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Historic Desalination Vote Today

Aired 11/29/12 on KPBS News.

Today could mark an historic vote, as San Diego’s 24 water agencies decide whether to commit to buy water from the largest desalination plant to be built in the United States. The project has reached a critical point, but today’s vote is not a slam dunk.

Everyone agrees San Diego needs to find independent sources of water for the future, so it doesn’t depend on scarce imported water, controlled by agencies elsewhere.

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.

The question is: which source will be the best, most reliable, and least costly to start with?

Desalination is one of the most expensive options, but it rose to the top after the unfortunate phrase, “toilet to tap,” drained support for recycled water.

Recycling water is still in the works. The City of San Diego has a model plant in operation. But today’s vote will put desalination ahead of the game by committing to buy almost 50 million gallons a day for the next 30 years. If the vote is ‘yes,’ Poseidon Resources could have the Carlsbad plant up and running in four years. It will pay for the cost: more than $900 million.

Critics argue the terms of the contract benefit the Poseidon's private investors more than the ratepayer and that the desalination plant will harm marine life.

But the project has influential support, including outgoing Mayor Jerry Sanders, and the City of San Diego has almost 40 percent of today’s votes.

San Diego County Water Authority

San Diego County Water Authority explains the process of desalination.

The City of Oceanside has voted to support the County Water Authority's plan to buy desalinated water, even though it decided not to purchase any water directly from Poseidon itself. Oceanside has access to ground water basins for its own use, as well as imported water.

This week the City of Carlsbad voted not only to support the CWA contract but also to enter a contract to purchase water directly from Poseidon. Carlsbad is in a unique position since the plant will sit within the city and transporting the desalinated water will be relatively cheap.

However, some districts, such as Valley Center, are worried how the cost of the water will be spread around, and have threatened to pull the plug if their concerns are not met.

Today's meeting starts at 1 p.m. at the County Water Authority in Kearny Mesa.

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