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Big Win For Drinking Water: California Legislators Pass Bill to Stop Riverfront Dump Near San Diego

Damon Nagami

Posted September 15, 2011 in Curbing Pollution, Saving Wildlife and Wild Places

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It turns out Democrats and Republicans can agree on something. California lawmakers from both parties voted overwhelmingly to pass Senate Bill 833, legislation that prevents a 300-acre garbage dump from being built next to a river and on top of drinking water aquifers, and adjacent to sacred Native American sites.

This is a huge victory for the residents of San Diego County, whose critical water resources have been threatened by the proposed Gregory Canyon Landfill ever since developers first hatched this ill-conceived idea over two decades ago.

I’ve blogged many times about this destructive and unnecessary project, which would threaten the San Luis Rey River and connected drinking water aquifers that supply water to coastal cities like Oceanside. The dump also would desecrate Gregory Mountain and Medicine Rock, two of the most important sacred sites of the Luiseño people, jeopardize a vital imported water pipeline, and destroy habitat for several endangered species.

We’re not the only ones who think this is a bad spot for a garbage dump. The County of San Diego repeatedly rejected this site for a landfill back in the early 1990s. When the county wouldn’t approve the project, the developer went around the normal approval process by placing a misleading initiative on the ballot. The 1994 initiative, Proposition C, billed the project first as a “recycling center,” and failed to mention anything about the project’s impacts to sacred sites, the river, drinking water aquifers, an essential water pipeline, and wildlife habitat.

It’s no wonder voters passed the initiative, which re-zoned the land for a dump. As a result, all decision-making authority was taken away from the county’s Board of Supervisors. Let’s be clear on this: no local elected official has ever had the opportunity to vote on the project and determine whether this is an appropriate place for a landfill.

What makes this even more tragic is that the dump is not needed. Landfill space is no longer an issue in San Diego County. Waste disposal countywide has decreased by a quarter since 2005, as sky-high recycling rates and the expansion of existing facilities have increased landfill capacity to the point where the county doesn’t need a new dump anywhere. And it certainly doesn’t need a dump in the worst imaginable location.

This injustice at the local level is crying out for a legislative solution. Thankfully, our state lawmakers have listened and responded in a rare and refreshing display of bipartisan unity. The bill’s author, Senator Juan Vargas (D-San Diego), ably shepherded the measure through the Senate, where it passed by a resounding 32-3 vote. On the Assembly side, coauthor Ben Hueso (D-San Diego) helped propel the bill through that house by a stunning 70-1 margin.

Our broad and diverse coalition of tribes, environmentalists, farmers, local elected officials, and concerned residents is thrilled with this result and grateful for the Legislature’s measured and decisive action. The bill is now in the hands of Governor Jerry Brown, who will decide whether to sign or veto the measure. We hope the Governor signs Senate Bill 833 and protects San Diego’s drinking water and sacred sites once and for all.

Gregory Canyon (sm) - photo by Damon Nagami.JPG

Photo credit: NRDC (Damon Nagami)

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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