March 26 – State Water Board makes imprudent decision to dismiss desalination petition

Recent investigation, news coverage of desalination plants raise more uncertainties

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SAN DIEGO, CA – The State Water Resources Control Board announced its decision to dismiss a petition from environmental groups San Diego Coastkeeper and the Surfrider Foundation to review a Regional Board permit for the Carlsbad Desalination Plant. This decision comes almost simultaneously with the same Board’s release of policy regarding the negative impacts of the antiquated once-through-cooling technology used in power plants, the same technology that will be used in the proposed Carlsbad Desalination Plant.

“The State Water Board’s position on once-through-cooling technology is in direct conflict with its decision to decline to hear an appeal of the Carlsbad plant,” said Coastkeeper Legal Director Gabriel Solmer. “Unfortunately, the political pressure to approve the project has been so great; common sense has been dismissed along with the petition to review this flawed and incomplete permit.”

The State Water Board’s announcements came amidst two recent reports—the research paper An Investigation of the Marginal Cost of Seawater Desalination in California and the Tampa Bay Times piece “Water rates could go up by 8 percent”—that further demonstrate the ongoing concerns and impacts of desalination projects.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, even though residents in the Florida counties of Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough have reduced demand for water, their rates will continue to rise because of the utility’s investment in a reservoir and the nation’s biggest desalination plant, also built by Poseidon Resources. The Times reports that “to save money, the utility expects to operate its desal plant—which has a capacity of 25 million gallons a day—at an average of just 8 million gallons a day. Water from the desal plant is the most expensive that the utility produces because of the cost of power and treatment chemicals.”

Also released this week, environmental scientist James Fryer’s report concluded that while plants suggest marginal costs of $800 to $1,000 per acre-foot, the realistic estimates will range closer to $2,000 to $3,000 per acre-foot. His investigation to clarify the costs of desalinated water examined many projects including Tampa Bay, Carlsbad, Santa Barbara and Marin.

“We are not opposed to desalination,” said Solmer, “We are for responsible water supply choices.  Given the recent news on the Tampa Bay plant, the research into actual costs to desalinate water and the State Board’s policy on the cooling technology, the Carlsbad plant simply doesn’t live up to our needs.”

Coastkeeper is currently providing comments on the State Board’s Once-Through-Cooling Policy and evaluating the State Board’s dismissal for possible future action.

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Founded in 1995, San Diego Coastkeeper protects the region’s bays, beaches, watersheds and ocean for the people and wildlife that depend on them. We balance community outreach, education, and advocacy to promote stewardship of clean water and a healthy coastal ecosystem.