Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sticking Up For Sacramento Regional Sanitation District

Phil Isenberg is off the mark in today's Sac Bee when he suggests that we just blame the water exporters "by tradition," and rails on the Sacramento Sewer District for whining about the cost of upgrading their wastewater treatment plant. As a Sacramento resident and former mayor, he should at least acknowledge the cost of these upgrades on poor people in Sacramento area and should consider the effect on local jobs and prosperity.

Yes, there are many stressors on the Delta (pumps, wastewater, etc.) and it would be great if we fixed all of them. And yes, I agree with polluter pays and beneficiary pays. But we won't address everything and perhaps we shouldn't, because the costs of the "solutions" (i.e. peripheral canal, wastewater treatment plant upgrades, less agricultural production, recycling water) are large.

It is a question of costs vs benefits, and who should pay.

We have been hearing constantly about the costs of reduced pumping on farmers and farmworkers. Those costs are real, but typically exagerrated as I have pointed out repeatedly.

Have we have treated the South Valley ag unfairly as Isenberg suggests? Let's see.
1. Taxpayers built them a water delivery system. They were supposed to pay the government back without interest (no interest is a huge subsidy). They haven't paid.
2. There is an enormous pollution, drainage problem that results from this irrigation. They won't clean up their pollution, and think that taxpayers should pay to clean up their mess.
3. Now they want new dams for their water supply, and they want taxpayers to cover the cost again through state general obligation bonds.
4. They refuse conservation mandates or groundwater regulation. They can't afford it.
5. Downstream diversions (through the pumps) are proven to cause serious damage to the Delta, but farmers don't think we should reduce those deliveries because of the cost to them.

Do you see beneficiary pays here? What about polluter pays? Are they complaining about the costs to them?

Now, let's look at Sacramento Sewer.
1. They have a wastewater treatment system. Their ratepayers paid for it. They repay their bonds with interest.
2. I'm no wastewater expert, but I am told that their secondary treatment satisfies all water pollution regulations at the moment (that could change). They could treat wastewater to a higher level, and it would be helpful to the Delta if they did (how helpful? we don't know.). If the peripheral canal is built to help exporters, the state's largest freshwater supply intakes will surround the Sacramento wastewater outflow and it will then certainly require the highest level of treatment. There will be large costs to the upgrades (up to a billion in capital costs, and lots of electricity/operating costs thereafter). The beneficiaries of that investment is the Delta environment, but also the downstream exporters who will get much better quality water as a result which will reduce their downstream water treatment costs. So who should pay? Isenberg says Sacramento ratepayers should pay (the polluters) and to suggest that downstream beneficiaries pay is whining.

I am NOT saying that Sac Sewer shouldn't clean up or that they should not be responsible for any costs.

We need to balance the costs with the benefits for all options. And we need to apply polluter pay and beneficiary pays principals for all options.

But Isenberg applies these standards inconsistently. His Delta Vision report never even mentioned increasing water prices and ending water subsidies as one of their strategies when it should be the #1 California water strategy. Apparantly, he favors continued subsidies for agricultural water exporters.

On the other hand, what does Isenberg have to say to a poor family in Sacramento whose sewer bill could now consume 10% of their income? Stop whining!

Reminds me of Phil Gramm, McCain's economic advisor who resigned after saying "we are a nation of whiners", and it's only a "mental recession."

[This post has been edited from the original. I accidently hit the publish button instead of save draft and the original had many more errors and typos than usual. It even fell short of blog standards.]

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