Desal water to provide “drought insurance” for Carlsbad
November 27, 2012
Citing the critical role a reliable water supply plays in Carlsbad’s economy and quality of life, city officials have decided to purchase about 9 percent of its water directly from the proposed Carlsbad Desalination Project as a local supply.
“This is like buying insurance against future droughts, which we know are coming,” said Carlsbad Mayor Matt Hall. “Investing in this new water supply today will pay off for generations to come.”
At a meeting Tuesday, the Carlsbad Municipal Water District board of directors voted to commit to purchase 2,500 acre feet of water a year for the next 30 years as a “local supply” just for Carlsbad. One acre-foot is approximately 325,900 gallons, which is enough to supply two four-person households for a year.
The Carlsbad Municipal Water District, which serves about 85 percent of the city, is a subsidiary district of the City of Carlsbad. Carlsbad City Council members also serve as the district’s board of directors.
The San Diego County Water Authority worked with the project’s developer, Poseidon Resources, on a deal to purchase water from the plant and distribute it to the Water Authority’s 24 member agencies, including Carlsbad. This water would make up about 7 percent of the region’s water supply in 2020.
In addition to receiving this regional supply, water agencies were given the option to purchase water directly from the plant as a dedicated local supply. The local supply would be exempt from mandatory water cutbacks during times of drought.
A recent rate analysis prepared for the City of Carlsbad by Gordon Hess and Associates, Inc., and Water Resources Consultants, Inc., shows that in the initial year of purchase, desalinated water costs more than the existing supply. However, this cost difference begins to diminish each subsequent year, and within 10 years the cost of desalinated water crosses over and becomes more cost effective than the existing supply costs.
According to City of Carlsbad Finance Director Chuck McBride, it is difficult to predict whether or not all the assumptions in the rate analysis will come to pass. However, since the cost of imported water is projected to increase steadily, it is reasonable to assume that desalinated water will eventually become more cost effective.
For the average homeowner in the Carlsbad Municipal Water District service area, when the project comes on line in 2016 monthly water rates would increase about $8 to cover the regional supply of desalinated water from San Diego County Water Authority and about $3.50 a month for the local supply of desalinated water. The total monthly cost would be about $11.40 a month, an increase of about 19 percent over the current water rate.
The San Diego County Water Authority voted Nov. 29 to approve the draft water purchase agreement with Poseidon Resources, clearing the way for Poseidon to secure financing and begin construction on the plant, to be built next to the Encina Power Station along the Carlsbad coastline.
The City of Carlsbad originally worked with Poseidon Resources more than 10 years ago to bring the desalination project to fruition, with the option to buy water directly from the plant. When Poseidon could not secure financing for the project, the San Diego County Water Authority started to work on a deal to purchase water from the desalination plant and distribute it to water agencies in the region.
Currently, San Diego County imports about 90 percent of its water from the Colorado River and Northern California. Since these sources face legal and environmental constraints, the region has been exploring other ways to ensure an adequate water supply, including increased water recycling, more aggressive conservation programs, increased water storage, groundwater desalination and seawater desalination.
The proposed plant is fully permitted by the California Coastal Commission and other regulatory agencies. It could be operational as early as 2016.
The southeastern part of the City of Carlsbad is served by the Olivenhain Municipal Water District and the Vallecitos Water District. The Vallecitos Water District Board of Directors has approved the purchase of 3,500 acre feet of water from the plant as a local supply. The Olivenhain Municipal Water District will not purchase a local supply, but is supportive of the desalination project as a provider of additional water supply to the region.
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