March 27- San Diego County Water Authority Wants All Residents to Pay for Costly Desalination—Even if Their City Doesn’t Buy It

Environmental groups call for a decision delay on the fee structure that could embed desalination rates into fixed costs paid by all customers

San Diego, 27, 2014- The San Diego County Water Authority wants City of San Diego residents to pay for desalination—even if the city doesn’t need the water. Expected to vote on a new rate structure for the Carlsbad desalination project, the Water Authority’s preferred alternative is to add desalination’s high rates to the water wholesaler’s fixed costs, ensuring all of its customers pay a portion. According to environmental groups, by assigning these rates to fixed costs, the Water Authority would contribute unnecessarily to rising base rates, reduce the incentive to conserve water and disrupt the pursuit of efficient large-scale recycling projects.

“The Water Authority is putting desalinated water on the backs of all residents including City of San Diego residents and their wallets, despite the fact that the City of San Diego is developing its own local supply that could eliminate the need to draw on costly desalinated water,” says Matt O’Malley, Waterkeeper for San Diego Coastkeeper. “It is important that any new rate structures do not discourage development of other local supplies, which we desperately need.”

San Diego Coastkeeper, Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation, and Surfrider Foundation, San Diego County Chapter have repeatedly encouraged the Water Authority to make informed decisions based on a combination of factors—including cost, environmental impact, energy intensity and ratepayer implications. And now that the Water Authority is considering this rate structure, it’s also putting at risk lower-cost, more environmentally friendly and energy-efficient water sources.

One such source at risk of getting overlooked is large-scale wastewater recycling underway at the City of San Diego, and being studied in many jurisdictions throughout San Diego County. According to the environmental activists, these projects demonstrate unified support for the development of local water supplies, an essential component of a reliable water supply for the region. And, by requiring all local agencies to pay for the costs of desalination, whether or not they use that water, the Water Authority may preclude a suite of water supply options for our region.

The environmental organizations want the Water Authority to delay its decision about desalination rate structures until it has proposed and investigated a full range of opportunities for water supply and then determined the impacts of those decisions. They also say that the Water Authority should consider the rate structure in a comprehensive manner, not the piecemeal approach as currently proposed. This won’t delay progress on the facility itself, which isn’t planned to provide water until next year.

“If San Diego County Water Authority truly wants to diversify its water supply, it will change its focus from only desalination and additional imported water to aggressive conservation and large-scale recycling,“ said Julia Chunn-Heer, San Diego County policy manager for Surfrider Foundation. “Diversification that includes desalination alone is not diversification. Plus we run the risk of over developing our water supply options on the back of ratepayers and at the expense of the environment.”