conservation undercuts the desalination business model

“Decoupling” – when resource use is no longer inextricably linked to population or economic growth – is a central feature of water management right now in the western United States. (See here for a deeper dive.)

The LA Times’ Bettina Boxall had a great story over the weekend that illustrates its impact on a proposal to spend a gajillion dollars to build a desalination plant to provide water in Orange County, California. The problem? Because of conservation, and other lower cost alternatives like the use of treated wastewater to recharge aquifers, potential customers may not need the water:

Conservation is driving down demand at the same time there are plans to expand Orange County’s long-standing program of replenishing the groundwater basin with highly treated wastewater.

“You can stack up some really easy projects that are being contemplated … and all of a sudden we don’t see a need for this project at all,” said Paul Cook, general manager of the Irvine Ranch Water District.