Concerns rise over environmental impact of Carlsbad desalination plant

A worker climbs stairs among pressure vessels that convert seawater into fresh water at the Carlsbad desalination plant.
A worker climbs stairs among pressure vessels that convert seawater into fresh water at the Carlsbad desalination plant.
(Gregory Bull / Associated Press )

A water conservation group argued in court this week that the San Diego County Water Authority needs to do more to account for the potential environmental effects of its upcoming projects, particularly the water desalination plant scheduled to open in Carlsbad.

San Diego Coastkeeper is suing the water authority, claiming that its long-term supply plan violates the California Environmental Quality Act.

“We’re not saying stop desalination,” said attorney Everett DeLano, who represented the advocacy group during a hearing in San Diego Superior Court on Wednesday. But, he said, there does need to be “an honest accounting” of the energy the desalination process requires and an analysis of the greenhouse gases associated with that process.

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DeLano also argued that such information should be made available regarding a possible desalination plant on Camp Pendleton, a project that was noted in the Regional Water Facilities Optimization and Master Plan Update that sets precedent for supply decisions through 2035.


Representatives from the water authority say the Carlsbad plant’s environmental effects have been accounted for by Poseidon Water, the project’s private developer, and that a mitigation plan has been put in place.

Construction of the Carlsbad reverse-osmosis plant, North America’s largest and most advanced desalination project, is expected to finish this fall. The plant could provide up to 50 million gallons of water a day, enough to serve about 112,000 families.

“There’s been extensive accounting for these greenhouse gases in the [environmental impact reports] by those facilities,” said Mark Hattam, attorney for the water authority.

He said that there were no specific plans for a desalination plant on Camp Pendleton, but that it remained an option. The county’s demand for water, Hattam said, had declined significantly since 2003, when the first version of the master plan was adopted and authorities determined there was a need for a desalination plant.

Superior Court Judge Gregory Pollack said he would take the case under submission and issue a ruling.

Littlefield writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune


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