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Could Coastal Desalination Efforts Help Farmers?


While San Diego could soon lose its NFL franchise, the county can at least boast the nation’s largest desalination plant in marketing literature.

San Diego’s popularity as a destination location is obvious to those of us who’ve been there and witnessed near-perfect weather, regardless of the date on the calendar. I suspect losing its NFL franchise may make some waves, but at least it happened in a year where the football team went 4-12 and arguably has some rebuilding of its own to do.

When it comes to water for a thirsty state, desalination has long been argued as a way to help California, though the process is said to be costly and energy intensive.

Some time ago I attended a meeting in San Diego where various new technologies were discussed in the context of how technology itself is generally becoming better and more cost-effective.

Desalination was highlighted at this meeting as one of those ideas that could benefit from better and cheaper technology.

Glass-half-full arguments for desalination talked up technological trends that could make separating salt and other impurities from water more cost-effective and profitable within the next few years. Judging from recent news, others may see the idea of desalination penciling out much sooner than later.

At a reported $1 billion for a desalination plant in Carlsbad, Calif. one would think that profitability must be on the radar as that is no small amount of change to invest, even in a state where the cost of doing business is considerably higher than most other locations in the United States. Power costs alone are said to be much higher in California than other states.

According to the LA Times, Poseidon Water of Boston, owner of the new desalination plant, will sell its potable water to the San Diego County Water Authority under a 30-year purchase agreement.

Antagonists quoted in a KPCC article suggest that desalination remains too expensive when compared to importing it or investing in efficiency efforts. Some appear upset that their water bills may increase an average of $5 to cover the cost of desalination.

According to Poseidon’s website, the Carlsbad facility will provide 50 million gallons of desalinated seawater per day to customers. A similar-size facility at Huntington Beach is slated to go online in 2018.

About 15 other desalination plants are being proposed in California, the LA Times reports.

Whether the California Coastal Commission gives the go-ahead to water projects along the coastline remains to be seen, but it’s certainly a golden opportunity for the state to move in a positive direction when it comes to meeting the water needs of a growing population.

Desalination remains just one part of the process of making fresh water available to Californians for important uses that must include agriculture as much as it does urban residents.

One would think that tapping the coastline for water would reduce the competition for other surface sources of water throughout California. Certainly farmers stand to benefit if they no longer must compete with cities and urban water managers for access to the Colorado River, the Central Valley Project or the State Water Project.

How San Diego’s example plays out for Imperial Valley growers or farmers in nearby Yuma, Ariz. remains to be seen as they compete for a finite amount of Colorado River water with their large, urban neighbor to the west.

It stands to reason that farmers growing winter vegetables and hay in the low desert could benefit from urban desalination efforts by alleviating the need to convey fresh river water to millions of residents along California’s south coast. Using fresh water to grow the food we eat is a worthy and beneficial use.

Source: Todd Fitchette, Western Farm Press

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