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What Is North County's Top Environmental Problem?

April 01, 1990

Jerry Harmon, 46, spent most of his 18 years on the Escondido City Council as the sole slow-growth advocate until two like-minded candidates were elected in 1988.

I think we have two, and it's both water and air. Water from the standpoint that since we live in the desert, this entire region is dependent on imported water. As the population increases, we become even more dependent. And as a result, I think we are reaching a point where we need to seriously consider the recycling and reclaiming of water.

Escondido is on the verge of getting into that in a very meaningful way, in that probably in the next few weeks we will be making decisions regarding the expansion of our waste water treatment plant, and we are planning to not only expand it, but also to go to full tertiary treatment to meet state standards, which is not being done any place in the county at the moment. And by doing so, we will be in a position to use all of the water that is currently now dumped into the ocean at San Elijo. We will be able to sell that for irrigation and agricultural purposes, thus relieving the demand on potable water that is imported, and at the same time, creating a new income stream from the reclaimed water that we will be selling.

Every day that goes by, we throw away 16 million gallons. We could be selling that at two-thirds the cost of what we paid for to bring it into the region in the first place.

It does take time because obviously there are health considerations involved, there are engineering considerations in terms of how do you distribute the water. Because it's one thing to reclaim it. And that's a important point when you talk to other people who may say that trash is an environmental problem.

It's one thing to say that, well, we are quote, recycling our trash, and that that's a way to deal with trash. But if you think about it, recycling is a bit of a misnomer unless you have complete loop. It's one thing to collect and separate trash, but that's only part of the process of recycling. Unless you have a market to reuse that trash that has been collected and separated, you really haven't completed the loop as far as recycling is concerned.

And what I'm saying is also true with water. Unless you can market the water, and you have to be able to distribute it in order to do that, you haven't completed the loop. In the case of water, you have to make sure you do the whole process or you can't do any of it.

I think that other areas that have treatment facilities are going to find that what we do will be to their benefit as well, for the same reasons, and that they too, once they take a closer look at it, they will be motivated to do the same thing.

Tom Erwin, 47, holds licenses as a real estate broker and commercial aircraft pilot, but has been in semiretirement since the air traffic controller's strike in 1981. Erwin, 47, has lived in Carlsbad since 1979, and serves on its planning commission and oversight committee for growth management. He has been fighting the San Marcos trash plant almost full time for four years.

The control and management of growth. That's it in a nutshell. Our issues are peripherally tied to that. Our problems are all tied. How we in North County choose to manage our growth will dictate the problems that we have or the lack of problems that we have in the future.

Carlsbad has a growth management plan that overall is a terrific plan. These are the items that have to be satisfied along with any development in our community. We have our community broken into zones. There has to be overall zone plans for each area, addressing development through build-out and how they will satisfy these different areas as follows, not necessarily by importance:

City administrative facilities, libraries, waste water treatment capacity, parks, drainage, circulation, fire department, open space, schools, sewer collection, and water distribution.

That's what we have to address, and any time that anyone comes in with any project, that project has to be keyed into this and they have to show how all of those areas will be satisfied. That way we don't all of a sudden wake up one morning with major problems. Every segment has to grow in concert with the other segments. We don't overbuild and then say, gee, we forgot to have open space, or gee, we forgot to have parks, or gee, we forgot to have schools.

Another thing we're going to have to address ourselves to pretty soon, which is a non-growth issue, is that over 90% of our water is imported. If we lose our water source through some emergency, we would be in a real problem.

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