Water Authority member agencies recommend Seawater Desalination

Short Title
Water Authority member agencies recommend Seawater Desalination
New supply from ocean centerpiece of nearly $2 billion Master Plan
May 27, 2004

The largest commitment to seawater desalination in the nation, a new regional water treatment plant in North County and additional water storage for drought protection should be a part of San Diego County's water future, according to a report presented to the San Diego County Water Authority board of directors today. 


The Member Agency Rate Impact Review Committee, comprised of general managers from the Water Authority's 23 member agencies, recommended the supply from the west alternative - seawater desalination - as the foundation of a nearly $2 billion plan for meeting water supply needs in San Diego County through 2030. (Link to: MARIRC Findings and Recommendations)



"The general managers of the Water Authority's member agencies reviewed a wide range of options for implementation of master plan projects and carefully considered the balance between affordability and water reliability," said Mark Weston, chairman of the Member Agency Rate Impact Review Committee and general manager of the Helix Water District. "The committee's report and recommendations show clear and unified support in recommending the Water Authority board move forward with seawater desalination and the rest of the master plan projects."



The Water Authority's board of directors voted unanimously to accept the member agency committee's report and requested staff to prepare a long-range financing plan to fund the master plan projects. On June 24, the Water Authority board will consider adoption of the long-range financing plan for the projects and formally adding the projects to the Water Authority's Capital Improvement Program. 



"With today's action by the board, the Water Authority is taking another important step forward in implementing a bold vision for San Diego's water future," said Bernie Rhinerson, chairman of the Water Authority's board of directors. "Seawater desalination will play a central role in diversifying and improving the reliability of our region's water supply and will represent the biggest commitment to seawater desalination anywhere in the United States."



The Water Authority's master plan is a long-range plan to diversify San Diego County's water supplies and build the infrastructure needed to serve the region's water needs through 2030. The master plan represents a nearly $2 billion investment in water supply and delivery system reliability to sustain the county's economic vitality and the quality of life of its residents for decades to come. (Link to Master Plan)



Over the last six months, the member agency committee compared a wide range of alternatives, from making no additional investments in future water supply reliability beyond projects already approved, to how completion of all of the master plan projects would improve the region's water supply reliability and infrastructure. It also analyzed how the master plan alternatives would affect the amount San Diegans will pay for water in the future.

The committee's report concludes that seawater desalination and water treatment projects, along with increased water storage facilities, will best provide the needed level of water reliability with nominal increases in wholesale water rates.

The committee's analysis estimated that an average family of four using half an acre-foot of water per year will pay an additional $3.75 more per month in 2016 to pay for all the master plan projects. This nominal increase will pay for a new source of water through seawater desalination. It also pays for raising the height of the San Vicente Dam, which will create 100,000 acre-feet of additional water storage in the region. The additional water will be available during droughts and help protect the county from cutbacks in imported water supplies. It also pays for the remaining master plan projects, including the maintenance and rehabilitation of existing facilities, operational improvements and improvements in the delivery of untreated water.



"The committee members, after careful and insightful examination of the options, reached not just consensus, but unanimity in their recommendations," said Weston. "We are confident these recommendations provide the best course of action in managing the future rate increases needed to ensure long-term water reliability for all of San Diego County."



The Water Authority's board of directors certified the Regional Water Facilities Master Plan's Programmatic Environmental Impact Report in November 2003. The master plan does not authorize the construction of any project. Each project must undergo its own project-specific environmental review before construction can begin. In September 2003, the Water Authority began a comprehensive environmental impact report on a 56,000 acre-foot per year desalination plant in Carlsbad. That study is expected to be completed in late 2005.



"The Water Authority and the residents of San Diego County owe this committee a debt of gratitude for completing this difficult and important task," said Bernie Rhinerson, Water Authority board chairman. "The committee's analysis was thorough and comprehensive, and their work effort has been a critical part of the Master Plan process."



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 $130 billion economy and the quality of life of 3 million residents.

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