Justin Fox's article arguing that the costs of desalinated water in California are too expensive compared to conservation and buying water from the Metropolitan Water District ignores several pressing realities that the 22 million people living in Southern California have to deal with: climate change, the fifth year of the worst drought in the state's history, dependence on imported water and the fact that conservation cannot keep up with the drought.
Water conservation in Southern California has gone down over the past year from around 20% to under 18%. While replacing lawns with drought tolerant plants is obviously important, it is not going to compensate for the drought which climate scientists are calling the "new normal". Southern California is dependent on imported water from two increasing unreliable sources: the Sierra Snowpack and the Colorado River. The Colorado River, in the midst of its own drought, is the most contested river in the Country. It's deliveries are at the lowest in history. California environmentalists, farmers and jurisdictions are fighting over Sierra water which increasingly either runs off early due to high temperatures or because of climate change receives increasingly less amounts of precipitation. That brings us to costs.
In this context, comparing the acre foot costs of Metropolitan Water District water or conservation costs to the costs of desalination has become academic. The fact is that consumers are paying $5 more for the drought proof local water the Carlsbad plant is providing; as compared to the rising costs of imported water ( more than 6% a year, if it continues to exist) and water district cost increase to cover the operational costs of paying for less water usage due to conservation.
The fact is that Southern California, due to climate change and drought, is facing an unprecedented water supply crisis with the desalination plants on the drawing board in Orange County (Huntington Beach, Doheney), LA County ( West Basin Municipal Water District), Oxnard, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo becoming a necessity.