News Feature | September 5, 2016

Carlsbad A Test Case For Desalination Policy

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,


Nearly a year after the San Diego County’s desalination plant began operating, the debate continues around what role this controversial treatment method should play in ensuring the water supply during California’s record-breaking drought.

Experts say policy decisions linked to the plant in Carlsbad, CA — the nation’s largest desalination facility — could reverberate around the country as policymakers decide on how to approach desalination projects.

“There’s a reason why arguments over the merits of the Carlsbad Desalination Project are ongoing. At least three new desalination projects are in the works in the region. The perceived success or failure of the Carlsbad plant could tip the scales for those projects, which will face regulatory hurdles and legal challenges of their own,” Voice of San Diego recently reported.

Desalination proponents frame the plant as a vital aspect of water management in the drought-plagued state, where no county is completely rid of drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

“The ability to turn salty ocean water into drinking water creates a dependable water supply for 3 million people in San Diego County. Even without a drought continuing across California, the ability to constantly sip from the ocean seems like an obvious plus,” Voice of San Diego reported

Three additional desalination projects are up for debate. The furthest along is a proposal for Huntington Beach, according to the report.

“There, Poseidon, the developer of the San Diego plant, is hoping to build another plant and enter into another public-private partnership with the Orange County Water District. That project is now before the California Coastal Commission and a few other regulatory agencies,” the report said.

The second project: a desalination plant in Rosarito Beach, Mexico. An international pipeline would bring treated water to the U.S.

“At full build-out, the reverse osmosis facility would produce 100 million gallons of water per day, a volume twice the capacity of the Poseidon desalination plant in Carlsbad. While the aim is to reduce the Tijuana-Rosarito Beach region’s heavy dependence on the Colorado River, some of the water could be sent in the future across the border through a pipeline to the Otay Water District in San Diego County,” The San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

The third project is the most “speculative” of the three, according to Voice of San Diego. Policymakers are studying the possibility of a seawater desalination project at Camp Pendleton in San Diego County.

To read more about similar projects visit Water Online’s Desalination Solutions Center.

Image credit: "North California Coastline 1" Ben Cohen © 2011, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: