In an effort to diversify its water source and combat future price surges, the San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors voted last week to approve a landmark purchase of 56,000 acre-feet water a year from what will soon be the nation’s largest seawater desalination plant. It will be located in Carlsbad, California.
With a major buyer line the plant can begin construction under a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) that will bring more than 2,300 construction jobs to the county. When completed in 2016 the plant will produce up to 50 million gallons of water per day.
The board approved a 30-year purchase agreement with developer Poseidon Resources. It is part of the board’s larger plan to end total reliance on water that comes from the Colorado River and Bay-Delta. Those sources are prone to droughts and natural disasters. According to Thomas V. Wornham, Chair of the Water Authority’s Board of Directors,
“We are now putting another big piece of our diversification plan in place that will help protect our region’s $186 billion economy from the potential shortages and the uncertainty created by heavy reliance on imported water. Adding desalination to our portfolio is monumental in the same way that importing water from the Colorado River was in the 1940s,” Wornham said. “We are making this investment not only for our own security but to maintain our quality of life for future generations.”
On top of the 2,300 construction jobs that will be added over a 32-month period, 600 permanent jobs will be created at the facility upon completion. The project represents a major upgrade to local infrastructure. Ratepayers will see an increase of $5 to $7/month in the beginning but over time costs are expected to drop below current levels. The county currently gets all of its water from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) whose rates will likely be more expensive than desalinated saltwater by the late 2020’s.
This significant investment makes economic sense in the long run when you consider the sharply rising costs of imported water,” said Maureen Stapleton, general manager of the Water Authority. “In addition, the Carlsbad plant will give the region an extra measure of reliability in our water supply, regardless of the annual hydrology on the Colorado River or the Sierra Nevadas.”
The labor agreement will put Poseidon Resources on the hook for any cost overruns during construction and will help maintain quality standards.