California Desalination Plant to Be Largest in Western Hemisphere

California Desalination Plant to Be Largest in Western Hemisphere

The San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board last week unanimously voted to begin work on a $300 million desalination facility to help meet the water needs of the region.

The reverse-osmosis desalination facility will be built by the Connecticut-based Poseidon Resources, and the company expects the facility to be online by the beginning of 2012. When it is fully operational, the plant will be able to produce 50 million gallons of drinking water every day, or about 10 percent of the region's water needs.

Poseidon is building the facility in Carlsbad, just north of San Diego, and it is just the first of many such facilities in the works in California. The state is in the third year of a drought and faces pressures on water supplies from a growing population and agricultural water needs.

Environmental activists have been trying to fight the plant's approval for six years, citing concerns over the numbers of aquatic creatures that will be killed in the plant's water-intake pipes, and the effects on seawater quality as the briny remainders are returned to the water supply.

While those concerns are being explored -- the California Coastal Commission has said it will re-examine its approval of the Carlsbad project based on a recent review by the Water Quality Control Board -- the project will continue forward.

Desalination plants like this are common in the Middle East, and is also being put to use in drought-stricken Australia. But Poseidon's facility will be the largest to date in the Western Hemisphere.

Poseidon's plant will also be a test run for the practicality of large-scale desalination in the United States. "If they build it well and it operates well and the price is right, we will see more," Peter Gleick, the cofounder, and president of the Pacific Institute in Oakland, Calif., told the New York Times last week. He added, "I think there's going to be some hesitancy to really expand desalination until this plant is up and running."

Last month, we reported on the top 10 companies developing market-ready water innovations. And a report released last week also highlighted the ways that the Arab region's golf courses are symptomatic of its poor water management.