Pivoting Operations For A Pandemic

The Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant (“CDP”), which recently celebrated its five-year anniversary, produces 50 million gallons of fresh water per day. It now accounts for one-third of all water generated in San Diego county.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit in early 2020, the facility needed to completely overhaul its workflow in a matter of weeks. CDP not only managed to cut its staffing, implement remote monitoring, and keep its operators fully sheltered onsite — it also did so without any drops in productivity.

The facility rapidly worked to make its staff as lean as possible — but also while maintaining steady production. Although changes needed to occur quickly, the CDP is subject to a wide range of regulations and compliance requirements: any modifications to operations needed to be collaborated and approved by the San Diego County Water Authority as well as state regulators.

California’s Drought Sparks Innovation in Santa Barbara County

Dry times call for innovative measures, and with California facing its driest year in nearly a century, the privately held water company that supplies Santa Barbara’s Hope Ranch community is floating a unique idea. La Cumbre Mutual Water Company, the affluent community’s supplier, is considering purchasing water produced by an offshore desalination plant contained within a buoy being designed by Ecomerit Technologies.

WaterSmart: Weathering Dry Times in San Diego County

Recent news stories highlighted the investments by the San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies to create a plentiful water supply for the region, helping to weather dry times like the current drought.

The New York Times, Spectrum News 1, The Wall Street Journal and Wired Magazine are among several news organizations that have reported on the region’s water supply projects, current and future, that ensure the 3.3 million residents of the county won’t be left high and dry during times of drought.

San Diego Has a Dependable Water Supply Thanks to Yearslong Investments

Drinking water from this tap makes San Diego County Water Authority’s General Manager Sandy Kerl smile — and for good reason. Back in the drought of the ’90s, 95% of San Diego’s water came from one source, and they faced 30% cuts for 13 months.

Opinion: Voters Played Role in Marin Municipal Water District Shortage

The welcome arch across Modesto’s main street proclaims, “Water, wealth, contentment, health.”

In essence, water, the first word, directly leads to the following benefits. The same formula applies to Marin. Now it’s the scarcity of water that endangers our county’s ability to enjoy the benefits of wealth, contentment and health.

The entire American West is enduring a drought of epic proportions. The globe’s climate will only get warmer in the next 50 years. Marin is late preparing for that eventuality. Doing so isn’t impossible but it comes with a hefty price tag and can’t happen overnight.

Semi-arid San Diego County has already accomplished what Marin needs to do. They have a sufficient water supply that will last until 2045. Marin may run dry next year.

San Diego’s Water Desalination Efforts Could Get Boost in Federal Funding

Desalination projects in the San Diego area could get millions in federal funding under a bill Rep. Mike Levin introduced Tuesday.

The Desalination Development Act would provide $260 million over five years for desalination projects across the country, including the City of Oceanside’s Mission Basin Groundwater Purification Facility, which converts brackish flows into potable water, said Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano.

It also sets environmental standards for projects that get federal funding, with requirements for energy efficiency, wildlife protection and water conservation.

San Diego County Water Authority-Building at night-MWD

Water Authority Prevails in Rate Litigation

The San Francisco Superior Court has ruled the San Diego County Water Authority is the prevailing party in the agency’s first two lawsuits to be heard challenging rates and charges set by the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. The order entitles the Water Authority to recover its attorneys’ fees and costs in those cases, in addition to a $44 million damage and interest award made earlier.

“San Diego prevailed, and the judgment not only benefits its own ratepayers but all of the nearly 19 million people in Metropolitan’s service area because enforcing cost-of-service principles serves the interests of all ratepayers,” said Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo in her Jan. 13 order, which can be appealed. The exact amount of recoverable fees will be decided later.

In light of the order, Water Authority Board Chair Gary Croucher reiterated the Water Authority Board’s longstanding desire to avoid litigation and find common ground with other MWD member agencies. “This ruling only enhances our determination to find an equitable resolution that will not only conclude the few issues that remain pending in court, but also help avoid future litigation as new rates and charges are being considered for 2023 and subsequent years,” he said.

Protecting water ratepayers

The Water Authority filed lawsuits between 2010 and 2018 challenging water rates and charges as they were set and imposed by MWD on San Diego County agencies and their ratepayers. After a favorable court ruling invalidating MWD’s Water Stewardship Rate on the Exchange Agreement, the Water Authority worked with MWD to try to resolve the remaining issues. The MWD Board promised to fund almost $500 million in local water supply projects in San Diego County and the Water Authority agreed to dismiss claims against MWD’s Water Stewardship Rate on supply, which is used to fund local projects under the MWD program.

“It is deeply gratifying that the court not only validated our claims but acknowledged the importance of protecting ratepayers by water agencies following the law,” Croucher said. “This week’s order makes it clear once and for all that our desire to protect San Diego ratepayers was never intended to harm MWD, its other member agencies or the ratepayers they serve. Rather, the litigation was necessary to address serious flaws in MWD’s rates that will, as the court said, ultimately benefit not only San Diego County ratepayers, but all Southern Californians.”

Rate litigation

The Water Authority’s first two rate cases – covering 2011 to 2014 rates – resulted in the court ordering an increase in the Water Authority’s preferential right to MWD water by as much as 100,000 acre-feet a year, equivalent to about twice the annual production of the $1 billion Carlsbad Desalination Project. MWD has already complied with this ruling and adjusted its records accordingly.

The court also determined that MWD must pay the Water Authority damages for illegal charges imposed on delivery of the Water Authority’s water under the Exchange Agreement. A Superior Court judge in August 2020 awarded the Water Authority $44,373,872.29 covering rates paid by San Diego County ratepayers during 2011-2014.

Water Stewardship Rate charges

San Diego County ratepayers have also avoided paying more than $45 million from 2018-2020 after MWD suspended its invalid Water Stewardship Rate charges on the Exchange Agreement. The improper charges would have cost local residents more than $500 million over the term of the Exchange Agreement. Currently, MWD owns the only pipeline that can deliver the Water Authority’s independent supply of Colorado River water to San Diego County and it sets the unregulated water rates which govern and control the delivery of water to San Diego County.

In addition, the court ruled that MWD had illegally barred the Water Authority from receiving money from MWD’s local water supply program, even though the Water Authority was still being forced to pay for it. MWD lifted the ban in response to the court’s order, and ultimately promised the nearly $500 million for water supply projects in San Diego County including the City of San Diego’s Pure Water North City Project Phase 1, East County Advanced Water Purification Project, Escondido Membrane Filtration Reverse Osmosis Facility and Fallbrook Groundwater Desalter Project.

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Carlsbad Desalination Plant Celebrates 5th Anniversary

The Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant is celebrating its fifth year of operation this month. More than 65 billion gallons of water from the plant have provided a sustainable and reliable supply to businesses and residents of San Diego County since December 2015.

The Carlsbad Desalination Plant produces more than 50 million gallons of high-quality, locally controlled, water every day. It’s a foundational water supply for the San Diego region that minimizes the region’s vulnerability to drought or other water supply emergencies.

Desalination plant diversifies region’s water supply sources

“The desalination plant is a key piece of the region’s multi-decade strategy to diversify our water supply portfolio,” said Sandra L. Kerl, general manager of the San Diego County Water Authority. “As we celebrate five years of operation, the plant continues to provide a drought-proof supply that reduces our dependence on imported water sources vulnerable to droughts, natural disasters, and regulatory restrictions.”

A 30-year Water Purchase Agreement between Poseidon Water and the Water Authority allows for the production of up to 56,000 acre-feet of water per year, enough to meet the needs of approximately 400,000 people. The facility is the largest, most technologically advanced and energy-efficient desalination plant in the nation.

Carlsbad Desalination Plant celebrates water supply accomplishment

“The Carlsbad Desalination Plant was once merely an ambitious vision. Fast forward to today, and we are celebrating the plant’s fifth anniversary of operations, during which we have successfully produced enough water to meet the needs of San Diego County residents,” said Carlos Riva, CEO of Poseidon Water. “This is an incredible accomplishment and an example of how communities throughout California can invest in the state’s future water security.”

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The Carlsbad plant uses reverse osmosis to produce approximately 10% of the region’s water supply; it is a core supply regardless of weather conditions, and it is blended with water from other sources for regional distribution. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Desalination uses reverse osmosis technology to remove water molecules from seawater. Water from the ocean is forced through tightly-wrapped, semipermeable membranes under very high pressure. The membranes allow the smaller water molecules to pass through, leaving salt and other impurities to be discharged from the facility.

Reverse osmosis is the heart of the Carlsbad plant. During this process, dissolved salt and other minerals are separated from the water, making it fit for consumption. This reverse osmosis building contains more than 2,000 pressure vessels housing more than 16,000 reverse osmosis membranes. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority


July 22, 2020: New Seawater Intake Pumps Preserve Marine Environment

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Three new fish-friendly seawater intake pumps, commissioned in July 2020 at the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant, are among the most environmentally advanced intake pumps in the world. The pumps are part of a broader effort to ensure the long-term health of the marine environment near the Plant, which sits on the shores of Agua Hedionda Lagoon. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Installation of the new intake pumps is part of a phased program to replace the existing seawater intake and discharge facilities with state-of-the-art technology to protect marine life. The technology wasn’t available when the plant was operating with source water from the Encina Power Station.

The next steps include adding new intake screens, designed to prevent any sea-life larger than 1 millimeter (thicker than a credit card) from entering the plant. The new intake screens are the final part of upgrades, which when complete in 2023, will make the Carlsbad Desalination Plant the first desalination facility in California to comply with the 2015 California Ocean Plan Amendment, among the most advanced sea-life protection measures.

December 13, 2018: Carlsbad Desalination Plant Celebrates 40 Billion Gallons Served

Desalination plant project partners Poseidon Water and the San Diego County Water Authority celebrated delivering 40 billion gallons of drought-resilient drinking water to San Diego County during three years of commercial operations at the plant.

“It’s incredible what we’ve accomplished in three years,” said Sandra L. Kerl, at the 2018 celebration event, general manager of the Water Authority. “Since coming online in 2015, the Carlsbad Desalination Plant has met nearly 10 percent of the region’s water demand, and it will be a core water resource for decades to come.”
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Officials toasted a significant milestone in regional water supply reliability on December 13, 2018 at the Carlsbad Desalination Plant – the delivery of 40 billion gallons of drinking water during the plant’s first three years of commercial operations. (L to R: Water Authority Deputy General Manager Sandra Kerl, Poseidon Water CEO Carlos Riva, and former U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer share a toast at the third anniversary event. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority)

December 14, 2015: Region Dedicates New Plant in Honor of Former Carlsbad Mayor Claude ‘Bud’ Lewis

Operations are under way at the nation’s largest and most technologically advanced seawater desalination plant, which was dedicated today by more than 600 elected officials, community leaders and project partners. After successfully completing construction, the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant has already produced more than 1.5 billion gallons of locally controlled water for San Diego County, helping to minimize the region’s vulnerability to the statewide drought.

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The Carlsbad Desalination Project included 1.5 million hours of work in Carlsbad, Vista and San Marcos, supporting an estimated 2,500 jobs and infusing $350 million into the local economy. Project partners included the Water Authority, Poseidon Water, IDE Technologies, Stonepeak Infrastructure Partners and Kiewit-Shea Desalination. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

June 29, 2015: Pipeline Installation Completed

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Construction of the 54-inch diameter pipeline began in spring 2013 in San Marcos. Crews worked in Carlsbad, Vista and San Marcos to reduce impacts on local businesses and residents. During the three-year construction process, the project supported an estimated 2,500 jobs and infused at least $350 million into the regional economy. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

After more than two years of work, Carlsbad Desalination Project crews installed the final segment of the 10-mile conveyance pipeline that connects the Carlsbad Desalination Plant to the San Diego County Water Authority’s regional water distribution system. Construction crews lowered the final piece of pipe – No. 2177 – into Macario Canyon in Carlsbad on June 29, 2015, completing a major element of the historic project.
“This final piece of pipe is a significant milestone for the Carlsbad Desalination Project, and a sign that the entire construction project is entering its final phase,” said Peter MacLaggan, vice president of Poseidon Water, the project’s private developer.
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The final segment of the desalination project’s pipeline is installed on June 29, 2015. The pipeline stretches 10 miles from the plant through the cities of Carlsbad, Vista and San Marcos to the Water Authority’s Second Aqueduct. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

January 2014: Desalination Plant Completes First Year of Construction

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The Carlsbad Desalination Project includes a seawater desalination plant and a 10-mile, large-diameter pipeline. Construction on the plant began in late 2012 and pipeline construction began in spring 2013. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

December 28, 2012: Construction Starts for the Carlsbad Desalination Plant

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Construction of the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant started on December 28, 2012. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

November 29, 2012: Water Authority approves 30-year Water Purchase Agreement with Poseidon Resources

The San Diego County Water Authority approves a 30-year agreement for the purchase of up to 56,000 acre-feet of desalinated seawater per year from project developer Poseidon Resources. With the agreement approved, Poseidon and the Water Authority secured financing in the bond market and construction started a month later.

Landmark Carlsbad Smokestack Coming Down

Anyone who’s driven past the Encina Power Station, a coastal Carlsbad landmark since the 1950s, can’t miss the changes in recent weeks.

Demolition of the old power plant is finally underway. Scaffolding lines the seaward side of the boxy concrete building, and there’s more at the top of its distinctive 400-foot-tall smokestack.

Pumped Energy Storage-Lake Hodges-Olivenhain

Water Agencies Help Address California Energy Shortages

Water agencies across San Diego County are doing their part to stabilize the state’s power grid during this week’s heatwave by generating hydropower and altering operations to trim electricity demands – and they are offering long-term solutions to reduce future energy shortages.

The California Independent System Operator issued a statewide Flex Alert from Sunday through Wednesday, calling for reduced electricity use in the afternoon and evening to limit power outages. Blackouts could affect hundreds of thousands of San Diego County residents, if extreme heat persists.

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Producing and conserving power during energy shortages

At Lake Hodges, the Water Authority is running its pumped energy storage facility to meet peak demands. As water flows down the pipeline from Olivenhain Reservoir into Lake Hodges, it generates up to 40 megawatts of energy on demand, helping to manage temporary peak electrical demands or unplanned outages. Then, the water is pumped back to Olivenhain Reservoir when power demands are low to restart the cycle.

In addition, water agencies are taking numerous actions to conserve energy. For the Water Authority, the strategy includes temporarily reducing drinking water production at the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant in collaboration with Poseidon Water.

The Carlsbad Desalination Plant is the largest, most technologically advanced and energy-efficient desalination plant in the nation, and it has produced more than 62 billion gallons of drinking water for San Diego County since it began operations in December 2015.

Starting Monday, the plant ramped down operations, making an additional 8 megawatts of power available for other uses. If more load reductions are necessary over the next several days, additional curtailment may be considered at the plant. The power provided by the plant could help offset current energy shortages.

“This partnership by the Water Authority and Poseidon is another reminder of the value of the cutting-edge technology and local control at the Carlsbad plant,” said Jim Madaffer, chair of the Water Authority’s Board of Directors. “Operations are flexible and the technology is nimble, so production can be ramped up and down in response to local needs.”

Water agencies respond to energy shortages

In addition, local and regional water agencies are temporarily shutting down or reducing flows at pump stations and turning off HVAC systems in the afternoons. Some agencies also have the ability to convert to less energy-intensive treatment, for instance, by replacing ozone with chlorine.

Local water agencies also are tapping their significant backup power generation capacity – at their own expense – to ease the strain on the energy grid, following Governor Newsom’s executive order that suspends some regulatory requirements for those units during this emergency event. Local agencies are also looking to work with the administration to ensure that their backup generation capacity can be used proactively to help avoid future energy shortages.


Pumped Energy Storage-WNN-June 2020-graphic

Pumped energy storage facilities are part of an integrated and sustainable energy system that
includes the production, storage and distribution of clean energy.

Environmentally friendly pumped storage project proposed

Beyond the immediate concerns, this week’s heat wave has highlighted the need to increase large-scale energy storage as the state moves toward a goal of 100% renewable energy by 2045. Put simply, the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow enough to meet demands, so the state needs more capacity to store peak renewable energy production for peak demand periods.

The Water Authority has proposed building a large-scale pumped storage project at the San Vicente Reservoir near Lakeside. Pumped energy storage projects are designed to store excess renewable energy from solar and wind when it’s available, and then discharge that energy when energy demands increase and renewable energy is scarce.

Solutions for long-term energy challenge

A 2019 white paper highlighted the importance of pumped energy storage to California’s future.

“Our current situation is the direct result insufficient planning; the state clearly needs additional energy storage now and will need much more in the future,” said Gary Bousquet, energy program manager for the Water Authority. “Environmentally friendly pumped storage projects should be started immediately to address this shortfall, or power reliability will get significantly worse. The San Vicente project can be started now at no cost to taxpayers – users only pay when the project comes online.”