Desal is apparently now a jobs program

I’m all for a serious discussion about the costs and benefits of desalination as a source of water supply in the arid southwestern United States. But I find this argument, from Ted Owen of the Carlsbad, Calif., Chamber of Commerce, less than helpful:

Jobs. Everyone in business and government is talking about the need to create jobs, but so few seem to have any real jobs to offer. On Tuesday, the Carlsbad City Council will be put to the test, and we will witness a display of leadership that will help reaffirm our faith that local government can be part of the jobs solution.

On the City Council’s agenda is an agreement between the city and the San Diego County Water Authority that will advance the long-awaited Carlsbad Desalination Project. The agreement probably doesn’t give the city everything it originally wanted, and the same is likely true for the County Water Authority. And it is this compromise that exemplifies what leadership is all about —- having the foresight to put the greater good of the region above parochial interests.

The desalination project is one of the largest shovel-ready water infrastructure projects in the state of California. It will support 2,000 skilled jobs and generate more than $350 million in economic stimulus during construction, and contribute more than $50 million per year to the regional economy once operations begin in 2014.

It is also the case that having Carlsbad City Council hire hooligans to go around breaking windows downtown would create jobs for people who fix windows. But that is not sufficient motivation for hiring the hooligans. Now, to be fair, Owen does mention in passing the argument that the desal project offers some water policy benefits as well. But desal only works if it’s affordable, which has been one of the rips against the Carlsbad project. And the notion of the desal plant as a jobs program works best if it’s extravagantly expensive. It seems the two lines of arguments are at cross purposes here.

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