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A Salty Dispute: California Coastal Commission Unanimously Rejects Desalination Plant

The California Coastal Commission tonight rejected the proposed construction of a desalination plant in Huntington Beach, sealing the controversial project’s fate after more than 20 years of debate.

The unanimous decision about the $1.4-billion plant in Huntington Beach is pivotal because it sets a high bar for the future of turning seawater into drinking water in California, which can help buffer its vulnerable water supply against drought.

Desalination: California’s Best Hope to Stave Off Water Restrictions in the Future

During the last few years, California’s drought situation has become more and more dire. While a large chunk of it is self-inflicted by the state, as they release an incredible amount of water from dams each year for environmental purposes instead of, you know, agriculture and people, part of it is also that rain and snowpack build have been well below averages in the past. Northern California still has restrictions going on, with Southern California, facing another hot summer, may face a scenario in some areas where water may run out if usage stays as high as it is now.

Drought Boon or Boondoggle? Critics Blast Poseidon Desalination Plan as Crucial Vote Looms

Among the many complex arguments over water in California, one particularly heated debate centers on whether the state should seek more drinking water from a plentiful but expensive source: the Pacific Ocean.

The debate has reached a critical stage in Huntington Beach, where Poseidon Water has been trying for more than two decades to build one of the country’s largest desalination plants. The California Coastal Commission is scheduled to vote next month on whether to grant a permit to build the plant.

Desalination Turns Ocean Water into Drinking Water — So Why Hasn’t it Solved Droughts?

More than 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered in water, but only 0.5% it is actually accessible to us. Removing salt from ocean water, known as desalination, can create drinkable water during a time of extreme drought and soaring demand. So what’s the problem?

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Carlsbad Desalination Plant Shields Region From Megadrought

As the worst drought in 1,200 years grips the West, the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant is protecting the San Diego region with 50 million gallons a day of drought-proof water.

Completed in 2015, the plant was built before the period of increasing inflation that’s driving up prices for water infrastructure projects that are just starting. That means the desal plant is safeguarding the region’s economy and quality of life today at a lower cost than it would be to build now.

Affordability and reliability

In fact, water from the plant costs average homeowners about $5 more a month – about the cost of a latte. The San Diego County Water Authority buys water produced at the plant from Poseidon Water under a contract that protects ratepayers. Because the plant was developed as a public-private partnership, key risks associated with the construction and operation of the plant were shifted to Poseidon.  Accordingly, water is paid for as it is produced and prices adjust predictably based on contractually specified indices.  Ratepayers do face less predictable cost impacts from rising energy prices, but that is no different from any other new publicly owned water supply project.

Drought-proof supply

“The Carlsbad plant is an important regional asset and its value is highlighted by the ongoing megadrought,” said Jeremy Crutchfield, a water resources manager for the Water Authority. “The cost of water is higher than conventional sources, but so is the reliability – and that’s never looked more important than it does today.”

On the environmental front, Poseidon is committed to keeping the Carlsbad plant carbon-neutral through state-of-the-art energy recovery devices, mitigation projects and securing carbon credits. In addition, upgrades to the plant’s intake and discharge systems will be completed by the end of 2023, in compliance with a 2019 permit.

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Three new fish-friendly seawater intake pumps, recently commissioned at the 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

Another positive: There’s no signs of plant impacts to the coastal waters, which are protected by some of the world’s most aggressive standards through the California Coastal Act and the California Ocean Plan. While the facility was cited by regulators in 2019, importantly, no enforcement action was taken as regulators recognized the problems were with formulas in the permit and not the actual plant discharges.

At the start of operations, project managers also navigated a series of ramp-up challenges common with any large industrial facility. Since then, Poseidon has made capital improvements to its pretreatment system and invested in advanced monitoring and control technologies at company expense.

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The Carlsbad Desalination 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

Carlsbad Desalination Plant is part of diversified water supply portfolio

In 2021, the plant produced more than 51,000 acre-feet of water and the volumes are projected to be at least 50,000 acre-feet in 2022 as well. That’s enough water to meet more than 10% of regional demand – which is met through a diversified portfolio of conserved water, groundwater, recycled water and other sources.

“Desalination remains a valuable tool for our community when it comes to ensuring safe and reliable water supplies no matter the weather,” Crutchfield said.  “It has shown its value by generating nearly 90 billion gallons over the past six years, and I’m confident it will continue to do so in the years ahead.”

Desalination Has Guided Water Exchanges for Israel and Jordan. Could It Play a Role in the Colorado River Basin’s Future?

Shattering the stillness of a frigid January moonlit sky, the sunrise’s amber aura glimmers over the Tinajas Altas mountain range — giving way to a sandscape of semi-succulent shrubs.

The sun’s increasingly insistent rays animate an otherwise desolate desert corridor that links the city of Yuma, Arizona, to the San Luis Port of Entry along the U.S.–Mexico border. White school buses shuttle Mexican agricultural workers to Arizonan farm acreage, home to America’s heartland of winter leafy greens. Just a few miles west is the Colorado River, the region’s historic lifeblood — a lifeblood that is so under threat that the Bureau of Reclamation declared its first-ever federal shortage for the basin on Monday.

(Editor’s Note: The interviews for this story took place from fall 2019 to spring 2020 as part of the author’s Ted Scripps Fellowship at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Center for Environmental Journalism. The story was supported by The Water Desk, an independent journalism initiative based at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Center for Environmental Journalism.)

How San Diego County’s Water Conservation Efforts Have Prepared Them for Severe Drought Conditions

California will soak up some much needed rain this week on the heels of a sobering decision from the state to drastically reduce water distribution to the Los Angeles area due to our ongoing drought.

Meanwhile, the San Diego County Water Authority gets less than 1% of its water from the state, a remarkable difference from the 95% the agency received from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California in the early 1990s. Conservation became a way of life in San Diego. Water use per day has been reduced by 50% since 1990 and remains consistent with levels seen during our last drought between 2012 and 2016.

Conservation a way of life in San Diego County

People Should Drink Way More Recycled Wastewater

ON A DUSTY hilltop in San Diego, the drinking water of the future courses through a wildly complicated and very loud jumble of tanks, pipes, and cylinders. Here at the North City Water Reclamation Plant, very not-drinkable wastewater is turned into a liquid so pure it would actually wreak havoc on your body if you imbibed it without further treatment.

First the system hits the wastewater with ozone, which destroys bacteria and viruses. Then it pumps the water through filters packed with coal granules that trap organic solids. Next, the water passes through fine membranes that snag any remaining solids and microbes. “The pores are so small, you can’t see them except with a really powerful microscope,” says Amy Dorman, deputy director of Pure Water San Diego, the city’s initiative to reduce its reliance on water imported from afar. “Basically, they only allow the water molecules to get through.”

Carlsbad Desalination Plant Ready with Floating Boom if Oil Slick Moves South

Poseidon Water and the San Diego County Water Authority said Wednesday they are monitoring the oil spill off Huntington Beach and are prepared to protect the Carlsbad desalination plant.

The two organizations said in a statement that oil from Saturday’s underwater pipeline leak has not affected operations at the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant, which supplies nearly 10% of the county’s drinking water.

San Diego Water Agency’s P3 Desalinization Plant Financing Holds Up

As California coastal cities look for methods to avert the harsh realities of the state’s second drought in a decade, desalination has returned as a hot topic. In San Diego County, the drought makes the argument that the controversial choice to build a coastside desalination plant was correct. The Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant opened in Carlsbad in 2015. It supplies water to the San Diego County Water Authority, a wholesale agency that supplies about three-quarters of the water used within its 3.3 million population service area for 24 member agencies.