David Zetland calls the cost of desalination the “backstop price” for water. Once the cost of other sources rises sufficiently, coastal residents will just build desal plants because it’s cheaper. While the fungibility is not complete (i.e. we don’t all live on coasts), water trades could allow people who live inland to play too.
This matters in context of the Colorado River because of the idea that coastal residents could use desal to free up some of the river’s water for those of us upstream. Or maybe California could start using desal as part of its effort to be less of a frickin’ Colorado River water hog.
But the context in this excellent Tracy Wood piece on the proposed Poseidon plant in Huntington Beach, CA, and the reader comments that follow, suggest that the market is not as free as Zetland might hope. First here’s Wood:
The state Water Resources Control Board may begin regulating desalination plants and how much brine they can discharge into the ocean. But work on that won’t start until later this year, said Jonathan Bishop, the state water board’s chief deputy.
Any plants affected by the upcoming regulations will be given time to comply.
Before breaking ground next year, Poseidon also must get permits from the state Lands Commission and the Coastal Commission.
So you have, first, the regulatory environment. And that raises the specter of politics. I don’t mean that in the pejorative way that word is often used, but simply that the regulatory system is subject to the political involvement of those who think this project is a bad idea. Here’s a commenter who goes by the “name” CLG_MAG:
Rest assured, folks, there is opposition out here, and we’re going to be there, front and center, when the matter comes before the Coastal Commission, Regional Water Board, and the State Lands Commission. We also learned from the Carlsbad project’s history — namely that Poseidon plays a bit loose and fast with the facts. This time, not only will the public be ready, but the agencies will too. We all know it’s easy to buy off the local government, but with everything that’s gone on at the State level and in the litigation, I can guarantee Poseidon’s going to have nothing but trouble getting the Huntington plant through the years of regulatory hurdles that loom on the horizon.