Dozens of Pacificans gave up their Friday evening to learn more about the challenges California faces as a result of dwindling water resources. After 2 ½ hours, it’s unlikely many of them felt better about the problem.

Coalition of Pacificans for an Updated Plan and Responsible Planning sponsored the screening of “River’s End: California’s Latest Water War” as well as a lively discussion of local and statewide water concerns. Organization leader Christine Boles opened the evening by noting the city of Pacifica’s General Plan, the planning document that underpins much of the city’s growth in the years to come, is “40 years old and doesn’t even mention climate change.”

Key to the evening was connecting the dots between population growth, limited natural resources and climate change.

The film highlights the divergent interests of the Bay Area, Southern California’s urban region, the Northern California delta and the San Joaquin Valley. It does not offer a solution that is acceptable to all of those parties. In fact, it points out that disputes over the distribution of California’s water have raged for a century or more. One key to the problem, the film notes, is that maintaining California’s massive agriculture industry — including exports around the world — limits what is ultimately available for the state’s population centers.

Ironically, North Coast County Water District General Manager Adrianne Carr told those gathered that she actually expects local water use to go down in the years to come. That would continue a trend. She said Pacificans are using 36 percent less potable water than they did in 2000.

That doesn’t mean the city’s water problems are solved. Carr said one issue is that it’s hard to use historical data to plan for the future given the vagaries of climate change. Historically, one in 11 years are drought years that affect local water supplies, but she suggested that could get worse. She said there are options going forward, including desalination, water purification, more recycled water, expanded reservoirs and even buying more water from farm interests.

Those options won’t come cheap.

Gregg Dieguez, who is a member of the Midcoast Community Council with a long history of work on climate change, said he worried about the cost of new supply. He said published reports show a much higher cost of water from recycling or desalination projects. That portion of the city's water supply could be as much as 10 times the current cost of water, he said.

“Why are we conserving if we are still allowing new water connections?” he asked.  “I think this is a pretty serious issue as you think about growth in Pacifica. At what cost is this water going to be available?”

In response to a question about state mandates that call for 1,900 new housing units in Pacifica in the next eight years, Carr expressed confidence about meeting the new demand.

“The water district, I believe, would be able to provide for these new residents of the city,” she said. “One really important thing to note is that new development has a much lower water footprint than existing development.”

One thing was clear from the evening’s discussion: greater efficiencies will be required regardless of growth.

The film quotes Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Bettina Boxall, who writes about water issues in the state.

“When people find out I write about water, they

want to know, ‘Are we running out of water?’” she says. “We’re not running out of water, but we are running out of water to use the way we did in the 20th and 19th centuries.”

This version clarifies Gregg Dieguez's comments about the cost of water from recycling and desalination projects.

Clay Lambert is the editorial director for Coastside News Group. After years working at regional daily newspapers, he began as editor of the Half Moon Bay Review in 2004.

(1) comment

DEBORAH WONG

Back in 1967, Pedro valley's original water system mingled parts of its drinking water from Pedro Creek (up to 300,000 gallons a day), to Linda Mar residents, via a filter plant; the plan was to have a stand'by source of water. It was a nice idea, anyway. In spite of the recent atmospheric river, we continue to conserve water, our most precious resource.

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