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.
The Carlsbad plant is only one piece of the puzzle for meeting the region’s future water reliability needs, and it does not come at the expense of other important pieces such as water conservation and potable reuse. As I mentioned in another commentary last month, our region has been immensely successful using a variety of measures to improve water efficiency. Per capita potable water use declined nearly 40 percent between 1990 and 2015. Although emergency state water reduction mandates are no longer in place, the Water Authority will continue to support efforts to make the most of precious water resources. In late July, the agency launched its “Live WaterSmart” campaign designed to encourage residents and businesses to continue efficient water-use practices, no matter the weather.
The Water Authority also strongly supports plans by its member agencies to add potable reuse to our region’s supply portfolio in coming years. The Water Authority’s record for supporting projects such as Pure Water San Diego and Padre Dam Municipal Water District’s Advanced Water Purification program is well-documented, and remains unchanged. It’s important to note that potable reuse does have similar cost and energy requirements to seawater desalination, and will require higher water rates to pay for them. But, just like seawater desalination, they are a locally controlled, drought-proof supply. We are counting on projects like these in our long-term water management plan to be our next source of supply to help our region meet its growing water needs in coming decades.
I’d like to thank the San Diego County Taxpayers Association for recognizing these benefits for our region’s ratepayers and the value of our partnership with plant developer Poseidon Water, which was precisely designed to protect ratepayers from the risks of constructing and financing the project. I’d also like to thank the people of San Diego County who’ve shown their unwavering support for prudent investments such as the Carlsbad Desalination Project that will help keep the region supplied with clean, reliable water for generations to come.
Mark Weston is chair of the San Diego County Water Authority’s board of directors and he lives in Poway. Weston’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.