Yes to Desalination

by Joseph Perkins | September 28, 2012 8:34 am

[1]Sept. 28, 2012

By Joseph Perkins

The Western Hemisphere’s largest seawater desalination plant moved a huge step closer to actually being built with the tentative agreement Thursday by the San Diego County Water Authority to buy all the water produced by the Carlsbad plant’s private developer, Poseidon Resources[2].

This is a huge deal for Poseidon. If finalized by the water authority board, as expected, it will clear the way for the company to sell bonds to finance more than 80 percent of the $900 million project, which is slated to begin operations in 2016.

And the deal boosts Poseidon in another important way: It builds momentum for a desalination plant it has proposed for Orange County, the Huntington Beach Seawater Desalination Facility[3], about 60 miles up the freeway from Carlsbad.

“This is definitely an important milestone,” Poseidon spokesman Scott Maloni told the Associated Press, “one that we’ve been look forward to a long time.”

And it’s not just Poseidon, headquartered in Stamford, Conn., with regional offices in Carlsbad and Huntington Beach, that has waited a long time for California to tap into the Pacific Ocean, turning salt water into drinkable water.

Indeed, there are more than 21,000 desalination plants in operation throughout the world, producing more 3.5 billion gallons a day of potable water. The irony is that the reverse osmosis technology used in desalination was actually pioneered right here in California, by San Diego-based General Atomics.

Yet, there is only one desalination plant currently in operation here in the Golden State — the smallish Sand City Desalination Plant in Monterey County, which came online in 2010, and is currently producing about 300,000 gallons a day of drinkable water.

50 million gallons

Poseidon’s Carlsbad Desalination Project[4] will produce 50 million gallons a day of drinking water, enough to supply 7 percent of the San Diego region by 2012. It will not be cheap, as critics note. It will cost the water authority $2,042 to $2,290 an acre-foot, more than twice what it pays to buy water from outside the region.

But the price tag for desalinated water has to be put in perspective. Potable water is an inelastic commodity, like electricity and gasoline. We can’t do without it. And we’ll pretty much pay whatever it costs to have it.

Indeed, California consumers are paying 50 percent more today for electricity than they were in 2000, according to the California Public Utilities Commission.

And we’d be paying even more were the PUC not artificially suppressing the prices Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric can charge their business and residential customers.

The run up in pump prices in recent years is even more pronounced. In January 2009, the average price of the gas here in the Golden State was $1.93. Today, it costs twice as much for California motorists to fuel up.

Given the scarcity of water here in the nation’s most populous state, it is prudent for water districts not only in the counties of San Diego and Orange, but throughout California, to seek ways to grow their supplies of water to meet future demand.

The Pacific Ocean represents an abundant source of water, and desalination the means of converting that salt water into water usable by California’s thirsty population.

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  2. Poseidon Resources:
  3. Huntington Beach Seawater Desalination Facility:
  4. Carlsbad Desalination Project:

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