The San Diego County Water Authority is made up of 24 member agencies, and provides water throughout the county, serving 97 percent of its population. So it’s an understatement to say the agency is powerful. Last week’s post discussed the Water Authority’s Urban Water Management Plan, which outlines available and expected supplies that may be relied upon for future development. It also – without environmental review – invariably ensures those supplies will move forward. Indeed, for a project still in the permitting phase, it becomes a valuable “you already decided to depend on me” shield against opposition. Case in point: desalination.

The Water Authority and local water districts keep trumpeting desal as the best way to diversify water supply, arguing that it’s more publicly accepted than “toilet to tap.” The public begs to differ. A recently completed County Water Authority public survey (pdf) found:

Recycled water has returned to prominence as a critical issue during the current survey period. While still a critical issue, desalinated water has declined in relative importance from a high in 2006 of 27 percent to 13 percent in the current survey.

Nevertheless, the Water Authority keeps touting desal, leaving indirect potable reuse (“toilet to tap”) on the back burner in its plan. The City of San Diego plan (pdf) likewise merely lists indirect potable reuse as a “potential” water supply because it still requires City Council and Mayoral approval.

Meanwhile, Poseidon’s desal project is facing a precarious financial position and it has yet to get the green light from the Water Authority on a contract. It’s difficult to see why this private endeavor is considered more reliable than the City’s indirect potable reuse project.

Maybe it’s the Water Authority’s full page spread in support of Poseidon’s desal project that makes it seem more likely to succeed. Or maybe it’s former Water Authority chair Bud Lewis’ love affair with it. Perhaps it’s the support from San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders. After all, the City of San Diego has by far the most votes and representatives on the Water Authority Board, all chosen by the Mayor, so their support may go hand in hand. Maybe the Mayor’s historical distaste for “toilet to tap” is also the reason it’s been treated like the Danny Devito twin to Schwarzenegger’s desal.

But even the conservative Union Tribune editorial board now supports “toilet to tap” (pdf). Considering the link between climate change, desal’s high energy use, and its increasing costs, maybe the fact that more than half of San Diegans feel water rates are already too high is another reason we should stop factoring the (disappearing) yuck factor into our water supply portfolio. After all, it’s probably a safer bet to listen to the public instead of Bernie Madoff when adopting diversification strategies.

Part two by Livia Borak. If you missed it, read part one here.

Livia Borak is an attorney at Coast Law Group, LLP in Encinitas where she focuses on a variety of environmental issues representing various non-profit organizations. She’s a former San Diego Coastkeeper staff attorney and member of the third-place CityBeat Trivia night team By Rolland’s Beard. She serves on the board of League of Conservation Voters and is legal advisor to the environmental nonprofit Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation. She makes killer chocolate chip vegan cookies.

by Livia Borak

Originally posted at