Southern California embracing water desalination
December 3, 2012
A Southern California water agency approved a contract Thursday to buy the entire output of what would be the Western Hemisphere’s largest seawater desalination plant, clearing the way for construction to begin early next year. [TimesUnion]
The San Diego County Water Authority board voted in favor of the $984 million project. The Carlsbad plant is designed to produce 50 million gallons of highly purified drinking water a day, enough to supply about 8 percent of the region’s water demand in 2020.
Backers of the project say the relatively high cost of an acre-foot of desalted water is well worth the protection it provides against drought. The region imports about 80 percent of its water from Northern California and the Colorado River on hundreds of miles of aqueducts. The agency will pay $2,042 to $2,290 for an acre-foot of water, more than twice what it cost to import water
It is a decision that is being closely watched, especially in California, where the plant is the furthest along among about two dozen proposals in various stages of planning. Desalination has been slow to catch on in the United States even though it has helped quench demand in Australia, Saudi Arabia and other countries lacking fresh water.
On the Central Coast, several desalination plant proposals have hit snags. Current plans for a plant to serve the Cambria area were waylaid last December by the California Coastal Commission. The panel ruled Santa Rosa Creek is off limits for intake and outfall facilities.
Specifically, the commission agreed unanimously that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ planned testing of soil and water at the creek mouth would be “inconsistent” with state coastal regulations. Officials of the commission said the Corps could defer to the decision, or proceed as planned and risk a lawsuit.
In 2012, Cliff Branch, one of the owners of a 17-acre parcel atop the Nipomo Mesa, offered to sell the property to the Nipomo Services District. He suggested it could be used “as a future water source or as the site for a water treatment facility.” The parcel was considered for a variety of purposes in early 2008 by a previous district board, and implementation of a desalting plant was a favored concept, according to Branch.
Michael LeBrun, general manager of the services district, said the offer was “unsolicited.” He said in July that the board was doing its due diligence and planned to consider a number of options.