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.


Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Unfortunately, NCSD’s general manager, Michael Lebrun, and the incumbents in NCSD’s board of supervisors, are heII-bent to defy the will of the people of Nipomo and force on them the Santa Maria to Nipomo pipeline project.

They have a formal Supplemental Water Alternatives Committee, but it is a scam. If you review the board packets before, up to, including, and after the Nipomo community voted down the NCSD-proposed assessment district (a project, by the way, handled by The Wallace Group, despite all the history of the poor performance of The Wallace Group and John Wallace on their work at the South Oceano wastewater treatment facility), you will see that NCSD relentlessly pushes for only one option: the pipeline project. They continue to use NCSD funds for the pipeline project, and for no other alternative water conservation proposal.

All of this should not come to anybody’s surprise since the same engineer who led the waterline project studies and engineering work, Mike Nunley, is, in fact, the head of the very same committee that is supposed to be considering ALL supplemental water efforts.

Can you say “the fix is in”?

There are strong proponents for desalination as the method for providing supplemental water to meet the potable water needs of the Nipomo Mesa. Yet NCSD’s board and its general manager refuse to seriously consider this option.

If the Nipomo residents do not start pushing back on NCSD’s attempts to ram-rod the Santa Maria pipeline project as the solution for the Nipomo Mesa’s water needs, they are going to be stuck with the project, whether they like it or not.

All of their diligent work to defeat the John-Wallace concocted assessment measure will have been for nothing, and NCSD special interests will have won, after all.

Fact, water will never be cheaper tomorrow then today. I studied water in the north county for years and sat on one of the boards that make water decisions. I also was active in Oregon in some water issues and my family owns part of a water company and sewer treating plant in out of state. I have been to countless meetings and read studies that would put a crack addict to sleep. If you can every buy into a water supply company do it, water will only get more expensive to treat and supply, but it won’t get cheaper. I was in negotiations with a water deal to two north county communities in 2005 and they both told me $300 a acre foot was to much and $600 in 5 years from that date was crazy. They will pay a hell of a lot more when the time comes. The transportation and treatment can be very expensive.

A little late in coming…

Clean potable water will be REALLY expensive decades from now. Using potable water for landscaping is too expensive in many cities as we read this article.

In the 1970s, San Diego was part of a multi-agency coalition that planned to build a high-yield nuclear desalting plant on a man-made island off the coast of Huntington Beach. This group included the Metropolitan Water District, SoCal Edison, San Diego, the state Department of Water Resources, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Then as now, comparative costs were high, and that was the caveat that opponents of the project — notably agricultural interests in the Central Valley who were receiving highly subsidized supplies from the State Water Project — used to upend the plan. That was 40 years ago, and those same naysayers and their descendants have been able to quash the desalting concept with regularity. You’ll hear from the same boo-birds now… but consider how far along the technology would be by now, and with that, manageable costs.

I am curious. Why would Central Valley Ag interests oppose desal for cities? I would thing that would free up more water from the State Water Project for them to use.

At the beginning of 2012, the State Water Project came right out and told the water agencies, cities, etc. who contract for delivery of state water, that the State Water Project in the future would only be able to deliver about one-half of what the water agencies, etc. have contracted for.

Of course, the water agencies, etc. will still have to pay for the full amount of water, no matter how little is delivered.

What this means is that there will be no “freeing up” of water for other contractors because the state can’t deliver what it has already contracted for.

That is why, when the Nipomo CSD was studying options for supplemental water for the Nipomo Mesa, State Water was quickly ruled out. Nipomo had the opportunity to initially contract when the SWP infrastructure was being planned out, but the Nipomo residents twice voted it down.

Even if there was extra water, the pipeline was not built for an additional 3000 acre-feet per year, which is what Nipomo CSD’s goal for supplemental water for the Nipomo Mesa.

With the likes of contractors/overseers like Wallace dumping all that poop into our coastal water region, I should think that a desalination plant would be a stage 2 process. Stage 1 would be treating the sea water for fecal matter and other sewage related concentrations.

Good point, Cindy. John Wallace has essentially turned the ocean offshore from the SSLOCSD as one big wastewater treatment pond.