California’s Carlsbad Desalination Plant to Finish Early

Help on the California water supply front is arriving sooner than expected.

As the U.S.’s most populous state endures the fourth year of an historic drought, the largest desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere will be operational ahead of schedule, said the chief executive officer of one of the project’s developers.

“The contractual date is at the end of November and we’ll probably finish a few weeks ahead of that,” Avshalom Felber of IDE Technologies Ltd., a partner with Poseidon Resources Corp. on the Carlsbad water supply project north of San Diego, said.

The $1 billion Carlsbad plant, which uses reverse osmosis to purify seawater, will have the capacity to produce 54 million gallons a day of drinkable water. While helpful, this is still a relative drop in the ocean compared with the 38 billion gallons a day used by Californians on average in 2010. When completed, the facility will surpass in scale the Point Lisas desalination plant on the Caribbean island of Trinidad.

If an increase in production is sought, the Carlsbad plant can be expanded by 6 million gallons, Felber said in a phone interview. The facility will provide about 7 percent of San Diego County’s water when at full capacity. Completion of the plant is timely as last month regulators approved rules that for the first time require mandatory water reductions across California, the U.S.’s top agricultural producer.

The planned sale of the company — UBS AG has been asked to find a buyer — has “not yet kicked off full steam,” Felber said, delayed by “internal decision-making processes” of its joint shareholders, Israel Chemicals Ltd. and Delek Group Ltd. Both companies’ strategies dictate the sale of non-core assets.

Santa Barbara

IDE, based in Kadima, Israel, is also the lead bidder to retrofit and reactivate an idle desalination plant in Santa Barbara, Felber said. The facility could produce as much as30 percent of the city’s water demand by 2017 though doing so will raise average household water bills about $20 a month.

Other states burdened with water problems that IDE is interested in include Florida, where saltwater intrusion is causing supply issues, and Texas. IDE hired Mark Ellison, previous manager of strategic water initiatives for former Texas governor and Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry, in January to oversee sales in the second most-populous state.

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