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Activists Tour Poseidon Desalination Plant

October 2, 2007

On Tuesday, October 2nd, a group of around 20-30 of us gathered at the Poseidon Water desalination plant site in Carlsbad, for a presentation with Senior Vice President, Peter MacLaggan.

Some main points of contention around the idea of taking the ocean's salt water, pumping it through filters, and using it as a local source of drinking water for our region, include:

  1. What will the effects be on the surrounding ecosystem, both in areas where water is being pumped into the plant, and where water will be poured back into the ocean with a higher salinity?
  2. Given that operating the plant utilizes a lot of energy, a resource that is also becoming scarce and more expensive, can we really justify desalination as a viable, long-term solution to our water needs?

With over 25 years experience dealing with public and private water supply planning and development, Mr. MacLaggan is no newcomer to these issues and he was sure to address them at the forefront of his discussion.

His points were solid and before the end, everyone seemed to be supporters of the project.

Regarding the effects on the ocean life, MacLaggan sited the State Regulations that require any water being discharged back into the ocean needs to meet strict salinity level tests that are deemed by regulatory agencies to be safe for marine life. Because Poseidon has gone through, and passed this round of licensing issues already, he contended that it is a non-issue at this point. Pointing to an admittedly, more potentially risky area of the pipeline, MacLaggan did say that precautionary measures had been taken to ensure wildlife would be preserved in the Lagoon, where the water is being pumped into the plan from.

There were a number of environmental benefits that will come with Poseidon's Deal plant according to MacLaggan, including the continued maintenance of the lagoon, keeping it open to the oceans natural flooding cycles, thereby oxygenating local shellfish farms and a growing SeaWorld fishery charged with replenishing stocks of endangered species. These duties have long been taken up by the nearby power plant, due to retire within the decade.

In response to the energy needs of the desal plant, MacLaggan made the point that 90% of our water is currently shipped from out of the region, consuming an even larger amount of total resources to supply our growing demand. With the decreasing cost of desalination resulting from improved technologies, and the rising costs of energy, estimates point to a 12 to 13 year break even point, after which time locally produced water coming through the desal plant will be more cost efficient than trying to ship water in from other sources.

Another interesting component of the way this plant is being structured, is the public-private nature that allows us, the consumers, to benefit in the short run without having to pay higher water prices despite the sizeable set-up costs. In addition, by combining the much-needed upgrades to the neighboring power plant with new construction of the desal plant using some of the existing infrastructure, will save an estimated 30% in up-front costs.

In the end, the Poseidon Desalination plant does not promise to be a silver bullet solution to our emergent water supply shortages; rather, there is a recognized need to find multiple sources of clean drinking water that can be produced locally and with more certainty than our current system is able to provide.