Gage: Setting the Record Straight on Seawater Desalination

Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant (lower left, adjacent to the lagoon)

A recent news release posted on the Voice of OC website was clouded by mischaracterizations of the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant, which provides an important source of drinking water for San Diego County and reduces our region’s reliance on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay-Delta.

The plant is the result of a historic public-private partnership between the San Diego County Water Authority and Poseidon Water to ensure supply reliability for more than 3 million residents across the region. It helped to ensure that the Water Authority had sufficient water to meet demand during the last drought, and we are confident it will help us weather the next drought … and the one after that.

While the Water Authority and Poseidon are partners in Carlsbad, the Water Authority doesn’t have a policy position or a financial stake in the proposed desalination plant in Huntington Beach. We believe seawater desalination is a tool for coastal communities to consider, and that each community needs to devise its own supply reliability portfolios to determine whether desalination makes sense for them like it does for us.

That said, we do have a strong interest in making sure that discussions about the Carlsbad plant are based on fact. To that end, it’s important to address the faulty impressions created by the news release.

Poseidon delivered more than 45,000 acre-feet of water for San Diego County during the past fiscal year, an increase of 10% compared to the year before. Poseidon’s water delivery shortfall of about 5,000 acre-feet was due to a mechanical failure that has been resolved and – contrary to the implication in the news release – didn’t impact our ability to meet regional water needs.

In fact, the delivery shortfall highlights the financial protections in place for ratepayers, per our Water Purchase Agreement with Poseidon. Poseidon paid the Water Authority nearly $2 million in penalties for the shortfall, reducing the cost of water for the region.

As for the citations issued at the plant, they were administrative. None of the violations resulted in water quality issues or conditions that would harm ocean plants or animals. Of course, we’re aiming for zero citations this fiscal year, and we are confident that Poseidon has put in place the procedures to make that a reality.

All in all, the desalination plant has become an important, drought-resilient and highly reliable component of our water supply portfolio. It has allowed us to continue reducing pressure on the Bay-Delta – a statewide priority – and provided us with a major local water source south of the major fault lines. Yes, it does cost more than conventional supplies, but it also provides additional benefits.

We appreciate that coastal communities and constituencies will differ on important policy questions related to seawater desalination. The Carlsbad plant is an example of how valuable such projects can be for providing a locally controlled water resource that is integrated with other components such as water recycling and efficiency.

Kelley Gage is Director of Water Resources for the San Diego County Water Authority

For a different view on this issue, consider: 

Report on Poseidon Desalination Plant in Carlsbad, California Shows Poor Performance and High Costs

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