Despite opposition from environmentalists, Water Authority approves desalination plant

SAN DIEGO – Despite opposition from environmentalists, the San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors today overwhelmingly approved a 30-year deal to take desalinated water from a future plant in Carlsbad.

Water authority officials say converting seawater will provide the region with a water supply more reliable than imports from the Metropolitan Water District.

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders called it ”a historic deal that will make our future more secure.”

The water authority board voted in favor of the purchase agreement by margin of 85 percent to 10 percent, with the rest abstaining.

”We are now putting another big piece of our diversification plan in place that will help protect our region’s $186 billion economy from the potential shortages and the uncertainty created by heavy reliance on imported water,” said Thomas Wornham, chairman of the Water Authority’s Board of Directors.

Authority Deputy General Manager Sandy Kerl told City News Service that desalinated water will be pricier than imports initially, but the cost of MWD water is expected to climb at a faster rate. Over the last decade, MWD import prices have risen 7.85 percent annually, she said.

”The Water Purchase Agreement protects ratepayers from cost overruns and construction problems — but it does allow for increases due to certain expenses such as electricity and uncontrollable events such as acts of terrorism,” Kerl said. ”The contract also contains caps that limit increases in any given year, and to no more than 30 percent over the life of the 30-year agreement.”

Poseidon Resources hopes to build the desalination plant adjacent to the Agua Hedionda Lagoon and have it operating by 2016. At full steam, it would produce about 50 million gallons of fresh drinking water per day through reverse osmosis. The total would account for around 7 percent of the region’s water supply.

Now that the plant is approved, Poseidon and the SDCWA will go to the bond market for financing. According to the water agency, construction would then commence on the plant and a 10-mile pipeline to connect with its aqueduct in San Marcos.

Environmentalists contend the plant would harm marine life, and that its financial provisions create risks for ratepayers.

On Monday, the Surfrider Foundation’s San Diego chapter released a consultant’s report asserting that the 30 percent cap in rate increases exposes ratepayers to too much risk. The report also said the cost of electricity needed to run the plant will rise significantly as utilities try to meet regulatory demands for renewable energy.

According to the authors, the debt structure is back-loaded with planned 2.5 percent annual cost increases.

Joe Geever, the water programs manager for Surfrider, said environmental organizations prefer conservation and recycling measures to desalination.

Several members of the board, however, said it was time to move ahead on all fronts, including recycling water and desalination, and make use of the vast source along the coast.

SDCWA board member Jim Madaffer equated the purchase agreement to obtaining an ”insurance policy” against future problems with water supplies.

10 Responses to "Despite opposition from environmentalists, Water Authority approves desalination plant"

  1. Ray (the real one)   November 29, 2012 at 8:42 pm

    Actually I worked there during this hearing and the vote was over 80% in favor. The only few who complained were a few surfer types and that blonde from the surfrider foundation. Many vip’s were there, Jerry Sanders in his last act as mayor. A few other mayors and council members who all. supported this measure. One face missing, Bill Horn. You would figure since the majority of the project, pipe relining and new line feeds are within the fifth district, once again, Horn no show. Ay atta boy Bill.

  2. Me   November 30, 2012 at 11:34 am

    Horn sure “makes me wonder.” (edited)

    Although I’m not a fan of “term limits” because it forces out the good politicians as well….in Horn’s case it is a good thing….since my fellow voters insist on keeping this guy in office.

  3. FR86   November 30, 2012 at 11:55 am

    On occasion common sense prevails……….

    Normally, I’m a critic of the water district but in this case I applaud the decision.

    Southern California is a desert or semi-desert with little natural water reserves it can only support so much of a population and water of any source is valuable. We have the technology, let’s use it.

  4. Old Fallbrook local   November 30, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    This is going to be very expensive water. I do support the project but the enrgy expended and other long-term costs need to be factored in. Has anyone been in contact w/Santa Barbara? I doubt it.

  5. Old Fallbrook local   November 30, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    Ray the real one: Horn was not there because there was nothing for him in the deal, unlike the Valley Center water being sent to the big development north of I-15 and hghwy 76.

  6. Ray (the real one)   November 30, 2012 at 3:37 pm

    The criteria for Bill Horn’s attendence was met. Alot of cameras, free food and many checkbooks. Maybe he caught the flu.

  7. FR86   November 30, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    To Old Fallbrook Local

    The water we have in Fallbrook now is expensive what’s the difference. Being the prototype is expensive yes. Once this project gets going another will come along, then another……pretty soon we’ll have more reasonable rates for water in this state and them maybe FPUD will lose it’s monopoly here. I may not live to see it but the thought of real competition is inspiring.

  8. Preston   December 1, 2012 at 9:06 am

    New technology is always more expensive to begin with but the future reward will be worth the start up price.
    If you think water is expensive now, in ten years, today’s prices will seem like a bargain.

  9. farmer   December 1, 2012 at 9:09 am

    To FR86

    Your thinking that this is going to create competition for FPUD or that water rates will decrease as a result of this deal is totally off base. You completely misunderstand how this all works. SDCWA buys the water and then sells it to FPUD. You are not going to be able to buy this water directly. This water is going to be around twice the price of water SDCWA is currently getting from MWD. As long as AB32 is the law of the land, electric rates are going to rise very sharply and since it takes a lot of electricity to make this water, the water rates are also going to rise very sharply. As water rates rise, farmers will be forced out. The loss of farming will create a huge surplus of very expensive water that nobody will want to buy. I predict that in about 10 years from now, everybody will asking themselves how could we have been so stupid. They should be asking themselves the same thing about the IID water purchase SDCWA made. Do a google search on IID and Brian Brady (FPUD GM) to learn more.

  10. Preston   December 2, 2012 at 8:06 am

    farmer, what kind of farming do you do?


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