By Patrick Walsh, Senior Staff Columnist
One hundred years from now, countries will not be planning their geopolitical strategies around oil. Water will be the most sought-after resource in the world. Today, in our own backyard, we are already seeing a test case of what that might look like.
After a nine-year, $10 million study, researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey have conveyed a remarkable discovery. San Diego has 350 square miles of quality drinking water just under the ground surface. The basin of water holds up to one million acre-feet of water, providing buckets full of good news for our constantly parched city: One acre-foot of this reserve can serve two households’ water needs for an entire year.
San Diego imports its water from the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Colorado River, draining us with extensive prices and legal “water wars” with other states. Many of us are familiar with the water rationing of the past, and it could return. For those of you out-of-towners, we used to have the water Gestapo come through our neighborhoods ticketing people for using water on days they were not assigned to. Facing a growing population and longer droughts, the return of the water cops has been proposed. By supplying our own water, this could alleviate some of the prices and shortages.
It doesn’t take a San Diego State graduate to see that this is just a short-term solution. This can only work as a tool to get San Diego into a position of self-sustainability when it comes to H2O. Further, more drastic steps must be taken, such as the collection of rainwater and the desalinization of coastal waters. But I’m a “why not do it all?” type of person. I’m for drilling more of our own oil and expanding our alternative energies. Why not diet and exercise to lose weight?
This story seems too good to be true, right? Absolutely. The City of San Diego is cautious about the environmental impacts of the welling of the groundwater. San Diego City officials have three major concerns.
The first is land subsidence. When large amounts of groundwater are removed, the land could sink ,causing property damage.
The second is reduced surface water levels. Some rivers and streams rely on ground water and may dry up if the source is removed, which would affect local vegetation.
Lastly, the city officials are concerned underground saltwater could get pumped up with the groundwater, damaging our current drinking water.
The city of San Diego wants to take a cautious approach. Ten wells have already been built, one is under construction and six more are planned. This projection is pretty low-key compared to what we can do.
The dispute behind the project is that borders or city limits don’t apply to natural phenomenon such as water basins. It spills into the underground of Chula Vista, which has experienced rapid development and wants to exploit the river for its own purposes. If Chula Vista drains the basin, it could inadvertently damage land in San Diego. However, Chula Vista contributed to the research project along with San Diego and is now suing us for not allowing them to drill for the water on its own land. Chula Vista is arguing the study showed the most change in surface land would be a difference of one centimeter, claiming that if the land would drop by a foot, it would agree with San Diego to cautiously extract the water.
It feels like the city of San Diego is holding Chula Vista residents hostage to appease the environmentalist lobby in the city.
Regardless of whether you are a land developer or a tree hugger, this case will put a judge in an interesting bind. Chula Vista is its own city, and the water under its feet is rightly its own. The same is true for San Diego. But the water knows no boundaries and any potential damage or benefits won’t either. Also, just because San Diego is bigger doesn’t give the city the right to manipulate Chula Vista policy.
The only way to fairly solve this is to have a bipartisan panel from the state level come in and resolve this mess. One outcome would be to let Chula Vista well as much as it wants, and if damages begin to show, halt the process. You can always stop pumping from a well.
Regardless, this will definitely be fun to watch. I can only imagine how this will play out 100 years from now when countries battle for underground water rights that spill between their borders.
Thankfully, San Diego and Chula Vista don’t have their own militaries.
—Patrick Walsh is a political science senior.
—The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.