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Water Authority to Vote on Controversial Desalination Plant

Poseidon Resources hopes to build the desalination plant adjacent to the Agua Hedionda Lagoon and have it operating by 2016.

The San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors is scheduled Wednesday to consider a proposed 30-year deal to take desalinated water from a future plant in Carlsbad.

The proposed agreement is opposed by environmentalists, but water authority officials say converting seawater will provide the region with a supply of water more reliable than imports from the Metropolitan Water District.

Sandy Kerl, deputy general manager of the SDCWA, told City News Service that the desalinated water will be pricier than imports initially, but the cost of MWD water is expected to climb at a faster rate. Over the last decade, MWD import prices have risen 7.85 percent annually, she said.

"The Water Purchase Agreement protects ratepayers from cost overruns and construction problems -- but it does allow for increases due to certain expenses such as electricity and uncontrollable events such as acts of terrorism," Kerl said. "The contract also contains caps that limit increases in any given year, and to no more than 30 percent over the life of the 30-year agreement."

Poseidon Resources hopes to build the desalination plant adjacent to the Agua Hedionda Lagoon and have it operating by 2016. At full steam, the plant would produce about 50 million gallons of fresh drinking water per day through reverse osmosis.

The total would account for around 7 percent of the region's water supply.

Environmentalists say the plant would harm marine life and contend the financial plans create risks for ratepayers.

On Monday, the Surfrider Foundation's San Diego chapter released a consultant's report that says the 30 percent cap in rate increases exposes ratepayers to too much risk. The report also said the cost of electricity needed to run the plant will rise significantly as utilities try to meet regulatory demands for renewable energy.

The authors also said the debt structure is back-loaded with planned 2.5 percent annual cost increases.

Joe Geever, the water programs manager for Surfrider, said environmental organizations prefer conservation and recycling measures to desalination.

Supporters of the plant say they have backing from several of the region's mayors, plus all of the area's legislative and congressional delegations.

"This is like buying insurance against future droughts, which we know are coming," said Carlsbad Mayor Matt Hall. "Investing in this new water supply today will pay off for generations to come."

The Carlsbad Municipal Water District voted Tuesday night to purchase 2,500 acre-feet of water a year for the next 30 years to fill 12.5 percent of its water demand.

The SDCWA meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m. Thursday at its Kearny Mesa office, 4677 Overland Ave.

-City News Service

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