San Diego Union Tribune
Carlsbad, CA (December 15, 2015) -
Water flowing underground — Talking Heads
At Monday’s symbolic faucet-turning in Carlsbad, the mood was triumphal. Instead of emptying magnums of bubbly, however, the celebrants filled fancy plastic bottles with drinking water and carried them home as if H20 was actually Au, which in the Golden State it sort of is. Boiled down, The Bud is now North County’s No. 1 wonder. The alchemy it performs on an industrial scale, while not unique (Israel is the savvy desert guide), is rocking our world like an 8.0 earthquake.
“This is a good day,” Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins declaimed inside a revival-style tent threatening to blow away in the biting wind. (She’d go on to say, “This is a very important day for us” and “This is a really great day for us.”)
To the congregation of the converted, the seawater factory is a not-so-little economic engine that can, a cool $1 billion public work that, nearly two decades in the distilling, will work as a supermodel for planned desalination plants up and down Alta and Baja California.
In a watery-eyed tribute to a late Carlsbad mayor who could win the next election posthumously, the factory next to the Encina Power Station was christened the Claude “Bud” Lewis Desalination Plant, a long name I’m pruning back to “The Bud.”
As Bud boosters turned a symbolic wheel and fake water flowed behind the stage, David Byrne of the Talking Heads sang, “Carry the water at the bottom of the ocean/Remove the water at the bottom of the ocean.”
The future glistened with hydrated promise.
The preening speechifying over, hundreds of well-tailored celebrants trudged up a hill to wait in line to fill their commemorative water bottles. They all had complete faith that ocean water had been scrubbed to its most basic molecules and then artfully recharged with harmless minerals. (Why? To make the potable water flow without leaching pipes — and to avoid disappointing buds unaccustomed to the taste of nothing.)
The world, circled by the white-capped Pacific and the Agua Hedionda Lagoon, seemed wondrous indeed.
About nine years ago, I conducted a reader poll to determine North County’s Seven Wonders, a local slant on the worldly handiwork of Philon of Byzantium, a pioneer of online lists.
The winners of my junk-science survey were formidable in their own rights: Mission San Luis Rey (the king of Father Serra’s pearl string of our original model homes); Palomar Observatory (the height of scientific star quality); Wild Animal Park (the pride of pastoral San Pasqual Valley); Lilac Road overcrossing (the inland county’s northern Golden Gate, just south of Rainbow); Highway 101 (the preserved siren road, more seductive than Route 66); Self-Realization Fellowship (the spiritual retreat of the lotus domes, sentries over Swami’s sacred break); and Oceanside’s pier (the longest such wood walkway on the West Coast).
Interestingly, neither of the region’s energy fortresses, Encina or San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, made the cut, though a few pitches were made for SONGS. (One reader rhapsodized over the sight of “a giant concrete bra or bikini top arising from the shoreline where a Brobdingnagian beauty lay sunbathing below the power plant.”
Over time, it seems, our communal affection for utility workhorses dims. In a few years, Encina will be surgically dismantled (not imploded). Few will rend their clothes. On the other hand, cake walks will break out from San Clemente to Del Mar if SONGS could be trucked away along with its terrifying stored fuel.
After the tent revival, I wasn’t interested in joining the Elation Era soup line. I’d had a sip of Bud during a tour and found it very …watery. Clean taste with a clean finish. No legs.
Looking for an antidote to the joy at The Bud, I drove over to the Tamarack Beach parking lot where the Surfrider Foundation was trying to throw a skunk into the party a mile to the south.
On a day in which surfing was out of the question, attorney Marco Gonzalez, a longtime foe of desalination, repeated Surfrider’s long-held belief that desal is the most expensive, most damaging way to combat drought. In his view, conservation and recycling make more economic and environmental sense.
“We haven’t seen the end of this boondoggle,” Gonzalez said, his voice buffeted by the wind. “It’s going to cost us for years to come.”
Well, who really knows what the future brings? Every Jeremiah is right at least twice in his life. Time was, the praises of SONGS were sung.
Gonzalez pointed out that, during this severe drought, San Diego has never been more flush with water, nor have we ever paid more for it.
A dash of salt in the open wound of living in a desert we call home.
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