More than two decades ago, the San Diego County Water Authority heard a clarion call from the region’s ratepayers – a call demanding better water supply reliability. A call to never again let our region – our communities, our friends, our neighbors, our businesses – be vulnerable to crippling water shortages, as when the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California cut water supplies to our region in 1991 by 31 percent for more than a year.
Since that time, the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies have dedicated themselves to ensuring our region has safe, reliable water to keep our families healthy and businesses thriving. That dedication – in the form of a multi-decade, long-term strategy to invest in a diversified portfolio of water supply sources and more robust regional water infrastructure, including seawater desalination – is paying immense dividends for our region now. And it will continue to do so for decades to come. Through public opinion polling, the Water Authority also knows that the supply diversification strategy, including seawater desalination, is overwhelmingly and consistently supported, with more than 80 percent of the region supporting this strategy in 2015.
That’s the reality that is completely, ironically and unfortunately ignored in a recent commentary by Marco Gonzalez that criticized a San Diego County Taxpayers Association award for the Carlsbad Desalination Project.
To begin with, the local, drought-resilient supplies now available from the Carlsbad plant helped the Water Authority and its member agencies report to the State Water Resources Control Board that there will be enough supplies to pass its rigorous water supply reliability “stress test” should the state endure three additional dry years. The Water Authority demonstrated that it will have all the water supplies needed to support the region’s $222 billion economy and the quality of life of 3.3 million people.
The Water Authority’s commitment to include a supply as unshakable as the Pacific Ocean in its regional diversification strategy is a major reason why the area is no longer are under steep state-ordered emergency water cutback mandates. To be in this position after five straight dry years is a complete and positive reversal of the region’s fortune from 1991, when devastating emergency conservation measures were the only option.
While it’s true that seawater desalination is currently more expensive than traditional imported supplies, it is also far more reliable. Traditional imported supplies the Water Authority receives via MWD are becoming increasingly expensive and are regularly impacted by drought and the effect of our changing climate. This makes the value of the highly reliable supplies from the Carlsbad plant something that can’t be underestimated.
We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?
In support of the opinion:
Do not understand why some peoples believe that a $1 Billion industrial plant can be constructed to find if there is a market for additional water (without guarantees). If government institutes a 20 year water program (See Pure Water link below) to do the same (government vs. commercial) it will cost customers far more.
The Pure Water program “…The Pure Water program, estimated to cost up to $3.5 billion…” is expected to provide essentially the same amount of water as Poseidon – 20 years from now.
Poseidon is a bargain, which should be replicated for the benefit of customers.
Mark - you missed the point of my OpEd (of course, given your position at CWA). First, it's not good for taxpayers. Why didn't the County Water Authority go through with its own plant in Carlsbad? Because Poseidon lobbied the heck out of all the politicians to make sure it would get the $$. Why was Poseidon given a take-or-pay contract? If CWA had negotiated more strongly on behalf of taxpayers, we would only be paying for what we need, in which case the cost wouldn't be as big of an issue. The fact is, from a taxpayer perspective, the whole Poseidon situation stinks of corporate welfare and more the same politico palm greasing that's caused the current disdain for government pervasive among the public nationally.
And second, I argue for a loading order. Conservation first, maxed out. Recycling second. Water transfers third. And desal a distant fourth, if done with renewable energy and sub-surface intakes. Your OpEd glazes over the CWA's lobbying effort to reduce conservation mandates despite the lack of evidence of harm to the local economy from our evolving water efficiencies. And why is that? Because the CWA wants more ratepayer $$ to cover spending on things like the Poseidon plant! We've shown we can conserve, so why in the heck is CWA up in Sacramento lobbying for more wasteful practices?
Environmentalists have all along admitted that desalination done right may play a part in our future, diverse water supply portfolio. But there's a reason Poseidon is struggling to build its second plant and why they are the bane of the desal industry -- because they were approved on politics, not science, policy, and economics.
One huge oversight in building the plant:was the energy source. If it was solar powered (we do have an abundance of sunlight), the cost of operating the plant would be reduced substantially. I have to think that the oversight was purposeful, with the plant builders and SDGE working in cahoots.....
In support of the opinion -
The City of San Diego’s rational for the Pure Water program (another water purification effort) identifies why desalination is a good idea for San Diego.
“Why is Pure Water San Diego Being Implemented?
San Diego relies on importing 85% of its water supply from the Colorado River and Northern California Bay Delta. The cost of this imported water has tripled in the last 15 years and continues to rise. With limited local control over its water supply, the City of San Diego is more vulnerable to droughts, climate change and natural disasters.”
Mr. Weston, instead of building expensive desalination plants, why can't water shortages be prevented with variable water rates that rise when reservoir levels are low and fall when reservoir levels are high? Or is demand for water perfectly price-inelastic?
@Derek Hofmann --Which reservoirs are you referring to? Local reservoirs, or those farther to the north? Or maybe even Lake Mead? Who will make that decision?
@David Crossley Are there any reservoirs where variable water rates could not prevent water from being overconsumed?
@Derek Hofmann Water is not just a private economic good that can be distributed with a simple market mechanism. A large scale complex water system is a public good that involves an increasingly scarce natural resource. What would substitute for water when the reservoirs dried up? We need to increase supply and improve that supply (reliability) as we increase conservation. It is not a straightforward economic proposition that will be solved by higher prices in a drought.
@Richard del Rio "What would substitute for water when the reservoirs dried up?"
Why would they dry up when the water rates "rise when reservoir levels are low and fall when reservoir levels are high"?
@David Crossley San Diego County's reservoirs have a total capacity of 745,971 acre-feet. Last year, we used 419,459 acre-feet of water, which means our reservoirs can hold about 1 year and 9 months worth of our current consumption. Please explain why variable water rates could not be used to stabilize water levels in our reservoirs and procure additional water from MWD when the need (demonstrated by the variable rate) justifies what MWD is charging at the time?
@David Crossley Do you think MWD would ever refuse to sell us water at any price?
@David Crossley So the Carlsbad desalination plant, operated by Poseidon, is protection against being overcharged by MWD, even though MWD charges $830~942 per acre-foot while Poseidon charges $2,131. That'll show 'em!
@David Crossley Whoever it is, if the reservoirs dry up, it proves that the rates were lower than what was needed to reduce demand enough to keep the reservoirs from drying up!
@Richard del Rio "When water becomes prohibitively expensive..."
Why would it become prohibitively expensive? Is MWD's asking rate prohibitively expensive?
@David Crossley So the desal plant is part of a strategy to diversify our water sources so we aren't overdependent on MWD. I will accept that. But remaining unanswered is my question of why pricing water inversely proportional to reservoir levels would not have prevented our past water shortages.
I didn't have to read far to conclude that Weston was either (1) an executive of the water authority or (2) a flak for SDCTA. Stilted politically correct rhetoric, but I agree with his position.