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California Coastal Commission tentatively okays seawater desalination plant

November 17, 2007
by John Weisheit

The California Coastal Commission has tentatively approved a proposal to construct a desalination plant near San Diego. The vote was 9-3. The staff recommended that the proposal be denied. Some suspect the commission's deciding factor was to avoid future litigation with the developer. However, the possibility of legal action from citizens now seems just as likely. The final decision will arrive in December or January.

The intention of this facility is to convert sea water into potable water, by using reverse-osmosis technology, for 300,000 residents at the coastal community of Carlsbad. Proposed by Poseidon Resources, the desal project would be built next to an existing, natural gas-fired, electric power station, and at a cost of $300 million.

San Diego County has been hard pressed to find the water supplies it needs for spreading more urban sprawl. Increasing water supplies from the Colorado River has also been a tenuous process for the county water managers, now spanning a decade of planning and environmental review.

The Colorado River Basin Project Act of 1968 encourages plans to find alternative sources of water for the users of Colorado River water. Besides desalination, water managers are pursuing other forms of augmentation: conservation, cloud seeding, removal of water-thirsty (non-native) plants, water transfers from farms to cities, and water imports from far away rivers such as the Columbia or Mississippi.

This kind of conservation and augmentation is not the answer, since the intention of the new water acquisition is to rapidly convert it into more urban sprawl. This perpetual quest for more and more water has become redundant and completely absurd.

There are 11,000 desal plants in 120 countries at the present time and, at full capacity, create only 4 billion gallons per day. If you do the conversion, the maximum annual world capacity of desalinated water is only 4.48 million acre-feet, which does not even match the annual flow of the Green River, which is the major tributary of the Colorado River.

Instead of hounding new water supplies as fuel for growth, the managers need to look, instead, at developing two kinds of projects: one, a reliable water reserve (aquifer recharge programs come to mind) to get their exisiting customers through the tough times of water scarcity, and two, to provide habitat for their other customers--the wildlife and reserve lands protected by state and federal laws.

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