Water Authority advocates federal funding for seawater desalination

Short Title
Water Authority advocates federal funding for seawater desalination
Board supports U.S. House bill to fund development of seawater desalination
August 28, 2003

The San Diego County Water Authority's plans to develop a seawater desalination facility continue to move forward as a result of recent legislative advocacy and action. The Water Authority board of directors today adopted positions of support on two US House of Representatives bills that would provide federal funding for the development of seawater desalination projects. The board also heard a report on efforts in Washington, D.C., to secure nationwide funding for seawater desalination projects and specifically for the Water Authority's proposed seawater desalination facility in Carlsbad.

"Federal support is important for ongoing development of seawater desalination," said Bernie Rhinerson, Water Authority board chairman. "The implementation of this technology will help address the national need for new sources of safe drinking water."

The board voted to support H.R. 2828 by Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif. The bill, known as the Water Supply, Reliability, and Environmental Improvement Act, consists of five titles. Title I of this legislation would establish a nationwide competitive grant program through the creation of an Office of Federal Water Resources Coordinator within the Secretary of Interior's office. H.R. 2828 would authorize $50 million for fiscal year 2004, and $100 million for each fiscal year thereafter, subject to annual appropriation by Congress, to fund the development of seawater desalination and other water projects.

Title II of the act would restore CALFED's federal funding authorization, which expired in 1999, and authorize the appropriation of $880 million in fiscal years 2004 through 2007 as the federal share of CALFED funding. Title III authorizes appropriations of $300 million for activities to address issues surrounding the Salton Sea. Title IV establishes a central regulatory office in Sacramento for the use of all federal agencies and state agencies that are likely to be involved in issuing permits and conducting environmental reviews for water projects. Title V establishes a program to plan, design and construct rural water systems.

The board heard about the Water Authority's efforts to secure external funding for seawater desalination. As a founding member of the US Desalination Coalition, the Water Authority is working with coalition members to advocate for federal funding of desalination projects. The coalition is pursuing legislation that would establish a Department of Energy program to provide financial assistance in the form of energy assistance payments of up to $200 per acre-foot to entities developing seawater and brackish water treatment demonstration projects for municipal and industrial use. The proposed program would have an annual authorization of $150 million for 10 years. No more than 60 percent of funding would go to seawater desalination in any given fiscal year.

The coalition is made up of the Water Authority; the city of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power; the Municipal Water District of Orange County; the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California; the West Basin Municipal Water District; American Water, Western Region; the South Florida Water Management District; the St. Johns River Water Management District, Fla.; the South West Florida Water Management District and Tampa Bay Water.

"Our ongoing efforts in Washington, DC to advocate for federal funding of seawater desalination projects are critical not only to San Diego, but to all states that plan to develop this new source of water," said Rhinerson. "Seawater desalination will provide San Diego County with a clean, safe and reliable source of water in the future."

Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham and Rep. Duncan Hunter have sponsored the first specific federal appropriation of $750,000 in a House bill for the Water Authority's seawater desalination program. Recently passed by the House of Representatives, the bill is currently in the House-Senate Conference Committee to resolve any differences between the versions of the bill. Once Congress approves the bill, it will be presented to President Bush for signature this fall.

In January 2003, the board selected seawater desalination as the best possible alternative for developing a new source of water for the San Diego region. The proposed seawater desalination facility in Carlsbad would be the largest of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. The facility, which could be completed by 2008, will produce 56,000 acre-feet of safe, high-quality, treated drinking water annually -- enough water to serve the annual needs of 112,000 families.

The San Diego County Water Authority is a public agency serving the San Diego region as a wholesale supplier of water from the Colorado River and Northern California. The Water Authority works through its 23 member agencies to provide a safe, reliable water supply to support the region's $126 billion economy and the quality of life of 3 million residents.

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