The San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board issued a permit Wednesday to develop and install permanent seawater intake and discharge facilities at the Claude “Bud” Lewis Desalination Plantin Carlsbad. The plant currently produces roughly 50 million gallons of potable water each day for use across San Diego County, but draws most of its water from the Agua Hedionda Lagoon, which is then circulated to the plant by the Encina Power Station.
San Diego regional water quality regulators today issued a permit for the installation of new, technologically advanced and environmentally sensitive seawater intake and discharge facilities at the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant.
The plant – and the new permit – support Gov. Gavin Newsom’s April 29 executive order for California “to think differently and act boldly by developing a comprehensive strategy to build a climate-resilient water system.”
Under the new National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit, the Carlsbad plant will continue producing about 50 million gallons a day of high-quality, drought-proof drinking water for the region as Poseidon Water and the San Diego County Water Authority develop a permanent, stand-alone seawater intake and associated structures.
Environmentally sensitive facility
The new intake-discharge system is needed for long-term operations of the nation’s largest seawater desalination plant, which started commercial production in December 2015 using water withdrawn from Agua Hedionda Lagoon for once-through cooling at the Encina Power Station. So far, it has produced more than 46 billion gallons of drinking water with reverse osmosis technology.
“The Carlsbad Desalination Plant is an invaluable asset for the state and region that helps us adapt to the changing climate and sustain a $231 billion regional economy,” said Jim Madaffer, chair of the Water Authority’s Board of Directors. “It is the most environmentally sensitive and technologically advanced plant of its kind in the nation – part of our commitment to collaborative projects and integrated water solutions for San Diego and the Southwest.”
Water supply sustainability
The closure of the power station in December 2018 led to temporary intake-discharge operations that will continue while new, stand-alone desal intake-discharge facilities are built. Conversion to stand-alone operations was anticipated in the 2012 Water Purchase Agreement between Poseidon, which owns and operates the desalination plant, and the Water Authority, which purchases the water for regional use. Currently, the plant provides about 10 percent of the region’s water supply.
“We are very thankful to the Regional Board for supporting the environmental enhancements of the Carlsbad project and water supply reliability for San Diego County,” said Poseidon CEO Carlos Riva. “This plant will continue to be a vital regional resource for decades to come and an example of how environmental stewardship can go hand-in-hand with water supply sustainability.”
Transition in three phases
With the permit in hand, the transition to the new intake and discharge facilities will be implemented in three phases:
- Temporary Operations – NRG, which owns Encina Power Station, continues to operate the water circulation pumps while an interim intake system is constructed.
- Interim Operations – Expected to begin in mid-2020, this phase uses new fish-friendly pumps as a replacement for the existing circulation pumps. A new, permanent screened intake system also will be designed and built in the lagoon during this phase of operation. The new intake will rely on innovative technology, including 1 mm screens that will further enhance marine life protection.
- Permanent Operations – The new submerged, screened-intake system is expected to be connected in late 2023, achieving the best available technology to minimize impacts to marine life in full compliance with the 2015 California Ocean Plan Amendment.
Once permanent operations begin, the Carlsbad Desalination Plant will be the first to comply with the 2015 Ocean Plan Amendment, designed to advance ocean water as a reliable supplement to traditional water supplies while protecting marine life and water quality.
Poseidon is also protecting the coastal environment by taking over responsibility for the preservation of Agua Hedionda Lagoon from NRG. As the lagoon’s steward, Poseidon Water is taking responsibility for ensuring the man-made lagoon continues to realize the life-sustaining benefits of an open connection to the Pacific Ocean through periodic maintenance dredging.
Dredging keeps sand from blocking the flow of ocean water in and out of the lagoon, maintaining its tidal circulation, which is needed to maintain a healthy marine ecosystem, support extensive recreational uses, sustainable aquaculture at Carlsbad Aquafarm, and a white seabass hatchery operated by Hubbs-SeaWorld. Dredging also helps replenish the sand on Carlsbad State Beach, which otherwise would revert to historical cobble-stone, with sand that is relocated from the lagoon to nearby shoreline.
Temporary operations are anticipated to cost about $6.5 million annually, increasing the cost of water from the plant in 2020 by about $135 per acre-foot. Permanent facilities are projected to cost between $66 million and $83 million. The Water Authority is seeking state grant funds to defray some of that cost.
The Water Authority purchases up to 56,000 acre-feet of water from the Carlsbad plant per year – enough to serve approximately 400,000 people annually. The plant is a major component of the Water Authority’s multi-decade strategy to diversify the county’s water supply portfolio and minimize vulnerability to drought or other water supply emergencies.
Today Azul released a new report conducted by UCLA’s Luskin Center for Innovation that looked at potential impacts of Poseidon’s proposed desalination project on disadvantaged households in Orange County. The expert analysis confirmed what equity groups like Azul, Oakview ComUNIDAD and OC Earth Stewards have long asserted: that the plant’s billion dollar price tag would drive up water rates, harming low-income ratepayers without providing any benefit in terms of water reliability or quality.
Global warming is causing increased droughts throughout the world, and this has brought some areas to the brink of a water crisis. February 2, 2018, was supposed to be “Day Zero” for Cape Town, South Africa, the day on which the city was set to run out of water. That date was subsequently reset to July 15, 2018, after area fruit growers used up their allotment of water, and through conservation measures. For many areas, overdevelopment, population growth, and climate change have upset the balance between water usage and supply, and areas from North America to South America, and from Australia to Asia, are increasingly facing threats of drinking-water shortages.
Poseidon officials, who’ve spent 21 years working toward approval of a controversial desalination plant in Huntington Beach, had a figurative bounce in their step as they emerged from yet another permitting agency meeting Friday. The Regional Water Quality Control Board remains months away from voting on one of the final two permits needed by Poseidon. But the fact the board staff detailed a specific timeline for the board’s permit process — with a final vote penciled in for Oct. 25 — was seen by Poseidon Vice President Scott Maloni interpreted that as a signal that board geologists, engineers and administrators are confident they can work through outstanding issues.
Slimming down a $17 billion plan to shunt water from Northern California to the arid south has the state considering ways to supplement water needs. Desalination is one of the methods getting some attention. California has a water problem, drought or no drought. The new administration has signaled a shift in water policy by specifically talking about turning salty water potable after Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said he would support only a single tunnel as part of the project known as WaterFix, rather than the two tunnels his predecessor pushed for to bring water to the state’s southern half.
The San Diego County Water Authority announced Wednesday that it has saved nearly $18 million in debt payments by refinancing the bonds used to construct part of the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant. The savings topped prior projections of $13.6 million through June 2046, according to the Water Authority. A total of 45 investors, including J.P. Morgan Securities LLC and Goldman Sachs, made nearly $2 billion in orders for the bonds. Investors were attracted to the water authority’s strong credit and history of providing a reliable water supply, according to the agency.
Even with last week’s rains increasing Lake Cachuma elevations by more than five feet, the available supply for South Coast water agencies has remained the same. Under the complex legal arithmetic by which Cachuma is divvied up, all the additional water accrues to agencies downstream; that will remain the case until there’s enough runoff in the Santa Ynez River to generate a live stream.
California’s Water Code gives the State Water Resources Control Board (Water Board) the responsibility of protecting its ocean water quality by controlling waste discharges and the intake of seawater. It also requires that the California Ocean Plan be reviewed every three years to guarantee that the current standards are adequate and not allowing marine species degradation or posing a public health threat. The plan was last amended to address desalination facility intakes and brine discharges in May 2015, and went into effect in January 2016.
There is a connection between the proposed $20 billion Sacramento Delta Water Tunnels, the proposed mining/pumping of water from the Mojave Desert, Central Valley farmers lacking the water resources to maximize food production, and the Sacramento River and fishing stocks suffering from inadequate water flows. That connection is the State Water Project (SWP), which pumps water to Southern California and reduces the river water needed for fisheries, farmers, and the Sacramento River, itself.