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Limits to Growth
July 2008 | A Guest Editorial by John Kerridge


“What is the Water Authority's estimate on the limits to growth in our region?”

Councilmember Henry Abarbanel asked this question at a recent city council meeting. He got no reply, but his inquiry cut to the heart of a fundamental regional issue, and it behooves us to ponder it further.

First, we need to recognize that, with a few honorable exceptions, our neighboring communities have conspicuously failed even to entertain the idea that growth might, in fact, have limits outside of their control. For many years, most communities in the region have routinely approved large-scale development projects without questioning whether the infrastructure is adequate to support them.

“Infrastructure” here means primarily the availability of water and power, but also provision of appropriate facilities for transportation, education, and sewage treatment. In principle, the latter issues are resolvable by taxpayers and their elected representatives having the guts to make budgetary decisions that are unpopular in the short term but that will reap long-term regional benefits. But satisfying our needs for water and power will require a whole different kind of community commitment, and a whole different degree of tax-payer angst.

For both water and power, the financial and societal costs of adequately increasing supply are enormous, verging on prohibitive. Water supply to our area is controlled by climatic and geographical factors that do not favor us. It would be insane to assume that sometime soon they will change for the better. The limits on power supply are more subtle, dominated by its side effects, ranging from undesirable to lethal, but all of them expensive.

These limits, natural, technical and political, are sufficiently complex and uncertain that only a fool would assume that by ignoring them they would disappear. Unfortunately, foolish decisions are not uncommon, and most of them have the effect of increasing demand without guaranteeing supply. This is a sure-fire formula for disaster.

We will only avoid that disaster if communities throughout the region get together at a grass-roots level to apply unremitting pressure on elected bodies that otherwise are only too happy to dismiss the concerns of neighboring jurisdictions. But they must be made to face the fact that a development approval in one jurisdiction can negatively impact its neighbors' infrastructure as well as its own.

We live in an era of limits. Ignoring them will not make them go away; what will certainly go away is our much-vaunted quality of life.


John Kerridge is Editor Emeritus of the Sandpiper.



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