The Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant has been honored with a Global Water Award as the Desalination Plant of the Year for 2016 by Global Water Intelligence, publisher of periodicals for the international water industry. The award, announced this week at the Global Water Summit in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, goes to “the desalination plant, commissioned during 2015, that represents the most impressive technical or ecologically sustainable achievement in the industry.”
The Carlsbad plant is the result of a 30-year Water Purchase Agreement between the plant’s developer and owner, Poseidon Water, and the San Diego County Water Authority for the production of up to 56,000 acre-feet of water per year. The agreement provided the assurances that Poseidon needed to secure funding for plant construction, most of which came from the sale of private bonds and a nearly $200 million private equity contribution from Stonepeak Infrastructure Partners.
The largest seawater desalination plant in the nation, it started commercial operations in December 2015 and is providing the San Diego region with a drought-proof water supply during one of the most severe droughts in California’s recorded history.
IDE Technologies, an international leader in water treatment solutions, operates the plant. Construction was carried out by Kiewit-Shea Desalination.
“The successful completion of the largest desalination plant in North America followed years of seemingly insurmountable technical, financial and legal hurdles,” according to Global Water Intelligence. “The tenacity shown by the developer team is matched only by the importance of seawater desalination as a key part of the solution to California’s water crisis. A canny combination of state-of-the art energy recovery technology with an external energy offsetting programme makes Carlsbad the first major infrastructure project in the state of California to completely neutralise its carbon footprint.”
Additionally, the project gained praise for Poseidon’s partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to create, restore and enhance 66 acres of vulnerable local wetland as part of the project scope.
Three main components comprise the $1 billion desalination project: the desalination plant adjacent to NRG Energy’s Encina Power Station on Agua Hedionda Lagoon; a 10-mile pipeline that connects to the Water Authority’s regional distribution system; and upgrades to Water Authority facilities for distributing desalinated seawater throughout the region.
The Carlsbad plant is a major piece of the Water Authority’s multi-decade strategy to diversify the region’s water supply portfolio. It utilizes reverse osmosis membrane technology to produce approximately 10 percent of the region’s water supply; it is a core supply regardless of weather conditions, and it is blended with water from other sources for regional distribution.
“We build projects to enhance the safety and reliability of water supplies for the San Diego region – not to win awards,” said Mark Weston, chair of the Water Authority’s Board of Directors. “But this kind of international acclaim helps to validate the years of work that went into making the Carlsbad project a stunning success. We could not have done it without the steadfast support of our community partners, our member agencies and the team that Poseidon put together.”
“Poseidon is honored to have received this recognition from so many of the industry’s leaders for what we accomplished in Carlsbad,” said Carlos Riva, chief executive officer of Poseidon Water. “The Claude ‘Bud’ Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant is truly a remarkable success as it will provide enough desalinated water to serve up to 400,000 San Diego County residents during this period of record drought.”
Since the drought of 1987-92, the Water Authority has transformed the San Diego region’s water supply mix by: implementing the nation’s largest agriculture-to-urban water conservation and transfer agreement with the Imperial Irrigation District; securing additional long-term, highly reliable Colorado River water supplies through canal-lining projects in the Imperial and Coachella valleys; and by assisting local member agencies in developing their own local water sources. In addition, the Water Authority has helped to reduce regional per capita potable water use by nearly 40 percent since 1990 through legislation, education, incentives and other measures to promote conservation. The strategy has worked so well that even in the fifth year of drought, the Water Authority has 99 percent of the water supplies it would need to meet normal demands this year.
Starting in the early 1990s, the Water Authority began investigating the potential for a desalination project along the county’s coastline. It identified the Carlsbad site as one of the most likely locations because of the existing seawater intake and discharge infrastructure used by the Encina Power Station and its location relative to the Water Authority’s distribution system. Poseidon Water spearheaded efforts to develop the Carlsbad site starting in the late 1990s.