Monday, Oct. 15, 2007 | Poseidon Resources is proposing an ocean desalination plant in Carlsbad to sell water to local water agencies in the region. This water factory may have been an easy sell a decade ago. But today, even in a drought, we know too much to buy the plan.

Californians treasure our coast and ocean and we know how to implement water management plans that improve the environment — not further degrade it. Ocean desalination may be in our future, but recently enacted laws and court decisions to protect our environment have made this particular design out-dated before it even gets to the state agencies for permit review.

Global warming is on everyone’s list of top environmental concerns. Californians are proud of leading the nation in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Water conveyance and treatment accounts for nearly 20 percent of the state’s energy consumption and reducing this figure is one of our best opportunities for reaching the goals recently enacted in our Global Warming Reduction Act.

Unfortunately for Poseidon, their proposal is the most energy demanding of any option in our water supply portfolio and would increase greenhouse gas emissions even if it replaces expensive water pumped here from the Colorado River or Sacramento Delta. This high energy demand also makes the plan financially infeasible without using up state bonds and rebates from the Metropolitan Water District that should go to a more integrated approach.

Furthermore, this factory will unnecessarily destroy marine life. Poseidon planned to co-locate its factory with the Encina Power Station to utilize the discharge from the generators’ “once through cooling” system. To its credit, NRG Energy is currently transitioning away from this antiquated practice to a system that avoids killing our precious marine life. Unfortunately for Poseidon, this leaves them without an intake for their desalination factory, unless they plan to continue killing the precious marine life NRG has decided to protect.

Also, for decades we have known our ocean is often not safe to swim in. The most successful examples of restoring our ocean water quality come from “integrated water management plans,” that simultaneously meet our water needs, dramatically reduce coastal and ocean water pollution, and provide natural areas in an ever-more-urbanized region. There are economical and environmentally preferable alternatives to meet our water demands and restore our environment.

More than half of the area’s residential water consumption goes to irrigating our gardens. Fortunately, homeowners are increasingly changing their gardens to native and drought-resistant landscaping and installing “smart” irrigation controllers. This new gardening trend is beautifying our neighborhoods, conserving water that is unnecessarily wasted, while eliminating our personal contribution to polluted urban runoff. This is a win-win option already in progress.

We also now know that recycling our wastewater is safe and cost-effective. In fact, wastewater recycling employs the same technology as ocean desalination and will ensure the same employment opportunities for manufacturing the equipment locally. This alternative can fill a large component in our water supply portfolio and reduce, if not eventually eliminate, partially treated sewage discharges to the ocean. This is another win-win option.

We can also invest more in networks of “treatment wetlands” that restore watersheds and recharge aquifers, groundwater desalination and more. When you add all these alternatives up, a massive desalination factory on our beach simply isn’t necessary.

For decades the public has demanded a cleaner, healthier and more ecologically robust coastal and ocean environment. We now know how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and begin restoring our coast and ocean through thoughtful and integrated water management. Ocean desalination may one day fill a niche in our water supply portfolio. In fact, there are already proven technologies to avoid environmental degradation of our marine life and air quality from ocean desalination — and more important research is underway. Poseidon’s factory won’t be completed in time to resolve this drought, so we can afford to take the time to get ocean desalination right and avoid outdated and unacceptable technology on our coast.

Joe Geever is the California policy coordinator for Surfrider Foundation. Agree? Disagree? Send a letter and start the debate on your terms.

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