Having your cake…
Are expensive desalination facilities and decreased water use compatible? Back in January I predicted that politically they are not. If politicians ask the public to sacrifice their tax dollars to secure the water supply it becomes all the more difficult to argue that they should make sacrifices in how they use water.
I saw some evidence of this the other day when I was discussing desalination with an employee of Victoria’s Environmental Protection Agency. She noted that the state government has been paying a lot less attention to water efficiency campaigns now that construction of the desalination plant is under way and scheduled to begin delivering water in 2011. There may be a variety of explanations for this. It could be related to the contract for running the desal plant, which guarantees a certain level of demand, and thus a certain level of profit, in the initial years of the plant.
It could also have to do with the way the plant has been sold to the public as necessary for “fixing” the water shortage problem. As long as people view water restrictions as a temporary condition, politicians will be under pressure to somehow lift those restrictions. Political efforts to justify the desalination plant may have foreclosed, at least for now, the other important options.