Why Nothing Gets Done in California
Endless "studies" and truckloads of lawyers.
CARLSBAD - Along this patch of the Pacific Ocean, welders and pipefitters nearly outnumber the surfers and sunbathers. Within sight of the crashing waves, the laborers are assembling what some hope will make water scarcity a thing of the past.
They are building the Carlsbad Desalination Project, which will convert as much as 56 million gallons of seawater each day into drinking water for San Diego County residents. The project, with a price tag of $1 billion, is emerging from the sand like an industrial miracle. In California’s highly regulated coastal zone, it took nearly 15 years to move from concept to construction, surviving 14 legal challenges along the way.
The desalination plant is being built by Poseidon Water, a private company, and will be paid for in large part by rate increases on San Diego County water customers. On the surface, the plant resembles any other major construction project: Construction cranes scrape the sky as concrete foundations are poured; the giant new blocky building could be any warehouse or parts factory.
Inside, the truth of the project is revealed. The building will house more than 16,000 reverse-osmosis membranes – salt filters, essentially – that will convert the Pacific Ocean into drinking water suitable for making coffee and watering lawns.
“This plant can’t come online fast enough,” said Bob Yamada, water resources manager at the San Diego County Water Authority, which serves 3.1 million people and is buying all of the plant’s freshwater production. “It’s droughtproof. That’s one of the most important attributes. It will be the most reliable water source we have.”
The water authority’s 30-year contract with Poseidon illustrates both the promise and peril of this water source. San Diego County agreed to pay for 48,000 acre-feet of water from the plant every year – whether it needs the water or not – to ensure a guaranteed supply. The water will cost $2,257 per acre-foot, about double the price of the authority’s most expensive current supply, which is water imported from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta more than 400 miles away.
Under this so-called “take-or-pay” contract, the water authority can purchase an additional 8,000 acre-feet each year if necessary, which reduces the price slightly, to about $2,000 per acre-foot.
One acre-foot is enough to serve two average homes for a year. At a total output of 56,000 acre-feet, the plant will meet 7 percent of San Diego County’s annual water demand.
Read More . . . .