Proposed Carlsbad Desalination Plant Approved

The County Water Authority board voted to approve a water purchase agreement Thursday to bring a proposed desalination plant to Carlsbad.

The important decision was approved by 85 percent, when just 55 percent was needed.

Meanwhile, water officials representing Fallbrook, Ramona, Otay, and Rincon De Diablo voted against it. Their chief concern seems to be over what they believe will be higher costs to their customers.

The proposed project is 12 years in the making. If it’s approved, it would turn 50 million gallons of sea water into fresh drinking water daily across the county and impact anyone who pays for water.

The desalination plant would be built adjacent to the Encina power station along the Pacific Ocean in Carlsbad as early as 2016. It would deliver roughly 7 percent of our region’s water supply.

Proponents are excited about the possibility of having a local water source that provides reliability in years of drought and decreases dependence on the Metropolitan Water District and vulnerable water supplies to the north.

"We have this largest reservoir in the world at our doorstep. It’s time we took advantage of it,” said Peter MacLaggan, vice president of Poseidon Resources, the private company promising to build and operate the largest plant of its kind in the U.S.

“I think the appropriate comparison is an insurance policy. What’s the cost of not having enough water? You buy insurance to protect against catastrophe. This is an investment in water supply to protect against a drought,” he continued.

The plant would be the first in California for public use, the largest in the country, and according to builder and operator Poseidon, also the most technologically advanced in the world.

MacLaggan says the region’s policymakers are behind the proposal.

The price tag of the project is close to $1 billion and water rate payers would 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.

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

The Otay Water District, for instance, thinks its customers would see an increase of $8 to $16 on their water bills. On Wednesday, their general manager told NBC 7 he is against the project because it's too expensive and not a good value.

Other opponents are against it because of unforeseen costs that could get passed on to customers after the deal is secured.

Julia Chunn-Heer with the Surfrider foundation says future coastal regulations could force expensive upgrades to the plant which would then be passed on to customers through a provision in the contract for "uncontrollable circumstances."

"This plant is the wrong plant at the wrong time," she said.

Chunn-Heer also said the $5 to $7 increase in water rates for customers is premature math.

"That's not established, they haven't worked out how the rates will be divided among the different member agencies. Some member agencies are expecting rate increases as high as 20 to 40 percent on their water bills,” she added.

Still, MacLaggan believes in the desalination plant is a viable long term plan.

“We think science is on our side with how this project has been permitted to move forward and will hold the test of time – 30 years, at least,” said McLaggan.

The approved agreement is valid for 30 years.

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