The country’s largest desalination plant is in the ground at Carlsbad and its water is in our pipes, but the debate over whether it was a wise or economical investment continues.
The ability to turn salty ocean water into drinking water creates a dependable water supply for 3 million people in San Diego County. Even without a drought continuing across California, the ability to constantly sip from the ocean seems like an obvious plus.
There are downsides, though: The desalination process is energy-intensive and its water is currently far more expensive than our other water supplies. The San Diego County Water Authority has committed to buying water from the plant’s private developer and owner for three decades, whether the water is needed or not.
Recently, the debate has continued here in our opinion section.
A longtime critic of the Carlsbad plant, environmental attorney Marco Gonzalez, said the plant is an “expensive fraud” that is “horrible for taxpayers” compared with other ways to increase the region’s water supply or efforts to simply save more water.
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Maybe desal should wait for fussion. I am guessing electricity cost is high percentage of clean water. Maybe the truck size fussion that are in design will happen. Too bad it will be probably 20 years.
One sentence stood out from this article. " Current desalination technology does not seem likely to on its own solve Southern California’s water problems."
Now that is one spectacularly split infinitive!
If you look at water usage County wide you will see that agriculture and industrial are significant water users. For those applications fully treated water may not be necessary, this might be a good application for recycled water. Part of this is already being done. If you look at the construction going on near the freeways you will see 'purple pipe' crews installing recycled water pipelines for watering the medians. Besides, every gallon of recycled water we use means one less gallon of polluted water going into the ocean. The same ocean we are going to tap for our Desal plants.
Conservation plays a part, having thirsty Midwest plants in your yard, that is located in a desert, is probably not a good use of what will be expensive water.
As others have noted, we cannot have one technology supply our entire water needs. We have to have an integrated system that uses imported water, local water, recycle, conservation, desal, and other, to supply our growing needs. Some sources will be more expensive than others, and long range planning is critical in order to maintain our lifestyle at a reasonable cost. What is certain, is that we cannot say "NO" to anything different.
Want to help make this form of water creation less expensive? Quit allowing labor unions to use the CQA process to hold up the project until the owner "agrees" to a union-only Project Labor Agreement (PLA) to build it. 20% savings on the cost to build right there.
Oh, and arrest all self appointed "enviromentalists". Significant savings there too, and a better America.
Look, we live in a desert, there is not enough natural water to support even 1/10th of our population. Drought is a fact of life in the West. Even if the current one ended today, another would occur within a decade. Elsewhere in this Morning's Report is a call for adding at least 15,000 housing units to San Diego. We are at the end of the water supply pipeline and the MWA has proven that it is no friend of San Diego. The lack of affordable water is already effecting our region, drive up to Temecula and look at the bare hillsides where farmers have ripped out Avocado groves due to lack of water.
As others in the comment section have pointed out, Desal is not new technology and is in common use worldwide.
All of the technologies mentioned will have to play a part in our region wide water supply, including recycle. We simply can't afford to dump millions of gallons a day of water into the ocean. Due to the regulatory approval process and the common practice of 'Greenmail' it takes 10 - 20 years to bring a new water supply project on line. We can't wait for our supplies to get tight before we start building a new plant. The water produced now is expensive, in 10 years it will not be.
Unless we want others dictating our lifestyle and costs, we must continue to reduce our dependence in imported water. What we have done so far is a step in the right direction; it needs to continue.
“…Further out and more speculative is a desalination project being considered for Camp Pendleton, which the County Water Authority plans to spend at least $3.8 million over the next two years studying…….Members of the Water Authority’s board from the city of San Diego have expressed concern about the project because the city is working on a $3.2 billion drinking water project of its own and doesn’t want city customers to be hit with two major expenses at once. The city’s project would turn sewage water into drinking water….”
Comment: The $3.2 billion dollar government program dwarfs the Camp Pendleton program 842:1. The projects are not in the same league so the description of two “major” expenses is incorrect. Probably the government program should be cancelled to avoid major expenses for consumers. Also after hearing about Flint Michigan’s water problems, would not trust government to have the knowledge to filter all industrial and biological contaminants out of sewage.
@Chris Wood $3.8 million is just for a project study, not for the project itself. The proposed Camp Pendleton desal project would produce 100-150 million gallons per day, which is 2-3x the size of the Carlsbad plant, so expect it to cost in the range of $2-3 billion. More info is at the bottom of this page.
Mind you, I'm all for building additional desal facilities (along with the recycled wastewater efforts of Pure Water). Just don't kid yourself that it's gonna be cheap.
As southern CA desalinated salt water from the ocean into fresh water reservoirs, northern CA keeps pumping fresh water from reservoirs into the ocean. There ought to be a better way.
@Sean M You using a source from Feb. 2013? If the Westlands are hurting, why are farmers planting more almonds?
It is a challenge to find articles stating how much fresh water is being pumped from reservoirs into the ocean very year. It is my understanding is that the state started conflating water pumped from reservoirs with all rainwater runoff in 2015 or 2014. The 800k acre feet cited as pumped from reservoirs is about what the city of Los Angeles uses annually, the Carlsbad plant will produce 56k acre feet.
Some farmers have guaranteed water rights, others do not.
@Sean M And sometimes downstream users have water rights, so the "release for fish" is incidental, the water has to be released anyway.
You make a fair point about incidental releases of water for downstream users, I concede that there could be other reasons than fish preservation to release water from reservoirs. Hopefully an enterprising reporter can drill down into the sub characterizations of the state's "environmental" water use category.
However, i think it is safe to say nobody is "using" the clean freshwater that is being pulsed into the ocean and it is ironic for the state to build desal plants while it pumps fresh water into the ocean.
So the Carlsbad desal plant is still “controverasial”? Marco Gonzalez and his band of nay sayers are simply modern-day “luddites”, people who instinctively oppose technological progress to protect the status quo which, in this case, is excessive reliance on questionable and untrustworthy sources. Watch them attempt a monkey wrench when major recycling gets going big time. Maybe they will enlist Susan Golding and her “toilet to tap” pitch.
For crying out loud, over 100 countries rely on desalination for a reliable supply of potable water including many in the middle east such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and, most notably Israel, which has the most highly developed technology. An Israeli company was deeply involved in the Carlsbad plant, and that country is considered a world leader, along with, you guessed it, San Diego.
We’re not talking about brand new technology here, as we are, e.g., with many solar power applications. Medium to large ships have used reverse osmosis desalination for decades; all the San Diego long range sport fishing boats make their own water and have for a long times.
As someone pointed out in another article, much of the cost of the Carlbad plant can be traced to governmental actions and lawsuits triggered by opposition groups waving the “environmental” banner. Tales of increased salinity in the ocean are clearly absurd, yet such nonsense persists, along with the so-called danger to marine life.
Let this nonsense go and lets concentrate on reasonable self-sufficiency instead of being totally reliant on imported water, whether it be from Northern California, the Colorado river or elsewhere.
@Bill Bradshaw Precisely. Nothing I can add to Mr. Bradshaw's complete response, other than the utter nonsense about energy intense desalination as an issue. Thanks to private capital and technology, the US is simply awash in fossil fuels suitable for electricity generation. The electrical power is abundant. Of course, the same folks that detest desalination will detest merely generating electrical power in a reliable and cost effective manner.