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New Report Offers Cautionary Note On Desal Contract

Aired 11/28/12 on KPBS News.

San Diego County Water Authority is poised to vote on a 30-year contract to buy desalinated water. A new report warns against getting in too deep.

All 24 water agencies will vote on Thursday on whether to wade into a 30-year contract that would commit the region to buying almost 50 million gallons a day of desalinated drinking water. The water would come from a plant built in Carlsbad by a private developer, Poseidon Resources.

The desalination project is located at the Encina Power Station in the City of Carlsbad.
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Above: The desalination project is located at the Encina Power Station in the City of Carlsbad.

Heather Cooley, co-director of The Pacific Institute, a Bay Area non-profit that does research into sustainable development, said their case studies of desalination plants show some plants are shut down after they are built, because they are not economically viable.

If San Diego signs an agreement to buy Poseidon’s water, she said, that may prevent other cheaper water sources from being developed.

“What that then does is it locks the water authority and the region into purchasing among the most expensive water supply options available,” Cooley said, “and therefore disincentivizes the development of less expensive alternatives, including conservation and efficiency.”

San Diego County Water Authority staff recommend approving the contract as a drought-proof, independent source of water. San Diego relies on imported sources supplied by the powerful LA-based Metropolitan Water District for most of its water.

The city of San Diego has almost 40 percent of the votes on the 36-member board, but the contract must get 55 percent to pass. Some of the smaller water agencies are worried about the way the city proposes the County Water Authority allocates the costs of paying for the desalinated water.

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