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By Jim Bell



Vulnerability By Design?

Developing A Plan

Efficiency and Self-Sufficiency: Pathways To A Secure Future And A Strong Economy

How Efficient And Self-Sufficient Can The Region Cost-Effectively Become?

Renewable Energy: The Region's Potential

Efficient Water Use: Strategies And Technologies

Renewable Water Resources: The Region's Potential

Agricultural Resources: The Region's Potential

The San Diego/Tijuana Region: A Vision Of A Sustainable Future

Efficient Water Use

Water Reuse

Water Collection And Storage











Note: Although the material presented here focusses on the San Diego/Tijuana region the principals it is based on can be applied to any region on our planet.









This five part chapter explores the possibility of creating an economically and ecologically (eco-nomically) sustainable economy in the San Diego/Tijuana region.

Part one describes how the region and its economy are vulnerable. The threats discussed range from intentional attacks on key infrastructure elements like aqueducts, electric transmission lines, natural gas and oil pipelines, freeway overpasses and railroad tressels or their damage from natural causes like earthquakes and floods; and how this could effect the flow of basic resources like energy, water and food into the region. Also discussed is how the region is vulnerable economically, from a purely business-as-usual perspective, even if the threats to its security, just discussed, never manifest.

Part two introduces the concept of Eco-nomically Integrated Planning (EIP) and how it can be used to strengthen the region's economy while making it and the communities that make it up less vulnerable to the threats described in part one. For example, if floodplains, which are vulnerable to flood and earthquake damage, are not developed, the public at large won't have to bear the economic burden of floodplain clean-up when floods and earthquakes occur.

Part three focuses on how the region's economy can be further strengthened and made more secure by pursuing business and employment opportunities aimed at making it more energy and water efficient and more energy, water and food self-sufficient.

Part four examines the potential for the San Diego/Tijuana region to become more energy and water efficient and energy, water and food self-sufficient -- in ways that meet the test of cost-effectiveness from a purely investment perspective.

Part five is an exploration of the future. It answers the question: If the San Diego/Tijuana region was well on its way to becoming a sustainable economy, what would living in in the region be like?






Vulnerability By Design?








Even if it had been planned intentionally, it would be difficult to create a regional economy that is less sustainable and more vulnerable than our case study.

As it is currently configured, the region's infrastructure could be seriously damaged by a small group of people or even an individual. Power lines, oil pipelines, natural gas pipelines, freeway over-passes, railroad trestles, aqueducts, and dams are all vulnerable to simple explosives that can be home-made or stolen from mining or construction projects.

Water stored in open reservoirs can be easily contaminated by dropping something into them from a plane or by contaminating their upstream watersheds.

Power lines can be knocked out with hunting rifles.

If a terrorist attack was well orchestrated, the region's infrastructure could be damaged so severely that the flow of energy, water and food to the region, for all practical purposes, would be cut off. The loss of key freeway overpasses and rail lines would also make it difficult for people to leave the region to obtain these necessities.

The region's dependence on imported oil makes it vulnerable to political changes, terrorism and war in the countries from which it imports oil. Just the fear of reduced oil imports can affect the regional economy by causing oil and other energy prices to rise. During the recent Gulf War, oil prices on the world market almost doubled even though there was never any real oil shortage. If shortages were to become real, the impact on the regional economy would be doubly traumatic.

The Mexican part of the region is slightly less vulnerable to events in other countries that affect the supply and price of oil in the world market. Unlike the U.S., Mexico currently pumps enough oil out of the ground to meet its domestic demand. Nevertheless, Mexico's economic well-being is affected by the supply and price of oil on the world market.

Beyond the threat of intentional human acts, the region's key infrastructural elements are also vulnerable to earthquakes.

Geologists, who study the region, conclude that there is a high probability that the Tijuana/San Diego Region will experience a serious earthquake sometime in the next 30 years. Additionally, the region's vulnerability to earthquake damage has been aggravated because of extensive development on its valley floors which overlay alluvial deposits.

Structures built on alluvial deposits are more vulnerable to earthquake damage than structures built on most other geological formations. Alluvial deposits are composed of sand and groundwater which tend to liquify if shaken. This well known phenomenon is called liquefaction. Since these deposits usually lie in floodplains, developing them has made the region vulnerable to flooding from excessive rainfall or the loss of upstream dams during earthquakes.

Obviously, if any of the possibilities discussed above occurred singly or in concert, the region's economy would be seriously damaged. The clean-up and repair costs associated with a serious earthquake or flood, or both, where valley floors have been developed could range in the hundreds of millions of dollars or more.

Even if the damage was insured, the economic impact would be devastating. Insurance never covers everything, and when faced with catastrophic losses, insurance companies have gone broke. To avoid going under, insurance companies would almost certainly raise rates for everyone else. To the degree that the losses were not covered by insurance, federal, state, and local tax revenues would be tapped. Whatever the case, the public ends up footing the bill.

Even if it could be guaranteed that no earthquake or flood will occur, the region's economy is still quite vulnerable from a purely business-as-usual perspective.

There are three principal ways that dollars come into our case study's economy -- through exports, from federal and state governments (on both sides of the border), and from tourism and new residents. All three of these sources are shaky.

Although the region's economy has a substantial export sector, it is probably running at or close to a cash-flow deficit. If there is a broad economic down-turn, the cash flow defficit related to trade could get much worse. When the economy is weak in other parts of the world, the demand for products produced locally declines.

The region's nearly total dependence on imported necessities like water, food and energy is another point of trade vulnerability. When economic times are tight, it's easier for people living outside the region to cut back on purchasing the things that it exports than it is for locals to curtail their purchase of necessities like water, food and energy.

This means that during broad national and global economic slow-downs, the rate that money flows into the region slows down faster than the flow of dollars leaving. If this continues for any substantial period of time, dollars will become scarce, local business will suffer, and economic activity will be stifled.

Another point of economic vulnerability is the region's dependence on federal and state funding.

Changes in policy by the central governments on both sides of the border can severely reduce the amount of cash coming into the region. Although the study region hasn't been hit that hard yet, federal cut-backs and base closures have had a devastating impact on some communities. Whether dollars are lost because of a base closure or for some other reason, federal and state dollars can be taken away at any time. Additionally, the central governments in both countries are in serious debt and looking hard for ways to cut costs. This will be true for some time even under the most optimistic scenario.

Tourism and new residents are a third major way that dollars come into the region's economy. Tourists spend money when they visit and new residents bring assets with them. Like trade, the amount of dollars brought into the region by tourism and new residents is vulnerable to broad national and global economic slowdowns.

The economy is also vulnerable ecologically. Currently, it is almost completely dependent on the use of non-renewable energy resources. It also uses potentially renewable resources in ways that make them non-renewable or difficult to renew. The region's rapidly filling landfills are graphic testimony to this fact. To replace what is buried, our planet is being scoured for a rapidly shrinking supply of virgin resources.

Similarly, the region's agricultural and forest soils are often being used in ways that cause them to erode more rapidly than they can be renewed. These soils are also being used up by urban sprawl. In the U.S., an estimated one million acres of prime agricultural soil are being converted into shopping malls, housing projects and roads each year. Practices in the study region are reflective of this trend.

Groundwater, an important element in a more water-secure future, is being contaminated with pesticides and industrial poisons. Additionally, the development of and damage to the region's forests and grasslands is reducing groundwater recharge rates.

In short, the region's economy is undercutting the ecological resource foundation that makes the creation of a sustainable economy possible. As the ecological resource base shrinks, the region's economic options shrink with it.

Obviously, the picture just painted is not very pretty, but is the current state of regional vulnerability inevitable? Absolutely not.






Developing A Plan








One of the most important aspects of making the San Diego/Tijuana Region more secure is to develop an eco-nomically integrated land-use plan. The aim of this plan would be to reduce the region's vulnerability to terrorism, earthquakes, floods, and potential shortages of water, food and energy while strengthening and diversifying its economy.

An important step in this process is the creation of a set of Eco-nomically Integrated Planning (EIP) maps for the region. The purpose of these maps is to answer a very simple, yet profound, question: If the aim is to create a sustainable economy in this region, where is it appropriate to do what?

Where are the best places to locate intense human activities like cities? What land should be set aside for agriculture and wildlife habitat? What hazards, like floodplains and geologically unstable areas, should be avoided? (For a detailed explanination of ecologically integrated planning and EIP mapping see chapter VI.)

Obviously, floodplains are dangerous places to develop. They are also costly places to repair when floods or earthquakes occur. Considering the eco-nomic vulnerability that floodplain development represents, it would be prudent to adopt a set of regional land-use rules which would:

  • prohibit further development of the region's floodplains,
  • establish a process whereby existing floodplain development can be removed in an orderly and equitable manner, hopefully before the region experiences a major earthquake, flood, or both.

Although prohibiting new floodplain development and, over time, retiring existing floodplain development --- would make the region more eco-nomically secure, doing so will affect some people's economic situation negatively.

Since it would be unfair to penalize people who were playing by the existing rules, these people must be fairly compensated for what ever economic loss they sustain under the new land-use regimen.

If the new-land use rules indicate that a property should be used in a way that would produce less income than what would have been possible under the existing rules, the property's owner must be fairly compensated for any financial losses that the rule changes bring about. If a parcel of land should be retired from its present use, the owner must be compensated for any reduction in the value of their investment in the land and the value of any improvements they have made to the land.

Although the details of moving inappropriate development out of floodplains needs to be worked out, the general idea would be to prohibit any further development in floodplains, either on undeveloped sites or existing sites. Businesses already located in floodplains would be allowed to stay where they are and maintain their facilities, but would not be allowed to expand. The newest structures in the floodplains can be maintained, barring a serious flood or earthquake, for around 50 years before maintenance become so costly that it would be more cost-effective for the owner to build a new facility than to repair what they have. As these new replacement facilities are built in safer locations, structures in the floodplains would be removed.

As these areas are reclaimed they can be converted to parks, agriculture, wildlife habitats, and other uses eco-nomically compatible with the conditions and hazards that floodplains present.

In any event, property owners must be compensated for any legitimate losses they sustain because of rule changes. Not only is this the right thing to do, it is the only way that the necessary changes will have a chance to succeed politically.

How would such compensation take place?

Here are just a few ideas.

  • Direct public purchase - While the direct purchase of privately held land may appear to be cost prohibitive, this may not be the case. Although changing land-use rules would make some land less valuable, it would also make other land more valuable. Since this added value would be unearned, a percentage of it could be used to purchase land in floodplains or to compensate land owners whose land became less valuable due to changes in land-use policies. This would be done as land whose value was increased by land-use rule changes is sold, or developed and sold.
  • Selling density rights - It is possible for owners of land in areas that should not be developed to sell density rights to developers that own land in areas appropriate for development.
  • Creative financing - An example of this would be to work out agreements with the landowners to purchase their land by paying them a monthly income for the rest of their lives. This would be an especially good way to keep agricultural soils from being developed. Today, many farmers sell their land to provide for their retirement. A steady income would negate that need. Upon the landowner's death, the land would revert to public ownership. This is similar to the negative equity loans now available to home owners.

Along these same lines, the Trust For Public Land, the Nature Conservancy, and locally, the Cleveland National Forest Foundation, have developed a number of ways that privately owned land can be donated or partially donated to the public in ways that save the private owner as much or more in taxes than they would have made if they had developed their land or sold it on the open market. Once ownership comes under public control, it should not be sold, only leased. Leasing land will provide an income for the public forever. If land is sold, the income stops.






Efficiency and Self-Sufficiency:
Pathways To A Secure Future And A Strong Economy









Making the region more resource-efficient and self-sufficient is another way to reduce the chance that natural phenomena, or accidental or intentional human acts, can cut-off water, food and energy supplies upon which the region now depends.

Becoming more energy and water efficient improves security by extending the useful life of imported energy and water supplies stored locally, if imported supplies are cut-off.

Regional security can be improved further by collecting more water and energy locally, and by growing as many crops (food and energy) as can be justified eco-nomically.

Not only will this reduce the threat of energy, water, and food shortages in the future, it will insulates the region from conditions in other parts of the world that might affect the quality, availability and cost of these necessities in the world market. (821) Increasing regional self-sufficiency has the added benefit of increasing the number of times that money circulates in the local economy, thus creating new business and job opportunities across the board.

When local people are employed to make the region more energy, water, and food self-sufficient, a good part of the money they earn will be spent there. This spending will help local business, thus creating more local jobs and new business opportunities. Economists call this the multiplier effect. Just saving energy and water puts money in peoples' pockets by reducing their utility bills. This is a benefit that can be enjoyed by individuals and businesses alike.

Obviously, much could be gained by becoming more resource-efficient and self-sufficient, but global competition presents a hurdle.

The region is not an economic island. Therefore, things produced and/or extracted in it must be priced competitively with equivalent imports to be successful. This is true even though such imports are often created in ways that are not eco-nomically sustainable, are subsidized, and are extracted and produced by people earning less than liveable wages.

While overcoming this hurdle is a problem, it is not impossible.

For example, many strategies to increase energy and water efficiency are already competitive with subsidized imports. Numerous studies backed up by a large amount of real world experience have shown this to be true. Intelligent investments in energy and water efficiency will give a better return on investment than most money-market funds. (Read Chapter VII for details.)

While employing local people to collect energy, and water and grow food and energy crops would create business opportunities and jobs, doing so is less easily justified economically than becoming more energy and water efficient. This is because the cost of developing local resources is more expensive than most ways of saving them. This extra cost makes it more difficult for regionally produced energy, water and food to compete with subsidized imports. Just considering energy, Harold Hubbard, (Scientific American, April 1991), calculated that direct and hidden subsidies for non-renewable energy resources "range between $100 billion and $300 billion per year" in the United States.

If the subsidies supporting non-renewable energy resources, imported water, and imported food were removed, becoming more resource efficient and self-sufficient in the region would be easy. With these subsidies removed, almost any well conceived strategy to increase efficiency and self-sufficiency would be cost competitive with imports.

Unfortunately, these subsidies, which are largely federal, are not likely to be eliminated in the near future. But even with this as a given, there is considerable work that can be accomplished in a cost-effective manner that will help create a stronger and more sustainable regional economy.

The usual way we evaluate cost-effectiveness is to compare prices. Is it cheaper to produce a kwh of electricity by burning imported natural gas, than it is to produce it by manufacturing solar (photvoltaic) cells locally and installing them on the region's roof tops, over parking lots, and other places where shade would be desirable?

If only the over-the-counter cost is included, purchasing the natural gas is still "cheaper", though not by much and probably not for long. Texas Instruments in conjunction with Southern California Edison is planning to have a more competively priced solar cell on the market in the near future.

But is "cheaper" always the best buy? Let's take a closer look.

When money is spent on imported water, food and energy to meet local needs, the lion's share of it ends up in the pockets of people who don't live in the region. Therefore, very little if any of the money they receive will be spent in the region's economy. Thus, local business and job opportunities are lost. When money is invested in making the region more efficient and self-sufficient, most of it will end up in the pockets of people who live there. Because the people earning this money live locally, much of what they earn will be spent locally, which will create even more business and employment opportunities.

From a municipal perspective, this increase in business and employment will save money by reducing welfare and unemployment rolls. A stronger business and employment environment will cause the value of real estate to increase which will increase property tax revenues. It will also invigorate the rental market, and the increase in business in general will generate additional sales tax revenue. Plus, when a municipality makes its own facilities more energy and water efficient, it reduces its own overhead costs.

In other words, when we invest in becoming more efficient and self-sufficient, we reduce municipal costs while increasing revenues.

If a portion of this increase in revenue is allocated to projects designed to increase efficiency and self-sufficiency, such projects will be able to compete more effectively with subsidized imports.

This allocation should not be considered a subsidy because the increased revenue and lower costs would not have come into existence if efficiency and self-sufficiency were not pursued. The fact that the revenue benefit comes after the efficiency or resource development take place, is no different than investing in office buildings or shopping malls. Buildings and malls do not produce revenue until they are completed.






How Efficient And Self-Sufficient Can The Region Cost-Effectively Become?








Currently, the region exports around $6 billion dollars out of the regional economy each year to pay for imported energy (98%), food (90%), and water (90%). To the degree the region can create business and employment opportunities aimed at developing cost-effective ways to save, collect, and/or produce these necessities locally, these dollars will keep circulating locally. Since the majority of the workers and business people earning this money would live there, most of what they earned would be spent there, strengthening the economy on all fronts.

With good planning, all of the $6 billion dollars currently exported can be reclaimed at a better return on investment than that earned by the typical money market fund. But even if only half of this money could be retained, it would give birth to a thriving regional economy for the next 30 to 40 years. Additionally, it would make the region less vulnerable to the cut off of water, food or energy resulting from accidental or intentional human acts here or abroad (imported oil), or from natural phenomena like earthquakes and floods. Every time a dollar is spent on something produced or grown locally, it generates one to three dollars of additional economic activity. Thus capturing the $6 billion now exported out of the region would translate into $12 to $24 billion of additional economic activity in the region each year.

The potential to save energy and water in the region is substantial. In fact, if the best available technologies and strategies were in place, per capita energy consumption could be cost-effectively reduced to around 20 percent of what it is today, and few if any lifestyle changes would be necessary. (See index for efficient energy use specifics.)

Although the savings potential for water is not as dramatic as with energy, water efficient technologies and strategies could cut local per capita water consumption by 70 percent -- again with little if any lifestyle changes. (See the index for efficient water use specifics.)






Renewable Energy: The Region's Potential








Even without efficiency, our study region has more than twice the renewable energy resources necessary to be completely energy self-sufficient. Indeed, it is so wealthy in these resources that it could be a large energy exporter. More on this later.

Yet in terms of regional security, it would be far more cost-effective and eco-nomically sound to reduce the amount of energy needed by becoming more energy efficient. Up to a point, saving energy through efficiency is generally more cost-effective than producing energy from any source, renewable or otherwise. This is especially true for non-renewable energy sources if the true-cost of their extraction, use and waste disposal is included in the accounting. (See chapter III for details on true-cost accounting.)

Even though a solid case can be made that the region could be 5 times more energy efficient than it is today, its renewable energy resources are so plentiful that becoming more energy if efficient is not a requirement for energy self-sufficiency. Even if the region stayed just as inefficient as it is today, all the energy required by 5 million people, using as much energy as the average San Diego county resident uses today, could be produced by installing 548 million square meters of solar cell panels -- on roof tops, and over parking lots and other paved areas. For perspective, 548 million square meters of solar cells divided between 5 million people, equals 110 square meters or 1,183 square feet of solar cell panels per capita. While this is no small amount of cells, their installation is certainly possible.

Completely installed, 548 million square meters of solar cell panels would cover around 8 percent of the land that is projected to be urbanized when the region's population reaches 5 million people, around 2005. This solar array would produce enough electricity to power everything that requires energy. This would include all commercial building services, all transportation services (cars, trucks, trains -- everything but airplanes), and all commercial, industrial and residential needs. Also included is plenty of extra production for storage. When energy is plentiful it could be stored for use at night and during cloudy periods. As clouds thicken, the production of electricity by solar cells declines.

With increased efficiency, the number of square meters of solar cells required can be reduced proportionally. If regional energy consumption was reduced by a conservative 50 percent, it would only require 55 square meters of solar cells per capita to meet the total energy needs of the region. If energy consumption was reduced by 75 percent, only 27.5 square meters or 296 square feet of solar cells per capita would be required. A room 20 feet long and 15 feet wide contains 300 square feet of floor area.

If 55 square meters of solar cells per capita were installed but only required 27.5 square meters per capita were needed to meet local needs, the regional economy could earn a billion or more dollars each year by selling energy to other areas. At current energy prices, a fully developed regional renewable energy system could bring 1 to 5 billion dollars into the local economy each year depending on the level of efficiency that is achieved, the scale of renewable energy development, and the price of energy in the world market.






Efficient Water Use:
Strategies And Technologies









Shifting the focus to water --- at present wasteful per capita water consumption levels, our study region can not achieve water self-sufficiency. Nevertheless, the region can be water self-sufficient, if an efficient, integrated water collection, storage, use, and reuse strategy is adopted.

Per capita water consumption could be reduced considerably if better water use and reuse measures were adopted. Some measures are already widely used like low flow toilets and shower heads, and drip irrigation. Other less-used approaches included soil moisture sensors which turn on irrigation equipment when the sensor is triggered by plant needs, drought tolerant landscaping, and water reuse in industry. If widely adopted, these and other related measures could reduce regional per capita water consumption by 70 percent, with little if any life style changes. (See index for more specifics on efficient water use.)






Renewable Water Resources:
The Region's Potential









Given the goal of achieving water self-sufficiency, how much water can be sustainably collected from the region's watersheds each year?

If only 6 percent of the rainfall received by the region in an average rainfall year (half the natural runoff) was collected and stored in underground tanks so it would not evaporate*, it would be enough water to supply a 5 million person regional population with 64 gallons of water per day, per person, for one year.

This 64 gallon figure is based on the assumptions that:

  • The total area encompassed by the Tijuana/San Diego Region's coastal watersheds is 6,220 square miles or 3,980,800 acres.
  • The average rainfall over this whole area is 18 inches per year. (Yearly rainfall in the region ranges from around 10 inches along the coast to 40 inches plus in the higher mountains.)
  • 12 percent of the Region's yearly average rainfall of 18 inches runs off into the ocean or is captured behind dams.
  • Only half of this runoff (6 percent of the Region's total rain fall) can be collected from the 3,980,800 acres that make up the region's coastal watersheds without causing unsustainable trauma to the region's (plant and animal) watershed communities.

In addition to the 64 gallons per capita per day that could be collected from watersheds, another 25 gallons per capita per day of runoff can be collected from impervious surfaces like rooftops, parking lots, paved playgrounds, driveways and patios. When rain falls on these surfaces, close to 100 percent of it can be collected. (This 25 gallon per capita figure is based on impervious surface estimates derived by the author from data published 3/29/94 in SANDAG/SOURCEPOINT taken from "Source: Series 8 Regional Growth Forecast." Note: Road and freeway surfaces are not included in the calculations as potential collection surfaces.)

Obviously, water collected from parking lots and driveways would need to be filtered for most uses. Even water from rooftops, patios, and paved playgrounds would need filtration. Filtering can be expensive, but if coupled with a good watershed education program, its cost can be greatly reduced. A good watershed education program can improve the quality of the water collected from impervious surfaces markedly. As more people come to understand how their activities affect the water they drink, they will be much more conscious about releasing pollutants that will end up in it.

In addition to collecting rainwater from watersheds and impervious surfaces, there is around 100,000 acre feet of water that can be extracted sustainably from the region's groundwater supplies each year. If these resources are developed, it would add another 18 gallons per capita each day for the projected regional population of 5 million people.

Adding these three sources together --- 64 gal. + 25 gal. + 18 gal. equals a water supply of 107 gallons per capita per day for 365 days a year for a 5 million person population.

If 80 percent of this water is recycled after it is used, it would supply another 85 gallons per capita per day for irrigation. This 85 gallons added to the 107 gallons that could be collected, adds up to a total per capita water-use allowance of 192 gallons of water per capita per day. This is close to 90 percent of the per capita water usage in the San Diego part of the region in 1995. The San Diego part of the region currently uses around 214 gallons of water per capita per day for all purposes, (residential, commercial, industrial, and for agriculture).

*(Four to ten feet of water evaporates from the surface of the region's open reservoirs each year.)






Agricultural Resources:
The Region's Potential









On the food front, the San Diego/Tijuana Region is very rich in agricultural soils. From the most productive to the least, there are 8 agricultural soil classifications, number "1" being the most versatile for growing crops. The land areas covered in the region by the 4 best soil classifications are estimated to be as follows:

Number 1 soil 153 square miles (396 square kilometers.)

Number 2 soil 145 square miles. (375 square kilometers.)

Number 3 soil 670 square miles. (1,735 square kilometers.)

Number 4 soil 1,221 square miles. (3,162 square kilometers.)

Although there are ample soils to feed many more than 5 million people, regional food production is limited by the availability of water. However, an 85 gallon per capita per day recycled water budget would be enough water to irrigate over 400,000 acres or 625 square miles one foot deep, or all the region's number one and two soils (298 square miles or 190,720 acres or 77,215 hectares) a little over two feet (.6 meters) deep each year. Two acre feet of water used efficiently, combined with the natural rainfall that does not run off, is enough water to grow a wide variety of crops. Average yearly rainfall in the region ranges from just under 12 inches along the coast to up to 4 feet in mountains.

To feed 5 million people by growing food on 190,720 acres (298 square miles) of agricultural soils, each acre would have to feed 27 people, or each person would be fed by growing food on a 1,600 square foot or 148.8 square meter plot of land (a square piece of ground 12.2 meters or 40 feet on a side). This is enough land (190,720 acres) to comfortably feed 5 million people if their average diet is low in land-dependent meat products. Even more food could be grown with the available water if grown in greenhouses designed to recycle the water that evaporates and transpires from the soils and plants they enclose.

In summary, our study region has the resources to supply 5 million people with all the energy they require and still be a large energy exporter. It also has the capacity to be water and food self-sufficient for this same population, even though water is a limiting factor. Additionally, this can be done while maintaining a per capita standard of living that's higher than what is average in the San Diego part of the region today (1995).

This capacity, coupled with Eco-nomically Integrated (land-use) Planning would greatly improve the region's economic future, while reducing its vulnerability to natural phenomenon and to intentional or accidental human acts.






The San Diego/Tijuana Region:
A Vision Of A Sustainable Future









If our study region's economy was well on its way to becoming completely sustainable, what would it be like to live there?

Actually, at least on the surface, life would be much the same as it is today, except that the region would be much more park-like in appearance and there would be little if any pollution. If they chose to, people would still have cars and would be able to drive them as far and often as they do now. The difference would be that they would be driving much more efficient cars powered by renewable energy produced locally.

Electric cars would be powered by solar (photovoltaic) cell which would convert the solar energy that now falls on rooftops, parking lots, etc. into electricity. Cars powered by (solar) generated electricity are already considerably more efficient than those powered by fuel. If 100 units of gasoline will allow a car to travel 100 miles, the same car converted to electricity and charged with 100 units of electrical energy could travel 300 miles. This is because engines powered by fuels only convert 16 to 20 percent of the energy they consume into vehicular motion. Electric motors used in cars convert 90 percent plus of the electricity they consume into vehicular motion. Even if losses related to charging and discharging storage systems (batteries, flywheels) are included, electric powered cars convert 60 percent or more of the energy they use into vehicular motion. As far as range goes, American Flywheel Systems Inc. is expecting to have a commercial flywheel storage system on the market in 2 to 3 year and flywheel storage in cars in 1998. Flywheel storage will give an electric car a highway range of 360 miles and be able to accelerate from 0-60 mph in 7.9 seconds. Additionally, a flywheel storage system can be completely recharged in 25 minutes and last for 20 years. (822)

For fuel powered cars, even 100 MPG is not the limit. The Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) in Colorado calculates that a fuel powered station wagon sized car could be developed that would get 150 MPG, simply by taking advantage of technologies like those demonstrated by the Voyager Aircraft. The Voyager Aircraft flew two people completely around our planet on one tank of gas. Additionally, if these cars were mass produced, they could be sold for an affordable price. Supporting this assertion, RMI reports that "10 manufacturers (including Volvo, Volkswagen, and Renault) have built and tested attractive, low-pollution, prototype cars that get 67 to 138 miles per gallon," and that "better designs and stronger materials make some of these safer than today's cars, as well as more nimble and peppy."

Even though plenty of energy for powering cars and trucks would be available, people probably wouldn't drive nearly as much as they do today. This is because the communities they live in would include various pathways designed for pedestrians, human powered vehicles, and electric carts. Electric carts would be used to move cargo and people needing transport assistance in and around community centers. This arrangement would be facilitated by changing existing community designs to maximize the balance between the availability of homes and apartments, with opportunities for work, education, and recreation. Some people would still commute to jobs and visit other communities, but the opportunity to work and play in one's own community would be optimized. The expanded use of telecommunications would also reduce the need to commute by making it possible for more people to work or be educated at home or at satellite locations in their own communities.

Mass transit between communities would provide a convenient way for people living in different areas to get together. Cars and delivery vehicles coming into community centers would be brought in on underground roads to underground parking and loading docks and/or be kept to the outskirts of smaller community centers.

Buildings would look more or less the same as they do today but would be much better insulated and very resource efficient in all their operations. Some low-cost ($40-$45 per square foot) buildings in Canada are as much as 10 time more energy efficient than are most buildings in our study region today. Even though winter temperatures may drop to as low as minus 60 degrees fahrenheit, some 2,000 square foot homes in Canada have heating bills that are less than $60 per year. (See index for more details on energy efficient building designs.)

In addition to being well insulated, most buildings in the region would get 85 percent of their light during the day from daylight sources. Windows, skylights, electric lighting, wall coloring, etc., would be coordinated to maximize the benefits of natural light to increase the comfort and productivity of each individual.

Electric lighting fixtures would be very efficient and fixture placement would focus on delivering light to where tasks requiring it are performed. Light systems would also be controlled by automated motion/heat sensors so that electric lights would turn on when someone entered a room and turn off automatically when the last person left. Light intensity sensors would also dim or turn electric lights off according to the amount of daylight available. The range of light levels in a room would be infinitely adjustable by its occupants. (See index for more on energy efficient lighting.)

Buildings would also be designed or remodeled to avoid external and internal heat gain. This would be accomplished through the thoughtful placement and choice of windows, and by using the most energy efficient machinery and office equipment available. New openable window designs provide as much as 20 times more insulation value as do the single pane windows widely used today. Some computers use a fraction of the energy to do the same work as do others.

Although a building with features like those just described would require very little cooling, cooling would be provided by installing heat-absorbent pipes horizontally below the ground. When cooling is required, air collected in naturally cool places like in the shade of a tree, would be drawn by a fan through the buried pipes. As it passes through the pipes, the air is cooled further by the earth before it is discharged to cool the building. The temperature a few feet below the surface of the earth is usually around 55 degrees Fahrenheit. (See the index for more details on efficient energy use for more details.)

In most situations, this system alone would be sufficient to cool thoughtfully designed buildings. Where air conditioning is necessary, earth-cooled air would save energy and money by reducing the amount of cooling the air conditioner would have to provide.

If all costs are considered, direct solar energy is the most cost effective energy source available in the region for heating space, water, and for producing steam and/or drying heat needed for many industrial processes. Selective surface*, flat plate collectors can produce steam even when it is overcast. Concentrating tracking collectors can deliver steam at 600 degrees centigrade (1,112 degrees fahrenheit) or more on clear sunny days. Back-up energy for these processes will be provided by solar generated electricity -- primarily from solar (photovoltaic) cells mounted on roofs, parking areas, and other areas where shade is desirable.

Industries, their machinery, and the electric motors that power them would also be much more efficient than today. Most of this technology is already available, and in most cases, its installation will pay for itself just by saving energy.

Whether industrial, commercial, or residential, new buildings would not be built in areas that are subject to flooding or earthquake damage due to liquefaction. Buildings already located in these areas would not be rebuilt there when they wore out.






Efficient Water Use








Although water consumption per capita cannot be reduced as much as energy, good strategies of efficient water use can cut water consumption substantially without changing lifestyles. In other words, people could shower, bathe, and flush toilets just as often as today, but all the toilets and showerheads installed in the region would be low flow.

Landscaping, to the casual observer would appear to be much the same as today with perhaps a bit less grass. Other plant elements would be drawn from a pallet of luxuriant drought tolerant, useful material, and food-producing ground cover, shrubs and trees.

Where irrigation is desired, it would be supplied by water-efficient irrigation technologies like drip irrigation that would be controlled by moisture sensors installed in the soil. These sensors, called tenseometers, insure that irrigation water is only applied when there is a real need. (See index for more details on efficient water use.)

(*A specially designs surface that is very good at absorbing and converting light energy into heat energy while not letting heat energy escape once it's absorbed.)








Water Reuse










In addition to efficient water use, water resources would be stretched through water reuse. Homes with yards would be equipped with graywater systems which would filter and disinfect bath, wash and sink water so it can be used for irrigation.Sewage water, which would no longer be contaminated with industrial chemicals and heavy metals, would be filtered and disinfected, then used to irrigate farms and landscaping. During rainy periods, recycled water would be stored in underground tanks buried under parks and various sports areas like tennis courts.








Water Collection And Storage










Being more water-efficient would also allow the region to reverse its present dependency on imported water. Instead of being dependent on the importation of 90 percent of its water, 90 to 100 percent of its water needs would be supplied by collecting rainwater runoff from local watersheds, roof tops, and through the sustainable use of the region's groundwater supplies. Conservatively, enough water can be sustainably collected from these sources each year to supply 5 million people with 107 gallons per person per day, 365 days per year. If 80 percent of this water was recycled and used for irrigation, the sustainable water budget per person would be 192 gallons per day.


















In the sustainable economy of the future, most of the food consumed in the region would be grown locally. If we were to recycle 80 percent of this 107 gallon per person water budget, enough irrigation water could be freed up to irrigate 300 square miles of agricultural soils 2 acre feet deep (24 inches). Three hundred square miles is approximately the amount of number 1 and 2 (prime) agricultural located in the region.

In summary, our study region has a lot to gain economically and otherwise by adopting an economic strategy aimed at sustainability. This is particularly true if the focus is on increasing self-sufficiency to keeps dollars in the economy that would have otherwise been exported. Since the people earning this money would live here, most of what they earn would be spent locally, creating economic pluses on all fronts.

From a municipal perspective, this new employment would reduce unemployment and welfare costs. With more money on average in people's pockets, more people could qualify to purchase a home or business. This would increase property values and property tax revenues. It would also strengthen the rental market and increase individual savings, freeing up investment capital.

In addition to the economic pluses discussed above, using resources more efficiently and developing those available in the region, would provide a number of other benefits:

  1. Efficient resource use and regional resource development brings the added security of being less vulnerable to resource delivery cut-offs or politically-generated price fluctuations.
  2. Efficiency and resource development would also reduce pollution and ecological damage in general. With less pollution, people are sick less often, happier, and more productive. With less damage to the region's ecology, less money is needed for clean-up and repair.

There is also the aesthetic value of living in a pristine environment where the air and water are clean, the food tasty, nutritious, and pesticide free, and where the landscape is clean, beautiful, and rich in plant and animal life.

Although these benefits are less easy to quantify, their dollar value is at least as great as the economic benefits described earlier.

If considered from an overall quality of life and sustainability perspective, the value of these benefits is infinite.


















After I've given a lecture, I am often asked if I think we can make it. By this, the questioner means, "will we make the changes needed to become eco-nomically secure fast enough to avoid some catastrophic decline?" My answer to this question is, I don't know.

Do I think it is possible? Yes, I do. The potential is definitely there. If enough of us decide that this is what we want, there is no question in my mind that we can do it. Obviously, I'm personally committed to this path. I look forward to meeting you and working with you along the way.






Jim Bell 4862 Voltaire St. San Diego, CA 92107