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The San Diego County Water Authority estimates that building a seawater desalination plant at Camp Pendleton would cost between $1.2 billion and $1.9 billion, depending on its size.

The lower estimate — $1.2 billion — is for the same sized plant (producing 50 million gallons of drinking water daily) as is proposed in Carlsbad by Poseidon Resources Corp., the private Connecticut-based company.

The higher estimate — $1.9 billion — would build a plant twice that size with the potential to expand to 150 million gallons daily.

Poseidon has long estimated its costs at $300 million; that has recently increased to $320 million. Its recently approved project benefits from having an existing intake infrastructure at the Encina Power Station in Carlsbad, which already sucks in seawater to cool its internal processes.

The Pendleton project would need to build its own intake. The project’s hefty price tag highlights one of the main challenges that desalination faces. It’s not cheap.

The water authority’s board hasn’t yet decided whether to push the Camp Pendleton desalination project forward. If it does, it could begin an environmental review sometime in mid-2010. The authority expects that review to take two years.

The project would also need numerous environmental permits, which could take years. Authority officials told me last year that they didn’t expect another desal plant to be built in San Diego for eight to 10 years.

The price tag for the Pendleton plant comes from an $825,000 feasibility study (scroll to page 8) the authority is in the midst of completing.

ROB DAVIS

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