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Mar 30th
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From the Editor

greg_archerS2sPlus Letters to Good Times...
Spend Taxes and Water Rate Increases on Jobs
Good to the Last Drop
Care to host a fundraiser? It wouldn’t hurt. Just choose the topic you’re fundraising for wisely. And, unless you’ve been in a coma the last 52 days, you already know where aid and relief efforts need to go—The Gulf of Mexico. The oil spill in the Gulf is the nation’s worst environmental disaster. As you are now aware, wildlife has been affected and the city of New Orleans, once again, is being impacted on a number of levels, mostly economically. And there’s the Gulf itself, which is being compromised as millions of gallons of oil continues to pump into it daily.

BP’s travesty—the oil behemoth has been taking a curiously lengthy amount of time to “get it together”—coupled with Obama’s oddly delayed “hop-to-itness” make for hot topic issues to debate. But the bottom line: More action needs to be taken. In my research, I have discovered the Greater New Orleans Foundation. (See gnof.org.) The fund makes emergency grants to nonprofit organizations assisting victims of the oil spill. The fund also helps address some things long-term: economic, environmental, cultural effects of the disaster,  and strengthen coastal communities against future environmental catastrophes by investing in solutions. Learn more yourself online. More on all this next time ...

In the meantime, while it may feel like some things are spiraling toward a bitter end, it doesn’t mean that it’s really so. Writer Damon Orion explores that, and more, in this week’s cover story. The topic: 2012. Is it the end? Or just a new beginning?

Thanks for reading. Enjoy the week ...

Greg Archer | Editor-in-Chief


Letters to Good Times Editor

Good to the Last Drop

Thank you for the excellent cover story on the desal plant (GT 6/10). Each of your interviewees made telling points. I'm left wondering why our city leaders aren't doing more leading and less assuming.

Mr. Kocher asserts that any further "market penetration" for conservation measures would be "very low, industry tells us." Instead of listening to industry, how about listening more closely to what the community says? This community had little difficulty curbing water use by 14 percent last summer—our gardens didn't dry up and our fruit trees live on. If people also had ready access to installing small, inexpensive water catchment systems, I, for one, would jump at the chance. Let's not assume that catchment systems "require too much effort" or "would not likely catch on."

Now that greywater systems have been legalized, I'm sure many people would install them as well, particularly if the city were to inform, lead, and help make such installation feasible.

Australians managed to reduce their daily water use to 30 gallons a day. We don't need to cut use nearly so low as that, but surely we could learn from the Aussies about how they did it. One researcher familiar with the Australian experience, Geoff Syme, has concluded after 30 years of studying community attitudes to water: “given a facilitative environment, the community is often prepared to make choices which are decidedly more innovative than those currently being made on their behalf.” (Syme 2008)

Instead of fostering such an environment, Mr. Kocher defends the "necessity" of burning more energy to run a desal plant; he notes that, "There is nothing in our lives more important than water." Indeed. Then let us act like it. It is time we humans stopped grabbing at the latest pricey/dicey techno-fix for our usual energy- and water-wasting habits. I call on our community leaders to think and act more creatively so that our use of this life-giving element becomes sustainable.

Jude Todd
Santa Cruz

Spend Taxes and Water Rate Increases on Jobs

There seems to be a misconception that building and operating a desal plant would create more jobs than implementing water conservation strategies.  Yes, the designing, permitting, constructing, and maintaing a desalination plant would create some jobs; however, the majority of the jobs will go to large multinational engineering firms that have experience in the field—your Bechtels, Haliburtons, and URSs. These firms have little interest in supporting the Santa Cruz community and the tens of millions of dollars we spend to build the plant will be extracted from our city. ($300,000 is already going to a SF firm for soliciting plant designs!)

Furthermore, it is well documented that energy use accounts for half the cost of desalinating water, so after the plant is built the exorbitant costs would just begin (keep in mind that California energy prices have increase 6.7 percent per year since 1970).

An alternative strategy would be to implement an aggressive city-sponsored water conservation strategy that spent half the forecasted desal money on subsidizing water conservation retrofits, such as rainwater catchment, grey water systems, and water smart gardens, for local homes and buildings. A simple poll of Santa Cruzans would show that they would love to have a rainwater catchment and grey water system that zeroed out their landscape irrigation water usage, but feel it is too expensive to implement. The solution is to subsidize water conservation as aggressively as the proposed Desal Plant subsidy. Santa Cruz has hundreds of local contractors and landscapers that need work and already have the skills, tools, and manpower to implement water conservation retrofits. Jobs would be created in manufacturing materials and equipment, design and installation, and lifetime operation and maintenance.  Rather than pay an out-of-town engineering firm more than $30 million to build a desal plant then go away, why not spend $15 million on local contractors? There are tens of thousands of homes and buildings that need retrofits, and the resulting cumulative water conservation effect will likely exceed desal water production (40 percent of typical household water use is for landscaping; a 75 percent reduction in landscape water though conservation retrofits equals 30 percent reduction in overall water use).

James Allen
Santa Cruz

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