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A New Conversation About Desal

Members of KUSP's Public Insight Network listned as Conflict Resolution Center Mediation Coordinator Bonnie Jean Primbsch facilitatd a conversation between Rick Longinotti of Desal Alternatives and desalination advocate Mike Rotkin. Photo: Duncan Lively

Members of KUSP’s Public Insight Network listened as Conflict Resolution Center Mediation Coordinator Bonnie Jean Primbsch facilitated a conversation between Rick Longinotti of Desal Alternatives and desalination advocate Mike Rotkin. Photo: Duncan Lively

The audio above is part one of the hour and forty minute conversation. Find part two here.

By J.D. Hillard | KUSP News

A question we heard in a few ways from our Public Insight Network, was why Santa Cruz couldn’t just conserve its way out of its situation. Don Nielsen is a good example: ”I just think that the current trend is to look at the desalination plant and not much else.”

Unfortunately the sources for this information generally want to persuade you to either support or oppose the plan. 88.9 KUSP and the Conflict Resolution Center teamed up to see if we could find a new way to present this conversation.

Mike Rotkin served on the Santa Cruz City Council as the city first came up with the desalination plan. He now volunteers to advocate for it.

Rick Longinotti is one of the organizers of Desal Alternatives, a chief opponent of desalination.

This is Not a Debate

They volunteered to bring their different points of view into a conversation following the format of the Conflict Resolution Center’s mediation process. That organization has been helping people in disputes with family members, coworkers, landlords even resolving lawsuits since 1986. The method involves helping the participants listen to each other so they can find a mutually agreeable way forward. So what happens if we ask opponents in a question of public policy to do it?

Bonnie Jean Primbsch is the community, workplace and courts mediation coordinator for the center. She commenced the conversation by spending an extensive time interviewing the participants. First Rotkin, then Longinotti explained how they became involved with the desalination debate. The rules in this phase were: speak to the facilitator, don’t interrupt.

An Argument About the Future

Simply put the dispute between Rotkin and Longinotti looks like this:

Rotkin says in a serious drought people would have to cut back water use so far that there’d be severe economic effects: restaurants would have to reduce hours because they couldn’t do dishes. He argues the desalination plant is not so bad, it’s planned so it will be as energy efficient as possible and it won’t dump toxic brine into the ocean.

Longinotti says people can successfully conserve water when asked to, and it will be easier with a few approaches including: better conservation, recycling waste water and a neutral building policy requiring any new draw on the system to be offset by an equal reduction.

Rotkin says these approaches don’t solve enough of the problem. And ultimately the conversation left its audience wondering: what is enough.



There’s a gray area: Longinotti pointed to the 29% curtailment in the “worst-year” shortage column on the right of this figure. He argued that  the city could weather a drought that required this curtailment if it established a policy to keep water demand from growing,and put more energy into conservation and water recycling.

Rotkin pointed rather to the cell just below Longinotti’s. He argued it’s unrealistic to expect the city not to grow demand and with 37% curtailment, businesses would have to cut back.

To help KUSP report this story or submit photos to help us tell the story online join our Public Insight Network.

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