Desalination plan to be considered

The San Diego County Water Authority Board of
Directors is scheduled Thursday to consider a proposed 30-year deal to take
desalinated water from a future plant in Carlsbad.

The proposed agreement, which will be discussed at the authority's
Kearny Mesa office at 4677 Overland Ave. starting at 1 p.m., is opposed by
environmentalists. But water authority officials say converting seawater will
provide the region with a water supply more reliable than imports from the
Metropolitan Water District.

Authority Deputy General Manager Sandy Kerl told City News Service that
desalinated water will be pricier than imports initially, but the cost of MWD
water is expected to climb at a faster rate. Over the last decade, MWD import
prices have risen 7.85 percent annually, she said.

“The Water Purchase Agreement protects ratepayers from cost overruns
and construction problems — but it does allow for increases due to certain
expenses such as electricity and uncontrollable events such as acts of
terrorism,” Kerl said. “The contract also contains caps that limit increases
in any given year, and to no more than 30 percent over the life of the 30-year
agreement.”

Poseidon Resources hopes to build the desalination plant adjacent to the
Agua Hedionda Lagoon and have it operating by 2016. At full steam, it would
produce about 50 million gallons of fresh drinking water per day through
reverse osmosis. The total would account for around 7 percent of the region's
water supply.

Environmentalists say the plant would harm marine life, and they contend
its financial provisions create risks for ratepayers.

On Monday, the Surfrider Foundation's San Diego chapter released a
consultant's report asserting that the 30 percent cap in rate increases exposes
ratepayers to too much risk. The report also said the cost of electricity
needed to run the plant will rise significantly as utilities try to meet
regulatory demands for renewable energy.

According to the authors, the debt structure is back-loaded with planned
2.5 percent annual cost increases.

Joe Geever, the water programs manager for Surfrider, said environmental
organizations prefer conservation and recycling measures to desalination.

Supporters of the plant say they have backing from several of the
region's mayors and all of the area's legislative and congressional
delegations.

“This is like buying insurance against future droughts, which we know
are coming,” said Carlsbad Mayor Matt Hall. “Investing in this new water
supply today will pay off for generations to come.”

The Carlsbad Municipal Water District voted Tuesday night to purchase
2,500 acre-feet of water a year for the next 30 years to fill 12.5 percent of
its water demand.

Categories: KUSI