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New Discovery Could Lead to Cheaper and More Efficient Water Desalination

Removing salt from seawater to make it safe to drink means overcoming a number of scientific challenges, including optimizing the membrane used for the desalination process – and new research into these membranes promises to make the whole operation cheaper and more accessible in the future.

Water News Network Top Stories of 2020

The Water News Network top stories of 2020 reflect the San Diego region’s interest in water conservation, the environment and efforts to diversify water supply sources. But the year was dominated by the coronavirus pandemic, which impacted water infrastructure and operations.

Lake Jennings-

Water News Network Top Stories of 2020

The Water News Network top stories of 2020 reflect the San Diego region’s interest in water conservation, the environment and efforts to diversify water supply sources. But the year was dominated by the coronavirus pandemic, which impacted water infrastructure and operations.

As one of essential sectors of the economy, the water and wastewater industry took added COVID-19 precautions. The essential employees of the San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies worked to ensure the continued safety and reliability of the region’s water supply. In some cases, that meant sheltering-in-place, which employees of the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant did in March. For agencies operating multiuse recreational facilities, such as Lake Jennings, the pandemic also caused frequent schedule changes.

To reassure users about the safety of the water supply, the Water Authority and its member agencies shared a series of videos with the public, featuring Switchfoot’s Jon Foreman, to let people know they can “Trust the Tap.”

Top Stories of 2020

COVID-19

Reservoirs and lakes operated by water agencies in San Diego County were closed or had varying schedules due to the coronavirus pandemic. The impact of the pandemic on recreational facilities in the region was the most viewed story of 2020.

Paddleboarding-Lake Hodges-Coronavirus-Top Stories of 2020

Paddleboarders enjoy Lake Hodges before the City of San Diego closed the lake due to the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: City of San Diego

Reservoirs, Lakes Remain Closed to Fishing Due to COVID-19 Pandemic

Although San Diego County’s lakes and reservoirs remain closed to fishing and other recreational activities for safety reasons due to the coronavirus pandemic, staff and volunteers continue to work. Crews are maintaining facilities, providing security, and sharing photos of wildlife and native blooms enjoying the arrival of spring.

The City of San Diego’s reservoirs and lakes are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The city closed the reservoirs to the public on March 18 to protect the public and minimize the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The nine water supply storage reservoirs are operated by the City’s Public Utilities Department.

Popular overnight campsites remain open at Santee Lakes, owned and operated by the Padre Dam Municipal Water District.

“Camper well-being is important to us and Santee Lakes didn’t want to displace people,” said Melissa McChesney, Padre Dam communications manager. She said that includes long-term campers who spent winter at the lake.

At Lake Jennings, Recreation Manager Kira Haley says eight volunteers continue to live and work from their campground homes in recreational vehicles and campers. She said their days remain “pretty typical” even though they see more wildlife and not people.

Environmental Stewardship

COVID-19 played a part in the second most viewed Water News Network story in 2020.

Desalination plant-Top Stories of 2020-intakes

Three new fish-friendly seawater intake pumps commissioned 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

New Fish-Friendly Seawater Intake Pumps at Carlsbad Desalination Plant

July 22, 2020

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 three intake pumps, manufactured by Indar, are part of a broader effort to ensure the long-term health of the marine environment near the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant, which sits on the shores of Agua Hedionda Lagoon.

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 that wasn’t available when the plant was operating with source water from the Encina Power Station. The closure of the power station in December 2018 led to temporary intake-discharge operations until the new intake pumps came online. 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.

Desalination Plant-Top stories of 2020-intakes

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, which is among the most advanced sea-life protection measures in the world. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Essential work during COVID-19 pandemic

The work to complete the construction and commissioning of the new fish-friendly seawater intake pumps was part of the essential work allowed under California guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic. The contractor, Kiewit–Shea Joint Venture, worked in accordance with guidelines adopted by the State Building and Construction Trades Council and approved by Governor Gavin Newsom for essential construction. The contractor worked uninterrupted to complete the project per the June 30, 2020, deadline set by the Regional Water Quality Control Board without any health or safety violations.

Recycled Water

The groundbreaking for the Pure Water Oceanside project was the third most read story of 2020 on the Water News Network.

Pure Water Oceanside-Top Stories of 2020-water recycling

Construction is underway on the $67 million Pure Water Oceanside project, which is scheduled to be completed in 2021. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

First Advanced Water Purification Facility in San Diego County is On the Map

City of Oceanside officials and regional water industry leaders gathered today to break ground on Pure Water Oceanside, the first advanced water purification facility in San Diego County. The $67 million project – scheduled to be completed in 2021 – will purify recycled water sourced from the San Luis Rey Water Reclamation Facility.

“Today, we put Pure Water Oceanside on the map and are one step closer to achieving the goal of greater water-independence for our city, residents and businesses,” said Cari Dale, Oceanside’s water utilities director. “This future-focused project will provide multiple benefits by reusing our water resources to their full potential.”

Pure Water Oceanside-Top Stories of 2020-water recycling

City leaders and water experts placed a giant Google Maps “location pin” into the ground at the San Luis Rey Water Reclamation Facility, which marked that the new recycled water project is now officially on the map. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Reducing dependence on imported supplies

The local project will reduce Oceanside’s dependence on imported water by more than 30%. The purification process is inspired by the natural water cycle and reduces the amount of recycled water discharged into the ocean.

The project is partially funded by the Local Resources Program through the San Diego County Water Authority and Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

“The tremendous conservation focus, water infrastructure planning and investment by the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies has put our regional supplies in solid standing,” said Water Authority General Manager Sandra L. Kerl. “The mission of providing reliable water supplies to San Diego County can be likened to a puzzle; there are many pieces that fit together to create an overall solution. Our next increment of supply in the San Diego region is from potable reuse projects.”

Water Reuse and Recycling Top Stories in 2020

Other top stories in 2020 covered by the Water News Network included updates on several water reuse and recycling projects, including:

Pure Water San Diego

Construction of Phase 1 of the Pure Water Program is scheduled to begin in early 2021. Phase 1 will include a full-scale, 30-million-gallon-per-day Pure Water Facility that will use the five water purification steps modeled at the Demonstration Facility.

East County AWP

The East County AWP will be one of the first potable reuse projects in California to use new reservoir augmentation regulations. The program will meet up to 30% of East San Diego County’s drinking water demands, almost 13,000 acre-feet of water per year, and eliminate the discharge of 15 million gallons of partially treated wastewater into the Pacific Ocean.

Santa Margarita River project

The Santa Margarita River Conjunctive Use Project is a joint project with Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, and will eventually supply about 30% of the Fallbrook Public Utility District’s water, and virtually all of Camp Pendleton’s water.

Trust the Tap

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.

Desal Plant-5th anniversary-Carlsbad-desalination-primary

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.”

Desal Plant-5th anniversary-Carlsbad Desalination Plant-drinking watr

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

Milestones

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

Desal intake pumps-fish friendly-5th anniversary

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.”
Desal plant-5th anniversary-40 billion gallons

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.

Desal plant-5th anniversary-Carlsbad desal plan

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

desal plant-final pipe-5th anniversary-desalination

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.
Final pipe-desal plant-5th anniversary-pipeline

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

Carlsbad desal plant-construction-5th anniversary

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

desal plant-construction-5th anniversary-Carlsbad

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.

Carlsbad Lagoon Dredging Starts Soon

Seawater desalination operator Poseidon is poised to take over the Agua Hedionda Lagoon maintenance dredging that has been done by local power companies since 1954.

Permits are being obtained for the work to begin in November or early December with expectations to finish by mid-April, said Poseidon Senior Vice President Peter MacLaggan at a meeting earlier this month of the Carlsbad Beach Preservation Commission.

Lawsuit Alleges Water Authority Failed to Deliver Desalinated Water to San Marcos

The Vallecitos Water District in San Marcos filed a lawsuit Thursday alleging the San Diego County Water Authority overcharged by nearly $6 million for desalinated water that was never delivered, despite an agreement to construct a pipeline for that exact purpose.

Carbon Nanotubes Developed for Super Efficient Desalination

Membrane separations have become critical to human existence, with no better example than water purification. As water scarcity becomes more common and communities start running out of cheap available water, they need to supplement their supplies with desalinated water from seawater and brackish water sources.

A Tale of Two Coastlines: Desalination in China and California

The port city of Tianjin is in desperate need of water. The surface and groundwater supplies of this sprawling northeast Chinese metropolis have shrunk to dangerously low levels due to decades of reduced rainfall and overexploitation of the Hai River that flows through the city. According to the Tianjin Environmental Protection Bureau, the city’s per capita water resources are one-twentieth of China’s national average, far below the UN benchmark for a water-stressed region. Despite promoting water conservation and metering among residential and industrial users, Tianjin still faces shortages that drive its reliance on large-scale water-supply infrastructure like the South-North Water Transfer Project and seawater desalination. 

In the United States, a similar situation is unfolding. After a prolonged drought between 2011-2015, California’s investment in desalination solutions to supply fresh water to the state’s dry south grew exponentially. While most American desalination plants are used to purify less-saline “brackish water” from rivers and bays, large-scale seawater operations have begun to proliferate in California, as well as Florida and Texas. California alone has 11 municipal seawater desalination plants, with 10 more proposed. Southern California-based Poseidon Water LLC opened America’s largest desalination facility in Carlsbad in 2015, which currently meets about 10 percent of San Diego’s water demand. With the capacity to produce 54 million gallons of water a day, this new desalination plant, as well as another one currently in the works at Huntington Beach, could ensure water security in Southern California.

Coastal Commission to Revisit Cal Am Desal Project Thursday

A long-awaited Coastal Commission hearing on California American Water’s proposed Monterey Peninsula desalination project is shaping up to be an all-day affair.

After nine months of waiting, the desal project is set for a special remote commission meeting on Thursday in which the proposal is the lone item on the agenda.