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Construction Begins On Pipeline For Desalination Plant

Aired 3/29/13 on KPBS News.

The San Diego County Water Authority broke ground on a huge pipeline in San Marcos today to carry water from a desalination plant under construction in Carlsbad. The 10-mile-long pipe is part of a $1 billion project to add desalted ocean water to the region’s drinking water system.

The San Diego County Water Authority broke ground on a huge pipeline in San Marcos today that will carry water from a desalination plant under construction in Carlsbad. The 10-mile-long pipe is part of a $1 billion project to add desalted ocean water to the region’s drinking water system.

Today's ceremony marked the official beginning of the construction of the pipeline to bring desalinated water from the coast, though the actual pipe has not yet arrived to be installed.

The pipe will be big: 4.5 feet in diameter, and it will run through a 6-foot casing, so burying it through the middle of urbanized north county won’t go unnoticed. In fact there’s already a hotline to call to find out about road closures (1-877-752-3152).

Tom Wornham, Chair of the San Diego County Water Authority, signs the casing for the pipe to bring desalinated water from the coast to blend with the region's water supply

But Tom Wornham, Chair of the San Diego County Water Authority, said all the disruption will be worth it, and so will the $159 million cost for the pipeline alone.

“To the ratepayer, thank you for paying for this,” he said, standing in front of the 6-foot diameter casing in which the pipe will be buried, “Right now you are investing in your future and this investment will pay off in spades for not only this generation but generations to come.”

The plant, said to be the biggest desalination plant in the western hemisphere, could provide up to seven percent of the region’s drinking water supply. It will cost $537 million and the bonds used to pay for its construction will be paid off through future water rates. Interest on the bonds, the pipeline and modifications to the water authority system bring the cost up to more than $1 billion.

Critics have argued that the desalination plant is more expensive than alternative sources of water, such as indirect potable reuse or recycled drinking water, and will act as a disincentive to invest in these sources later. The San Diego County Water Authority say that desalination is the only alternative not vulnerable to droughts and within a decade, it should be competitive with other water sources.

Poseidon Resources

Map of the pipeline to be built for desalinated water, March 2013

The new pipeline will deliver about 50 million gallons a day from the desalination plant in Carlsbad to be blended in San Marcos with water imported from Northern California.

Frank Belock, assistant general manager of the CWA, said the desalinated water will not go through more treatment, but will have elements added to make sure it tastes the same as the rest of San Diego’s water supply before being blended in.

If all goes according to plan, the plant should start producing drinking water in 2016. The contract between the company, Poseidon Resources, and the CWA is for 30 years.

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