San Diego’s $127 Million Answer to Climate Change

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A mother watches the Jesusita fire burn in nearby Santa Barbara, Calif. Experts expect the number of wildfires to increase in California in the coming years due to climate change.

American cities seem to be the hub for climate change strategy these days. For many state governments, the prospect of implementing incremental changes to how they produce, sell and benefit from power is a fight-or-die issue that will ultimately be born out in the Supreme Court. But for many of their cities, like Seattle, San Francisco, New York and even Charleston, West Virginia — the heart of a coordinated challenge to the Environmental Protection Agency — change is, well, just common sense.

That’s particularly true for San Diego, California, which passed its Climate Action Plan last December just as the COP21 climate talks got underway in Paris. Last week, the city released some of the details of that plan — which, among other things, aims to convert the city to 100 percent green energy by 2035.

San Diego has already received plenty of impetus for addressing global warming. As one of Southern California’s largest cities, it sits at the epicenter of a five-year drought, barely abated by this year’s El Nino weather pattern. While other cities across the globe faced record precipitation, the region’s sprawling metropolis is still dealing with water alerts and parched city lawns.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s $127 million plan — the first installment in a lengthy and ultimately expensive project — would be wide-ranging in its impacts. Many of those targets are aimed at reducing the city’s global warming impacts, such as creating and improving bike lanes, adding more trees to the cityscape, repairing infrastructure, and increasing the use of renewable energy.

Mayor Faulconer is also pushing a bold plan to create a water recycling system that would convert the metropolitan area’s sewage to drinking water. At the present time, San Diego ships in about 85 percent of its drinking water supplies, and it is reliant on the Colorado River for more than half of that resource. In years past, rainfall and runoff also quenched the city’s thirst, but increasing hot weather and parched conditions pose a sizable threat to local water sources. If successful, the Pure Water recycling program would allow the city to supply its own drinking water source.

But the success of the $3.2 billion Pure Water plan is dependent upon the support of local and national environmental organizations, some of which have expressed doubt that the program could succeed without an amendment to the federal Clean Water Act. And that, critics say, could set a path for politicians who want to weaken the nation’s vital water act. Fear of a Republican-led rewrite of clean water rules, therefore, is taking precedence over the success of what could become the country’s first step to drinking water resiliency.

Approximately $94 million would be directed at fire prevention, storm runoff infrastructure improvements and other issues peripheral to climate change abatement but critical to San Diego’s ability to withstand the impacts of global warming.

Meeting the plan’s goals won’t be a walk in the park, though. It calls for at least 50 percent of the population to live within range of a major transport hub to walk, cycle, bus or use another form of public transport to get to work. That’s a significant target for the 370-square-mile city to meet by 2035.

It also expects local power suppliers like San Diego Gas & Electric to convert to 100 percent to renewable resources by that date. At present, SDG&E gets about a third of its power from green energy. The city is in the process of looking at further ways to cut its energy bill and cut emissions, and officials hired a consultant to determine the impacts of taking over the administration of energy procurement from SD&E. Controversy concerning the skyrocketing costs of energy supply in the San Diego area has fueled debate about ways to make one of California’s largest technical centers a more affordable and energy-efficient city.

Image credit: Flickr/torbakhopper

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Jan Lee

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

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