July 1, 2013
The availability of aggregate resources is a frequent challenge across the United States, and it is becoming particularly evident in California. Last year, the California Geological Survey identified permitted reserves, calculated projected demand, and updated the state’s data for the first time since 2006. The picture is not a pretty one. Within the 31 study areas identified in the report, only one area — Placer County — has enough reserves to meet projected demand through 2060.
Three study areas — Southern San Francisco Bay, Temescal Valley-Orange County, and Western San Diego County — are projected to need more than 1 billion tons of reserves to meet the 50-year demand projections. In Southern San Francisco County, only 29 percent of the anticipated 1.38 billion tons of demand currently permitted. Temescal Valley-Orange County is also short on supply, with 28 percent of the 1.07 billion tons of forecasted demand permitted. Most disturbingly, Western San Diego County has only 16 percent of its projected 1.01 billion tons of demand permitted. Those reserves are expected to last less than a decade.
Three other areas, Fresno, Sacramento County, and the San Fernando Valley/Saugus-Newhall study areas, have 10 or fewer years of permitted reserves identified. In fact, Sacramento County has only 42 million of the 670 million tons needed to meet 50-year demand currently permitted.
The state agency also compared current reserves against those reported in 2006 to determine trends. In six of the 31 study areas, reserves had increased. The remaining study areas had fewer permitted reserves available than during the last study, with the greatest declines being identified in Sacramento County (a 37-percent decrease) and Fresno (a 35-percent decrease).
California is notoriously one of the most difficult states in the union in which to obtain a mining permit, and, as this report shows, the situation is not improving. Fortunately, the state’s Surface Mining and Reclamation Act of 1975 (SMARA) requires the state geologist to classify land based on its mineral resource potential so that its value is recognized and considered during land-use planning. The intent is to protect these valuable reserves for the benefit of all. The challenge is persuading local community leaders to consider the impact of potential resources on the good of the region rather than just their constituency.
The California Geological Survey seems to be trying to point officials in the right direction. It notes, “From 1981 to 2010, California consumed an average of about 180 million tons of construction aggregate (all grades) per year. Moving in 25-ton truckloads, that is over 7.2 million truck trips per year. With an average 25-mile haul (50-mile round trip), that amounts to more than 360 million truck miles traveled, almost 47 million gallons of diesel fuel used, and more than 520,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions produced annually. If the haul distance is doubled to 50 miles (100-mile round trip), the numbers double…”
In a state that prides itself on environmental leadership, perhaps Californians will take note. It’s time for local communities to recognize that the needs of the many can and should outweigh the needs of the few. It’s time to permit some reserves and lay the groundwork for the state’s future. After all, it’s not only the right option; it’s the environmentally friendly option.