Tentative deal paves way for Carlsbad desalination plant

If approved, water supply would raise water rates

CARLSBAD, Calif. -  

Numbers obtained by 10News are raising questions about a tentative deal that paves the way for a desalination plant in Carlsbad, which would be the biggest in the Western Hemisphere.

Kurt Payne winces whenever he opens up his water bill. When he thought about the prospect of more money flowing from his wallet to pay for water, he said, "I think it's crazy, to tell you the truth. We're already paying too much." 

Like it or not, we all might be paying more by 2016. According to county water officials, an initial plan to buy desalinated water from a yet-to-be-built plant in Carlsbad would translate into an increase of $5 to $7 on your monthly bill.

The plan could supply water for 112,000 homes per year, which is about 7 percent of the region's total water needs.

Water officials say desalination increases the region's reliability. Imported water supplies depend on weather and are vulnerable to legal and environmental obstacles, aging infrastructure and earthquakes.

"Shoring up our reliability is protecting our economy and way of life because we live in a desert," said Water Resources Director Ken Weinberg.

More local supplies would also give local officials more control over price. 

But could those prices climb a lot higher?

A significant part of the cost of desalination –about 25 percent – is the energy needed. Ann Tartre, who heads the Equinox Center research group, told 10News, "Desalinated water uses about twice is as much energy as our imported water. As the cost of energy rises, that will have to be factored into the cost of water."

County officials said it is actually closer to 30 percent more.

Either way, one question is emerging. When asked if an energy spike would make the rate increase higher, Weinberg said, "First, we're going to very focused on energy costs. Secondly, because desalination is less than 10 percent of our supplies … we believe those costs will be manageable."

The issue is expected to surface in public meetings beginning in October before the county water board makes a final decision on plant in the next few months.

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