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RWMD: Desalination Plant Would Lift Water Supply ‘at a Much Higher Cost’

Proposed plant in Carlsbad could drive up rates 13 percent, water board is told.

The San Diego County Water Authority will host a public meeting today (Thursday) to hear comments on the proposed agreement of the the planned seawater desalination plant in Carlsbad.

The plant will affect Ramona Municipal Water District customers, since water for the town is bought through the county. The water board reviewed an information item on the desal project, headed by private developer Poseidon Resources, on Aug. 28.

At Tuesday's water board meeting, the board discussed possible action to request a presentation from the county water authority to receive more information about the project.

Richard Hannasch, the financial services director for the Ramona district, said the project has been in the works since 1998 and presented the water board with some desalination basics.

"If the Carlsbad plant is made, it will be the largest of its kind in the western hemisphere," Hannasch said at the Oct. 9 meeting. "The plant would begin making water in 2016."

The desalination plant has been discussed since 1993 as a way to gain an excess supply of water for the county using seawater. While more expensive than existing supplies, adding desalinated seawater to the region’s water sources would make the water supply more reliable by reducing the region’s dependence on imported water sources that are vulnerable to droughts, disasters and regulatory restrictions, the San Diego County Water Authority stated. 

Under the agreement, the total price for the water—including costs to make improvements to the water authority’s pipelines and treatment plant to accommodate the new supply—is estimated at $2,042 to $2,290 per acre-foot in 2012 dollars, depending on how much water is purchased annually, according to the county water authority.

Hannasch told the Ramona water board that desalination would cause a significant increase to water rates.

"It would be a $1 million a year increase," Hannasch said, which works out to about a 13 percent increase. "It will supply more water to the region, but at a much higher cost."

Water board director Red Hager asked Hannasch if Ramona would still have to pay for the project, even if the board votes against it.

"If the water authority approves it, everyone's costs will go up," Hannasch said. "Majority rules."

Water district General Manager David Barnum, who will vote on the desal project on behalf of Ramona, said that the town's weighted voted is just 1.5 percent. The city of San Diego's is 40 percent.

Water board treasurer Joe Zenovic wanted to know how much of the desalinated water will really end up in Ramona. Hannasch said it's hard to calculate.

"It will be very difficult to tell since it will be blended with other sources," Hannasch said. "It's certainly not a cure-all."

Water board Vice President Darrell Beck expressed his distaste for the desal project, as well as a suggestion for an "equitable trade," should the project be approved.

"I'm not too enthusiastic about this project," Beck said at the meeting. "If we vote this down (but it gets approved by the water authority)... how about paying for this water based on our percentage of weighted vote?"

The county water authority said  the impact of this new supply on an individual’s water bill will vary depending on their local water agency. The average household’s water bill would rise about $5 to $7 a month by 2016 to pay for the new supply, the water authority said.

If approved, the project would provide up to 56,000 acre-feet of desalinated seawater annually for the region starting as early as 2016. In 2020, the project would account for about 7 percent of the total projected regional supply and about one-third of all locally generated water in San Diego County.

Barnum recommended the board request a public presentation by the San Diego County Water Authority regarding the project. Zenovic motioned to approve the recommendation and Beck seconded the motion. The item passed was passed, 4-0, with Director Kit Kesinger absent.

The county meeting on this desal project will be held at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 11, at the city of Carlsbad’s Faraday Center, 1635 Faraday Ave., Carlsbad.

Editor's note: In an earlier version of the story, Patch stated that Richard Hannasch had been working on the project since 1998. In fact, the project has been in the works since 1998, and in discussion since 1993. Patch sincercely regrets the error.

George J. Janczyn October 11, 2012 at 08:06 PM
It's a little misleading to mention the City of San Diego's larger vote at the County Water Authority in this context because the city will not be buying any desalinated water at all. The reason is that San Diego treats all of its own water and buys only untreated water from the Authority.
Billy Kaputnik October 12, 2012 at 04:43 AM
The City of San Diego will be buying the desal water. Desal is proposed to be a base water supply. CWA currently has more water treatment capacity than needed. This desal is a supply not an additional water treatment plant to treat raw water.

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