Pro & Con: Dry farming, reclamation are critical

February 10, 2014 

Zaf Iqbal

JOE JOHNSTON — The Tribune

The topic: How do we deal with drought, now and in years to come?

Click here to read a conservative's perspective »

It is unnecessary to provide data to support the assertion that we are experiencing the worst drought in state’s 163-year history. When declaring drought emergency, Gov. Jerry Brown labeled it an “unprecedented situation.” Unfortunately, it is hardly unprecedented. For California, droughts are not a temporary phenomenon. This is a perpetual problem requiring a permanent solution.

It is the responsibility of city and county leaders to take the necessary actions to find a permanent solution to the problem. Vision and political courage are prerequisites, because some tough decisions will have to be made. Their sole guiding principle should be to act for the common good. Below are some suggestions for the present and near future:

1. An immediate moratorium should be declared on all major residential and commercial developments.

2. All irrigation during specified daytime hours should be banned.

3. No overhead irrigation should be allowed where drip systems are feasible.

4. Refilling of swimming pools should not be allowed.

5. Golf courses should have specified watering restrictions.

Some plans, critical for solving the water problem permanently, would have to be phased in, or require a prolonged readiness period before implementation:

1. All vineyards should be required to dry farm a certain percentage of the total acreage. In the Mediterranean region, crops such as grapes and olives have been dry-farmed for thousands of years.

California has dry-farmed vineyards all along the coast from Mendocino in the north down to Santa Barbara. All Napa vineyards were dry-farmed until the 1960s when overhead irrigation was introduced, originally for frost control.

2. In rainy years, rainwater should be collected for storage through a network of storm-collection drains, reservoirs and ponds.

3. Desalination plants using reverse-osmosis technology should be constructed to desalinate water from the Pacific Ocean.

4. Used water should be purified using the Singapore model called NEWater.

In the first stage, wastewater is treated in reclamation plants.

In the second stage, the treated water is filtered using microfiltration/ultrafiltration to remove suspended solids, bacteria, colloidal particles, viruses and protozoan cysts.

In the third stage, the filtered water goes through a reverse-osmosis process. In this process, a semi-permeable membrane filters out heavy metals, nitrates, viruses, bacteria, sulfates, chlorides, disinfection byproducts, aromatic hydrocarbons and pesticides. At this stage, water reliably removes all contaminants and is of potable quality.

In the fourth stage, for sterilization, water flows past ultraviolet lamps to ensure all organisms are inactivated and water purity can be guaranteed. Some alkaline chemicals are added to restore pH balance. What started as waste water is now the purest possible water.

The county supervisors should initiate a concerted effort to solve the water problem forever, and not waste years and decades ignoring the problem as was the case with the Paso Robles groundwater basin.

Where there is water, there is life; where there is no water, there is no life. This is too vital an issue for political game playing. Doing otherwise would be a clear dereliction of duty and a betrayal of voters’ trust.

Zaf Iqbal is past associate dean and professor emeritus of accounting at Cal Poly’s Orfalea College of Business. He volunteers with local nonprofits, including Wilshire Hospice and Caring Callers. He is past president of the San Luis Obispo Democratic Club.

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