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San Diego approves pact for desalinated water

Published on NewsOK Modified: November 29, 2012 at 7:59 pm •  Published: November 29, 2012

Pacific Institute, an Oakland-based group that studies environmental issues, said in a report this week that San Diego should consider lowering its minimum annual purchase of 48,000 acre-feet, or enough to supply about 96,000 homes. It said large plants built in Australia over the last several years are unused in response to lower demand and cheaper alternatives. Likewise, a big plant in Tampa, Fla., that was planned during boom times in the 1990s was completed in 2007 after long delays and is operating well below capacity.

The San Diego agency estimates that the average household bill will increase $5 to $7 a month when deliveries begin in 2016. It figures the cost is comparable to other new, local sources of drinking water.

Poseidon proposed the plant in 1998 and began negotiating with potential customers shortly after the California Coastal Commission approved it in 2009, clearing the last major regulatory hurdle. The company overcame challenges from environmentalists concerned about the plant's massive electricity needs and harm to fish and other wildlife from intake filters and brine that is dumped back into the ocean.

Backers of the project averted a last-minute snag when the city of San Diego proposed shifting costs shift more costs to smaller agencies that don't have their own water treatment facilities. The board agreed to decide later on how the costs will be shared.

"I guess we're going to fight over the next couple years about how all this gets divvied up," said Mark Watton, general manager of the Otay Water District, one of only four agencies that opposed the contract, in part, because it felt the costs will prove higher than expected.

San Diego began to consider desalination in the early 1990s, when a drought led it to conclude that it needed a more diverse, reliable water supply. The agency is also considering giant desalination plants at Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base and Playas de Rosarito, Mexico, just south of the U.S. border.