One of the more under-evaluated possible repercussions about the Carlsbad Desalination Plant (CDP)
is the risk associated with privatizing our water supply. Water is literally our most precious and life-sustaining resource, and putting it in the hands of a private company that has a dubious record of telling the truth seems like a very risky proposition. In fact, in many countries, concerned citizens have protested vehemently against privatizing this invaluable public resource, many even losing their lives fighting for what they held to be of fundamental importance to their communities.
Yet, we are so pressed for an answer to our water shortage, and so short on leadership willing to fight for superior (though less popular) alternatives, that we are willing to hand over our future water needs to a company that has failed spectacularly in its first attempt to create a large-scale desalination project in the United States.
In addition to the underlying issue I have with privatizing a public resource, I am equally concerned about the policy ramifications of such a decision. When you place water in the hands of a private company which will have increased profits with the more water they sell, we will be providing an incentive to increase water usage at a time we should be focusing on conservation. This will then incentivize Poseidon and other water speculators to build more and larger desalination facilities to make more profit. Who needs conservation when we can turn our “limitless ocean” into our personal drinking fountain?
While this may seem hypothetical or far-fetched, I believe even our own personal experiences will bear out the legitimacy of this concern. In fact, just a few days after the Coastal Commission hearing my wife was tending to the yard, made up mostly of rock and native vegetation, in our North Park home when our neighbor from across the street came over the chat. Comparing our mainly brown vegetation with her lush greenery, she mentioned eagerly anticipating desalination as a way to preserve her lawn. To further illustrate this point, let me quote from a CDP supporter at the recent State Lands Commission hearing on this issue:
We got to have more supply and more supply and I urge you to be very positive on this. We’ve got to have more water here and work out the technical problems that were raised earlier. Work them out. You can do it. Let’s be positive. Let’s make it happen. It has to happen or San Diego is going to have a problem.
We’re not going to be able to water our lawns. That’s my conflict of interest. I want to be able to water my lawn. And I am very, very concerned that that’s what’s going to happen if we don’t get more and more water.
That is one of the great things about the CDP — it appears to be all things to all people: to some it is a strategy to reduce our dependence on unstable water transfers from Northern California and the Colorado River; to others a needed aid to grow North County by attracting more businesses, tourists and residents; and for many other San Diegans a way to continue to have green lawns. Never mind that these goals are inconstant and in some cases bad public policy — who needs reality when you have Poseidon’s promises!
— BRUCE REZNIK