San Diego’s Successful Desal Plant Should Be a Model for California Water Policy
Turning ocean brine into clean drinking water is not science fiction. Roughly 60 miles south of Huntington Beach, the Claude “Bud” Lewis desalination plant in Carlsbad has been producing potable water for five years. At a cost of roughly $1 billion, it churns out about 50 million gallons a day, “providing more than 7% of San Diego County’s water,” California journalist Steven Greenhut wrote last year in “Winning the Water Wars.”
It’s just one of 11 desalination plants in the state. Ten more have been planned.
One of desalination’s drawbacks is its relatively high cost. In his book, Greenhut recalls a conversation he had with U.S. California Rep. Tom McClintock, who noted, he says, that “raising Shasta Dam would provide 1,200% more water than the Carlsbad plant for only 40% more money.” But in a world where politics “make it so hard to build new (water) storage,” desalination is still “an important investment.”
Recent crises in California and Texas remind us that when an energy portfolio is made up of limited sources, it will fall short when confronted by natural and manmade adversity. Water is no different. It requires an all-of-the-above approach. Yes, cost should always be a factor. However, as Greenhut says, in times of drought, having a dependable source of water available from desalination facilities “can prove invaluable.”
It’s also important to note that costs won’t be high forever. The price differential between desalinated and “conventional” water is compressing, says Greenhut, because other sources are becoming more expensive.