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Desal Plant Generates Jobs and Lawsuits

The ocean intake at the Encina power plant.
Nicholas McVicker
The ocean intake at the Encina power plant.

Within three months, drivers on Interstate 5 should see signs of the new desalination plant going up next to the Encina power plant in Carlsbad.

Desal Plant Generates Jobs and Lawsuits
Construction on the Carlsbad desalination plant will generate jobs locally, but it also continues to generate lawsuits.

Peter MacLaggan of Poseidon Resources said more than 2,000 jobs will be created over the three-plus years of construction. An Isreali firm with three successful desal plants already under its belt will design the plant and operate it when its complete, but much of the technology will be made locally.

"San Diego County is the world’s leader in reverse osmosis technology," he said, "so here’s an opportunity to put this homegrown technology to work."

Construction on 10 miles of pipeline to carry the desalinated water from Carlsbad through Vista to San Marcos will close some lanes on North County roads for several weeks at a time.

Concerns about damage to marine life persist. The desal plant will use the ocean intake built to cool the neighboring Encina power plant. But state law prohibits Encina from using ocean water for cooling after 2017.

Livia Borak of the Coast Law Group said the Regional Water Quality Control Board will need to reassess the desal permit.

"Once the power plant is gone, the regional board will require them to do actual monitoring to see exactly how much impact they will have," she said. "So there is a possibility that, if they continue to use that intake, they will have to mitigate much more."

Poseidon currently plans to spend $25 million to mitigate damage to fish and micro organisms in the ocean by creating 66 acres of wetland in San Diego Bay.

Borak said environmental groups plan to file suit to force Poseidon to convert to a "subsurface " intake which would damage marine life less. It would also reduce the amount the company can desalinate from about 50 million to about 15 million gallons a day.