December 16, 2008

California To Release Impact Report For Desalination Plant

A draft environmental impact report will be issued soon for a proposed desalination plant on the Monterey Peninsula that is to open by end-2015, the California Public Utilities Commission said on Monday.

California American Water Co wants to build its Coastal Water Project, planned to supply 11,730 acre-feet of water per year for public use, next to an existing power plant at Moss Landing in Monterey County. After a public comment period in February and March for the draft report, a final environmental impact report could result in mid-2009.

California American Water spokeswoman Catherine Bowie said the $250 million plant is still many permits and years away from operation.

Bowie said the Monterey Peninsula is reliant on the Carmel River for much of its drinking water, and the water company in the area, California American Water, was told it has to cut its take from the river.

The company is a subsidiary of American Water based in New Jersey.

Heather Cooley of the Pacific Institute in Oakland said there are some 19 desalination plants proposed for California in various stages of development, but none have started construction.

The plants will not be on-line in time to help California combat a probable drought in coming years, but if a drought is severe, it may increase interest in desalination, as it did during the California drought of the late 1980s.

The Poseidon Resources, the first of this new wave of plants, is a $300 million Carlsbad Desalination Project in northern San Diego County. Construction on it is to begin in summer 2009 and it should open near the end of 2011, said Scott Maloni of Poseidon.

After more than 10 years since the project was first announced and over five years in the regulatory permitting process, the plant received final state approval in August.

The Carlsbad project is to convert 50 million gallons per day of seawater into drinking water, enough for about 112,000 homes.

Poseidon Resources has 30-year water purchase agreements with nine different public water agencies for the Carlsbad plant's water.

Developers of some of the 19 proposed desalination plants put plans on hold to see if the Carlsbad plant would receive state approval.

Poseidon's Maloni said another Poseidon project is set to open in Huntington Beach in Orange County by the end of 2012, if it gets California regulatory approval in 2009. The Huntington Beach plant is to be the same size as the Carlsbad project and will cost $340 million, said Maloni.

She said the two Poseidon plants are the first of a new wave of desalination plants for California that are bigger and more efficient than ones proposed decades ago.

In California, a handful of relatively small desalination plants are already in operation. Cooley said the first plant for large residential water supplies was built by the city of Santa Barbara after the drought of 1987-1992. The plant was built but never went into operation.

By 1992, when it was ready to go, rains came, ending the severe drought, and the city connected to the state water project.


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