Pacific Ocean officially becomes source of county’s potable water

By Steve Puterski | December 14, 2015

CARLSBAD — The Pacific Ocean has officially been tapped.

Hundreds gathered Monday at the crown jewel of the city of Carlsbad, San Diego County and Poseidon Water as officials christened the $1 billion desalination plant.

In a touching twist, the facility was designated the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant in honor of the late Carlsbad mayor, whose former wife and family were in attendance.

It is the largest plant in the Western Hemisphere.

“It’s huge,” Carlsbad Mayor Matt Hall said of the honor bestowed on Lewis.

Tours of the plant were given to state and local officials and VIPs detailing the operations of the facility. About 600 people attended the event, which featured desalinated water for guests.

The plant, meanwhile, has been operational for several weeks, pumping about 50 million gallons of potable water into the county water supply. To date, Hall said the 15-year long process has pumped more than $350 million into the economy, and now it will generate $50 million per year.

“I think it’s a huge importance for the city of Carlsbad, the region and all of San Diego County,” Hall said. “It gives us water reliability and sustainability. I hope it hits home how hard … so many people have worked. We’ve spent almost $2.6 billion on water reliability and over $1 billion here to create that sustainability.”

Poseidon and the San Diego County Water Authority have 30-year purchase agreement. Includes a minimum of 48,000 acre-feet of water per year with an option to demand 56,000 acre-feet.

The operations and maintenance (O&M) agreement between Poseidon and IDE Americas (Technologies) is for 30 years and guaranteed by IDE Technologies, Ltd. IDE must run the plant as requested at a capacity of up to 56,000 acre-feet with Poseidon able to request above this annual commitment.

“Today (Monday), we are over 1.8 billion gallons of water to San Diego County residents and businesses,” said Poseidon Water Senior Vice President of Resources Peter McLaggen. “There clearly has been a lot of eyes on Carlsbad and what’s going on here. There are currently 15 other desalination plants under consideration up and down the coast of California. The success of this plant … I am confident it will lead to others moving forward in the future. This plant will change the way we look at water in California.”

The genesis of the project, Hall said, came after a brutal drought in 1991. He said Lewis, who was then mayor, felt it necessary for the city and county to develop a drought tolerant water supply.

In 1991, the county received 95 percent of its supply from the San Joaquin Delta and Colorado River. During the drought, the region lost 31 percent of its supply, added SDCWA General Manager Maureen Stapleton.

Fast forward several years later and the idea of constructing a desalination plant came into being. It took about 15 years for Poseidon Water and other entities to secure environmental reviews, permits and construction of the plant.

“This has taken decades to make a reality,” said California State Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins. “This is a very important day for us. We need more of this in the future.”

On the back end, Hall said the economic boost and investment by the city and county is paying off. He, along with SDCWA, Poseidon and Atkins said it is critical for the region to produce its own water, especially in the middle of another epic drought.

Construction brought 2,500 jobs, while the plant will employ 36 full-time workers and is expected to contribute up to $5.3 million in incremental property and tax revenues.

“Again, it’s the sustainability,” Hall said. “We, collectively, as citizens and businesses have invested in our future with water and sustainability.”

The mechanics of the plant, meanwhile, begins with taking discharged water from the Encinas Power Station next door through a 72-inch pipe and moving the liquid into the desalination plant.

From there, the water is filtered through membranes to isolate brine, a salt solution in seawater, and through reverse osmosis, the heart of the operation, according to officials.

The brine, meanwhile, is diluted with seawater and reintroduced into a holding pond next to Agua Hedionda Lagoon then back into the ocean.

The purified water, however, is pumped 10 miles to the San Diego County Water Authority’s aqueduct in San Marcos and shipped north through a 54-inch pipe to the Valley Water Treatment Plant for distribution, according to Mark Weston of the SDCWA.

In addition, he said it will reduce the demand on receiving water from the San Joaquin Delta.

“This is a historical moment in California water history,” Weston told the audience. We encouraged and built a local water supply so we wouldn’t have to face another water shortage like we did in 1991.”

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