Pipeline Construction Begins for Carlsbad Desalination Plant

The project is more than 12 years in the making

Friday marked a major milestone for Carlsbad’s highly-anticipated desalination plant project, which aims to bring a massive supply of fresh drinking water daily to San Diego County starting in 2016.

The desalination plant, which was officially approved by the San Diego County Water Authority board on Nov. 29, is being built and operated by the private company, Poseidon Resources.

Once the plant is up and running, it’s expected to turn 50 million gallons of sea water from the Pacific Ocean into fresh drinking water daily for use across the county. It will deliver roughly seven percent of the region’s water supply.

The agreement between the Water Authority and Poseidon Resources for the purchase of 50 million gallons of desalinated seawater is valid for the next 30 years.

Organizers plan to build the desalination plant adjacent to the Encina power station along the Pacific Ocean in Carlsbad and have it fully functioning by 2016. The project has been in the making for more than 12 years.

When completed, the water produced at the plant will be conveyed to the Water Authority’s water system via an underground 10-mile, large-diameter pipeline that will travel through the cities of San Marcos, Vista and Carlsbad.

On Friday, organizers and city leaders gathered to kick off the project with a milestone step: starting construction on the first part of the pipeline in San Marcos that will eventually connect to the desalination plant in Carlsbad.

Peter MacLaggan, vice president of Poseidon Resources, said construction on the San Marcos underground pipeline will move about 100 feet westward each day.

By 2016, MacLaggan says the 10-mile pipeline will interconnect with the Water authority’s regional system and a pipeline in Carlsbad, and construction will be complete.

“We have 21 million pounds of steel for this pipeline, so it’s going to be a lengthy project,” said MacLaggan at the construction kickoff ceremony on Friday. “This pipeline construction is a complex, intricate effort. We want it to last 100 years.”

In the end, MacLaggan says the pipeline and desalination plant will bring a clean, high-quality, drought-proof supply of water to San Diego County.

“The Carlsbad desalination plant is an attempt to develop new water supplies within our boundaries that are locally controlled, drought-proof and not conditioned upon snow, rainfall and other climatic conditions. We have an endless supply of water in the Pacific Ocean and that’s what we’re all about in the desalination project,” MacLaggan explained.

San Marcos Councilmember Chris Orlando says the project is crucial to the county and the City of San Marcos is happy to cooperate with the construction of the pipeline on their side.

“This is one of those projects that has some short-term pain for long-term gain,” said Orlando. “Water is critical to the health and safety of our residents and it’s an important part of growing our economy and keeping our economy stable.”

Carlsbad Mayor Matt Hall said he was thrilled to finally see the 12-year project come to fruition with Friday’s pipeline construction kickoff.

“All of us working together will make this thing an unbelievable project,” said Hall.

San Diego County Water Authority Chairman of Board Tom Wornham said this is the beginning of bringing a reliable, drought-proof source of water to San Diego.

“It’s a big day. We’ve been working on this project for more than a decade,” said Wornham. “This project is the largest in North America; it is innovative. We look forward to turning the tap in 2016.”

After delivering speeches Friday, organizers took a moment to sign their names onto a 20-foot, 72-inch diameter underground steel pipe casing, signifying the official start of the project.

In the end, project organizers say their endeavor will bring the largest, most technologically-advanced and energy efficient desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere to Carlsbad.

Organizers say it will infuse millions of dollars into the local economy and support an estimated 2,500 local jobs in the desalination, engineering, construction and other service industries.

The price tag of the project is close to $1 billion. Water rate payers will see an increase in their bills because the cost of the water is two-and-a-half times more expensive than what the water authority pays now.

The project could add $5 to $7 to the typical household bill starting in 2016, but organizers say cost increases would be different for the 24 different municipal water agencies in our county.

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