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By Melissa Kaffen, San Juan Capistrano

Given that we are experiencing a record statewide drought, our City Council majority’s decision to “go it alone” and build the Groundwater Recovery Plant appears positively clairvoyant, until you take a closer look.

According to Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the state Water Resources Control Board, “We need to conserve what little we have to use later in the year, or even in future years.”

What the government agencies, including our council majority (Sam Allevato, Larry Kramer and John Taylor) failed to consider is the following alarm raised by water experts like Heather Cooley, co-director of the water program for the Pacific Institute, a water policy think tank in Oakland.

“The challenge is that in the last drought, we drew down groundwater resources and never allowed them to recover,” Cooley said. “We’re seeing long term, ongoing declining groundwater (aquifers) levels, and that’s a major problem.”

Aquifers are natural underground reservoirs that play an important role in regulating the osmotic pressure of the arable land mass, especially in coastal areas. Long-term depletion of ground water can cause both the size and storage capacity of these underground reservoirs to permanently shrink, which further complicates the problem of salt water intrusion from lowered osmotic pressure in the coast land masses—In other words, the ultimate definition of a costly vicious cycle.

Our current water crisis should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever driven the 241 toll road, one of the most beautiful drives through some very ancient and arid topography. San Juan residents are ahead of the learning curve in experiencing firsthand the costly effects of living in an arid part of the most agriculturally productive and populous state in America.

As Southern California’s population grows, it becomes increasingly difficult to reconcile the water needs of homeowners with those of farmers. It now appears that the exorbitant cost of water in our village will do what no elected official has ever had the courage or brains to do: limit population growth and news household demand for water  by limiting massive, unsustainable future land development projects.

How long will it before we in San Juan pay triple the price to use 75 percent less water because our council majority chose to “go it alone,” paying all the build, maintenance and repair costs of a chronically malfunctioning groundwater plant—that just so happens to also help mitigate the water demands of the next massive new home project to our east?

Watch what happens to property values when people find out they can’t afford to take a bath in San Juan due to the spiraling costs of a faulty and perhaps unsustainable local groundwater recovery plant.

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comments (2)

  • I can’t address all of our claims Melissa, because I don’t have access to the information needed to make a meaningful response.

    There is little doubt, however that we are facing some monumental problems because of climate change, ocean acidification, unrestricted population growth, drought, and hydraulic fracturing.

    While shortages of drinking water is the immediate problem facing us, San Juan Capistrano is also being threatened with sea-level rise. Thermal expansion as the ocean’s warm, plus Arctic, Antarctic glacier and ice-shelf melt, coupled with the loss of Greenland’s ice sheet threaten residents of our coral atolls, island chains, and low-level coastal areas. And San Juan Capistrano is in one of those low-level coastal areas. If memory serves me, most of San Juan Capistrano was designated a flood zone a couple of years ago.

    If anyone was clairvoyant, it was the City Council back in 2004, and despite all of the alleged problems with the plant today, I think we will ultimately be thankful that we built it.

    As I have pointed out previously in the pages of the Capistrano Dispatch, we are the verge of loosing water from the Colorado river basin given that Lake Mead could be a dry lake by the end of 2014. And with hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on the rise in California, fracking is sucking up more water than we can afford from the California aqueduct system, aquifers and reservoirs.

    There are many things we could be doing to conserve water, but all I hear is recall, recall, recall, and complaints about the high cost of water. Water is going to become even more expense as the drought continues and demand increases.

    When I visit Ralph’s or Von’s, I see people stocking up on bottle water. Cost doesn’t appear to be a problem when it comes to bottled water. Talk about being brain washed. Bottle water isn’t any different than tap water. In many cases, that is all it is, yet it costs up to 900 times the cost of the same amount of water coming out of your tap.

    You want to reduce your water cost . . . put in astroturf, invest in water saving technology for your home and water barrels to capture those rare drops of rain.

  • I Do favor the Water treatment plant plan, because we have an issue with a lack of water, however it has to be done on the understand that the aquifer beneath San Juan is a reserve.
    It has to be recharged by fresh water soaking into the ground from above.
    If the water level drops to far, the pumping must stop.
    No exceptions
    No “but we need now”s.
    No “it’s not politically viable to stop pumping”

    The water in the aquifer pushes up (aswell as out and down keeping salt water from the coast out) and if it drained too far it will collapse, as all aquifers that have been over drained do.
    At that point the ground sinks a bit, but worse the aquifer become useless.
    An aquifer once collapsed cannot be repaired.
    it’s not the amount you take out, it the amount you take out compared to what goes in.
    The treatment plant plan must be used in accordance with the facts and data of fresh water in the aquifer.

    San Juan is built (the mission originally ) where it is because this natural aquifer gave the early residence of the area access to water year round.
    But it has limits as to how much it can store and it is actually quite a small aquifer
    Do not allow the destruction of such an awesome natural resource.

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