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Aug-27-2012 17:38printcomments

Bandana: Part III in a 3 Part Series

BANDANA: Build Absolutely No Desalination Anywhere Near Anything….or Anyone

Activistas Bandanistas
Activistas Bandanistas                               

(LAGUNA BEACH, CA) - Every focused poll taken by disinterested 3rd parties in the last 12 years of my watch reflects a 90+% willingness by OC residents to pay more to procure safe, healthy potable and irrigation water for their homes, landscape irrigation and general locale. These polls by professionals in the field (universities and mainstream media) reflect eagerness, an obviously increasing awareness that our general water availability is in jeopardy.

The longest yard isn’t that 3 feet at the goal line in a Super Bowl or BCS Championship: It’s getting those overwhelming number of hands to lower the 3 feet to their respective checkbooks, start writing, and be prepared to put their money where their lip service checkmark is. And also lobby their elected officials to assist them. Not tomorrow. The crisis is already here. NOW. But BANDANAS don’t want to give the hoi-polloi, the general population the right to make up their own minds and decide for themselves.

Longest Yard?   (Wikipedia)

Chicken Little BANDANAs are the individuals and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that oppose most desalination (DESAL) facilities, the very plants that hold part of the potable (drinking) water solution for Southern and Central California. Many of them obfuscate by intentional deceit, by delaying propaganda tactics that assert we’re not there yet technologically, that it’s too expensive, dangerous to marine ecologies, yada yada yada. In this column we’ll confine ourselves to those BANDANAs who vehemently reject ocean-adjacent, below-surface seawater drafting and exhaust discharge projects. This has become one of the most contentious, hot button political and environmental wedge issues from south of San Francisco Bay to San Diego.

Northern California (No Cal) residents and inland farmers are becoming increasingly angry over our historical theft of their surface waters, the subject of the famous movie with Jack Nicholson, “Chinatown.” After all of the intervening years, we’re right back where we started in the 20’s.

“Borrowing” is too kind of a word because coastal Central and all of Southern California have actually stolen and never returned or compensated them with anything other than common state taxes for nearly 100 years.

We’ve also robbed them of their development and redevelopment future service potential.  We’ve capriciously drawn down and jeopardized their stream and lake ecological systems including our own local ones, including the recreational and commercial fisheries from our inland Central and No Cal neighbors. This native water WAS their heritage, their assured future potable resource and one that sustains healthy bio tic systems.

Present Governor Jerry (Moonbeam) Brown seems Hell-bent on the inflictive, uncompensated, forceful attempt by fiat with his support of peripheral pipes or canals.  Ironically, he alleges that he’s completing what his father, Gov. Edmund (Pat) Brown, started 5 decades ago in California’s best interests. In Iraq, we saw what letting Junior finish that which Pops started isn’t always so spiffy or turn out very well.

"I want to get s--t done!"

The removal of impurities, that is salts, minerals, metals, unwanted beasties, etc. to acquire supplementary water for either potable or irrigation portfolios isn’t new, its progression and successes go back decades in various parts of the world. Thirsty, arid or semi-arid countries all over the world have been aggressively pursuing DESAL, one could say adamantly.

Driven by need as their populations grow, they are at the forefront as evolving technological breakthroughs make it easier, less ecologically damaging and increasingly less expensive. Especially considering that NO WATER=NO MORE COUNTRY.

Necessity IS the mother of invention. A recent devise revealed in SCIENTIC AMERICAN magazine was created by a New Jersey Institute of Technology distinguished professor of chemical engineering named Kamalesh Sirkar. One improvement over previous attempts is that it discharges far less briny waste back into the environment. That should equal far fewer objections by historical BANDANAs. Right.

Kamalesh Sirkar

It holds great promise for corporate or public water district revenue models too, making DESAL more cost effective and hence an attractive supplement to inventory. Whereas typical DESAL recovers only 50—55% of intake fluid at most, this recovers up to 80%.

Using Direct Control Membrane Mechanisms (DCMD), Sirkar’s system can take in water much higher in salinity than previously thought possible, apparently uses only about half as much energy---Which also removes other eco-protectionist objections. Look for one or more major DESAL corporation to buy then integrate his process into their projects asap.

Whether it’s the inland ponds, brackish estuaries near the coast, surface flow drainage or subterranean basins that are high in total and/or suspended solid content (referred to as TDS and TSS respectively), all DESAL facilities filter and treatment processes require similar complex, multi-stage processes to achieve government compliance health standards.

Inland desalination (Texas Ground Land Office)

Many substances in low concentrations are actually healthy and a necessity for the animals and plants. In the case of humans, overabundance, either in high concentrations or volume, can be pathogenic (cause illness), mutagenic (mutations/birth defects) and/or can be carcinogenic (cause death). The degree to which substance removal and/or reductions are required by regulations for potable use, the more expensive final delivered costs become. Analysts must also factor in projected delivery expenditures, including the infrastructural pipes to relocate the water closer to existing or proposed distribution nexuses. Obviously, coastal DESAL providing potable for coastal cities keeps gross distances down hence wheel costs for ratepayers. One hindrance is our existing, antiquated infrastructure in California, most of which is 50 years old or more. 95% of the cities in my neck of the woods, Orange County, have no parallel pipe systems, lines that could carry lesser-treated, lower value irrigation or landscape water. In fact, cities in California already developed significantly by about 25 years ago or more never even seriously considered alternative piping or plumbing, let alone set aside lot line easements and encroachments for them.

It’s sometimes called “purple water” because of its contrasting pipe and tubing color (purple, duh) that allow ready visual identification by all. Known as Title 22 in California, its determined parameters for compliance are established by our state Health and Safety Codes/Regs.

Title 22 Warning Sign: City of Santa Monica CA

Irrigation water cannot be discharged or drain directly into any stream, storm drain system, lake or the ocean. It’s not safe for immersion, contact or human consumption because it hasn’t been thoroughly treated to potable EPA standards. So even though most is reclaimed/recycled water that receives a tertiary or 3rd level of treatment, it will never completely replace or even make a large enough dent in potable demands.

There are projects like the “Toilet-To-Tap” of OC Water District (OCWD) that treat and filter to high level, advanced tertiary standards, then pipe the still non-potable standard fluids way upstream in the Santa Ana watershed. Once it’s recovered, it’s forcibly injected down into the soil, Mother Nature does the rest of the potable work as She done elsewhere in the world for millennia. Downstream reuse is as old as human inhabitation.

Because subterranean cleansing is integral in the potable process, OCSD has dubbed their ongoing, cutting edge programs that also allow for evolving, future technological improvements Ground Water Replenishment System (GWRS).  Here’s a National Geographic analysis and tour: http://education.nationalgeographic.com/education/news/toilettotap/?ar_a=1

Unfortunately the “YUCK!” (repulsive) factor of using wastewater for potable remains a hard sell, causing public hesitancy, but many OC residents are already guzzling it down. Costs and installation dynamics were lowered because the County had the accessible and appropriate property easements along the Santa Ana River bed it granted OCSD to perform this recycled process.

Title 22 not only has its limitations regarding health hazards but unless the government wants to spends billions of dollars more than it has presently or hopes to get, it isn’t cost effective in today’s economic doldrums. Those billions would be necessary because we’d have to tear up every major traffic artery, every intersection, taking place over years and years of retrofitting, right down to every small road to install purple pipe for mass distribution to businesses and households. Think of the airborne contaminated dust particulates, the increased diesel fume impacts from trucks and bulldozers constantly at work, the traffic circulation disruption and gridlock, who in their right mind thinks that’ll happen anytime soon? Consultants and attorneys from both sides would profit in legal challenges, so maybe that’s economic stimulation?

Kettleman Hills Contamination +
Erin Brockovich=Big $$$

Now add in the disposal factor: Where will we put all of the predictably polluted soil and debris from the excavations? We’re not just running out of water, we’re running out of hazardous waste landfills. Think KETTLEMAN HILLS and Waste Management’s pitiful track record there, the Erin Brockovich litigation monies and penalties, then get back to me, ok? The ocean outfall pipes from coastal DESAL under consideration herein are the ones transporting the exhaust of treatment detritus (briny waste) which can be discharged in proximity right back into the sea at several hundred feet---Granted, this is not an optimal disposal method, but basically DESAL returns what was removed, dispersing it over a wide spreading field for dilution via dissipater nozzle systems at great distances and depths from land.

The Aussies have led the way with terrain similar to ours, they have several huge DESAL plants in Perth and near Melbourne operating now that debunk the unacceptable, negative impact kool-aid BANDANAs ask you to drink.

Thomson Dam Desal Pump Station (Australia)

There’s not much outrage over so-called “beach wells,” that is slant drilling under places like estuaries, sloughs or alluvial flood plains where fresh water sources mix with seawater in or near evacuation zones (think creek and river mouths). Their geological destabilization ramifications from drilling always get low-balled by BANDANAs.

Sadly, because of dense over-development of our coastline few parcels remain that are large enough for DESAL installations, to be of any reasonable or affordable size for investors. Those that are left are basically wetlands or adjacent to wetlands, have threatened or endangered species of flora and fauna galore. They are dwindling exponentially hence highly protected under California enviro-laws.

Slant Test Well (Dana Point CA)

Unfortunately, beach wells usually require more energy and maintenance costs, are also self-limited due to lower potable recovery volumes. One now in a pilot demonstration phase in Dana Point CA (near Doheny Beach in South OC) is already running into manganese and iron removal or reduction “issues.”

One problem is that several other agencies already have been granted entitled rights for drafting millions of gallons of adjacent perched water by the State. So the DP facility could jeopardize the prior allotments and commitments of the San Juan Basin Authority (a joint powers agency). “First in time, first in rights” is the basic law of water out here in the West. And Mark Twain was correct: “Whiskey’s for drinking, water’s for fighting.”

Marc Reisner summed up the dilemma quite well in his seminal book “Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water.” Everyone should read this text to better understand our history and our current dilemma, many of the shortages self-inflicted and public agency planners painfully myopic.

He wrote: “Water flows uphill to money in California.” Ironically, corporate DESAL money can drive procurement, but obstructionists like BANDANAs object to the capitalist source. Right, let’s all unrealistically hold our parched, expectant collective breaths together and pray for a deus ex machina intervention, for salvation, strum and sing KUMBAYA or IMAGINE, that’ll bring water our way. NOT.

The 30-acre property upon which the final Dana Point DESAL plant is proposed to reside near the San Juan Creek mouth has been unused vacant open space, unimproved hence viable. It's already owned by a local water district that's leading the project, obviating the need to purchase premium, exorbitant and astronomically priced local coastal land.

Test Well Site Dana Point CA

Any cost benefit analyst worth his “salt” knows that trying to buy such land in today’s coastal real estate market, amenable to optimal beach well drilling conditions, has two chances: Slim and none. A wide gamut of fiscal and ecological setting restrictions have lessened possible sites for any DESAL to practically nil.

Presently delivered DESAL cost is estimated to be about twice that of our imported water, but the imported cost AND future availability is edging up towards the DESAL curve. DESAL costs are also dropping due to technological innovation as I’ve shown. This is where capitalism progresses and accelerates solutions for calamities on the horizon---Like running out of water rations here in lifeboat OC. Since most DESAL is either a private enterprise, or a public/private partnership, keeping costs down is in the best interests of all. In terms of overall compared costs, this twain shall meet, many say by 2020. BANDANAs whine, piss moan and bellyache about state agencies allowing the privatization of a commonly held, trusted resource: The Pacific Ocean. This is disingenuous because if private money doesn’t drive a solution, then who will? And don’t we ALL own those resources in common, have a right to them under public trust laws, not just BANDANAs? Necessity is often called the Mother of Invention. In our society, it’s not really a stretch to exclaim that perhaps in some cases capitalistic adventurers, motivated by wealth, can be the Fathers. Who are California’s BANDANAs going to blame in 2020 when they turn on the tap in the OC and nothing comes out? Lecturing and hectoring fellow OC residents by alleging that the rest of us don’t need DESAL, that it’s too risky, is a lie and comes out of fearful, desperate, and self-righteous ignorance.

POSEIDON Huntington Beach Proposed Desalination Site

The typical DESAL plant found worldwide is more like the already approved POSEIDON seawater DESAL facility to the south in Carlsbad or their other proposal pending just north of me in Huntington Beach---This last one has been appealed by several BANDANAs and is going back for (hopefully) final adjudication before our Coastal Commission late this year or early in 2013.

For novices, these two POSEIDON ventures typify the usual objections raised about such installations: The intake methodologies jeopardize small, almost microscopic marine life according to exaggerating BANDANAs….. not to mention the increased pollutants due to processing and recovery in the returned unusable oceanic discharges threaten the same eco-systems.

POSEIDON Carlsbad CA project

But whether beach wells or ocean’s edge seawater drafted and discharged, make no mistake: These “suckers” at present equal higher bills per acre foot than what’s presently being paid by water district providers. About double, actually, but that’s already a changing paradigm as surface and groundwater storage availability plus government-set allocations are being outstripped by demand. Within a few years, DESAL will just about be on par fiscally with rates being paid to formerly reliable, increasingly unstable and unpredictable sources. The hunt is also on because of population density explosions in urban areas, the lowering of aquifers and streams that historically along with rainfall fulfilled agricultural requirements, the alarming uptick in drought cycles, and other myopic, historical planning lapses by once-upon-a-time paternal governance. If Climate Change==Increased Temperatures, what’s left evaporates more readily due to desertification (increasingly arid and irreversible conditions).

Nobody Looked Out For Future Water Use

To paraphrase Marlon Brando’s character in the Academy Award-winning movie “On The Waterfront,” when confronting brother Rod Steiger (the NY longshoremen mob’s attorney) in the back of a limo: “You shoulda looked out for us. We were your residents and voters, your food growers, your recreational fishermen and ultimately all of us taxpayers. Instead, look at us. We coulda been more self-sufficient and you shoulda planned more wisely for our mutual future, that’s what we paid you for as career bureaucrats. Now look at us, here in California we’re at each other’s throats, we’re becoming water bums, on our knees and in courtrooms, suing, conniving, begging and pleading for sustainable water.”

The “magical thinkers” among the BANDANAs would have you believe that THEY are looking out for you. They allege that passing laws that mandate water efficiency devices, increased water conservation and advanced wastewater treatment recovery systems (reclaimed) are the complete answers. Water cops with heavy financial sanctions or penalties for neighborhood violators. Try passing legislation demanding it and see how that lead balloon goes over, huh bubalah?

The place where magical thinking BANDANAs live

Or more humorously, more naively: Voluntarily. Yeah, sure, wave a magic wand and everyone will rush out and buy a front-loading washing machine, expensively retrofit their homes or businesses for onsite recycled. Now that readers understand the limitations of reclaimed, even if you combined efficiency, conservation and self-contained, self-maintained private residential and business “gray water” recycling systems you’d only lower demands by 50% at most. Plus one must consider the law of diminished returns concept, with a 62% recovery rate for Title 22 reclaimed (NOT potable) at wastewater treatment plants. They’ll still need more potable that will be available to be recycled. 62% of 62% of 62% eventually leads to serious math problems. With the evolving technical advances, something America still does well, the recovery rate for DESAL is going from 50% and edging upwards. DESAL could provide up to 10% of our total potable portfolio. Like another Jack Nicholson film “A Few Good Men”, the BANDANAs just can’t handle the truth. They disseminate exaggerated eco-impact propaganda, alarming diatribes via websites and other social media. People believe what they read, especially if it’s SHOUTED, drowning out intelligent discourse!

BANDANAs can't handle the truth

They are back in the pre-technology Dark Ages, not modern times, suspiciously thinking everything new is magic, sorcery or trickery, anxious and stuck in the past regarding rapidly evolving technological innovations and advances. Like their kindred OCCUPY cousins, their inherent distrust of capitalism’s and private sector potential to solve problems and emergencies is systemic. Can government and its labyrinth of bureaucracies going to unilaterally solve the entire potable water problem in Mr. Roger’s So Cal neighborhood, let alone proactively fund it? I don’t think so.

In his seminal 2010 book “i live in the future & here’s how it works”, NY Times media technology guru Nick Bilton addresses this type of thinking regarding computers, video games, website browsing, social networking and the whole internet shebang including whether text messaging is making us stupid and less, not more effectively communicative.

His thoughts can be applied to BANDANAs: “Fear of the new and fear of the unknown are common afflictions. At their worst, they can stunt or stop innovation. More commonly this technology hypochondria---or technochondria---rattles a large part of the population, leading to a divide between those who rush forward with new experiences, fearful that they might miss something, and those whose fright leaves them feeling disoriented and left behind.”

Hi kids, your Uncle Goofy just drank what?

Can we here in So Cal NOT afford to pursue DESAL as an important portfolio item? Like a handyman, removing that tool from the box isn’t intuited, could totally flatline an already damaged economy. Do YOU, my reader, know any mechanic, any builder or field tech who thinks removing a tool he might need from his pouch makes pragmatic sense?

Yes, DESAL might only provide 10% at most of our future drinking water needs, but that 10% less we’ll physically pilfer from inland and up north….and end this North vs. South war before it gets even uglier. Secession might eventually become an option, and don’t laugh, Northern California has considered it seriously for quite some time. The only thing we apparently have that they don’t is Disneyland, an ersatz Mecca for the Tragic Kingdom (Orange County). And who said irony died on 9/11? The water fountains at Disneyland in Anaheim gush reclaimed potable from the GWRS system I mentioned, bet the tykes and soccer moms didn’t know that. Hey, Goofy, c’mon, open wide and say “Yuck yuck yuck!”

Even if efficiency, conservation and reclamation provided a Pollyanna 50% of our needs, added to that 10% max from DESAL, this still leaves So Cal in a seriously significant water deficit mode during an acknowledged drought cycle. And puh-lease, sending all of the illegal aliens home won’t make much difference as our bona fide, legitimate population rises.

I decided to forego my comments regarding how some NGOs and individuals milk (bilk?) gross funds from ecological confrontation parties on both sides of the street. I alluded to it as thinly veiled extortion or blackmail, and I’m prepared to provide some proof using a few major non-profits as examples. Here in California these activities are called  “Intervenor Compensation.” I’d like to write a stand-alone column next month after researching it more extensively, study the potential abuse of such intervention dynamic in other states and better inform readers.

Other parts in this series:


FYI: If a project near you has some interesting enviro-aspect(s) that you think is/are worthy of Salem-News.com coverage and our readers attention, feel free to contact me with a very brief synopsis. Water-related “Blue Interventions” are my specialty!


Launched in 2010, Odd Man Out is the creation of Roger Bütow and his OMO columns are written exclusively for Salem-News-com. Born and raised in the LA Harbor area, son of a German immigrant father, he moved to Orange County in 1965 and has lived in Laguna Beach since 1972. In 1998, he began his professional career in environmental review processes (CEQA, NEPA, MND, MND and EIR/EIS). He's a rare mix of cross-trained builder, writer and consultant as he brings his extensive construction experiences dating back to 1972 into his eco-endeavors. He has tremendous field and technical expertise in successful watershed restorations, plus wastewater, urban runoff, water quality monitoring/improvements and hydrologic mechanisms. He's built everything from commercial spas to award-winning private residences, and provided peer review and consultant analyses for single homes, subdivisions and upscale resorts.

View articles written by Roger Butow Read Roger's full biography on the Salem-News.com Staff Page

His resumé is extensive, try an online GOOGLE search of his personal journey and historical accomplishments. His consultation fees are reasonable and if you've got a major project that alarms you, that needs creative intervention, then he's your man. His credentials and "CV" can be provided upon request.

Contact him at his office: (949) 715.1912 or drop him an email: rogerbutow@cleanwaternow.com




Comments Leave a comment on this story.

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Roger E. Bütow August 27, 2012 6:10 pm (Pacific time)

B/4 posting any comments, please go to this informative link about combining solar and desalination.
It was just forwarded to me. Go into the article, follow the internal linkage and you'll see that Cyprus and Australia are already lowering if not out right eliminating the contested and controversial high energy costs:

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