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Are ocean desalination plants the best way to combat California’s drought?

A rendering of the Carlsbad Desalination Project Site at Encina Power Station.
A rendering of the Carlsbad Desalination Project Site at Encina Power Station.
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Construction is underway for the west’s largest ocean desalination plant in Carlsbad, set to open in 2015. The plant aims to provide a drought-proof water source, pumping 50 million gallons of drinking water a day for San Diego County residents.

Supporters and opponents are keeping a watchful eye on the project to determine whether the $1 billion project can be replicated along the California coast or will prove to be too expensive and harmful to the environment. San Diego County customers will see an estimated increase of up to $7 on their water bills and the plant’s effect on the local fish and marine life populations is yet to be seen. Desalinated water costs two times more than it would to build a new reservoir or recycling waste water, according to a 2013 report from The Department of Water Resources.

With a three-year drought in place, are these pricey plants the best solution?


Ken Weinberg, Director of Water Resources at San Diego County Water Authority, which serves about 3.1 million residents in San Diego County. The agency has signed a 30-year contract to buy water from the Carlsbad plant.

Joe Geever, Water Programs Manager at the Surfrider Foundation, a non-profit environmental organization