Carlsbad Desalination Plant Tapped as International Plant of the Year at International Conference

By on May 3, 2016
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The Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant, operational since December 2015, 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 goes to “the desalination plant, commissioned during 2015, that represents the most impressive technical or ecologically sustainable achievement in the industry.”

The award was announced at the recent Global Water Summit in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  Desalination, available for decades, is at work in many arid areas of the world including the Middle East, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. Desalination has evolved into a desirable water supply alternative by tapping the largest reservoir in the world – the Pacific Ocean.

The Carlsbad Desalination Plant is capable of producing 50 million gallons (56,000 acre-feet per year (AFY)) per day of fresh water daily or about 10% of the county’s total water.  It is located adjacent to the Encina Power Station in Carlsbad, California and is the largest seawater desalination plant in the nation providing the San Diego region with a drought-proof water supply during one of the most severe droughts in California’s recorded history.

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.

IDE Technologies, an international leader in water treatment solutions, operates the plant. Construction was carried out by Kiewit-Shea Desalination.

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 its portion 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.

“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 neutralize 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.

“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.

Though state officials have emphasized water conservation, expansion of reservoirs and water recycling (irrigating landscapes with partially treated wastewater and even turning sewage into drinking water) as prime ways to survive the California drought. But seawater desalination has remained a minor part of the water supply puzzle. However, that could change in the coming months and years as more than a dozen other desalination sites are being proposed in the state.