reliability and water recycling are victims of this feud.
Millions of gallons of our wastewater that could be recycled for local use are lost each year. The technology for cleaning wastewater has improved enormously over the past 50 years. The potential to recycle wastewater and to use it to recharge our local aquifers, restore wetlands and to improve the efficiency with which we use water in our community domestically and in local commerce is untapped.
There are countless opportunities for these five water and sewer agencies to collaborate in ways that secure our water supply. We can be more drought resistant and we can be better stewards of our environment. It is time for the groups responsible for water and wastewater to put away their swords and start working together for the benefit of all.
Jim Larimer is a member of the Coastside County Water District board of directors.